By Bob Kinsler, SSG (ret), US Army, DAV, VFW Dept. of Oklahoma, Publicity Team Member
I do not know how many of you got this little letter from Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, Muskogee, OK but several of us did (mainly VFW members). In the letter, it announces that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will be holding a Town Hall meeting to discuss the upcoming opening of the new McCurtain County Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC). Veterans, family members and citizens (like Jerry Ellis who spearheaded this one) concerned about the needs of our veterans are invited to attend.
Date: Wednesday June 7, 2017; Time: from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm; Location: Southeastern Oklahoma State University McCurtain County Campus Auditorium (Formerly known as the E.T. Dunlap Center) at 2805 NE Lincoln Rd, Idabel, OK
This will be an open forum discussion between Veterans and the VA to address CBOC services, upcoming enrollment, and outreach activities. Enrollment and benefits teams will be on site to provide assistance (in other words administrative types will be there to sign you up for the clinic, with Lisa Mussett, from OKDVA also being there). My suggestion is that if you do not have a VA Medical Card already, go there with a DD Form 214 to prove your status or for the Retired US Military types find that Retired Military ID Card you were issue and use it.
The McCurtain County Community Based Outpatient Clinic will be located: 903 SE Washington Street, Idabel, OK 74745. It will provide a full range of onsite and tele-health services for Veterans in the southeastern Oklahoma area to include primary care, mental and behavioral health, laboratory, and women’s health services, using a Patient-Aligned Care Team (PACT) model. The Clinic will be 7,000 square feet and is projected to serve 1,300 enrolled veterans within the first year.
I have personally asked the VFW Post Commanders of Hugo, Antlers and Idabel to attend and provide their respective areas with the information pertaining to the discussion. (I know two of them can write, one of which is published in the Antlers American numerous of times, Thank Butch). I personally will not be there, since I will have a medical experience in McAlester on June 5, and will be recouping from it (for at least two weeks, I currently understand).
I also asked the VFW Post Commanders to inquire as to Veteran transportation needs from Pushmataha, and Choctaw counties to the clinic and back to their starting points. I believe there is some sort of transportation in McCurtain County already. I also asked them to see what transportation will be from the clinic to Muskogee VA?
VA defends plan to cut thousands of dollars from elderly vets’ benefits
WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs officials on Wednesday defended plans to strip tens of thousands of dollars in unemployment benefits from elderly veterans as responsible reforms to the department’s growing budget, but opponents promised to fight the idea.
Included in President Donald Trump’s $186.5 billion VA budget for fiscal 2018 — a nearly 6 percent boost in discretionary spending from this year — are plans to dramatically cut the department’s Individual Unemployability program.
Up to 225,000 veterans over the age of 60, at least 7,000 of whom are over 80, could be impacted by the change.
Under current rules, the IU program awards payouts at the 100 percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if actual rating is less than that.
Administration officials want to stop those payouts once veterans are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, arguing those individuals should no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. Veterans who cannot collect Social Security would be exempt.
“There are always hard decisions that have to be made,” VA Secretary David Shulkin said following a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee budget hearing on Wednesday. “Sometimes that means you have to adjust current programs to support the growth of other benefits. That’s what we’re seeing here.
For veterans who aren’t already retirement age, the change could largely be offset by their new Social Security payouts.
But for veterans already receiving both, it will mean a sudden loss of a significant income source. The IU payouts can total more than $22,000 a year.
Shulkin said the move, which is expected to save $3.2 billion next year alone, is proof that “we’re trying to refine our approaches to use our resources efficiently.”
VVA officials said they spent have spent the last day since the budget announcement fielding panicked calls from veterans’ dependent on the program, wondering how they’ll make ends meet.
VFW National Commander Brian Duffy said his membership likes many parts of the budget “we are absolutely against forcing wounded, ill and injured veterans to pay for improvements elsewhere within the VA.” AMVETS released a statement Wednesday demanding the IU provision be dropped, labeling it “stealing” benefits from veterans.
Administration officials have also proposed rounding down cost-of-living adjustments to veterans benefits next year, a practice that would take no more than $12 from an individual vet in annual payouts but could save the government $20 million next year.
White House officials said those changes and other benefits trims are needed to offset the cost of other program expansions, in particular plans to expand and revamp the VA Choice Card program, which allows veterans to more easily receive private-sector medical care at the government’s expense.
Shulkin said he is open to alternatives, but also wary of increasing VA spending without “making sure our current programs are being utilized in the appropriate way.”