President Trump campaigned on helping Veterans. With his actions, encouragement and the appointment of Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, there have been some positive developments this year. Here are some of the highlights:
The Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 was passed in June and promptly signed by President Trump. Written in response to an Obama-era scandal in which Veterans died waiting for doctors’ appointments, this law will make it easier to discipline and fire bad employees, better protect those who report misconduct and improve care for Veterans. As of July 14, the VA has fired over 500 employees, suspended 200, demoted 33 and disciplined 22 senior leaders. A Veterans’ complaint hotline has been established. Unemployment rates for Veterans fell in October to 2.7%, continuing a long-term downward trend in unemployment among U.S. Armed Services. This rate is down from 4.7% in October 2016 and 10.2% in 2009. President Trump also signed into law The Veterans Choice Program (VCP) Extension and Improvement Act, improving the 2014 program that allows eligible veterans to receive care from providers in the community instead of only from the VA. The VA has announced a new Electronic Health Record (EHR) system that will modernize its medical records to use the same system as the Department of Defense. The Veterans’ records will now follow them when they leave service, providing faster and better care.In August, President Trump signed The Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act, which streamlines the process for Veterans to appeal disability benefit claims. Also in August, President Trump signed an expansion of Veterans’ education benefits, boosting aid by $3 billion over the next 10 years and extending assistance to some veterans and dependents who didn’t qualify. This “Forever GI Bill” is officially titled The Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, named for the past commander of the American Legion who authored the GI Bill of Rights in 1944. The VA Connect app is being expanded to allow patients to conduct telehealth visits from their home computers and mobile devices and from private medical offices. VA providers in cities where there are a lot of doctors and specialists will be able to help Veterans in areas where there aren’t as many healthcare professionals. This will be a valuable service for those who are home-bound, live in rural areas, or need help in the area of mental health and suicide prevention.