Cutting red tape for disabled veterans

Cutting red tape for disabled veterans

Many veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals released by open-air “burn pits” have faced lingering health problems – including rare cancers. But stringent documentation requirements and limited military records have made it difficult to impossible for them to qualify for disability benefits. Now, as Leo Shane III reports for the Military Times, President Joe Biden’s administration is directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a fast-track process for approving claims related to burn-pit exposure and other ailments related to environmental exposures in combat zones.

Typically, for veterans to receive disability benefits (which can total thousands of dollars a month) they must prove that their ailments are directly connected to injuries or illnesses which happened as a direct result of their military service. In toxic exposure cases, that usually means combing through military medical and duty records. Many of those are incomplete. With burn pits, for example, defense officials infrequently kept track of what items were being burned or used monitors to check for toxins in the surrounding air. That makes linking any resulting illnesses to specific chemicals nearly impossible. Part of Biden’s plan will include requiring Defense Department officials to collect better environmental and occupational exposure data in the future. But to help veterans already suffering illnesses, the new benefits model will look at “a multi-faceted scale to evaluate the strength of scientific and other evidence and allow VA to make faster policy decisions on key exposures.”

Build Back Better for new jobs
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan is facing new headwinds in Congress, with centrist members objecting to key provisions aimed at paying for the plan’s social benefits. But as Democrats in Congress continue internal negotiations on the proposal, ordinary people in America continue to face need at levels far above their peers in other wealthy nations. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explains the benefits of the administration’s proposal:

The Build Back Better legislation would take major steps to reduce the number of people living in poverty, improve the quality of life for low- and moderate-income people, and create opportunity so that children growing up in poverty have better health, complete more education, and earn higher salaries as adults. Because of America’s long history of systemic racism that has limited education, employment, and housing opportunities for people of color, they disproportionately suffer from poverty and its negative consequences, and this legislation makes major strides to reduce racial disparities.

According to the Economic Policy Institute’s Adam S. Hersh, in addition to improvements in childcare access, housing assistance, and economic support for families, Build Back Better would create an estimated 2.3 million jobs nationwide over its first five years: 

With the U.S. economy still running at least 5.5 million jobs short relative to its pre-pandemic trajectory, sustained support for job creation is a key benefit of the plan, but the economic impact will be much farther reaching. For example, roughly half of the jobs supported by BBBA result from new and expanded caregiving initiatives for universal pre-K (332,000 jobs per year), child care (574,000), and long-term care (238,000). Good jobs in these industries—where workers are deeply undervalued and underpaid—are just the tip of the iceberg that will also help get more parents back into the workforce and relieve the exorbitant financial burdens of child care and long-term care weighing on working families.

Repair Lake Charles
More than a year after Hurricanes Laura and Delta slammed Southwest Louisiana, Congress approved around $600 million in disaster relief to help rebuild the hard-hit region. This aid totals nearly a quarter of all non-Covid disaster assistance approved by Congress. But, as Louisiana officials from Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter to Gov. John Bel Edwards note, it remains far less than what the region needs to get back on its feet. The Advocate’s Mike Smith reports on Edwards’s plans to make the case for more aid in Washington:

“We really appreciate the almost $600 million that has been appropriated. That’s more than a quarter of the total amount appropriated for the country in 2020,” [Gov. Jon Bel Edwards] told reporters after the rally, referring to the $1.6 billion in relief set aside for 2020 disasters in the recent bill approved by Congress. “But quite frankly, it is inadequate to the task of a full and robust recovery, especially on that housing need.” …. Edwards had spelled out $3 billion in unmet needs for Laura, Delta and Hurricane Zeta, which hit southeast Louisiana in October 2020. He has said he would expect to receive around half of that in federal relief, which means the appropriation Congress recently approved falls about $1 billion short.

Protect Medicaid
During the Covid-19 pandemic, federal rules protected health coverage for
people enrolled in Medicaid, increasing the size of the program’s rolls. Today, Medicaid provides critical health coverage for 41% of people in Louisiana. Amid increased enrollment, the AP’s Melinda Deslatte reports, a new Legislative panel has convened to re-evaluate the state’s approach to estimating the program’s costs:

[Sen. Sharon Hewitt] hopes to have the conference’s first forecast complete in December or January. The panel’s projections will be nonbinding but are expected to have a heavy influence on budgeting. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office hired a health care economist as part of the effort. Sen. Gerald Boudreaux, a Lafayette Democrat on the conference, said he thinks the new approach can help lawmakers determine the true costs of the Medicaid program, but he also cautioned that he doesn’t want it to be used to try to limit access to health care services. “It is very important to a lot of people, more people than some of us realize,” Boudreaux said.

LBP Medicaid Policy Advocate Courtney Foster explains that as Louisiana looks again at eligibility and the program’s costs, it’s critical that the state put strong protections in place to preserve access for all people who qualify for coverage:

It is important that Louisiana accurately redetermine eligibility for Medicaid coverage once the [federal Public Health Emergency] ends. This means not only that the Louisiana Department of Health must screen out ineligible people, but also that the department must avoid screening out people who are eligible for Medicaid coverage.

Number of the Day
2.3 million – Estimated number of jobs that would be created by the Build Back Better Act over its first five years (Source: Economic Policy Institute)