Department of Veterans Affairs news

The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced an aggressive new initiative to solicit private-sector input on a proposed "fast track" process for veterans' claims for service-connected presumptive illnesses due to Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam conflict. Over the next two years, about 200,000 veterans are expected to file disability compensation claims under an historic expansion of three new presumptive illnesses announced last year by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. They affect veterans who have Parkinson's disease, ischemic heart disease and B-cell leukemias.

In practical terms, veterans who served in Vietnam during the war and who have one of the illnesses covered by the "presumption of service connection" don't have to prove an association between their medical problems and military service. This "presumption" makes it easier for Vietnam veterans to access disability compensation benefits. Vietnam veterans are encouraged to submit their claims as soon as possible to begin the process of compensation.

Along with the publication of proposed regulations for the three new presumptives this spring, VA intends to publish a formal request in Federal Business Opportunities for private-sector corporations to propose automated solutions for the parts of the claims process that take the longest amount of time. VA believes these can be collected in a more streamlined and accurate way.

Development involves determining what additional information is needed to adjudicate the claim, such as military and private medical records and the scheduling of medical examinations. With this new approach, VA expects to shorten the time it takes to gather evidence, which now takes, on average, over 90 days. Once the claim is fully developed and all pertinent information is gathered, VA will be able to more quickly decide the claim and process the award, if granted. The contract is expected to be awarded in April, with proposed solutions offered to VA within 90 days. Implementation of the solution is expected within 150 days.

On March 8, VA and Department of Defense announced the next phase of the Virtual Lifetime Electronic Record Health Communities Program. This initiative is aimed at improving care and services to servicemembers and veterans by sharing health information using the Nationwide Health Information Network developed under the leadership of the Department of Health and Human Services.

DoD and VA selected the Virginia/Tidewater area of southeastern Virginia as the next area to partner with. Based on its high concentration of veterans, military retirees, members of the Guard, reserve and active-duty servicemembers and their dependents.

In the Virginia/Tidewater area, VA and DoD will partner with private-sector hospitals that have joined a regional health information exchange in this area. The Virginia/Tidewater pilot builds on the first pilot in San Diego with Kaiser Permanente.

Servicemembers and veterans in the Virginia/Tidewater area will be invited to participate in this health data exchange program, scheduled to launch this year. Individuals who choose to participate will authorize their public and private sector health-care providers and doctors to share specific health information electronically, safely, securely and privately.

The program, through policy and technology, places the highest priority on patient privacy and data security. No exchange of information will occur without the appropriate permissions of the individual patients. Access to care will not be affected by a decision not to participate.