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A federal court has ruled that the Department of Veterans Affairs wrongly denied reimbursements to veterans who received emergency medical care at non-VA facilities, a decision that could result in payouts to veterans totaling billions.
Chief Judge Navy Capt. James Crisfield delivered the opinion last week, joined by Senior Judges Navy Capt. Marcus Fulton and Marine Col. Jonathan Hitesman. The decision was made as a result of an appeal from retired Chief Petty Officer Stephen Begani, who was court-martialed after leaving the Navy on charges of attempted sexual abuse of a child.
Veterans may have wrongly been billed by the Department of Veterans Affairs for emergency room medical treatment at non-VA facilities totaling at least $53.3 million, according to the office of the VA Inspector General.
Following an audit, the IG estimated that "about 17,400 veterans, with bills totaling at least $53.3 million, were negatively affected" by either initial denial or ultimate rejection of their claims for reimbursement.
An arm of the Veterans Affairs Department in Atlanta eliminated 208,272 applications from across the country for health care early this year amid efforts to shrink a massive backlog of requests, saying they were missing signatures or information about military service and income, according to records reviewed by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Veterans groups say the VA should have done more to communicate with the veterans before closing their applications, some of which date back to 1998. Troops face additional challenges in applying for VA health care, they said, as they grapple with reentry into civilian life, change addresses following overseas deployments and suffer from combat stress.
In the middle of the controversy is the VA's Health Eligibility Center, the Atlanta office that oversees the process by which veterans seek access to the VA medical system. It and its parent agency have come under intense scrutiny in recent years for mismanagement and delays in providing medical care, presenting a thorny challenge for the administration of President Donald Trump, who focused on veterans' care during his presidential campaign.
The Pentagon is delaying a change to its GI Bill benefit transfer policy that would have screwed its longest-serving troops
The Pentagon has agreed to hold off on changes to some GI Bill benefits that would have impacted long-serving troops, a congressman's office said.
The Department of Defense will delay the policy change, which was scheduled to go into effect Friday, until Jan. 12, according to a statement released Friday by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney. The change would have prevented soldiers and other service members with more than 16 years of service from transferring their Post-9/11 G.I. Bill benefits to eligible family members.
With overwhelming support in Congress, two senators hope this is the year a dollar-for-dollar offset in compensation to surviving military spouses of military personnel and retirees — known colloquially as the "widow's tax" — is eliminated.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama, took to the Senate floor Monday urging for a vote on their proposed amendment to the national defense policy bill to overturn the offset.