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The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a government-run military veteran benefit system with Cabinet-level status. It is responsible for administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

The benefits provided include disability compensation, pension, education, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, survivors’ benefits, medical benefits and burial benefits.It is administered by the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

History

It was formerly called the Veterans Administration, also called the VA, which was established 21 July 1930, to consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans. The VA incorporated the functions of the former U.S. Veterans' Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Departmentmarker and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

On 25 October 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating a new federal Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs to replace the Veterans Administration effective 15 March 1989.

In both its old and new forms, the VA drew its mission statement from an extract of President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address: "...to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan."

Function

The primary function of the Veterans Administration is to help veterans by providing certain benefits and services.

Veterans Benefits & Services include: Health Benefits, Services Appeals, Burial and Memorial Benefits, Compensation for injury and Pension Benefits, Education Benefits, Home Loan Guaranty Services, Insurance Benefits, Vocational Rehabilitation, Employment Services and Veterans Small Business Loans.

The medical aspect of the VA is a health-care system, the American government’s second largest department, after the United States Department of Defense. With a total 2009 budget of about $87.6 billion, VA employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices.

The United States Department of Veterans Affairs lists several benefits for veterans including education, home loans, deferred compensation, pension, survivors' benefits, burial, vocational rehabilitation, employment, and life insurance.

Organization

The Department of Veterans Affairs is headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The current Secretary of Veterans Affairs is Ret. General Eric Shinseki.

The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations, each headed by an Undersecretary:
  • Veterans Health Administration - responsible for providing health care in all its forms, as well as for medical research, Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs), and Regional Medical Centers.
  • Veterans Benefits Administration - responsible for initial veteran registration, eligibility determination, and five key lines of business (benefits and entitlements): Home Loan Guaranty, Insurance, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and Compensation & Pension
  • National Cemetery Administration - responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of VA cemeteries


Costs for care

As is common in any time of war, recently there has been an increased demand for nursing home beds, injury rehabilitation, and mental health care. VA categorizes veterans into eight priority groups and several additional subgroups, based on factors such as service-connected disabilities, and one’s income and assets (adjusted to local cost of living).

Veterans with a 50% or higher service-connected disability as determined by a VA regional office “rating board” (e.g., losing a limb in battle, PTSD, etc) are provided comprehensive care and medication at no charge. Veterans with lesser qualifying factors who exceed a pre-defined income threshold have to make co-payments for care for non-service-connected ailments and pay $8 per 30-day supply for each prescription medication.

VA dental and nursing home care are more restricted. Reservists and National Guard who served stateside in peacetime settings or have no service-related disabilities generally do not qualify for VA benefits. VA in recent years has opened hundreds of new convenient outpatient clinics in towns across America, while steadily reducing inpatient bed levels at its hospitals.

VA’s budget has been pushed to the limit in recent years by the War on Terrorism. In December 2004, it was widely reported that VA’s funding crisis had become so severe that it could no longer provide disability ratings to veterans in a timely fashion. This is a problem because until veterans are fully transitioned from the active-duty TRICARE healthcare system to VA, they are on their own with regard to many healthcare costs.

The VA has worked to cut down screening times for these returning combat vets (they are now often evaluated by VA personnel well before their actual discharge), and they receive first priority for patient appointments. VA’s backlog of pending disability claims under review (a process known as “adjudication”) peaked at 421,000 in 2001, and bottomed out at 254,000 in 2003, but crept back up to 340,000 in 2005.

No copayment is required for VA services for veterans with military-related conditions. VA-recognized service-connected disabilities include problems that started or were aggravated due to military service. Veteran service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Disabled American Veterans, as well as state-operated Veterans Affairs offices and County Veteran Service Officers (CVSO), have been known to assist veterans in the process of getting care from the VA.

In the United States Federal Budget for fiscal year 2009, President George W. Bush, requested $38.7 billion - or 86.5% of the total Veterans Affairs budget - for veteran medical care alone.

Security breach

In May 2006, a laptop computer containing in the clear (unencrypted) social security numbers of 26.5 million U.S. veterans was stolen from a Veterans Affairs analyst’s home. The analyst violated existing VA policy by removing the data from his workplace.

On 3 August 2006, a computer containing personal information in the clear on up to 38,000 veterans went missing. The computers have since been recovered and on 5 August 2006, two men were charged with the theft. In early August 2006, a plan was announced to encrypt critical data on every laptop in the agency using disk encryption software.

Strict policies have also been enacted that require a detailed description of what a laptop will be used for and where it will be located at any given time. Encryption for e-mail had already been in use for some time but is now the renewed focus of internal security practices for sending e-mail containing patient information.

Related legislation



Related studies

In 1998, the Institute of Medicine began a series of studies to respond to requests from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Congress for an examination of the health effects of potentially harmful agents to which Gulf War veterans might have been exposed.

See also



References

External links




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