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New benefit website coming by end of 2015

First Posted: 12:27 pm - June 6th, 2015

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Veterans will soon be able to log in to just one website to manage benefits, apply for doctors’ appointments, and determine their eligibility for programs. Tom Allin, the first chief veterans experience officer at the Veterans Affairs Department, said in an interview with Federal Times the website went live around May 20, but will first be beta tested.

By the end of the year, all veterans will be able to use Veterans.gov to manage more than 350 benefit programs without having to switch websites, call multiple numbers or file large amounts of redundant paperwork. The goal? A single unified digital experience that makes it easier for veterans to get the benefits they deserve, according to Allin.

Once veterans register, the website will automatically know their eligibility levels for different programs and will tailor their experience using that information, according to Allin. The website will also notify the veteran of various programs they are eligible for but are not using.

“The goal will be that veterans will eventually be able to get everything taken care of online with a single sign on. They will be able to add a dependent, change their address, schedule an appointment or check on their claim status and get everything done online in a seamless way versus what they are doing today across multiple websites,” Allin said.

The VA is also working on consolidating what Allin said were more than 1,000 hotlines available to veterans across the agency. Instead, veterans will just call one phone number, and the person answering will have access to all the information they need to help. If a veteran requires special assistance, they will simply be transferred to someone who can help them, instead of requiring veterans to call a different number, Allin said.

“My goal is that we have some visible changes in the next three months. And I am sure that some of the initiatives that we have will have a significant impact on the veterans,” Allin said.

Suicide rates

Veterans who used services provided by the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) had much lower suicide rates than veterans who did not use those services, according to a new analysis of a decade of suicide data. The research was published May 4 in Psychiatric Services in Advance, a publication of the American Psychiatric Association. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and veterans are at a high risk for suicide – every day roughly 22 veterans commit suicide.

This study directly compared veteran and nonveteran suicide rates while for the first time also looking at veterans who had used VHA services and those who had not. Researchers analyzed data from 23 states on more than 170,000 adult suicides over a 10-year period (2000-2010). During that time frame, the age-adjusted veteran suicide rate increased by approximately 25 percent while the comparable nonveteran rate increased by approximately 12 percent

The analysis found that the rate of suicide decreased significantly for veterans who used VHA services, while it spiked for veterans not using those services and increased for nonveterans. The suicide rate for all veterans is significantly higher than for nonveterans.

DOD NFL Contracts

At the same time Congress and the president have imposed caps on military spending, the Department of Defense has paid $5.4 million in taxpayer money to 14 NFL teams with the bulk spent by the National Guard. From 2011 to 2014, the Department of Defense paid $5.4 million to NFL teams for salutes to the military and other advertising, with $5.3 million coming from the National Guard, according to federal contracts.

U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) last week called out the New Jersey Army National Guard for the spending, which, in part, paid for a segment at Jets home games in which soldiers were featured on the big screen, thanked for their service and given tickets to the game.

Flake said most in the general public believe the segments were heartfelt salutes by their hometown football team, not an advertising campaign paid for with their money. The Guard defended the arrangement as an effective recruitment tool for the force, and the Jets pointed out numerous other ways in which they support the military.

The Jets have donated $1 million to a group that builds smart homes for disabled vets. But the league’s legacy for supporting the military is a sham. According to its own website, the league’s annual “Salute to Service” last year netted a whopping $412,500 – or about one-third of what the league charged for one luxury box at the New Jersey Super Bowl last year. In “Salute to Service” last year, the NFL contributed $100 for every point scored during 32 games around Veterans Day. That was down from $300 a point in the years before.

The money was then divided between three groups that help vets: the Pat Tillman Foundation, Wounded Warriors and the USO. That’s $137,500 each. If the military took the same licensing approach the NFL did, it would be charging the league to align itself with the world’s most powerful team, not the other way around.

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