KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

VA Struggles With Sharp Rise In Disability Claims

Also in the news, efforts continue to unravel the scandals related to delayed care at veterans' facilities.

Los Angeles Times: With U.S. Encouragement, VA Disability Claims Rise Sharply
With the government encouraging veterans to apply, enrollment in the system climbed from 2.3 million to 3.7 million over the last 12 years. The growth comes even as the deaths of older former service members have sharply reduced the veteran population. Annual disability payments have more than doubled to $49 billion — nearly as much as the VA spends on medical care. More than 875,000 Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans have joined the disability rolls so far (Zarembo, 7/12).

USA Today: Report Cites VA Struggles With Benefits Paid To Veterans
The federal department responsible for caring for America's veterans, already mired in scandal over delays in health care, continues struggling with another major responsibility: paying compensation to those wounded or injured or who grew ill from service in uniform. While the VA managed last year to reduce a huge backlog in veteran claims for money, it was at the expense of appeals to those decision which are rapidly mounting, according to testimony slated for Monday by the VA Office of Inspector General (Zoroya, 7/14).

The Washington Post: VA Overhauling Medical Inspector’s Office After Scathing Report
The Veterans Affairs Department is overhauling its medical inspector’s office after a federal investigative agency slammed the division for its frequent use of the “harmless error” defense when problems occur within the VA health network. The agency this week appointed a new acting director for the medical inspector’s office and decommissioned the division’s hotline and its Web site: Individuals are now redirected to file concerns about the medical system with the VA’s inspector general (Hicks, 7/11).

Baltimore Sun:  VA Reports Mishandled Records At Baltimore Office
An employee at the Baltimore office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs inappropriately stored thousands of documents — including some that contained Social Security data — according to testimony from an inspector general to be made public on Monday. About 8,000 documents, including claims folders, unprocessed mail and Social Security information of dead or incarcerated veterans were stored in an employee's office for "an extensive period of time," according to testimony from Linda A. Halliday, an assistant inspector general, that was reviewed by The Baltimore Sun. The incident is one of several examples included in a scathing assessment of the department that Halliday will offer in a hearing Monday before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs. It also represents the latest problem for the Baltimore office, which has been among the nation's worst in processing veteran claims  (Fritze, 7/14).

Kaiser Health News: Veterans' Needs 'Should Drive Where They Get Their Care'
Dr. Kenneth Kizer, a former VA undersecretary for health, spoke recently with KHN’s Mary Agnes Carey about the issue of the VA contracting with outside providers for medical care (Carey, 7/13).

In other news, NPR looks at how some veterans are dealing with PTSD and other problems without drugs -

NPR: Veterans Kick The Prescription Pill Habit, Against Doctors' Orders 
Troops coming home from war, like Will, are often prescribed drugs for PTSD and other conditions. Hundreds of thousands of veterans are on opiates for pain, and 1 in 3 veterans polled say they are on 10 different medications. While there is concern about overmedicating and self-medicating — using alcohol or drugs without a doctor's approval — there are also some veterans who are trying to do the opposite: They're kicking the drugs, against doctor's orders (Lawrence, 7/11).

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