More veterans news updates regarding open data

Thomas Crisp Contributing Columnist

December 27, 2013

In December, as a part of the government-wide Open Data Policy, VA launched its open data webpage The page aims to introduce the user to VA’s open data, convey a clear and simple understanding of what open data is, and highlight a few of the most valuable open data sets: VA Facilities Locations, Homeless Resources, and Family Caregiver Services.

In addition to offering the VA data sets, the new page directs users to, where they can explore 171 open data sets. Over the next few months, VA’s open data team will create a fully functional data catalog that can be accessible and usable by the public, and by VA and other federal employees. Like other federal agencies, VA collects and creates data related to the needs of veterans and the work of the department. Some of it is already available online but can be hard to find, understand and use.

In keeping with the Open Data Initiatives that this administration has launched over the past few years, VA has been making more of its data open and available to the public. After all, the work of the federal government is paid for by taxpayers and when possible, data that is public should be accessible and usable by all of us.

Already, VA has been working with partners like the Feast to use open data to create products of value for Veterans and their families. In the coming months, VA’s open data team will scale up efforts to create valuable and informative products by convening designers, developers and entrepreneurs to use open data in new ways.

VA’s team is looking to the public for feedback and prioritization of future data releases. You tell them how they can improve and what data sets would be valuable to you? [Source: VAntage Point | Emily Tavoulareas | 5 Dec 2013]

VA burial benefit update

The VA has proposed to change and simplify the rules for a surviving spouse to receive the basic monetary burial award. Basically it is recognizing that any funeral will cost more than the allotted benefit. Thus to make it easier on the survivor they will not require a written application with attached receipts. They also say that they will be simplifying the descriptions and regulations to make it easier for the survivor to understand.

Following are the VA’s proposed guidelines for the benefits for a non-service related death:

For deaths on or after October 1, 2011, VA will pay up to $700.00 toward burial and funeral expenses (if hospitalized by VA at time of death), or $300 toward burial and funeral expenses (if not hospitalized by VA at time of death), and a $700 plot-interment allowance (if not buried in a national cemetery).

For deaths on or after Dec. 1, 2001, but before Oct. 1, 2011, VA will pay up to $300 toward burial and funeral expenses and a $300.00 plot-interment allowance. The plot-interment allowance is $150 for deaths prior to Dec. 1, 2001. If the death happened while the veteran was in a VA hospital or under VA contracted nursing home care, some of all of the costs for transporting the veteran’s remains may be reimbursed. An annual increase in burial and plot allowances, for deaths occurring after Oct. 1, 2011, begins in fiscal year 2013 based on the Consumer Price Index for the preceding 12-month period.

Monetary burial benefits regulation change

VA is proposing to change its monetary burial benefits regulations to pay eligible survivors more quickly and efficiently. If approved, these regulations would authorize VA to pay, without a written application, eligible surviving spouses basic monetary burial benefits at the maximum amount authorized in law through automated systems rather than reimbursing them for actual costs incurred.

Under current rules, VA pays burial benefits for burial and funeral expenses on a reimbursement basis, which requires survivors to submit receipts for relatively small one-time payments that VA generally pays at the maximum amount permitted by law.

The proposed amendments to the burial regulations will permit VA to pay, at a flat rate, burial and plot or interment allowances thereby enabling VA to automate payment of burial benefits to eligible surviving spouses.

The changes are intended to help survivors of Veterans bear the cost of funerals by changing regulations to get them the benefits they deserve more quickly.

The proposed regulation, if approved, would do the following:

— Restructure, consolidate, and clarify VA’s current monetary burial benefits rules to make them easier to understand by Veterans, their survivors, and other stakeholders;

— Clearly establish VA’s priority of payments and enable automated payment to eligible surviving spouses;

— Remove the requirement for eligible surviving spouses to file a claim for basic burial allowances and simplify the burial claims process for all beneficiaries;

— Establish in regulations a presumption that VA will pay the service-connected (SC) burial allowance for Veterans that were rated totally disabled from service-connected conditions at the date of death; and

— Implement portions of Public Law 112-260, authorizing monetary burial benefits for Veterans without wartime service whose remains are unclaimed.

[Source: T REA News for the Enlisted 9 Dec 2013]