VA officials skirt Congressional hearing

Thomas Crisp - Contributing Columnist

Thomas Crisp

Contributing Columnist

Already deeply concerned about a recent Inspector General’s report that found senior VA officials misused relocation funds, American Legion National Commander Dale Barnett expressed disappointment that VA witnesses declined to appear before a congressional committee to explain their actions.

VA Deputy Inspector General Linda Halliday was the only witness to show up at the hearing, which was attended by Barnett and other Legionnaires.

Her report determined that Philadelphia VA Regional Office Director Diana Rubens and St. Paul VA Regional Office Director Kimberly Graves used their prior positions to coerce the previous directors to accept reassignment and create openings that they themselves would fill, while retaining their higher salaries for their new lower-level positions.

Moreover, Rubens and Graves collected $274,019 and $129,467 respectively in relocation costs. According to the IG, when Rubens informed then-VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey that she wanted “to take advantage of the Philly Director opening,” Hickey responded that she would “be all in to help and make it happen.” Hickey resigned Oct. 16.

With a current membership of 2.2 million wartime veterans, The American Legion was founded in 1919 on the four pillars of a strong national security, veterans’ affairs, Americanism, and youth programs. Legionnaires work for the betterment of their communities through nearly 14,000 posts across the nation. (The American Legion October 22, 2015 Donnie La Curanin Veteran News)

Upgrade to benefit system

Improvements to the system used to process veteran benefits will soon ensure that recently transitioned veterans and eligible spouses will have access to money for continuing education. The Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded a contract that will advance the reliability of their Chapter 33 system to Systems Made Simple, a Lockheed Martin company.

CH33 was established after the GI Bill was updated in June 2008 when the U.S. Congress passed the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act. This program gave educational assistance for members of the armed forces who served on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

Using existing technology to automate processes, Systems Made Simple will work with the VA to improve identification, integration, selection and processing of beneficiaries as well as increase the VA’s ability to monitor and report on education outcomes and experiences, advance data entry efficiency and modernize interfaces to improve data quality and consistency.

Additionally, the company will work on sustainment of the program to improve and mature the system while development is taking place, further facilitating seamless extension of benefits to veterans and their beneficiaries.

Administered by the VA, and supported by Systems Made Simple, CH33 provides educational benefits that can be applied to college undergraduate and graduate level degree programs, vocational training, technical and professional certification courses and one-time certification examinations. The benefit may also be transferred from the qualifying service member to a qualifying dependent. The CH33 project will enhance, re-design and support the systems that facilitate administering benefits. Visit for more information.

Elks pledge help

The Department of Veterans Affairs is strengthening community and non-profit partnerships to better serve veterans. The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the United States of America announced that it has committed $4 million over a four-year period to help end veteran homelessness.

This partnership and pledge embodies the mission of MyVA, launched last year to transform VA by putting veterans in control of how, when and where they wish to be served. To achieve transformation, the Department has been reaching out to community partners working to meet the needs of veterans.

As a part of this partnership, the Elks will work with VHA staff on pilot programs in the cities of Washington, Chicago and New York City. In addition, the organization is calling on the group’s 800,000 members across the country to support efforts to support homeless veterans in their communities. The Elks have a strong tradition of service to VA. In this fiscal year alone, approximately 1,300 Elks members volunteered more than 117,000 hours of service at VA facilities nationwide.

Visit or for more information.

Choice Program update

The Choice Program is a new, temporary benefit that allows some veterans to receive health care in their communities rather than waiting for a VA appointment or traveling to a VA facility. The first round of cards along with a letter explaining the program was issued to veterans who are eligible based on their place of residence.

The VA eligibility explanation letters were sent to veterans waiting more than 30 days from their preferred date to be seen or considered medically necessary by their physician.

To improve service delivery, VA has prioritized efforts to accelerate veterans off wait lists and into clinics through the Accelerated Care Initiative begun over the summer. Through this initiative, VA medical centers have increased access to care inside and outside of VA, added more clinic hours and work days, deployed mobile medical units and shared their best practices from VA’s high-performing facilities throughout the organization.

Call 1-866- 606-8198 or visit for more information.

Veterans Choice update

To expand eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will determine eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program based on the distance between a veteran’s place of residence and the nearest VA medical facility using driving distance rather than straight-line distance.

This change has been published in the Federal Register and is effective immediately. The change from straight-line to driving distance roughly doubles the number of eligible veterans. Letters are being sent to the newly eligible veterans to let them know they are now eligible for the Veterans Choice Program under this expansion.

If a veteran does not remember receiving a Veterans Choice Card or has other questions about the Choice Program, they can call (866) 606-8198. Effective immediately, VA is also changing the mileage calculation for beneficiary travel. The change will ensure consistency in VA’s mileage calculations across the two programs. The beneficiary travel calculation will now be made using the fastest route instead of the shortest route.

Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Thomas Crisp is a retired military officer from Whitmire. His veterans updates can be found weekly in The Newberry Observer.