From the Director's Desk
March is Women History Month. Through history, millions of women have served honorably in a variety of occupations in the U.S. military. They officially enlisted as early as 1917, but could not serve in front-line combat roles until 2013. Fast forward to 2020. Women are the fastest-growing demographic in the military and Veteran populations. Women Veterans continue to break barriers today using many of the skills and experiences from the military to achieve career success and support their communities. For resources for women Veterans, click here. Thank you for all women who are serving or did serve.
The Pittsburgh Regional Office, along with the BDD sites in Germany & Korea are currently closed to the public and will no longer accept walk-in claims assistance, scheduled appointments, counseling, or other in-person services. For those individuals who require assistance from the BDD offices, you may contact the Landstuhl BDD office or the Camp Humphrey’s BDD office via email. Overseas Military Service Coordinators have returned to the US, with no replacements at this time, though they will continue to be available by email. This decision protects our older Veterans and those with underlying conditions as well as our employees.
Veterans can continue to get information about benefits or file a claim for benefits by visiting our website at www.va.gov. Veterans with claims specific or other questions may request information via Inquiry Routing & Information System (IRIS) or telephone at 1-800-827-1000, or 412-395-6272 for Veterans outside the US.
VBA benefits and services provided to Veterans, families, and survivors will continue to be delivered throughout the duration of COVID-19 impacts.
COMPENSATION & PENSION EXAMS
Due to COVID-19, there are instances when claimants are asking to cancel or postpone scheduling their examination appointments because of social distancing practices. VA will not deny a claim solely for a failure to report for an exam at this time.
Veterans and Servicemembers who wish to reschedule an exam due to COVID-19 concerns should contact the exam vendor directly. Vendors will hold the exam request in their system and will reschedule appointments once it is safe to do so.
Please also notify VA either via phone (412-395-6272) or IRIS if you are unable to attend your examination at this time
BOARD OF VETERANS APPEALS (BVA) HEARINGS
Effective Monday, March 23, 2020, the Board is suspending all video and Central Office hearings through at least May 1, 2020. We understand that Veterans have been waiting for these hearings and we don't want to delay an longer than necessary. The Board will work with Veterans, VSOs, an representatives to provide virtual hearings where possible.
VOCATIONAL REHABILITATION & EMPLOYMENT SERVICES (VR&E)
VR&E counselors will be reaching out to establish a plan to maintain communication throughout this period and ensure there are no lapses in VR&E services or any negative impact on the processing of your claim.
Facilities Converting to Distance Learning Only - In an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, many facilities are temporarily converting to distance learning only, meaning in-residence classes are transitioning to an on-line format for a period of time. This change is not the result of a reclassification of the type of program, meaning the facilities are not officially reclassifying in-residence classes to on-line classes for VA purposes; Therefore, there is no need to request an updated certification for the current term as a result of this change. Also, it is VR&E’s policy to pay the in-residence rate for a term that includes a combination of in-residence and on-line training. However, if this practice is still in place at the beginning of the facility’s next scheduled term, an updated certification must be sent to the facility to verify the classification of the type of program.
Many schools are in the process of or have already moved from in-person courses to online courses in the interest of public health.
Student Veterans will continue to receive their GI Bill benefits under S.3503, which President Trump signed into law on March 21. The law enables VA to continue providing the same level of education benefits to students having to take courses online due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This law allows for continued payment of benefits, even if the program has changed from resident training to online training. GI Bill students will continue to receive the same monthly housing allowance (MHA) payments they received for resident training until December 21, or until the school resumes in-person classes.
Students receiving GI Bill benefits are not required to take any action. Benefits will continue automatically. Updates will provided to students via direct email campaigns and social media regarding VA's effort to implement these new changes.
Specific questions should be referred to the Education Call Center (1-888-442-4551).
DEBT MANAGEMENT CENTER (DMC)
If you have a VBA benefit debt and are experiencing a financial hardship due to COVID-19 (such as a reduction in work hours, temporary layoff, or termination of vA education benefits), the DMC may be able to suspend collection until May 31, 2020. This may apply to most cases, unless the debt is a separation pay overpayment or the account is under the collection jurisdiction of the Department of Treasury. Please contact DMC at 800-827-0648 (7:30am - 7:00pm ET).
NATIONAL CEMETERY SERVICES
All VA National Cemeteries are open and will continue to provide interments for Veterans and eligible individuals.
Starting March 23, 2020, committal services and the rendering of military funeral honors, whether by military personnel or volunteer organizations, will not be conducted until further notice at VA national cemeteries. Immediate family members (no more than 10 individuals) of the deceased may choose to witness the internment, if desire. There is no service involved with witnessing an internment. Families will be able to view the internment from a safe distance.
The National Cemetery Scheduling office will continue to provide scheduling services for the duration of the current emergency. To schedule a burial, please call 800-535-1117 (option 1).
Please continue to check www.va.gov for updates. You also may follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
COVID 19: Recommendations For Staying Healthy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers COVID-19 to be a serious public health threat, but individual risk is dependent upon exposure. The new virus causes respiratory illness in humans, usually 2–14 days after exposure. Illnesses have ranged from mild symptoms to severe, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The virus is thought to spread mainly from close contact with an affected person. It spreads in the air, like flu, and through droplets from sneezes and coughs. The droplets can stay suspended in the air and can land on surfaces that are touched by others.
Take precautions to guard against infection
Get a flu shot
Keep your hands clean by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
Avoid people who are sick
Stay home and away from others when sick
Cover your coughs and sneezes with tissues or your arm/sleeve. Dispose of tissues in the trash.
Keep surfaces clean using disinfecting wipes
Check the CDC advisories prior to planning travel
Cover mouth and nose with tissue or sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Wash hands often with soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Do not touch eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid contact with those who are sick.
For more information, visit Coronavirus FAQs: What Veterans Need to Know.
Military Sexual Trauma
Some Veterans suffered from a sexual trauma while serving in the military. These incidents can have lasting effects for many years. I encourage you to apply for compensation benefits for ongoing issues from this incident. These claims are managed by MST Coordinators, who have specialized training to review the Veterans medical records, personnel file and claims documentation. These employees can help you through the claims process. Our MST Coordinators are a passionate group of VA employees, who strive to expedite the claims process for our Veterans who have experienced MST. For more resources, please visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov.