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The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a Cabinet department of the United States government responsible for administering programs of veterans benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

It is administered by the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

History[edit | edit source]

It was formerly called the Veterans Administration, also called the VA, which was established July 21, 1930 to consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans. The VA incorporated the functions of the former U.S. Veterans' Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.

Long Beach VA medical center

On October 25, 1988, President Reagan signed legislation creating a new federal Cabinet-level Department of Veterans Affairs to replace the Veterans Administration effective March 15, 1989.

In both its old and new forms, the VA drew its mission statement from President Abraham Lincoln's eloquent Second Inaugural Address. The specific phrase quoted by VA is: " care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan..."

Function[edit | edit source]

It is the federal government's second largest department, after the Department of Defense. With a budget of more than $60 billion, VA employs approximately 230,000 people at hundreds of VA medical centers, clinics and benefits offices.

Organization[edit | edit source]

A VA medical center in Palo Alto

The Department of Veterans Affairs is headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The current secretary is Jim Nicholson, a former Colonel, Chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Ambassador to Vatican City. The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations, each headed by an Undersecretary:

  • Veterans Health Administration - responsible for providing health care in all its forms, also for medical research
  • Veterans Benefits Administration - responsible for initial veteran registration, eligibility determination, and five key lines of business (benefits and entitlements): Home Loan Guaranty, Insurance, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and Compensation & Pension
  • National Cemetery Administration - responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, and maintenance of VA cemeteries

Costs for care[edit | edit source]

Because of recent military conflicts, the VA has been burdened with the greater need for nursing home beds, brain injury rehabilitation, and mental health care.

VA categorizes veterans into eight priority groups and several additional subgroups, based on factors such as service-connected disabilities, and one's income and assets (adjusted to local cost of living). Veterans with a 50% or higher service-connected disability as determined by a VA regional office "rating board" (ie: losing a limb in battle, PTSD, etc) are provided comprehensive care and medicines at no charge. Other veterans with lesser qualifying factors need to make co-pays for any care for nonservice-connected ailments as well as pay $8 per 90-day prescription. VA dental and nursing home care are more restricted. Reservists and National Guard who served stateside in peacetime settings or have no service-related disabilities generally do not qualify for VA benefits. (Detailed list of eligibility criteria.) VA in recent years has opened hundreds of new convenient outpatient clinics in towns across America, while steadily reducing inpatient bed levels at hospitals. It has expanded its programs for women veterans and outreach to the homeless. VA is especially praised as a pioneer in developing electronic patient records which can be accessed by health providers online (with secure passwords), far away from where the charts are kept. VA's research into better functioning prosthetic limbs, and PTSD (combat stress) are also heralded. VA has devoted many years of research into the effects of exposure to Agent Orange herbicide used in Vietnam.

VA's budget—which has always been sparse—has been pushed to the limit in recent years by the War on Terrorism.[1] In December 2004, it was widely reported that VA's funding crisis had become so severe that it could no longer provide disability ratings to veterans in a timely fashion.[2] This is a problem because until veterans are fully transitioned from the active-duty TRICARE healthcare system to VA, they are on their own with regard to many healthcare costs. The VA has worked to cut down screening times for these returning combat vets (they are now often evaluated by VA personnel well before their actual discharge), and they receive first priority for patient appointments. VA's backlog of pending disability claims under review (a process known as "adjudication") peaked at 421,000 in 2001, and bottomed out at 254,000 in 2003, but crept back up to 340,000 in 2005.[3]

Many veterans may not know that they may qualify for VA services with no copay required for military related conditions. If a veteran is dealing with a problem that started or was aggravated due to military service, it is still advisable for that person to go to a VA Regional Office and apply for a service connected disability. Service organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans (the claimant need not be a member), as well as state-operated Veterans Affairs offices can also assist in this process. It will be beneficial for the affected veteran to support their claim with proof of ongoing health care.

Security Breach[edit | edit source]

In May 2006, a laptop computer containing the social security numbers of 26.5 million U.S. veterans was stolen from a Veterans Affairs official's home. On August 3, 2006, a computer containing personal information on up to 38,000 veterans went missing. The computers have since been recovered and on August 5, 2006, two men were charged with the theft.

Before the arrests, Veterans Affairs announced it would hire ID Analytics professionals to perform data breach analysis to ensure veterans' personal information was not compromised. An offer to provide credit monitoring for veterans affected by the potential data breech was later rescinded after a study of the recovered laptop concluded little to no likelihood data was retrieved.

In early August 2006, a plan was announced to encrypt critical data on every laptop in the agency using disk encryption software from GuardianEdge Technologies, Inc, a San Francisco-based IT security software vendor. [4] Strict policies have also been enacted that require a detailed description of what a laptop will be used for and where it will be located at any given time.

Private Key Encryption (PKI) for e-mail had already been in use for some time but is now the renewed focus of internal security practices for sending e-mail containing Social Security numbers or patient information. Smart card-based logins for workstations has been in talks for several years but has yet to be implemented.

Related legislation[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

  1. REDIRECT Template:USCabinet
de:Kriegsveteranenministerium (Vereinigte Staaten)
et:Ameerika Ühendriikide Veteranideministeerium
no:Krigsveterandepartementet (USA)
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).
  1. Dennis Camire, "New fees, limits face ailing veterans," Albany Times-Union, 10 February 2003, A1.
  2. Cheryl L. Reed, "VA chief orders inspector to probe disability rating system," Chicago Sun-Times, 11 December 2004, A3.
  3. Cory Reiss, "VA fighting losing battle against backlog of veterans' claims," Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 27 May 2005, A7.
  4. [Veteran's Mortgage Blog], 25 May 2006, 9 August 2006, 16 August 2006.
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