From multiple threats of government shutdown to a COLA increase in VA disability payments many found disappointing after 2022’s unprecedented jump, 2023 has been a roller coaster year of veteran news. We share six of the biggest vet news stories of 2023.
1. August marks one year anniversary of PACT Act becoming law
The passing of last year’s PACT Act was a huge victory for veterans across the country. The largest expansion of veteran benefits in decades, the PACT Act helps protect veterans exposed to burn pits and Agent Orange, among other toxins.
Veterans had one year to apply for PACT Act benefits and still receive a retroactive effective date of August 2022. On the date of the deadline for filing for the August 2022 effective date, the VA’s website glitched and the deadline was temporarily extended.
Since the PACT Act was signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022, over half a million toxic exposure claims have been submitted to the VA, and the organization has begun offering toxic exposure risk activity (TERA) assessments for veterans receiving care at VA clinics.
Unfortunately, despite a high approval rating for PACT Act claims, a third of approved claims have been granted at a 0% disability rating, meaning the veteran will not receive any monthly compensation for their illness.
2. Camp Lejeune legal fee cap protects veterans
In addition to veterans exposed to toxins during service, the PACT Act was designed to help people who drank and bathed in contaminated water at Camp Lejeune by allowing them to sue the federal government. Multiple proposals were made by legislators in 2023 to cap legal fees on Camp Lejeune lawsuits, hoping to keep predatory practices from targeting veterans and their families. After some back and forth throughout the year, a fee cap of 20-25% was established for lawyers in Camp Lejeune cases.
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Settlement
If you were stationed at Camp Lejeune for 30 days, you might be eligible for special VA disability benefits. Let’s see if you qualify!
3. Predatory scammers addressed by accredited agents
While no new penalties have been instituted for predatory companies who charge veterans for help applying for VA disability, do not seek proper accreditation, or use illegal fee models, many groups held scammers accountable in 2023.
Additionally, the GUARD Act received bipartisan support as well as support from multiple VSOs and VA-accredited lawyers. The GUARD Act gained traction in 2023 but has yet to have a Congressional hearing or been brought to a vote–something we will be monitoring in the new year.
4. Veterans push back against discriminatory practices
A VA whistleblower shared in early 2023 that the VA had been aware and keeping track of racial disparities in claims decisions since 2017. One Vietnam veteran brought a lawsuit against the VA with evidence that Black veterans were significantly less likely to be approved for VA disability benefits for PTSD than their white counterparts. In response, the VA created the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access Council, designed to address these disparities across the department.
Meanwhile, a group of LGBTQ+ veterans who were dishonorably discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and similar policies sued the Pentagon over the summer. Dishonorable discharges can be difficult to overturn and can bar a veteran from receiving many VA benefits. The group wants officials to systematically review and upgrade dishonorable discharges under these discriminatory policies rather than vets having to individually fight through the system. They also want references to sexuality that could stigmatize them removed from their DD-214s and any other military paperwork.
5. VA continues to postpone costly electronic health records system
The VA continued to experience issues with the rollout of electronic health records. Last year, we shared that the deployment of Oracle Cerner digital health records was being delayed until January 2023, then June 2023. However, after continued problems with the rollout, including system and performance challenges affecting usability and speed, safety concerns, and an increasingly high price tag, the VA announced in April 2023 it was again delaying a full rollout across VA medical facilities.
In September, the VA explained it would potentially continue “agency-wide adoption” of the new electronic system in Summer 2024.
6. VA disability rates increase 3.2%
Veterans expressed mixed feelings over the 3.2% increase in VA disability payments for 2024 after the historic 8.7% increase from 2022 to 2023, and the nearly 6% increase from 2021 to 2022. However, this was still above the average for the past 20 years of cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases.
“I honestly believe that:
1) Dealing with that VA requires an expertise that many of us do not possess.
2) Woods & Woods made the difference.
Their savvy expertise in dealing with the VA and their commitment to their clients exemplifies a level of professionalism and commitment that seems not to be the standard in today’s world.“
Woods and Woods: Our year in review
In 2023, we had a great year here at Woods and Woods. Seventeen members of our more than 100-person staff received promotions and we continued working toward building a new, larger office to better accommodate our growing number of employees. Most importantly, we helped veterans recover over $110 million in missing back pay from the VA for their service-connected disabilities between January and November. We look forward to continuing to work hard and get our clients every penny they are owed again in 2024.
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