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Rules liberalized for veterans with undiagnosed illnesses

Veterans of the Persian Gulf War with undiagnosed illnesses have an additional five years to qualify for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“Not all the wounds of war are fully understood,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “When there is uncertainty about the connection between a medical problem and military service, veterans are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.”

A recent change in VA regulations affects veterans of the conflict in Southwest Asia.  Many have attributed a range of undiagnosed or poorly understood medical problems to their military services.  Chemical weapons, environmental hazards and vaccinations are among the possible causes.

At issue is the eligibility of veterans to claim VA disability compensation based upon those undiagnosed illnesses, and the ability of survivors to qualify for VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.

Under long-standing VA rules, any undiagnosed illnesses used to establish eligibility for VA benefits must have become apparent by Dec. 31, 2011.  The new change pushes the date back to Dec. 31, 2016.

Veterans or survivors who believe they qualify for these benefits should contact VA at 1-800-827-1000, or contact their local Veterans Service Office.

Further information about undiagnosed illnesses is available online at www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar and www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp

Facebook pages for medical centers

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that all of its 152 medical centers are now actively represented on Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site.

“This event marks an important milestone in the overall effort to transform how VA communicates with veterans and provide them the health care and benefits they have earned,” said Shinseki.  “Veterans and their families told us from the beginning that they want to engage and they want relevant information delivered at the local level.  By leveraging Facebook, the Department continues to expand access to VA, and embrace transparency and two-way conversation.”

The process that began with a single Veterans Health Administration Facebook page in 2008 has now produced over 150 Facebook pages, 64 Twitter feeds, a YouTube channel, a Flickr page, and the VAntage Point blog.  Additionally, in June 2011, VA produced a Department-wide social media policy that provides guidelines for communicating with veterans online.  The overarching strategy is designed to help break down long-perceived barriers between the Department and its stakeholders.

“Veterans of all eras are depending on us to get the right information to the right person at the right time,” said Brandon Friedman, VA’s director of online communications, and a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.  “With more troops returning home, we also have a responsibility to connect with the thousands of servicemembers who have been, and will be entering our system.  They’re using social media, so that’s where we need to be.  Facebook helps us do that.”

VA clinicians can’t discuss the specific health concerns of individual veterans on Facebook, but that doesn’t prevent staff from monitoring VA’s sites closely each day—and providing helpful information to veterans when they can.  In the last year, for instance, VA’s Crisis Line counselors have successfully intervened on Facebook in cases where veterans have suggested suicidal thoughts or presented with other emotional crises.

For more information, visit these sites:

• Directory of All VA Social Media Sites: www.va.gov/opa/SocialMedia.asp.

• VA Facebook Page Directory: www.facebook.com/VeteransAffairs?sk=app_7146470109.

Meetings

The following veterans groups meet in Pagosa Springs:

American Legion Post 108, second Wednesday of the month at 7 p.m., 287 Hermosa St.

Veterans for Veterans, every Tuesday at 10 am, 164 N. Pagosa Blvd. (Buffalo Inn).

Further information

For information on these and other veterans’ benefits, please call or stop by the Archuleta County Veterans Service Office located at the Senior Center in the Ross Aragon Community Center on Hot Springs Boulevard. The office number is 264-4013, the fax number is 264-4014, cell number is 946-3590 and e-mail is raytaylor@archuletacounty.org.

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