FORT HOOD, Texas - Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough held two roundtable discussions with Veterans Benefits Administration employees, veterans and active duty Soldiers here, Feb. 8.
The discussions provided an opportunity for participants to speak candidly with McDonough on what was working for them, and where they could use help. The topics of discussion focused on VBA operations, both on the installation and off, as well as the Integrated Disability Evaluation System program and the Benefit Delivery at Discharge program.
Fort Hood is a part of a handful of installations across the country where the Department of Veterans Affairs forward deploys personnel to ensure that Soldiers can easily make contact with the VA during their transitionary period.
“This is best practice because it gives us an opportunity to ensure that transitioning troopers have an opportunity to connect with the VA during their period of transition, so that they can go into retirement fully aware of the benefits that they’ve earned from VA,” McDonough shared. “Too often we have troopers, we have veterans, who are reluctant to file for benefits, reluctant to file for care because they think they’re going to take from somebody else. … We’re here to tell Fort Hood Soldiers when you retire, you’ve had our back your whole career; it’s now our turn to have your back, to get your families back.”
The visit to Fort Hood came on the heels of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, during which Biden brought up the success of the VA and the intention of the presidency to help.
“Let’s do more to keep this nation’s one fully sacred obligation: to equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home,” Biden shared. Later stating, “Denis McDonough is here, of the VA. We had our first real discussion when I asked him to take the job. I’m glad he did. We were losing up to 25 veterans a day on suicide. Now we’re losing 17 a day to the silent scourge of suicide. Seventeen veterans a day are committing suicide, more than all the people being killed in the wars.
“VA is doing everything it can, including expanding mental health screening, proven programs that recruits veterans to help other veterans understand what they’re going through, get them the help they need. We got to do more,” Biden concluded.
“The IDES is a joint Department of Defense and VA disability evaluation process. Under this system, VA helps DoD determine if wounded, ill or injured service members are fit for continued military service and provide disability benefits to service members and veterans, if appropriate,” according to the VA’s fact sheet. “IDES allows VA and DoD to share information and to complete each agency’s respective process simultaneously, without the need for duplicative exams and ratings.
“IDES participants do not apply or elect to participate in IDES. Upon referral into IDES by their branch of service, each service member is assigned a dedicated military physical evaluation board liaison officer and a VA military services coordinator to assist and advise.
“Any service member who participates in IDES can file a VA claim for disability compensation through their coordinator. Service members determined to be unfit for duty receive a single set of disability ratings to determine the appropriate level of DoD and VA disability benefits,” the fact sheet concludes. “IDES participants found fit for duty continue their military service.”
On the other hand, “service members who are separating and plan to file for disability compensation can file their claim before separation through the VA BBB program,” as per the VA regulation. “The BDD program allows service members to apply for VA disability compensation benefits between 180 to 90 days prior to separation. This timeframe permits VA to schedule exams, review service treatment records and evaluate the claim before separation allowing VA to deliver a decision as soon as possible, sometimes as soon as the day after leaving active duty.
“Apply online at VA.gov, an account is necessary to use this site. Find more information by accessing the how to file a VA disability claim portal at https://www.va.gov/disability/how-to-file-claim/. By filing a BDD Claim on VA.gov, the claim will be processed faster and more efficiently.”
McDonough’s installation visit was followed by a VA job fair, held in Waco, Texas, designed to hire personnel to handle claims related to the PACT Act, a new law that expands VA health care and benefits for Veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange and other toxic substances.
The VA has received more than 213,000 PACT Act-related claims for benefits since the law’s passage in 2022.
Find more information on the VA’s website, va.gov, or by calling (800) 698-2411.