WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN) released the following statement on the Veterans’ Affairs OIG Report Regarding VA Spina Bifida Benefits.
In the 116th Congress, Senator Braun authored S.3613 to reform the Spina Bifida Program based on feedback from Hoosiers and the Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), which was endorsed by the VVA, American Legion, and co-sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).
“Last year after hearing from constituents and working with the Vietnam Veterans of America about concerns with the VA’s Spina Bifida Program, I reached out to the Office of Inspector General at the VA to encourage a review of the program.
“The OIG report released today looking into the VA’s Spina Bifida Program confirmed what I had heard from constituents in Indiana: the VA’s Office of Community Care did not effectively identify and reach out to beneficiaries in need of assistance and the national call center routinely provided misinformation about the spina bifida program to eligible recipients. Further, basic processes were not in place to ensure communication between agencies which resulted in overpayments to deceased beneficiaries for up to 13 years.
“The OIG has given four recommendations to the VA which I have been told are well received. The OIG will be following up with the agency in 90-day intervals to ensure progress is being made and services are improving for these families – and most importantly for the children of Agent Orange affected veterans. I am encouraged by the agencies willingness to receive recommendations by the OIG but continue to believe families should have the option to utilize a caseworker at their local VA while navigating this program and intend to re-introduce legislation to do as much.
“I will be seeking updates from the OIG after each of their 90 day follow ups to confirm we continue to see progress.” – Senator Mike Braun
“The American Legion supported Sen. Braun’s legislation on spina bifida during the last session of Congress, and this report from the Office of the Inspector General is proof that action needs to be taken.” – The American Legion
“The findings of the recent VA OIG report echo what we know. Most Vietnam veterans are unaware of the benefits available for children with certain birth defects due to their exposure to Agent Orange. We continue to hear countless stories of roadblocks, unjust denials, and unclear access to available healthcare and other benefits in all corners of our country. Vietnam Veterans of America fully supports Sen. Braun’s legislation, which addresses the deficiencies in outreach and the delivery of benefits to our children, the unfortunate victims of our war.” – John Rowan, National President, Vietnam Veterans of America
- An individual with spina bifida may suffer from nerve damage, paralysis, and bowel or bladder problems. Children born with spina bifida may receive benefits from VA if one of their biological parents is a veteran presumed to have been exposed to herbicides during the Vietnam War. Benefits can include monthly payments, vocational training and rehabilitation, and health care with services such as home care and case management. The spina bifida program is jointly managed by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), which determines eligibility for benefits and issues monthly payments, and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), which covers all medically necessary health care, medical services and supplies, not just those related to spina bifida.
- The VA provides services and care for Veterans exposed to Agent Orange/herbicides in Korea and Vietnam. One of the presumptive side effects of the exposure is spina bifida afflicting the children of exposed Veterans. Spina bifida is a debilitating spinal cord disease. In 2008, 38 USC was amended to create a VA Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program as part of the Office of Community Care (OCC) headquartered in Denver, CO. The program is administered in Denver, with no local VA personnel having any responsibility to the Veterans or children. This has led to issues getting children into the program, communication on what benefits are authorized, and how the services and care can be contracted for and paid, which mostly falls on the families and children to do for themselves. We believe this needs to be changed.
- The OCC Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program Guide states “This program provides services and supplies for enrolled beneficiaries for all covered medical conditions, not simply those related to spina bifida.”
- Assistance with activities of daily living and instrumental activities of daily living (i.e.- cleaning a house or apartment, showering, cooking, etc) are part of the program.
- The VA medical treatment facilities have the Agent Orange Registry which a Korea and Vietnam conflict Veteran can sign up for. Once done, records will be reviewed to verify service and a physical done to identify any issues. Disability ratings and care plans are then determined. But if the Veteran has a child that has spina bifida, which is considered presumptively caused by Agent Orange, the Veterans, families, and children have to deal with the program office in Denver, by phone, email, and fax.
- A contract social worker (case manager) can be found to manage and navigate the VA system and set up local support and care. This is relying on non-VA employees to understand and effectively navigate a VA system.
- It is estimated over 1,500 Veterans children suffer from the disease in the U.S. and yet less than half of those are enrolled in the program.
- The VA already does care coordination for complex patients outside of their fixed facilities, such as Veterans with spinal cord injury (SCI).
- Read more about the VA Spina Bifida Health Care Benefits Program