By Chazz Pratt


Check out three news items that can make a difference for veterans and their families.


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Save a Tree

The Veterans Administration (VA) continues to reduce paperwork and convert all paper forms and documents into electronic data files. As a matter of fact, 165 million pages have been scanned and uploaded to help transform the old paper-based claims process to a new digital environment. This represents more than 30 percent of the current disability claims inventory.


The new military acronym associated with these new improvements is VCIP, which stands for Veterans Claims Intake Program. Make note of the fact that any new paper form gets loaded into the VA's electronic claims processing system called the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) before it is shipped to one of three digital conversion centers.


According to the VA, claims for wounded warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with DoD through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). For specific details about VCIP and VBMS, please click here. Hopefully, this new program will help expedite the significant delays seen in the past.


Help For Homeless Veterans

Grants in the amount of almost $300 million will go to 319 community agencies in an effort to help approximately 120,000 homeless and at-risk veterans and their families. Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) is the name of the program.


The goal is to provide transportation, healthcare services, personal financial planning services, and housing counseling services, to name a few. According to the VA website, this is the third year such grants have assisted veterans and their families. Last year this program provided approximately 50,000 veterans and families with $100 million in assistance. According to the 2012 point-in-time estimates, homelessness among veterans has declined 17.2 percent since 2009. With the goal of eliminating veteran homelessness declared in 2009, this is definitely a step in the right direction. You can read more about this program if you click here.


Going the Distance

The VA announced plans to provide a ride to the doctor's office for veterans who live in rural areas. State-run veterans service agencies and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) started applying to the VA in the hopes of becoming transportation service providers.


Once grants are given to these organizations, veterans can expect to get free rides to their healthcare providers. It's great to see issues that impact access to healthcare being addressed, and that veterans who might have otherwise missed their doctor appointments have a solution.


According to the VA, a rural area is defined as a county or counties with a population of fewer than seven people per square mile. Many highly rural areas are found in the western and southwestern United States, but at least half of the states have at least one highly rural area.


Learn more about how VA Grants will expand transportation in highly rural areas here.