Social Security and veterans benefits, pensions, and annuities
Calculating (and maximizing) Social Security benefits
History of (and threats to) Social Security
Problems with, and proposed changes to, Social Security
Safety net programs for the poor
Stories and analysis, explanations and arguments
Being smart about pensions and annuities
Veterans benefits (healthcare, death, disability, and survivor)
Issues with veterans and veterans benefits
(including issues associated with Agent Orange)
See also Medicare, Medicaid, and health insurance
• Social Security A to Z Glossary (AARP, 2013)
• Social Security Basics: What's It All About? (Hilary Travers, American Foundation for the Blind)
• Social Security and the U.S. deficit: Separating fact from fiction (Mark Miller, Reuters, 11-1-18) "By law, Social Security cannot contribute to the federal deficit, because it is required to pay benefits only from its trust funds. Those, in turn, are funded through a dedicated payroll tax of 12.4 percent of income, split evenly between employees and employers, levied on income (this year) up to $128,400. The program’s revenue and expenses are accounted for through two federal trust funds that have operated with large and growing surpluses in recent years, and they finished fiscal 2018 with an estimated $2.89 trillion. By law, Social Security must invest these surplus funds only in special-issue U.S. Treasury notes, which have the same full faith and credit guarantee as any other federal bond.
"The trust funds are projected to be exhausted in 2034; at that point, incoming revenue would be sufficient to continue paying only about 75 percent of promised benefits. We might or might not reach that point - we could eliminate much of this long-range shortfall by gradually increasing payroll taxes and raising the cap on covered income. Or we could reduce benefits by further increasing the full retirement age, or craft some combination of tax increases and benefit cuts."
• Social Security: The Long-Term Financial Outlook and Retirement Benefits for All Americans (Hilary Travers, American Foundation for the Blind)
• Social Security Programs Throughout the World (SSA)
• What you need to know about Social Security (Steve Vernon, MoneyWatch, 4-2-13)
• Social Security errors that can cost you thousands (Steve Vernon, MoneyWatch, 9-11-12)
• How Social Security and Medicare Work Together (Stan Hinden, AARP, June 2015)
• Social Security and Military Service (Stan Hinden, AARP, Jan. 2015) Earnings credits and fast-track processing for disabilities give a special salute to veterans
• 7 Myths of Social Security (Stan Hinden, AARP, 2-23-15) Benefits lost forever, payment with interest, and other fallacies.
• Social Security is a bigger deal than you think (Scott Burns, Dallas (TX) Morning News, 10-9-16) "Even the relatively affluent will find that Social Security is likely to be more important to their long-term well-being and security than anything else....Social Security's virtual wealth was the dominant asset for 90 percent of households."
• When It Comes to Social Security, 70 is the New 65! (Suze Orman, AARP the Magazine, Aug/Sept 2018) Suze Orman explains why delaying benefits may be right for you. "Every year you wait between your normal retirement age and 70, Social Security will add a guaranteed 8 percent to your eventual monthly payout....Delaying your Social Security start date until age 70 entitles you to a monthly payout that’s more than 75 percent higher than your age-62 benefit."
• Benefits.gov. The official benefits website of the U.S. government. Informs citizens of benefits they may be eligible for. Provides information on how to apply for assistance.
• Retirement and insurance calculators
• A Social Security Calculator That Helps Hedge Your Bets (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 8-2-11)
• When Should I Take Social Security to Maximize My Benefits? (Maximize My Social Security)
• (the firm Social Security Solutions)
• Widows lose thousands in Social Security benefits due to misinformation (Laurence Kotlikoff, PBS NewsHour, 11-24-15)
• The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries (Ron Lieber, Your Money, NY Times, 3-13-15) Essentially a recommendation for the Kotlikoff book: Get What's Yours.
• Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security by Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, Paul Solman (an Amazon bestseller). "Learn the secrets to maximizing your Social Security benefits and earn up to thousands of dollars more each year with expert advice that you can’t get anywhere else." And/or listen to Laurence Kotlikoff cover some of the same points on On Point with Tom Ashbrook (WBUR, National Public Radio, 3-18-15)
• Ask Larry (archive of Kotlikoff's weekly Monday Q&A on PBS NewsHour). Send in your questions.
• 34 Social Security Secrets You Need to Know Now ( Laurence Kotlikoff, PBS NewsHour, 7-30-12)
• Many Americans lack Social Security smarts: Study (Shelley Schwartz, CNBC) Nearly 3 in 10 financial planners recommend to clients that they wait to claim benefits until age 70, according to the survey, but only 13 percent of consumers plan to wait that long. Benefits for divorced Americans are available to unmarried ex-spouses if the couple was married for 10 or more years, but any ex-spouses don't know about that 10-year minimum and many others don't know what they are entitled to. Social Security is not a pension plan; it is anti-poverty insurance.
• Estimate your retirement benefits (Social Security Online), Retirement Planner FAQ (frequently asked retirement questions), Benefit Calculators and other resources from the Social Security Administration.
• Retirement Estimator (How the benefit calculator works -- gives estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record)
• For Widows, Social Security System Can Provide Rude Shocks (Elizabeth Olson, Your Money, NY Times, 9-11-15) Lists ore retirement benefits calculators, besides explaining why women often spend old age in poverty, even with Social Security. (But also more women than men live long enough to collect Social Security over many years.)
• Health costs may gobble up Social Security benefits (Tom Anderson, CNBC, 10-12=16)
• How Social Security Pays You to Work Forever (Laurence Kotlikoff) Our Social Security expert explains why it’s a smart financial move to put off retirement as long as possible in order to maximize your Social Security benefits.
• Your relationship means nothing to Social Security unless you’re married (Laurence Kotlikoff, PBS NewsHour, 3-9-15)
• How to maximize your Social Security payouts (Steve Vernon, MoneyWatch, 3-12-12)
• Other retirement calculators
• Getting Your Due In Social Security Benefits (Laurence Kotlikoff, on On Point radio, 3-18-15)
• Life Expectancy Calculator (Living to 100)
• History of Social Security (SSA website, with links to many interesting aspects of SS history)
• A Brief History of Attacks on Social Security (Ted Marmon, Huff Post 6-15-10)
• Oklahoma City: A Survivor's Story (a documentary about the inspiring survival story of SSA District Manager Eric McKisick)
• History of Social Security Buildings
• Donald Trump’s Social Security heresy: Taking on Paul Ryan and the privatization push (Simon Maloy, Salon, 3-31-16) Donald Trump is ignorant and incoherent, but he's still able to take apart and undermine GOP policy arguments. Paul Ryan’s famous budget blueprints have prescribed deep and painful cuts to Social Security, and Ryan himself has been an advocate of privatizing Social Security. He more than anyone has crystallized the conservative position on entitlements....in the 2012 election, when Paul Ryan was on the Republican ticket, he and Mitt Romney caught all kinds of hell over Ryan’s past support of privatization and his 2010 budget plan that called for reducing benefits and raising the retirement age.
• Republicans' Public Opposition to Social Security and Medicare (Teresa Ghilarducci, Forbes, 11-2-18) "Though Senator McConnell may not have meant to publicize the Republican agenda to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the long history of Republican opposition may be an example of what Sigmund Freud and modern psychologists believe--a slip of the tongue may reveal more of the truth than a well-constructed prepared remark. And in order to defend their expensive and regressive tax cut, Republicans may be preparing to cut America's most popular programs."
• States step in to prod reluctant retirement savers (Kate Gibson, Moneywatch, CBS News, 9-12-16) "Backed in the 2008 presidential campaign by the nominees of both major parties, Barack Obama and John McCain, federal legislation was proposed that would have set up automatic enrollment into Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) for private sector workers who don’t already have access to a retirement savings plan through their employers. Support for the proposal lost steam in the wake of partisan bickering and opposition from the financial services industry. A handful of states have since picked up the auto-IRA campaign, looking to offset the economic impact of having large populations of impoverished elderly residents forced to rely on state services....The Department of Labor (DOL) in late August gave an all-clear signal to efforts well underway in at least five states and issued a final rule essentially paving the way for laws setting up automatic enrollment into IRAs for private sector workers who don’t already have access to one through their employers."
• ‘I wasn’t crazy’: A homeless woman’s long war to prove the feds owe her $100,000 (Petula Dvorak, WaPo, 8-22-16) and then A homeless woman’s $100,000 smile after Social Security paid what it owed her (Dvorak, WaPo, 8-23-16) for 16 years, no one believed her. She called Social Security’s toll-free number, sent letters and tried to get someone to listen to her predicament. But most folks dismissed Witter as crazy as she roamed the nation’s capital with a hand-truck loaded down with three suitcases packed full of Social Security paperwork. “Those papers,” she would tell people, “prove they owe me more than $100,000.” They called her a hoarder and said that all those papers were a fire hazard. She slept in shelters and on the street. She didn’t trust anybody. And most counselors believed that mental illness, rather than messed up Social Security payments, were her problem.Social worker Julie Turner believed her, though. Turner went through the neatly organized paperwork when they met in November and realized that it did, indeed, prove that Witter’s Social Security payments weren’t accurate. Witter then met attorney Daniela de la Piedra, who handles many Social Security disputes for the Legal Counsel for the Elderly, which is affiliated with the AARP.
• The End of Social Security Loopholes: What Now? (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 12-4-15) For years, married couples were the big beneficiaries of loopholes that enabled retirees to file for benefits at their full retirement age, immediately suspend them, then begin collecting when they reached their highest value. That let the other spouse collect a spousal benefit. Under the new rules, retirees can collect only the larger benefits — spousal or their own — but not both. As a result, they may lose anywhere from $10,000 to more than $60,000, depending on the size of a couple’s spousal benefits.
• Low interest rates a growing threat to Social Security (Pi Zhang, Harvard, MarketWatch, 7-28-16) Retirement fund could be depleted absent big changes, experts say
• Will Social Security Be There for You? (Tom Sightings, US News, Retirement, 9-10-13) Officials will probably make more dramatic cuts for future beneficiaries, because as time goes on the financial pressure will increase and younger people don't vote as much.
• Doing More, Not Less, to Save Retirees From Financial Ruin (Eduardo Porter, NY Times, 6-15-15) Dire lack of financial literacy in United States casts significant doubts on conservative push to shift Social Security into hands of individual workers; observes that best solution may counter-intuitively involve enhancing some aspects of Social Security, despite financing shortfall, or encouraging employers to take up greater responsibility for retirement savings.
• Let’s close down Social Security gaming (Alicia H. Munnell, MarketWatch, 5-7-15)
• Cut spousal benefits to stop Social Security ‘gaming’ (Jeffrey B. Miller, MarketWatch, 6-19-15)
• How you would fix Social Security: Sooner rather than later (Jonnelle Marte, Washington Post, 10-29-14) Raise the retirement age, tax higher earnings, cut benefits--Congress is doing nothing, instead of doing what most people want.
• Congress Proposes Three Changes To Social Security That Make Sense (Jamie Hopkins, Forbes, 10-29-14) Base cost-of-living adjustments on elders' cost of living, which is different from that of whole population; change the threshold for when SS is taxable, to lower taxes derived from SS benefits; gradually increase the SS tax for everyone. (Hopkins does not suggest taxing the wealthy at higher rates.)
• Social Security, Present and Future (Editorial Board, NY Times, 3-30-13) There are rational and acceptable fixes to the program that could preserve it for generations to come, if political will can be found to enact them. "The debate over reforming Social Security will come down to tax increases versus benefit cuts. With retirements at risk, reducing benefits is dangerous, though trimming benefits for upper-income recipients, who live longer and draw larger benefits, could close about 10 percent of the system’s long-term funding gap. Another overdue reform, which would close about a third of the gap, is to raise the level of wages subject to Social Security payroll tax to about $200,000 from the current $113,700. That would bring the taxable wage base in line with rising incomes among top earners."
• The Truth About Social Security's Solvency And You (Chris Farrell, Forbes, 6-24-16)
• Social Security continuing to pursue claims against family members for old debts (Marc Fisher, Washington Post, 12-13-14) Social Security has continued to press Jessica Vela of San Diego for $16,888 that the government claims she owes for overpayments made to her mother in child support benefits when Vela was 1. Her mother refuses to pay it. "The Social Security Administration, which announced in April that it would stop trying to collect debts from the children of people who were allegedly overpaid benefits decades ago, has continued to demand such payments and now defends that practice in court documents."
• The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries (Ron Lieber, NY Times, 3-13-15) Many government programs are needlessly complicated, and the Social Security system is one of the worst. A new book tries to guide the unwary.
• Six months after the Target security breach, report says cases of identity theft are increasing (Teresa Dixon Murray, The Plain Dealer, 7-9-14). "Medical providers are particularly vulnerable to data breaches because health records generally contain detailed desirable personal information such as Social Security numbers, but the offices of doctors and other medical providers generally don't have the same firewalls and levels of protection that banks do."
• My Turn: Social Security’s demise has been greatly exaggerated – but that doesn’t mean reforms aren’t warranted ( Jonathan P. Baird, Concord Monitor, 6-19-15)
• ‘Zombie’ accounts top Social Security’s many quirks (Andy Landis, MarketWatch, 5-29-15)
• What can we learn from historical data on Social Security entitlements? (Journalist's Resource)
• Earnings inequality and mobility: Evidence from Social Security Data since 1937 (Journalist's Resource)
• How and when to apply for Social Security disability benefits (SSA)
• The Social Security Disability Claims Process (video, U.S. Social Security Administration)
• Filing a Disability Claim (video, U.S. Social Security Administration)
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Basics (video, Jenny Chung Mejia, staff attorney, Justice in Aging: Fighting senior poverty through law, 7-5-17)
• How Much in Social Security Disability Benefits Can You Get
• Disability Evaluation Under Social Security (Part III--Listing of Impairments). Along left, click on Adult Listings, Childhood Listings, evidentiary requirements, disability claims process video, etc.)
• Long Waits And Long Odds For Those Who Need Social Security Disability (Alex Smith, NPR, 6-13-17) "In the U.S., less than half of all people who apply for disability benefits — about 45 percent — are ultimately accepted....Getting a hearing takes an average of nearly 600 days.... It may become even harder for people like Hashmi, whose disability [from Lupus] is difficult to actually see or measure. This spring, the Social Security Administration introduced changes to fight fraud and streamline the application process, including a new rule that removes special consideration given to a person's longtime doctor."
• New Rule May Worsen Backlog For Social Security Disability Claimants (Alex Smith, Flatland, 6-13-17)
• Disability Benefits: Vets.gov If you have a disability that was caused by—or got worse because of—your active military service, you may be able to get disability benefits from VA.
• Applying for Disability Benefits (FindLaw's step-by-step guide)
• Listing of adult impairments (Disability Evaluation Under Social Security)
• The Social Security Maze and Other U.S. Mysteries (Ron Lieber, NY Times, Your Money, 3-13-15)
• A retirement plan for those who are coming up short (Steve Vernon, MoneyWatch, CBS News, 10-14-17) Many older workers will get a really good financial deal from Social Security if they can delay the start of benefits as long as possible. The SCL/SOA report contains estimates showing that if 65-year-old retirees delay drawing down retirement savings for five years -- until age 70 -- they can increase their total retirement income by 25 percent to 34 percent or more.
• National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). A source of information about Social Security, Medicare, Workers' Social Security: Americans Agree and other informative resources.
• How Social Security subconsciously affects retirement planning (Steve Vernon, Money Watch, CBS, 4-1-14)
• Paul Ryan rehashes an old Social Security lie--at your expense (Michael Hiltzik, The Economy Hub, Los Angeles Times, 4-1-14)
• Where Government Excels (Paul Krugman, NY Times, 4-10-15) Krugman applauds proposal by some Democratic lawmakers to expand Social Security benefits; holds that, counter to antigovernment propaganda being pushed by Republicans, there are some areas, including retirement benefits, where government is more effective than private sector; contends Social Security program works very well and that lawmakers should build on that success.
• Patching Up the Social Safety Net (Eduardo Porter, NY Times, 3-17-15) Wilbur Cohen, one of founders of U.S. Social Security System, contends that "Only universal programs that served all Americans could achieve the broad political support needed to become embedded in society. Programs targeted at the poor would be stigmatized as charity, underfunded and left to wither." Porter examines how Pres Obama's social initiatives, from food stamp expansion to the Affordable Care Act, have been specifically targeted toward needy; observes that strategy has fraught history.
• How Good is TSP--the Federal Employees Retirement Plan? (James W. Russell, HuffPost, 3-3-16) "TSP's 6.5% payout rate compares very favorably with the private insurance annuity industry average of 4.8% but not favorably with nonprofit annuities issued directly by defined benefit pension plans, which are in the 8-9% range....In answer to the original question of how good is TSP, the answer is a qualified pretty good as a supplementary retirement plan--but with room for significant improvement of its annuities; and not at all good as a standalone retirement program or even in combination with Social Security at its present level of benefits."
• The Insecure American (Paul Krugman, NY Times, 5-29-15) A new study on the financial well-being of U.S. households shows just how little room for error there is for many of us.
• Social Security Sued for Discriminating Against SSI Recipients Married to a Same Sex Spouse and Demanding Refunds of Benefits Paid ( Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), Justice in Aging, as posted on Erie Gay News, 3-10-15).
• How to file on your ex's Social Security (Andy Landis, MarketWatch, 5-8-15). See Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced (Social Security Administration)
• More NY Times stories on Social Security.
• Are You on the Right Track for Retirement? (Consumer Reports, 11-22-16) Read about four free tools to help you plan your retirement.
• Avoid These Common and Costly Senior Scams (Consumer Reports, 11-22-16)
• Annuities. CNN Money's Ultimate guide to retirement
• Will your pension be there when you need it? (Michelle Singletary, Washington Post, 2-20-17)
• Pension Rights Center. Look around this site, which may offer advice you didn't know you needed.
• Pension Help America Have a question about your retirement plan? Not sure where to turn for help? PensionHelp America can connect you with counseling projects, government agencies, and legal service providers that offer free information and assistance.
• Pension plan basics (Investopedia)
• Answers to Questions About 403(b) Plans (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 10-21-16) What are they? And who uses them? Why do they exist? Who regulates them?
• The Monk Who Left the Monastery to Fix Broken Retirement Plans (Ron Lieber, NY Times, 6-9-17) When colleagues came to Doug Lynam with small balances in expensive 403(b) plans, he decided that his true calling was in finance--as a "suffering prevention specialist." His professional conversations now feel a lot like confession, he says, with people sharing stories of unpaid debts, betrayals and sure things that were far from it. He listens, and then he must hold the mirror up to those who may not want to see the truth.
• Think Your Retirement Plan Is Bad? Talk to a Teacher (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 10-23-16) "Most Americans who save for retirement at work have 401(k) plans, which are generally offered by companies and must by law provide a mix of prudent investment options. But millions of Americans — public school teachers, clergy members, employees of religious institutions or nonprofits, and some charities — are not offered 401(k)’s. Instead they typically must rely on what are known as 403(b) plans, many of which are more lightly regulated." While some school districts and states have begun vetting plans for public school employees, most teachers must still sort through a bewildering list on their own. “What makes me the most angry is that public school employees are not protected the same as their private sector counterparts.”
• Even Math Teachers Are at a Loss to Understand Annuities (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 10-28-16) "Annuities can be hard to fully grasp even in their simplest configuration, where you hand a pile of money to an insurance company, then receive a guaranteed stream of annual income for life. But schoolteachers and other people doing good works are often" being sold a bill of goods, their money tied up in annuities they do not understand.
• An Annuity for the Teacher — and the Broker (Tara Siegel Bernard, NY Times, 10-27-16) “People who are in the schools pitching them and positioning themselves as retirement specialists are really there just to sell them one product.” The brokers are doing well; the teachers are not, and are beginning to look elsewhere for advice.
• A Roth 401(k) Could Make a Difference in Retirement (Carla Fried, Consumer Reports, 7-26-16) New study shows that Roths aren't just for younger Americans
• An HSA Can Help You Save for Retirement (Carla Fried, Consumer Reports, 5-4-16) The Health Savings Account offers a triple tax benefit
The following sources vary in clarity, level of detail, user-friendliness, so check them all and let me know if you find something better:
• Veterans benefits
• Veterans benefits, A to Z
• Compensation 101 (Veterans Benefits Administration)
• Veterans Claiming Disability Pay Face Wall of Denials and Delays (Dave Philipps, NY Times, 11-13-17) "The veterans benefits system started more than a century ago, and in the time since — as new wars stacked on entitlements and new abuses stacked on reforms — it has grown into an unruly tower of regulations. It pays out more than $78 billion each year to nearly five million beneficiaries. But there are also more than 470,000 veterans who have been denied benefits and have appealed. When they do, they encounter an antiquated system where processing cases takes years — and sometimes even decades."
• Changes to the VA’s Eligibility Requirements for Non-Service Connected Benefits (Don Rosenberg, ElderCare Matters, 5-6-19) "Effective October, 18, 2018, the law regarding VA Eligibility Requirements for a veteran (or spouse) to receive non-service connected benefits changed. This new law regarding the VA’s Aid and Attendance pension benefit imposed a 3 year look back and it established a net worth limit of $127,061 (in 2019), which will increase each year with cost-of-living adjustments."
• 2018 VA Service-Connected Disability Compensation Rates (The Military Wallet)
• 2019 Veterans Disability Compensation Rate Tables (Berry Law Firm. Veterans Law Attorneys--seem to specialize in PTSD) See also the firm's VA Disability Calculator.
• Your Guide to Long Term Services and Supports (Geriatrics and Extended Care, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs). See especially Paying for long-term care and locating long-term care services for veterans.
• Veterans resources (Funeral home Money & King's useful page: Who is eligible? How do you apply? Reimbursement of burial expenses. Burial Flags. Burial in national VA cemeteries. Headstones and markers. Presidential memorial certificates.)
• Survivors and Dependents Benefits (Death After Active Service) (U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs) and a page to lead you to info particularly for benefits for a veteran, parent, spouse, or child
• Fact sheets (on several topics, Veterans Benefits Administration)
• Aid & attendance (A&A) benefit and housebound benefit (VA) Veterans and survivors who are eligible for a VA pension and require the aid and attendance of another person, or are housebound, may be eligible for additional monetary payment. These benefits are paid in addition to monthly pension, and are not paid if you are not eligible for a VA pension.
• Benefit brochures (on several topics, Veterans Benefits Administration)
• Veterans Benefits for Long Term Care (Debra A. Robinson, ElderCare Matters)
• Housing options for seniors and disabled
• House committee puts up website to track stonewalling by Veterans Affairs press office (Mark Flatten, Washington Examiner, 3-24-14)
• Military Connections on Veteran Burial Benefits. Click on links for Military Funerals, Veteran Headstones or Marker, Presidential Memorial Certificate, and so on.
• Survivors' veteran burial benefits (click on button for whether service member died in service or after)
• Death Pension Benefits (for Widows,Widowers, and Dependent Children
• How to Claim Veterans Death Benefits
• Navigating the Local Eldercare System: A First Person Account (Ann Cochran, Bethesda Magazine, May-June 2015) "Elder law attorneys, especially those accredited by the VA, have done hundreds of applications..." As the veterans' advocate, their "goal is to get the application exactly right—on the first try.”
• Mesothelioma (Comfortdying.com). U.S. military veterans make up over 30% of all patients with malignant mesothelioma, especially among veterans from the Navy and Marines -- because Navy ships were once loaded with asbestos, because of its outstanding fire proofing properties.
• Veterans continue to die waiting for benefits: report (Michael Walsh, NY Daily News, 2-9-13) "Many veterans, who risked death overseas, are actually dying on native soil as disabilities claims stall in the vast abyss of a large ineffective bureaucracy, according to advocates. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a report Friday that confirms some of these advocates' most upsetting concerns. It reportedly takes about 272 days to process a veteran's disability claim - a 40 percent increase from 2011."
• The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and challenges to providing care for service members (research findings, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, 11-10-15)
• Veterans Claiming Illness From Burn Pits Lose Court Fight (Quil Lawrence, Morning Edition, NPR, 1-16-19) A decade-long fight ended at the Supreme Court this week, when justices refused to hear an appeal by veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who say that toxic smoke from burn pits made them sick. Hundreds of those veterans had sued the military contracting giant KBR, Inc., but lost first in U.S. district court and then again last year in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The 4th Circuit said KBR was under U.S. military direction when it burned tires and medical waste next to soldiers' barracks, and can't be held liable.
• Supreme Court upholds appellate decision on Burn Pit lawsuits (Perry Chiaramonte, Fox News, 1-15-19) The lawsuits charged that military contractor Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) dumped tires, batteries, medical waste, and other materials into open burn pits. The suits claimed the resulting smoke caused neurological problems, cancers, and other health issues in more than 800 service members. The complaints said at least 12 service members died. The original appeals court decision in December 2018 stated that KBR, which was formerly owned by Halliburton Corp., was under military control and had little discretion in deciding how to manage the waste on numerous military bases. KBR's attorney said the decision to use burn pits "was made by the military."
• VA Honesty Project (House Committee on Veterans' Affairs). Its goal: to highlight the Department of Veterans Affairs’ lack of transparency with the press and the public about its operations and activities.
• At Veterans Hospital in Oregon, a Push for Better Ratings Puts Patients at Risk, Doctors Say (Dave Philipps, NY Times, 1-1-18) Denial of care to a patient in need of acute care "appeared to be part of an attempt by members of the Roseburg Veterans Administration Medical Center to limit the number of patients it admitted to the hospital in an effort to lift its quality-of-care ratings....Fewer patients meant fewer chances of bad outcomes and better scores for a ranking system that grades all veterans hospitals on a scale of one to five stars. In 2016, administrators began cherry-picking cases against the advice of doctors — turning away complicated patients and admitting only the lowest-risk ones in order to improve metrics, according to multiple interviews with doctors and nurses at the hospital and a review of documents....as more patients were sent away in recent years, Roseburg was recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs as one of the rising stars of its health care system. However, interviews with staff at the hospital suggest that some improvements were pure manipulation. And in some cases efforts to improve the rating actually made care worse.;..On average, more than half the hospital’s beds now sit empty, he said, while patients are either sent home or transferred to private hospitals at government expense. Costly transfers don’t come out of the Roseburg budget, but they do protect the hospital by moving risk to other facilities’ books." Comments reader Anne Bergman: " Government can run good hospitals and bad hospitals, as we see in the variation of VA hospitals. Metrics can be useful or harmful, depending on who is using them and for what reason."
• The U.S. Veterans Affairs Department and challenges to providing care for service members (Journalists' Resource, 11-10-15) Research on the Veterans Affairs Department and the challenges it faces in providing care to former soldiers, now and in the future.
• Access to the US Department of Veterans Affairs health system: self-reported barriers to care among returnees of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. (PubMed, 12-1-13) This study provides an initial description of utilization of VA polytrauma rehabilitation and other medical care for veteran returnees from all military services who were involved in combat operations in Afghanistan or Iraq. Our findings indicate that these veterans reported important stigmatization and barriers to receiving services exclusively from the VA, including mutable health delivery system factors.
• VA Shifts To Clinical Pharmacists To Help Ease Patients’ Long Waits (Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News, 10-25-16) Clinical pharmacists — whose special training permits them to prescribe drugs, order lab tests, make referrals to specialists and do physical examinations — are handling more VA patients’ chronic care needs. That frees physicians to concentrate on new patients and others with complex needs. A quarter of primary care appointments at the Madison, Wisconsin, hospital are now handled by clinical pharmacists -- who receive two more years of education than regular pharmacists and can handle many primary care needs for patients, particularly after physicians have diagnosed their conditions.
• Internal documents detail secret VA quality ratings (Donovan Slack , USA Today, 12-7-16) "The Department of Veterans Affairs has for years assigned star ratings for each of its medical centers based on the quality of care and service they provide, but the agency has repeatedly refused to make them public, saying they are meant for internal use only. USA TODAY has obtained internal documents detailing the ratings, and they show the lowest-performing medical centers are clustered in Texas and Tennessee."
• “Racial Disparities in Cancer Care in the Veterans Affairs Health Care System and the Role of Site of Care” (Cleo A. Samuel et al. American Journal of Public Health, September 2014) Disparities in VA cancer care were observed for 7 of 20 measures and were primarily attributable to within-hospital differences.”
• “Retaining Homeless Veterans in Outpatient Care: A Pilot Study of Mobile Phone Text Message Appointment Reminders” (D. Keith McInnes et al. American Journal of Public Health, September 2014) - Conclusions: "Text message reminders are a feasible means of reaching homeless veterans, and users consider it acceptable and useful. Implementation may reduce missed visits and emergency department use, and thus produce substantial cost savings.”
• Pentagon Reorganizing How It Brings Home America's War Dead (Kelly McEvers, Morning Edition, NPR News Investigations, 3-31-04) Listen to story or read transcript.
• Grave Science (Kelly McEvers, NPR, and Megan McCloskey, ProPublica, on NPR 3-6-14). The U.S. military's effort to recover and bring home the remains of its service members who were missing in action is slow, inefficient, and stymied by outdated methods.
• Veterans' Diseases Associated with Agent Orange (U.S. Dept of Veterans Affairs)
• Reliving Agent Orange. ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot are exploring the effects of the chemical mixture Agent Orange on Vietnam veterans and their families, as well as their fight for benefits. Important series.
• Long List of Agent Orange Decisions Awaits VA in 2017 (Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh for The Virginian-Pilot, 12-28-16). The Department of Veterans Affairs must decide whether to add new diseases to its list of conditions presumed to be linked to Agent Orange. It also faces calls to compensate naval veterans and those who served along the Korean demilitarized zone.
• ProPublica Files Lawsuit Seeking Agent Orange Documents From the VA (Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, 12-20-16) The suit claims the VA failed to promptly process a FOIA request for correspondence with a consultant about the defoliant used during the Vietnam War.
• Veterans and Agent Orange: Update 2014 (report released 3-10-16, National Academies, Health & Medicine Division)
• Agent Orange and Cancer (American Cancer Society)
• VA Is Gearing Up for a Massive Shift of Health Care to the Private Sector. But Democrats Are Fighting Back. (Lisa Rein, WaPo, 3-22-19) President Trump’s signature policy for veterans — allowing more of them to shift their health care from the government-run system to private doctors and hospitals — is under attack from newly empowered Democrats and their allies on Capitol Hill. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is moving quickly to roll out new rules by June that would expand access to private care, especially for veterans in rural and congested areas, if they have a 30-minute drive to receive primary care.
• Veterans talking veterans back from the brink: A new approach to policing and lives in crisis (Rob Kuznia, WaPo, 3-20-19) The former Army soldier was slumped in the back seat of a sheriff’s department squad car when Shannon Teague and Tyrone “T-bone” Anderson arrived on the scene. A couple of hours earlier, high on meth, he’d been yelling “you will die” from the front porch of a transition house for homeless veterans. Teague made the introductions. Neither she nor Anderson wore a uniform, except for the patch on their jackets and the ID tags clipped to their shirts. “I’m a social worker, and this is my partner, T-bone,” she told the man. “We are from the VA. You’re not in trouble.” Against the backdrop and heartache of their persistently high suicide rates, authorities are touting the Los Angeles County program's new approach to dealing with veterans in crisis as a breakthrough in policing that could save lives. At its core is the belief that veterans are often best equipped to talk brethren back from the brink — and to guide them to services. Since the program’s launch in September, local law enforcement agencies answering such 911 calls have dispatched not only deputies or officers but also two-person teams from the Veterans Affairs hospital in Long Beach.
The Veterans Health Administration runs about 170 medical centers across the country and employs roughly 4,700 sworn officers to patrol the grounds of its hospitals. With rare exceptions, officials acknowledge, they stay within their campus confines. But the pilot program run by the VA Long Beach Healthcare System sends officers and clinicians off the grounds, either to respond to emergency calls or to check on veterans who have missed therapy appointments.
• Common Disabilities Faced by Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans (DisabledVets.com) Educational infographic.
• Assistive devices, remodeling, and other ways to enable independent living (several links here to federal resources for veterans, seniors, and disabled citizens)
• For Veterans, an Alternative to the Nursing Home (Alyson Martin and Nushin Rashidian, NY Times, 7-18-12). The Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Foster Home program places veterans who need round-the-clock care in private homes.
• Working with the Veterans Health Administration: A Guide for Providers
• In Battle Over Future of Veterans’ Care, Moderation Wins, for Now (Nicholas Fandos and Dave Phillips, NY Times, 3-6-18) " In an administration rife with intramural fights, the battle over the Department of Veterans Affairs has stood out, not only for its vitriol but also for its consequences. At stake is the future of the nation’s veterans health care system. For now at least, it appears moderation has prevailed, with the Veterans Affairs secretary, David J. Shulkin, thwarting a pitched conservative push to drive him out....Offstage lurked Concerned Veterans for America, part of the constellation of political groups funded by the billionaire libertarian-leaning activists Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, in this case to push the department away from government-run veterans’ care and toward private care subsidized by the government....At the root of the dispute is a long-running battle over how to deliver health care to the nation’s veterans. The department, the federal government’s second largest, operates more than 1,200 hospitals and clinics across the country where about nine million veterans receive treatment at little or no cost....Policymakers in both parties argue that offering veterans unrestricted choice between the public veterans health care system and private medical providers would be too expensive and lead to the dismantling of the Veterans Affairs system. They have generally favored a more measured approach that would allow the department to approve the use of private care when waiting times are too long at veterans’ hospitals or when veterans live too far from the department’s facilities."
• Complete Guide for Veteran Seniors (National Council for Aging Care). The latest U.S. Census brief puts the number of veterans over 65 at over 12.4 million. Those who have served in the military during wartime, have probably taken advantage of education programs, career resources, and home loans available to them. Now they can take advantage of resources available to veteran seniors, including pensions, life insurance, geriatric and extended-care services, and veteran burials.
• Trump’s most popular Cabinet secretary is Obama holdover (Arthur Allen, Politico, 8-28-17) VA Secretary David Shulkin has proven to be something unique in President Donald Trump's Washington: an Obama appointee nominated by Trump who is beloved by almost everyone and getting stuff done. By tweaking regulations, he has managed to fire hundreds of allegedly incompetent employees, publicized waiting times at VA clinics, gotten money to expand vets’ treatment by private doctors, and expanded care for isolated vets through telemedicine and mobile phones, while promising to close 430 vacant VA buildings and speed up benefit awards. Shulkin also made a bold — and risky — decision to bypass contracting rules to buy a $16 billion digital health record system.
• VA's Caregiver Program Still Dropping Veterans With Disabilities (Quil Lawrence, NPR, 5-21-18) The Department of Veterans Affairs' Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers pays a stipend to family members or friends of a post-Sept. 11 veteran — often a wife or mother — who provide care. "The stipend ranges from a a few hundred to a couple of thousand dollars a month depending on the severity of the disability and the market rate for caregivers." But some VAs across the country were dropping caregivers off the program while most other VAs were adding (see Some VAs Are Dropping Veteran Caregivers From Their Rolls (4-5-17).
• VA Initiative To Support Private Caregivers Falls Short, Report Finds ( Ben Kesling and Heidi Vogt, Wall Street Journal, 8-17-18) A multimillion-dollar Department of Veterans Affairs initiative to help people who care for disabled veterans suffers from poor support for the ailing, delays in funding for caregivers, and other problems, according to the department’s internal watchdog. The VA’s family caregiver program was established in 2012 to provide financial assistance and emotional support to family members and others who care for severely disabled veterans. These caregivers, veterans groups say, have long gone largely unrecognized and uncompensated.
• Treated Like a ‘Piece of Meat’: Female Veterans Endure Harassment at the V.A. (Jennifer Steinhauer, NY Times, 3-12-19) An entrenched, sexist culture at many veterans hospitals is driving away female veterans and lags far behind the gains women have made in the military in recent years, veterans and lawmakers of both parties say. Women say it is galling that such a demeaning atmosphere persists, especially for the roughly 30 percent of female veterans who have reported being harassed or assaulted while serving in the military.
• Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Basics (video, Jenny Chung Mejia, staff attorney, Justice in Aging: Fighting senior poverty through law, 7-5-17)
• Am I eligible for SSI benefits? (SSI) The Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool (BEST) helps you find out if you could get benefits that Social Security administers. Based on your answers to questions, this tool will list benefits for which you might be eligible and tell you more information about how to qualify and apply.
• The SSI Application Process and Applicant Rights How may I apply for SSI benefits?
• Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act Info about Tax-Free Savings Accounts for Disabled Individuals.
• How Much in Social Security Disability Benefits Can You Get? (Bethany K. Laurence, Disability Secrets, NOLO) Your SSDI payment depends on your average lifetime earnings. It is not based on how severe your disability is or how much income you have. Most SSDI recipients receive between $700 and $1,700 per month (the average for 2018 is $1,197). However, if you are receiving disability payments from other sources, your payment may be reduced.
• The SNAP Gap: Benefits Aren't Enough to Keep Many Recipients Fed (Tracie McMillan, NPR News, 3-3-16) "In 2014, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program supported 23 million American households. The same year, 32 percent of all households who received SNAP in the previous 30 days reported they had visited a food pantry, the USDA says. And 23 percent of households using the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program visited a pantry that year, as had 23 percent of households receiving free or reduced-price school lunch....many SNAP clients — about 45 percent — limited food consumption, usually by skipping meals, to make it through the month. Other research has shown that hospital admissions for hypoglycemia —low blood sugar, a condition that can be treated with a healthy diet — spike by 27 percent for low-income households during that last week of the month, while high-income households show no similar trend." Tracie McMillan is the author of The American Way of Eating: Undercover at Walmart, Applebee's, Farm Fields and the Dinner Table (a bestselling work of undercover journalism that offers “a compelling and cogent argument that eating healthily ought to be easier” (The Cleveland Plain Dealer).
• Why Poor Areas Vote For Politicians Who Want To Slash The Safety Net (Alec MacGillis, Pro Publica, HuffPost Politics, 11-20-15) It is one of the central political puzzles of our time: Parts of the country that depend on the safety-net programs supported by Democrats are increasingly voting for Republicans who favor shredding that net. "The people in these communities who are voting Republican in larger proportions are those who are a notch or two up the economic ladder — the sheriff’s deputy, the teacher, the highway worker, the motel clerk, the gas station owner and the coal miner. And their growing allegiance to the Republicans is, in part, a reaction against what they perceive, among those below them on the economic ladder, as a growing dependency on the safety net, the most visible manifestation of downward mobility in their declining towns." "Meanwhile, many people who in fact most use and need social benefits are simply not voting at all. Voter participation is low among the poorest Americans, and in many parts of the country that have moved red, the rates have fallen off the charts. West Virginia ranked 50th for turnout in 2012; also in the bottom 10 were other states that have shifted sharply red in recent years, including Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee."
• Inequalities in U.S. “safety net” programs for the poor (Sarah Bruch, Journalist's Resource, 11-13-15) 2015 research brief from Scholars Strategy Network and the University of Iowa that explores inequalities in how U.S. government “safety net” programs serve the poor.
• Low-income housing tax credits: Impact on property values (Journalist's Resource) Urban gentrification and its impacts have become controversial topics as housing prices rise and new developments in low-income areas attract younger, higher-earning professionals and push out low- and middle-income families. A variety of government programs and tax incentives, including the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program, were created to help these families cope with financial challenges and high high rents by providing quality housing at below-market prices.
• How America's Wealth Gap Shows Up On Our Dinner Plates (Maria Godoy, National Public Radio, 9-20-15) The poor are eating less nutritious food than everyone else.
• Food stamps and food security: Effect on obesity, dietary quality (Journalist's Resource) Here's why the poor are eating less nutritious food than everyone else.
• The GOP wants to cut the social safety net — but only for young and poor people (James Pethokoukis, The Week, 5-8-15)
• The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up: How Your Area Compares (NY Times's excellent interactive graphic, The Upshot) How much extra money a county causes children in poor families to make, compared with children in poor families nationwide.
• Neighborhood circumstances and children’s life chances: Landmark study from Harvard (Journalist's Resource) 2015 study from Harvard showing how neighborhood circumstance can have a substantial impact on a child’s future earnings.
• Federal Safety Net (presents the complex programs of the Federal Safety Net in a simple format to foster the education of all citizens. See the Safety Net page and the separate welfare reform page. Provides data on these safety net programs include negative earned income tax credit (EITC), SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, replacing food stamps), HUD (housing assistance programs), SSI (Supplemental Security Income), Pell Grants, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), Child Nutrition (school lunch, breakfast, and after-school food programs), Head Start, Job Training, WIC (Women, Infants, and Children), Child Care, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), Lifeline (Obama Phone), Medicaid (health care for elder Americans).
• Safety Net More Effective Against Poverty Than Previously Thought (Arloc Sherman and Danilo Trisi, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 5-6-15) "Correcting for underreporting of benefits reveals stronger reductions in poverty and deep poverty in all states. Social Security raises more Americans out of poverty than any other program: 27.4 million in 2012. Among programs limited to people with low or modest incomes, SNAP (formerly food stamps) has the greatest poverty-reducing impact, lifting 10.3 million people out of poverty in 2012. SNAP also lifts more Americans out of deep poverty (5.2 million) than any other means-tested program. The refundable tax credits for low-income working families — the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) — have an impact comparable to that for SNAP. Together they, too, lifted 10.3 million people out of poverty in 2012. The safety net protects millions of Americans from poverty and especially from deep poverty. SNAP and the two working-family tax credits are especially important for children."
• Addressing Key Misconceptions About Social Security (Bryann DaSilva, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 11-23-15) Without Social Security, almost half of the elderly would live in poverty.
• Low-Income Programs Not Driving Nation’s Long-Term Fiscal Problem (Robert Greenstein, Isaac Shapiro, and Richard Kogan, Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, 3-12-15) If the question is whether low-income programs are contributing to the nation’s longer-term budget challenges, the answer is that, outside of health care costs, the opposite is the case.
• Understanding the GOP divide on Medicaid expansion (Alexander Hertel-Fernandez and Theda Skocpol, from Scholars Strategy Network, on Journalist's Resource, 10-15-15)
• Living on $1.25 a day with no safety net (Mark Thompson, CNN, 5-13-14) The World Bank said that more than 70% of people worldwide living on less than $1.25 a day are still not covered by social safety nets such as free school meals, state pensions or public works programs. That means 870 million people living in extreme poverty in the developing world have nothing to fall back on if disaster strikes.
• Social Safety Net Not Wide Enough to Protect World’s Poor (Zhai Yun Tan, Inter Press Service, 7-7-15) According to a report released by the World Bank, most of the poor without a social safety net system are in lower-income countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, where the vast majority of the world’s poor reside. The World Bank reports that poor policy choices lie at the heart of inefficiencies in adequately providing for the poor. Fuel and electricity subsidies, for instance, reduce the portion of government spending allocated to social spending. These regressive subsidies disproportionately benefit the rich.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” ~ Charles Dickens
“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” ~ John Bunyan
“Love is not patronizing and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.”~ Mother Teresa
“If you’re in the luckiest one per cent of humanity, you owe it to the rest of humanity to think about the other 99 per cent.” ~ Warren Buffett
“He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” ~ Abraham Lincoln
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