Vet Issues 16

Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Benefits Administration

Washington, DC  20420

Access Letter 201F-01-3

May 4, 2001

Director (00)
Regional Offices and Centers

SUBJ:  Health Benefits Service Center

1.      The Health Benefits Service Center (HBSC) has been in operation since June 1998.  The HBSC was originally designed to respond to questions from veterans and others concerning the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Act of 1996 and the Millennium Health Care and Benefits Care Act of 1999.  The HBSC now handles a wide spectrum of telephone calls concerning VA medical benefits services.

2.      The Office of Access Management and Facilities is currently working with the Veterans Health Administration and our contractor for the National Automated Response System (NARS) to allow direct transfer of calls to the HBSC if a caller presses zero from the Medical Benefits module in NARS. 

3.      VA Regional Office personnel are encouraged to provide callers, seeking Veterans' Health Administration medical benefits information, the Health Benefits Service Center national toll-free number, 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

4.      The attached HBSC fact sheet provides information concerning the HBSC.  This information should be disseminated to Veterans Service Representatives and may be shared with service organizations and other stakeholders to increase awareness of this valuable resource.


Leo Phelan
Director, Office of Access Management and Facilities




1-877-222-VETS (8387)

The Health Benefits Service Center (HBSC) provides veterans, staff, and other stakeholders with consistent, accurate and complete information concerning details of the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Reform Act of 1996 and The Millennium Health Care and Benefits Care Act of 1999.

Live HBSC call agents, using state of the art call center technology, provide real time scripted responses concerning eligibility for medical treatment and services.  Agents also answer questions concerning:

The HBSC also transfers calls to VA Medical Centers and other VA entities when appropriate.


Office of Public Affairs
    Media Relations   Washington, DC  20420
   (202) 273-5700 of
Veterans AffairsNews Release
May 2001

Facts about the Department of Veterans Affairs
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) was established on March 15, 1989.  It succeeded the Veterans Administration and has responsibility for providing federal benefits to veterans and their dependents.  Headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, VA is the second largest of the 14 Cabinet departments and operates nationwide programs of health care, financial assistance and national cemeteries.

Of the 25.5 million veterans currently alive, nearly three of every four served during a war or an official period of hostility.  About a quarter of the nation's population - approximately 70 million people - are potentially eligible for VA benefits and services because they are veterans, family members or survivors of veterans.

The responsibility to care for veterans, spouses, survivors and dependents can last a long time.  The last dependent of a Revolutionary War veteran died in 1911.  The War of 1812's last dependent died in 1946, and the Mexican War's in 1962.  About 650 children and widows of Spanish-American War veterans still receive VA compensation or pensions.  There are nearly a dozen children and one widow of Civil War veterans still drawing VA benefits.

VA's fiscal year 2001 budget appropriation is $48.8 billion - $20.9 billion for health care and $27.9 billion for benefits.  Fifty-one percent of outlays will go for direct payments such as compensation, pension and education benefits; 46 percent for medical care; less than one percent for construction of hospitals, national cemeteries and other programs; and 2 percent for general operating expenses. 

Compensation and Pension
About 2.7 million veterans receive disability compensation or pensions from VA.  Also receiving VA benefits are 592,713 widows, children and parents of deceased veterans.  Among them are 133,881 survivors of Vietnam era veterans and 295,679 survivors of World War II veterans.  In fiscal year 2001, VA planned to spend $22 billion yearly in disability compensation, death compensation and pension to 3.2 million people.

Education and Training
Since 1944, when the first GI Bill began, more than 20.7 million veterans, servicemembers and family members have received $73 billion in GI Bill benefits for education and training.

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Facts 2001   2/2/2/2

The number of GI Bill recipients includes 7.8 million veterans from World War II, 2.4 million from the Korean War and 8.2 million post-Korean and Vietnam era veterans and active duty service personnel.  VA also has assisted in the education of more than 730,000 dependents of veterans whose deaths or total disabilities were service-connected.

In 2000, VA helped pay for the education or training of 279,949 veterans and active-duty personnel, 70,299 reservists and National Guardsmen and 44,820 survivors.

Medical Care
Perhaps the most visible of all VA benefits and services is health care.  From 54 hospitals in 1930, VA's health care system has grown to 163 hospitals, with at least one in each of the 48 contiguous states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia.  VA operates more than 800 ambulatory care and community-based outpatient clinics, 135 nursing homes, 43 domiciliaries and 73 comprehensive home-care programs.  VA health care facilities provide a broad spectrum of medical, surgical and rehabilitative care.

During the last five years, VA has put its health care facilities under 22 networks, which provide more medical services to more veterans and family members than at any time during VA's long history.

More than 3.8 million people received care in VA health care facilities in 2000.  VA is used annually by approximately 75 percent of all disabled and low-income veterans.  In 2000, VA treated about 585,000 patients in VA hospitals and contract hospitals, 84,000 in nursing homes and 49,000 in domiciliaries.  VA's outpatient clinics registered approximately 38.4 million visits.

VA manages the largest medical education and health professions training program in the United States.  VA facilities are affiliated with 107 medical schools, 55 dental schools and more than 1,200 other schools across the country.  Each year, about 85,000 health professionals are trained in VA medical centers.  More than half of the physicians practicing in the United States have had part of their professional education in the VA health care system. 

VA's medical system also serves as a backup to the Defense Department during national emergencies and as a federal support organization during major disasters. 

Since 1979, VA's Readjustment Counseling Service has operated Vet Centers, which provide psychological counseling for war-related trauma, community outreach, case management and referral activities, plus supportive social services to veterans and family members.  There are 206 Vet Centers.

Since the first Vet Center opened, approximately 1.6 million veterans have been helped.   Every year, the Vet Centers serve over 130,000 veterans and provide at least 850,000 visits to veterans and family members. 

Facts 2001   3/3/3/3

Vet Centers are open to any veteran who served in the military in a combat theater during wartime or anywhere during a period of armed hostilities.  Vet Centers also provide trauma counseling to veterans who were sexually assaulted or harassed while on active duty.

VA has a variety of programs to assist homeless veterans.  Programs for alcoholism, drug addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder have been expanded in recent years, along with attention to environmental hazards.

Indispensable to providing America's veterans with quality medical care are more than 105,000 volunteers in VA's Voluntary Service who donate nearly 14 million hours of service each year to bring companionship and care to hospitalized veterans. 

While providing high quality health care to the nation's veterans, VA also conducts an array of research on some of the most difficult challenges facing medical science today.  VA has become a world leader in such research areas as aging, womens' health concerns, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues.  VA research has improved medical care not only for veterans but also for all people. 

VA researchers played key roles in developing the cardiac pacemaker, the CT scan, magnetic source imaging and improvements in artificial limbs.  The first kidney transplant in the United States was performed at a VA medical facility and the first successful drug treatments for high blood pressure and schizophrenia were pioneered by VA researchers.  The "Seattle Foot" was created by VA to give amputees the push-off needed to run and jump.  VA contributions to medical knowledge have won VA scientists many prestigious awards, including the Nobel Prize.  

Seventy-five percent of VA researchers are practicing physicians.  Because of their dual roles, VA research often immediately benefits patients.  Functional electrical stimulation, a technology using controlled electrical current to activate paralyzed muscles, is being developed at VA clinical facilities and laboratories throughout the country.  Through this technology, paraplegic patients have been able to stand and, in some instances, walk short distances and climb stairs.  Patients with quadriplegia are able to use their hands to grasp objects. 

Special VA centers nationwide conduct research on AIDS, alcoholism, aging, rehabilitation, schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.  Multi-center clinical trials investigate the best therapy for various conditions, such as aspirin therapy for heart patients, surgical treatment to reduce risk of stroke and treatment options for prostate cancer.

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Facts 2001  4/4/4/4

Post-traumatic stress disorder and Agent Orange exposure, both research areas resulting from the Vietnam war, are continuing with new twists added from the Gulf War.  VA is involved in a number of Gulf War-related research projects and has two environmental hazards research centers focusing on the possible health effects of environmental exposures of Gulf War veterans.

In 2000, funding for VA research was about $321 million.  Another $344 million from VA's medical care account supports research efforts.  Competed funding from the National Institutes of Health and other foundations, combined with supporting funds from pharmaceutical companies, contributed another $490 million to VA research.  VA currently conducts more than 15,000 research projects at 115 VA medical centers, and its Career Development program provides young scientists an opportunity to develop skills as clinician-researchers.

Home Loan Assistance
Since 1944, when VA began helping veterans purchase homes under the original GI Bill, through September 2000 about 16.4 million VA home loan guarantees have been issued, with a total value of $680 billion.

VA's programs for specially adapted housing helped 523 disabled veterans with grants totaling $23 million last year.  In fiscal year 2000, VA guaranteed nearly 200,000 loans valued at $23.3 billion.

VA operates one of the largest life insurance programs in the world and the fourth largest one in the United States.  VA administers six life insurance programs with 2.2 million policies in force having a face value of $22 billion.

In addition, VA supervises the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance and the Veterans' Group Life Insurance programs, which provide $570 billion in insurance coverage to approximately three million veterans, active-duty members, reservists and Guardsmen.  VA will return almost $660 million in dividends to 1.8 million veterans holding some VA life insurance policies.

VA's National Cemeteries
In 1973, most Army-administered national cemeteries were transferred to VA, which now manages them through its National Cemetery Administration.  Since assuming this responsibility, VA has doubled available gravesites to more than two million.  Currently, VA maintains 119 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico. 

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Facts 2001  5/5/5/5

In 1999 and 2000, VA opened four new national cemeteries: the Saratoga National Cemetery near Albany, N.Y.; the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery near Chicago; the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery; and the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery near Cleveland.  Within the next five years, VA plans to open six more national cemeteries.  Those areas are: Atlanta, Detroit, Miami, Sacramento (Calif.), Pittsburgh and Oklahoma City.  Achieving this objective will advance VA's goal of serving 88 percent of veterans with a national cemetery or state veterans cemetery within 75 miles of their homes by 2006.

Interments in VA national cemeteries in 2000 increased by 6.5 percent over 1999, for a total of 82,700.  That number is likely to increase to 116,000 in 2008.  In 2000, VA provided more than 347,000 headstones or markers for veterans' graves.  Since taking over the veterans cemetery program in 1973, VA has provided more than 7 million headstones and markers.

VA administers the Presidential Memorial Certificate program, which provides engraved paper certificates signed by the president to commemorate honorably discharged, deceased veterans.  They are sent to the veteran's next of kin and loved ones.  VA provided 322,000 certificates in 2000. 

VA also administers the State Cemetery Grants Program, which encourages development of state veterans cemeteries.  VA provides 100 percent of the funds to develop, expand or improve veterans cemeteries operated and maintained by the states. More than $87 million has been awarded for 49 veterans cemeteries (43 of them still operational) in 26 states, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.  Seven state cemeteries are under construction.  In 2000, state cemeteries that received VA grants buried more than 14,000 eligible veterans and family members.

VA Employees
On VA's rolls as of February 28, 2001 were 221,652 employees.  Among all departments and agencies of the federal government, only the Department of Defense has a larger work force.

Of the total number of VA employees, 200,948 were in the Veterans Health Administration, 11,968 in the Veterans Benefits Administration, 1,365 in the National Cemetery System, 3,326 in the Veterans Canteen Service and 360 in the Revolving Supply Fund.  The remainder - 3,685 employees - were in various staff offices.  More than 57 percent of VA employees are women. 

VA is a leader in hiring veterans.  About 53 percent of all male employees are veterans.  As of February 28, 2001, VA had 8,139 women employees who served in the U.S. armed forces.  More than 63 percent of male and 37 percent of female veteran employees served during the Vietnam War.  Nearly 7 percent of all VA employees are disabled veterans.

Facts 2001  6/6/6/6

Chronological History of the Department of Veterans Affairs
1930.......     The Veterans Administration was created by Executive Order 5398, signed by President Herbert Hoover on July 21.  At that time, there were 54 hospitals, 4.7 million living veterans and 31,600 employees.

1933.......     The Board of Veterans Appeals was established.
1944.......     On June 22, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the "Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944" (Public Law 346, passed unanimously by the 78th Congress), more commonly known as  "The GI Bill of Rights," offering home loan and education benefits to veterans.

1946.......     The Department of Medicine & Surgery was established, succeeded in 1989 by the Veterans Health Services and Research Administration, renamed the Veterans Health Administration in 1991.

1953.......     The Department of Veterans Benefits was established, succeeded in 1989 by the Veterans Benefits Administration.

1973.......     The National Cemetery System - renamed the National Cemetery Administration in 1998 - was created when Congress transferred 82 national cemeteries from the Army to VA.  The Army kept Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Soldiers' and Airmen's Home National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

1988.......     Legislation to elevate VA to Cabinet status was signed by President Reagan.
1989.......     On March 15, VA became the 14th Department in the President's Cabinet.

      Secretaries of Veterans Affairs
Anthony J. Principi     2001 - Present                  Max Cleland             1977 - 1981
Togo D. West, Jr.       1998 - 2000                     Richard L. Roudebush 1974 - 1977
Jesse Brown             1993 - 1997                     Donald E. Johnson       1969 - 1974
Edward J. Derwinski     1989 - 1992                     William J. Driver       1965 - 1969
                                                        John S. Gleason 1961 - 1964
    Administrators of Veterans Affairs          Sumner G. Whittier      1957 - 1961
Edward J. Derwinski     1989                            Harvey V. Higley        1953 - 1957
Thomas K. Turnage       1986 - 1989                     Carl R. Gray            1948 - 1953
Harry N. Walters        1982 - 1986                     Omar Bradley            1945 - 1948
Robert P. Nimmo 1981 - 1982                     Frank T. Hines  1930 - 1945


    Office of Public Affairs
    Media Relations   Washington, DC  20420
   (202) 273-5700 of
Veterans AffairsNews Release
May 8, 2001

Rules Published for VA's Diabetes-Agent Orange Benefits
        WASHINGTON - Vietnam veterans with "Type 2" diabetes came closer today to receiving disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with the formal publication of the rules that will allow VA to provide benefits to those veterans.

        "The hazards of the battlefield include more than bullets and shells," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "As our understanding of the health risks faced by our military personnel increases, VA will adjust its programs and benefits to fit the needs of veterans."

        Principi's announcement came as the Federal Register today published VA's final rules for benefits for Vietnam veterans with "Type 2" diabetes.  Under federal law, those rules don't take effect for 60 days.  However, VA offices are already accepting claims from eligible Vietnam veterans.

        Veterans affected by the new rules will receive a priority for VA health care, and, depending upon the severity of their illnesses, disability compensation that ranges from $101 to $2,107 monthly.

        Today's announcement follows a report in November by the National Academy of Sciences' prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) that found "limited / suggestive" evidence of a link between adult-onset, or Type 2, diabetes, and Agent Orange and other herbicides used in Vietnam.

        VA estimates that about 9 percent of the 2.3 million Vietnam veterans still alive have Type 2 diabetes.  The illness is characterized by high blood sugar levels caused by the body's inability to process the hormone insulin.  Approximately 16 percent of veterans currently receiving care in VA medical facilities have been diagnosed with diabetes. 

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 Diabetes 2/2/2/2

Cost of the new benefit during the next five years is projected to be $3.3 billion, with about 220,000 veterans receiving benefits.

The number of diseases recognized by VA as associated with Agent Orange has steadily increased since the early 1990s.   The following conditions are now considered service-connected for veterans who served in Vietnam: chloracne (a skin disorder); porphyria cutanea tarda (a liver disorder); acute or subacute peripheral neuropathy (a nerve disorder); and certain cancers, including non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, soft tissue sarcoma, Hodgkin's disease, multiple myeloma, prostate cancer and respiratory cancers (including cancers of the lung, larynx, trachea and bronchus). 




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