Legislative UpdateBVA Director of Government Relations Melanie Brunson

by Melanie Brunson

COLA’s are coming for Beneficiaries of Social Security and Veterans Disability Compensation

Earlier this month, the Social Security Administration released a statement announcing that beginning with checks for the month of January 2018, Social Security beneficiaries will receive a Cost of Living Adjustment of 2.0 percent. People who receive Social Security disability or retirement benefits will see this increase in checks issued after December 1, 2017. People who receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments will see the increase beginning December 29, 2017.

This change is due to an increase in the Consumer Price Index, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Incidentally, there will be an accompanying change in the earnings limit for people who receive Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits.

SSDI beneficiaries who are blind will be able to earn up to $1,970 per month without penalty for engaging in substantial gainful employment. This is an increase of $20 per month from the 2017 earnings limit.

People with disabilities, other than blindness, will be able to earn $10 more per month without a negative impact on their benefits.

Additionally, legislation to provide a similar cost of living increase to those who receive Veterans Compensation and Dependency Compensation, as well as those who receive a clothing allowance from the VA, cleared its last hurdle when the Senate approved the measure.

Since the House had approved the bill earlier this year, it was sent on to the White House for the President’s signature. There is widespread, bipartisan support for this measure, which mandates that beneficiaries of the compensation programs noted above receive a cost of living adjustment identical to that given with Social Security beneficiaries, based upon the Consumer Price Index report.

Veterans receiving disability benefits, surviving spouses and children who receive dependency compensation, and veterans who receive a clothing allowance can expect to see a 2.0 percent increase beginning with checks issued after December 1 of this year.

Please feel free to share this information with anyone who may be impacted by it. I will also provide a link to the Social Security Administration’s press release for anyone wanting more information. Link to Press Release: https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/ releases/#/post/10-2017-1.

Nationwide Class Action Challenges Hulu’s Discrimination Against Blind and Visually Impaired Individuals

A coalition of blind and visually impaired individuals and advocacy groups filed a nationwide class action against Hulu to end the video streaming company’s ongoing exclusion of blind and visually impaired Americans.

The lawsuit — filed on November 20, 2017, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts — challenges Hulu’s violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Hulu, one of the largest online-streaming services in the country, offers thousands of shows and movies, including award-winning original content, to most customers at the click of a mouse.

However, the company fails to provide audio description — a separate audio track that blind and visually impaired people need in order to access the exclusively visual content of a show or movie — for any streaming videos.

In addition, Hulu’s website and applications are not accessible to blind and visually impaired individuals who use screen readers to navigate the internet. The American Council of the Blind, Bay State Council of the Blind, and blind individuals brought this action to end Hulu’s discriminatory business practices. Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), a national nonprofit legal center, and the Disability Law Center (DLC), Massachusetts’s Protection and Advocacy system, represent these individuals and organizations.

Latest Statistics from the Veteran’s Administration as of 30 September 2017

Number of Veterans Receiving VA Disability Compensation: 4.55 Million
Number of Veterans Rated 100% Disabled: 609,325 thousand
Number of Veterans Receiving VA Pension: 276,574 thousand
Number of Spouses Receiving DIC: 394,028 thousand
Number of Total Enrollees in VA Health Care System in Fiscal year 2016: 9.05 Million
Number of Total Unique Patients Treated in Fiscal year 2016: 6.26 Million
Number of Veterans Compensated for PTSD: 959,703 thousand
Number of Veterans in Receipt of IU Benefits: 349,049 thousand
Number of VA Education Beneficiaries: 946,829 thousand
Number of Life Insurance Policies Supervised and Administered by VA: 6.08 Million
Face Amount of Insurance Policies Supervised and Administered by VA: 1.22 Trillion
Number of Veterans Participating in Vocational Rehab (Chapter 31) in Fiscal year 2016: 137, 0973 thousand
Number of Active VA Home Loan Participants: 2.90 Million
Number of Health Care Professionals Rotating Through VA in Fiscal year 2016: 127,211 thousand
Number of OEF/OIF Amputees: 1,716

Veterans Demographics

Projected U.S. Veterans Population: 19,998,799 {Female 1,882,848 9.4%}
Projected Number of Living WW II Veterans: 623,653
Estimated Number of WW II Veterans Pass Away Per Day: 404
Percentage of Veteran Population 65 or Older: 47.1%
Veteran Population by Race: White 81.6%, Black 12.3%, Asian/Pacific Islander 1.8%, Other 3.5% American Indian/Alaska Natives 0.7%, Hispanic 7.4%

About VA

Number of VA Employees in Pay Status: 379,263
Number of Full Time VA Employees (as of 9/30/17): 351,540
Number of VA Hospitals: 145
Number of VA Outpatient Sites: 1,231
Number of VA Vet Centers: 300
Number of VBA Regional Offices: 56
Number of VA National Cemeteries: 135

FY16 Appropriations (actual)

VA: $166.93 Billion dollars
VHA: $64.79 Billion dollars
VBA-GOE: $2.70 Billion dollars
NCA: $271 Million dollars
OIT: $4.06 Billion dollars

FY17 Appropriations (enacted)

VA: $180.03 Billion dollars
VHA: $68.42 Billion dollars
VBA-GOE: $2.84 Billion dollars
NCA: $286 Million dollars
OIT: $4.27 Billion dollars

FY18 Appropriations (requested)

VA: $186.46 Billion dollars
VHA: $72.95 Billion dollars
VBA-GOE: $2.84 Billion dollars
NCA: $306 Million dollars
OIT: $4.06 Billion dollars

WWI Quick Facts

  • The WWI Memorial Inventory Project is documenting over 1,000 memorials throughout the country.
  • American sculptor Anna Ladd created realistic masks for facially disfigured WWI veterans.

Audio Version Of Legislative Update