The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

April 23, 2013
Female veterans have a new number to call for help

Female veterans have a new hotline to call to make sure they're getting the benefits they've earned.

The Department of Veterans Affairs today announced the launch of the toll-free line at 1-855-VA-WOMEN (1-855-829-6636).

"Some women Veterans may not know about high-quality VA care and services available to them," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said in a statement. "The hotline will allow us to field their questions and provide critical information about the latest enhancements in VA services."

As I've written, the VA has been trying to ramp up to deal with the unprecedented number of women serving in the military and now becoming veterans.

Women make up nearly 15 percent of the active-duty military and 18 percent of National Guard and Reserves. The VA says the number of women using VA health care has more than doubled from nearly 160,000 in 2000 to more than 354,000 in 2012 and is expected to continue rising.

April 19, 2013
Signs of progress on VA disability claims, care for female vets

There are noteworthy developments on a couple of veterans issues I have been writing about.

One is the disgraceful record of the Department of Veterans Affairs in handling disability claims. The VA announced today that to cut the backlog, it will make provisional rulings on the oldest claims, many more than a year old.

"Too many veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable," VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. "That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog in 2015. This initiative is the right thing to do now for veterans who have waited the longest."

Under the plan, eligible veterans will receive benefits sooner. They can also submit additional evidence for one year that could increase their benefits.

The delays are partly due to the increased number being filed by those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The wait times have been particularly long at the VA office in Oakland, which handles claims from the Sacramento region.

The VA has promised to make improvements before, so we'll have to wait and see how much difference this change makes.

The other issue is how the VA is adapting to the rising number of female veterans.

On Monday, the VA Northern California Health Care System plans to open a new flagship women's health clinic in Mather.

The clinic will serve women from throughout the Sacramento region, where the use of VA medical services by female veterans is rising by 8.5 percent a year. It will offer primary care, mental health, social programs and more. It will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays at the Sacramento VA Medical Center.

April 11, 2013
Finally, a move on citizen panel on Sacramento sales tax

In the category of better late than never, the Sacramento City Council will finally get around next week to starting a citizen committee to oversee how a sales tax windfall is spent.

The Thursday agenda for the council's Personnel & Public Employees Committee, posted today on the city's website, includes an item to start the recruitment process for the Measure U oversight panel.

As The Bee's editorial board pointed out, shoppers started paying the half-cent increase in the local sales tax on April 1, but the citizen committee was missing in action.

Before voters approved Measure U last November, council members promised that a citizen oversight committee would make sure the sales tax proceeds were spent properly, for public safety, parks and other basic services.

The current plan is for the committee to start work July 1. But that's after the budget process, when council members will decide how to spend $27 million in 2013-14 from the sales tax hike. It would be far better if the committee helped advise the council before those decisions are made.

About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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