The United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a government-run military veteran benefit system with Cabinet-level status. It is responsible for administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors. The benefits provided include disability compensation, pension, education, home loans, life insurance, vocational rehabilitation, survivors’ benefits, medical benefits and burial benefits. It is administered by the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
It was formerly called the Veterans Administration, also called the VA, which was established July 21, 1930, to consolidate and coordinate government activities affecting war veterans. The VA incorporated the functions of the former U.S. Veterans' Bureau, the Bureau of Pensions of the Interior Department and the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers.
It is a single-payer government-run health-care system, and the American government’s second largest department, after the United States Department of Defense. With a total 2009 budget of about $87.6 billion, VA employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is headed by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate. The current Secretary of Veterans Affairs is Ret. General Eric Shinseki.
* Veterans Benefits Administration - responsible for initial veteran registration, eligibility determination, and five key lines of business (benefits and entitlements): Home Loan Guaranty, Insurance, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and Compensation & Pension
* National Cemetery Administration - responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of VA cemeteries
Costs for care
As is common in any time of war, recently there has been an increased demand for nursing home beds, injury rehabilitation, and mental health care. VA categorizes veterans into eight priority groups and several additional subgroups, based on factors such as service-connected disabilities, and one’s income and assets (adjusted to local cost of living). Veterans with a 50% or higher service-connected disability as determined by a VA regional office “rating board” (e.g., losing a limb in battle, PTSD, etc) are provided comprehensive care and medication at no charge. Veterans with lesser qualifying factors who exceed a pre-defined income threshold have to make co-payments for care for non-service-connected ailments and pay $8 per 30-day supply for each prescription medication. VA dental and nursing home care are more restricted. Reservists and National Guard who served stateside in peacetime settings or have no service-related disabilities generally do not qualify for VA benefits. (Detailed list of eligibility criteric.) VA in recent years has opened hundreds of new convenient outpatient clinics in towns across America, while steadily reducing inpatient bed levels at its hospitals.
In May 2006, a laptop computer containing in the clearr (unencrypted) the social security numbers of 26.5 million U.S. veterans was stolen from a Veterans Affairs analyst’s home. The analyst violated existing VA policy by removing the data from his workplace. On August 3, 2006, a computer containing personal information in the clear on up to 38,000 veterans went missing. The computers have since been recovered and on August 5, 2006, two men were charged with the theft. In early August 2006, a plan was announced to encrypt critical data on every laptop in the agency using disk encryption software. Strict policies have also been enacted that require a detailed description of what a laptop will be used for and where it will be located at any given time. Encryption for e-mail had already been in use for some time but is now the renewed focus of internal security practices for sending e-mail containing patient information.