Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
- VA: Disability Claims Backlog Reduced
- Amendmant Would Create Jobs For Former Service Members
- Retiree Dental Program Contract Extended
VA: DISABILITY CLAIMS BACKLOG REDUCED
The Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced that an initiative they launched in April to expedite disability compensation claims decisions for veterans who have a waited a year or longer has cleared more than 65,000 claims -- or 97 percent of all claims over two years old.
Allison A. Hickey, VA’s undersecretary for benefits, said the success of this phase of the effort was due in part to the implementation of mandatory overtime for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s claims processing staff, as well as the support of physicians from the Veterans Health Administration, who expedited exams to provide medical evidence needed to rate the pending claims.
In response to the VA’s statement, Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said “Any progress toward eliminating the backlog is welcome news. But we cannot forget that the department is still far short of its own backlog performance benchmarks for 2013. Additionally, one can’t help but question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the department let them sit for two years or longer? Furthermore, what will happen to the backlog once VA employees are taken off of mandatory overtime and returned to regular duties? Nevertheless, when it comes to evaluating VA’s success in combatting the backlog, the two most important numbers are zero and 2015. In other words, this problem won’t be solved unless the backlog is at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders have promised.”
Miller's statement echoed what many lawmakers have been saying. A bi-partisan letter from 160 House members to President Obama urged that he become more involved in resolving the disability claims backlog. Sixty-seven Senators sent their own letter to the President.
The remaining two-year-old claims will be finalized in the coming days, officials said, except for those that are outstanding due to unique circumstances, such as the unavailability of a claimant for a needed medical exam, military service, vacation or travel overseas.
AMENDMENT WOULD CREATE JOBS FOR FORMER SERVICEMEMBERS
An amendment to the Senate’s immigration reform bill that encourages the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to recruit servicemembers and veterans to serve in border security positions was adopted by a voice vote.
Introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Mike Johanns, R-Neb., the amendment would offer bonuses and incentives including the repayment of student loans to members of the National Guard and reserve as well as veterans who take border security jobs with the DHS.
Unfortunately, the amendment’s outlook is uncertain. It is not clear whether or not the Senate has the 70 votes needed to pass the immigration bill. Even if they do pass it, it will still need action by the House.
RETIREE DENTAL PROGRAM CONTRACT EXTENDED
The Defense Department announced last week that they have extended the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) contract through Dec. 31, 2013.
Authorized by Congress in the fiscal 1997 National Defense Authorization Act, the current TRDP contract was scheduled to run from Oct. 1, 2012 through Sept. 30, 2013. The contract extension will bring it in-sync with the other healthcare contracts on a calendar year versus fiscal year basis.
The contract extension brings no change in premiums or scope of benefits. However, the annual maximum for enrollees in the Enhanced program will be increased to $1,500 for this period. Those in the Basic program will see their maximum increase to $1,250.
These changes were implemented April 1. If beneficiaries have already reached the maximum for the year, they should have their dental provider resubmit any claims that were not made due to exceeding the maximum.
Delta Dental also will serve as administrator of the new five-year TRDP contract, which will begin Jan. 1, 2014.