Retiree News 


Amendments to Protect Veterans' Healthcare Accepted

AUSA’s support of amendments that would protect veterans and service members from certain provisions in the House’s healthcare reform bill (H.R. 3200) has paid off.  Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., concerned that several provisions in the bill could have an adverse effect on veterans, submitted six amendments to address these provisions.  Last week, he received confirmation from Energy and Commerce Committee leadership that two of his amendments had been accepted.  The amendments would (1) allow veterans, military personnel and their families retain the choice of keeping their respective TRICARE or VA health coverage and obtain additional private or public health insurance; and (2) allow the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs retain sole authority over their respective health care systems.

Rep. Buyer also received assurances from the Chairmen of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Ways and Means Committee, and Education and Labor Committee that they are committed to addressing his remaining four amendments.  Those amendments would:

--Prevent veterans from being subjected to a 2.5 percent tax due to their enrollment in the VA health care system;

--Ensure the public option created in the bill reimburses the VA for treatment of non-service connected care; 

--Exempt Guard and reserve employers from the eight percent employer mandate penalty tax; and,

--Protect Guard and serve members from the 2.5 percent individual penalty tax.

AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition are and will continue to be vigilant and engaged with the Hill to head off any parts of the ultimate legislation that would disadvantage our constituents.  That includes the presumption that in the fiscal 2011 DoD budget, there will probably be another attempt to increase fees and copays which we are already preparing to fight against.

Add your voice to ours!  Click on the Contact Congress icon in the upper right corner of our webpage,  Enter your zip code and look for the prepared letter that says “Protecting Military/Veteran Health Care During Health Care Reform”.

Rep. Buyer acknowledged the support he received from AUSA.  In a statement released after his amendments were accepted, Rep. Buyer thanked AUSA and some of its partners in The Military Coalition for taking a “principled stand in supporting these amendments” and for “their unwavering resolve on this issue”.

Students Awaiting Education Benefits under GI Bill to get Emergency Checks

Last week, the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Eric Shinseki announced that the VA has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment. 

“Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties,” Secretary Shinseki said.  “Education creates life-expanding opportunities for our Veterans.”

Starting Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, students can go to one of VA’s 57 regional benefit offices with a photo ID and a course schedule to request advance payment of their education benefits. 

Because not all these offices are located near students, VA expects to send representatives to schools with large Veteran-student bodies and work with Veteran Service Organizations to help students with transportation needs.  (For a list of VA regional offices, go to

The funds are advance payments of the earned benefits for education.  This money will be deducted from future education payments.   VA officials said after this special payment, students can expect to receive education payments on the normal schedule -- the beginning of the month following the period for which they are reimbursed.

“This is an extraordinary action we’re taking,” said Shinseki. “But it’s necessary because we recognize the hardships some of our Veterans face.”

More than 27,500 students have already received benefits for housing or books under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, or their schools received their tuition payments.

House Passes "StopGap" Spending Measure

Legislation that will temporarily extend spending on most federal programs at the current levels was passed by the House last week. 

The one-month stopgap measure is needed because Congress failed to complete work on any of the 12 annual spending bills required to keep the government running. 

Those measures were tacked onto a $4.7 billion House-Senate compromise bill that will finance Congress’s own budget.  In doing so, it spares Democrats politically difficult votes on both the House and Senate floors.

The stopgap measure would extend financing for the operating budgets of Cabinet departments and other agencies at current levels through Oct. 31. Exceptions would be made to provide more money for the Census Bureau, which is preparing for the 2010 count, and for veterans’ medical programs. 

So what about the defense authorization and appropriations bills? 

The Senate started work on their version of the fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill last week.  The House passed their bill on July 30.  Once the full Senate votes on the measure, it will go to conference to iron out the differences.

Both the House and Senate passed their defense authorizations bills for 2010.  The conference is scheduled to take place this week. 

New GI Bill Housing Checks Flowing But Some Delays

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has cut housing checks to tens of thousands of veterans returning to college under the newly expanded GI Bill but officials acknowledge several thousand may get their money later than expected.  About two-thirds of the 67,000 remaining unprocessed claims were submitted within the last 30 days. Claims are taking on average 28 days to be processed, and beneficiaries had been told to get them in at least a month ahead. However, that still leaves about 20,000 unprocessed claims that are more than 30 days old. Veterans groups said they'll continue to monitor the backlog and hold the department to its promise to be caught up by next month. Overall, the department has received 236,000 claims related to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and has completed action on 169,000. To read this article in its entirety, please go to:  

The new education benefits program, in which tuition and fee payments go directly to institutions of higher learning while allowances for books and living expenses go directly to students, took effect August 1.  The Veterans Affairs Department is thanking colleges and universities for being patient about waiting for tuition payments for people using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, warning that it could take another six to eight weeks to completely catch up.  For more information, please go to:


Emergency GI Bill Payments

VA announced that its 57 regional benefits offices would begin providing on-the-spot emergency payments of up to $3,000 today to student-veterans who have yet to receive a government payment under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill.  Also beginning today is online registration for the emergency payment.  The difference between the two programs is a personal visit-with proper identification and enrollment certification-yields an immediate payment, whereas the online request may take a week or more due to processing and mail delivery.  Knowing that many student-veterans attend school far away from any regional office, VFW National Commander Tommy Tradewell asked his Departments and Posts this week to reach out to campus student-veterans organizations and offer transportation assistance to the nearest VA regional office.  The VA, too, is offering to provide transportation assistance.

For more on the VA emergency payment program, go to

DoD Announces TRICARE Inpatient Co-pay Increases

For the new fiscal year (starting October 1) DoD unexpectedly announced increases for inpatient co-pays for many TRICARE beneficiaries. This surprising announcement includes an increase of $110 a day (from $535 to $645 a 21% increase!) for military retirees, their families and survivors who are now covered by TRICARE Standard.

This co-pay is already extremely high and much more than most civilian health care plans. For the last 3 years Congress had barred any increase in this co-pay. It did not include a similar provision in this year’s NDAA based on the Secretary’s assurances.

This increase would not affect beneficiaries of TRICARE Prime or TRICARE for Life (TFL). But it may very well indicate what is to come. Please call the House and Senate Armed Services and urge Chairmen Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO) (202-225-4151) and Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) (202-224-3871) to act to stop this unfair increase. Remember this may be the first step of many planned moves. We must be clear to Washington that this is totally unacceptable.


Today VA Starts Issuing Emergency Checks For Enrolled Vets Who Are Waiting For GI Bill Payments

VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced that starting on October 2, the VA will start issuing checks of up to $3,000 to students who are waiting for payments under the new Post 9/11 GI Bill. As many at 25,000 claims are waiting for housing and book benefit payments (School tuition is separate). The VA states that over 27,500 claims have been paid.

September 25, 2009

Secretary Shinseki Orders Emergency Checks to Students Awaiting Education Benefits
Thousands of Checks to Alleviate Student Financial Burden

– Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment. The checks will be distributed to eligible students at VA regional benefits offices across the country starting Oct. 2, 2009.

“Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties,” Secretary Shinseki said. “Education creates life-expanding opportunities for our Veterans.”

Starting Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, students can go to one of VA’s 57 regional benefit offices with a photo ID and a course schedule to request advance payment of their education benefits. Because not all these offices are located near students, VA expects to send representatives to schools with large Veteran-student bodies and work with Veteran Service Organizations to help students with transportation needs.

A list of those VA regional offices is available at

“I’m asking our people to get out their road maps and determine how we can reach the largest number of college students who can’t reach us,” VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits Patrick Dunne said. “Not everyone has a car. Not everyone can walk to a VA benefits office.”

Although VA does not know how many students will request emergency funds, it has approximately 25,000 claims pending that may result in payments to students.

The funds VA will give to students now are advance payments of the earned benefits for education benefits. This money will be deducted from future education payments.

VA officials said students should know that after this special payment, they can expect to receive education payments on the normal schedule --the beginning of the month following the period for which they are reimbursed.

“This is an extraordinary action we’re taking,” said Shinseki. “But it’s necessary because we recognize the hardships some of our Veterans face.”

More than 27,500 students have already received benefits for housing or books under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, or their schools received their tuition payments.

Veterans Suffering from PTSD Can Visit Virtual Chicoma Island for Help

Combat veterans rarely talk about their most searing hidden emotions and thoughts caused by their experiences in battle, a reticence that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles is near completing Coming Home, a virtual world in Second Life that its creators hope will help break down the barriers to PTSD treatment.  The institute developed a virtual world that features immersive therapy, which mental health professionals can use to treat Iraq combat veterans suffering from PTSD called Virtual Iraq.  The site includes a virtual Iraqi village that veterans can walk through.  For more information, please click on the following link:


ECHO Cap Increase

The Department of Defense (DoD) published its proposed rule in the Federal Register for implementing changes to the Extended Care Health Option (
ECHO) enacted in Section 732 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (NDAA FY09). The law changed the limit of the Government’s share of providing certain benefits under the ECHO program from a monthly cap of $2,500 to a yearly cap of $36,000 per eligible beneficiary.

Studies: Swine Flu Spreads Long After Fever Stops

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  has been telling people to stay home from work and school and avoid contact with others until a day after their fever breaks. The new research suggests they may need to be careful for longer — especially at home where the risk of spreading the germ is highest. Swine flu also appears to be contagious longer than ordinary seasonal flu. A study shows that individuals who have contracted swine flu are probably contagious for about a week. Swine flu now accounts for nearly all of the flu cases in the
United States. More than 1 million Americans have been infected and nearly 600 have died from it, the CDC estimates. To learn more, click here:

A University of Maryland study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, reinforces concern about how easily swine flu may sweep through the country. "The results suggest that 2009 H1N1 influenza may out-compete seasonal flu virus strains and may be more communicable as well," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "These new data, while preliminary, underscore the need for vaccinating against both seasonal influenza and the 2009 H1N1 influenza this fall and winter." Seasonal flu vaccine is available around the country now, and swine flu vaccine is expected to arrive in mid-October. For more information, follow the link: Humana Military Healthcare Services

Receives Re-Accreditation in Case Management Program

Humana Military Healthcare Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Humana Inc., recently received re-accreditation for its Case Management Program from URAC, a
Washington, D.C. based health care accrediting organization that establishes quality standards for the industry.  Humana Military has current URAC accreditation for Disease Management in Asthma, Diabetes and Heart Failure, Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Privacy category, Health Network, Health Utilization Management, and Health Web Site.  For more information please go to:

Lawmakers Agree on Use of
Advance VA Funds

Congressional negotiators working on landmark legislation to provide advance funding for veterans programs have cleared a major hurdle by deciding that only direct medical programs will be protected. The agreement between senior members of House and Senate veterans affairs committees removes information technology and medical research from the list of programs that, beginning in 2011, would be funded one year in advance to avoid disruption if Congress fails to pass the annual veterans appropriations bill on time. If Buyer’s assessment is accurate, the final appropriations bill would provide funding one year in advance for VA medical services, medical support and medical facilities. That would ensure a constant stream of funds for those programs even if Congress does not approve a VA budget by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. To make that happen, Congress would approve a $45 billion veteran’s medical care budget for 2011 as a part of the 2010 budget. To read this article in its entirety, please go to:

TRICARE Standard Pays to be Preventive

Obtaining clinical preventive services helps prevent illness before major health problems occur.  Section 711 of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 encourages eligible TRICARE Standard beneficiaries to use preventive health services by waiving all cost shares for certain types of these services starting September 1.  Services include screening for colorectal cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and prostate cancer; immunizations; and well-child visits for children under 6 years of age.  To read the release in its entirety, please visit:

Study Finds Fewer Health Disparities in DoD

A recent study found fewer ethnic and racial health disparities among TRICARE beneficiaries than in Americans who use other parts of the
U.S. health care system.  TRICARE is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) health care benefit covering service members, retirees and their dependents.  Minority TRICARE beneficiaries reported positively on many measures of their health care including finding a doctor, receiving preventive health services and perceiving respect from the doctor.  To read this article in full, click on the following link:

Veterans Unemployment Rate Hits 11.3%

The number of unemployed
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is now almost the same as the number of Servicemembers currently deployed in support of those two wars, according to new Labor Department numbers. A key member of Veterans of Foreign Wars said the data indicates that the government needs to do more to help separating combat veterans find jobs and that veterans need to think about their options, including using the improved GI Bill to attend college while also getting a living stipend. Labor Department figures released Friday show the nation’s unemployment rate has now reached 9.7 percent — the highest in 23 years — and the rate among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is 11.3 percent. About 185,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are out of work, just 9,000 fewer than the number currently deployed to those two areas, said Justin Brown of the VFW’s national legislative service. To read the full article, click here:

VA Officials Warn of Telephone Scam

Officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs are warning people not to give credit card numbers over the phone to callers who claim to be updating VA prescription information.  Anyone who receives a call from someone who claims to work for the Patient Care Group and asks for a credit card number should simply hang up.  For more information regarding this telephone scam, please go to:
AAFES Program Generates More Than $8 Million in Support to Military Families

Since its inception in April, 2004 as a way the American public could provide an avenue for deployed Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines to stay connected to loved ones back home, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) program has generated $8,143,555 in telecommunication support. All totaled, more than 17,000 individual orders have been placed to send 355,612 phone cards to deployed troops and their Families back home. By simply logging on to or calling 800-527-2345, friends, family members and even civic groups can take part in the “Help Our Troops Call Home” effort by sending any one of three Military Exchange Global Prepaid Phone cards, including a $27.50 card capable of providing more than two hours of call time from any of 69 phone centers in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait to the United States. To learn more, go to:  Troops separated from loved ones due to deployment have the opportunity to surprise their spouse on their wedding anniversary with a personalized art canvas that will be given away as part of Canvas on Demand’s “Operation: Hi Honey” campaign.  Photos submitted for “Operation: Hi Honey” consideration can be viewed online by logging on to the Exchange Online Mall, navigating to Canvas on Demand and clicking the “Operation: Hi Honey” banner.  Two hundred pictures will ultimately be selected each month.  For more information on “Operation: Hi Honey” please go to:  

Release No.
Sept. 30, 2009

Update DEERS when milestones occur

, Va. (AFRNS) – Life events such as moving, death, divorce, or simply having a child go off to college are milestones in families’ lives.  It is important for families to keep their DEERS records up to date whenever they hit these and many other milestones.

For Tricare beneficiaries, keeping Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System records current means uninterrupted access to Tricare’s health care.  DEERS is the worldwide computer database of uniformed servicemember sponsors, their family members and others eligible for military benefits, including Tricare.

Mistakes or outdated information in DEERS can cause problems with a Tricare beneficiary’s claims.  For example, retail network pharmacies check Tricare eligibility through DEERS, and prescriptions are filled only for beneficiaries listed in DEERS as eligible.  Outdated addresses can also mean important mail is misdirected.

Along with changes of address, other life events that can affect DEERS records include additions to the family, either through births or adoptions; changes in a sponsor’s status such as marriage or divorce; becoming entitled to Medicare; or the death of a sponsor or family member.

Sponsors are automatically registered in DEERS, but it is critical they register their eligible family members as well, state DEERS officials.  To register family members in DEERS and receive an identification card, the family member and sponsor must bring documentation, such as a marriage or birth certificate, to a military ID card issuing facility. People can locate the nearest ID card offices by ZIP code, city or state using the online locator at Sponsors should call the ID card office first to confirm what documentation is needed and the hours of operation.

Contact information on DEERS can be updated in several different ways including in person at a military ID card issuing facility, online, and by phone, fax or mail.  There are two secure online options via either the new myDODbenefits Web site at, or the Beneficiary Web Enrollment Web site at Both are available to people who have an active DFAS-issued myPay personal identification number.  

Beneficiaries can call the Defense Manpower Data Center’s support office at 800-538-9552 (866-363-2883 TTY/TDD) to update addresses, e-mail addresses and phone numbers.  Changes can also be faxed to 831-655-8317, or mailed to:  DMDC Support Office, 400 Gigling Road, Seaside, CA 93955-6771. (Courtesy of Tricare)


Release No. 09-05-09
Sept. 24, 2009

Memorial calls for photos of Vietnam vets

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- The National Call for Photos, a campaign to gather images of the more than 58,000 men and women whose names are on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, was launched recently at a Newseum event here hosted by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and FedEx Office.

FedEx Office will use its locations across the country to help in gathering photos.

Established in 1979, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial here, promoting healing and educating people about the impact of the Vietnam War.

The fund's latest initiative is The Education Center at The Wall, an underground facility near the memorial that is being designed to help visitors discover the stories of those named on The Wall and celebrate the values embodied by servicemembers from all of America's wars.

Exhibits will include a wall of photographs of people whose names are on The Wall, a selection of the more than 100,000 items that have been left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a timeline of key military events of the Vietnam War and a history of the memorial.

The center also will celebrate the values embodied by America's servicemembers:  loyalty, duty, respect, service, honor, integrity and courage, officials said.  An exhibit will show images of those who have served in America's conflicts, from the Revolutionary War to Iraq.

More than $20 million has been raised for the education center, including a $10 million gift from Time Warner.  It is estimated that the center will cost $85 million to build.  

Other Memorial Fund initiatives include educational programs for students and teachers, a traveling Wall replica that honors veterans and a humanitarian and mine-action program in Vietnam.  (Courtesy of American Forces Press Service)

 For more information, visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site.

TRICARE Obtains Lower Prices on Retail Prescription Drugs

Following the full implementation of Section 703 of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2008.  The Department of Defense (DoD) is projected to reduce spending by $1.67 billion on prescription medications sold in retail pharmacies in fiscal year 2010.  For the past several years the DoD has paid commercial rates for prescription drugs purchased in the TRICARE retail pharmacy network. However, DoD is included in the 1992 Veteran’s Healthcare Act as one of the “big four” government agencies entitled to federal prices when it purchases pharmaceuticals for its beneficiaries. To read the full article in its entirety, click here:

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Primary Suicide Risk Factor For Veterans

Researchers working with
Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have found that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the current most common mental disorder among veterans returning from service in the Middle East, is associated with an increase of suicidal thoughts in individuals.  Results of the study indicated that veterans who screened positive for PTSD were four times more likely to report suicide-related thoughts relative to veterans without the disorder.  For additional information about the research, please go to:

Veterans Forsake Studies of Stress

Researchers testing ways to treat the psychological wounds of war among
Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are encountering a serious roadblock: a shortage of willing study participants.  A strong stigma in the military associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is blamed for the reluctance of combat veterans to take part in a pair of treatment programs being evaluated by staff from the Veterans Administration (VA) in Boston at facilities in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire.  To read this article in its entirety, please go to:


Work Begins On Trauma Center for Injured Vets

Construction will begin on a facility for wounded veterans that merges the familiar look of Audie Murphy VA Hospital with the modern indoor features of the Center for the Intrepid. The $66 million, 84,000-square-foot Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center will be one of only five Level 1 centers, and the only one in the Southwest, specializing in treatment and recovery for veterans with war-related injuries. Panoramic murals, natural colors and daylight streaming through triple-pane glass panels will be incorporated into the construction of a sanctuary that embraces both beauty and function. To find out more information, go to:

Veterans Wrongly Told They Have Fatal Disease

Letters were sent to 1,864 veterans concerning disability benefits for
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, however the letters were sent in error.  The National Gulf War Resource Center said that at least 1,200 veterans received the letter, even though they had not been diagnosed with the illness.  Veterans were initially suspicious, but still went through the stress of not knowing whether they had the degenerative disease, which typically kills people within five years.  To read this article in full, please click on the following link:,2933,542086,00.html

Expanded Sick Leave Would Cover Swine Flu Caretakers

The government may soon extend leave policies to federal employees actively caring for family members stricken by communicable diseases, including swine flu. Similar proposals call for extending, up to 26 weeks, of unpaid leave to employees providing care to a spouse or family member stricken by injury or illness while serving in the military. To read the full article by Ed O’Keefe, go to:

Secretary Shinseki Moves to Simplify PTSD Compensation Rules

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking steps to assist Veterans seeking compensation for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The VA will be publishing a proposed regulation in the Federal Register to make it easier for a Veteran to claim service connection for PTSD by reducing amount of evidence needed if the stressor claimed by a Veteran is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity.  For further information, please go to:

Report: No Oversight for $70M Program at VA

The inspector general for the Veterans Affairs Department says that agency managers were aware of serious problems with a $70 million project to replace its hospital appointment system several years before the VA dropped the program. The project was finally halted this year. The inspector general states that managers didn't take timely and appropriate action to address problems, even as millions of dollars more were put into the program. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki has since ordered improvements in the VA's information technology management. But the IG says that the VA still needs more qualified staff. To learn more, follow the link:

VA Ends Gulf War Illness Research Contract

Citing persistent compliance and performance deficiencies, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs cancelled a $75 million, five-year research contract with a Texas medical center studying illnesses suffered by veterans of the first Gulf War.  The VA listed several reasons for not renewing the contract, including UT Southwestern’s failure to comply with contract terms and conditions.  The head of Veterans Common Sense, said he wants the VA to start funding other research and treatments immediately suggesting that the VA should use a new Waco facility that focuses on brain injury and post traumatic stress disorder problems largely found in Iraq war veterans.  To read this article in full, please click on the following link: