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Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 15 Dec 2010 

12/15/2010 

 Medicare/TRICARE Temporary Fix

After a year of effort by the military coalition the House and Senate finally agreed to a one-year fix for the 25% cut in Medicare and TRICARE payments to doctors that had been set to take effect on Jan. 1. The legislation also extends important relief from the Medicare cap on payments for physical, speech, and occupational therapy. While this is miles better than having to deal with another year of multiple month-to-month stopgap measures we saw throughout 2010, it's far from a permanent fix to the underlying statutory payment formula that causes the problem. And that means Congress will have to act again before the end of 2011 to stop an even bigger cut - in the range of 30% - from taking effect on Jan. 1, 2012.

Meanwhile, Congress is still wrangling over the proposal to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, and competing initiatives to fund the government for fiscal year 2011 - which actually started more than two months ago on Oct 1.

The House passed a $1.1 trillion continuing resolution to address the latter need, which also included a two-year pay freeze for federal civilians. As this was being prepared, it was unclear whether the Senate would accept the House proposal or build its own plan and consume even more of the few remaining legislative days.

CONGRESS' TO DO LIST

The way it looks now, the 111th Congress will adjourn for the year on December 17.  We are having trouble figuring out how they are going to complete all of the critical business they have on their plate in 11 days!

Here are some of the items on Congress’ to do list:

§  Pass the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill

The proposed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal continues to complicate action on the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill.  Army Chief of Staff GEN George W. Casey Jr., told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday that he would not recommend the immediate repeal of the 17-year-old law banning gays and lesbians from serving openly in the armed forces because it would increase stress on deployed combat units.  He added that, “Implementation of the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell would be a major cultural and policy change in the middle of a war.  It would be implemented by a force and leaders that are already stretched by the cumulative effects of almost a decade of war."

Other controversial provisions in the bill that are preventing passage include abortion in military hospitals, the alternate engine for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the deployment of National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. 

Congress must do whatever it takes to pass this critical bill.  Failure to pass it before the end of the year will force the services to terminate all recruiting and retention bonuses, deny the Army a needed manpower increase, and impose a $110-per-day increase in retiree co-pays for inpatient hospital stays.  These are just a few of the consequences if the bill is not passed.

Please help AUSA get the message to Congress that time is up!  Go to the AUSA website, www.ausa.org, click on “Legislative Agenda’” then click on “Contact Congress”, and type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”.  Send your members the AUSA-suggested letter “Pass the FY 2011 Defense Authorization Bill Now!”

§  Stop the steep cuts in Medicare/TRICARE payments to doctors

The Physician Payment and Therapy Relief Act of 2010 was signed by President Obama on Nov. 30.  The legislation averts a 23 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE physician payment rates and is the fifth time in the past year a short-term patch was needed to avoid a cut in physician payment rates.  While the legislation gives Congress more time to hammer out a longer-term agreement, it expires at the end of the year.  An even steeper 25 percent cut takes effect on Jan. 1. 

Senate Finance Committee leaders said they are confident that a solution will be reached before year's end.  Committee Chairman Max Baucus said, "We now need to work together to pass a long-term extension so we can ensure seniors and military families can continue to have access to their doctors, treatments and medicines."

Please add your voice to ours.  Send your members the AUSA-suggested letter “Stop the 25 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE payments.”  It can be found on AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org.  Click on “Legislative Agenda’ then click on “Contact Congress”, and type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”.

§  Fund the government

The recently-passed stop-gap spending measure keeps the government running until Dec. 18.  The House is expected to pass a yearlong continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government until October 2011.  This plan will give the Senate an opportunity to substitute a full, 12-bill omnibus for the yearlong CR — with the CR to be cleared by the Senate if it can’t generate the 60 votes needed for the omnibus.  Democrats are still hoping to enact a full omnibus where they could specify modified spending levels for every agency and program and provide detailed guidance for federal agencies, as well as to possibly provide congressional earmarks.

Here again, time is up. 

Congress must work together in these remaining days to get critical legislation passed and to the President for signature.  AUSA hopes that the 112th Congress will go back to completing its business in a timely and orderly manner and stop of this end of the year nonsense. 

Tax Statement Release Schedule

Servicemembers, retirees and annuitants, and federal civilian employees paid by the Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) can obtain their 2010 tax statements up to two weeks earlier by using myPay. DFAS has released its schedule for posting and mailing 2010 tax statements such as W-2s, 1099Rs and 1099INTs that customers will need to file their annual tax returns. DFAS customers who have forgotten their user name and password, or who wish to open a myPay account, may do so on the myPay website. View the DFAS 2010 Tax statement release schedule.

 Best Military Retirement Spots

USAA and Military.com announced today that Waco, Texas heads the first-ever "Best Places for Military Retirement" list. USAA and Military.com commissioned a study to create the list to pinpoint places in the U.S. that offer a high quality of life and help maximize military retiree benefits as servicemembers manage their "first retirement" from the armed forces, and begin planning their "second retirement" from civilian life. for more details, see this article.

GI Bill Moves Past Early Hiccups

A year after Veterans Affairs implemented the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the American Council on Education has released a study showing that most veterans are pleased with the new benefit, but there is room for improvement. The majority of veterans using the new GI Bill benefit said they were glad for the increase in tuition support and monthly housing and book stipend, yet many reported that payments were often several months late. A summary and the full study can be found on the American Council on Education website. Answers to many routine questions about Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits are available on the Military.com Education Center, as well as more information about the study.

 Electronic Records System Debuts at Two Texas MTFs

Health care providers at two San Antonio-area military treatment facilities now have instant access to their patients’ medical histories, thanks to a new electronic records management system. In time, the new system – called Essentris – will be a mainstay at all Defense Department hospitals and clinics.

"Essentris allows us to have an inpatient medical records system that can be accessed from either Wilford Hall Medical Center [at Lackland Air Force Base] and Brook Army Medical Center [at Fort Sam Houston], improving real-time access to inpatient information and patient safety," says Maj. Jay Ludescher, the chief information officer for the 59th Medical Wing at Wilford Hall. With the advent of the automated records system, care providers can follow  x-ray studies, lab-test results, x-rays, and other relevant information as patients move through the facilities’ system. 

Proposed $250 One-Time Social Security and Veterans Payment Fails in Both the House and Senate

On Wednesday the Democrats in both the House and Senate failed to pass bills that would grant a onetime $250 payment to Social Security recipients and other federal beneficiaries (including veterans.) For the second straight year the automatic method of calculating inflation was too low to provide a Cost-of-Living increase for Social Security and other federal beneficiaries. The Democratic Congressional leadership then proposed a onetime $250 payment to be paid directly from the U.S. Treasury.

The Democrats said we have a faulty calculator and that many of the costs for seniors are rising. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT) said: “We have a very flawed methodology in terms of how we determine COLAs for Social Security. While [the price of] laptop computers and iPads and other communications technology may, in fact, have gone down, lowering the cost of inflation, the needs of seniors, and what they spend money on, have not gone down.”

Opponents said that it would increase the National deficit and is not necessary. Rep. Sam Johnson (R-TX) was opposed to the bill and said:”While many seniors are hurting, so too are American working families. Doing an end run around the current bipartisan COLA formula without even one hearing to examine whether it’s working or the many options for change our colleagues have offered is wrong.”

On Wednesday the House leadership brought it up, under suspension of the rules which requires a 2/3 vote. It failed 254-153. Then later in the evening the Senate vote to end debate was 53-45; failing to reach the required 60 votes.

Senate Designates December 18 “Gold Star Wives Day”

This week the Senate passed a resolution designating December 18 “as a day to honor and recognize the contributions of the members of the Gold Star Wives of America, Inc.”

The VSO, founded in World War II with approximately 10,000 members, provides service, support and friendship to the widows and widowers of military personnel who died on active duty or as the result of a service-connected cause.

GSW’s is a member of both The Military Coalition (TMC) and the National Military Veterans Alliance (NMVA). TREA works closely with them on a wide range of issues focused on military survivors. We wish to congratulate them on this well deserved recognition.

2010 tax form, pay statement availability schedule

 CLEVELAND (AFRNS) – Air Force retirees with a Defense Finance and Accounting Service online myPay account can now download their annual account statements. Annuitant statements will be available online Dec. 15. There is no cost-of-living adjustment increase for military retirees or annuitants in 2011. COLA increases are determined each year based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers. The Department of Labor calculates the change in the CPI for goods and services from the third quarter average of the previous year to the third quarter average for the current year. Although Congress and the Administration decide how much to increase federal pay, because military retirees and annuitants do not receive pay increases but cost-of-living adjustments, they rely on the final CPI results. 

Internal Revenue Service 1099R forms for retirees and annuitants will be posted online Dec. 14 and Dec. 15, respectively. Retirees who rely on the U.S. Postal Service for DFAS correspondence should begin receiving their account statements and 1099R forms Dec. 16. Mailing will continue through Dec. 31.For annuitants, account statements and 1099R forms begin mailing Dec. 19 through the end of the month. Statements and forms are mailed to the address on file with DFAS. Retirees and annuitants with questions about account statements or tax forms should call the DFAS Contact Center at 800-321-1080. (Courtesy of DFAS)Related Link: DFAS tax information

TRICARE Benefits for Students

With winter break fast approaching for many college students, making sure their TRICARE benefits follow them during holiday travel is a simple process. Students with TRICARE Prime can easily transfer their enrollment while on winter break. Their sponsor simply submits a "TRICARE Prime Enrollment and PCM Change Form." Students can also visit the Beneficiary Web Enrollment website to transfer enrollment. The sponsor must also update the student's address in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). For more information, visit the TRICARE website.

Military.com surveys have found that most servicemembers and their families are confused by TRICARE. Get the facts and latest news on TRICARE.

The blue ribbon debt reduction commission proposed the government could save $70 billion over the next ten years by deferring Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA) for retirees until age 62 and forcing older military retirees, those using TRICARE for Life, to pay the first $500 of costs not paid by Medicare, and half of the next $5000, out of pocket.

Treatment Coverage for Depression

TRICARE beneficiaries suffering from Major Depression, also known as clinical depression, can receive extra help through the TriWest Healthcare Alliance, which manages the TRICARE military healthcare entitlement on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD) for 21 western states. The program has a number of services to help beneficiaries including a health coach who works with the beneficiary and the primary care manager to tailor an action plan. TriWest also works alongside the Military Health System to offer additional behavioral health resources to support those in need, including the TRICARE Assistance Program (TRIAP). For more information, visit the TriWest Online Care webpage and the TRICARE website.

 Veterans Benefit Calculator

The benefits calculator is designed to quickly and easily connect you with your benefits based on your service and duty status. Get started finding your Federal and State benefits and Special Military Discounts

Gates Seeking to Contain Military Health Costs

Of nearly 4.5 million military retirees and their families, about three-quarters are estimated to have access to health insurance through a civilian employer or group.  But more than two million of them stay on TRICARE.  As the costs of private health care continue to climb, their numbers are only expected to grow.  The battle over TRICARE pits the efforts of the Pentagon to contain the exploding cost of health care for nearly 10 million eligible beneficiaries against the pain and emotion of those who say they have already “paid up front” with service in uniform, particularly those who deployed to America’s two current wars.  Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, is seriously considering whether to ask for TRICARE fee increases in next year’s budget and perhaps start one of the last fights of his public career.  To read this article in its entirety, please go to; http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/29/us/29tricare.html?_r=1

VA Testing Quicker Ways to Access Medical Records

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is working to significantly reduce the average time needed to obtain health-care records from private physicians with the help of a private contractor and the Internet to speed claims decisions.  VA officials emphasize that in all cases veterans must sign documents approving the release of their medical records to the department from private health-care providers.  Exploring economical contract support for time savings is one of more than three dozen initiatives supporting VA’s claims transformation plan, which aims to ensure that by 2015, Veterans’ claims are decided within 125 days.  To learn more, please go to; http://www.va.gov

AMVET Scholarships

University of Atlanta (UofA) and AMVETS have partnered to offer active duty members, veterans, and their families from all branches of service and their respective reserve components, university scholarships through the new “AMVETS – University of Atlanta Scholarship” Program.  The program will award up to $300,000.00 in scholarships for the period of November 1, 2010 thru October 31, 2011.  Interested applicants can visit the university’s website at http://www.UofA.edu.  Select the “Apply Online” tab and complete the basic information form.  An Admissions Specialist will establish contact within 24 hours.

TRICARE Benefits Follow Students on Winter Break

With winter break fast approaching, many college students are looking forward to visiting family or friends over the holidays.  Making sure their TRICARE benefits follow them during the holiday season is a simple process.  Students using either TRICARE Standard or Prime can use TRICARE’s pharmacy benefit anywhere as long as their Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) information is current and they have a valid ID card.  For information about updating DEERS, go to http://www.tricare.mil/DEERS.  To read this article in full, please go to; http://www.tricare.mil/Pressroom/news_print.aspx?fid=673 

Humana Military Healthcare Services Announces New Disease Management Program for Depression

Humana Military Healthcare Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Humana Inc. announced its new Depression Disease Management Program for the TRICARE South Region beneficiaries.  The Depression Disease Management Program offers guidance, via telephone, by one of their staffed clinicians in understanding, diagnosing, and managing Depression.  To learn more, please go to; http://www.tricare.mil/mediacenter/contractornews.aspx?fid=120

USAA Warns of Phishing Scam

Military banking and insurance company USAA is warning customers of a phishing scam: an authentic-looking email that asks for members’ sensitive information because of the supposed release of a new “confirmation form.”  USAA members have reported receiving an email informing them of the release of a new USAA confirmation form to include personal information such as online ID, password, name, USAA card number, expiration date, security code, pin, and/or email address.  These emails are not authentic, even though there may be a USAA logo showing. For suspicious emails, notify mailto:abuse@ausaa.com.  For more tips about phishing, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s OnGuard Online website.