Retiree & Veteran News 20 Oct 2010 

10/20/2010 

No COLA for Retirees - Again

Officials announced that the 2011 Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for military retirees, disabled veterans, and social security recipients will be zero for the second year in a row. 

Note: Retiree COLA differs from the Active Duty Cost of Living Allowance which is paid based on the cost of living in a given high-cost locality. This number will be released in late December.

TRICARE: Get Flu Shots Early

With flu season already under way, TRICARE is encouraging the system's almost 9.7 million beneficiaries to get their flu shots as early as possible, at a military medical facility or network provider, or pharmacy. The seasonal influenza vaccination is available to every TRICARE beneficiary over 6 months old, with no co-payment or pre-authorization required, even for people enrolled in programs that typically require one. TRICARE has entered into agreements with about 50,000 retail pharmacies nationwide who will administer the flu shot at no cost to TRICARE beneficiaries. The TRICARE website lists participating pharmacies, with a locator button identifying the closest one, based on the beneficiary's ZIP code.

Mailing Deadlines for Holidays

The U.S. Postal Service announced that the recommended mailing deadline for sending economy-priced holiday packages to servicemembers in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world is Nov. 12. Other deadlines for arrival by Dec. 25 are Nov. 26 for space-available mail; Dec. 3 for parcel airlift mail; Dec. 10 for Priority Mail and First-Class Mail, letters and cards; and Dec. 18 for Express Mail Military Service. Holiday packages and mail headed for Iraq and Afghanistan must be sent a week earlier than the deadlines above. For specific restrictions and mailing prices to an APO/FPO address, visit the Postal Service's online price calculator or a local post office, or call 800-ASK-USPS.

 Museum Opens Exhibit

The Air Force Security Forces Museum at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas recently opened a new exhibit entitled "Into the 21st Century." The new exhibit tells the story of security forces' expanded roles in overseas contingency operations. A new feature of the museum is the names of eight security forces Airmen killed in conflict since 2005 memorialized on the wall in the museum's Hall of Honor and on the mock F-16 Fighting Falcons used for training at the Lackland AFB Training Annex. For more information on the museum, visit the Security Forces Museum Foundation website.

VA tops $1B mark in recovery act distributions

WASHINGTON (AFRNS) -- The Department of Veterans Affairs has distributed more than $1 billion in funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, agency officials have announced. Recovery Act funding is being used to modernize and replace existing VA medical facilities, make improvements at national cemeteries and award grants to states for veterans homes.

 "America's veterans are getting more modern, efficient and greener facilities that are better suited to provide them the comprehensive care and service they have earned," VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki said.

 "These upgrades are possible through Recovery Act funds that are not only revitalizing VA's extensive infrastructure, but also moving needed money into the economy," he said.

The funding is part of President Obama's economic recovery plan to improve services to America's veterans. VA committed its total Recovery Act funds of $1.8 billion by July. 

To help veterans access their care, Recovery Act projects at VA medical facilities are adding or improving more than 26,000 parking spaces.  VA is also upgrading nearly 14,000 inpatient bed spaces and 16 pharmacy renovation projects will help veterans get medicines quicker and more efficiently. More than 14,400 clinical improvement projects, some with multiple exam rooms, are being undertaken.

Physical improvements to VA medical facilities include investments in energy efficiency projects; almost $400 million overall is targeted for energy projects and some $90 million for renewable energy studies and projects.

VA is installing solar photovoltaic systems at facilities in Albuquerque, N.M.; Tucson, Ariz.; Dublin, Ga.; Calverton, N.Y.; and San Joaquin and Riverside, Calif.

The department is erecting a wind turbine in Bourne, Mass., and constructing a geothermal system at its medical center in St. Cloud, Minn.  Additionally, VA is building renewably fueled co-generation systems at five medical facilities: Togus, Maine; White River Junction, Vt.; Chillicothe, Ohio; Loma Linda, Calif.; and Canandaigua, N.Y. It is also installing metering systems at all VA-owned facilities to monitor energy utilities, including electricity, water, chilled water, steam and natural gas consumption.

VA is investing $197 million in energy and water infrastructure improvements. Its facilities across the country are upgrading properties and structures to reduce energy consumption and water usage and better manage related costs.

Throughout VA's system of 131 national cemeteries, 392 improvement projects are under way using $50 million in Recovery Act funding.   VA is restoring and preserving 47 historic monuments and memorials, becoming more energy efficient by investing in renewable energy sources (solar and wind), implementing nine energy conservation projects, and improving access and visitor safety with 44 road, paving and grounds improvement projects. 

Funds are also being used to raise, realign and clean approximately 200,000 headstones and markers, repair sunken graves, and renovate turf at 24 VA national cemeteries.

VA Recovery Act grants totaling $150 million are also assisting states to construct, improve, or acquire nursing home, domiciliary or adult day health care facilities. (Courtesy of VA News)

U.S. Census: Military Cities Could Miss Out on Grant Money

Military communities could miss out on millions of dollars in federal money over the next decade because of how the U.S. Census Bureau counted deployed troops. Troops who were overseas April 1, on Census Day, will be counted using address records in a federal database. They will be tallied in the population of their home states where they lived when they enlisted, but not in any county or municipality. Census questionnaires that arrived in mailboxes this spring instructed households to exclude deployed spouses when answering how many people lived at home on April 1. Billions of federal dollars are allocated each year based on population. The once-a-decade head count sets a baseline population, upon which annual estimates are based until 2020. More than $478 billion in federal grants were awarded last year to counties and municipalities across the country based on population formulas. That kind of aid amounted to more than $1,500 per person - money that is used to support mass transit, highway building, welfare assistance and Community Development Block Grants. Learn more at: http://www.fayobserver.com/articles/2010/10/02/1035229?sac=Home

Bill Would Loosen Rules for GI Bill Transfers

Rep. Martin Heinrich, (D-N.M.), who has also been working to expand TRICARE health benefits for military families, has introduced a bill that would allow a Servicemember who qualifies forPost-9/11 GI Bill benefits to transfer them to a spouse or child any time between completion of 10 years of service and 10 years after separation or discharge. This would be a major change from current law, which limits the transfer of education benefits to current Servicemembers — active or reserve — who agree to serve four more years. A person who has separated or retired is not eligible to apply for the transfer of benefits, although a transfer that was approved while they were still serving is allowed to take place. The bill, HR 6336, was introduced Sept. 29, just as Congress was leaving town for pre-election break. Another bill, HR 6372, sponsored by Rep. Glenn Nye, (D-VA), which was introduced Sept. 29 would automatically transfer a Servicemember’s GI Bill benefits to a spouse if the member dies on active duty. To read more on this legislation, go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/10/military-gi-bill-transfer-rights-100610w/

Congress Approves Veterans Benefits Act

House lawmakers passed the Veterans Benefits Act of 2010, which includes a host of changes to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) programs and updates concerning the rights of deployed active duty troops. The White House is expected to sign the measure into law in coming days. The bill is a compromise measure between the House and Senate which encompasses a number of smaller, stand-alone veterans’ benefits bills. It includes improvements to employment programs, homeless outreach efforts, disabled veterans assistance and research into future medical needs of returning troops. To view some of the legislation’s highlights, go to: http://www.military.com/news/article/congress-approves-veterans-benefits-act.html?col=1186032325324

Feds Try to Save Stolen Valor Act

The U.S. Justice Department will appeal two court decisions that regarding the federal law making it illegal to lie about being a war hero is unconstitutional. Federal prosecutors in Colorado said they will appeal a ruling by a federal judge in Denver that the Stolen Valor Act violates free speech.  The law makes it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received a military medal.  Click the link: http://www.military.com/news/article/feds-try-to-save-stolen-valor-act.html?ESRC=eb.nl

House OKs Calling More Reserve Retirees Vets

National Guard and Reserve retirees who never saw extended military service are halfway to being able to call themselves veterans.  The House of Representatives approved by voice vote, a bill, HR3787, that gives Guard and Reserve retirees the privilege of being called veterans.  An honor currently denied them because the legal definition of “veteran” applies only to those who served on active duty.  The honor that goes with the bill includes being able to march in veterans’ parades, salute when the Star Spangled Banner is played, and be recognized as a veteran by other veterans.  To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/09/military-guardreserve-called-veterans-092910w/

New Care Act and TRICARE Changes

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect Sept. 23 and provides new or expanded options and consumer protections for those with private health insurance coverage. TRICARE already meets or exceeds most of the new health care provisions in accordance with PPACA, but one provision under PPACA that is not addressed in the TRICARE entitlement is coverage for dependents up to the age of 26. Bills pending in Congress would extend dependent medical coverage up to age 26. To find out more, read the TRICARE program updates at the TRICARE website at: http://www.military.com/military-report/new-care-act-and-tricare-changes?ESRC=miltrep.nl

Doc Shortage to Worsen After Healthcare Reform

A new estimate from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) pegs the projected physician shortage at 50 percent.  The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains several provisions that will add an estimated 3,500 new physicians to the work force over the next 10 years, including primary care grants and reshuffling residency programs.  However, the ACA provides insurance coverage for an additional 32 million Americans, so the number of new patients seeking medical care will far outweigh the number of doctors trained to provide it.  The problem will be most pronounced for people living in rural areas where finding a doctor can already be a difficult task.  For more information, please go to: http://www.medpagetoday.com/tbprint.cfm?tbid=22515.

TRICARE for Children Up to 26

 

The passage of the Health Care Reform Act, which requires insurers to provide coverage for dependent children up to age 26, has left many TRICARE beneficiaries asking what that would mean to their older dependent children since the current age limit for TRICARE is 21, or age 23, if the dependent is in a full-time school program. The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is reporting that Defense Department officials estimate the expansion will cost each member $2,400 per year to cover each child over age 21 (or 23). This is a provision would be unique to TRICARE and would not be imposed on non-military parents. The DoD officials say they have to charge a separate premium because they can't spread the cost among other beneficiaries as civilian insurers do 

VA Streamlines Disability Compensation

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has published a final regulation in the Federal Register which makes it easier for Veterans to obtain VA health care and disability compensation for nine diseases.  The Veterans affected by this would have to be associated with service in Southwest Asia, including Iraq or Afghanistan, beginning on or after the start of the first Gulf War on Aug. 2, 1990, through the conflict in Iraq and on or after Sept. 19, 2001, in Afghanistan. For information about health problems associated with military service in Southwest Asia and Afghanistan, and related VA programs, visit VA's Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses webpage at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/  and VA's OEF/OIF Hazardous Exposures webpage at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/oefoif/index.asp   For information about how to apply for disability compensation, visit the VA website: http://www.va.gov/ VA Adds Coverage for ‘Presumptive’ Ailments
To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.military.com

Study: Vets' Health Costs Could Top $900 Billion

A new study estimates that health costs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans could top $900 billion, and a lawmaker wants to set up a trust fund to make sure the bill will be paid. A recent study by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University and Linda Bilmes of Harvard University say the number of veterans, their injury rates and the cost of treating them have increased far more than expected in the last couple of years. Stiglitz and Bilmes estimate the cost of providing vets with lifetime medical costs and disability payments from the Veteran's Administration, as well as Social Security payments for the severely disabled, between $589 billion and $934 billion, depending on the length and intensity of the Iraq and Afghan wars. They said that about 600,000 of the more than 2.1 million Servicemembers who have been deployed since 2001 have already received treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Click here to read more on this topic: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/09/29/AR2010092906011.html?nav=hcmoduletmv

Parents OK'd for Burial in VA Cemeteries

A Massachusetts mother, who lost her only son in Iraq, has won her nearly two-year fight for the right of parents, like herself, to be buried alongside their children in national veterans’ cemeteries. The Corey Shea Act was named for a 21-year-old Army specialist from Mansfield, Mass., who was killed in Iraq in 2008 and was buried at Massachusetts National Cemetery. The bill would allow burial privileges for some biological or adoptive parents of Servicemembers who are buried in the 131 cemeteries run by the Veterans Affairs Department's National Cemetery Administration. The bill does not apply to burials at Arlington National Cemetery, which is maintained by the Army. To learn more, follow the link: http://www.military.com/news/article/parents-okd-for-burial-in-va-cemeteries.html?ESRC=eb.nl

New Veterans Headstone Medallion

Veteran headstone medallions are available through the VA, which can be affixed to an existing, privately purchased headstone or marker to honor the deceased veteran's status. The medallion will be furnished upon request in lieu of a traditional Government headstone or marker for veterans that died on or after Nov. 1, 1990, and whose grave is marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker. The medallion is currently available in three sizes, 5 inches, 3 inches, and 1.5 inches. Each medallion will be inscribed with the word VETERAN across the top and the Branch of Service at the bottom. To view an example of the medallion, click here: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2010/10/new-veterans-headstone-medallion/

New Military Retirement Home Debuts in Gulfport

Emotions are running high as the 135 residents prepare to leave AFRH-Washington and move back into a brand-new complex in Gulfport, Miss., that replaces the facility that was destroyed five years ago by Hurricane Katrina.  While sad to see their Gulfport neighbors leave, residents at AFRH-Washington are looking forward to a new common-area building to be built next year.  The facility will provide dining facilities and arts and crafts under one roof.  Both AFRH facilities are operated exclusively for war veterans and retired Servicemembers from all branches of the US Military.  Residents must be at least 60 years old, even though the average age is 81.  To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=61033

Sending Halloween Care Packages Overseas

The fall tends to be the toughest part of the year for deployments.  During this time, there are many family holidays that can make the family back home miss the military member even more.  These holidays highlight the loneliness and separation for the military member as well as their family.  Even when they are thousands of miles away and serving in a war zone, there are still ways that they can be included in the holiday season – starting with Halloween.  There is no reason that your Servicemember has to be excluded from the festivities back home simply because the Soldier isn’t there.  It is possible through care packages, email and video to include him in Halloween as well as the other upcoming holidays.  For Halloween packaging suggestions and tips or to read this article in full, please go to: http://www.militaryspot.com/site/print/2772/

DeCA 2010 Customer Service Survey Results

Helpful employees, quality meat and convenient hours topped the list of what commissary customers enjoy about their stores, according to the 2010 Commissary Customer Service Survey. Nearly 21,000 shoppers rated DeCA an overall 4.68 score on a scale of 1 to 5, a slight increase from last year’s previous all-time high of 4.67. DeCA conducted this year’s survey over a 10-day period, beginning July 6, at its commissaries worldwide. Customers answered 14 questions about commissary performance in surveys distributed throughout the day during their shopping trips, allowing DeCA to capture responses from all their shoppers. The questions focused on areas such as savings and prices; product quality, selection and availability; store hours; employee customer service; décor and appearance; and the checkout process. To see the results in full, go to: http://www.commissaries.com/press_room/press_release/2010/DeCA_93_10.cfm

No COLA For 2011- Now It Is Official

There will be no Social Security Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) for 2011. That also means that there will be no COLAs for Military Retired Pay, for SBP or for DIC and VA payments. While this is very upsetting; it is not surprising. Why? As required by law the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics determines at the third quarter of each year whether there has been an increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers’ (CPI-W) “market basket” costs from the prior year. There has not. The last time there was an increase was the 5.8% determined in October of 2008! (That was the highest COLA in 27 years). So the next COLA increase won’t happen until the CPI-W prices rise above that level.

This is only the second year that there has not been an increase since the automatic adjustments for inflation were made law in 1975. The first year was this year.

The Social Security trustees estimate that there will be a 1.2% COLA in 2012 but there is no guarantee.

In November, during the lame duck session of Congress, Democrats are saying that there will be a vote on a bill to grant $250 payments to Social Security recipients to make up for the lack of a COLA. However, it is a real question whether such a bill could pass both the House and the Senate. We will report on this bill when it is submitted in November.

High Court Hears Funeral-Protest Case

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Oct. 6 from both the government and the fringe religious group, over whether the group's practice of demonstrating at funerals of fallen service members is protected by the First Amendment rights to free assembly and free speech. The suit was originally filed by Albert Snyder, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who was killed in action in Iraq. It challenged the right of the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church, and its leader, Fred Phelps, to carry signs at military funerals that carry slogans equating military deaths with divine revenge against tolerance of homosexuality. While a lower federal court ruled in Albert Snyder's favor, Phelps and the Westboro group appealed to a U.S. circuit court and won. In that ruling, the judge ordered Snyder to pay Westboro's court costs. Snyder then appealed to the high court, which accepted the case. Snyder contends that his right to privacy supersedes any free-speech claim Westboro and Phelps offer.

Holiday Mail Deadlines Announced

Families who wish to send Holiday gift packages to service members in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other overseas locations at economy rates must have them postmarked by Nov. 12, the U.S. Postal Service announced Oct. 8. Space-available mail should be postmarked by Nov. 26; parcel airlift mail, by Dec. 3; priority and first-class mail, letters, and cards, by Dec. 10; and express mail military service, by Dec. 18. Postal customers who take advantage of the discount rate can send packages in the Postal Service's largest priority-mail flat-rate box. Twelve inches by 12 inches by 5.5 inches in dimension, the box is large enough to handle laptop computers, small conventional ovens, and military care packages, USPS says. Shipping of those packages to military overseas addresses normally costs the same as domestic mail – usually $14.50. But packages bound for APO or FPO addresses only cost $12.50, or $11.95 for persons who print their priority-mail postage label online. The boxes are free at any post office, or on the Postal Service Web site. For more details, including restrictions on contents to be shipped, call (800) ASK-USPS (275-8777).

Judge Halts 'Don't Ask'

 A federal judge in California has issued an injunction that essentially stops the Pentagon from enforcing its "don't ask, don't tell" policy in its tracks. In the Oct. 12 ruling, Judge Virginia A. Phillips of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California declared that the policy violates Fifth Amendment rights to free speech. "Don't ask, don't tell" allows the Pentagon to bar homosexuals from military service, but allows persons to keep information about their private lives confidential. The same day Phillips issued her ruling, a Pentagon spokesperson said the department is weighing its options. The Pentagon could ask the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco to delay implementation of the order until a final ruling on the case – Log Cabin Republicans v. U.S. – is rendered.

TRICARE to Beneficiaries: Use Mail Order

TRICARE, the managed health-care plan for members of the armed forces, says it could greatly curtail expenses if more beneficiaries used the mail-order option when filling or refilling prescription medication. Roughly 9.7 million beneficiaries have used mail order to fill 10.5 million prescriptions last year – encouraging numbers, particularly when compared to the 9 million prescriptions filled similarly in 2008, according to TRICARE. But the 9.7-million figure still represents only about eight percent of all prescriptions filled in 2009. While most beneficiaries fill their prescriptions at retail pharmacies, that option remains the most expensive – for the agency as well as patients themselves, according to TRICARE. Prescription costs are lowest when beneficiaries pick their prescriptions up at pharmacies located on military treatment facilities. But often, distance and logistics can make that impossible. In those cases, the agency says, mail order is the best option, with patients paying a third of the price for their medications as they would at civilian pharmacies.

Veterans Warned of False Email

Veterans who receive an e-mail touting a piece of legislation that would double their disability pay should not pay any attention to it, advocates advise. The e-mail is wrong. The bill mentioned in the e-mail – the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Act of 2010, is real, the Fleet Reserve Association

(FRA) notes. But the e-mail's claim about the increase in the payable amount of disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is not. Rather, as always, any cost-of-living adjustments

(COLAs) for disabled veterans, retired military members, or Social Security recipients will be pegged to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a calculation of out-of-pocket expenses produced by the U.S. Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Veterans' Benefits Act of 2010 (H.R. 3219), which has cleared Congress and awaits President Obama's signature, does include some increased allowances and improved benefits, FRA says.

VA Ad Reaches New Veterans:

The VA has launched a new public service announcement to encourage veterans to take full advantage of the VA benefits and services they have earned. The television ad is one step in a robust outreach effort to welcome home returning servicemembers from their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to help ease their transition from military to veteran status. Read the complete VA press release with link to the 30-second video at http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1981.

MIA Issue Aids U.S.-Vietnam Relationship:

America's Full Accounting Mission has helped to transform the U.S.-Vietnamese relationship. In a speech Monday at the Vietnam National University in Hanoi, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, "A decade of conflict and bloodshed between our nations has given way to prosperous bilateral relations now marking their fifteenth year," he said. "It was our commitment to work together to find the missing from the war, and to address the traumas still felt by those in and near the conflict, that provided the first opportunity for our countries to engage." Read the complete DOD press release at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=61216. Since 1991, the VFW remains the only veterans' organization to send its senior leadership to Vietnam every year to further the humanitarian aspect of the Full Accounting Mission to the Vietnamese government and with local veterans' groups.

Two Korean War MIAs Identified:

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains of two soldiers missing in action from the Korean War. They are Army Sgt. Donald M. LaForest, of Bay City, MI, and Master Sgt. John G. Linkowski, of Buffalo, NY. In early November 1950, the men were assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, occupying a defensive position near the town of Unsan in the bend of the Kuryong River known as the "Camel's Head." Enemy attacks collapsed their perimeter and forced a fighting withdrawal. Almost 400 men were reported MIA or KIA from the battle. LaForest and Linkowski were among 10 Americans who were captured and taken into a field and shot. Read the full DPMO press release at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

WWII MIA Identified:

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office also announced the identification of Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Arthur F. Parkhurst, of Evansville, IN. On March 12, 1945, Parkhurst and five other crew members aboard a C-47A Skytrain departed Tanauan Airfield on Leyte, Philippines, on a resupply mission to guerilla troops. Once cleared for takeoff, there was no further communication between the aircrew and airfield operators. The aircraft failed to return, and after a thorough search, no evidence of the aircraft was found. The six men were presumed killed in action. In 1989, a Philippine national police officer contacted U.S. officials regarding a possible World War II-era aircraft crash near Leyte. Human remains, aircraft parts and artifacts -- including an identification tag belonging to Parkhurst -- were turned over to the local police, then to U.S. officials. Read the full DOD release at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=13969