LEGISLATION TO ENHANCE, EXPAND AND MODERNIZE BENEFITS FOR VETERANS SENT TO PRESIDENT FOR SIGNATURE
The House and Senate approved H.R. 3219, the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010, legislation that will improve and modernize certain benefits administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for veterans and their families. As soon as President Obama signs the bill, it will become law.
Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., said, “H.R. 3219 is the result of numerous productive hearings and markups, meaningful oversight and bi-partisan compromise – all to ensure that those who were willing to lay down their lives for our country and their families and survivors, receive meaningful, world-class, 21st Century benefits. This bill will make a big difference in the lives of many of America’s brave veterans.”
The Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010:
Enhances Employment Opportunities
• Reauthorizes the recently expired VA work-study program and expand the type of work available for participating veterans. The extension allows for veteran students to complete work study in congressional offices, state veteran agencies, or any position working jointly between the VA and an institution of higher learning.
• Requires the Secretary of the VA to verify small business ownership and operate a database of veteran-owned small businesses and service-connected veteran-owned small business in an effort to end contracting with businesses that fraudulently claim to be owned by a veteran.
• Increases job opportunities for veterans by reimbursing energy employers for the cost of providing on-the-job training for veterans in the energy sector. Specifically, the bill would create the pilot “Veterans Energy Related Employment Program” which would award competitive grants to three states that are able to serve a population of eligible veterans, boast a diverse energy industry, and have the ability to carry out such a training program.
Prevents Homeless Veterans
• Reauthorizes the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program for fiscal years 2010 through 2014.
• Authorizes an additional $10 million to provide dedicated services for homeless women veterans and homeless veterans with children. Grants would be made available to provide job training, counseling, placement services, and child care services to expedite the reintegration of veterans into the labor force.
Ensures the Welfare of Veterans and Their Families by Increasing Insurance Limits
• Increases many of the outdated insurance policy amounts and terms for our veterans, many who are severely disabled or have suffered traumatic injury.
• Increases the maximum loan guarantee amount under the Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance program.
• Allows totally disabled veterans to receive free Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance coverage for two years following separation from active or reserve duty.
Secures Compensation, Pensions and Other Benefits
• Increases the number of veterans to receive independent assisted living services and the quality of those benefits.
• Provides greater automobile and adaptive equipment to veterans with severe burn injuries.
• Increases the automobile allowance for disabled veterans from $11,000 to $18,900.
• Allows low income veterans currently receiving a VA pension to receive payments of up to $5,000 from state or municipalities without offsetting the pension benefit.
Protects Service Members Called to Combat
• Allows the U.S. Office of Special Counsel to receive and investigate certain Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act claims. The provision builds on OSC’s extensive expertise and experience in investigating and resolving federal employment claims and will go a long way in protecting veterans who file USERRA complaints as a result of their service in the Armed Forces, National Guard, and Reserves. For three years, a random selection of claims will be sent directly to the OSC to be resolved.
• Prohibits early termination fees for certain contracts like cell phone service and residential leases after service members receive notice of military orders to relocate to a site that does not support the contract.
• Allows the Attorney General to bring a civil suit against any violator of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which provides a wide range of protections for service members.
Honors Fallen Service Members and Their Families
• Allows a parent whose child gave their life in service to our country to be buried in a national cemetery with that child when their veteran child has no living spouse or children.
• Increases burial and funeral benefits and plot allowances for veterans who are eligible for a burial at a national cemetery or who died in a VA facility from $300 to $700.
Strengthens Education Benefits
• Extends the life of the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education, a committee that offers short and long term recommendations for improving the educational benefits of veterans.
Addresses Housing Needs of Disabled Veterans
• Authorizes the Secretary of the VA to make grants of up to $200,000 per year to recipients that develop assistive technologies for use in specially adaptive housing.
Invests in Research for Gulf War Veterans
• Allows the Institute of Medicine to carry out a comprehensive review of best treatment practices for chronic multi-symptom illness in Gulf War veterans and develop a plan for dissemination of best practices through VA.
• Extends the review and evaluation of chronic multi-symptom illness by the National Academy of Sciences of veterans of the Persian Gulf War and Post-9/11 Global Operations.
COALITION RECOGNIZES KEY LEGISLATORS AND STAFF
The Military Coalition, an influential consortium of 32 military and veterans groups, of which AUSA is a member, presented its highest awards last week to two legislators and two congressional staff members who have championed the causes of compensation and benefits improvements for military families.
Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii and Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., received the Coalition’s 2010 Award of Merit.
Akaka, who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, was recognized for his leadership in winning enactment of legislation to provide benefits and services to caregivers of wounded warriors and female veterans, and sponsoring legislation to improve post-9/11 GI Bill coverage.
Skelton, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, was honored for his leadership in supporting military pay comparability with the private sector, military health care improvements, and relief from compensation inequities affecting disabled retirees and military survivors.
TMC Co-Chair COL Steve Strobridge, USAF, Ret., said, “Chairman Skelton has been in the forefront of a broad range of compensation, health care, and quality of life improvements for the military community. Every segment of the military population – currently serving, Guard/Reserve, retired, survivors and family members – has positively and dramatically benefited from the initiatives he has championed with such determination and persistence.”
TMC Co-Chair MCPO Joseph Barnes, USN Ret., said, “Sen. Akaka has taken the lead on almost every aspect of veterans’ benefit improvements this year. We’re especially grateful for his leadership in winning compensation and health coverage for caregivers, many of whom have had to sacrifice their jobs and homes to provide full-time care for a wounded loved one. He also is leading the charge to ensure fair GI Bill treatment for Guard and Reserve personnel and restore GI Bill coverage for all-important occupational and on-the-job training programs that are so crucial to helping returning veterans find productive employment.”
TMC also presented its annual Freedom Award to Kim Lipsky, Deputy Staff Director for the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Jacob Parker, Legislative Assistant for Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, for their work in promoting support for military and veterans’ quality of life programs behind the scenes.
“The legislators are the champions,” said TMC President MSG Michael Cline, USA, Ret., “but their staff expend huge amounts of effort in crafting the legislation, working with the military associations to fill in the details, and coordinating our mutual efforts to get other legislators and the public on board. Kim Lipsky and Jacob Parker have been great supporters on a wide variety of key issues affecting our community. Kim’s work on the wounded warrior caregiver legislation and Jacob’s in support of fairer treatment for Guard and Reserve members and families have been especially noteworthy.”
TMC represents the interests of more than six million members around the world, including active duty, National Guard, Reserve, and retired members and veterans of the seven uniformed services, plus their families and survivors.
NO WAY TO DO BUSINESS
Congress left town last week with no budget for fiscal 2011 in place, no defense authorization or appropriations bills enacted or, for that matter, NO annual spending bills enacted.
The Democratic leadership didn’t adopt an annual budget resolution or move most individual spending bills because of growing public concerns over deficits and government spending, and the associated political concerns of vulnerable Democrats who wanted to avoid votes on those issues. The leadership plans to complete the fiscal 2011 appropriations process by enacting a year-end omnibus in a lame duck session which is scheduled to start the week of Nov. 15, break for Thanksgiving week, and resume the following week.
Congress did manage to enact a stopgap resolution (PL 111-242) that funds the entire government through Dec. 3. They will almost certainly have to extend it if they hope to complete action on pending issues during the lame duck.
They will also be dealing with expiring tax cuts, and another “doc fix” to prevent a scheduled 23.5 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE reimbursement rates to physicians. The cut, scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1 will increase another 6.1 percent in January unless Congress changes the law. With Congress out of town until after the November elections, the Legislative Newsletter will resume on Monday, Nov 22. Expect a jam-packed, action-filled lame duck session as Congress struggles to complete work on many critical issues.
“Doc Fix” Problem Fast Approaching
When looking at the many serious matters that Congress will need to take up in their Lame Duck session it is very important not to forget that they must deal with the Medicare “Doc Fix”. The latest stop gap measure expires on December 1. Congress included a temporary 2.5% increase in the last bill so the cut doctors treating Medicare patients is 23.5% ! Then on January 1, 2011, there is scheduled to be an additional 6.1% fee cut which means a total cut of 29.6%!!!
It is crucial for military retirees and their families and survivors that this terrible problem be permanently corrected. Not only is Medicare Part B the first payer for TRICARE for Life but TRICARE rates are set based on Medicare rates. When you see your members of Congress campaigning remind them of this matter.
Gulfport Armed Forces Retirement Home (AFRH) Ready To Open
After 5 years over 100 military retirees and war veterans are returning to a new Military Retirement Home located in Gulfport, Mississippi. About 40 residents are already driving to Mississippi from Washington D.C.’s Home while 135 will be flown to Gulfport on Monday. The old home was destroyed on August 30, 2005, by Hurricane Katrina and 416 were evacuated. While many stayed with families and friends in the area most were moved to D.C.
The new home (which will have its formal opening on November 9, 2010) is a 4-tower complex set on 47 acres of waterfront. The residents will have individual rooms with a full bathroom, kitchenette and balcony.
The homes residents are primarily for enlisted retirees who are at least 60 years of age. Here is a breakdown of eligibility requirements.
Veterans are eligible to become AFRH residents if their active duty service in the military was at least 50 percent enlisted, warrant officer or limited duty officer and they are:
- Veterans with 20 or more years of active duty service and are at least 60 years old, or
- Veterans unable to earn a livelihood due to a service-connected disability, or
- Veterans unable to earn a livelihood due to injuries, disease, or disability, and who served in a war theater or received hostile fire pay, or
- Female veterans who served prior to 1948.
Applicants must be free of drug, alcohol, and psychiatric problems, and never have been convicted of a felony.
Married couples are welcome, but both must be eligible in their own right.
At the time of admission applicants must be able to live independently. As an example of this, they must be able to take care of their own personal needs, attend a central dining facility for meals and keep all medical appointments. If increased health care is needed after being admitted, assisted living and long term care are available at both campuses.
If you are interested in applying to either facility for yourself or a family member go to their website at https://www.afrh.gov. to see the qualifications, cost etc. There is a waiting list at both facilities so it is wise to apply as soon as possible to place you or your family member on the waiting list.
The AFRH in Gulfport was originally a home founded during the War of 1812 in Philadelphia for destitute Navy officers, sailors and Marines and moved to Gulfport. After the Civil War a home for destitute soldiers was created in Washington DC. It eventually became the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen’s Home. In the 1990’s Congress combined the 2 facilities and made them the Armed Forces Retirement Home. Each home can hold up to 1300 residents and provides 5 levels of care from independent living to long term care. Each facility has a 9 hole golf course, walking trails, fitness centers and more. Every active duty enlisted member helps to support the facilities with a 50 cent a month payroll deduction.
Department of Veterans Affairs Receives “A” from Small Business Administration ( SBA)
The SBA has awarded an A to the VA for its dramatic success in contracting with Service-Disabled Veterans owned Small Businesses. The government wide statutory goal is that all agencies and Departments award 3% of its acquisition dollars to Service-disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses. VA reached 17% this year.
Study: Flu Shot May Help Reduce Heart Attacks
This study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal was conducted to add to other studies which suggested that there is a link between respiratory infections and heart attacks. British researchers who conducted the study compared the medical records of a little more than 16,000 first-time heart attack victims ages 40 and older with the medical records of nearly 62,700 people who had not had heart attacks. After factoring other major risks for heart attacks, such as smoking and family history of heart ailments, research concluded that the flu shot was associated to a 19 percent reduction in the rate of first heart attack. The benefit was even greater for those who got the shots early; According to the study, there was a 21 percent reduction in the rate of heart attacks in the next year. For more information, please go to: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/09/21/vaccine.heart.attack.link/?hpt=Sbin
Study Finds Dementia Link
A new study has linked post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to dementia later in life. While the analysis does not prove that PTSD causes dementia, it did show that combat PTSD is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The study was conducted by the VA Medical Center in Houston and is published in the September edition of the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. An abstract of the study is available online at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1532-5415.2010.02977.x/abstract
U.S.O. Winner of Volunteer of the Year: Herb Schmeling
Herb Schmeling, a dedicated volunteer for AUSA’s Fort Lewis Chapter and recipient of the AUSA 2010 Bainbridge Award, which is named after the fifth Sergeant Major of the Army, William G. Bainbridge, US Army, Retired and is presented during the opening ceremony at the AUSA Annual Meeting, has recently learned he has also been named as the USO 2010 Volunteer of the Year. AUSA is honored to have Herb as one of our very special chapter volunteers, and we sincerely thank him for his service to our country and his continued dedicated service to his local community and military families.
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 already 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. You can also sign-up to receive TRICARE benefit updates via e-mail.
VA COLA Hoax
According to Military Officers Association of America, an e-mail has been making the rounds, which claims that new legislation will dramatically increase veterans' disability compensation -- in some cases by more than 100 percent. Unfortunately, the claim about H.R. 4667, the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Act of 2010 is a hoax. The bill does exist and it was recently passed by Congress, but it only authorizes the same COLA increase for VA beneficiaries that will be paid to Social Security annuitants this year (which almost certainly will
Missing Aviators Identified
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office recently announced that the remains of two servicemen, missing in action from World War II have been identified and are being returned to their families for burial with full military honors. Lt. Francis B. McIntyre of Mitchell, S.D. and Aviation Radioman 2nd Class William L. Russell of Cherokee, Okla. will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. At the end of World War II, the U.S. government was unable to recover, identify and bury approximately 79,000 individuals. Today, more than 72,000 Americans remain unaccounted for from the conflict. For additional information on the Defense Department's mission to account for missing Americans, call 703-699-1420 or visit the DPMO website.
Free Stays for Veterans Day
A West Virginia innkeeper recruited 400 inns and bed-and-breakfasts across the U.S. and Canada as part of an initiative to offer free rooms to active-duty servicemembers and veterans on Nov. 10, the night before Veterans Day. Reservations need to be made directly with the participating Inns and B&Bs. A valid military or Veterans Administration ID is required for each reservation. For more information, including a listing of participating inns and B&Bs, visit the B&Bs for Vets website.
Find ways to support and honor U.S. military servicemembers and veterans who protect our security and freedom. Visit the Military.com Support our Troops Web page.
Find more Travel Discounts for Servicemembers, Veterans, Retirees and their families on Military.com.
Exchanges Debut New System
Implementation of an updated point-of-sale system that leverages the technological advances available through "smart" Common Access Cards is streamlining the identification process for age-restricted items (such as alcohol and tobacco) at Army and Air Force Exchanges. The Exchange's new point-of-sale system prompts associates to check identification when a restricted item is scanned. Scanning the bar code on the front of the shopper's ID card allows the Exchange's system to determine the customer's age and quickly complete the transaction. The system does not print the customer's birth date on a receipt or store the information in any way.
New Veterans Headstone Medallion
Veteran's 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, 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.
Learn more and view an example of the new medallion.
DEFENSE BILLS PUSHED TO LAME-DUCK SESSION
A procedural vote in the Senate that would invoke cloture, or limit debate on the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill failed, 56-43, four votes short of the 60 needed.
Two Democratic lawmakers joined Senate Republicans to block consideration of the defense authorization bill after Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., rejected their offer to limit initial debate to strictly defense-related amendments.
Work on the authorization bill usually takes at least a week with over 300 amendments to debate. Reid wanted to limit the votes to three amendments. The first amendment was the DREAM Act, a measure that would provide a pathway to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military. The second amendment would limit senators’ use of secret holds on bills or nominations while the third would repeal the 1993 “don’t ask, don’t tell” law. That law, which bans openly gay people from serving in the armed forces, would be repealed after the administration certifies that doing so would not harm military morale and readiness. Republicans said that the amendments had no place on the defense bill.
Sen. Reid had acknowledged that the Senate would not complete work on the defense bill before recessing for the mid-term elections and that he just wanted to get started on it. That led some Republicans to charge that the Democratic leadership was just seeking votes before the elections.
What happens to the defense authorization bill now? While the bill has been enacted annually for the past 48 years, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., said prospects for passing the bill in a post-election session would be uncertain. “Anyone who tries to predict what will happen in a lame-duck has a lot more courage than I do,” he said.
On the appropriations front, CQ Today is reporting that informal conferencing of the Defense spending bills likely will not begin until sometime in October, with formal efforts starting after lawmakers return.
The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $669.9 billion Defense spending bill in September, but the full House Appropriations panel does not intend to mark up its version of the bill until some time in November. The House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee marked up its $681.8 billion bill in late July.
Informal conferences are hampered, in part, because the House panel cannot release the report accompanying its draft bill until the full committee markup is complete.
“I’m anticipating that we will get some kind of direction to move that way during October, but no serious discussions would take place until after the November elections,” a senior GOP House aide said.
The lame duck session will be crowded with the defense authorization and appropriations bill as well as Congress’ work on preventing a 23.5 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE payments to physicians that will go into effect on Dec. 1 as required under current law.
While they will have their work cut out for them, Congress must pass the defense-related measures. These bills are critical to the efficient and safe operation of our military forces.
Please add your voice to ours. Go to our website at www.ausa.org, click on “Legislative Agenda” and then “Contact Congress”, type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials” and scroll down to “Pass the Defense Appropriations and Authorization Bills Now”.
MILITARY TAX FIXES SUBJECT OF SENATE HEARING
For the first time ever, representatives of The Military Coalition, a group of military and veteran advocacy groups of which AUSA is a member, were asked to testify before the Senate Finance Committee.
The Coalition witnesses touched on a series of expanded tax breaks/improvements aimed at assisting service members and their families and survivors.
AUSA and The Coalition would like to see Congress:
* Authorize tax credits for employers of the reserve Components;
* Authorize tax incentives for employers who hire demobilized service members and AC/RC military spouses;
* Increase the Alternative Minimum Tax exemption (AMT) for children who receive a Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity;
* Improve above-the-line deduction for overnight travel expenses of Guard and Reserve;
* Authorize pre-tax deductions for premiums paid on health insurance;
* Implement uniformed service member flexible spending accounts;
* Authorize pre-tax deductions for Long Term Care premiums; and,
* Reform the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO).
Coalition witnesses asked Committee Chairman Max Baucus to advance the legislation before Congress recesses. While Baucus voiced support for the incentives, he made no commitment on timing.
Bill to End 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Blocked
Senate Republicans last Tuesday blocked an effort to repeal the ban on gays from serving openly in the military, handing gay rights groups a defeat in their last chance any time soon to overturn the law known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the legislation, which authorized $726 billion in defense spending. The vote was 56-43. Read More.
New Montgomery GI Bill Rates Announced
The VA released the FY2011 payment rates for the Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserve, Reserve Education Assistance Program and Survivors' and Dependents' Education Assistance Program. Read More.
Use Your GI Bill Benefits or Lose Them -Your benefits do expire. You only have a set amount of time to take advantage of them -- and they can be used for not only higher education military-friendly programs but also for many short-term certification programs that may result in higher paying jobs, jobs that keep this country running. Start today!
Army Provides Emergency Preparation Tips
September is National Preparedness Month and the Ready Army campaign wants to increase knowledge about preparedness. The campaign's main message is "Get a Kit. Make a Plan. Be Informed." When making a kit, pack enough supplies for a minimum of three days. Develop a Family Emergency Plan including a communication plan. Get the whole family involved in planning. Be aware of the types of emergencies that threaten your area. Preparedness tips and information can be found on the Ready Army website and the Ready.gov website.
TRICARE Recommends Flu Shots
TRICARE and the Centers for Disease Control are encouraging all pregnant women to get vaccinated against seasonal influenza. This year's influenza vaccine provides protection from three strains of influenza, including the 2009 H1N1 virus. TRICARE covers age-appropriate doses of vaccines recommended by the CDC. Beneficiaries can visit participating TRICARE retail network pharmacies to receive seasonal flu vaccines at no cost. To find a participating pharmacy, go to www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE or call Express Scripts at 1-877-363-1303. TRICARE regularly adds coverage for new vaccinations based on CDC recommendations. For more information about the vaccines recommended by CDC, visit the CDC website.
TRICARE, Concurrent Receipt, SBP in December
It's looking virtually certain that the Senate will delay action on the FY2011 Defense Authorization Bill until after the elections, which will make for a very raucous November and December on Capitol Hill.
The Senate briefly brought the bill up for consideration this week, but leadership withdrew it from the table after debate reached an impasse over potential amendments on the "don't-ask-don't-tell" issue and allowing illegal immigrants to gain citizenship by joining the military.
Because action on the defense bill typically consumes a week of debate with over 300-plus amendments, Senate leaders pulled it from the floor to focus on other essential legislation - i.e., approving temporary funding to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1, the start of FY2011.
Congress will leave Washington to hit the campaign trail within the next two weeks, but will face some very tough slogging when it returns for a "lame duck" session after the November 2nd election.
In what's likely to be a short and bitterly debated session, legislators will be faced with:
- Finishing the Defense Authorization Bill
- Preventing a 23.5% cut in Medicare and TRICARE payments to doctors from going into effect on Dec. 1, as required under current law
- Approving funds for government operations beyond December
- Initiatives to extend part or all of the Bush-era tax cuts
- Announcement of the recommendations of the President's Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on Dec. 1 (see box above for MOAA's article on the commission and its potential recommendations)
In the coming weeks we will push legislators to fix the Medicare/TRICARE problem and win Senate approval of a variety of amendments on TRICARE, concurrent receipt, Guard/Reserve retirement, SBP and more.
Two WWII MIAs Identified
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains of two Army soldiers missing in action from America's longest continuously fought battle. They are Sgt. Edward T. Jones, of West Pawlet, VT, and Pfc. James C. Konyud from Cleveland. On Nov. 6, 1944, Jones and five other members of A Company, 112th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, were traveling east along the Germany/Belgium border in the Hürtgen Forest when a German tank fired point-blank into their position. On Jan. 1, 1945, Konyud, a member of K Company, 121st Infantry Regiment, 8th Infantry Division, was reported missing during a heavy engagement against enemy forces in the Hürtgen Forest. Read more about Jones' recover and identification at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=13915, and Konyud's recovery and identification at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=13912
Senate Discusses New Agent Orange Presumptions
The Senate VA Committee held a hearing yesterday on the recent decision by VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to add three new presumptions to the list of illnesses or diseases that have been linked to Agent Orange exposure—B cell leukemia, ischemic heart disease and Parkinson’s disease, which have already been added to federal regulations and funded in FY 2011 appropriation bills. At the heart of the hearing was discussion concerning the current process for deciding presumptive disabilities, whether it is working and how it might be improved. Many suggestions were made by panelists, to include former VA Secretary Anthony Principi, who offered his thoughts on his decision to add Type 2 Diabetes to the list. He suggested that it may be time to revisit authority given the Secretary of Veterans Affairs under the Agent Orange Act of 1991.
VA 2011 Appropriations Not Finished
The VFW is urging all members to contact their U.S. senators and urge them to finish work on the VA funding package—and get it reconciled with the House—before the end of the government's fiscal year on Sept. 30. The $141.1 billion appropriations bill would provide funding for FY 2011 Military Construction and VA programs (and for VA health care programs for FY 2011 and 2012). Included in the bill are increases to help pay new medical claims for the three new presumptions added to the list of illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure—B-cell leukemia, Parkinson’s disease and ischemic heart disease. It would also provide increases for new caregiver programs and enhancements to homeless and mental health programs. Call or e-mail your senators and urge them to finish the FY 2011 VA Appropriations bill today! For contact information, go to http://capwiz.com/vfw/dbq/officials/ <http://capwiz.com/vfw/dbq/officials/>
VA Issues Press Release Explaining Benefits Available to Former POWs-
Coinciding with POW-MIA National Recognition Day, the VA issued a press release outlining the benefits available to Ex- Prisoners of War. VA Secretary Shinseki said that he wants “ . . .former American prisoners of war to be aware of the benefits and services available to them as Americans across the nation show respect and appreciation… The veterans have made great sacrifices for their country in time of war, and it is our nation's turn to honor them by reinforcing to them the full range of compensation, health care and benefits they have earned." Available benefits include medical treatment at VA facilities without co-payments, disability payments for internment-related injuries and diseases, presumed service connection for some diseases, and free dental treatment for any eligible condition. To see the a description of the benefits available please go to http://www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/factsheets/misc/formerpow.doc. You can apply on line for Ex POW benefits by going to at http://vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp or by contacting the coordinator for former POWs located at a VA regional office.
DoD Creates a Working Group to Analyze Future TRICARE Contracts (While Present Contracts Are Still Pending Implementation)-
This week the Pentagon announced the creation and first meeting of a working group tasked to take a year and create the future TRICARE contracts, T-4. This is starting even though only 1/3 of the T-3 contract has been stood up.
It is being headed by Dr. Guy Clifton. Dr. Clifton, a Professor of Surgery at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, is author of the book Flatlined: Resuscitating American Medicine, and a former Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow.
On Monday the working group held their first meeting. The Group invited speakers from “MIT, the Institute of Medicine, the Center for New American Security, Kaiser Permanente, NDU, private industry, and the Department of Health and Human Services.”
Since confirmation of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Health Affairs) is still pending, Dr. George Peach Taylor, Jr. is Performing the Duties of the Assistant Secretary. He said: “This seminar sets the tone for the work ahead. They offered a broad perspective on trends in health care, global security, economics, information technology, science, workforce demographics and more,” said Taylor. “All of these trends will influence future health plan design. DoD leaders and the services’ surgeons general embrace the MHS Quadruple Aim, which supports military readiness while improving health, enhancing the patient experience and responsibly managing costs. The group is charged with addressing strategic issues in health plan design while reinforcing patient centered care, the military direct care system, and the enduring value of the Quadruple Aim.”
It is planned that the Group’s recommendations will be presented to MHS in the summer of 2011. In the meantime the T-3 contract has been awarded to HealthNet and is being put in place in the TRICARE North region. Awards are still pending in the South and West Regions.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Health Hearing: “Veterans’ Health Administration Contracting and Procurement Practices”-
A hearing was held on September 23 by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Health about the Veterans’ Health Administration’s contracting and procurement practices.
The hearing was held because of numerous irregularities that had been uncovered by a Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Inspector General’s (IG) report. The reports had found contracting errors, a lack of oversight and compliance, and a general lack of accountability at the Agency. The IG testified that “systemic issues such as poor acquisition planning, problematic contract award processes, poorly written contracts, and inadequate contract monitoring that impacted VA’s efforts to effectively and economically deliver goods and services to VA facilities.”
Some of these problems have been well-covered in the news, such as when VA officials said that 83 veterans at a VA hospital may have been exposed to HIV and Hepatitis B and C because a contracting official bought the incorrect part for a dialysis machine. The contract was awarded without the oversight that takes place at several other VA Medical Centers (VAMC).
Another problem that the IG found was that between 1999 and 2005 the VAMC in Philadelphia, PA had been buying services from the University of Pennsylvania informally, without a contract.
It is these and other issues that led Frederick Downs, Jr., Chief Procurement and Logistics Officer of the VHA to agree that there were indeed systemic issues that needed to be addressed. He said that part of the problem was that he only filled out his deputy positions earlier this year, and that could have led to many of the oversight issues that were brought up.