NO PROGRESS ON MAJOR ITEMS
Congress made little progress on critical items on their legislative agenda during the first week of the lame duck session. Instead, they mostly spent the week organizing for the 112th Congress, leaving major decisions after their return from the Thanksgiving holiday recess.
Here are the major agenda items and the current status:
* Funding the federal government into the New Year. The stopgap spending measure currently funding the government expires Dec. 3. Lawmakers will either clear another continuing resolution, work together to pass an omnibus, or alternatively, seek to enact a yearlong continuing resolution. Democrats don’t want a short-term stopgap measure that would last into just the early months of 2011. They believe it would give the GOP leverage with their new House majority to seek spending cuts and reduce domestic discretionary spending. However, the success of their plan hit a hurdle after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell announced his opposition to the $1.1 trillion spending package that Senate appropriators are assembling.
* Preventing the 23 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE payments to physicians scheduled take effect on December 1, with an additional 2 percent cut on January 1. Last week, the Senate passed a one month extension of current law so that the 23 percent cut in payments will not take place until December 31. That will give Congress some breathing room to work on a longer "fix". The House announced it would take up the Senate's legislation on November 29, and presumably pass it so it can be enacted by November 30.
* Passing a defense authorization bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week that he is committed to bringing the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill to the Senate floor by the end of the year and that the bill would include the proposed repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” law that bars openly gay people from serving in the military. The defense authorization bill typically involves numerous amendments and lengthy debate. Even if the Senate passes the bill, it still has to go to conference committee to resolve any differences with the House version that was passed in May. Getting the bill cleared for the President’s signature before lawmakers leave town for the holidays will be no small task. However, it is critical that Congress finds a way to get the measure passed. 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 running out! 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 letters “Pass the FY 2011 Defense Appropriations and Authorization Bills Now!” and “Prevent the 23 percent cut in Medicare/TRICARE payments”.
WARNING TO VETERANS
Forwarded by Kevin Secor, VSO Liaison, Office of the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. An organization called Veterans Affairs Services (VAS) is providing benefit and general information on VA and gathering personal information on veterans. This organization is not affiliated with VA in any way. http://www.vaservices.org/us/index.html VAS may be gaining access to military personnel through their close resemblance to the VA name and seal. Our Legal Counsel has requested that we coordinate with DoD to inform military installations, particularly mobilization sites, of this group and their lack of affiliation or endorsement by VA to provide any services. In addition, GC requests that if you have any examples of VAS acts that violate chapter 59 of Title 38 United States Code, such as VAS employees assisting veterans in the preparation and presentation of claims for benefits, please pass any additional information to Mr.Daugherty at the address below.
Michael G. Daugherty
Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of General Counsel (022G2)
Retirees Left Vulnerable to Hospital Fee Hikes
The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) has issued an alert to its members about the risk of not passing the 2011 defense bill that says the Defense Department (DoD) “will impose” the hospitalization fee increase if the bill does not become law. Work on the defense bill stalled for six weeks while Congress took a break for the November elections, but it is unclear whether the bill will pass because of partisan disagreement over the White House’s push to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay Servicemembers. Senate leaders expect to make an attempt to pass the bill after Thanksgiving, shortly after the DoD releases a much-anticipated report on how the military would adopt a policy allowing gays to openly serve. Every day that Congress fails to pass the 2011 defense policy bill is a day the DoD could surprise military retirees with massive cost increase for inpatient hospitalization. To learn more, please go to; http://www.militarytimes.com/news/2010/11/military-hospital-fees-retirees-defense-bill-111510w/
Debt Panel Eyes TRICARE Fee Increases
Once again the subject of increasing TRICARE costs has hit the news -- the latest proposal being offered by the bipartisan Debt Reduction Task Force. One of the stated goals of the bipartisan task force is to reduce the cost of military health care by imposing greater cost-sharing on TRICARE beneficiaries. Some retirees could see their TRICARE premiums increase by as much as $2,000 a year.
Read more at the Military Advantage blog. Military.com surveys have found that most servicemembers and their families are confused by TRICARE. Get the facts and latest news on TRICARE.
Two Panels Pushing to Overhaul Retirement
Yet another so called "debt reduction" panel has announced their proposal to overhaul the military retirement system. The bipartisan Debt Reduction Task Force, co-chaired by former Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and economist Alice Rivlin, offered a detailed plan for overhauling military retirement and TRICARE. Like the previous "blue ribbon" panel's proposal, the task force's plan includes steps to replace the current system with a new program that would allow members to retire after 10 years, but not start drawing pay until they reach 60 years old. However, the task force proposal would go further and tie military retirement to the government-funded Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) with vesting after 10 years. Read more about the task force's plans to reform military retirement.
Get Info on State Veteran Benefits
Veterans pursuing their educational goals are usually eligible for "educational assistance for students" in most states. Educational benefits for veterans and their dependents, particularly the children of deceased and disabled veterans, are also available in some states. Military.com has developed an on-line general summary of educational benefits for veterans and their dependents. View it now.
In addition to State Veteran Benefits your GI Bill may be worth over $51,300 and your military experience could be worth college credit. Finding the right military friendly school could eliminate up to 2 years of college time. Tap into the benefits you've already earned -- start right now by searching for Military Friendly Schools
Get the Military Benefit Guide Book
We know that understanding your military benefits can be a difficult thing to accomplish. The kids are screaming, you're packing up for deployment, you just don't have time to read the "handbook" and figure out the jargon. Terry Howell, Military.com's benefit expert, has written "The Military Advantage, 2010 Edition: The Military.com Guide to Military and Veteran Benefits" in plain English and organized in a way that makes sense to you. Buy it today on Amazon.com for $12.69.
Visit the Military.com Benefit section to get more information on TRICARE, VA Home Loans, Veteran Benefits, GI Bill and Tuition Assistance, Military Pay, Uniforms, Space A Travel, and more.
TRICARE, VA Coordinate Care
TRICARE and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) coordinate care to support military veterans around the world. When servicemembers leave active duty, they may be eligible for benefits offered by TRICARE and the VA. Retirees can learn more about VA health benefits by contacting a VA Health Benefits Service Center at 877-222-VETS or visiting the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil/tricaretova. For information about TRICARE-covered services, contact your TRICARE regional contractor. Regional contractor contact information can be found on the TRICARE Contact Information webpage.
Military.com surveys have found that most servicemembers and their families are confused by TRICARE. Get the facts and latest news on TRICARE
Disability Evaluation Streamlined
A pilot program that eases medical separation and speeds benefit payments for servicemembers too wounded, sick or injured to stay in the military will expand to all military medical sites across the services by October 2011. The new program brings together VA and military medical separation processes while servicemembers are still on active duty. Under the new system, wounded, ill or injured servicemembers receive medical evaluations by VA-certified doctors using VA guidelines, while DoD officials use these exams to determine if a servicemember is able to continue in uniform. For servicemembers, the process is faster -- with only one set of examinations to complete. The pilot program has been operating in 27 sites. For more information, visit the Streamlined Disability Evaluation System webpage.
Supportive Services for Veteran Families
The Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) Program is a new VA program that will provide supportive services to very low-income Veterans and their families who are in or transitioning to permanent housing. The VA will award grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives who will assist very low-income Veterans and their families by providing a range of supportive services designed to promote housing stability. For more information, please check out the SSVF Program Factsheet, and the list of Frequently Asked Questions.You can also visit the VA website to learn more about the SSVF program.
Aid for Low-Income Vets and Families
The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced a new program designed to provide enhanced services to low-income veterans and their families who are at risk of being homeless. The VA's new Supportive Services for Veteran Families Program will provide grants to agencies that will provide direct financial assistance for daily living, transportation, child care, rent and utilities and other expenses. Eligible veteran families will include those who are homeless and scheduled to become residents of permanent housing or those who have left permanent housing and are seeking other housing. The VA will provide local agencies with the instructions necessary to apply for grants under the program by mid-December. For more on veterans benefits, visit the Military.com Benefits Center.
Busting Myths About VA Health Care
Myths and rumors that deal with Veterans health care are a serious matter that can prevent qualified Vets from seeking the care they both need and deserve. Many myths and rumors have come up in the comments section of popular blogs, and others from fellow vets and servicemembers. These myths include stories of denied service due to the nature of an illness, vets making too much money to qualify for VA health care, and more. The myths won't die unless they are addressed publicly and clearly, so we present you with the most common we hear, and the straightforward answers they need. Read more about Busting Myths About VA Health Care.
Some Overseas Mail Delayed
Customers sending mail to and from overseas military post offices in Europe can expect delays due to recent enhanced security measures. Currently, military post offices in Italy are most affected by this delay. The increased security measures require transportation agencies to screen and identify items considered high risk such as printer and toner cartridges larger than 16 ounces and any mail that originates or transits through Yemen or Somalia. At this time, it is unknown exactly the length of the delays. Contact your military post office for more details and updated information.
Military Family Scholarships
Here are websites with information on scholarships for military family members:
(1) Severely injured Servicemembers and Spouse Scholarship Opportunities at http://www.dantes.doded.mil/sfd/index.asp?Flag=true
(2) Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Program at www.militaryonesource.com/mycaa
(3) Military helps spouses get degrees too!
(4) Dependents' Educational Assistance (Department of Veterans Affairs) at http://www.gibill.va.gov/pamphlets/CH35/CH35_Pamphlet_General.htm
(5) Education Benefits for Survivors of Servicemembers at www.vba.va.gov/survivors
(6) Defense Commissary Agency (Dependent Children) at http://www.militaryscholar.org/about/about.shtml
(7) Military Order of the Purple Heart at http://www.purpleheart.org/Membership/Public/Programs/Scholarships/Default.aspx
(8) National Military Family Associations (Military spouse scholarships) at http://www.nmfa.org
(9) National Military Family Association Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program at http://www.nmfa.org/site/PageServer?pagename=Spouse_Scholarship
(10) Post 9/11 GI Transferability (Military member can transfer GI Bill entitlements to family members) at http://www.defenselink.mil/gibill
Also, request a free copy of the Military Children's Scholarship handbook at www.militaryhandbooks.com.
Remember: Not applying for scholarships is like turning down free money. Get started on your search for scholarships today -- visit the Military.com Scholarship Finder.
Wilson Opposes Passing Defense Bill this Year
Republican lawmaker, Joe Wilson of South Carolina, who is expected to lead the House panel to oversee military personnel issues next year, doesn’t want Congress to pass the 2011 defense authorization bill until next year. Wilson doesn’t want the bill passed because it is laden with potential provisions he doesn’t support. Dispute over provisions sited by Wilson is the chief reason why the Senate has been unable to pass its version of the annual defense bill. The annual defense bill, passed every year since the 1960’s includes provisions extending authority for the services to pay recruiting and retention bonuses and many special pays and incentive bonuses that will expire on December 31, 2010. To learn more, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/11/military-joe-wilson-opposes-defense-bill-this-year-111610w/
VA Policy Change Helps Female Vets with PTSD
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) required veterans filing disability claims or seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder to document what caused their stress. If a veteran could not document the specific event or events, PTSD benefits were denied. President Obama announced a new process that could open the door to treatment for tens of thousands of other veterans whose medical and disability claims have been rejected. The new policy is expected to benefit women in particular because they typically play support roles in war instead of being directly involved in battles. If they have PTSD symptoms, the VA will assume those symptoms were caused by stress during their service and give them treatment. To learn more, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/11/ap-va-policy-change-helps-female-vets-with-ptsd-110910/
VA Pilots Expedite Payments to Disabled Veterans 'Quick Pay' and 'Express Lane' Initiatives Work to Cut Processing Time
VA has launched two pilot programs to test new procedures that will speed the payment of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation benefits to Veterans with disabilities connected to their military service. These new programs are part of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki’s effort to “break the back” of the disability claims backlog. The “Quick Pay” Disability initiative is designed to speed disability compensation to Veterans who provide sufficient evidence at the time of claim submission to decide all or part of their claim. Since the program launched, “Quick Pay’ has paid more than $2 million in benefits to 1,656 Florida Veterans. The “Express Lane” Pilot program based in the Seattle Regional Office, staff members are realigned to address disability claims based on claim complexity. For additional information on VA’s claims transformation activities, visit http://www.vba.va.gov/transformation. To read this article in full, please go to; http://www.va.gov
VA Launches Vantage Point Blog
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is launching its first official blog, opening a new line of communication between the department and its stakeholders. The debut marks VA’s latest outreach effort aimed at improving the way VA and its clients engage online. To learn more, please go to; http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1995
VA Health System Rates High in Study
A report in the November issue of the national publication Medical Care finds that the Department of Veterans Affairs health system generally outperforms the private sector in following recommended processes for patient care. While the review did not include studies of surgical care, it did cover a range of studies of diseases common among Veterans such as diabetes, heart disease and depression. The study authors, led by Dr. Amal Trivedi of the Providence, R.I., VA Medical Center and Brown University, recommended continuing research with even more recent data. For more information about VA health care, visit VA's Health Care webpage. To learn more about VA research, visit VA's Research and Development webpage. An abstract of the study is available on the Medical Care website: http://www.military.com/veterans-report/va-health-system-rates-high-in-study?ESRC=vr.nl
Veterans Curation Project
The Veterans Curation Project (VCP) helps Soldiers become successful civilians while meeting the need to properly curate some of the nation’s historical treasures. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has established three pilot VCP centers in areas where large numbers of wounded and other veterans reside. Additional funding in fiscal year 2011 would allow the project to continue for at least one more year. Project participants are employed, earning full-time or part-time salaries. For more details, please visit; http://www.military.com/veterans-report/veterans-curation-project
National Veterans Small Business Conference
Thousands of small business owners, veterans, military personnel and federal employees will attend the seventh annual National Veterans Small Business Conference and Exposition for veteran-owned small business in New Orleans Aug. 15-18, 2011. The event provides veteran business owners with important information about federal veterans programs, business development strategies, and Veteran-Owned Small Business and Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) legislation. VA invites all interested persons and businesses to attend. For more information, visit VA's Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization webpage: http://www.nationalveteransconference.com/ and check back frequently for new details.
Program Easing Medical Separation Rolls Out Force Wide
A pilot program that eases medical separation and speeds benefit payments for Servicemembers too wounded, sick or injured to stay in the military will soon roll out to the entire force. The Integrated Disability Evaluation System is a joint effort between the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The program will expand to all military medical sites across the services by October 2011. Under the new system, wounded, ill or injured Servicemembers will receive medical evaluations by VA-certified doctors using VA guidelines, while DOD uses these exams to determine if a Servicemember is able to continue in uniform. To learn more, click here: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=13126
Senate Hearing on VA-DOD Disability Pilot:
The Senate VA Committee held a hearing on the status of the VA-DOD disability pilot program to create one joint disability medical examination to replace DOD's MEB/PEB process, and VA's process. The idea behind integrating the two systems was to provide recovering and transitioning servicemembers a streamlined and more accurate rating of their injuries. Witnesses from both VA and DOD stated they are committed to seeing the program succeed. Committee members felt that the time was right to examine how well the new system is working, since a program expansion is already being planned. For more, go the SVAC website at http://veterans.senate.gov/.
WWII MIA Identified:
The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Air Forces Capt. George W. Grismore, of Salt Lake City. On March 12, 1945, Grismore and five crewmembers aboard a C-47A Skytrain departed Tanauan Airfield in the Philippines on a resupply mission to guerilla troops. The aircraft did not return to base, and no evidence of the aircraft was found. The six men were presumed killed in action and their remains were later determined to be non-recoverable. Read the full DOD press release at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14057.
Korean War MIA Identified:
DPMO also announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Cpl. Floyd E. Hooper, of Stratton, CO. Fighting as a member of the 24th Infantry Division, he was captured on Feb. 4, 1951, and died of malnutrition and dysentery a few months later. Between 1991 and 1994, North Korea gave the United States 208 boxes of remains believed to contain the remains of 200-400 servicemen. Among other forensic identification tools and circumstantial evidence, scientists from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command used dental comparisons and mitochondrial DNA --- matched to his brother --- to identify Hooper. Read the full DOD press release at http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14041
Portal Helps Vets, Reserves, Guardsmen Land Jobs
A new, state-of-the-art Web portal has been developed to help veterans – as well as reserve-component members, their families and Wounded Warriors – land jobs with civilian employers who value their military experience. A resume builder helps users create a resume and maintain it in the system. Additionally, the new portal will be easier for about 1,200 employers participating in the partnership program. They will now be able to enter position vacancies directly into the system and track applications. In addition, they will be able to tap into resumes already in the system and reach out directly to candidates who qualify for their positions. To learn more concerning this Web portal, go to: https://smms.army.pentagon.mil/EPO/ To read this article in full, go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=61639
Employment Rate Worsens for Veterans
The job market does not appear to be getting better for veterans. October unemployment data released by the Labor Department show the jobless rate for all veterans is 8.3 percent, up from 8 percent in September. For new veterans who served in the military since Sept. 11, 2001, the rate for October was 10.6 percent. That is up from 10.2 percent in September, but it is better than the 11.6 percent unemployment rate for these younger veterans reported a year ago in October 2009. To find out more information, click here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/11/military-veterans-employment-numbers-110510w/
Suicide Rates Soar Among US Veterans
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki indicated that 20 percent of some 30,000 suicides in the United States each year are committed by veterans. Suicides claimed the lives of a record 309 Servicemembers last year, up from 267 in 2008, according to Pentagon numbers. The number of suicides between 2005 and 2009 -- 1,100 -- exceeded that of the number of US military members killed in Afghanistan since 2001. The Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs do not keep statistics on veteran deaths. Shinseki pointed to a backlog of Veterans Affairs cases or disability claims that has soared to over 700,000 this year, up from 400,000 to 500,000 the year before. He noted that the number of new cases has increased faster than his agency's capacity. Even though the Department of Veterans Affairs closed out 977,000 cases last year, it got another million new cases. A large number of the new cases involve younger veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Click here to read this article in its entirety: http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5ip7r1SIPog5ds_RyeomhhRTvdZxA?docId=CNG.56d1f55752a2aab0626aee89d327544b.9a1
Struggling Veterans Have New Housing Option
The Berakhah House began in July as a partnership involving the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls, the Sioux Falls Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Volunteers of America, Dakotas and has served 16 veterans since the new mission. The residents are referred by the VA Medical Center. A seven-person staff works with each veteran to prioritize and address their needs. The veterans complete weekly progress reports and can stay for up to 60 days. The VA has identified 260 homeless veterans in the area. The partnership provides another element of care for the homeless veterans and puts them in a warm atmosphere where they can relate to those around them. To learn more on this partnership, go to: http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2010/11/ap-vets-have-new-housing-111110/
VA Treats Combat Stress Remotely
Exposure therapy, gradually reliving those events in a nonthreatening setting with a therapist, can help the trauma of combat, but it requires easy access to a clinician, something not readily available to many veterans living in rural areas. For the past three years Peter Tuerk, a psychologist and Associate Director of the PTSD Clinical Team at the Charleston, S.C., VA Medical Center has used videoconferencing systems to conduct prolonged exposure therapy sessions with veterans who cannot make it to the hospital for face-to-face counseling. This week he received a VA national award for his pioneering work in recognition of his contributions in an area critical to the rehabilitation and improvement in the quality of life of war-injured veterans. To read more on this topic, go to: http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20101103_3061.php?oref=rss?zone=NGtoday
Study Draws Out Main Concerns of Student Vets
Veterans using the GI Bill choose a four-year institution by reputation and by what degrees are offered, but they pick two-year and for-profit schools based on location, name familiarity and for their emphasis on adult education, according to a new Rand Corp. report. The report, compiled for the American Council on Education, finds that the Post-9/11 GI Bill has had significant influence on the education choices of Servicemembers, veterans and their families. One-quarter of those surveyed said the new GI Bill was a significant factor in whether they even enrolled in higher education courses. For one-fifth, the new GI Bill — with its combination of tuition, fees, living stipends and book allowances — was a major factor in deciding which institution to attend. Results are based on a survey of 564 student veterans as well as follow-up interviews with focus groups in Arizona, Ohio and Virginia, in which more detailed questions were asked. To learn more about the study, click here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/11/military-gi-bill-veterans-study-111210w/
Study: Female Vets Less Likely to Abuse Drugs
A recent study found that female veterans are much less likely to abuse drugs, cigarettes or alcohol than male veterans. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 23 percent of female veterans have consumed five or more alcoholic beverages in one sitting in the past month, compared to 43 percent of male veterans in the same age group, 20 to 39. Men also were more likely to use illegal drugs, at 13 percent, compared to 10 percent of women. About 41 percent of men have smoked in the past month, compared to 33 percent of women. For more information on this study, go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2010/11/military-female-veterans-substance-abuse-111210w/
Paying New AO Claims ComplexMany Vietnam veterans with ischemic heart disease, Parkinson's disease or B-cell leukemia expected VA compensation for their illnesses to begin soon after a 60-day congressional review period ended Oct. 30. Though the first batch of payments did go out mid-week, the relatively small number -- about 1300 claims worth $8 million -- reinforced the fact that the process for calculating retroactive payments is timely and complex. VA expects to produce a steady stream of rating decisions and payments each week for these diseases, perhaps in the thousands. But there will not be a November geyser of checks as some veterans had hoped. To read more of Tom Philpott’s article, click here: http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,222310,00.html?wh=news