Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 25 Oct 2011 


2012 Retiree COLA Released

It's official. The 2012 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retired pay, SBP annuities, Social Security checks, and VA disability and survivor benefits will be 3.6%, effective December 1, 2011. It will first appear in the January checks, which will be paid on December 30.

But there are two categories of military retirees who won't receive a 3.6% COLA.

2011 Retirees: Servicemembers who retired during calendar year 2011 will receive a somewhat smaller, partial COLA for this year only, because they already received a January military pay raise (which also raised their 2011 retired pay).

Members who retired between Jan. 1, 2011, and Sept. 30, 2011, will receive a partial COLA based on the calendar quarter in which they retired. Jan.-Mar. retirees will receive 3.6%; Apr.-Jun. retirees, 2.4%; and Jul.-Sept. retirees 0.4%. Those who retire after Oct. 1, 2011, will see no COLA this year. Members retired during 2011 will receive full-year COLAs in future years.

REDUX Retirees: Servicemembers who entered service on or after Aug. 1, 1986 and elected to accept a $30,000 career retention bonus at 15 years of service agreed to accept reduced retired pay and COLAs as a trade-off for the bonus. REDUX retirees' COLAs are depressed 1% below the normal COLA rate, so they'll see a 2.6% COLA.

Pentagon Institutes New TRICARE Prime Retiree Enrollment Fees and New TRICARE Pharmacy Co-Pays

On October 1 (the beginning of the new fiscal year) DoD instituted its new and long desired increases in TRICARE Prime yearly enrollment fees for military retirees under the age of 65. The fee for FY2012 is $260 per year for an individual and $520 a year for the retiree and family. These new fees will only apply for new retirees through the rest of 2011 and will then be charged to all TRICARE Prime retiree enrollees under the age of 65. The Prime co-pays and $3,000 yearly catastrophic cap have not changed.

Under the present law DoD has the power to change enrollment fees unless stopped by Congress. For the last several years Congress stopped proposed increases but this year they did not. Indeed they have not yet passed the NDAA for FY2012. However both bills presently passed by the House and Senate included these increases. TREA firmly believes that this is just the first step that the Administration hopes to make.

DoD also implemented changes to the TRICARE Drug Co-Pays. These changes immediately affect all TRICARE beneficiaries except the active duty. First, the good news. The new co-pay for a generic drug prescription (up to 90 days) from home delivery is $0 Yes, a $0 co-pay. Obviously, this is an attempt to convince beneficiaries to fill their maintenance prescriptions through home delivery. The other co-pays through home delivery are $9 for the brand name drug (no change) and $25 for the third tier (up from $22.) All of these can cover up to a 90 day supply.

When looking at co-pays for prescriptions at network retail pharmacies we find increases in all three tiers (all cover up to a 30 day supply) Generics have gone from $3 to $5. Brand name drugs (tier 2) have gone from $9 to $12. And non-formulary medications (tier 3) have moved from $22 to $25.

Below you can find DoD’s chart which outlines all their co-pays.

Type of Pharmacy

Formulary Drugs

Non-formulary Drugs

Military Pharmacy
(up to a 90-day supply)


Not applicable

Home Delivery
(up to a 90-day supply)

Generic: $0
Brand Name: $9

$25 (unless you establish medical necessity

Retail Network
(up to a 30 day supply)

Generic: $5
Branch Name: $12

$25 (unless you establish medical necessity)

(up to a 30-day supply)

Prime Beneficiaries:
50% cost share after point of service deductible has been met
All Others:
$12 or 20% of the total cost, whichever is greater, after the annual deductible is met

Prime Beneficiaries:
50% cost share after point of service deductible has been met
All Others:
$25 or 20% of the total cost, whichever is greater, after the annual deductible is met

It is clear from the Administration’s proposals in both “Living Within Our Means and Investing in the Future” and the proposed statutory language that the White House has sent to the Hill that this is far from where the Administration wants these changes to end. They are proposing set dollar amount increases for Home Delivery’s co-pays and moving to a percentage of a drug’s cost in the retail network pharmacies. This is as we will say again and again is the beginning of a fight that we must take up to win.

Retirement Changes Face Huge Opposition

A recent Fleet Reserve Association survey found that more than 80 percent of the 1,700 respondents strongly opposed proposals to "civilianize" the current military retirement system. In addition, more than 80 percent of the active duty and Reserve component respondents said they'd shorten their term of service if the retirement benefit were changed to reflect the recommendations made in the Defense Business Board's "Modernizing the Military Retirement System" report

DFAS: Monthly Retirement Pay Statements

Effective 1 November 2011, retired military members who draw a monthly payment will be able to access a retirement pay statement via their online MyPay accounts.  Previously, retired military members only received statements when there was a change to their account. Read more at the Paycheck Chronicles.

Veterans Virtual Career Fair: Nov 14-18

Monster and are teaming up to bring you a job fair right to your front door. The virtual career fair will plug you into an environment where you leverage the Internet to power up your job search. A few simple steps will allow you to meet and greet military-friendly employers, apply for jobs, and even land an interview! Find our more on how you can register for this exclusive one-time event.

Holiday Mail Deadlines Set

The United States Postal Service and Military Postal Service Agency have released deadlines to ensure packages arrive to Military and State Department post offices overseas by Dec. 25, 2011. Deadlines to ensure arrival by Dec. 25 are Nov. 12 for parcel post mail; 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. 17 for express mail military service.  Not all Military or State Department post offices are eligible for Express Mail Military Service. For information on mailing deadlines and restrictions, email the Military Postal Service at: or visit the Military Postal Services Agency website.

Advocates Called on to Protect Benefits

The VFW launched a call to action this week to counter serious threats to military and veterans programs. Last Friday, the leadership of the Senate Armed Services Committee and both House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees wrote the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to support or suggest possible ways to eliminate or further reduce military and veteran quality of life programs and benefits. While the joint House/Senate VA committee letter was short on specifics, the individual letters sent by SASC Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member John McCain (R-Ariz.) were far more ominous, because they offered more ways to cut quality of life programs. In his call to action, VFW National Commander Richard DeNoyer said "It is critical that our voices not be lost in the ongoing budget debate that seems to now equate national service and sacrifice with the size of healthcare premiums." Click here for more information about the threat and how you can join the fight.

Senate Passes COLA Bill

This week, the Senate passed legislation that would increase the rates of VA disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. S. 894, The Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act authorizes the increase which is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index. As in the past, Congress must pass a bill allowing the increase to ensure disabled veterans and their families are also included in the COLA raise Social Security and military retirees receive. The House must now pass their version of the bill. For the Senate VA Committee press release,

U.S.-North Korea MIA Talks Resume

A U.S. delegation met with North Korean officials in Bangkok this week to discuss resuming recovery operations to find the remains of American servicemen missing in action from the Korean War. From 1996 to 2005, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command conducted 33 investigative and recovery operations and repatriated more than 220 sets of remains from North Korea; however, in May 2005, the U.S. government suspended bilateral talks with North Korea, as well as POW/MIA operations, over safety concerns for JPAC investigation and recovery teams. The current talks are only about resuming recovery operations as a humanitarian matter and are not tied to any other issue between the two countries. About 60 percent of almost 8,000 Americans still listed as MIA from the Korean War are believed to be in North Korea.

Two MIAs Return Home

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to an Army soldier missing since the Korean War, and an Air Force pilot missing from the Vietnam War.

* In late November 1950, Army PFC Henry L. Gustafson, 18, of Cook, Ill., and his 31st Regimental Combat Team were forced to withdraw after coming under attack by communist forces near the Chosin Reservoir. After the 1953 armistice, a surviving POW confirmed that Gustafson had been captured but died from lack of medical care shortly afterwards.

* On Feb. 8, 1969, Air Force Capt. Thomas E. Clark, 29, of Emporium, Pa., was attacking an anti-aircraft artillery position in Savannakhet Province, Laos, when his F-100D Super Sabre aircraft was struck by enemy fire and crashed. No parachute was seen, and immediate search and rescue missions were unable to locate the crash site or the pilot.

 Senate Leaders Open Door for Cuts

Last week's update included summaries of recommendations from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) to the co-called "Super Committee" that must identify $1.2 trillion in budget savings before Thanksgiving.

We since have received a copy of Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin's (D-MI) letter to the Super Committee.

Levin's letter, like McCain's, supported White House proposals aimed at making military benefits more like civilians', by imposing a significant enrollment fee for TRICARE For Life, raising TRICARE pharmacy copays as high as $40, and convening a commission to curtail the value of the military retirement system.

Levin went a step further, saying, "I support the President's proposals, and....suggest that the scope of the commission be expanded to encompass all aspects of military compensation, including the current system of basic pay, allowances (including the housing allowance), special and incentive pays, and health care, as well as the tax treatment of the various components of military pay."

Like McCain, Levin said that the current force should be grandfathered against retirement changes. He also said that future increases in the TFL enrollment fee should be tied to whatever index is used to increase the TRICARE Prime enrollment fee.

MOAA is shocked and dismayed that the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, in contrast to the inputs from the House Armed Services Committee, have embraced initiatives whose stated purpose is to reduce the difference between military and civilian benefits.

The past decade of war has underlined more than ever that military service is radically different from civilian work experience, and the military retirement and healthcare package is the primary career incentive for top-quality people to endure those extraordinary sacrifices for 20-30 years.

We're pleased that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon's letter to the Super Committee spent two pages expressing similar concerns about the longer-term dangers of undermining this core career incentive package.

MOAA President VADM Norb Ryan's (USN-Ret) October 20 letter (PDF) to the 12 members of the Super Committee re-emphasized the importance of the McKeon inputs.

Senate Armed Services Committee Leaders Announce Support for TRICARE Cuts/Changing Military Retirement System

The Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and the Ranking Member of the committee John McCain (R-Ariz.) have both announced their support in the last few days for the President’s proposed cutbacks in TRICARE benefits. This is a major disappointment for military retirees who have seen Congress defeat proposed cuts in six of the last seven years. It is especially disappointing that McCain has taken this position since he is one of the few military retirees serving in Congress.

Starting in 2004 both Presidents Bush and Obama proposed some sort of cut in TRICARE health care benefits, with the exception of FY2011 when Obama did not propose any changes. Thankfully, TREA and the other military and veterans associations we work with were able to persuade Congress to stop the cuts every year they were proposed. That’s what makes positions of Levin and McCain so disappointing, and so worrisome. Other members of Senate who are not on the Armed Services Committee tend to look to the leaders of that committee for advice on what issues to support and oppose. And since both the Democratic and Republican leaders have endorsed the cuts proposed by the President, our fight to stop them is going to be very, very difficult.

In his statement supporting the benefit cuts, Chairman Levin said, in part:

The President also proposed a new annual fee of $200 for TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries beginning in 2012, rising to $295 in 2013, and increasing annually thereafter by the rate of increase in health care costs for TFL beneficiaries. I recommend the Joint Select Committee support the President’s proposal, except I suggest that any future increases in the TFL fee be tied to the same benchmark index used to make annual increases in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees. Both the House-passed and Senate Armed Service Committee-reported versions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 tie this increase to the rate of increase in the cost of living allowance applied to military retired pay. Whichever benchmark is ultimately agreed upon, annual fee increases for retirees over the age of 65 should be the same as annual fee increases for working-age retirees.

Levin also weighed in on the President’s proposal to change the military retirement system:

On the matter of mandatory programs, I note that the Administration is proposing a commission to develop recommendations for reforming the current military retirement system and to revise the TRICARE health benefit. I support the President’s proposals, and recommend them to the Joint Select Committee with some modification.

Senator McCain said in his statement:

One proposal would establish an annual enrollment fee for TRICARE for Life which currently has no fee for participation. This proposal would be the first such change since Congress established this program in 2001, a period during which national health care costs have risen significantly. If adopted, the proposed fee would still keep the cost of TRICARE for Life well below the costs of comparable "Medigap" policies paid by non-DoD healthcare beneficiaries and would reduce entitlement spending significantly. While this fee increase would hit those age 65 and over, a group on mostly fixed incomes who are vulnerable to unanticipated changes in expenses, I believe this fee increase is a reasonable step and should be considered.

The President’s second proposed change to military health benefits would increase fees for pharmacy services and lead to significant increases in out-of-pocket costs for most DoD beneficiaries. The intent of this proposal is to increase financial incentives to promote the use of DoD's less-costly mail-order pharmacy program. While generating savings from the TRICARE pharmacy benefit is feasible, I recommend that you consult with DoD. I also note that pharmacy fee increases are likely to generate both mandatory and discretionary savings, and that DoD could adopt TRICARE pharmacy fee increases independent of the Select Committee in order to reach the discretionary savings goal of more than $450 billion mandated by the President. Coordination with DoD will be necessary to avoid double counting of savings from pharmacy fee changes.

Perhaps even more disappointing is that McCain, while announcing his support for TRICARE cuts, urged the President to increase U.S. medical assistance to Libyans who were wounded fighting to oust Muammar Gaddafi. Obviously, there are significant cost differences between aid to wounded Libyans and cutbacks in TRICARE, but the principle is outrageous. According to Senator McCain our government can’t afford to continue the TRICARE/TFL programs as they exist today but we can afford to give medical care to wounded Libyans. TREA couldn’t disagree with Senator McCain’s priorities more and we will double our efforts to fight to stop those proposed cuts.

On the other side of the hill, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Buck McKeon, has come out strongly against any further cuts in the DoD budget other than those already mandated by the agreement reached in August to raise the debt ceiling and cut federal spending, but he has said nothing about the President’s proposed cuts in TRICARE benefits and pharmacy co-pays. In fact, earlier this year when the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee sent to him its provision that would have frozen TRICARE fees for another year, he personally made sure that provision was dropped and instead added one that allows increases in TRICARE Prime fees and retail pharmacy co-pays. At the same time, he added language to the bill that states Congress recognizes that career military people pay the bulk of their premiums up-front and in-kind, through decades of service and sacrifice.

Congressman Adam Smith, the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, also does not support additional cuts beyond those already mandated in the August agreement. But like McKeon he does not address the TRICARE and pharmacy co-pay cuts proposed by the President.

The failure of Congressional leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committee is a deep disappointment to the military coalition and makes our job of protecting your promised and earned health care benefits much more difficult. Nonetheless, we will do all we can to fight the cutbacks and stop them from being put into place.

House, Senate Veterans Committees Willing to Reduce VA Funds

The leaders of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees sent a letter to the Super Committee, which is supposed to make recommendations on how to cut $1.2 trillion or more in federal spending by Thanksgiving, stating last week that they are willing to stop growth in the Veterans Affairs Department budget to avoid 10 percent cuts across the board in federal spending.

“We believe no constituency better understands the challenge America faces, and no constituency is better suited to, again, lead by example by putting country first,” said a rare joint letter signed by the four top Democratic and Republican members of the veterans’ committees.

The letter was signed by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairwoman; Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.) the Senate’s committee’s ranking Republican; Congressman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman; and Congressman Bob Filner (D-Calif.) the House committee’s ranking Democrat.

Murray is also the Senate chairwoman of the 12-member joint committee known as the “Super Committee.”

VA Urges Breast Cancer Awareness: VA Outperforms Private Health Care in Breast Cancer Screenings

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is recognizing Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October by asking all female Veterans to talk with their health care providers about appropriate breast cancer screenings, such as regular mammograms. 

“The Department of Veterans Affairs has an outstanding breast screening program,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “I urge all women Veterans to talk to their providers during Breast Cancer Awareness Month about receiving the appropriate screening.”

Both men and women can develop breast cancer, though male breast cancer is rare. In women, breast cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death and the odds that a woman will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime are one in eight. 

The good news is that the overall five-year survival rate from breast cancer is nearly 90 percent. If the cancer is caught while it is still located only in the breast, the survival rate increases to nearly 99 percent.

A regular mammogram, or x-ray of the breast, is one of the most effective ways to detect breast cancer early. VA excels at breast cancer screenings, outperforming private health care systems, with 87 percent of eligible women receiving screening mammograms. However, VA is concerned that every woman get appropriate screening. 

Veterans can talk with their VA health care providers. The VA directory,, helps Veterans find their nearest facility. Non-Veterans can find local screening resources through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s early detection program at

“Mammograms can detect breast cancer early, and early detection makes a big difference in a woman’s chance of surviving,” said Dr. Stacy Garrett-Ray, VA’s deputy director of comprehensive women’s health. “If you’re over 40 years old, talk with your provider about the best screening methods for you.”

In line with national guidelines, VA encourages all women between ages 50 and 75 to get mammograms every two years. Women ages 40 to 50 and those older than 75 should talk with their providers about the risks and benefits of having mammograms and make a decision based on their individual risk factors.

Although rare, a younger woman can also get breast cancer. Any change from normal should be checked out by a health care provider.

Breast cancer risk factors include getting older, having a close family member with breast cancer, being overweight or obese, previous radiation therapy/exposure to the breasts or chest, not exercising, and having certain gene mutations. Having these risk factors does not mean that a woman will develop breast cancer, but they should be brought to the attention of her health care provider. 

Although October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, VA wants women to focus on their health all year round. For more information about women’s health topics, visit and click on “Wellness & Healthy Living.”

Women Veterans are one of the fastest growing segments of the Veteran population. Of the 22.7 million living Veterans, more than 1.8 million are women. They comprise nearly 8 percent of the total Veteran population and 6 percent of all Veterans who use VA health care services. 

VA estimates women Veterans will constitute 10 percent of the Veteran population by 2020 and 9.5 percent of VA patients. 

A Women Veterans Program Manager is designated to assist women Veterans at each VA Medical Center nationwide. They are available to help coordinate all services, from primary care to medical services to Mental Health and Sexual Abuse Counseling.

To learn more about breast cancer, please visit: and

For more information about VA programs and services for women Veterans, please visit: and

VA Reaches Agreement in Houston National Cemetery Case

Another press release from the VA this week:

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has agreed to a settlement that is consistent with its policies for ensuring that families’ religious preferences are respected when their loved ones are laid to rest at the National Cemetery in Houston.

“This agreement preserves VA policy that families’ wishes are paramount when their loved ones – our nation’s heroes – are laid to rest,” said VA’s Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Muro. “This agreement respects the important principle that the family’s wishes for religious observances at the committal services must be honored, which VA has fought to protect from day one.”

Under the settlement, local members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) District 4 and a local organization named the National Memorial Ladies will resign their positions as official VA volunteers and instead will be free to make their services known to local funeral homes that make arrangements for the families in their private capacity. Families can then decide what, if any, services they would like these groups to provide at their committal services.

VA’s National Cemetery Administration operates 131 national cemeteries across the country, conducting more than 111,000 interments a year for our Veterans, their families, and survivors in their faith traditions. It should be noted that this dispute only occurred at one VA cemetery, while this policy has been in effect at all VA cemeteries for several years without incident.

McCain Okay With Military Benefit Cuts

According to the Associated Press, Senator McCain (R-AZ) sent a letter to the budget supercommittee in which he reportedly offers his recommendation that the bipartisan committee support the President's proposals to cut retiree TRICARE benefits, introduce new TRICARE for Life enrollment fees and overhaul the military retirement and compensation systems.

Tips for Making a Disability Claim

The number one thing you must do when making a claim for disability compensation through the VA is to document every communication. If it's a phone call, ask for the name of the operator and reference number of the call. For paper records, buy a two tab classification folder from Office Depot or somewhere similar. To learn more about properly documenting your VA claims read the Military Advantage blog.

Military Faces Tough Benefits Fight

In testimony yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee <> , new Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey took a hard line against reforming the military retirement system. He said military pension programs need to be different than civilian programs because of the inherent challenges and dangers of military life. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, however, testified that every weapon system and personnel program needs to be on the table because of fiscal realities. He told an audience Wednesday at the Woodrow Wilson Center that difficult choices have to be made between the military America needs versus a military America can afford. The VFW is against balancing the budget on the backs of current and future military service members, retirees and their families. "Our nation's financial situation cannot be solved by breaking faith with those who singlehandedly fight our nation's wars---be it today or tomorrow," said VFW National Commander Richard DeNoyer in an AP article <>  published around the country today. DeNoyer is currently in Moscow meeting with Russian veterans' organizations and government officials to further America's search for missing American servicemen in Russia or former Soviet bloc countries.

DOD Reevaluating Some MEB/PEB Determinations

The DOD Physical Disability Board of Review is reevaluating Medical Evaluation Board and Physical Evaluation Board disability ratings for some veterans medically separated between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009, to ensure a correct disability retirement determination was made. Veterans who received a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less, and were not found eligible for retirement, can apply to have their MEB/PEB disability rating reviewed for fairness, consistency and accuracy. Former reserve members with greater than 20 years of total federal military service but fewer than 20 years of active duty---and who meet the above criteria---are also eligible to apply. Learn more here <> . Questions can also be e-mailed to

VA Reaches Out to Women Veterans

The VA served 160,000 women veterans in the year 2000; last year they served 315,000, to include more than 33,450 for Post Traumatic Stress, a quarter of whom were Iraq and/or Afghanistan veterans. A new 60-second public service announcement video is the VA's latest effort to help change its internal culture to be more understanding and accommodating of women veterans, as well as to honor the important service they continue to provide to the country. Click here <>  to learn more and to watch the video on the VA's Women Veterans Health Care website.

Help Fight Veteran Homelessness

In 2009, nearly 150,000 veterans spent at least one night in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program. That's a national disgrace that spurred the VA's commitment to end veteran homelessness by 2015. But they can't do it alone, and that's why VA is asking VFW members to join them this month at more than a dozen events across the country to help raise awareness of VA benefits and community-based programs and services that veterans and their families have earned---to include healthcare, housing, employment and job training---not only for homeless veterans, but also for those who may be at risk of losing their homes. Read more here <> .

Korean War MIA Identified

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Pfc. Aaron Pearce, 23, of Johnston, N.C. In late April of 1950, Pearce and the 25th Infantry Division were advancing north when Chinese forces attacked and pushed them back to Seoul. Pearce and many others were reported as missing in action as a result of the engagement. In 1952, military clothing and human remains were recovered near the area but the Army at the time was unable to identify Pearce, who would eventually be buried as an "unknown" at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Read more here <> .

 TRICARE Health Record Security Breach

TRICARE has announced that Science Applications International (SAIC) has reported a data breach involving personally identifiable and protected health information (PII/PHI) impacting an estimated 4.9 million military clinic and hospital patients. Information on the backup tapes came from an electronic healthcare record used in the Military Health System (MHS) to capture patient data from 1992 through Sept. 7, 2011, from patients who received care in the San Antonio area military treatment facilities (including the filling of pharmacy prescriptions). For more information, visit the TRICARE website or call toll free 855.366.0140 in the U.S. or collect 952.556.8312 international.

Tips to Using TRICARE Pharmacy

Tara Crooks' "Tara's Tale" podcast on this month focuses on TRICARE Pharmacy. Tara interviews Rear Adm. Thomas McGinnis, head of pharmacy operations at TRICARE, for some useful information for military families who benefit from TRICARE health programs. To listen to the complete podcast, visit the Podcast Center.

New Vaccine Rules Under TRICARE

In another piece of good news (and there are so few of them that we should focus on them when we can) is the number of vaccines that you can received with no co-pay at participating TRICARE network pharmacies. Below you can find DoD’s new chart of the vaccines you can get without co-pays. Please notice that they include the vaccines for flu, Pneumonia, shingles, and children diseases. You should call your pharmacy if they are participating and if so find out what days and times they are giving out the vaccines, if they have enough on hand (there can be lots of shortfalls with the new shingles vaccine.) If you don’t know of a participating drug store you can call 1-877-363-1303 and they can find you one. This is a great and enlarged benefit. Please don’t forget to take advantage of it.

Covered Vaccine                                      Restrictions

Diphtheria & Tetanus -DT/TD                      No restrictions
Haemophilus Influenzae -Hib                      No restrictions
Hepatitis A Virus -HAV                               Age 1 or older
Hepatitis B Virus -HBV                               No restrictions
Human Papillomavirus -HPV (Cervical Cancer)  Females ages 9-26
Flu (Seasonal Flu)       
Influenza A -flu shot, inactivated                 No restrictions
Fluzone High Dose                                     No restrictions
Measles                                                   Age 1 or older
Measles, Mumps & Rubella -MMR                 Age 1 or older
Measles, Mumps, Rubella & Varicella -MMRV  Age 1 or older
Meningococcal (Meningitis)                         Age 2 or older
Mumps                                                     Age 1 or older
Pneumoccal (Pneumonia) 
Pneumovax-23 -PPSV23                              Age 2 or older
Prevnar-13 -PCV13                                     Birth to age 18
Poliomyelitis (Polio)                                   Birth to age 18
Rotavirus                                                 Birth to 12 months
Rubella (German Measles)                          Age 1 or older
Tetanus Booster                                        Age 7 or older
Tetanus, Diphtheria,& Pertussis
(Whooping Cough) -Tdap/DTaP                    No restrictions
Varicella (Chickenpox)                                Age 1 or older
Zoster -Zostavax (Shingles)                      Age 60 or older

Army Veteran accuses Big Banks of Defrauding Veterans of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars

The Washington Post is reporting that a whistleblower suit unsealed in federal court in Atlanta alleges that some of the nation’s biggest banks and mortgage companies have defrauded veterans and taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars by disguising illegal fees in veterans’ home refinancing loans.

The suit, filed in 2006, has been sealed since it was filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. As with this case, cases brought under the False Claims Act often remain under seal for years while they are investigated.

Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase and GMAC Mortgage, among others, are accused of engaging in “a brazen scheme to defraud both our nation’s veterans and the United States treasury” of millions of dollars in connection with home loans guaranteed by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This is a massive fraud on the American taxpayers and American veterans,” James E. Butler Jr., one of the lawyers bringing the suit, said Tuesday.

The case has been brought by two mortgage brokers in Georgia. Victor E. Bibby, one of the plaintiffs, is president and chief executive of U.S. Financial Services, a Georgia-based corporation that provides mortgage services in seven states. As brokers, Bibby and the company’s vice president of operations, Brian J. Donnelly, helped veterans choose lenders and complete the application forms. Since 2001, their company has helped set up thousands of the veterans’ refinancing loans, according to the suit.

 The two mortgage brokers said in an interview with the Washington Post that they were instructed by the lenders not to show attorney’s fees on their estimates, but to add them to the title examination fee.

In 2005, Donnelly said he read the rules in a VA handbook governing the fees that could be charged for the transactions, which are known as Interest Rate Reduction Refinancing Loans, or IRRRL loans. Donnelly, who served three years in the Army, did further research and said he became convinced that the charges were fraudulent. “We knew it was wrong,” he said.

Bibby and Donnelly said they approached the lenders, who insisted they were doing nothing wrong. The brokers reported their allegations to the U.S. government, providing copies of hundreds of “fraudulent transactions.” Upon filing the whistleblower lawsuit, the court ordered the case sealed.

Under VA rules, lenders can charge veterans for recording fees and taxes, credit reports and other customary fees, but they are not allowed to charge attorney’s fees or settlement closing fees.

The case involves refinanced loans that are available to retired or active-duty veterans on homes they already own. The program is aimed at giving veterans the opportunity to lower their interest rates or shorten the terms of existing home mortgages.

During the past decade, more than 1.2 million of the refinanced loans have been made to veterans and their families, and up to 90 percent may have been affected by the alleged fraud, according to attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The suit includes as an exhibit a loan document in which Wells Fargo reported a $950 title examination rather than “a reasonable and customary fee” of between $125 and $200. Banks collected anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per loan in hidden fees by adding the prohibited charges to the allowable fees, according to the suit.

Earlier this year Wells Fargo agreed to a $10 million settlement in a separate class-action lawsuit that alleged it improperly added attorney’s fees to about 60,000 refinancing loans for veterans.

Other companies named as defendants include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, GMAC Mortgage, SunTrust Mortgage, CitiMortgage, Washington Mutual Bank, PNC Bank (which acquired National City Mortgage), Countrywide Home Loans, Mortgage Investors, First Tennessee Bank (which acquired First Horizon Home Loan), Irwin Mortgage and New Freedom Mortgage.