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Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 23 March 2016

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Wednesday, March 23, 2016

3/23/2016 

AUSA President Sullivan to Step Down on July 1 

3/15/2016 

 

Retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, left, will succeed retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan as AUSA's president and CEO effective July 1.

Retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army, has announced he intends to step down effective July 1.

The Council of Trustees of the Arlington, Va.-based educational nonprofit has selected retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham as Sullivan’s successor.

“I’ve been proud for 18 ½ years to lead a professional organization dedicated to supporting the Army and all of its parts,” Sullivan said. “We have an essential mission of the public voice for the Army, including its soldiers, veterans and retirees, their families, the Army’s civilian workforce and industry partners.”

“Also important to us has been our role in professional development through national and chapter activities and publications,” Sullivan said. “I saw my work here as a continuation of my 36 years in the Army, building leaders, supporting the troops, facing whatever challenges the world creates.”

Sullivan will be a distinguished senior fellow in AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare after he steps down He also remains chairman of the Board of Directors of the Army Historical Foundation, where he will concentrate efforts on seeing that the National Museum of the U.S. Army is built.

He also intends to continue working with the Board of Trustees of Norwich University in Vermont, the nation’s oldest private military college from which he graduated in 1959.

Sullivan, a Boston native, is a retired armor officer who rose to become the 32nd Army chief of staff before his retirement in 1995 after 36 years of service. He joined AUSA in 1998 as the association’s 18th president.

Ham, currently AUSA’s executive vice president, is a veteran of Operations Desert Storm, Able Sentry and Odyssey Dawn. He commanded the U.S. Africa Command from March 2011 until April 2013, his final military assignment. He previously was commanding general of the 1st Infantry Division, director for operations on the Joint Staff, and commander of U.S. Army Europe.

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Follow Gen. Carter F. Ham

 

Retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham will become president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army effective July 1, succeeding retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, who has led the nonprofit education and professional development organization since 1998

What to watch: Ham expects to visit AUSA chapters and Army posts around the world. 
Follow him on Twitter, @CarterHamAUSA, and on Facebook, Gen. Carter F. Ham 
 

17 March 2016 Legislative News Update  

Military Health Care Topic at Hill Hearing What was said:  “Military professionals earn unique long-term benefits we call deferred compensation for risk and hardship endured during their careers.  This deferred compensation includes lifetime access to quality health care,” Sergeant Major of the Army Kenneth Preston, USA, Ret., told lawmakers at a hearing this week.  Preston serves as AUSA’s Director of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs. 

Preston and leaders from other top military associations were invited by the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to present their views on the military health care reform proposals contained in the Defense Department’s fiscal 2017 budget request. 

If passed by Congress, DoD’s request would:   

·       Reorganize the current military healthcare system into two health care alternatives:  TRICARE Select (currently TRICARE Prime) and TRICARE Choice (currently TRICARE Standard)

·       Increase fees for TRICARE Select

·       Establish enrollment fees for TRICARE Choice and TRICARE For Life (TFL).  TFL fees would be means tested.

·       Establish an open season enrollment system that would require beneficiaries to enroll for a 1-year period of coverage or lose the opportunity

·       Increase catastrophic caps

·       Index fees and copays to medical inflation as opposed to the percentage growth in military retired pay

·       Increase pharmacy copays 

“AUSA understands the Department of Defense’s concern about rising health care costs,” said Preston’s written statement to the subcommittee.  “However, we believe they have many additional options to constrain the growth of health care spending in ways that do not disadvantage beneficiaries.  They should first pursue these alternative options and reduce inefficiencies, rather than seek large fee increases or marginalize the benefit for beneficiaries.”    

He added, “All of the proposed changes hits retired soldiers the hardest, especially those under 65.  The DoD plan imposes enrollment fees for that population regardless of which program they choose.  It is important to remember that today’s Soldiers are tomorrow’s retired Soldiers.  They observe and receive advice from those that served their country before them.  Therefore, the quality of life after retirement indirectly but powerfully affects the readiness of tomorrow’s force by influencing the retention and recruiting of younger generations.” 

What it means:  In today’s complex and unpredictable operating environment, demand for Army forces is high and requires a commensurate level of readiness.  The Army Chief of Staff has made it clear that his top priority is increasing the readiness of the force.   

However, budgetary pressures – reduced funding associated with the Budget Control Act of 2011, coupled with the uncertainty of future funding – have forced senior leaders to have to make difficult choices between the different components of readiness – people, training, equipping and leadership development.   

Why it matters:  “This trend has already had significant impacts across the force and, if not reversed, will significantly affect the most basic component of readiness for decades to come – the people of the All-Volunteer Force.  The military will not be able to provide an adequate quality of life, degrading its ability to recruit and retain the best and brightest, further depriving the nation of the ready forces it needs to fight and win, now and in the future,” Preston said.   

Both the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are conducting in-depth studies of the current military health care system looking for ways to improve patient care and streamline the bureaucratic structure.  Both committees have stressed that TRICARE reform is not just about raising fees.  

 

FY17 Budget “Minimally Adequate” What was said:  “The Army is ready to fight any terrorist group, but that’s not what we’re saying when we talk about risk.  We’re talking ‘great power’ war with China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, if that day would ever come.  We could collectively roll the dice and hope that day will never come.  That is not a course I would advise taking.  We need to size and train the force—all services, not just the Army—for those scenarios.”  Those candid words were delivered by the Army Chief of Staff General Mark Milley to lawmakers at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee this week.  

What it means:  The Army budget just five years ago was more than $100 billion higher than the fiscal year 2017 request, and the force consisted of 45 brigade combat teams, compared to 31 today.   

Next year’s base budget request of $125.1 billion is only “minimally adequate” for the Army’s current mission slate, said acting Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy who testified alongside Milley.  Murphy added, “We are taking a high risk as a nation when we fund the Army at this level, especially given our op tempo.” 

Why it matters:  Milley bluntly offered his “professional view” that the readiness of the Army “is not at a level that is appropriate for what the American people would expect to defend them” in larger conflicts against other nations. 

“For 15 years, we’ve been running back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. “Higher-end training for higher-intensity battlefield threats has not been routinely practiced for 15 years. So our readiness against that type of threat has deteriorated over the past decade and a half. 

“The level of risk is high for those higher-end contingencies,” he said. “In my professional view, we are at high risk to execute the tasks that would be required.  There is a significant amount of stress on the force.  We’ll drive on, we’ll execute the tasks given to us on daily basis, but that does come with risk, and people need to be clear-eyed about that risk.” 

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10 March 2016 Legislative News Update 

Larger Pay Raise for Troops?  What was said:  “The department’s proposal that would continue to suppress military pay raises misses the mark,” according to Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee during a hearing Tuesday.  “For the last three years, this administration has failed to allow service members’ pay to keep up with private-sector wage growth.  This is the fourth year in a row where the department is shortchanging service members.”

What it means:  Graham’s remarks mirror those of Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.  While Graham stopped short of promising a larger pay raise than the 1.6% included in the administration’s budget request, his remarks did suggest that lawmakers would look for ways to provide a bigger pay boost. 

Why it matters:  AUSA worked tirelessly for more than a decade to close the pay gap.  As a result, Congress enacted statutory language explicitly tying annual military raises to those in the private sector, as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI).

Should the proposed 1.6% pay raise become law, it will reflect a 5.5% gap between military pay raises and the ECI, resurrecting the pay gap.  It should be noted, however, that Congress has the final say on military pay raises, not the administration. 

Army ‘Can No Longer Afford’ Best Equipment.  What was said:  An “unintended consequence” of tight defense budgets is accepting that the Army “can no longer afford to equip and sustain the force with the most modern equipment,” Lt. Gen. Michael Williamson, the military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology told lawmakers at a hearing last week. 

The Army’s fiscal year 2017 budget request for ground force modernization seeks $15.1 billion for procurement and $7.5 billion for research, development, testing and evaluation. The combined $22.6 billion represents a $1.4 billion drop from the FY 2016 budget.

What it means:  As Williamson said, “We are forced to selectively modernize equipment to counter our adversary’s most significant technological advances.  While other services man equipment, the Army equips soldiers.  Even with our modernization budget being at historic lows, our equipping mission remains essential.”

Why it matters:  The Army’s flat budget and force structure reductions combined with its expanding global missions is a combination that makes the goal of improving combat readiness dangerously out of reach.  Instead, the Army faces a death spiral in which it consumes readiness faster than it can be restored, a situation that needs immediate attention from political leaders.

Senate’s FY17 Budget Resolution Shelved.  What was said:  “The Senate Budget Committee will continue to discuss the budget as well as improvements to the budget process that would increase fiscal honesty, stability in government operations and the ability to help govern our nation,” said Chairman Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., in a statement announcing that the committee would delay consideration of a budget this month.    

What it means:  Although overall spending levels for 2017 were set in last year’s budget deal, the announcement that the budget resolution will be postponed likely means that Congress will operate without a joint budget framework for fiscal 2017. House Republicans are already facing a standoff between fiscal conservatives and defense hawks over spending levels. 

Also, no budget resolution means members will not have to vote on tough issues that could be used against them in the election this fall.

Why it matters:  Since the GOP publically stated that their top priority for this year was to pass a budget and return Congress to a functioning institution, their failure to pass a budget blueprint is an embarrassment.  Additionally, they would lose the ability to pursue budget reconciliation if both chambers don’t adopt an identical budget.

Reconciliation allows budget-related legislation to move in the Senate with a simple majority vote and avoid filibusters.

No Go On Base Closings.  What was said:  “Without a BRAC, the Army continues to spend scarce resources to maintain unneeded infrastructure, hurting our highest military-value installations,” said Katherine Hammack, the assistant Army secretary for installations, energy and environment, referring to the Base Realignment and Closure commission.  “This is an unacceptable result for the Army and a disservice to American taxpayers,” Hammack told lawmakers last week. 

What it means:   This is the fifth consecutive year Congress has rejected DoD’s request for authority to close excess military installations.  Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga., the ranking Democrat on the House appropriations subcommittee overseeing military construction, said, “I have concerns regarding another round of BRAC, but I also have concerns about maintaining infrastructure that we don’t need, because those dollars could go to more pressing needs.  He said it was a “very, very difficult” issue for members of Congress.

Why it matters:  Hammack said the Army’s needs are great and the budget is small, and excess infrastructure is draining money from higher priorities.  The Army has identified about 40 million square feet of unneeded infrastructure that if shuttered would save about $140 million, Hammack said, a savings based on estimates of $3 per square foot to maintain underutilized buildings.  That money could go to better places.

“The biggest risk that the Army is taking is in replacing our current infrastructure,” Hammack said. “We have over 52,000 buildings in poor or failing condition right now.”

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 AUSA Supports Virginia National Guard Families 

3/16/2016 

The Association of the U.S. Army joined with the Virginia Army National Guard to hold a one-day, mid-deployment training session in Virginia Beach for families from the 3rd Battalion, 116th Regiment, and the 229th Military Police Company.

The event featured a resiliency training program from Project FOCUS called Families Over Coming Under Stress (FOCUS). The program, aimed at couples and families with children facing adversity or traumatic stress, teaches intervention techniques to identify, manage and discuss emotions and helps them be better at handling disagreements, feel closer and have a way of family problem-solving.

Part of the aim of the training, this time tailored for military families, was to reduce stress for families at the end of deployments. “Military reunions are stressful,” said Vickie Sais, state family programs director for the Virginia Army National Guard. “The happy tears and smiles are real, but we also hear of the ‘walking on eggshells’ syndrome: the feeling of not wanting to do or say anything that will upset the balance of harmony in the household when a soldier returns. It can be exhausting for everyone.

“We appreciate the partnership developing between AUSA, the FOCUS group, and the Boys and Girls Clubs,” she said. The Boys and Girls Clubs of America provided activities for the kids while adults took part in the training. The comprehensive health and wellness program was developed by Boys and Girls Clubs in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Project FOCUS is a widely used program for military families to do what trainers call “strengthening the home base.” Training often focuses on how families can prepare for the eventual return of deployed soldiers, something that can alter routines and resulting in changing responsibilities.

By Patty Barron

Barron is the director of family readiness for AUSA. She is married to Col. Mike Barron, USA Ret.

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VA to Nationally Scale Scheduling Technology Systems Next Month

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Chief Information Officer (CIO) LaVerne Council Discussed the agency's attempt to fix the scheduling problems thoughout the Veterans' Health Administration, the same problems that allowed the secret waitlist scandal to fester for nearly a decade and explode into view during the summer of 2014. At a House Oversight & Government Reform committee hearing last week she said that in April the VA plans to roll out nationally two systems that have been concurrently piloted at 10 facilities—the Veteran Appointment Request App (VAR) and the VistA Scheduling Enhancement (VSE).

 The agency has been working on another broader update, known as the Medical Appointment Scheduling System (MASS), for which Systems Made Simple and Epic won a $624 million contract last August, but Council said that if VAR and VSE are able to scale nationally, the VA  will stick with those options over the MASS effort. She noted that because the MASS contract was an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract, the VA's intention was not to spend the full amount allotted; rather, she said,the contract will be available in case VAR and VSE don't work.

The VA is still trying to fire executives who are associated with the initial secret wait-list scandal at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.Council also continued to discuss the possibility of replacing the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA), the agency's homegrown electronic health record system. The VA still intends to roll out VistA 4 in 2018, she said, but is also looking beyond that deadline to put a strategy in place that extends well beyond her government service.

As part of those efforts, Council said the VA is examining the work of the Department of Defense  to see what it's learning from its commercial Electronic Health Record (EHR)acquisition; last July,a team led by Leidos, Cerner and Accenture won a $4.3 billion contract to implement DOD's EHR. 

The “Fairness for Veterans Act”

Recently Representatives Mike Coffman of Aurora, Colorado (R-CO) and Tim Walz, (D-MN) introduced the Fairness for Veterans Act in the House. In recent years, tens of thousands of servicemembers suffering from combat-related or military sexual trauma-related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) have received other-than-honorable discharges for minor misconduct and disciplinary issues such as tardiness or substance abuse. These behaviors can be directly linked to these mental health conditions, which have often been documented in their military health records.

As a result of these “other than honorable” discharges, these veterans, many of them combat veterans, can be denied access to federally-funded benefits and health care services. The bipartisan Fairness for Veterans Act will make it easier for combat veterans to upgrade their discharge status by creating a presumption in their favor – so that if a combat veteran who has been diagnosed with PTSD or TBI appeals his or her discharge designation, military Discharge Review Boards (DRBs) must consider the appeal with the presumption that this condition contributed to the veteran’s discharge. The House bill, H.R. 4683, has 15 cosponsors at the moment, including the entire Long Island, NY delegation.

There is a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1567, which is sponsored by Senator Gary Peters (D-MI). It currently has 8 bipartisan cosponsors.

We believe that it is a shame that veterans who were given other-than-honorable discharges because of conduct that is directly related to diagnoses that are indicated in their medical records. It is well-established that PTSD and TBI can lead to behavioral and substance-abuse problems. For the military to take actions that prevent these veterans from getting the care that they need is inexcusable.

VA Expands Hepatitis C Drug Treatment

Expanded funding now allows VA to provide increased drug therapy at VA facilities nationwide

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced that it is now able to fund care for all Veterans with hepatitis C for Fiscal Year 2016 regardless of the stage of the patient’s liver disease. The move follows increased funding from Congress along with reduced drug prices.

“We’re honored to be able to expand treatment for Veterans who are afflicted with hepatitis C,” says VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin. “To manage limited resources previously, we established treatment priority for the sickest patients. Additionally, if Veterans are currently waiting on an appointment for community care through the Choice Program, they can now turn to their local VA facility for this treatment or can elect to continue to receive treatment through the Choice Program.”

VA has long led the country in screening for and treating hepatitis C. VA has treated over 76,000 Veterans infected with hepatitis C and approximately 60,000 have been cured. In addition, since the beginning of 2014, more than 42,000 patients have been treated with the new highly effective antivirals. In fiscal year 2015, VA allocated $696 million for new hepatitis C drugs (17 percent of the VA’s total pharmacy budget) and in fiscal year 2016, VA anticipates spending approximately $1 billion on hepatitis C drugs. VA expects that with the expansion, many more Veterans will be started on hepatitis C treatment every week this fiscal year.

In addition to furnishing clinical care to Veterans with hepatitis C, VA Research continues to expand the knowledge base regarding the disease through scientific studies focused on effective care, screening, and healthcare delivery including to female Veterans and Veterans with complicated medical conditions in addition to hepatitis C.

For additional information on Hepatitis C treatments Veterans can log onto http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/hcv/index.asp.

Combat Veterans Get Telephonic Health Care Application Option

Accelerates Enrollment of Combat Veterans; All Veterans to Get Option on July 5, 2016

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it has amended its enrollment regulations to allow Veterans to complete applications for enrollment in VA health care by telephone without the need for a signed paper application. The change is effective immediately for Combat Veterans and will be effective July 5, 2016, for all Veterans.

This phased implementation accelerates VA’s effort to enroll all Combat Veterans with pending applications as part of its ongoing Veterans Enrollment Rework Project. The VA is working to complete the review and rework of all pending health enrollment records for living and deceased Veterans this summer. Veterans can view the amended regulation on the Federal Register website here.

“This improvement to our Veterans’ experience is one we can implement now, and it’s the right thing to do for Veterans,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson, “Enrolling all 31,000 Combat Veterans with pending applications is the top priority in our effort to fix our enrollment system. Our analysis of our current application process convinced me we could enroll Veterans more quickly using this method, particularly Combat Veterans and those who are transitioning from active duty to Veteran status,” Gibson said.

By adding this telephone application option to VA’s regulations, VA will now offer three ways to enroll.  This change provides Veterans an even more convenient way to apply for enrollment, in addition to the paper VA Form 10-10 EZ and online enrollment application process. With publication in the Federal Register today, Combat Veterans may now apply by phone. All other Veterans may apply by phone starting on July 5, 2016.

When Veterans choose to enroll, VA offers an enhancement to their enrollment experience through “Welcome to VA” (W2VA).  Veterans enrolled since July 1, 2015 has received a personal introduction to VA health care services, programs and resources to help them become more familiar with VA’s services. In addition, VA sends each new enrollee an introductory letter and personalized handbook in the mail. W2VA enhances communication by reaching out to newly enrolled Veterans through personal phone calls upon enrollment, providing assistance with health care inquiries and assisting with their initial appointment at their preferred VA healthcare facility.

For more information, Veterans can contact the Health Eligibility Center Enrollment and Eligibility Division toll free at 1-855-488-8440.

VA Announces Community Care Call Center to Help Veterans with Choice Program Billing Issues

Veterans can now work directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to resolve debt collection issues resulting from inappropriate or delayed Choice Program billing. In step with MyVA’s efforts to modernize VA’s customer-focused, Veteran-centered services capabilities, a Community Care Call Center has been set up for Veterans experiencing adverse credit reporting or debt collection resulting from inappropriately billed Choice Program claims. Veterans experiencing these problems can call 1-877-881-7618 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Time) for assistance.

“As a result of the Veterans Choice Program, community providers have seen thousands of Veterans. We continue to work to make the program more Veteran-friendly,” said Dr. David Shulkin, Under Secretary for Health. “There should be no bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of Veterans getting care.”

The new call center will work to resolve instances of improper Veteran billing and assist community care medical providers with delayed payments. VA staff are also trained and ready to work with the medical providers to expunge adverse credit reporting on Veterans resulting from delayed payments to providers.VA is urging Veterans to continue working with their VA primary care team to obtain necessary health care services regardless of adverse credit reporting or debt collection activity.

VA acknowledges that delayed payments and inappropriately billed claims are unacceptable and have caused stress for Veterans and providers alike. The new call center is the first step in addressing these issues. VA presented The Plan to Consolidate Community Care in October of 2015 that outlines additional solutions to streamline processes and improve timely provider payment.

For more details about the Veterans Choice Program and VA’s progress, visit: www.va.gov/opa/choiceact . Veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program can call1-866-606-8198 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.Eastern Time) to find out more about the program, confirm their eligibility and schedule an appointment.

GRAHAM: OPEN FEHBP HEALTH PLANS TO GUARD AND RESERVES
March 11, 2016 -By Tom Philpott

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), chairman of the Senate armed services subcommittee on military personnel, signaled Tuesday he will support a plan to allow drilling Reserve and Guard members to have access to the menu of health insurance plans offered to federal civilian employees.

“We’re actually thinking about taking the Guard and Reserve and basically putting [them] into the federal employees health system, right,” Graham asked Scott Bousum, legislative director of The Enlisted Association of the National Guard, who acknowledged the plan.

“To me that’s pretty exciting,” Graham said.  “I mean Guard and Reservists, generally speaking, are not [residing] next to military treatment facilities.  And it basically would give you the same access to providers as members of Congress and our staffs have.”

If allowed insurance coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan, reserve component members would have to pay monthly premiums like federal civilian employees do, Graham emphasized.

But opening FEHBP would address a common complaint of Reserve and Guard personnel that continuity of care for their families often is interrupted when they are called to active duty.  That’s because either lose their employer-paid health insurance or they face significantly higher health costs by electing to continue coverage and paying the employer’s share too.

About 24,000 Reserve and Guard members are satisfied with more limited TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) coverage despite its own continuity of care issues.  To Bousum’s suggestion that TRS be included among FEHBP options for reserve component personnel, Graham said “Perfect.”

Graham’s backing of FEHBP access appears to align with the goal, if not the details, of a proposal from Reserve Officers Association to create a new TRICARE Reserve Choice program.  That plan would allow Reserve and Guard members to choose their own healthcare providers, paying premiums equal to 25 percent of plan costs, a cost-share formula similar to FEHBP.

The full armed services committee, followed by majorities of the Senate and the House, would need to rally behind one of these ideas before reserve component personnel would see health care coverage improve.

Tuesday’s hearing, which began with testimony from personnel chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and then advocates for military families, focused on proposed TRICARE “reforms” and higher fees; a shift to more business-like commissary operations and product pricing, and needed changes to the “blended” retirement plan due for launch in 2018.

Senators also returned again and again to the need for colleagues to end budget-driven cuts to U.S. ground forces, by acknowledging worldwide threats that have arisen since passage of the Budget Control Act of 2011.

Graham opened the hearing promising to oppose the administration’s call for a 1.6 percent military pay cap next January, a fourth consecutive raise that would fail to keep pace with private sector wages growth.  

On TRICARE, the personnel chiefs endorsed the Defense Department’s push to care for as many patients as possible in military treatment facilities versus sending them into TRICARE civilian provider networks.  The aim is to hold down costs while enhancing medical staff proficiency and readiness.

If health care can become more efficient, then more budget dollars would be available to train and equip the force, said Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel.

“There is not enough money to go around so we need to look every place and TRICARE is one,” McConville said.

But forcing more patients into on-base care without first reforming a broken appointment process could deepen frustrations for families, warned Joyce Raezer, executive director of National Military Family Association.

“We surveyed more than 6,100 military spouses in December and January,” Raezer said. “Nearly 30 percent of those who use military treatment facilities reported they rarely or never get an acute care appointment within the 24-hour access standard.”

TRICARE reforms proposed in the fiscal 2017 defense budget call for higher fee and co-pays, particularly on working-age retirees and their families, but are short on details for improving benefits delivery, Raezer said.

“Continuing to recapture care in military hospitals, already failing to provide timely, appropriate access to current enrollees, will neither improve patient satisfaction nor comprehensively address readiness needs,” she said.

The new retirement plan, which a majority of the current force will be invited to join, will offer a Thrift Savings Plan with government matching of contributions. But it would pare the immediate annuity payable after 20 years or more years of service by 20 percent compared to current benefits.

McConville said he already is concerned that career soldiers won’t contribute enough to TSP, or begin contributions early enough, to ensure TSP accounts to make up for a 20 percent cut in lifetime retired pay.

The blended plan’s “great value” is that 85 percent of members  “will get some type of retirement” on leaving service, McConville said. “But a lot of our young soldiers live paycheck to paycheck.  And if they can’t start saving early, they’re going to have a tough time…when they get to 20, 25 years.”

The other personnel chiefs focused criticism of blended retirement on the continuation payment to be offered after 12 years’ service to members who agree to serve another four years.  The size and timing of the payment must be made more flexible to properly shape mid-career forces, they said.

The personnel chiefs also want government matching of TSP contributions to continue beyond the 26-year ceiling Congress adopted last year.  Senator Graham, on the other hand, promised to reject the administration’s call to delay government matching of TSP until the start of the fifth year of service, two years later than lawmakers had voted last year.

“It was an intentional choice by this committee to set eligibility [for TSP matching] to two years and one day of service,” Graham said, so that thousands more members would leave service with some retirement benefit.  Graham said he won’t allow that to be reversed.

SOF Is Not Mass-Produced

Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel, the U.S. Special Operations Command commander, says 10,000 of the roughly 63,000 service members assigned to his command are deployed or forward-stationed on any given day, a sign of the high demand for their skill sets. “Although we will always answer these calls, expanding USSOCOM’s role in multiple locations is not without risk,” he said. “One of our SOF truths: SOF cannot be mass-produced.”

What to watch: Votel warns that cuts in service budgets could hurt readiness of special operators because the services fund programs and activities that affect his command, such as Army reductions in staffing at ranges. Also, the technological superiority of U.S. special operators could suffer from cuts in modernization and research budgets.
 

VFW, VA to Host Facebook Chat on Women's Health Care and Benefits

The VFW has teamed up with the VA to host a Facebook chat group on Tuesday, March 22, at 2 p.m. EST, to provide female veterans the opportunity to discuss and ask questions about women’s health care and benefits at the VA. Participants can learn about how the VA is working to enhance facilities, train staff and improve access to services specific to women veterans. Topics will include everything from primary care and cancer screenings, to maternity care coverage and mental health. It will be an opportunity for women veterans to ask questions and get direct answers from the VA. The #ExploreVA event is open to all female veterans and will take place on the VFW’s Facebook page.

House Hearing on Gulf War Illness

On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigations and Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a joint hearing titled, “Twenty Five Years After the Persian Gulf War: An Assessment of VA’s Disability Claim Process with Respect to Gulf War Illness.” The subcommittees wanted to explore why more than 80 percent of claims for Gulf War Illness are ultimately denied. In his testimony, VFW Deputy Legislative Director Aleks Morosky stated that the main problem lies in the way that the VA conducts separate exams for each symptom veterans are experiencing, leading to diagnoses other than Gulf War Illness. Since the individual diagnoses usually cannot be connected to the veteran’s service on their own, the claim is denied . The VFW believes that these veterans should receive one exam which considers all their symptoms as interconnected, leading to more accurate Gulf War Illness diagnoses. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Ralph Abraham (R-LA) announced that the committee plans to send a letter to the VA, asking them to implement the VFW’s suggestions immediately. To read the testimony or watch a webcast of the hearing, click hereRead the Stars and Stripes article about the hearing. 

Senate Hearing on Pending Legislation

On Tuesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to discuss legislation to consolidate the VA’s community care programs, improve hiring and accountability of senior VA executives and improve the disability claims appeals process. VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes offered the VFW’s support for consolidating the VA’s community care program and improved accountability for the VA’s senior executives. Fuentes cautioned the committee that an expressed appeals process must be accompanied by improved VA decision letters to ensure veterans understand why their initial claims were denied. To read the testimony or view a video of the hearing, click here.

House Hearing on VA Hiring

On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Health and Economic Opportunity held a hearing to discuss legislation to improve the VA’s ability to hire and retain high quality health care professionals. VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes offered the VFW’s support for several ideas being considered, such as expanding veterans’ preference to Guard and Reserve veterans. Fuentes urged the subcommittees to consider improving the VA’s authority to quickly hire into high turnover positions, such as administrative clerks who help with scheduling and coordinating medical appointments. To read the testimony or view a webcast of the hearing, click here.

House Hearing on VA Cybersecurity and IT Oversight

On Wednesday, March 16, the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology held a hearing to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs’ progress on modernizing its IT systems and reviewed the implementation of the Federal Security Management Act and Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act. VA Assistant Secretary LaVerne Council announced that the VA has begun a pilot of updated scheduling software, which includes a mobile application for veterans to self-schedule their appointments. To read the testimony or view a video of this hearing, click here.

The VA Requests Participation in Burn Pit Registry

Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry is asking eligible veterans and service members to join their registry. In doing so, participants will document their exposures and report health concerns through an online questionnaire. This is also printable for individuals to take to their medical appointments where they can discuss concerns with their health care providers. Currently, only two percent of eligible personnel with burn pit exposure are registered. Those who are eligible include individuals who served in Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, Operation New Dawn, Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Djibouti (after Sept. 11, 2001) and Southwest Asia (after Aug. 2, 1990). The questionnaire takes approximately 40 minutes to complete and can be completed in one sitting, or you can save it and return at a later time. You can check your eligibility and partake in the survey here.

Call Center Created to Handle VA Billing Issues

A Community Care Call Center has been set up for veterans experiencing adverse credit reporting or debt collection resulting from inappropriately billed Choice Program claims. Veterans experiencing these problems can call 1-877-881-7618 for assistance. The VA acknowledges that delayed payments and inappropriately billed claims are unacceptable, and have caused much stress to veterans and providers alike. The new call center is the first step in addressing these issues. Read more

MIA Update

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of one sailor and two soldiers who had been missing in action since World War II.

  • Navy Ensign Lewis S. Stockdale, 27, of Anaconda, Mont., is being buried today with full military honors in Honolulu. On Dec. 7, 1941, Stockdale was assigned to the battleship USS Oklahoma, which suffered multiple torpedo hits as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The attack capsized the ship, resulting in 429 casualties, including Stockdale. Thirty-five sailors would be subsequently recovered and identified; the rest would eventually be buried as unknowns in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, better known as the Punchbowl. Learn more.
  • Army Pvts. John H. Klopp, 25, and Earl J. Keating, 28, both of New Orleans. In December 1942, Klopp and Keating were assigned to the Anti-Tank Company, 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division, when their unit was involved in intense fighting in what is present-day Papua New Guinea. On Dec. 5, 1942, Klopp and Keating died repulsing a heavy Japanese attack, and were buried by fellow soldiers within the American perimeter. The American Graves Registration Service was unable to locate their remains after the war, however. Klopp will be buried March 23 in Arlington National Cemetery. Keating will be buried May 28 in his hometown. Learn more about their remains recovery and subsequent identification.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 16, 2016

Combat Veterans Get Telephonic Health Care Application Option

Accelerates Enrollment of Combat Veterans;

All Veterans to Get Option on July 5, 2016 WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that it has amended its enrollment regulations to allow Veterans to complete applications for enrollment in VA health care by telephone without the need for a signed paper application. The change is effective immediately for Combat Veterans and will be effective July 5, 2016, for all Veterans. This phased implementation accelerates VA’s effort to enroll all Combat Veterans with pending applications as part of its ongoing Veterans Enrollment Rework Project. The VA is working to complete the review and rework of all pending health enrollment records for living and deceased Veterans this summer. Veterans can view the amended regulation on the Federal Register website here. “This improvement to our Veterans’ experience is one we can implement now, and it’s the right thing to do for Veterans,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan D. Gibson, “Enrolling all 31,000 Combat Veterans with pending applications is the top priority in our effort to fix our enrollment system. Our analysis of our current application process convinced me we could enroll Veterans more quickly using this method, particularly Combat Veterans and those who are transitioning from active duty to Veteran status,” Gibson said. By adding this telephone application option to VA’s regulations, VA will now offer three ways to enroll. This change provides Veterans an even more convenient way to apply for enrollment, in addition to the paper VA Form 10-10 EZ and online enrollment application process. With publication in the Federal Register today, Combat Veterans may now apply by phone. All other Veterans may apply by phone starting on July 5, 2016. When Veterans choose to enroll, VA offers an enhancement to their enrollment experience through “Welcome to VA” (W2VA). Veterans enrolled since July 1, 2015 have received a personal introduction to VA health care services, programs and resources to help them become more familiar with VA’s services. In addition, VA sends each new enrollee an introductory letter and personalized handbook in the mail. W2VA enhances communication by reaching out to newly enrolled Veterans through personal phone calls upon enrollment, providing assistance with health care inquiries and assisting with their initial appointment at their preferred VA healthcare facility. For more information, Veterans can contact the Health Eligibility Center Enrollment and Eligibility Division toll free at 1-855-488-8440.

 VA Proposes Removal of Three Leaders at Phoenix Health Care System

WASHINGTON –  

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it has issued notices of proposed removal to three senior officials at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Today, the Department proposed the removal of Lance Robinson, the facility’s Associate Director; Brad Curry, Chief of Health Administration Service; and Dr. Darren Deering, Chief of Staff. “It is vitally important to Veterans in Phoenix and across the nation to understand that we will take appropriate accountability action as warranted by the evidence,” said VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. “Frankly, I am disappointed that it took as long as it did for proposed actions to be made but I am satisfied that we carefully reviewed a massive amount of evidence to ensure the accountability actions are supported. These cases have served as a distraction to the progress being made to improve the care we provide in Phoenix and across the nation. Today marks an important step in moving past the events of the past and refocusing solely on caring for our nation’s Veterans.” In January, Gibson changed VA policy to ensure that employees who were part of administrative investigations would not be placed on paid administrative leave, instead they would be moved into non-patient care functions and continue performing other duties as assigned. Today’s announced actions follow the appointment of a new medical center director for the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS). On November 20, Deborah Amdur was named Health Care System Director after serving as Medical Center Director of the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont. Since 2014, the Phoenix VA Health Care System has expanded its access to care working to effectively and timely treat Veterans with the care they have earned. Specifically. PVAHCS has: Hired needed staff. Since January 2014, they have hired a net gain of more than 700 full time equivalent employees. These new employees have increased Phoenix’s ability to care for more Veterans in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Through the Veterans Access Accountability and Choice Act, Phoenix has hired 164 medical center staff fully utilizing all funding for hires through that program. Extended clinic hours into evenings and weekends for primary care and mental health to leverage limited space and increase clinic time preferred by Veterans. Phoenix clinics conducted more than 957,000 outpatient visits in FY15, which is an increase of 6.8 percent over the previous 12 month period. Focused additional staff for urgent and emergency care. PVAHCS has made a concerted effort to improve care to Veterans in the Emergency Department where patient volume has grown by roughly 80 percent since 2008. Key staff have been added, improved training has become routine and a “Fast Track” process has been implemented so Veterans with less severe needs can be seen more quickly. Significantly increased needed clinical space. Last May, a new 7,000 square foot Community Based Outpatient Clinic opened in northeast Phoenix. In addition, two leases have been signed – one in west Phoenix and a Primary Care Center located within 5 miles of the main campus – both of which are expected to open this summer. Construction of a dental clinic is underway and the Health Care System has completed a 400-space parking garage addressing a regular complaint of patients. Worked with medical providers in the community. They have fully implemented the Choice Program and improvements to the program are underway including co-locating TriWest staff with VA employees to improve communication and coordination of care. Increased outreach to Veterans and key stakeholders. Leadership of the Phoenix VA Health Care System regularly conduct community town halls and all-employee forums to hear needed feedback. Currently, a facility-wide campaign is underway to promote respect and safety for Veterans, visitors and staff. Since 2014, VA has taken many actions to increase accountability and create a Veteran-centric culture: VA was the first cabinet-level agency to secure certification from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) under OSC’s 2302(c) Whistleblower Protection Certification Program, which ensures that Federal agencies meet the statutory obligation to inform their workforce about the rights and remedies available to them under the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act and related civil service laws. As of April 2015, VA has worked closely with OSC to provide relief for VA employees who have filed whistleblower retaliation complaints, including three individuals at the VA Phoenix Health Care System. VA has established the Office of Accountability Review (OAR) to ensure leadership accountability for improprieties related to patient scheduling and access to care, whistleblower retaliation, and related matters that impact public trust in VA. VA established of a Department-wide program office to implement our Anti-Harassment Policy. VA’s goal continues to be strengthening its culture of accountability and putting renewed focus on employee-led, Veteran-centric change. Improvements in workforce culture, with a focus on ICARE values, will allow VA to address issues as they arise, rather than necessitating employee termination following repeated and/or pervasive poor behavior. Over 34,000 staff have completed the VA-developed training “Access and Scheduling Core Concepts and Business Practices” online or face-to-face. All VA supervisors are required to take annual “Whistleblower Rights and Protection & Prohibited Personnel Practices” training

Veterans Given a Year to Close Incomplete VA Enrollment Applications

This week, the VA announced that it will conduct intensive outreach to the 545,000 veterans with pending incomplete enrollment applications. In a year, the VA will close incomplete applications, meaning veterans would have to reapply if they are not able to complete their applications within a year. The VFW will work with the VA to ensure veterans who have incomplete applications are contacted and given the opportunity to complete their applications. If you would like to confirm the status of your enrollment application or would like to apply for VA health care, contact the VA Health Eligibility Center at: 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

Full Week of Testifying Ahead

The VFW will testify before Congress at three separate hearings next week. On March 15, at 10:30 a.m., National Legislative Service Deputy Director Aleks Morosky will testify before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and Oversight and Investigations, at a joint hearing titled “Twenty Five Years After the Persian Gulf War: An Assessment of VA’s Disability Claim Process with Respect to Gulf War Illness.” Watch this hearing. Later that day at 2:15 p.m., Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes will testify before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding proposed legislation to improve access to VA health care, the disability appeals process and accountability. Watch this hearing. On Wednesday, March 16, at 2:00 p.m., Fuentes will testify before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Health and Economic Opportunity to discuss draft legislation to improve the VA’s hiring and retention of physicians. View the hearing. 

Senate Appropriations Hearing on the VA Budget

On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs held a hearing to discuss the VA’s fiscal year 2017 budget request. During the hearing, committee members discussed a number of issues facing the VA, including issues with the Choice Program, accountability, and the recent investigation regarding misconduct by VA officials. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald detailed his plan to reform the department and asked the Senate to confirm Mike Missal, who has been nominated to become the next VA Inspector General. View a video of the hearing.

VA Responds to IG Report about Crisis Hotline

An article in the Military Times in mid-February reported that, “at least 23 veterans, troops or family members who called the Veterans Crisis Line in fiscal 2014 were transferred to a voicemail system and their calls never returned, according to a Veterans Affairs Department Inspector General report.

The VA watchdog's investigation into the hotline's performance launched last year also found that the centers responsible for the voicemail errors, who were contractors hired to provide backup services when the VA-run Crisis Line is operating at peak, may not have trained their counselors adequately to answer calls from those experiencing a mental health crisis.”

However, during the conference call Secretary Gibson stated that the crisis hotline is a priority for the department.  He emphasized that the IG report was based on evidence gathered two years ago and there was no reference in the report of the improvements made since that time, including the addition of more people to take calls.

Gibson stated that the crisis hotline today does not bear any resemblance to what took place two years ago. He said that in the last fiscal year the hotline dispatched emergency responders to locations of veterans who called in 11,000 times, which is an average of 30 times per day. He emphasized that the hotline prevented suicides thousands of times that year.

He pointed out that no veteran goes to voicemail any more and that this year the VA hotline will get to the point where every veteran who calls will reach a VA counselor and no longer be referred to a third party counselor. That’s because they are increasing staff for the hotline.

Also, according to Gibson many of the calls to the hotline are not veterans in crisis but instead are calls regarding other issues, such as claims appeals. These calls have to be sorted out and then referred to a different number.

 Secretary Gibson pointed out that the phone counseling is extremely stressful for those taking the calls and the VA has to make sure the counselors have both the proper training to be able to handle the calls, but also get the counseling they themselves need in order to deal with veterans in crisis every day.

Finally, he stressed his concern that there are veterans who are in crisis but who do hot call the hotline because of the reports of poor service they have heard about. He urged all veterans or their family members who are in a genuine crisis to call the hotline.

The hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.

 

Former Director of Phoenix VA Pleads Guilty to Felony

Last week the former director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, who was fired in 2014 due to the wait list scandal, pleaded guilty to filing a false financial disclosure by failing to list more than $50,000 in gifts she had received from a lobbyist.

A conviction for that crime usually carries a maximum prison sentence of five years but the former director, Sharon Helman, reached a plea agreement to receive probation with no time behind bars.

Helman was fired by the VA over the secret wait lists and alleged retaliation against whistleblowers, as well as for failing to report the gifts from a lobbyist. Her termination on the first two allegations was overturned by a judge with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), but the final charge was upheld.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Helman failed to report $19,300 worth of gifts in 2013, including an automobile, a check for $5,000 and tickets to a Beyonce concert. In 2014, prosecutors said, Helman failed to disclose another $27,700 in perks. The 2014 number included family tickets to Disneyland.

Helman was not charged with unlawfully accepting the gifts, but for failing to provide the VA with required information to evaluate a potential conflict of interest.

 While TREA is heartened that Ms. Helman will forever have a felony attached to her name due to her time leading the Phoenix VA healthcare system, we are not sure that a sentence lacking any jail time will be a sufficient deterrent to the next VA official who considers furthering their own personal gain over the best interests of the veterans they are charged with helping.

VA Takes Accountability Actions against Board of Veteran Appeals Personnel

Actions Proposed Against Three Attorneys, Two Judges Referred to Merit Systems Protection Board

Below is a VA Press Release. This is a very unusual occurrence and a sign that the Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to get control of its disciplinary duties:

 

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced last week that it proposed disciplinary action against three Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) attorneys, and has filed a Complaint against two Board Veterans Law Judges. Accountability actions against the Board judges have been referred to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB), which has direct jurisdiction over cases concerning administrative law judges.

Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan D. Gibson filed a Complaint against two Board Veterans Law Judges with the MSPB and VA proposed actions against three board attorneys for reasons of misconduct based on information received as part of an Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation that revealed a pattern of inappropriate emails that were racist and sexist in tone. The OIG proactively brought the information to VA early in their investigation and VA acted immediately by assigning the Board employees to non-adjudicative duties pending the disciplinary actions that have now been taken to protect Veterans appellate rights.

“These actions are reprehensible and completely counter to our values,” said Gibson. “It undermines the trust the American people place in the VA to serve our Veterans and has no place in this Department. We will not tolerate it. Taking action as quickly as we did was simply the right thing to do.”

VA proposed disciplinary actions in mid-January against two attorneys. One attorney retired, and one resigned from Federal service while the actions were pending. VA proposed a lesser administrative penalty against one attorney.

VA is conducting a review of appeals handled by these individuals while also examining comparative statistical data from internal quality review processes and appeals of Board decisions to the federal courts. At this time, we have no indication that any Veterans’ appeal was unjustly influenced by their conduct.

VA’s volunteer program celebrates 70th anniversary in 2016

This year, VA Voluntary Service (VAVS)—one of the largest volunteer programs in the federal government—is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

Since VAVS was established in 1946, VA volunteers have given more than 782 million hours in support of Veterans seeking VA health care across the country. This includes many avenues of service, donations, and help to enhance VA health care delivery in a number of facilities and settings.

As VA has expanded its care of Veteran patients into the community, volunteers have continued to be involved. In fiscal year 2015, active and occasional VA volunteers combined contributed nearly 10.9 million hours of support to Veterans.

Since 2013 Sabrina Clark has been the director of the voluntary service program. She describes the volunteers as a “true force-multiplier” for VA. “We rely on our community, and one of the main ways that the community shows up for our Veterans is through the volunteer department,” she explained. “In this time in VA’s history, and [with] the challenges that we face as an organization, we definitely need people who want to bring their talents, their skills, their donations, and just their hearts and minds to help us meet that mission.”

Though VAVS has served Veterans for seven decades, there is always a need for those ready to lend a hand. There are a number of traditional assignments available—from volunteer drivers to mailroom workers and hospice volunteers.

“It’s really unlimited in the ways that volunteers can serve,” said Clark. “We have so many great assignments for volunteers, but we also have the opportunity to build that; so when people come in and maybe look at a list of assignments available at a facility, and they don’t see anything that fits them, we always have the opportunity to customize an assignment for that individual, and really find out what it is they have a heart to do.”

To find out more about volunteering through VA Voluntary Service, visit http://www.volunteer.va.gov

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 9, 2016

VA Expands Hepatitis C Drug Treatment

 

Expanded funding now allows VA to provide increased drug therapy at VA facilities nationwide WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it is now able to fund care for all Veterans with hepatitis C for Fiscal Year 2016 regardless of the stage of the patient’s liver disease. The move follows increased funding from Congress along with reduced drug prices. “We’re honored to be able to expand treatment for Veterans who are afflicted with hepatitis C,” says VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin. “To manage limited resources previously, we established treatment priority for the sickest patients. Additionally, if Veterans are currently waiting on an appointment for community care through the Choice Program, they can now turn to their local VA facility for this treatment or can elect to continue to receive treatment through the Choice Program.” VA has long led the country in screening for and treating hepatitis C. VA has treated over 76,000 Veterans infected with hepatitis C and approximately 60,000 have been cured. In addition, since the beginning of 2014, more than 42,000 patients have been treated with the new highly effective antivirals. In fiscal year 2015, VA allocated $696 million for new hepatitis C drugs (17 percent of the VA’s total pharmacy budget) and in fiscal year 2016, VA anticipates spending approximately $1 billion on hepatitis C drugs. VA expects that with the expansion, many more Veterans will be started on hepatitis C treatment every week this fiscal year. In addition to furnishing clinical care to Veterans with hepatitis C, VA Research continues to expand the knowledge base regarding the disease through scientific studies focused on effective care, screening, and healthcare delivery including to female Veterans and Veterans with complicated medical conditions in addition to hepatitis C. For additional information on Hepatitis C treatments Veterans can log onto http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/hcv/index.asp

 Help with Choice Program Billing Issues

The VA has established a phone number, 877-881-7618, for veterans to call if their credit has been adversely impacted by private sector health care providers improperly billing them for care the VA is required to pay. The VFW urges any veteran being pursued by collection agencies to seek the VA’s assistance. However, veterans who were sent a bill from a Choice Program provider should contact the Choice Program call center, 866-606-8198, to determine if the VA is liable for the cost of the care.

DOD Improves Discharge Upgrade Process for Veterans with PTSD

On September 3, 2014, then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel issued a memo instructing Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) to grant “liberal consideration” to requests for discharge upgrades from veterans who may have been suffering from PTSD before it was a recognized diagnosis. Previously, those upgrade requests would have been denied, because veterans had no way of proving they had PTSD while still in service. The policy change was especially helpful for Vietnam veterans, whose post-service PTSD diagnoses had not been recognized by the BCM/NR up to that point. Unfortunately, the memo did not explicitly allow veterans who had been denied under the old rules to reapply under the new rules. To correct this error, DOD issued a memo on February 24, 2016, clarifying that those veterans may reapply under the new policy. It also waives the statute of limitations in those cases. If you or someone you know wishes to apply for a discharge upgrade under this policy, click hereRead the February 24 DOD memo.

MIA Update

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial dates of six servicemen who had been previously listed as missing in action from World War II and Korea. They are:

  • Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Vernon T. Luke, 43, of Green Bay, Wisconsin, will be buried with full military honors on March 9 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. On Dec. 7, 1941, Luke was assigned to the USS Oklahoma when it was attacked and capsized after suffering multiple torpedo hits.
  • Marine Corps Sgt. John C. Holladay, of Georgia, was lost fighting in the Solomon Islands on July 20, 1943. He was assigned to Company B, 1st Marine Raider Battalion, 1st Marine Raider Regiment, and will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.
  • Army Air Forces Flight Officer Dewey L. Gossett, of South Carolina, was lost over Italy on Sept. 27, 1943. He was assigned to the 527th Fighter Squadron, 86th Fighter Group, 12th Air Force, and will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.
  • Army Cpl. Davey H. Bart was lost fighting in North Korea on Nov. 2, 1950. It would be later confirmed he died in captivity. He was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, and will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.
  • In a burial update, Army Pfc. James M. Smith, 19, of Abbeville, Georgia, will be buried with full military honors on March 9 in Arlington National Cemetery. In February 1951, Smith was assigned to Company K, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and was supporting the South Korean Army in attacks against the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces. On February 12, the Chinese counterattacked. Smith was reported missing in action after the battle. Learn more.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Raymond K. McMillian, of Henry, Virginia, was lost fighting in South Korea on Feb. 12, 1951. It would be later confirmed he died in captivity. He was assigned to Medical Company, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.
  • Army Pfc. Aubrey D. Vaughn, of Union, South Carolina, was lost fighting in North Korea on April 23, 1951. It would be later confirmed he died in captivity. He was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, 5th Regimental Combat Team, and will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.

- See more at: http://www1.ausa.org/resources/retireeaffairs/RetireeNews/2016/Pages/Ret...