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Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 25 August 2015

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Message from the President of AUSA  - GEN Gordon R. Sullivan

 

Every soldier who earns the Ranger Tab has shown physical and mental toughness, but we cannot overlook the fact that on Friday two women will counted among this elite group of lethal warriors. Like their male counterparts, they volunteered and they persevered. Their graduation from Ranger School, some of the toughest training the Army offers, is a credit to the Army and to themselves. This is a huge feat, and they demonstrated greatness.

Death to TRICARE

Heritage Foundation senior defense policy analyst Justin T. Johnson calls for what amounts to the end of TRICARE, the military’s health insurance program. “Congress should move service members and their dependents into the same commercial health insurance system that federal employees use,” Johnson says in an article about reforming military benefits.

What to watch: The Association of the U.S. Army, along with most military and veterans associations, oppose replacing TRICARE with the federal worker health options. So far, Congress has balked at major reforms but could increase out-of-pocket expenses, especially for prescription drugs.

I Served in the Active Military. Yes, I'm One!

Over 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

By Hans Petersen

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

If you are a woman who served in the active military service, it is important that you know that you are a Veteran. Women have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts in unprecedented numbers, making up eight percent of U.S. Veterans.

Currently, women account for 20 percent of new recruits, 14.5 percent of the active duty force (1.4 million), and 18 percent of the 850,000 reserve force. About 280,000 women have served in Afghanistan or Iraq since September 11, 2001.

Yet, when you returned, you may have felt isolated, unacknowledged and invisible in a civilian society that either couldn’t fathom what you’ve been through, or discounts your military experience as somehow less challenging than that of male Veterans. In a recent study, only 37 percent of women Veterans indicated they felt “recognized, respected and valued as Veterans in civilian life."

VA’s Women’s Health Services (WHS) is sponsoring an “I’m One” campaign to raise awareness of VA benefits available for women Veterans through VBA and VHA. The campaign is designed to increase knowledge of what it means to be a Veteran and help women who served in the United States Uniformed Services identify as Veterans.

“Too pretty to have served in the military”

One respondent described her personal experience after identifying herself as a Veteran to others, “It’s a regular thing to be told I’m too pretty to have served in the military, let alone at war. I’ve been told I couldn’t possibly have any issues relating to war since I was a female and couldn’t possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine while deployed. I’ve been called a liar.”

“Since I was a female, I couldn’t possibly have experienced anything but rainbows and sunshine.”

Both in deployment and at home, female Veterans face challenges their male counterparts don’t. One of the most significant problems that female Veterans face, which often goes overlooked, is health care. According to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) report, 20 percent of female Veterans have gone without needed health care and continue to underutilize VA care largely because of a lack of knowledge about VA benefits and available services.

Today, women Veterans of the United States Uniformed Services are eligible for a broad range of programs and services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Two VA administrations highlight benefits that are available for Veterans and their families. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) focuses on general VA benefits available for Veterans and Veterans Health Administration (VHA) focuses on health care benefits for Veterans.

If you are a woman who served in the active military service, you are a Veteran.

Benefits You Qualify For

VBA provides a variety of benefits and services to Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families. Eligibility for most VA benefits is based upon discharge from active military service under other than dishonorable conditions. For National Guard and Reserve Servicemembers, the length of your service, service commitment and/or your duty status may determine your eligibility for specific benefits. Benefits offered by VBA include:

·         Compensation and Pension

·         Education and Training

·         Home Loans

·         Insurance

·         Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment

·         Burial and Memorial Services

·         Additional services and benefits

Learn more about benefits you qualify for through the Veterans Benefits Administration.

VA Health Benefits

Women are becoming the fastest growing group within the Veteran population. VA Health Benefits include all the necessary inpatient hospital care and outpatient services to promote, preserve, or restore women Veterans’ health. VHA medical facilities provide a wide range of services including traditional hospital-based services such as surgery, critical care, mental health, orthopedics, pharmacy, radiology, gynecology, maternity and physical therapy.

VA provides a full spectrum of medically necessary services, based on the judgment of your VA primary care provider and in accordance with generally accepted standards of clinical practice. These services include:

·         Preventive Care Services

·         Primary Care Services, including all women’s health primary care

·         Health Promotion and Disease Prevention

·         Inpatient Care Services

·         Ancillary Services Specialty Care Services

·         Emergency Care

·         Mental Health Care

·         Additional VA Health Care Services

·         Non-Medical Veteran Services

Participate in VA health benefits explorer to learn what VA health care benefits you could receive as an enrolled Veteran. Afterwards, take advantage of the VA health benefits you qualify for by applying for enrollment.

Additional Resources

·         U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

·         Veterans Health Administration

·         Veterans Benefits Administration

·         VA Women Veterans Health Care

·         My HealtheVet

·         eBenefits

·         Veterans Crisis Line

- See more at: http://www.va.gov/HEALTH/NewsFeatures/2015/August/I-Served-Active-Military-Yes-Im-One.asp#sthash.uaMJ9fSO.dpuf

TRICARE Pharmacy Rules Changing for Maintenance, Brand-name Drugs

TRICARE beneficiaries who take certain brand-name medications on a regular basis will be required to fill prescriptions at a military treatment facility or through a mail-in program beginning Oct. 1, a Defense Health Agency (DHA) official said last Thursday.

George Jones, DHA’s pharmacy operations division chief, said the new policy does not apply to active-duty troops, overseas beneficiaries, nursing-home residents and those with other health insurance that has a prescription-drug program. In certain circumstances, he added, some beneficiaries might be waived from the program on an individual basis.

The brand-name, regularly used, or “maintenance” medications could include those to treat chronic conditions such as blood pressure or cholesterol issues, Jones explained. Generic medications are not affected by the new policy, he said.

Beneficiaries to Be Notified

TRICARE pharmacy beneficiaries who will be affected will receive a letter from TRICARE in early to mid-September, with instructions on make the transition from retail pharmacies to a military pharmacy or the Express Scripts mail-in program, he said.

Those with questions about medications in the brand-name maintenance category can call Express Scripts customer service at 1-877-363-1303 or look up the drug online at TRICARE’s website.

Beneficiaries can track their medication status and expected delivery date by calling or going online to Express Scripts. 

 The new TRICARE policy stems from the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and is designed to save beneficiaries and taxpayers money, Jones explained.

 Program Expected to Save Money

 “Based on estimates, the program is expected to save beneficiaries $16.5 million in reduced copays, and projected Defense Department savings is $88 million during the first year,” he said.

That translates into a savings of about $176 per medication per year, he added.

A pilot program on the new pharmacy initiative was conducted in 2014, and it was “very successful,” he added.

“It was very well received by beneficiaries and met reductions in beneficiary-put-of-pocket costs and reduced costs to the government,” he said.

VA Announces New Rules Regarding Service Animals in VA Facilities

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced that it has revised its regulation regarding the presence of animals on VA property. The updated regulation will ensure VA practices remain consistent with applicable federal law. It will also assist individuals entering VA facilities in developing a clear and consistent understanding of the criteria governing facility access for service animals.

“As I have traveled to VA facilities throughout the country, I have heard from many Veterans about what a vital role their service animals play in their lives,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald. “The revised regulation will ensure Veterans and employees
have clear guidance regarding the presence of service animals in our facilities. VA remains committed to ensuring America’s Veterans have access to the health care benefits for which they are eligible.”

 Under the revised regulation, only dogs that are individually trained to perform work or tasks on behalf of an individual with a disability will be considered service animals.  Other animals will not be permitted in VA facilities, unless expressly allowed as an exception under the regulation for activities such as animal-assisted therapy or for other reasons such as law enforcement purposes. The regulation further confirms that service animals may access VA property subject to the same terms that govern the admission of the public to VA property, and may be restricted from certain areas on VA properties to ensure that patient care, patient safety, and infection control standards are not compromised.

 In accordance with required practices, the revised regulation was published in the Federal Register in November 2014, to obtain feedback from Veterans, advocacy organizations and other stakeholders.

 Over the next thirty days, VA will provide training to frontline employees and ensure policies at all facilities are consistent with the new regulation.

Entrepreneurship Programs Help Vets Transition to Private Sector

When transitioning out of the military, all servicemembers must go through the Defense Department's “Transition GPS” course. While there, many are choosing to go through an optional entrepreneur course called "Boots to Business."

The Small Business Administration sponsors the optional Boots to Business track with a two-day introduction to the program, followed by an eight-week online course through Syracuse University for students to develop their business plans.

The program at Syracuse University has been in existence for over eight years now, and its success is causing other schools to take notice.

The first class of U.S. military veterans graduated this summer from a new program that helps veterans become entrepreneurs and find opportunities in New York City's rapidly growing technology-based innovation economy.

Combining both academic and real-world lessons, the Veteran Entrepreneur Training (VET) program was developed by NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering. The VET program offers veterans a hands-on technology and business curriculum and mentorship to help them transition into the technology industry to launch potential ventures and careers.

The school drew from other entrepreneurship programs to develop the VET Program. The free, 10-week course starts with five days of intensive classes followed by one-day-per-week classes and venture validation presentations. Classes and guest lectures cover a range of topics including prototyping, revenue models, accounting, marketing, and fundraising. The program concludes with two showcases, an internal presentation to the stakeholders of the program and local technology business leaders, and a public demonstration day.

Veterans accepted into the program work alongside start-up companies at the school's incubators during the entirety of the 10 weeks and receive a portfolio of resources to supplement the classes.

Additionally, mentors and guest lecturers from across industries and professions support class participants as they develop their ideas into business ventures.  

Many veterans feel that their military training gives them the leadership experience to take on their own businesses. Students in Boots to Business begin with a concept and then build a business plan while they learn about demographics, legal issues, retail, hiring employees, insurance and many more topics essential to starting a business.

We have long been supportive of veterans' entrepreneurship programs, especially because it has been shown that veterans tend to hire other veterans. Supporting veteran-owned businesses helps not only the businesses, but also other veterans in those communities. From time-to-time we will pass along other stories on veterans entrepreneurship programs and veteran-owned businesses because we believe these programs make a difference for veterans.

Congressmen Predict Continued Defense Budget Cuts and Government Shutdown

Speaking at a forum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord last week, two members of Congress predicted there will be diminished spending for the military, tight restrictions on how Congress allows the Pentagon to respond to budget cuts, and more political stalemates that could lead to government shutdowns.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), who is the Ranking Member (top ranking Democrat) of the House Armed Services Committee, said that not only is the defense budget being reduced, but it is being reduced in an extremely unpredictable manner.

Smith’s remarks come after he voted against the defense budget last May for the first time in his 18 years in Congress. He also said he is concerned that Congress has blocked proposals by the Department of Defense to cut troop benefits and certain weapons programs.

Smith said he favors a new Base Realignment and Closure commission to study which military bases are no longer needed and should be shut down. Without another round of base closures, Smith said that DoD will be forced to keep installations open that it doesn’t need and then will take money out of maintenance and training in order to pay for keeping those bases. Ultimately, he said, he is concerned about maintaining military readiness.

Rep. Denny Heck (D- Wash.), who is not a member of the Armed Services Committee but who has a large military community in his district, predicted the differences in Congress over the way money was added to the defense budget from a fund that was supposed to be used only for war related expenses would ultimately result in a government shutdown.

What concerns us about these remarks is that Rep. Smith believes cuts need to be made in military readiness in order to maintain readiness. We believe that is the absolute wrong way to go about maintaining troop readiness. If we are to maintain the all-volunteer force, promises made to military personnel must be kept. We are totally opposed to the idea that so many in Congress seem to have that the budget must be balanced on the backs of military people.

While Rep. Smith is in the minority in the House of Representatives, there are many others in both parties who agree with him on that. We has been fighting, and will continue to fight to stop Congress from taking away the hard-earned benefits of military people, no matter which political party is in power.

The Affordable Care Act, your taxes and you

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all Americans including all military members (active duty, retired, Selected Reserve, or Retired Reserve) and their eligible family members must have health care coverage that meets a minimum standard called minimum essential coverage or pay a fee. Your TRICARE coverage meets the minimum essential coverage requirement under the ACA.

"The term "active duty" means full-time duty in the active service of a uniformed service for more than 30 consecutive days".

Beginning in January 2016, DFAS will be providing IRS Form 1095-C to all U.S. military members, and IRS Form 1095-B to all Retirees, Annuitants, former spouses and all other individuals having TRICARE coverage during all or any portion of tax year 2015. An IRS Form 1095 documents you (and your family members, if applicable) have the minimum essential coverage.  More information will be forthcoming about the delivery method of these forms.

These forms will document the information that DFAS will provide to the IRS on yourself and your authorized family members. The forms will be required to be reported with your 2015 federal tax return. DFAS will provide you with IRS Form 1095 series forms no later than Jan. 31, 2016

You can find more information about the impact of the Affordable Care Act on your federal income tax at: http://www.irs.gov/Affordable-Care-Act, or http://www.dfas.mil/taxes/aca.html.

You can act now to make sure your forms remain secure once they are available using myPay. Just look for the link to "Turn On/Off Hard Coy of IRS Form 1095" in your account and select Electronic Delivery Only.  Your information will remain safe until you need it.  

The VA Announces Two New Training Programs for Veterans

This week, the VA launched two new training programs, Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) and VA Learning Hubs, that will allow veterans to learn skills and earn credentials at no cost to help advance their civilian careers. ALPs will offer veterans training and certifications in the IT field. They will be held at various locations nationwide, and will include classroom and online instruction. This program is open to veterans of all eras and does not affect GI Bill eligibility. The VA is now accepting ALP applications, and veterans are encouraged to apply as soon as possible, as space is limited. Learning Hubs will be launched in 27 cities this year and are available to all veterans and transitioning service members. Courses will offer training to improve veteran employability in various high-demand fields, and will feature online and in-person components. Following course completion, veterans will receive verified training certificates. To learn more about ALPs and Learning Hubs, veterans are encouraged to email inquiries to [email protected]. To visit the ALP website, click here.

National POW/MIA Recognition Day 2015

The third Friday in September is designated as National POW/MIA Recognition Day every year. This year it falls on Sept. 18, and VFW Posts nationwide will be recognizing those who were captured and returned, as well as remembering the 83,000 Americans who have yet to return home from their wars, and their families who continue to hope and pray. A suggested POW/MIA Recognition Day speech is now available online in the members-only section of www.vfw.org, and 2015 posters are now available for order or download from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Seeking MIA Family Reference Samples

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is seeking the public’s help to find and encourage more MIA families to donate a DNA sample to help speed the identification process of recovered remains. Currently, 89 percent of the Korean War’s 7,800 MIAs have a family reference sample on file, 84 percent for the Cold War’s 126 MIAs, and 81 percent of the Vietnam War’s 1,600 missing. But for World War II, it’s a dismal 4 percent of the 73,500 who are still missing. Each military service and the State Department has a service casualty office that can explain how to donate. Learn more.

Korean War MIA Identified

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Sgt. Christopher Y. Vars, of Amherst, N.H., who was assigned to Company E, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when he died fighting at North Korea’s Chosin Reservoir on Nov. 29, 1950. He will be buried with full military honors on a date and at a location yet to be announced 

Three Organizations Set to Join the Defense Health Agency

The Defense Health Agency is expanding Aug. 23, when the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System and the National Museum of Health and Medicine become part of DHA.

 “These three organizations are nationally renowned institutions that broaden our connection with other federal health partners, and with global health organizations,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb, DHA director. “Whether it’s identifying how to prevent or stem the outbreak of disease; doing the challenging work to help determine where our research and clinical practices can be directed to increase survivability; or simply allowing us to learn through history, these organizations advance our ability to support our warfighters and everyone who we serve.”

 After its transition, AFHSC is becoming the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch, part of DHA’s Healthcare Operations Directorate. Its mission is to protect the health and readiness of the military against illness or injury during training exercises as well as deployment.

 AFMES provides worldwide comprehensive medico-legal services and investigations. Board-certified forensic pathologists, forensic anthropologists, medical-legal death investigators and photographers are available 24-hours a day to conduct forensic investigations into military deaths throughout the world.

 NMHM was founded as the Army Medical Museum in 1862 and is home to a National Historic Landmark collection of more than 25 million objects. Its one-time curator, Army Maj. Walter Reed, led the team that determined how yellow fever spread and founded the Army Medical School.

 The addition of the three entities is part of the DHA’s overall work toward full operational capability scheduled for Oct. 1. For more information about the DHA, go to www.health.mil/dha

Is There a Concert You’d Like to Attend? Check Out VetTix.org

If there’s a concert, sporting event or other public event that you’d like to go to, but you either can’t afford the tickets or the tickets are already sold out, you just might be in luck.

The Veteran Tickets Foundation is a military charity with a remarkably straightforward mission: they distribute tickets to concerts, sporting events, performing arts and other family activities to active duty military, veterans and their families (and the families of those killed in action) via their VetTix.org website.

The organization works with promoters, artists and teams to pair seats that might otherwise go empty with its members. VetTix was founded by veterans Mike Focareto and Eddie Rausch after they sat next to an empty seat at the 2008 Super Bowl. The charity has grown quickly and has distributed over 1.1 million tickets in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Many of those seats go to families who could never afford to purchase them on their own. VetTix may not be focused on the biggest issues facing men and women who serve, but the organization is creating opportunities for military families to have the kind of shared experiences that create lifetime memories.

VetTix is a nonprofit that collects tickets to sporting events, concerts, theaters, plays, basically anything that takes a ticket to get into. Those tickets get donated by season ticket holders, organizations, individuals. They get those tickets in the hands of currently serving military and honorably discharged veterans. That’s honorably discharged veterans of all eras, so they have people on their site from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, as well as those who served in the current campaigns. They also give those tickets away out to families of those killed in action.

Who does VetTix serve?

ALL Branches of our Military and their Families:

  • ALL Immediate Family of any Troops Killed-In-Action.
  • ALL Currently Serving Military and their Families.
  • ALL Honorably Discharged Veterans and their Families.

Signing up is easy. Go to www.VetTix.org to create a free account and request events you're interested in.

Article Says VA is Denying Health Care Enrollment to 35,000 Combat Veterans –

VA Denies the Accusation

Last week an article was published by the HuffingtonPost.com that claimed the Department of Veterans Affairs is denying health care enrollment to 35,000 combat veterans, most of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan, or both. According to the article, a whistleblower reported that the 35,000 are being denied enrollment because the VA’s computer program erroneously flagged them as needing to complete a “means test” statement.

However, while certain categories of veterans do need to complete a means test evaluation in order to enroll in VA health care, combat veterans are automatically eligible for five years of free health care.

According to the article, about 16,000 of the enrollment applications have been pending for more than five years which, if true, would mean their five years of free health care has expired. The article also says the VA has known about the problem since April 1, but nothing has happened to correct the problem.

The article also claims that VA personnel are telling combat veterans that they must fill out another form stating that they agree to co-pays for treatment of non-military related ailments. But, again according to the article, those veterans already agreed to the co-pays when signed their original health care application.

After the HuffingtonPost.com article appeared, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs denied that a computer error caused the problem. Instead, she said the problem is because the veterans’ applications were incomplete because they either did not answer questions on income eligibility or else did not agree to cover co-pays when applicable.

The spokeswoman further explained that the financial questions are intended, in part, to provide veterans with low incomes additional benefits, including travel expenses and exemption from the co-pays. She said when veterans decline to answer those questions their applications go into a pending file. And she said the VA is currently trying to reach those whose applications are pending by both telephone and mail.

These allegations are being investigated by the veterans committees of both the House and Senate and TREA will follow this story as events unfold. We want to make sure the problem is corrected if there is, in fact, a computer error. We also want to make sure that those who have been waiting five years or more are not denied care they are entitled to if the error is on the part of the VA.

VA Launches New No-Cost Training Programs

Programs Designed to Help Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans Develop New Skills and Credentials

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched two new no-cost training programs, Accelerated Learning Programs (ALPs) and VA Learning Hubs, to help transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans from all eras learn skills, earn credentials, and advance in civilian careers following separation from service.

 

ALPs and Learning Hubs are part of VA’s Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI), promoting education and employment opportunities for Veterans through integrated networks of support in 50 cities. VA launched the VECI program in response to the President’s August 2014 challenge to help Veterans and families integrate with their communities and find meaningful jobs that can lead to economic success. Under VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s MyVA transformation, VECI is now in place in cities across the United States.

“My message to transitioning Servicemembers is simple: Plan early and stay engaged, because transition is the mission,” said McDonald. “These two new resources provide no-cost opportunities for our transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans to learn new skills and earn credentials, which can increase their competitiveness during their transition.”

ALPs offer transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans the opportunity to build on their world-class training and technical skills gained through their military service, and earn certifications in high-demand fields.

VA is piloting ALPs this summer with seven courses focusing on building skills and certifications needed to advance in high-demand careers in information technology (IT), as part of the President’s TechHire initiative. Each ALP course is offered at no cost and includes free referral and support services..

The first ALP cohort includes seven courses covering a range of IT-related topics, including:

  • Coding/Programming Boot Camps;
  • 80+ IT Certifications in Hardware, Software, Networking, Web Services, and more;
  • Network Support Engineer Job Training and Certification;
  • Cybersecurity Training and Certification;
  • IT Help Desk Job Training; and
  • IT Boot Camps for Desktop Support and Windows Expertise.

Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans from any era are invited to apply to their choice of courses. Applications will be accepted starting this week – seats in the pilot cohort are limited; applicants are encouraged to apply early. ALPs do not involve use of the Post-9/11 GI Bill..  Students are able to participate in these programs while also pursuing other programs of study using Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Visit the ALP website to learn more about each program and apply.

VA is also launching Learning Hubs in 27 cities across the country this year in partnership with the American Red Cross, The Mission Continues and Coursera, an online education platform.

Transitioning Servicemembers and Veterans can take advantage of both online and in-person study. Each week, online course modules will be completed outside the classroom while class sessions, led by Learning Hub facilitators, provide opportunities to discuss course materials with peers, hear from subject matter experts, and network. Upon completion of the program, Servicemembers and Veterans may elect to receive one free verified certificate issued by Coursera.

For more information about the VECI or to learn more about VA ALPs and Learning Hubs, contact [email protected].

VA Expands Review of Chemical Exposure in Drinking Water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune

As part of VA’s ongoing commitment to provide care to Veterans and their families, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced earlier this month that it will start the process of amending its regulations to establish presumptions of service connection for certain conditions resulting from exposure to contaminated drinking water at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

This process is in addition to the healthcare VA already provides for 15 conditions to eligible Veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987 as a result of the Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012.  VA also provides reimbursement of healthcare expenses for those 15 conditions to eligible family members who resided at Camp Lejeune during that time period.

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs recently met with Senators Isakson, Burr and Tillis and the Director of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) to discuss the creation of presumptions of service connection for diseases associated with the contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.  The diseases that are currently being reviewed for potential presumptive service connection include kidney cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver, and acute myelogenous leukemia, which are known to be related to long-term exposure to the chemicals that were in the water at Lejeune from the 1950s through 1987.  The chemicals are Benzene, Vinyl Chloride, Trichloroethylene and Perchloroethylene, which are known as volatile organic compounds, used in industrial solvents and components of fuels.  ATSDR and VA representatives will meet at ATSDR offices on August 19 to begin discussions on establishing these presumptions. 

VA will also work with ATSDR and potentially the National Academy of Sciences to evaluate the body of scientific knowledge and research related to exposure to these chemicals and the subsequent development of other diseases. VA will carefully consider all public comments received when determining the final scope of any presumptions.   

Veterans with health problems they believe are related to exposure to the water at Camp Lejeune may file a claim for disability compensation online at www.ebenefits.va.gov, or call 1–800–827–1000 for assistance.

For more information, Veterans and family members should contact the nearest VA healthcare facility by calling 1–877–222–VETS (8387or visit www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune. For further information on Camp Lejeune: VHA Office of Public Health has a Website on Camp Lejeune historical water contamination at: www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp.

The U.S. Marine Corps encourages all those who lived or worked at Camp Lejeune before 1987 to register for notifications regarding Camp Lejeune Historic Drinking Water at https://clnr.hqi.usmc.mil/clwater.

Spirit of ’45 Wreath Laying

In support of the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the end of World War II, the Spirit of ’45 organization is asking if all veterans/military service organizations could sponsor wreath-laying ceremonies on Aug. 16 at every American veterans’ cemetery across the country and overseas. Aug. 16 is a historically significant date because it is when the Emperor of Japan ordered his forces to immediately cease hostilities. A simple ceremony is all that is requested to salute those who served and fell, and Bugles Across America (www.BuglesAcrossAmerica.org) can also be contacted to play Taps. To register your event or to learn more about the Spirit of ’45, go to: www.Spiritof45.org. For a list of U.S. national, state, tribal and territory cemeteries, go to: http://www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/VAcemeteriescontactlist.pdf. For a list of overseas American cemeteries, go to: https://www.abmc.gov/.

Commemorate V-J Day in Washington

To commemorate the Allied Forces Victory in the Pacific and the end of World War II, the Friends of the National World War II Memorial and the National Park Service will co-host a special V-J Day 70th Anniversary Commemoration on Sept. 2 at 10:30 a.m. at the National World War II Memorial in Washington. WWII veteran and VFW life member Sen. Bob Dole will provide remarks, as well as other veterans and dignitaries from our allied nations. More than 400,000 Americans and 60 million worldwide lost their lives in the deadliest military conflict in human history. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking will be extremely limited since it’s still the tourist season in Washington and Sept. 2 is a workday. Taxis to the memorial are plentiful and recommended, and the two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. To learn more, or to RSVP your attendance, go to: http://www.wwiimemorialfriends.org/.

Korean/Cold War POW/MIA Families Meet

The 21st annual meeting of Korean War and Cold War POW/MIA Families was held over the past two days in nearby Arlington, Va. More than 300 family members were in attendance to hear Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency and other government briefers update them on individual loss cases, and to explain ongoing initiatives and continued challenges to achieving the fullest possible accounting of more than 7,800 Korean War MIAs—the majority of whom are in North Korea, where no missions have taken place since 2005—and the search for 126 servicemen lost during the Cold War, in regions and countries ranging from former Soviet bloc Eastern Europe to the People’s Republic of China. Learn more about all losses on the DPAA website at: http://www.dpaa.mil/Home.aspx.

Three Korean War MIAs Identified

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has identified the remains of three soldiers who had been missing in action since the Korean War. All will be buried with full military honors on a date and at a location yet to be announced. Returned home are:

-- Army Sgt. Wilson Meckley Jr., 22, of Lancaster, Pa., was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, when he was declared missing on Dec. 2, 1950, in North Korea.

-- Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert Reager, 20, of Alleghany, Pa., was assigned to Company C, 32nd Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, when he was declared missing on Dec. 2, 1950, in North Korea.

-- Army Cpl. Grant H. Ewing, of Weld County, Colo., was assigned to Battery C, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. He reportedly died in captivity on Feb. 28, 1951, in North Korea.

Introducing the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) New Mobile Directory

When TRDP beneficiaries see a TRDP network dentist, they save money! And now, there is a new mobile dentist directory at trdp.org that makes it even easier to find a TRDP network dentist.

At home or on the go when using a smartphone or tablet, the mobile directory detects your mobile device and automatically optimizes the network directory for your device.

You can search by ZIP code, address, or dentist name and filter by location/distance. You can also search by dental specialty to find a TRDP network dentist who fits your specific dental care needs.

Once search results are provided, you can press on the dentist’s listing to call the dentist directly to see if he/she is accepting new patients and make an appointment. The mobile directory even uses your device’s mapping capabilities to give you driving directions to the dental office!

Ready to get started? Access the new mobile directory by clicking on the Find a Dentist link on the trdp.org homepage or by going directly to trdpnetwork.org.

And watch the Save Money video to learn about how to save money by using a TRDP network dentist!

Have a Question or Do You Have a Non-TRDP Enrollee Who Requires Live Assistance?

If you have a beneficiary with a question about enrolling in TRDP that they cannot locate on the trdp.org website, please have the beneficiary contact their Regional Representative. Regional Representative contact information is located on the TRDP website at www.trdp.org/contact or at this direct link to the Regional Representative listing: http://www.trdp.org/benefits-advisors/local-support.html. These Representatives are standing-by and ready to help!

Note that when a beneficiary calls the toll-free TRDP customer service number (888-838-8737), only enrolled TRDP beneficiaries will be able to talk to a live customer service agent. However, non-enrollees can access the Interactive Voice Response system to request a TRDP enrollment packet, get premium rates, obtain network dentist information, and more. So if you have someone who is not yet enrolled in TRDP but needs to talk to a live person, please direct the beneficiary to the Regional Representative for their area.

McCain Seeks to Privatize VA Healthcare

Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) has introduced legislation that would allow any veteran enrolled in the agency’s insurance network to seek private care any time they’d like by getting rid of criteria like the 30-day wait time to get an appointment at their local facility or needing to live more than 40 miles from a VA facility. McCain's legislation would essentially make the “Choice Card” pilot program permanent.

The original restrictions and the three-year length of the program were put in place because of the astronomical costs associated with allowing veterans to receive care from private physicians. The House passed legislation last month that in effect would make the Choice Card permanent, but it kept many of the cost-saving features that the McCain bill would do away with.

We have always opposed privatizing VA health care but the crisis in wait times that were revealed in the last two or three years made it clear that offering certain veterans the option of going to private doctors was needed. Certainly, one of our concerns about the McCain bill is the effect it would have on the VA. Would it erode VA infrastructure or would it rob from some veterans to pay for private care for other veterans? These are important questions that we will be asking if the McCain bill seems to gain momentum in the Senate.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has expressed his opposition to privatizing VA health care. “What would be lost by privatization would put veterans at risk and be a significant loss to the American public,” he stated.

He also said that some members of Congress have asked him, “Why don’t you just blow up VA and give out vouchers?”

This issue is of great concern to us and we will be closely monitoring the McCain bill when the Senate comes back into session in September.

Toxic Exposure Bill Needs Your Support             

In early July we told you about legislation that needs your support. It’s called the Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015, (S. 901) sponsored by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan). In the House the bill is H.R. 1769, sponsored by Rep. Dan Benishek (R- Mich).

Each bill is in the Veterans Affairs Committee of its respective body but we need to generate more support for a vote in each committee so they can go to the floor of the House and Senate for a final vote.

The legislation directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to select a VA medical center to serve as the national center for research on the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of the biological children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren of individuals exposed to toxic substances while serving as members of the Armed Forces that are related to such exposure.

As we told you in July, among the so-called invisible wounds of war are those brought home by troops that may not manifest for a decade or more.   Tragically, they may pass on genetically to the offspring of our nation’s warriors.

If enacted into law, this bipartisan legislation would establish within the Department of Veterans Affairs a national center for the diagnosis and treatment of health conditions of the descendants of veterans exposed to toxic substances during service in the Armed Forces.

Toxins, such as Agent Orange, have been shown to cause birth defects in the children of military personnel who came into contact with them, either during the Vietnam War, in the storage and transportation of those toxins, or by riding in aircraft that had been previously used to transport the toxins.  For Gulf War veterans, the exposure was to chemical weapons that were in an Iraqi ammo dump that was blown up by U.S. Forces at the end of the Gulf War, to oil fires, and possibly to tainted vaccines.

Please contact the offices of your Senators and Representative and urge them to support this important legislation.

Commissaries Still in Jeopardy

If we are going to save the commissaries it’s important that we keep up the pressure on Congress. As we told you, the House and Senate are trying to reach an agreement on funding for commissaries in the next fiscal year and the current Senate bill would slash the commissary benefit and force you to pay more when you shop at a commissary.

However, even if we win that battle, we have learned that DoD plans to ask Congress to let them change the formula that is used to determine the prices of goods sold in commissaries. The new formula would allow prices to vary from store to store, and the costs for groceries in high-cost areas would be greater than in low-cost areas.

Once again, DoD is trying to shift costs onto the backs of military personnel.

We are a part of a coalition to save our commissary benefits and we are fighting to save the benefit, but we need your continued help to keep the pressure up on Congress.

Congress Faces Impossible Task in September

As we said in the introduction to this update, when Congress returns to work in September they face an impossible task in dealing with legislation that needs to be voted on. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said at the end of last week that the Senate will deal with the Iran agreement, a cybersecurity bill, and funding the government for the next fiscal year (which begins Oct. 1) when they return. Each of those things is controversial and will take significant time to deal with.

That means the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016 will not be voted on until at least October. And rather than passing new appropriations bills for DoD, VA, and the rest of the federal government by September 30, it is likely they will pass a “continuing resolution,” which will fund the government at last year’s levels for a certain period of time, thereby hoping to give themselves additional time to pass new appropriation bills for FY2016.

We will keep an eye on all of these things when they return and let you know as things progress.

VA to Establish Presumptive Exposure Rule for Camp Lejeune

On Monday, the VA announced that it will amend regulations to establish presumptions for service connection for certain conditions related to exposure to contaminated water at the North Carolina Marine Corps Base. Treatment for veterans and reimbursement for treatment received by family members currently exists for 15 conditions tied to the exposure. The VFW strongly supported legislation that allowed Camp Lejeune veterans and their dependents to receive health care for those conditions and strongly believes that granting compensation benefits is the next logical step. Those veterans needing assistance with filing a VA claim can contact the VFW Service Officer in your area. For more information and to read the VA press release, click here.

Coast Guard Seeks Reliable Budget

The VFW was present at the National Press Club on Wednesday to hear Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft speak about the successes and challenges that face his service, which celebrated its 225th birthday this week. What he ultimately needs is a reliable acquisitions budget so that he can phase out 50-year-old ships with new platforms, but not at the expense of losing people, which he called his most valuable asset. “You can trim operations and platforms but not people,” he said, as he described Coast Guard operations on virtually every continent, with missions ranging from drug interdiction and rescue operations to cyber, refugees, the environment, and Russia’s attempts to militarize the Arctic. With a total force of 88,000, only half of whom are active duty, the Coast Guard is the nation’s smallest service, but the only one to have a military mission and civilian law enforcement authority responsibilities. Read more.

Three MIAs Recovered

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of an airman missing from World War II and two soldiers missing from the Korean War. Recovered are:

  • Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Stephen V. Biezis, 23, of Chicago, Ill., will be buried Aug. 14 in Arlington National Cemetery. Biezis was assigned to the 575th Bombardment Squadron, 391st Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force as co-pilot of a B-26C Marauder that crashed after being struck by enemy fire during a bombing mission near Ahrweiler, Germany. His remains were not recovered during the war. Read more.
  • Army Cpl. Nehemiah E. Butler, 19, of Pocomoke City, Md., will be buried Aug.10 in Arlington National Cemetery. Butler and elements of Company C, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division were deployed near Seoul, South Korea, when their unit was attacked by enemy forces. He became separated from his unit while attempting to move toward a more defensible position. Read more.
  • Army Cpl. Donald A. Therkelsen, 23, of Chicago, Ill., will be buried Aug. 8 in Medical Lake, Wis. Therkelsen was assigned to Medical Company, 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division. He was reported missing in action following a massive attack by the Chinese during the Battle of Kumsong along the Kumsong River in North Korea. Read more.

DOL-VETS Monthly Veteran Employment Update – July 2015

Attached, please find the Veterans' Employment & Training Service's (VETS) monthly Veteran Employment Update, which is a review of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly Economic News Release. The release is at this link, http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm, and the veterans data is from Table A-5 in that monthly release.  The update includes unemployment information by veteran status, gender, and post-9/11 Era service, as well as state-by-state data and growth of industry sectors nationwide.  Also included are graphs showing unemployment trends over the last 24 months.

 

o    The national unemployment rate (ages 16+) is at  5.3%, versus 6.2% one year ago.

o    The national unemployment rate (ages 18+) is at 5.4%, versus 6.2% one year ago.

o    The Veteran unemployment rate (ages 18+) is at 4.7%, versus 6.0% one year ago.

A Cautionary Note on Sample Size

As we state in the document, some of these figures do not meet the Bureau of Labor Statistics' standards for publishing.  This is due to the relatively small sample size of subpopulations of veterans, most notably female veterans and veterans ages 18-24.  As a result of the small sample size, there is volatility in the monthly numbers.  As opposed to generalizing monthly results to the overall population, BLS recommends reviewing employment trends over several months to gain a better understanding of the employment situation for veterans.