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Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 26 October 2016

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Wednesday, October 26, 2016

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 21, 2016

VA Streamlining Process for Medical/Surgical Purchases Changes will improve efficiency, supply management, and bottom line.

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking a major step toward system improvement in the processes used to purchase medical and surgical supplies. VA is significantly enhancing the Medical/Surgical Prime Vendor (MSPV) program by replacing it with the Medical/Surgical Prime Vendor - Next Generation (MSPV-NG) program. MSPV-NG purchasing capability greatly improves VA’s supply chain and aligns directly with VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s 12 Breakthrough Priorities designed to transform VA into a Veteran-centric organization of excellence. “Similar to VA’s successful pharmaceutical purchasing and distribution program, MSPV-NG aims to improve acquisition planning, sourcing, and delivery, which will allow the organization to benefit from the best pricing, timely access to supplies, and waste reduction,” said McDonald. By standardizing processes, VA’s MSPV-NG program reduces excess inventories and leverages VA’s purchasing power. The program increases the involvement of clinicians in sourcing products, giving them direct input in selecting supplies that can be used across VA medical centers and clinics. Medical, surgical, dental, and select prosthetic and laboratory supplies will now be available at nationally negotiated rates. This benefit, along with flexible delivery options, positions VA to address critical medical and surgical supply needs, ultimately improving the quality of care for the Veterans we serve. The MSPV-NG program launches across all VA facilities December 1, 2016. MSPV-NG will streamline VA’s purchases by working through four Prime Vendors. Contracts have been awarded to: American Medical Depot, Cardinal Health, Kreisers, and Medline. These vendors will align across VA’s five regions for more flexible delivery options and will have the ability to make multiple deliveries per delivery location. The new program streamlines ordering, tracking, and procurement methods of medical and surgical supplies by providing an efficient, cost-effective, just-in-time distribution process. In 2016 to date, VA’s supply chain transformation initiatives have saved $91.8 million. This figure is projected to increase significantly by the end of the calendar year.

United States Department of Labor; Good jobs for everyone.

Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS)

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October 21, 2016

Secretary Perez likes to call DOL the “Department of Opportunity,” because our mission is to make sure all Americans have an opportunity to find meaningful employment, and that is especially true for what we do at the Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. We know that training veterans and their spouses for skilled work, or preparing them to interview for their next job, enhances the opportunity for them to live the American Dream. A rewarding job provides the security for veterans and their families to live their lives without worry, and that is what the Department of Labor helps people find every day.

This month we recognize National Work and Family Month—and for us it means ensuring that military spouses get the employment assistance they need to connect with meaningful employment and training resources to achieve their personal career goals. Many of the programs that we support are available for both veterans and their spouses—and below are just a few to highlight:

• We lead the three-day DOL Employment Workshop (DOLEW) as part of the Transition Assistance Program to prepare servicemembers with the mechanics of attaining and retaining employment, resume writing, interviewing skills, and salary negotiation. Military spouses are also eligible to take the DOLEW and can register through the family support office on your installation. Our course curriculum is also available online and in a free new eBook that you can download from Amazon.

• Veterans, transitioning service members, and military families can find free employment and training services at nearly 2,500 American Job Centers (AJCs) in local communities across the country. You can find one closest to where you live and there you’ll find free employment support including local workforce information, assistance with resume writing and interview skills, job fairs, assessment of skills, classes to help upgrade skills, and referral of job-ready candidates. We also maintain with our partners the National Labor Exchange, used in all 50 states and 3 territories (DC, Guam, and Puerto Rico) by tens of thousands of employers and with an average of 2.1 million daily job listings collected from corporate job listings, state job banks, and the federal government’s USAJOBS.

• DOL also works with states and local employers to recognize the skills of veterans and military spouses when it comes to licensing and credentialing by encouraging them to recognize the credentials earned by military spouses. There’s no reason for a military spouses to have to start from scratch each time he or she crosses a state line due to their servicemembers’ PCS or deployments. We also help promote on-the job training opportunities like the registered apprenticeship program, which is a great pathway into high-growth industries.

We continue to proactively engage employers about hiring veterans and military spouses, and partner with national efforts such as the White House’s Joining Forces initiative, the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Program and the Military Spouse Employment Program (MSEP). In fact, we are co-leading a free employment webinar later this month with the Spouse Employment and Career Opportunities program, specifically to cover what is offered for military spouses—I hope you will join us and help spread the word.

Our team here at DOL VETS understands that working to increase successful employment outcomes for transitioning servicemembers and veterans, must include support for their spouses. We look forward to continuing our partnerships across the Labor Department and beyond, to help spread the word on all that is available for them to connect with the right kinds of opportunity.

Mike Michaud,
Assistant Secretary
@MikeHMichaud

 

USDA Launches New Apprenticeship Program Targeting Veterans

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2016 - Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced today the start of a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) jobs program that will use the national apprenticeship system to hire new employees as agricultural commodity graders, a key role in USDA's mission to protect American consumers. The new program will also serve as a way to increase jobs for U.S. veterans.

The program, piloted by USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is a registered national apprenticeship program that combines on-the-job training with theoretical and practical instruction in the classroom and online. Apprentices who complete the paid training program will meet the qualifications for a position as a USDA Agricultural Commodities Grader.

Although the program is open to anyone interested in a career in agriculture, Secretary Vilsack said he is proud the program offers veterans a path to success and hopes many will take advantage of the opportunity.

"USDA is committed to supporting America's Veterans," said Secretary Vilsack. "Our new apprenticeship program will give them a chance to join a talented pool of USDA professionals and leaders who ensure America's food maintains its quality and safety. If they are passionate about a career in agriculture, we want to help them achieve it."

The new apprenticeship program is a collaboration between USDA, the Department of Labor (DOL) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). DOL approved the curriculum and registered it as an official source for job training and VA approved the use of Veterans Benefits, which may include a monthly housing allowance and an additional stipend for books and supplies, for eligible apprentices. Many can also apply for separate benefits through the VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program.

AMS's Specialty Crops Program will hire apprentices who will receive 12 months of blended technical training on specialty crops inspection, grading and certification, and developmental training on professional skills, such as interpersonal communications and leadership.

"Veterans, by their very nature, are always looking for opportunities to serve. This innovative apprenticeship program allows more of our nation's veterans to continue their service out of uniform in the important mission of USDA," VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald said.

Apprentices who complete the program will have achieved critical career milestones -- a nationally recognized DOL Apprentice Accreditation and skills and competencies for professional success.

At USDA, the new apprenticeship program will also serve as the pilot for a new online interactive learning management system, which AMS will use to standardize training for all Specialty Crops Inspection employees. The learning management system will also deliver online training components and share real-time data with DOL and VA.

USDA employs more than 11,000 veterans and since 2009 has provided more than $505 million in direct farm loans to help 7,416 veterans start, maintain or grow their farming operations.

More information about the new apprenticeship program and other opportunities is available atwww.ams.usda.gov/careers.

 

ADVANCE APPROPRIATIONS FOR VETERANS BENEFITS

This year’s budget provides full advanced funding for VA mandatory benefit programs totaling $66.4 billion. Senator Mikulski ensured the bill includes advanced funding for veterans’ pensions, compensation for service-related injuries and education benefits. This change in law, which she initiated in theConsolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2015 (Public Law 113-235), ensured that beginning in FY16, veterans and military families have certainty in the benefits they’ve earned and deserve, regardless of shutdowns or gridlock in Congress.

Advance funding provides certainty for veterans’ benefits including compensation for illnesses and injuries while serving in the military such as combat wounds, hearing loss and PTSD. It also provides funding for pensions for those who have been permanently disabled while serving in the military, education benefits, including the G.I. Bill, ensuring military veterans get assistance with college education, housing, books and board while in school, and spousal support for deceased veterans.

ENDING BENEFITS CLAIMS BACKLOG

The funding in this bill continues the efforts started in FY 2014 by Senator Mikulski to reduce the backlog of pending disability claims and begins to shift the VA focus to reducing the large inventory of appeals. In March 2013, the disability claims backlog (claims pending longer than 125 days) stood at over 611,000 claims. As of September 17, 2016, the backlog stood at 77,041.

This bill will continue the VA’s efforts to break the backlog as well as focus on the soaring number of appeals. Specifically, funding is provided to the Veterans Benefits Administration to hire an additional 300 new employees focused on non-rating and appellate work, as much of the appeals work is done at the regional office level well before it gets to the Board of Veterans Appeals. In addition, the bill also includes $156.1 million for the Board of Veterans Appeals, an increase of $46 million over current funding, to hire more than 240 new employees at the Board focused solely on working cases that reach the Board.

Senator Mikulski’s objective is to end the benefits claims backlog, and ensure veterans and their families have access to the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve. To continue progress toward achieving this goal, the legislation:

Provides $2.86 billion to support the reduction of claims backlog, an increase of $30 million over the budget request. This increase will hire and train 300 new claims processors. Claims processors are in charge of collecting data in order to process claims. The collection of data can be done through medical professionals, government agencies, or other authorities. Once all data is collected the claims processor will recommend final benefits for the Veteran.

This includes $180 million to sustain and enhance the electronic claims processing system, increasing its functionality and efficiency. In 2015, there were nearly 1.4 million claims filed nationwide, 67,000 more than the year prior, and the highest number of claims ever received by the VA. Senator Mikulski has worked aggressively with the VA officials to create a plan for the Baltimore Regional Office in order to reduce Maryland’s backlog by more than fifty percent. Today, the Baltimore Regional Office is handling less than 4,500 benefits claims, down from a high of nearly 10,000 in 2013.

 

It also includes $153 million to improve to the Veterans Claims Intake Program (VCIP). This is $10 million over the budget request to continue to convert paper documentation to electronic files. The purpose of VCIP is to help the VA end its dependence on paper-based claims. The document conversion service, has been implemented in all fifty-six VA regional claims processing offices across the country, including the Baltimore Regional Office. The conversion of these records cuts processing time down by more than two weeks.

In addition, the legislation continues to require the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the VA, to establish and transmit to Congress a coherent governance plan for modernization and enhanced interoperability of Electronic Health Records (EHR) among each agency and the private medical facilities who support veterans. In the past, despite multiple agreements to focus on this issue, the VA and DOD have both failed to make the necessary improvements. The bill fences seventy-five percent of EHR funding until several requirements are met. Among these conditions are for the VA to provide the Appropriations Committee the Analysis of Alternatives and Business Case outlining the need for continuing modernizing the legacy system versus purchasing a commercial off the shelf platform; and a strategic plan (including security requirements analysis) identifying metrics and timelines for future development.

ENDING VETERAN’S HOMELESSNESS

The legislation includes $1.62 billion, an increase of $30 million above the budget request, to continue to reduce veteran’s homelessness. There are an estimated 48,000 homeless veterans in America. Between 2010 and 2015, the estimated number of homeless veterans has been reduced by 36 percent, a decline of more than 26,360. This includes a nearly 50 percent drop in the number of unsheltered veterans sleeping on the street.

Funding included in this legislation will support the Supportive Services for Veterans Families program, which works to quickly offer shelter to homeless veterans. The goal of the program is to promote housing stability among very low-income veteran families who reside in or are transitioning to permanent housing.

It also supports the HUD – Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program, which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by the VA. Through the program, local public housing authorities provide rental assistance to homeless veterans while nearby VA Medical Centers (VAMC) offer supportive services and case management. VAMCs work closely with homeless veterans then refer them to public housing agencies for these vouchers, based upon a variety of factors, most importantly the duration of the homelessness and the need for longer term more intensive support to obtain and maintain permanent housing. Veterans participating in the HUD-VASH program rent privately owned housing and generally contribute no more than thirty percent of their income toward rent.

SUPPORTING VETERANS HEALTH CARE

The bill includes $64.4 billion dollars for Veterans Medical Care. It also makes sure we are meeting our commitment to our most recent generation of veterans, those who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. The bill provides $5.66 billion to meet the health care needs of the over 923,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who utilize the VA for their healthcare.

Senator Mikulski fought to provide $675.4 million for medical and prosthetic research, and charges the VA to integrate complementary and alternative medicine to ensure America’s heroes receive the full spectrum of treatment available. This is a funding increase of $44.6 million over the current funding level and $12 million over the request. 

Expanded Credit Protections for Service Members and Their Families

As of Oct. 3, active duty military personnel and their families have new, expanded credit protections.  That’s when new rules for implementing the Military Lending Act took effect. The rules were issued to help military personnel avoid falling into the trap of taking on a loan they cannot afford. These frequently asked questions can provide the answers to “help you know before you owe.”

  • What is the Military Lending Act? The MLA limits the annual percentage rate for credit to no more than 36 percent and includes associated costs of the loan, like fees and the sale of credit products sold with the loan. This rate is known as the military annual percentage rate, or MAPR. Additionally, the Military Lending Act prohibits mandatory arbitration, difficult contract provisions, using an allotment to secure the loan, waiving Servicemembers Civil Relief Act rights, charging a penalty for early payments, using a post-dated check to secure a loan, refinancing certain loans and the use of bank accounts and car titles to secure certain other loans.
  • Who does the Military Lending Act apply to? The Military Lending Act applies to active-duty members, members of the Reserve Component when activated 30 days and longer, and family members enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS.

Visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or access the White House Fact Sheet for more information about the Military Lending Act.

  • What kinds of credit does the new rule cover? Current protections cover payday, vehicle title and tax refund anticipation loans. Along with the current protections, the new MLA changes cover credit as defined in the Truth in Lending Act, which include installment loans, pawn loans, open-end credit and credit cards as well. Purchases made through rent-to-own and overdrafts on checking accounts are not covered by TILA and, therefore, are not covered by the rule changes. The MLA does not apply to mortgages and certain secured loans for the purchase of personal goods and vehicles when the loan is secured by those items.
  • When must creditors comply with changes to the rule? Most creditors will need to comply with the rule changes by Oct. 3, 2016. Credit card providers have until Oct. 3, 2017.
  • Where can service members find sources of credit if they need it when the rule changes go into effect? Most creditors offer loans under the 36 percent MAPR cap so there will be plenty of credit sources available. Creditors have had a year to be ready to offer loans in compliance with the rule. The only loans not available to a covered borrower will be loans that charge more than 36 percent MAPR.
  • What if a service member needs a loan and all he or she can qualify for is credit that doesn't comply with the MLA? Military relief societies assist members and families with unexpected or emergency expenses. Service members and their family members, who need more than a small loan and are unable to qualify for a loan under the 36 annual percentage rate cap, may need financial counseling along with short-term cash. Reasonable creditors check to see if a borrower can pay back the loan (and meet other obligations). Consequently, being turned down for a loan with an annual percentage rate of 36 percent is a good indication that the service member may need help to resolve long-term financial issues.
  • How will creditors know if a person is in the military or a family member? It is the creditors' responsibility to identify whether borrowers are covered by the Military Lending Act. The new rule directs creditors to a database maintained by the Defense Manpower Data Center that provides the creditor with immediate feedback on whether the borrower is on active duty or a family member of an active-duty service member.
  • What happens to creditors who make loans in violation of the MLA to covered service members and their dependents? Federal or state government supervision of creditors holds them accountable for their lending practices. Creditors risk having to refund loans (principal and interest) and potentially pay fines for violating the new rule.
  • Why enact this law or rewrite this rule? Predatory lending practices continue to have a negative effect on the financial well-being of service members and their families, and the efforts to educate service members have not been enough. The previous regulation controlled the most obviously problematic credit products. Unfortunately, plenty of opportunities for service members and their families to access high-cost loans still exist. Some creditors offered loans outside of the definitions in the previous regulation or found ways to modify their loans to sidestep the Military Lending Act. For example, the previous Military Lending Act rule on payday loan products applied to loans with durations of fewer than 91 days. Some creditors made loans with terms of 92 days or longer to dodge this rule.

Find personal financial management services on your installation using MilitaryINSTALLATIONS.

  • Where can a service member find financial counseling? Service members and their family members have access to personal financial counselors who provide assistance with developing spending plans, managing personal finances, financial planning and debt reduction. Free personal financial counseling is available through installation Military and Family Support Centers, and personal financial counselors through the Military and Family Life Counseling Program. Military OneSource has financial counselors available 24/7 at 800-342-9647.
  • Where can I get help if I feel my rights under the MLA are violated? Service members and dependents may report consumer credit concerns, including MLA related issues, to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint.

The Military Lending Act protects you and your family members from predatory lending and the cycle of excessive debt. Knowing your rights may help you make sound financial decisions and work toward a more secure financial future.

Scholarships available for women soldiers… and their children… and grandchildren

 The Army Women’s Foundation awards educational scholarships to women who are now or have served honorably in our Army. That is the active duty, National Guard or Reserves and to their linear decedents.

The Scholarship application period is open now and runs through January 15th!

If you are interested please read the following announcement and then go to their website.

The Army Women’s Foundation recognizes the importance of education and the role it plays in personal, professional and economic fulfillment. The foundation operates a Legacy Scholarship program to help female soldiers, past and present, and their children attain their educational goals.

The Army Women’s Foundation offers tuition assistance for post-secondary education to women who are currently serving or have served honorably in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve, or Army National Guard, and to their lineal descendants. The Legacy Scholarship program offers scholarships for certificate, community college, undergraduate and graduate coursework. Applications for assistance for the 2017-2018 academic year must be submitted online by Jan. 15, 2017. For more details and to access the online form, please go to http://awfdn.org/scholarships.shtml.

The Army Women’s Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization that honors the service and sacrifice of women who serve in the active and reserve components of the U.S. Army.

 

Medicare Changes the Way It Pays Doctors and Clinicians

Last week the Center for Medicare Services (CMS) unveiled an overhaul of how it pays doctors and other clinicians.

The goal is to reward quality, penalize poor performance, and avoid paying piecemeal for services. Whether it succeeds or fails, it's one of the biggest changes in Medicare's 50-year history.

The complex regulation is nearly 2,400 pages long and will take years to fully implement. It's meant to carry out bipartisan legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last year.

The concept of paying for quality has broad support, but the details have been a concern for some clinicians, who worry that the new system will force small practices and old-fashioned solo doctors to join big groups. Patients may soon start hearing about the changes from their physicians, but it's still too early to discern the impacts.

The Obama administration sought to calm concerns Friday. "Transforming something of this size is something we have focused on with great care," said Andy Slavitt, head of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Officials said they considered more than 4,000 formal comments and held meetings around the country attended by more than 100,000 people before issuing the final rule. It eases some timelines the administration initially proposed, and gives doctors more pathways for complying.

The American Medical Association said its first look suggests that the administration "has been responsive" to many concerns that doctors raised.

In Congress, staffers were poring over the details. Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga., who worries that Medicare's new direction could damage the doctor-patient relationship, said he's going to give the regulation "careful scrutiny." Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of a panel that oversees Medicare, called it an "important step forward," but said the administration needs to keep listening to concerns.

MACRA, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, creates two new payment systems, or tracks, for clinicians. It affects more than 600,000 doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and therapists, a majority of clinicians billing Medicare. Medical practices must decide next year what track they will take.

Starting in 2019, clinicians can earn higher reimbursements if they learn new ways of doing business, joining a leading-edge track that's called Alternative Payment Models. That involves being willing to accept financial risk and reward for performance, reporting quality measures to the government, and using electronic medical records.

 

Medicare said some 70,000 to 120,000 clinicians are initially expected to take that more challenging path. Officials are hoping the number will quickly grow.

Most clinical practitioners - an estimated 590,000 to 640,000 - will be in a second track called the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System. It features more modest financial risks and rewards, and accountability for quality, efficiency, use of electronic medical records, and self-improvement.

Finally, about 380,000 clinicians are expected to be exempt from the new systems because they don't see enough Medicare patients, or their billings do not reach a given threshold.

For more information, go here:

VA and Stanford to Pursue the Nation’s First Hadron Center Goal for the center will be to treat Veteran and non-Veteran patients using Hadron therapy The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Stanford Medicine announced today that they are collaborating to establish the nation’s first Hadron Center in Palo Alto, CA, for the benefit of Veteran and non-Veteran cancer patients who could benefit from Hadron therapy. VA maintains a strong academic and research affiliation with Stanford Medicine. This long-standing partnership has enabled the VA Palo Alto Health Care System (VAPAHCS) to offer an exceptional breadth of medical services to Veterans. Now, VA and Stanford University are looking to expand and enhance this affiliation through new collaborative efforts around the Hadron Center and particle beam therapy for Veteran and non-Veteran patients with cancer. During his 2016 State of the Union Address, President Obama called on Vice President Biden to lead a new, national Cancer Moonshot, focused on making a decade's worth of progress in preventing, diagnosing, and treating cancer in five years – ultimately striving to end cancer as we know it. After meeting with experts across the country and the world, Vice President Biden identified areas of focus for the Cancer Moonshot – based on barriers to progress and opportunities for improving patient outcomes – and announced a first wave of accomplishments at the Cancer Moonshot Summit on June 29, 2016 at Howard University in Washington, DC. Today, Vice President Biden is releasing the final report of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, along with his own Executive Findings, after traveling to many of the major nerve centers in the cancer community. He will also unveil a new set of Federal actions, private sector actions, and collaborative partnerships to further advance the goals of the Cancer Moonshot Task Force, including the Hadron Center. “We are excited to further expand our current partnership with Stanford Medicine, and explore ways to continue leading Veterans health care into the 21st century. The state-of-the-art Hadron Center would not only improve the lives of those affected by cancer, but further demonstrate VA’s ability to partner toward pioneering innovation and exceptional health care,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. In addition to the Hadron Center, other efforts are underway to support the Cancer Moonshot Task Force: the Prostate Cancer Foundation (PCF) made a contribution of $50 million dollars to VA for precision oncology research over the next 5 years; the IBM Watson Million Veteran Initiative will provide 10,000 diagnostic and cancer treatment analyses over the next 2 years; and VA and PCF will host a national oncology summit, “Launch Pad: Pathways to InnoVAtion,” on November 29. “These efforts underscore VA’s dedication and ability to work with private sector leaders and innovative “These efforts underscore VA’s dedication and ability to work with private sector leaders and innovative academic institutions, like Stanford University, toward improving Veteran access to leading edge technology,” said VA Senior Advisor to the Secretary for Strategic Partnerships, Matthew S. Collier. The Hadron Center is anticipated to be a clinical facility, designed to deliver particle radiation beam therapy for the treatment of cancer patients. Presently, the most common radiation beams used for cancer treatment are photons and electrons, which are easy to target to a tumor but can result in damage to normal tissue. Particle beam radiotherapy, on the other hand, uses beams of charged particles such as proton, helium, carbon or other ions to allow more precise targeting anywhere inside the patient’s body, resulting in less damage to normal tissue. Particle beam therapy can be more effective at killing radiation-resistant tumors that are difficult to treat using conventional radiation therapy. Judicious and innovative application of particle therapy can result in improved cure rates for cancer. “Through our Precision Health vision, Stanford Medicine is committed to providing more personalized health care that is tailored to each individual,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine. “Planning for the Hadron Center embodies this commitment, as we seek to identify optimal ways to offer targeted treatment that both reduces harm and promotes healing.” This project would be the first of its kind in the nation and serves as an excellent example of public-private collaboration to further research and clinical care, using cutting-edge cancer therapy. The Hadron Center would significantly complement VAPAHCS’s mission to provide the most advanced care for Veterans, by offering those with cancer access to Hadron therapy treatments and participation in clinical trials.

MyVA Transformation

This week, the MyVA Advisory Committee met in Pittsburgh, Pa., to discuss progress the Department of Veterans Affairs has made in the past two years to improve veterans programs and services. VFW Deputy Legislative Director Carlos Fuentes informed VA leaders that many veterans have noticed an improvement in their experiences, but much work remains in order to restore veterans’ trust in VA. For a summary of the meeting and more information on the MyVA transformation, visit: http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/31698/success-of-myva-advisory-committee-members-meet-in-pittsburgh/.

 Veterans Preference Restriction Opposed

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain is now saying he will oppose a controversial proposal that would restrict veterans preference to a one-time use when applying for work within the federal government. The restriction, which the VFW has opposed since its introduction, is buried deep inside the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017. The VFW wants the current veterans preference program kept intact. The misperception by veterans and misinterpretation by federal hiring authorities is that veterans preference is a job guarantee, wherein fact the only “guarantee” is the veteran applicant gets to advance to the interview stage where he or she must still distinguish themselves as the best qualified candidate. Congress will revisit this issue when it reconvenes after the November elections.

Mobile Apps for Veterans

VA has launched a number of mobile apps aimed at improving the lives of veterans and making VA more accessible. Currently, VA has 16 apps available through the Apple store and 6 apps available on Android’s Google Play. These apps help veterans manage their PTSD, pressure ulcers, preconception care and other aspects of their health care. Many of the applications are also available for download on desktops and laptops. VA is currently field testing 11 more applications that will be released soon, including a self-scheduling application, an app to help veterans track their health care by receiving notifications from their health care team, and sending health information, such as blood pressure and other vital signs back to their health care team. For more information, visit: https://mobile.va.gov/appstore.

TRICARE Sets Hurricane Emergency Pharmacy Rules

Due to the impact of Hurricane Matthew, TRICARE has established emergency rules for those needing to refill their prescriptions. The rules will last through November 2, 2016. For more information, click here: http://www.tricare.mil/Resources/DisasterInfo/DisasterAlerts/10_04_16_HurricaneMatthew.

VFW and SVA 2017 Legislative Fellowship Program

The application process for the 2017 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship is open and will close on October 21, 2016. First held in 2015, the program mentors 10 student veterans as they research policy areas affecting veterans and the military. Once their research is completed, the fellows will advocate for legislative and regulatory fixes related to their selected issues. Part of that advocacy includes attending the VFW’s National Legislative Conference in March where fellows will join more than 500 VFW members in promoting the VFW’s legislative agenda by meeting with members of Congress. Last year, fellows also briefed staffers from the White House and both the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs Committees. The program, with all travel expenses covered, is for VFW members who attend a college or university with a Student Veterans of America chapter. For more information, including the topics for research and the application link, click here: http://www.vfw.org/studentfellowship/.

 

World War One 100 Cities/100 Memorials Initiative

In observance of the upcoming centennial of World War I, 100 matching grants of up to $2,000 apiece will be awarded for the restoration of 100 World War I memorials across the United States. Any municipal government, individual or organization may apply. Likewise, any individual, organization or company can become a sponsor of the effort. Learn more here: https://www.worldwar1centennial.org/index.php/2016-07-06-00-52-42.html.

MIA Update

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Office has announced the identification of remains belonging to six Americans who had been missing and unaccounted for since World War II and Korea. Being returned home for burial with full military honors are:

-- Navy Seaman 2nd Class Rudolph V. Piskuran, 19, will be buried Oct. 14 in his hometown of Elyria, Ohio. On Dec. 7, 1941, Piskuran was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo hits as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/967866/uss-oklahoma-sailor-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-piskuran/.

-- Army Sgt. 1st Class James P. Shunney, 19, of Woonsocket, R.I., will be buried Oct. 14 in Blackstone, Mass. In early November 1950, Shunney was a member of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, when his unit was forced into a fighting withdrawal from their position near Unsan, North Korea. Shunney was declared missing in action on Nov. 2, 1950.

-- Navy Fireman 3rd Class Edwin C. Hopkins, 19, will be buried Oct. 15 in his hometown of Keene, N.H. On Dec. 7, 1941, Hopkins was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo hits as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The attack resulted in the deaths of 429 crewmen. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/967875/uss-oklahoma-sailor-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-hopkins/.

-- Army Cpl. Milton T. Bullis, 21, is scheduled to be buried Oct. 21 in Holly, Mich. In late November 1950, Bullis was a member of Medical Company, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division that was fighting a delaying action against Chinese forces near Kunu-ri, North Korea. He would be declared missing in action on Dec. 1, 1950. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Article/961704/soldier-killed-in-korean-war-accounted-for-bullis/.

-- Army Pfc. William W. Cowan was a member of Company M, 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when he was reported missing in action on Feb. 12, 1951, after his unit attacked an enemy road block near Hoengsong, South Korea. It would be later learned he had been captured but died in captivity in a POW camp in North Korea. Interment services are pending. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Article/956305/soldier-killed-in-korean-war-accounted-for-cowan/.

-- Marine Field Music 1st Class Warren G. Nelson was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff enemy resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Over several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded; the Japanese were virtually annihilated. Nelson died on the first day of battle, Nov. 20, 1943. Interment services are pending. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Article/965980/marine-missing-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-nelson/.

 

United States Department of Labor; Good jobs for everyone.

Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS)

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October 7, 2016

Veterans Unemployment Update

VETS Monthly Employment Overview – September 2016

Attached, please find the Veterans' Employment & Training Service (VETS) monthly Veteran Employment Update, which is a review of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics' monthly Economic News 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. View the full report

Good News for Veterans!

In September, the veteran unemployment rate remained the same at 4.3%, once again maintaining a lower level than the overall unemployment rate. This continues a 24-month trend with a single exception, when veteran unemployment was 0.1% higher than overall unemployment in December 2015. Additionally, the unemployment rate for veterans 18-24 years of age result is 7.5%; a significant decrease from August 2015 result of 14.1%.

VETS prepares America's veterans, service members and their spouses, for meaningful careers, provides them with employment resources and expertise, protects their employment rights and promotes their employment opportunities.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 5, 2016

October is National Audiology Awareness Month

WASHINGTON – Hearing loss, including tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing or other type of noise that originates in the head, is the most prevalent service-connected disability among Veterans, with many Veterans suffering from a form of it due to frequent exposure to loud noises from weaponry and aircraft. Because of the pervasiveness of hearing loss among Veterans, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is recognizing October as Audiology Awareness Month by highlighting important VA research on the subject and advances made in treating Veterans with hearing loss. “VA researchers have a rich history of contributions to audiology,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “From working with the National Institutes of Health to develop and evaluate hearing aids to a comprehensive protocol for managing tinnitus at VA and other audiology clinics nationwide, VA is proud to be a leader in this field.” VA researchers conduct a wide range of studies in audiology—from biomedical investigations to large clinical trials and epidemiologic database studies. Much of the work takes place at VA’s National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research in Portland, Oregon, one of the world’s leading facilities for research in the field. Studies include older Veterans whose hearing problems have been compounded by aging and younger Veterans who may have suffered hearing loss as a result of blasts in Iraq or Afghanistan. Recent VA research includes the following: In 2013, researchers at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System published the results of a study comparing group and individual visits for hearing aid fittings and follow up. The team found no differences in how well the hearing aids performed, or how often they were worn. They concluded that group visits could reduce costs while providing community support for patients. In 2014, VA researchers in Loma Linda, California, linked exposure to jet propulsion fuel with auditory processing problems—changes that occur inside the brain rather than the ear. A 2015 VA study yielded promising results on transcranial magnetic stimulation as a tinnitus treatment. The therapy involves holding a magnetic coil to the head. The team now hopes to conduct a larger trial. A 2016 study of nearly 200 Veterans with tinnitus explored the impact of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on how Veterans manage the hearing condition, and offered guidance for clinicians. Below are a few examples of ongoing studies: VA researchers in Pittsburgh, Sioux Falls, Omaha, and Portland are collecting data from nearly 470 Veterans to learn more about auditory complaints in those who have been exposed to blasts. The team will focus on the interplay among hearing problems, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD. A VA trial aims to improve monitoring of hearing changes caused by the drug cisplatin, used to treat cancer. Some 4,000 Veterans receive the drug in a typical year, and up to 40 or 50 percent will experience some hearing loss or tinnitus. The researchers say early detection can prevent significant damage. Together with a lab group at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, VA researchers are seeking biomarkers—including cellular changes— that could warn of impending hearing loss. The work is expected lead to new preventive measures or treatment. In addition to VA’s audiology research work, the Department announced last month – ahead of National Audiology Awareness Month – that Veterans who need routine audiology appointments will be able to directly schedule them, without the need for a referral from their primary care provider. The move is expected to get Veterans into appointments more quickly. The new expedited process was piloted at three VA sites last year and is now being rolled out nationwide. For more information VA’s audiology services, visit www.ncrar.research.va.gov. Information about VA research on audiology may be found at www.research.va.gov/topics/hearing.cfm.

Wells Fargo In Trouble Again – This Time for Violating Law that Protects Servicemembers

One of the nation’s largest banks, Wells Fargo, has been in the news lately because of a scandal in which company employees created millions of phony bank accounts in reaction to company pressure to boost sales figures.  The CEO of the company has been in the hot seat before investigating Congressional committees and thousands of employees have been fired.

Now we’ve just learned that Wells Fargo has also been violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).  According to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, between 2008 and 2015 “Wells Fargo Bank unlawfully repossessed hundreds of servicemembers’ cars without the proper process, and the bank will now rightfully pay for its violations.”

The bank has agreed to pay those who were affected $4 million to compensate for the unlawful repossessions.

According to Bloomberg.com, “The Justice Department got a complaint that Wells Fargo grabbed the Ford from an Army National Guard soldier in North Carolina, according to court records and the department’s statement. The bank shed the vehicle in an auction before demanding $10,000 in an unpaid balance from the soldier -- a situation that raised a red flag for a military lawyer helping with his debt counseling.

“The OCC said the duration and frequency of violations contributed to its action, which also requires the bank to repair deficiencies in its compliance with the servicemembers law. ’In those instances where some servicemembers did not receive the appropriate benefits and protections, we did not live up to our commitment and we apologize,’” Catherine Pulley, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo, said in an e-mailed statement. She said the company has been notifying and compensating customers and has “’enhanced our efforts to identify eligible service members.’”

Strengthening both the SCRA law and the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act (USERRA) have been efforts that TREA has been involved in this year

DHA announces that CVS is out and Walgreen’s is back in the TRICARE pharmacy network

Last week the Defense Health Agency (DHA) announced that on December 1st Walgreen’s will be returning to the TRICARE Pharmacy Network and CVS will be out. You may remember that in 2011 a similar situation occurred. Walgreen refused to give the discounts Express-Scripts were demanding on behalf of TRICARE and left the network. Now CVS is refusing additional discounts and will be an out-of-network in 2 months.

After December 1st if you have a prescription filled at any CVS (including those in Targets) you will have to pay the full cost of their medication up front and file a claim with Tricare for partial reimbursement.

Even with this change the TRICARE Pharmacy Network will have over 58,000 pharmacies and 98% of TRICARE beneficiaries will have a network pharmacy within 5 miles of their homes.      

DHA said Express Scripts will be reaching out to patients who take specialty medications to help them transfer their prescriptions without a gap in coverage.

Express-Scripts is the “pharmacy benefit manager” for DoD’s pharmacy benefit. If you have any questions either write us or go to Express-Scripts’ website at:   https://www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE/index.shtml

Medicare and Tricare After Age 65

By taking a few simple steps, retirees can make sure they have their TRICARE benefits after they turn 65 years old.  Beneficiaries should receive a postcard from the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) four months before their 65th birthday. Beneficiaries have to register in DEERS to get TRICARE coverage after reaching age 65. Beneficiaries must have Medicare Part A and Part B to be eligible for TRICARE for Life (TFL). TFL is Medicare "wrap-around" coverage for TRICARE beneficiaries who are entitled to Medicare Part A and have Medicare Part B. The Medicare initial enrollment period is seven months. If a beneficiary misses their initial enrollment period, their next chance to sign up for Medicare Part B is during the general enrollment period, January 1 through March 31. The Medicare coverage will begin July 1st. The monthly premium for Part B may go up 10 percent for each 12-month period that a beneficiary could have had Part B, but didn't sign up for it. Also, there will be a lapse in your TRICARE coverage until Part B is effective. Be sure to sign up for Part B no later than two months before your 65th birthday. If beneficiaries do not receive a postcard they should call 1-800-538-9552.

VA Announces Several Caregiver Partnerships Announcement Made During Caregiver Summit

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced several new and expanded partnerships to support the VA Caregiver Support Program. The VA Caregiver Support Program supports the-often unsung heroes of wounded or ill Veterans – the ones who take care of them. Announcement of the partnerships, made during a summit co-hosted by VA and the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. The daylong event, Empowering Hidden Heroes: Pathways to InnoVAtion, attracted 400 leaders from government, the non-profit sector, private industry, academic and stakeholders from the Veteran and caregiver community. “VA knows that without family caregivers, many Veterans would not be able to remain in their communities,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald, a speaker during the event. “Caregivers are a force multiplier. They support Veterans in ways that VA cannot—they are essential to the health and well-being of Veterans. We can never thank them enough for what they do, and we will continue to find innovative avenues of support and foster strategic partnerships that provide them with the resources they need to keep doing what they do so well.” The following partnerships were announced: Amazon: Together with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, Amazon has curated a bookshelf of titles recommended by experts and caregivers. Titles reflect the most current and useful information to support military and Veteran caregivers and their families. Amazon also provided free Kindles to military and Veteran caregivers in attendance. Titles are available for preview here. Caregivers and consumers can download Kindle software to enjoy these books on any mobile device. Coursera: In 2014, Coursera, an online education platform, teamed up with VA to provide one free education certification to every Veteran and transitioning service member. In 2015, that offer was extended to spouses, and this year, they are expanding the eligibility further to caregivers. PsychArmor Institute: A longstanding collaborator with VA, PsychArmor Institute works with nationally recognized subject matter experts to create and deliver online courses tailored to issues related to military and Veteran communities. In conjunction with today’s event, PsychArmor released a suite of new free training resources for caregivers of Veterans. (www.PsychArmor.org) VetTix: VA has partnered with Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix), a nonprofit organization that provides free tickets to events for current serving military, Veterans and Gold Star families. Vet Tix has provided more than 2.3 million tickets for current serving military, Veterans and Gold Star families to attend nearly 40,000 events valued at over $87 million since 2008. They currently serve approximately 450,000 Vet Tixers and their families. Through these events, VA and VetTix are exploring ways to encourage service members, families, and friends stay engaged with local communities and reduce stress by attending fun events that everyone can enjoy for a very low delivery fee. National Domestic Violence Hotline (NDVH): VA’s Domestic Violence/Intimate Partner Violence Assistance program has formed a partnership with The Hotline to provide cross-training resources to Veterans. The Hotline provides 24/7/365 support and referrals for people impacted by domestic violence/intimate partner violence. Through this partnership NDVH will also provide the VA with Veteran-specific usage data from the hotline that will be used to inform VA programs and policies. VA’s Caregiver Support Program began in 2007 and expanded in 2010 to offer a variety of local and national programs including, Building Better Caregivers™; Peer Support Mentoring; Caregiver Self-Care Courses; a national Caregiver Support Line; targeted programs for dementia, stroke and spinal cord injury; Respite; and Home and Community Based Care programs. For more information about VA Caregiver support programs, visit: http://www.caregiver.va.gov 

Senior enlisted: Expanding veterans online shopping could reap rewards for families

Two senior enlisted advisers made a passionate pitch for the idea of expanding exchange online shopping privileges to all honorably discharged veterans -- which would be a way to bring in more money for shrinking morale, welfare and recreation programs. 

The senior enlisted advisers of the Army and Air Force discussed the idea at the DoD Military Family Readiness Council Sept. 15, but it was unclear whether the full council approved making a recommendation to the secretary of Defense in support of the idea.  

The Veterans Online Shopping Benefit would only apply to online shopping at the exchange websites and wouldn’t apply to shopping in exchange stores on bases. At its Sept. 14 meeting, the family council discussed the idea as one way to raise revenue for MWR programs. 

Expanding the benefit to all veterans “would ultimately raise revenue,” said Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey, which would in turn increase the contributions that the exchanges make to morale, welfare and recreation programs for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and family members. Budget restraints are causing some reductions in funding for MWR programs, he said. The Army recently announced a $105 million reduction in funding for MWR programs across its installations, except for those in overseas and remote locations. 

The Pentagon is closer to extending a generous new benefit to millions of veterans

Increasing the number of people who can shop at the exchanges online is projected to bring in several hundred million dollars in additional profit, Dailey said, much of which would go back to bases for MWR programs.   

He noted that DoD has spent years studying the idea. It was proposed more than two years ago by Army and Air Force Exchange Service CEO Tom Shull and has been supported by officials in charge of the Navy and Marine Corps exchange services. On Aug. 9, the DoD Executive Resale Board voted unanimously to recommend the policy change. But it still must go through more wickets in DoD. 

The big issue for defense officials has been the Veterans Affairs Department, said Stephanie Barna, principal deputy to the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness. She said DoD officials have been working closely with the VA to reach an agreement in an effort to avoid “stepping on toes.” 

Pitch to expand tuition assistance for licenses — and adding families — headed to DoD

The VA operates its Veterans Canteen Service stores in VA medical facilities, and VCS is preparing to launch an online shopping portal. 

“At the end of the day, we’re not looking to compete with anybody or take away anybody’s business. We don’t try to tell anybody not to shop at another benefit online," said Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James Cody. “We’re losing millions of dollars in revenue in the discussion phase.” 

The issue of the online shopping benefit seems to be within the council’s purview, said Dr. David Rubin, a council member and director of PolicyLab, a research center at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

“It’s the elephant on the table. It’s revenue for children and youth programs,” he said. 

Recommendations from the council headed to the secretary of defense: 
 

  • A general recommendation to promote the standardization of the exceptional family member programs; and taking action to improve health care services for families with special needs.
  • Exploring public-private partnerships as a way to improve all manner of services for military families.
  • Increasing prevention efforts for child abuse and neglect.
  • Continuing support for Military OneSource and especially communicating the services it offers to the youngest members of the military and families.
  • Expanding the use of tuition assistance for licensing and technical certifications for service members and families.

The congressionally-mandated DoD Military Family Readiness Council was established in 2008 as a federal advisory council to make recommendations to the Secretary of Defense about policies and programs for military families.