From: Director, RAO Baguio [raoemo@sbcglobal.net]

Sent: Tuesday, August 15, 2006 4:29 AM

Subject: RAO Bulletin Update 15 August 2006

 

RAO Bulletin Update

15 August 2006

 

 

THIS BULLETIN UPDATE CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES:

 

== VA Data Privacy Breach [21] ------------- (CBO Estimates)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [22] ------------- (More Breaches)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [23] ------------- (Unanswered Questions)

== Medicare Rates 2007 [01] ----------------- (Impact on Hospitals)

== Medicare Rates 2007 [02] ------------------ (Physician Payment Cuts)

== VA Claim Representation [02] ------------ (Approved by Senate)

== NDAA 2007 [09] --------------------------- (Employee Tricare Use)

== NDAA 2007 [10] --------------------------- (USFSPA Impact)

== Casualty Assistance Officers -------------- (What they do)

== Navy Personal Data Breach [02] --------- (Are You Protected)

== Military Care Package Kit ----------------- (Post Office Freeby)

== Disabled Vet Jobs -------------------------- ($11/hr Training Pay)

== Airline Ticket Comparisons --------------- (Locate the cheapest)

== Credit Freezes in Jeopardy ---------------- (Consumer Protection)

== PTSD Reevaluation [06] ------------------- (More Hearings)

== Tricare Obesity Treatment [01] ---------- (Demo Project)

== USAF Reserve Retirement ---------------- (Submission Guidelines)

== Traumatic Brain Injury [01] --------------- (Funding Problem)

== Social Security & Newborns -------------- (Benefits Available)

== Medicare Advantage Plans ---------------- (No Advantage)

== Nursing Homes [03] ------------------------ (Not-for-Profit Better)

== Generic Drug Use [01] --------------------- (Medical Necessity)

== Combat Veteran Health Care [01] -------- (Good for 2 years)

== Disabled Retiree Back Pay [01] ---------- (Sooner than Expected)

== Disabled Vet TAX: ------------------------- (Bill to Eliminate)

== Reserve Income Replacement  ----------- (Payments start 1 SEP)

== VDBC [06] ---------------------------------- (VDBC Sep Meeting)

== VA Boston Hospitals ---------------------- (Status Quo Retained)

== Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis [02] ------ (ALS Registry)

== Army Award Citations -------------------- (USN Policy Change)

== Tricare Natural Disaster Resource ------- (New Web Site)

== Military Legislation Status ---------------- (Where we stand)

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 21:  In what must be some sort of a record the Congressional Budget Office CBO reported its estimate of the costs for the Veterans Identity and Credit Security Act of 2006 (HR 5835). This is the bill designed to respond to the security gaps in the VA that were revealed from the theft of the 26.4 million veterans’ personal records. This bi-partisan bill was introduced and voted out of Committee on 20 JUL 06. CBO estimated that it will cost $5 million in 2007 and approximately $50 million over the 2007-2011 period.  However, if there was a security breach similar to the one that happened this year they estimated that the cost could be as much as $1 billion. CBO also estimated that the VA would be expected to experience an average of 3 incidents a year affecting approximately 50,000 people. Such yearly breaches would cost less than $500,000 a year. With these numbers it is likely that a bill will be passed by the end of the session.

 

         The U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) Office of Citizens Services & Communications is warning the public to avoid falling victim to a recent e-mail scheme that targets users by sending unsolicited e-mails allegedly from FirstGov, the citizen portal operated by GSA. FirstGov was the source that veterans were directed to for updates on the recent VA data breach.   These scam e-mails tell recipients that because of recent fraudulent activities on Money Access Online they need to confirm their account has not been stolen or hacked.  The e-mails then direct recipients to click on a link and enter information related to personal credit card accounts. The e-mail appears to be sent from this following fraudulent e-mail address: MONEY ACCESS SERVICE (fraud@firstgov.gov).  There may be other similarly styled addresses.  The text of the e-mail includes “Dear Money Access Customer” and asks for certain private personal and private financial data, but recipients shouldn’t provide this information. These e-mails do not originate at FirstGov or GSA.  FirstGov doesn’t send unsolicited e-mails to the public in this manner, nor do they solicit personal information of any kind. Responding to unsolicited e-mails from an unknown sender is risky and dangerous because these e-mails often contain viruses that can infect computers or entice recipients to provide more personal and confidential information.  GSA is taking this matter seriously and is investigating.  Users should delete unsolicited e-mails of this type without opening.

 

         Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson announced the VA has entered into an agreement with a company that will provide data breach analysis services to VA to ensure that information contained on computer equipment stolen in May from a VA employee's home was not compromised. ID Analytics, a California-based company, will conduct the analysis across multiple industries to detect patterns of misuse and determine whether or not there is any suspicious activity specifically related to this computer equipment theft.  The company will provide VA an initial analysis, and will then continue to offer its assessments on a quarterly basis. ID Analytics' real-time system comprises more than three billion identity elements contributed by its members, which include the largest U.S. industry leaders from across the credit card, wireless telecommunications, and instant lending industries.  Their services are used daily by more than half the credit and retail card issuer market in the United States, as well as leading wireless and online consumer finance companies. [Source: TREA Legislative Update 4 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 22:  A newly reported missing computer involving the personal information of 37,000 veterans has triggered a stern reaction from the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and he expects VA to hold the private contractor financially responsible for any costs that veterans may incur as the result of this loss. The disclosure comes after a string of recent VA data breaches.  In recent weeks, the VA has also acknowledged losing sensitive data for more than 16,000 veterans in at least two other cases in Minneapolis and Indianapolis. VA officials informed members of Congress 4 AUG of the desktop computer containing information on veterans insurance claims being discovered missing from a subcontractor’s offices in Reston, Virginia.  They were notified 3 AUG by the Unisys Corporation that a desk top computer was missing and immediately dispatched a team to assist in the search for the missing computer and to help determine the precise nature of the information it may have contained.  According to VA officials, information on the computer was password protected but was not encrypted.

 

     Initial estimates indicate the desktop contained information on approximately 5,000 patients treated at Philadelphia, approximately 11,000 patients treated at Pittsburgh, and approximately 2,000 deceased patients. VA is also investigating the possibility the computer may have contained information on approximately another 20,000 people who received care through the Pittsburgh medical center. It is believed the desktop computer may have contained patients’ names, addresses, Social Security Numbers, dates of birth, insurance carriers and billing information, dates of military service, and claims data that may include some medical information. Letters were mailed to those affected 10 AUG. Unisys Corporation is offering, at no cost to veterans whose information is believed to have been on its missing computer, other credit-protection services to include credit monitoring. However, this will only identify after-the-fact that something has happened and does not address any subsequent losses vets may incur.  VA Secretary James Nicholson said the department's inspector general, the FBI and local law enforcement are investigating the matter

 

     Over the weekend police arrested two individuals - both 19 years old -in the theft of another computer which contained personal information of 26 million veterans and active-duty military members. A third unnamed juvenile is also being held in custody. The loss of that computer earlier this year led to several resignations at VA and numerous hearings on Capitol Hill. An analysis by FBI forensic experts determined the data was not breached. Craig said of the newest theft, “I hope that we have as good of news this time. We clearly appear to have a systems problem with VA data security that needs to be fixed.” Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) called for Nicholson to quit in the wake of revelations of yet another VA data theft.  However, Sen. Craig issued a statement saying that unless Nicholson walks off with a VA laptop himself, he shouldn't be forced out.  On 8 AUG the Department inspector general's office reported that a computer containing "personally identifiable information of some Florida residents" was taken from a government vehicle in Miami. Veterans who have lost faith in our government’s ability to protect their personal data are advised to seek personal protection against identity theft through companies like LifeLock www.lifelock.com which will reimburse any losses incurred. [Source: Sen. Larry Craig News Release 7 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 23:  VA Secretary Nicholson’s disclosures to Congress that the laptop computer containing the lost data was recovered, no one apparently accessed the data, and that veterans need no longer worry leaves many vets wondering how this could have happened, could it happen again, and are they still in jeopardy from the theft of their personal info? The subsequent withdrawal of the credit monitoring by the government to protect vets compounds their concerns.  VA has advised all vets to take steps to protect themselves against identity theft but is leaving it up to the vets on how they should do this and to pay for any associated expense for personal protective action.  Insurance against identify theft for veterans through like LifeLock www.lifelock.com cost a minimum of $7.50 per month. Other companies have similar charges. Much has not been told concerning the loss of the data. The following questions were not asked by the Senate or House Veterans Affairs Committees and remain unanswered to America’s veterans:

 

_ When exactly, was the information originally removed from HQ VA that was subsequently stolen from the employee’s residence?

_ Who signed the document(s) authorizing the removal of the information?

_ Were those who signed the document(s) authorized to do so?

_ If the signers of the document(s) were not authorized to do so, why did they do it this time?

o Did the signer of the document have authority to approve any property removal?

o Did the signer of the document sign similar documents in the past?

o What actions have been taken against the (unauthorized) signer of the document(s)?

o What procedures have been implemented to insure unauthorized personnel no longer sign removal documents?

o What procedures have been implemented to insure electronic data is removed only under authorized conditions and by authorized authority.

_ Why were the initial “reports” of the data removal characterized as “unauthorized,” when document(s) existed giving the employee permission to remove the data?

_ What type of check and balance system existed (or now exists), to insure that personnel will obtain proper authorization to remove sensitive information from the VA work site.

_ How many CD-ROMs were utilized to remove the information and were all the original CD-ROMs used to remove the information, recovered?

_ How is it known that the exact same CD-ROMs were recovered, and not copies of the original CD-ROMS?

_ Where (location), and when was the data transferred from the CD-ROMs to the laptop computer or external hard drive?

_ Why weren’t the original CD-ROMs returned to the HQ VA work site after the information was transferred to the hardware?

_ If information is returned, what procedures are utilized to document the return and verification of the data originally removed from the work site?

_ If procedures don’t exist, why not, and when will procedures be implemented?

_ Regarding the information taken by the employee, what procedures, if any, were utilized to protect the information when it was removed from the VA work site.

_ Was the information transferred to official government hardware authorized for use outside the VA work site or was it transferred to personal property?

_ Do VA employees, in general, have the “authority” to routinely transfer official US Government information onto personal equipment?

_ What measures existed before the incident and now, since the incident, to insure that official USG information is only utilized on official equipment and not on personal equipment?

_ Do VA employees continue to use personally owned “thumb drives” and other portable media within the VA to perform “official duties,” as described by Secretary Nicholson before Congressional committees?

_ If so, what regulations have been established delineating the conditions under which such equipment can be utilized; how information will be accounted for and utilized with such equipment and what procedures will be followed when returning & accounting for such information?

_ Regarding the information that was removed from the VA work site and then allegedly stolen from the Maryland residence:

o Who had access to the information at the residence?

o Who has been identified as having seen this information before it was allegedly burglarized?

o How was the information stored at the residence before it was allegedly stolen?

o Was any of the personal data “copied” on other storage media when it was at the residence?

o If so, where is this media now and in whose possession was it when it was recovered?

o Has the ongoing law enforcement investigation regarding this incident disclosed any attempt to “hack” into the hardware at the residence while VA records were stored on it at the residence?

o What security measures were utilized at the residence while the information was stored on the personal hardware to insure no unauthorized persons “hacked” or “accessed” the information while it was being stored there.

_ Specifically, for how long were our personal records stored at the Maryland residence before they were burglarized?

_ Specifically, when was the missing hardware “recovered, i.e., how many days after it was stolen from the house was it recovered and where was it when it was recovered?

_ Were the original CD-ROMs which were used to remove the personnel information also stolen with the hardware or were they returned to the VA at an earlier date?

_ What are the “specifics” with respect to who had access to the hardware and the CD-ROMs after the May 3rd burglary?

o Who had access to the equipment AND information?

o Did anyone physically view the information, even if no evidence now exists that they made copies of the information?

o Have all the involved parties been polygraphed to verify their stories with respect to the recovered hardware and CD-ROMs?

o What are the circumstances regarding the “recovery” of the missing hardware/information?

o Have all involved personnel executed “sworn statements” pertaining to their roles and participation in receiving, possessing and eventually transferring the stolen hardware/information to law enforcement personnel?

o Are there still identified or unidentified person(s) who have not yet been interviewed regarding the original “burglary” as well as the “recovery?”

o If so, how many people are involved and do leads exist whereby these individuals can be reasonably expected to be interviewed in the near term or the long term?

o How long will it take for the FBI to determine whether the CDROMs and hard drivers were accessed by unauthorized persons?

o What forensic methods are being utilized by the FBI to determine if unauthorized access occurred?

[Source: Veteran Advocate Ed Lawton’s Veteran Guide re: Identity Theft dtd 30 Jul 06 http://jerebeery.com/Veterans%20Guide%20dtd%207-30-06%20%20Final.pdf ]

 

 

MEDICARE RATES 2007 UPDATE 01:  On 2 AUG the Bush administration issued a final rule that reaffirmed the overall goal of more accurate payments while backing away from many of the proposed changes, including a sweeping revision in the classification of patients intended to account for the severity of their illnesses.  Under intense pressure from health care lobbyists and lawmakers, the Bush administration says it will scale back and delay proposed changes in Medicare payments to hospitals that would have created clear winners and losers. The proposals would have cut payments by 20% to 30% for many complex treatments and new technologies. Hospitals will instead see much smaller cuts or even small increases for many of those procedures. Some of the changes will be phased in over three years. Doctors, hospitals, consumer groups and members of Congress had said the proposed cuts would be devastating and patients would have had less access to some services like cardiac care and orthopedic devices.

 

     Under the proposal, published in April, the basic Medicare payment for surgery to open clogged arteries, by inserting a drug-coated wire mesh stent, would have been cut by 33%, to $7,590. The final rule calls instead for a cut of 3%, so Medicare will pay about $11,000. The payment for implanting a defibrillator, like the one used by Vice President Cheney, would have been cut 23% under the proposal, to $22,000. The final rule calls for a cut of 2%, so Medicare will pay about $27,750. Under the final rule which takes effect on 1 OCT, hospitals will receive much smaller increases than originally proposed for treating some conditions, like pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.  The secretary of health and human services, said the current payment system was full of biases and distortions that encouraged hospitals to provide “treatments that happen to be the most profitable.’’ Federal officials said the new payments would be more accurate because they would be based on estimated hospital costs, rather than inflated charges.

 

     In revising its proposal, the government significantly modified its method of estimating costs, to include more data from high-cost hospitals. The resulting changes will be smaller than originally proposed and will be put into effect gradually over three years, rather than all at once. Medicare pays more than $125 billion a year to nearly 5,000 hospitals. Hospitals typically receive a fixed amount for each Medicare patient, regardless of how long the person stays in the hospital. Each patient is classified in one of 526 categories, known as diagnosis-related groups.  Federal officials had proposed sweeping changes in the classification system, to account for the severity of each patient’s illness. They wanted to replace the 526 categories with 861. They settled for more modest changes in 2007, creating 20 diagnostic groups and altering 32 others. The severity of a patient’s illness can have a significant effect on the costs of care. In trying to account for those costs, the proposed rule relied heavily on a patient-classification system devised by 3M, the technology company based in Minnesota.  Hospitals said Medicare should not rely on a proprietary system controlled by a single company.  The Bush administration agreed to consider alternatives, to ensure that no company would have a monopoly over the software needed to manage billing and payment. [Source: New York Times Robert Pear article 3 Aug 06]

 

 

MEDICARE RATES 2007 UPDATE 02: The Bush administration on 8AUG proposed a cut of 5.1% across the board in Medicare payments for services provided by doctors to elderly and disabled patients in 2007.  This is bad news for TFL retirees who will find it harder to locate physicians to provide their care if the cuts materialize.  AMA says up to 45% of physicians may limit practice if Medicare cuts rates but the GAO does not believe this will happen.  The administration said the cut was required because spending on doctors’ services was increasing faster than expected, and faster than the annual goals set by a statutory formula.  The cut proposal had previously been challenged in Congress. The increase directly affects beneficiaries because their premiums are set each year to cover about 25% of projected spending under Part B of Medicare, which pays for doctors’ services and other outpatient care. Dr. Mark McClellan, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that the premium would probably rise to $98.40 next year, up $9.90 or 11% over this year’s premium. The figures do not include separate premiums paid by many beneficiaries for prescription drug coverage.

 

    The White House, Congress and doctors have been talking for more than a year about ways to link Medicare payments to the quality of care doctors provide. To date, they have not offered any specific proposals and are still seeking ways to measure the quality of care, particularly for medical specialists.

More than 42 million people are insured by Medicare. Officials estimate that the program will pay $61.5 billion to 875,000 doctors and other health care professionals next year. Such spending has increased sharply in recent years because of increases in the number and complexity of services furnished to Medicare beneficiaries, including more frequent and intensive office visits, and rapid growth in the use of imaging techniques, laboratory services and physician-administered drugs. Budget estimates are based on the assumption that doctors’ fees under Medicare will be cut in 2007 and later years, as required under the statutory formula. Congress often steps in to block or moderate such cuts, but it normally looks for some way to offset the cost of its action, often by trimming payments to other health care providers.

 

     Dr. McClellan said it would cost the government $13 billion over five years if it blocked the cut scheduled for 2007, without giving doctors any allowance for inflation. The costs would ripple through later years because future updates would be computed from a higher starting point. Federal officials contend that many doctors partly offset cuts in their Medicare fees by performing more services. Donald B. Marron, acting director of the Congressional Budget Office, said substantial evidence suggested that a reduction in payment rates leads physicians to increase the volume and intensity of the services they perform.’ But, Marron cautioned, some are likely to respond to continuing reductions in payment rates by declining to participate in the Medicare program.

 

    The Bush administration also announced that it would require hospitals to provide the government with information on their investment and compensation relationships with physicians.’ Hospitals that specialize in cardiac, orthopedic or surgical care will have to inform patients if any staff doctors have an investment interest’ in the hospital.  Hospitals look to doctors as a source of referrals. But Medicare officials said doctors could be violating federal law if they received financial returns out of proportion to their investments.  For example, if a doctor held 2% of the stock in a specialty hospital but received 8% of the profits it would be our of proportion.  Hospitals that do not comply with the new disclosure requirements will face civil fines up to $10,000 a day. [Source: NY Times Robert Pear article 9 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

VA CLAIM REPRESENTATION UPDATE 02:  Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-ID) won the day on a controversial bill he sponsored that would let veterans hire attorneys to assist them in developing their VA disability claims.  This legislation was opposed by many veteran groups who already provide veterans free representation through the administrative process by accredited veterans hearing officers. The Veterans' Choice of Representation and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2006 (S. 2694) passed by the Senate includes provisions from more than a dozen other bills.  The net effect will:

 

-  Accelerate payments under the G.I. Bill and survivors’ education benefits programs for those who take high-cost, short-term training courses leading to jobs in transportation, construction, hospitality, energy and high technology (S.3363).  Unfortunately, Guard and Reserve GI Bill programs weren’t similarly modified for those groups, whose education programs are handled by a different committee.

-      Increase the supplemental life insurance available to totally disabled veterans, from $20,000 to $30,000 (S.1252).

-      Establish Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence within the VA health system (S.1537).

-  Require the VA to pay full costs, including medications, for certain service-connected veterans residing in veterans’ homes run by state governments (S.2762).  Under current law, the federal government only pays a portion of those costs.

-  Expand and improve services for homeless and low-income veterans (S.3545).

-       Authorize a pilot program to provide caregiver assistance and non-institutional care services to veterans (S.2753).

-  Allow VA to designate beds in privately-run care centers as "state homes."

-  Allow tribes to apply for grants to establish veterans' cemeteries on Native lands (S.2659.

-  Improve efforts to prevent homelessness among veterans, especially among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan

-  Establish an office for rural veterans in the Veterans Health Administration (S.2433).

-  Require removal of the remains of convicted murderer Russell Wayne Wagner from Arlington National Cemetery (S.1759).

-       Repeal fixed, four-year terms for the undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for health and undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for benefits, leaving those officials to serve at the pleasure of the president (S.2634).

The bill now passes to the house for their approval. [Source: [Source: MOAA Leg Up 4 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

NDAA 2007 UPDATE 09:  A provision included in both the House and Senate passed versions of the FY2007 Defense Authorization Act would bar civilian employers from providing cash payments to working military retirees in order to persuade them to drop the company health plan and use Tricare instead. The Defense Department complained that this practice was allowing employers to shift their health costs to the Pentagon, and both House and Senate leaders agreed that shouldn’t be allowed.  One airline sent all of its pilots a letter offering them a cash payment to do that.  Legislators agreed with The Military Coalition that the Pentagon’s proposed fix of doubling and tripling retirees’ Tricare  fees to try to drive them away from Tricare was the wrong answer, and worked to address the issue with employers instead. 

Since Medicare law already bars employers from offering cash incentives to employees over age 65 to drop the company health plan and start taking Medicare, they put similar language in the Defense bill concerning incentives for employers to take Tricare over employer plans.  Thus, form of it will be in the final defense bill

 

     MOAA has been working with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in hopes of modifying the language to avoid unintended financial penalties for thousands of Tricare beneficiaries whose employers aren’t conducting such cost-shifting campaigns.  For example, many companies provide a modest monthly payment (e.g., $100 or $200) to employees who choose to use health coverage offered through any other source, such as a spouse’s employer or some previous employer, including federal civilian insurance, state teachers’ insurance, some other civilian plan, or Tricare.  Many retiring members want to keep Tricare because that’s what they know, because a family member is in a special care program, or just to maintain their family’s continuity of care. In other cases, employers offer all health care through a cafeteria plan, under which the employer pays a certain amount into the plan, and the employee chooses where to spend it.  When MOAA asked knowledgeable Hill staffers if such plans could be affected by the new legislative wording, they acknowledged they could be.

 

     MOAA feels strongly that military beneficiaries in these kinds of circumstances shouldn’t be singled out for what amounts to a pay cut that doesn’t apply to other employees of the same company who also use some other coverage. They have been encouraged by the interest the committee staffs have taken in this issue and are optimistic that Congress will agree to fix the legislative language. But it’s never safe to take that for granted. Thus they are urging those affected to visit their Web page http://capwiz.com/moaa/home and click on the Stop Military - Unique Health Penalty link to send your legislators a suggested message on this issue.   [Source: MOAA Leg Up 4 Aug 06]

 

 

NDAA 2007 UPDATE 10: The Senate version (S.2766) of the National Defense Authorization Act contains modifications (i.e. Section 644, 645 and 646) to 10 United States Code Section 1408 (1993) which addresses how DFAS responds to the provisions of the Uniform Services Former Spouses Protection Act.  The Senate passed these proposals to the Joint Senate-House Conference without comment. These modifications would:

-  Eliminate the 10-year vesting period to DFAS garnishment of retired pay as jointly earned marital property;

-  Add COLA increases to dollar-based awards; and

-  Discontinue the policy of including a copy of the court order with the written notice that a court order has been received which will impact on a retiree’s retired pay.

Retirees impacted adversely by these proposed modifications should contact those congressional members serving on the Conference Committee and indicate why they feel they should not be incorporated in the final version of the NDAA.  The Senate members have been disclosed but to date the House members have not. 

 

     Despite hopes the Senate would pass its version of the FY 2007 Defense appropriations bill S.2766, , prior to leaving for recess, it pulled the bill on 3 AUG before a final vote. While the Senate had already worked its way through 43 amendments in four days, Democrats indicated they had approximately 50 more waiting for consideration. Democrats pledged to make passage of the bill, which passed the House as H.R. 5631 in JUL 06 , their first priority following their return after Labor Day. Senate passage of the bill was sought so that House and Senate staff could begin work on the Conference Report over the recess. Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agreed it would be essential to have a final bill ready for the President’s signature prior to the end of the current fiscal year. [Source: NMFA e-News 8 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

CASUALTY ASSISTANCE OFFICERS:  Each branch of service has officers who serve as Casualty Assistance representatives. Although they go by different titles - Casualty Assistance Officer (Army), Casualty Assistance Representative (Air Force), Casualty Assistance Calls Officer (Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard) - their jobs are the same.  Casualty Assistance Officers are responsible for notifying family members when a service member has died. A CAO will provide as much information as available regarding the circumstances of the member’s death and will answer any questions. The CAO will also ensure that the survivors’ immediate needs are being met during this difficult time. The CAO will immediately begin the process of providing any assistance available in making funeral or memorial arrangements as appropriate and subsequently will assist beneficiaries in the preparation and submission of claims to various government agencies for benefits to which survivors may be entitled. In addition, the Personnel Command will provide the CAO with a Casualty Assistance Call Package for the next of kin. This package will contain various benefit forms. CAO will provide assistance all claims are filed and settled or until any issues regarding those benefits are resolved. The next of kin may choose to release the CAO at any time that he or she feels that their assistance is no longer needed or desired. [Source:  NAUS Weekly Update 4 Aug 06]

 

 

NAVY PERSONAL DATA BREACH UPDATE 02:  The Navy has reported its third data breach in as many months. Two laptops were stolen from New Jersey Navy recruiting station offices in Trenton and Jersey City recently. The laptops and several programs in them were password protected on multiple levels and the likelihood of unauthorized access to the personal data is extremely low, says the Navy. However, it is reviewing the data contained in the computers, including personal information on approximately 31,000 individuals such as recruiters, prospects from school lists and applicants. Approximately 4,000 of them had Social Security numbers in the computers. The Navy is notifying those affected. Individuals who believe they may be impacted can call the Navy Personnel Command call center at 1(866) 827-5672 to confirm whether their personal information was on one of the computers. Local police have turned over the investigation of the matter to the Navy Criminal Investigative Service. 

 

     The military community continues to be at risk for identity theft because the government and many large companies cannot get their act together on this issue.  Those desiring complete protection can, for a small fee, seek personal protection services from companies like LifeLock www.lifelock.com which guarantee protection from identity theft and reimbursement if it occurs. Even in the VA Data Breach incident all the government could do was to propose a service that would report identity theft after vice before it had occurred.  They then withdrew that offer leaving veterans in doubt as to if they were at risk.  [Source: Armed Forces News 4 AUG 06 ++]

 

 

MILITARY CARE PACKAGE KIT:  The USPS has a program for military family members and friends to supply them with packaging materials to send packages to troops overseas. If you call 1(800) 610-8734 and select option # 1, ask them for the "Military pack" they will send you boxes, tape, packaging materials and labels at no charge to you or the recipient.  They will also give you an I.D. number so if your supply runs low, you just call them up and they'll send you more supplies. The materials take about four to ten days to receive. USPS web site www.usps.com/supportingourtroops/ has guidelines for packing, addressing, and shipping items to U.S. troops. The kit contains:

-  Three (3) each of flat rate boxes O-FRB1 and O-FRB2

-  Two each of Cube boxes OBOX4 and OBOX7

-  Address labels - Label # 228  10 each

-  One roll of Priority Mail tape

-  15 customs forms with envelopes.

[Source:  Mike Glass msg. dtd 31 Jul 06]

 

 

DISABLED VET JOBS:  Disabled veterans are participating in a new virtual program that not only pays them for training on their home computers, but places them in jobs that allow them to work from home. The veterans are earning in the range of $15 to $22 an hour, with benefits, working from home in the information industry.  They are trained for jobs such as market researchers, data managers, hot-line responders, Web site order processors, help-desk managers, customer care and service coordinators, administration and billing clerks. Training consists of 15-weeks 600-hour program of web based, on-line classroom and practical training. Students report in to the virtual classroom each morning, and as the instructor presents the material, he or she will stop if any of the students have a question The training, accredited by Northern Virginia Community College, pays $11 an hour for a total of $6,600.At the conclusion of the training program, each veteran trainee will have a thorough understanding of a very complex, VOIP predictive dialing web-based system that is utilized world-wide. About 100 veterans who have completed the training so far have all been placed in jobs with companies such as The Home Depot, FedEx, JetBlue, Dell Computer, and financial services company PNC. The program is provided by the nonprofit Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation.

 

     To qualify, a veteran must have a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a copy of his or her DD-214. A Purple Heart award is not required. Those involved in the program range from veterans of the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the Korean War, age 19 to 74. To complete the training, a high-speed Internet connection is needed. According to Ken Smith, the program director for the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation,  they are preparing to train another 350 veterans who have applied from all over the country. Those interested should call (800) 720-9596 or go online at www.purpleheartfoundation.org/job_training.asp. to fill out the On-line Application.  For additional information contact ksmith@purpleheartfoundation.org.  Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, praised the program in a 27 JUL press conference. He said that when private-sector programs are combined with government programs and opportunities we can be all that we need to be for our veterans.  [Source: NavyTimes Karen Jowers article  Aug 6 ++]

 

 

AIRLINE TICKET COMPARISONS:  There are many sites that will help you book airline tickets. They all purport to have the best rates. Normally, when you access  travel sites online they will search a handful of other sites to pull up the best fare. That's good but even the best fare you find may be too much. To see if you should check further try FareCompare at www.farecompare.com. It will show you historical ticket prices to your destination.  So that $400 ticket to Miami may seem like a pretty good deal. That is, until you find that the average for the past year has been $208. Given that, maybe you'll want to continue to look further before purchasing. Also, some airlines like NorthWest will match any lower fare you find plus throw in a bonus. [Source: Tips n' Topics, 22 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

CREDIT FREEZES IN JEOPARDY:  H.R. 3997, Financial Data Protection Act of 2006, passed the House Financial Services Committee and awaits a full vote in the House of

Representatives following the Summer Recess. The bill would, among other things, eliminate most individual credit freezes allowed by state laws. A Credit freeze allows an individual to "freeze" their personal and financial data from being released by the three major credit bureaus.  HR 3997 would override all state laws and allow only individuals who have been the victim of identity theft or fraud to secure a credit freeze. If approved as federal law it would deny States the ability to preserve their citizen’s right of consumer protection through credit freezes. The recent concern about the VA loss of personal data on active duty military and veterans, an issue still not accepted as settled by many, would have given those whose state laws were in effect the ability to protect themselves and their families.

 

     Laws in 24 states presently allow their citizens to establish a credit freeze of their personal and credit information at the three major national credit bureaus. Credit Bureaus cannot release any information on accounts with credit freezes, including credit reports to banks, financial institutions, and others to market the data for products and sales (credit cards, mortgages, insurance, and equity line of credit). Denying release of personal and credit information blocks a potential lender from issuing credit is a strong deterrent to identity theft and fraud. Citizens which include military and retirees should have a right to protect themselves from any disclosure of personal data. Victims of identity theft often suffer financial, serious health risks aggravated by the loss of time and quality of life for the months and sometimes years to rectify personal situations. Credit Bureaus, financial institutions, and others would benefit by eliminating existing personal choice credit freezes which would then:

-  Increase Marketing pool for financial credit, products, and services.

-  Increase revenue for the credit bureau from the sale of personal data or credit reporting for loan applications.

-  Add the requirement to secure approval from the individual to release data or to take the authorization from an individual for specific release of information.

 

H.R. 3997 takes away a consumer protection that simply is not good for consumers and the military community.  Concerned vets desiring to contact their Congressional reps on how they should vote on this bill can do so at http://capwiz.com/ncoausa/utr/1/CBDBGEWAOK/DJAKGEWATD/820123186. [Source: NCOA Leg Action Alert 1 Aug 06]

 

 

PTSD REEVALUATION UPDATE 06:  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a National issue affecting thousands of veterans and service members returning from combat, yet studies show that many of those at risk do not receive the treatment they need. On 3 AUG Senator Ken Salazar called Congress’ attention to this critical issue by requesting a joint hearing of the Senate Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees to examine how the military and the federal governments deal with mental health issues among America’s service members and veterans. Senator Salazar said, “PTSD is a national problem that affects each of the armed services and multiple government agencies. With the duration of the ongoing military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan uncertain, we must act to address this matter before it is too late for many of our men and women in uniform.” According to a recent Army study, one in three veterans returning from combat experience readjustment problems.  In addition, a recent GAO investigation found that only 22% of service members identified as at risk for PTSD were referred for a mental health examination, and that reasonable assurance is not available to support that service members receive referrals when needed. 

 

     Failure to treat mental illness in its early stages has lasting repercussions for the capacity of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to provide timely and appropriate services to veterans in need.  In addition, a military discharge that is based on faulty grounds can result in the denial in whole or in part  of the veterans’ benefits that a service member has earned. Moreover, allowing a veteran’s mental illness to go untreated places an increasing and unnecessary strain on the already limited veterans’ health resources.  Currently, waiting times to see military mental healthcare providers are reported to be over a month long. At the same time, recent reports have suggested that discharges due to personality disorders have risen substantially at some bases around the country, and substance abuse or occupational instability often lead to military punishment, including discharge. All are recognized symptoms of PTSD, but can be misdiagnosed as the issue itself.  [Source: Sen. Salazar Press Release 3 Aug 03 ++]

 

 

TRICARE OBESITY TREATMENT UPDATE 01:  Tricare Management Activity is recruiting for a demonstration project in four states that tests how to best educate active duty family members and retired beneficiaries about the negative effects of obesity and encourage healthy food choices. The project for Tricare beneficiaries living in Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan began recruitment for participants on 26 JJUL 06. Beneficiaries must be age 18 to 64, not entitled to Medicare or not enrolled in the Tricare Extended Care Health Option and living within 40 miles of a military treatment facility. For more information on the HEALTH demonstration project, visit the DoD web site www.dodhealth.org , Tricare website www.tricare.osd.mil/healthychoices/init/cfm or call 1-866-909-HLTH. [Source: Military Report 7 Aug 06]

 

 

USAF RESERVE RETIREMENT APPLICATIONS:  Beginning 31 JUL all eligible members of the Air Force Reserve will submit retirement applications electronically via the virtual Personnel Center Guard and Reserve, a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week customer service Web portal operated by the Air Reserve Personnel Center. Previously, reservists had to visit their local military personnel flight, complete the required retirement application package, submit it to their supervisor or commander, and send it to ARPC. This new Web-enabled service is available at any time from anywhere in the world and will give Airmen the ability to monitor the status of their application from start to finish. Reservists can log on to the vPC-GR at http://arpc.afrc.af.mil/support/default.asp to begin the process.  When the submission is received, the reservist is e-mailed a tracking number. After the member's commander -- or program manager for individual mobilization augmentees -- has electronically endorsed the application, the Reserve Personnel Contact Center at the ARPC will verify eligibility and finalize the application.

 

     Once approved, the vPC-GR will send e-mail notifications to the member and his or her commander or manager. This new process only applies to members who have not yet initiated a retirement application. This process does not apply to Airmen who have already applied for retirement through their local MPF.  ARPC and the National Guard Bureau are working together to expand this capability to Air National Guard members in the near future. In the future, centralized services should account for nearly every aspect of every reservists' personnel actions, from initial enlistment to far beyond retirement and everything in between.  ARPC and the Air Force Personnel Center are working simultaneously on centralizing and automating many of their processes for all Airmen and civilians in the Total Force. For more information about ARPC Personnel Service Delivery, refer to http://arpc.afrc.af.mil/psd/default.asp. [Source: Air Force Link 28 Jul 06]

 

 

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY UPDATE 01:  Congress appears ready to slash funding for the research and treatment of brain injuries caused by bomb blasts, an injury that military scientists describe as a signature wound of the Iraq war. House and Senate versions of the 2007 Defense appropriation bill contain $7 million for the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center which is half of what the center received last fiscal year. Scientists at the center develop ways to diagnose and treat servicemembers who suffer brain damage. The work is done at seven military and Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals, including the center’s headquarters at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and one civilian treatment site.

 

     Proponents of increased funding say they are shocked to see cuts in the treatment of bomb blast injuries in the midst of a war. The Brain Injury Center, devoted to treating and understanding war-related brain injuries, has received more money each year of the war rising from $6.5 million in fiscal 2001 to $14 million last year.  Spokespersons for the appropriations committees in both chambers say cuts were due to a tight budget this year. George Zitnay, co-founder of the center, testified before a Senate subcommittee in May that body armor saves troops caught in blasts but leaves many with brain damage. Zitnay asked for $19 million, and 34 Democratic and six Republican members of Congress signed a letter endorsing the budget request. The House of Representatives approved its version of the spending bill 20 JUN. A vote in the Senate is pending.

 

     The center has clashed with the Pentagon in recent months over a program to identify troops who have suffered mild to moderate brain injuries in Iraq from mortars, rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs which are the most common weapons used by insurgents. Preliminary research by the center shows that about 10% of all troops in Iraq, and up to 20% of front line infantry troops, suffer concussions during combat tours. Many experience headaches, disturbed sleep, memory loss and behavior issues after coming home, the research shows. The center urged the Pentagon to screen all troops returning from Iraq in order to treat symptoms and create a database of brain injury victims. Scientists say multiple concussions can cause permanent brain damage. The Pentagon so far has declined to do the screening and argues that more research is needed. [Source: USATODAY & VVA Government Relations 9 Aug 06]

 

 

SOCIAL SECURITY & NEWBORNS:  When you have a baby, one of the things that should be on your “to do” list is getting a Social Security number for the child. The easiest time to do this is when you give information for your child’s birth certificate to the hospital if born in the U.S. You can request that they file for the newborn’s assignment of a social security number. If you wait to apply for a number at a Social Security office, there may be delays while they verify your child’s birth certificate. Any U.S. citizen, can apply for a Social Security number for their child born anywhere in the world regardless of the mother’s nationality. But depending on the timing, they may not get a number for the child by April 15. That’s because SSA verifies a birth record for all U.S. born applicants who apply for an original Social Security number card. For more information about applying for a number, see www.socialsecurity.gov/ss5doc.  If you are worried about getting the number before the April 15 tax filing deadline, you have two options. You can file your income tax return without claiming the child and then file an amended income tax return when the child has a Social Security number. You can also file to extend the deadline for filing the tax return.

 

     Social Security provides SSI disability benefits to certain low birth weight infants, whether or not they are premature.  A newborn, who weighs less than 1200 grams (about 2 pounds, 10 ounces) can qualify for SSI on the basis of low birth weight, if otherwise eligible.  A child who weighs between 1200 and 2000 grams at birth (about 4 pounds 6 ounces) and who is considered small for his or her gestational age may also qualify. Even if a child who was born prematurely does not fall into one of the "low birth weight" categories, he or she may still qualify for SSI if he or she meets the definition of disability for children for another reason. For more information visit www.socialsecurity.gov/applyfordisability  or you can call 1(800) 772-1213 and ask for the publication, “Supplemental Security Income.”

 

     If you or someone you know needs help in selecting a name for their baby, Social Security can help. Based on all Social Security card applications for children born last year, Emily and Jacob are the most popular baby names for the seventh year in a row. The top ten girls names for 2005 are Emily, Emma, Madison, Abigail, Olivia, Isabella, Hannah, Samantha, Ava, and Ashley. The top ten boys names are Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Ethan, Andrew, Daniel, Anthony, Christopher, and Joseph. Emily has been the most popular female name each year since 1996.  Jacob has been the top male name since 1999.  In addition to a list of the 1,000 most popular baby names for 2005, there is a list of the most popular baby names for each state and a list of the top 100 names for twins born in 2005.  Jacob and Joshua are the most popular twin’s names. It is now easier to find information for babies, children and parents on the Social Security website www.socialsecurity.gov. 

 

       If you are already receiving benefits for yourself, your spouse, and children born of that marriage a child born outside that marriage may qualify for Social Security benefits. An application should be filed on behalf of that child and, if eligible, all children will receive equal benefits.  There are links to other government websites that offer valuable information about pregnancy, caring for newborns and programs and services for families. Social Security started compiling baby name lists in 1997.The  Social Security’s website has a variety of online services that allow people to access information and conduct business with Social Security from the convenience of their computers at any time.

 

     If you do not yet have a birth certificate for your child and your child quickly needs a Social Security number to receive emergency benefits or services, SSA may be able to help. There are special procedures to expedite the assignment of a Social Security number if your child:

-  Needs a number quickly to receive emergency benefits or services;

-  Does not have a state-issued birth certificate;

-  Has not already been assigned a number;

-  Is less than a year old; and

-  Was born in the United States.

SSA will ask you for a hospital birth record for your child. If that is not available, they can accept a medical record from a healthcare provider such as a doctor, nurse or midwife who attended the birth. Under the law, SSA must verify the birth record independently. So, SSA first will ask you to sign a form authorizing the hospital or health care provider to release the child’s birth records to the Social Security Administration. Then, SSA will contact the hospital or healthcare provider and send them the forms we require to verify the birth.  It then is up to the hospital or health care provider to provide SSA verification of your child’s birth. If they do not respond within 30 calendar days of the request, SSA cannot process the request for your child’s Social Security number. [Source: www.seniorjournal.com 14 Aug 06]

 

 

MEDICARE ADVANTAGE PLANS:  USA Today on 10 AUG examined the effects of increasing enrollment in Medicare Advantage (MA) plans. According to data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and the consulting firm Avalere Health, enrollment in MA plans increased 19% from 1 DEC 05 through 1 JUL 06 to reach 7.3 million beneficiaries. The enrollment growth had been especially strong in a type of plan called private, fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare plans, which generally have wider provider networks than conventional managed care plans. Enrollment in the private FFS plans increased 265% from DEC 05 through JUL 06, but the plans still represent only a tiny portion of total Medicare enrollment. The increase in private FFS plan enrollment accounted for 47% of total growth in MA plan enrollment over the same period.  The increase is pleasing insurers who offer the plans, but fiscal watchdogs say the plans provide little benefit to taxpayers.  Congress initially projected that MA plans would decrease expenditures because of cost control methods used by managed care plans. However, a recent report from the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (www.medpac.gov) finds that MA plans cost the government an average of 11% more than traditional Medicare. According to a vice president at the American Institutes for Research there is absolutely no advantage of using MA plans except for the religious fervor that surrounds the notion that the private sector is better than the public sector.  However, the  president and CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans who benefit from the increased usage contends More choice is good news for beneficiaries.   You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report at www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_hpolicy.cfm.  You can also sign up for email delivery on numerous senior health care topics at www.kaisernetwork.org/email.  [Source: USA Today article 10 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

NURSING HOMES UPDATE 03:  Consumer Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, thinks they have found a better way for senior citizens and caregivers to choose a nursing home. The magazine has launched its own online nursing home guide at www.consumerreports.org and issued a statement based on their survey that not-for-profit nursing homes are providing better care than are for-profit homes. Independent nursing homes were found to provide better care than those managed by companies that operate numerous homes. For the survey, which was funded by a grant from the Commonwealth Fund, researchers evaluated three of the most recent state inspection reports for about 16,000 nursing homes nationwide. Researchers ranked the best and worst 10% of nursing homes in each state using at least two indicators of quality. Only a limited number of nursing homes met the quality standards of Consumer Reports, which is published by Consumers Union.

     Of the for-profit nursing homes evaluated, 2% met Consumer Reports' standards. Not-for-profit facilities fared slightly better at 7.3%. Consumer Reports also noted that independently owned facilities may fare better than large chain facilities because they have more staff and are more likely to use registered nurses. The magazine issued several recommendations for family members searching for nursing home care for a relative

  ● Obtain a list of homes from a nearby agency on aging, as well as the contact information for the area ombudsman.

  ● Investigate the ownership of the facility, keeping in mind that independent not-for-profit facilities tend to offer the highest quality care.

  ● Do not rely on the CMS Web site for information. According to Consumer Reports, "Our comparison of the information on that site and the state inspection reports on which it is based show that you'll probably get an incomplete and possibly misleading picture."

  ● Visit the homes under consideration. Drop by unannounced during morning waking hours and dinner hours to see if residents are taken out of their beds or eating communally. These are signs of a good, well-staffed facility.  (AP/, 8/6).

[Source: San Francisco Chronicle & www.seniorjournal.com 7 Aug 06]

 

 

GENERIC DRUG USE UPDATE 01:  Not all generics are as equally bio-available as their parent medications. There is no doubt that generics are safe and cheaper, but users are cautioned that they may or may not actually produce exactly the same effects as the patented medications at the same dosages.  The FDA regulates the equivalency of active ingredients in generic drugs. Sometimes there are tiny amounts of inactive ingredients, which may give the generic drug its bulk or a specific shape or color. For some people these inactive ingredients may have an unanticipated effect. For example, suppose you're allergic to wheat. If a drug has some added fiber to help it pass through the gastrointestinal system quickly, that fiber doesn't affect how the drug works on your arthritis pain? However, if the bulking agent is wheat fiber, you may experience a slight allergic reaction. If you have a specific allergy, ask your pharmacist about the ingredients in your medicine and remind your doctor of your allergies. There are sometimes several generic versions of a drug with slightly different inactive ingredients, so there may be one that is right for you. You may wish to consult with your doctor about formulary alternatives. A list of alternatives can be accessed online at: www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy/medical-nonformulary.cfm.

 

     Patients who are switched to generics need to work very closely with their physicians until they are sure that the generics are producing the desired effect at the desired dosage level.  Without this caution, switching patients to generics is not necessarily providing them the best possible care.  For some patients generics simply do not work, and they have to be placed back on the original medications, or the dosage of the generics increased. TRICARE implemented its long-standing mandatory generic substitution policy in 2005. Occasionally, some medications which are normally classified as generic medications may be considered non-formulary. Non-formulary generics will be subject to the non-formulary co-pay of $22.00 without medical necessity approval and $9.00 with medical necessity approval per Uniform Formulary regulations. Beneficiaries who have brand name prescriptions for which there is a generic equivalent need to talk to their doctor about switching to the generic, or getting a medical necessity determination if the doctor believes it's important to stick to the brand name drug for valid medical reasons. To qualify for medical necessity, the doctor must certify one or more of the following conditions:

  The patient has experienced, or would be likely to experience, significant adverse effects from the generic medicine;

  The generic medicine has resulted in, or is likely to result in, therapeutic failure, or;

  The patient has previously responded to the brand name medication, and changing to the generic medication would incur an unacceptable clinical risk.

 

     Physicians can begin the medical necessity process by faxing a completed medical necessity form and prescription to Express Scripts at 1(877) 283-8075 (overseas physicians use 602-586-3915) or by mailing the form with the prescription to Express Scripts, PO Box 52150, Phoenix, AZ 85072. The necessary forms can be downloaded online at www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy/medical-nonformulary.cfm. If approved, future refills of your non-formulary medication will be charged at the formulary co-pay of $9.00. An approval notification will not be sent to you. New additions to the non-formulary drug list will be reviewed quarterly. All additions will be posted on www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy/unif_form.cfm. [Source: David M.Lam, MD COL MC USA (Ret) & Express Scripts msg 12 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

COMBAT VETERAN HEALTH CARE UPDATE 01:  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides cost-free health care services and nursing home care for conditions possibly related to military service to veterans with combat service after 11 NOV 98 for a period of 2 years beginning on the date of their separation from active military service. Veterans, including activated Reservists and National Guard members, are eligible if they served on active duty in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Gulf War or in combat against a hostile force during a period of “hostilities” after 11 NOV 98 and have been discharged under other than dishonorable conditions.  Public Law 105-368 [Title 38 USC 1710(d)(D)] authorizes VA to provide combat veterans cost-free care for conditions potentially related to their combat service for up to two years following their discharge or release from active duty.  These veterans will be enrolled into Enrollment Priority Group 6 if not otherwise qualified for a higher enrollment priority group assignment.  VA provides full access to the Medical Benefits Package by virtue of this enrollment status.  Also, veterans who enroll with VA under this authority will retain enrollment eligibility even after their two-year post discharge period ends under current enrollment policies.  For those veterans who do not enroll with VA during this post two-year discharge period, eligibility for enrollment and subsequent care is based on other factors such as a compensable service connection rating, VA pension status, catastrophic disability determination or the veteran’s financial circumstances.

 

     Hostilities is defined as conflict in which Armed Forces members are subjected to the danger comparable to that faced in a period of war.  For purposes of establishing this special eligibility VA accepts service documentation that reflects service in a combat theater, receipt of combat service medals and/or

Veterans who qualify under this special eligibility are not subject to copay requirements for conditions potentially related to their combat service.  Unless otherwise exempted these veterans must either disclose their prior year household income or decline to provide their financial information and agree to make applicable co-payments for care or services VA determines are clearly unrelated to their military service.  This disclosure may provide additional benefits such as eligibility for travel reimbursement, cost-free medication and/or medical care for services unrelated to duty in the theater of combat operations.

The VA health care provider is responsible for determining if treatment is possibly related to the combat veteran’s military service. In making this determination, the health care provider must consider that the following types of conditions are not ordinarily considered to be due to military service: (1) Congenital or developmental conditions, for example, scoliosis, (2) Conditions which are known to have existed before military service, and (3) Conditions have a specific and well-established cause and that began after military combat service.

 

     Eligibility for VA dental benefits is based on very specific guidelines and differs significantly from eligibility requirements for medical care. Combat veterans may be authorized dental treatment as reasonably necessary for the one-time correction of dental conditions if:

  They served on active duty and were discharged or released from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable from a period of service not less than 90 days; and

  The certificate of discharge or release does not bear a certification that the veteran was provided, within the 90-day period immediately before the date of such discharge or release, a complete dental examination (including dental X-rays) and all appropriate dental service and treatment indicated by the examination to be needed; and

  Application for VA dental treatment is made within 90 days of discharge or release

The telephone number to call regarding application can be found in the local telephone directory under the U.S. Government listings or call 1(800) 827-1000 or the Health Benefit Service Center at 1(877) 222-8387or visit the VA health benefits website: www.va.gov/healtheligibility/home/hecmain.asp. [Source: New Mexico e-Veterans news - Issue 25, 5 JUL 05]

 

 

DISABLED RETIREE BACK PAY UPDATE 01:  The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs expect to be disbursing some $500 million in back payments to as many as 120,000 military retirees recipients of Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) or Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP). The payments could arrive significantly earlier for some retirees than originally announced because the calculations are being computerized. Individual amounts could average between $4,000 and $5,000, but will vary because of differences in rank, disability amount, and the length of the retroactive period. VA is expected to fund 60% of the $500 million and DoD the remaining 40%. Some retirees could get payments from both the VA and DFAS (which will process DoD’s payments), but they should receive a letter of explanation from the VA. [Source: Armed Forces News 11 Aug  06]

 

 

DISABLED VET TAX:  Congressman Jim Marshal introduced by on 25 JUL 06 HR 5881, the Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act.  The provisions of this bill are not included in the 2007 National defense Authorization Act to be negotiated this September in the Conference committee and will not be unless congressional representatives are asked by their constituents to have it included. Among other things HR 5881 would:

1.  Repeal the 11 year phase in of CRDP (Concurrent Retirement Disability Pay) such that everybody receives full benefit.  This would benefit some 85,000 retirees with rated disabilities between 50 and 90%. 

2.  Extend CRDP to those with less than 50% disability.  This would benefit some 375,000 retirees now receiving no benefit from CRDP.

3.  Extend CRDP (but apparently not CRSC) to Chapter 61 retirees.  This would benefit some 188,000 Chapter 61 medical disability retirees.  Chapter 61 ranks are now being filled with many young retirees from Afghanistan and Iraq. 

4.  Extend CRSC (Combat Related Special Compensation – 10 USC Section 1413a) to TERA retirees.

5.  Repeal the 4 year phase in of CRDP for IU (Invidually Unemployable) such that everybody receives full benefit.  This would benefit some 28,000 retirees with disabilities between 50 and 90% who are compensated by the VA at the 100% level.

[Source: USDR Action Alert 13 Aug 05]

 

 

RESERVE INCOME REPLACEMENT PROGRAM:  A New Defense Department program announced this month should ease the financial hardships of some activated National Guardsmen and Reservists who suffer income loss when on active duty. Eligible personnel will receive payments commencing 1 SEP 06. But program rules limit eligibility, in most cases, to only those at the very end of the longest mobilizations. The Reserve Income Replacement Program (RIRP) will pay those eligible the difference between their total monthly military pay and their 12-month average civilian income (if greater than $50) up to a maximum of $3,000 per month. Congress created RIRP in the fiscal year 2006 defense authorization act. The program expires at the end of 2008. Various studies indicate that from 25% to 50% of Guardsmen and Reservists suffer income loss when on active duty. They now become eligible RIRP for any full month following the date they complete the requisite eligibility service requirements, which include one of the following:

-  Be serving on active duty in an involuntary status and have completed 18 continuous months of involuntary active duty, or

-  Have completed 24 cumulative months of involuntary active duty within the last 60 months, or

-  Be serving on involuntary active duty for a period of 180 days or more that starts within six months of separation from a previous period on involuntary active duty for at least 180 days.

 

Program payments, however, are not automatic. Guardsmen and Reservists must apply for the RIRP payments through their service personnel offices. Complete RIRP information, including a downloadable eligibility verification form, can be found at www.defenselink.mil/ra/ by clicking on the "Income Replacement" tab, then clicking on "Points of Contact" for your service representative. [Source: NGAUS NOTES - August 11, 2006]

 

 

VDBC UPDATE 06:  The Veterans Disability Benefits Commission will host a Southern Regional Town Hall meeting on 5 SEP, at the Marriott Atlanta Century Center, located at 2000 Century Boulevard NE, in Atlanta GA.  The meeting will begin at 1900 and end at 2100 and is open to the public.  This Regional Town Hall meeting is the last of eight site visits the Commission will have completed in 2006. The next public meeting of the Commission is scheduled for WED thru Fri 13 to 5 SEP the Beacon Hotel, located at 1615 Rhode Island Avenue NW in Washington, DC.  The starting date is new, as Commission Chair Scott has determined there is a lot of information to go over and discuss.  They will probably only have a half day session on Friday. Tentative dates and locations for Commission meeting for the remainder of 2006 are:

October 19-20        Beacon Hotel, 1615 Rhode Island Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

November 16-17    Embassy Suites, 900 10th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

[Source: NAUS Weekly Update 9 Jun 06]

 

 

VA BOSTON HOSPITALS:  The VA has rejected a proposal to close its four Boston hospitals and create a new single medical center for the whole metropolitan center. The proposal has been being studied for the last 2 years. The Secretary of the VA, the Honorable R. James Nicholson stated: “VA is committed to continuing world-class medical care that is convenient and accessible for Boston-area veterans. VA will provide veterans with the care they need in the locations that make sense.” Nicholson’s announcement comes after reviewing input from veterans groups, academic affiliates, labor unions, employees and other stakeholders, along with the recommendations of a local advisory panel that has held public meetings. [Source: TREA Leg Up 11 Aug 06]

 

 

AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS UPDATE 02:  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is developing a nationwide registry of living veterans who have amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). This effort is directed by the Epidemiologic Research and Information Center (ERIC) at the VA Medical Center in Durham NC, with cooperation from the VA Medical Center in Lexington KY. The ALS Association (ALSA) is advising the study leaders. All living veterans who have been diagnosed with ALS are encouraged to participate in this research registry

which will help the VA to understand patterns of ALS among veterans and provide a valuable data for future studies. Specific objectives for the Veterans' ALS Registry include the following:

-  To identify as completely as possible all veterans with ALS, and continue to enroll newly diagnosed individuals;

-  To collect data, including DNA samples, which will be available for approved studies examining the causes of ALS;

-  To provide a way for the VA to inform veterans with ALS about research studies for which they may be eligible.

 

ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a chronic and progressive neurodegenerative disease that attacks the brain cells that control muscle movement. As these cells die, the affected muscles weaken and then shrink, leading to progressive paralysis. There are no known cures for this disease. It is a non-contagious, adult-onset disease and is rare among individuals under 45 years of age.

     Any living veteran who has been diagnosed by a physician as having ALS is eligible to enroll. For veterans who may not be able to contact the VA on their own, family members or friends are encouraged to contact VA researchers on the veteran's behalf.  As of 6 AUG 1600 veterans have enrolled. Veterans who qualify for the registry will be asked to complete a brief telephone interview, including basic questions about their disease and military history. A brief follow-up interview with registry enrollees on a biannual basis will follow to assess health and functional status. The VA may contact registry participants about future ALS studies in which they may be able to participate. VA study coordinators may be reached by calling at 1(877) 342-5257, email to the study coordinator Barbara Norman at ALS@med.va.gov , or writing to ALS REGISTRY (152), VAMC, 508 Fulton Street, Durham NC 27705. Additional information about the registry can be found on:  http://www.va.gov/durham/alsregistry.asp  [Source: www.va.gov  8 Aug 06]

 

 

ARMY AWARD CITATIONS:  Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter has approved a policy change that eliminates the wait Marines and Sailors endured in the past while certain nonvalor Army award citations were sent up the individuals’ chain of command for approval by their parent service. Under the new policy, Marines and Sailors in a combat zone who earn awards such as Army Achievement Medals and Army Commendation Medals can pin them on immediately and send a copy of the citation to their service records. Awards such as the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and decorations for valor still must be approved by the parent service. [Source: Armed Forces News 28 Jul 06]

 

 

MILITARY LEGISLATION STATUS UPDATE:  Following is current status on some Congressional bills of interest to the military community.  Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote. At http://thomas.loc.gov you can determine the current status of each bill and if your legislator is a sponsor of the bill you are concerned with. The key to increasing cosponsorship is letting your representative know of your feelings on these issues.  At the end of most of the below listed bills is a web link that can be used to do that:

 

H.R.303:  The ‘Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005’ To amend title 10, United States Code, to permit certain additional retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-Related Special Compensation and to eliminate the phase-in period under current law with respect to such concurrent receipt.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 237. To support this bill and/or contact your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7728776. 

 

H.R.602:  The ‘Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act’ to restore health care coverage to retired members of the uniformed services and their eligible dependents. House version of  S.407.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 249.

 

H.R.808:  The ‘Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to repeal the offset from surviving spouse annuities under the military Survivor Benefit Plan for amounts paid by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC).  A motion was filed to discharge the Rules Committee from consideration of H.RES 271 on 16 NOV 05.  This resolution provides for the consideration of H.R.808 and requires 218 signatures for further action. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 207. To support this bill and/or contact your Representative refer to

http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7683586

To support the discharge petition and/or contact your Representative refer to

http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/alert/?alertid=8248891&type=CO

 

H.R.968: To amend title 10, United States Code, to change the effective date for paid-up coverage under the military Survivor Benefit Plan from October 1, 2008, to October 1, 2005. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 143. To support this bill and/or contact your Representative refer to

http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7683511

 

H.R.994:  To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow Federal civilian and military retirees to pay health insurance premiums on a pretax basis and to allow a deduction for TRICARE supplemental premiums.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 335. This is the House version of S.484. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7761876

 

H.R.995: The ‘Combat Military Medically Retired Veteran's Fairness Act of 2005’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to provide for the payment of Combat-Related Special Compensation under that title to members of the Armed Forces retired for disability with less than 20 years of active military service who were awarded the Purple Heart. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 31. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7683281

 

H.R.1366:  The Combat-Related Special Compensation Act of 2005 to amend title 10, United States Code, to expand eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation paid by the uniformed services in order to permit certain additional retired members who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for that disability and Combat-Related Special Compensation by reason of that disability. 

No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 51.  There are no related bills.  To support this bill send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7718711

To support Sen. Reid’s amendment to the 2007 NDAA bill S.2766 send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/alert/?alertid=8371516&type=ML

 

H.R.2076: The ‘Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2005’ To amend title 10, United States Code, to permit certain retired members of the uniformed services who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-Related Special Compensation.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 28. Related bills are H.R.303, S.558, S.845. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7728776

 

H.R.2356:  The ‘Preserving Patient Access to Physicians Act of 2005’ to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to reform the Medicare physician payment update system through repeal of the sustainable growth rate (SGR) payment update system. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 173.  Related bills are S.1081. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7742321.

 

H.R.2962: The ‘Atomic Veterans Relief Act’ to amend title 38, United States Code, to revise the eligibility criteria for presumption of service-connection of certain diseases and disabilities for veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during military service, and for other purposes.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 52.  There are no other related bills. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7784066

 

H.R.4914: The ‘Veterans' Choice of Representation Act’ to amend title 38, United States Code, to remove certain limitations on attorney representation of claimants for veterans benefits in administrative proceedings before the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 8. There are no other related bills.  To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8835676

 

H.R.4949: The ‘Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to prohibit increases in fees for military health care.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 160. There are no other related bills.  To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8591231

 

H.R.4992: The ‘Veterans Medicare Assistance Act of 2006’ to provide for Medicare reimbursement for health care services provided to Medicare-eligible veterans in facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 20. There are no other related bills.  To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/index_frame.dbq?url=http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8670886

 

H.R.5881: The ‘Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to eliminate the offset between military retired pay and veterans service-connected disability compensation for certain retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability, and for other purposes. Introduced 26 JUL 06 by Rep Marshall, Jim (GA-03) the bill has no cosponsors. There are no other related bills. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/index_frame.dbq?url=http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/alert/?alertid=8969606&queueid=[capwiz:queue_id]

 

S.185:  The ‘Military Retiree Survivor Benefit Equity Act of 2005’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to repeal the requirement for the reduction of certain Survivor Benefit Plan annuities by the amount of dependency and indemnity compensation and to modify the effective date for paid-up coverage under the Survivor Benefit Plan. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 35. There are no other related bills.  To support this bill and/or send a message to your Senator refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7709421

 

S.407:  The ‘Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act’ to restore health care coverage to retired members of the uniformed services and their eligible dependents. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 14. A related bill is H.R.602.  To support this bill and/or send a message to your Senator refer to http://mrgrg-ms.org/fax-it.html

 

S.484: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow Federal civilian and military retirees to pay health insurance premiums on a pretax basis and to allow a deduction for Tricare supplemental premiums. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 63. A related bill is H.R.994. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Senator refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7787396

 

S.2617: The ‘Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to limit increases in the costs to retired members of the Armed Forces of health care services under the TRICARE program, and for other purposes.  No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 9. There are no other related bills. To support this bill and/or send a message to your Senator refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/alert/?alertid=8675066&type=CO

 

S.2658:  The ‘National Defense Enhancement and National Guard Empowerment Act of 2006’ to amend title 10, United States Code, to enhance the national defense through empowerment of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the enhancement of the functions of the National Guard Bureau, and for other purposes. No new sponsors were added to this bill which has a total of 39. A related bill is H.R.5200.  To support this bill send a preformatted or edited message to your Senator by using the “Write to Congress” feature refer to www.ngaus.org.

 

S.2694:  The ‘Veterans' Choice of Representation and Benefits Enhancement Act of 2006’ to amend title 38, United States Code, to remove certain limitation on attorney representation of claimants for veterans’ benefits in administrative proceedings before the DVA, and for other purposes.  This bill was passed/agreed to in Senate 3 AUG 06 by unanimous consent.  To support this bill and/or send a message to your Senator refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8835631

  

Note:  The House of Representatives is out of session 31 July thru 3 Sept.  The Senate is out of session 7 AUG thru 3 SEP.  With members back home to campaign and meet with constituents, August is the perfect month to talk to your Congressman/woman and Senators. There are only 84 days until Election Day.  Be sure you are registered to vote and make your vote count. . [Source: USDR Action Alerts 1-15 Aug 06 ++]

 

 

Lt. James “EMO” Tichacek, USN (Ret)

Director, Retiree Assistance Office, U.S. Embassy Warden & VITA Baguio City RP

PSC 517 Box RCB, FPO AP 96517

Tel: (760) 839-9003 or FAX 1(801) 760-2430; When in RP: (74) 442-7135 or FAX 1(801) 760-2430

Email: raoemo@sbcglobal.net.  When in Philippines raoemo@mozcom.com

Web: http://post_119_gulfport_ms.tripod.com/rao1.html

AL/AMVETS/CORMV/DAV/FRA/NAUS/NCOA/MOAA/USDR/VFW/VVA/CG33/DD890/AD37 member

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