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

Sent: Wednesday, March 15, 2006 1:24 AM

Subject: RAO Bulletin Update 15 March 2006

 

RAO Bulletin Update

15 March 2006

 

THIS BULLETIN UPDATE CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES:

 

== Military Funeral Conduct [02] --------- (New law in SD)

== Medicare [02] -------------------------- (Means testing in 07)

== Medicare [03] --------------------------- (What lies ahead)

== DACMC [01] ---------------------------- (Proposed pay changes)

== VA Budget 2007 [01] ------------------- (Inadequate)

== VA Agent Orange Claims [01]:  ------- (CLL/Blue water eligibles)

== Arrears of Pay ---------------------------- (Due upon death)

== Medicare Rates 2006 [04] -------------- (4.4% cut halted)

== Tricare User Fee [08] ------------------- (A step backward)

== Tricare User Fee [09] ------------------- (HASC opposition)

== Massachusetts Veterans Bonus -------- (For 911+ vets)

== CNGR Commission --------------------- (Review of RC)

== VA Appointments [01] ----------------- (Taking longer to get)

== CRSC [34] ------------------------------- (New bill S.2385)

== SBP DIC Offset 07 ---------------------- (Widow’s tax remains)

== Mobilized Reserve ---------------------- (7,693 decrease)

== Navy Uniform Changes ----------------- (Crackerjacks remain)

== VA Claim Decision Representation --- (New bill H.R.4914)

== Veterans’ Preference [02] -------------- (More vets covered)

== Coronary Heart Disease Mgmt -------- (72 page guide)

== Obtaining Credit Reports --------------- (Annual free copy)

== Tax Refund Scam ------------------------ (More identity theft)

== TFL Trust Fund -------------------------- (DOT not paying)

== Medicare Part D [05] -------------------- (Critique)

== Aid & Attendance [01] ------------------ (Underutilized)

 

 

MILITARY FUNERAL DISORDERLY CONDUCT UPDATE 02:  South Dakota Legislation SB No. 156 was signed into law by the Governor on 13 FEB 06 to prohibit the picketing of funerals under certain circumstances. The bill carried an emergency provision so it became effective immediately since there were two full military funerals for veterans who were killed in Iraq scheduled.  The following is the complete text of the legislation that was signed into law: 

 

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF SOUTH DAKOTA

 

Section 1. No person may engage in any act of picketing at any funeral service during the period from one hour before the scheduled commencement of the funeral services until one hour after the actual completion of the funeral services.  Any violation of this section is a Class 2 misdemeanor.  Each day on which a person violates this section constitutes a separate offense.

 

Section 2. Notwithstanding the criminal penalties provided in section 1 of this Act, the circuit court may enjoin conduct proscribed by section 1 of this Act and may in any such proceeding award damages, including attorney fees, or other appropriate relief against any person who is repeatedly found guilty under this Act.

 

Section 3. For the purpose of this Act, the term, picketing, means protest activities engaged in by any person stationed within one thousand feet of a funeral service within one hour prior to, during, and one hour following the commencement of any funeral service.

 

Section 4. For the purposes of this Act, funeral services are any ceremony, procession, or memorial held in connection with the burial or cremation of a deceased person.

 

Section 5. Whereas, this Act is necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, an emergency is hereby declared to exist, and this Act shall be in full force and effect from and after its passage and approval.

[Source: SD DVA VSO msg. Mar 06]

 

MEDICARE UPDATE 02: For the first time in Medicare's history, millions of seniors will be required to pay substantially more for their Medicare Part B premiums than other seniors next year. In 2007 the government will begin "income relating," or means testing. Higher income seniors will have to pay more for their doctors' services and outpatient coverage. The change, which comes as part of the 2003 Medicare drug legislation, could affect as many as 2.3 million seniors according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Currently, the Medicare premium that beneficiaries pay ($88.50 per month) is 25% of the total cost. The government pays the other 75%, or $265.50, in 2006. This will change in 2007 when the government starts phasing in higher premiums for seniors with higher incomes, making them pay a higher portion of the total cost. Assuming the Medicare Part B premium continues to rise at the same average rate that it has for the past five years (about 13.4%), the following illustrates what estimated premiums may look like for 2007 through 2009.

 

Individuals Annual Income 2006 thru 2009

Under $80,000 -------------- $88.50  $100.40 $113.90  $129.20

$80,000 - $100,000 --------- $88.50      $113.30 $141.30 $180.90

$100,000 - $150,000 ------- $88.50      $133.30 $190.00 $258.40

$150,000 - $200,000 ------- $88.50      $153.30 $235.50 $335.90

Above $200,000 ------------ $88.50  $173.30 $281.10 $413.40

 

Married Couples Annual Income 2006 thru 2009

Under $160,000 ------------  $88.50  $100.40 $113.90  $129.20

$160,000 - $200,000 ------- $88.50      $113.30 $141.30 $180.90

$200,000 - $300,000 ------- $88.50      $133.30 $190.00 $258.40

$300,000 - $400,000 ------- $88.50      $153.30 $235.50 $335.90

Above $400,000 ------------ $88.50  $173.30 $281.10 $413.40

 

     Means testing of the Part B premium was one of the most controversial elements of the 2003 Medicare drug law. Neither version of the law originally passed by the House or the Senate even contained the provision. The Washington Post reported in 2003 that the House version of the legislation would have required Medicare beneficiaries to pay more for medicine under the new Part D drug plans. The provision to charge higher income beneficiaries more for the Part B premium rather than for prescription drug coverage was inserted at the last minute by the small handful of Congressional leaders who negotiated the final version of the law behind tightly closed doors. Means testing radically changes the nature of Medicare. The program was designed as universal social insurance with everyone paying a uniform premium and receiving a standard package of benefits. Supporters of means testing argue that it's needed to cut Medicare costs and make the program more sustainable. Government estimates, however, indicate that higher premiums for some will not save Medicare.

 

     According to CBO estimates, means testing the Part B premium would only save about $13 billion over ten years. That's less than three tenths of one percent of what Medicare is estimated to spend over the same period. Although similar provisions surfaced in the past, they have proven politically explosive. The change was the main feature of the 1988 "Medicare Catastrophic" law to protect Medicare beneficiaries from catastrophic health care expenses. It proved so incendiary that Congress was promptly forced to repeal the law the very next year. The Senior Citizens League (TSCL) believes that means testing opens the door for Congress to shift an ever-growing portion of premium costs to seniors. In his 2007 fiscal year budget, President Bush has proposed changes that would subject growing numbers of seniors to higher premiums. Congress could at any time change the income levels and/or the portion of the premium seniors have to pay. TSCL believes the 2003 Medicare drug law should be replaced and supports a simple, easy-to-use drug benefit. [Source: TSCL Newsletter Mar 06]

 

 

MEDICARE UPDATE 03: The shock of higher than expected Medicare Part D costs for many seniors last January could be a preview of what lies ahead.  The 2003 drug legislation which was billed as the biggest expansion in the history of Medicare also greatly expanded out-of-pocket costs for millions of seniors from rich to poor.  In addition to adding a drug benefit, it will make some seniors pay more for the doctors' and outpatient care starting next year, and already makes all beneficiaries pay more every year for the Part B deductible. Many advocates are pressing Congress to take immediate action before beneficiary out of pocket cost rise above user’s ability to pay them. 

 

     The funding for Medicare Part D is made up in part by premiums paid by beneficiaries that go to the drug plans, and payments made by the states to the federal government to cover dual eligibles who formerly received their drugs through state Medicaid programs.  There are hundreds of billions in costs, however, that must come from the general federal revenues. These are cash resources that the federal government must now borrow.  The growing financial deficits create enormous pressure to cut the program.

Legislative initiatives to cut Medicare Part D and other Medicare spending are in fact well underway.  In addition, Congress is considering multiple proposals that would further increase costs for beneficiaries.  Last December the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) examined the following options to cut government Medicare spending:

-     Raise premiums or co-payments

-     Go to a "premium support" system (which could cap the amount the government contributes for care)

-     Gradually raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67

 Organizations and advocates representing seniors are fighting proposals that would raise seniors' Medicare costs, and are working for a more fair and adequate annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA).  Senior citizens having problems getting the Part D prescription drug coverage, or with other Medicare costs, are encouraged to contact their Members of Congress and ask for their help.  Every Member of Congress has staff that helps resolve problems constituents may have in receiving promised government benefits.  Let them know how high health care costs are affecting you and ask them to support measures to protect seniors for higher costs in the future. [Source:  TSCL & The Long-Term Budget Outlook CBO Dec 05 ++]

 

DACMC UPDATE 01: The Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation after spending the past year studying the military compensation system is recommending sweeping changes that, if approved, would bring military compensation more on par with private-sector compensation.  DACMC released details of its recommendations 28 FEB and is incorporating them in a final report expected to go to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld by late APR 06.  The proposed package includes two major ideas. These include revamping the retirement system so servicemembers receive more pay throughout their careers rather than at their completion, and basing pay on performance rather than longevity and other factors, he said. Any proposed changes to the compensation package would be grandfathered in, so currently serving members would not be affected. The only exception could be in the case that current members are offered the opportunity to voluntarily "opt in" to the new system. In terms of retirement, the committee recommends:

-     Vesting members at 10 rather than 20 years;

-     Paying graduated retirement plans ranging from 25% of base pay at 10 years to 100% of base pay at 40 years;

-    Establishing a Thrift Savings Plan or 401K-like plan with government contributions of 5 to 10% of base pay.

-    Providing additional retired pay credit (and basic pay increases) through 40 years of service

-     Providing "gate pays" at specific service milestones, as determined by the individual services; and

-     Delaying payment of the retirement annuity until age 60.

 

In terms of pay for performance, the committee recommends:

-     Revising the pay charts so pay is based on time in grade rather than years of service; and

-     Eliminating the "with dependents" and "without dependents" provision of basic allowance for housing so all servicemembers in the same pay grade receive the same allowance, regardless of their family situation.

 

The proposed system would benefit servicemembers, giving them more upfront cash throughout their careers. It was noted that most private-sector compensation packages give 80 percent of their cash up front, deferring just 20%for retirement. In contrast, the current military compensation package pays about one-half the total compensation up front and defers the rest. The committee's recommendations help update the current military retirement system which is based on a 1940s-era model. At that time, most members served 30 years, retired in their 50s and typically lived into their 60s, he said. Today, it's typical for servicemembers to retire after 20 years of service to start second careers and to live longer lives. Restructuring the compensation package will provide more options for servicemembers.

-     Rather than offering no retirement benefit short of 20 years, the proposed system would offer a portable retirement system with reduced-level benefits   after 10 years.

-     Revising the pay tables to reward time in grade will ensure consistent benefits for servicemembers promoted ahead of their peers, and

-     Paying equal housing allowances to all members of equal grade in equal locations, the proposed system will reward people "for their performance, not their marital status.

 

While bringing the military pay system more on par with systems in the private sector, the proposal maintains sight that service in the military is unique. For example, while it calls for greater cost sharing among Tricare recipients, it continues to ensure full medical care after 20 years of service. If Rumsfeld approves the plan, it will be subject to congressional review before being introduced. The secretary established the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation to study the current pay system and come up with ways to bring it more in line with what servicemembers want and operational needs demand.  The seven-member committee spent a year reviewing the military pay package, holding public hearings and developing its recommendations. [Source: American Forces Press Service 28 Feb 06 ++]

 

VA BUDGET 2007 UPDATE 01:  To maintain essential services for veterans under the present VA funding process, adequate funding must be provided.  This could be accomplished if Congress:

     • Provided $26 billion in appropriations for veterans’ direct medical services in FY 2007

     • Rejected recommendations to impose additional charges upon veterans for medical care

     • Authorized 10,820 total FTEs for C&P Service for FY 2007

The Independent Budget (IB), coauthored by the Disabled American Veterans, AMVETS, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, and Veterans of Foreign Wars, recommends that Congress appropriate $26 billion for veterans’ medical services in fiscal year (FY) 2007 just to maintain current service levels. The Administration’s budget seeks $24.7 billion in appropriations for veterans’ medical services which is an 8% increase over last year but falls $1.3 billion short of the IB’s recommendation. The President’s medical care budget slightly increases the mental health services capacity; however, it continues the hiring freeze of all other direct health care providers at a time when an influx of new veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will place substantial new demands upon a system already struggling to meet its mission. This budget proposal estimates that only 109,191 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will seek treatment in 2007. This reflects a decrease of 1,375 below the number of these new war veterans the VA estimates it will treat in 2006. VA would bridge the gap between the resources needed and the appropriations requested by shifting $2.8 billion of the costs of VA medical care from the Government onto sick and disabled veterans themselves and by maintaining a freeze on new enrollments of Priority Group 8 veterans. To shift costs to veterans the President proposes a $250 annual enrollment fee, increase pharmacy copayments for more than a million veterans seeking medical care, and establish a new collection authority. If approved this is estimated to drive away approximately 200,000 veterans in need of health care. 

 

     The Bush Administration declares that it will achieve $1.1 billion in savings through new management efficiencies. VA officials have regarded these as a savings goal and used them to reduce requests for a higher level of annual appropriations in order to fill the gap between VA’s projected demand cost for health care services and the amount the President requested. DAV opposes, and Congress has consistently rejected, Bush’s proposals to place more of the burden of health care costs onto veterans. Higher medical care copayments and proposed user fees are nothing more than taxation upon the benefits of disabled veterans. Such fees depart from the fundamental principle that those benefits are provided to veterans by a grateful nation in partial compensation for their service and sacrifices. Assuming Congress agrees to impose these taxes on disabled veterans, assuming the projected savings from the unconscionable scheme to drive veterans away from the system created for them, and assuming all of the savings from the attainment of new efficiencies, the total budget authority would still fall short of what is needed to maintain services.

 

     The Bush proposed budget would also make further personnel reductions in VA’s Veterans Benefits Administration at a time when benefit claims are expected to increase and when unacceptable delays already are occurring due to inadequate staffing. The VFW noted that there is no mention in the budget on how the Veterans Benefits Administration would address a VA claims backlog of more than 813,000 cases. They are also concerned about the quality of future claims decisions in questioning how the VA is planning to overcome a huge exodus of experience as the baby-boomer generation retires from federal service over the next five years.  Based on the adverse and long-standing problems from chronic understaffing in VBA’s Compensation and Pension Service (C&P), compounded by anticipated increased claims volumes, the IB recommends 10,820 FTE for C&P Service. The President’s budget requests 9,445 FTE, which would reduce direct program FTE personnel for handling compensation claims by 149 in 2007. The budget request concedes that the already unacceptable claims backlog would grow even larger in 2006 and 2007, and to knowingly request resource levels that will only make this situation worse, is indefensible.  [Source: DAV Legislative Talking Points for 2006 Mid-Winter Conference 17 Feb 06 ++]

 

VA AGENT ORANGE CLAIMS UPDATE 01:  The American Legion and the National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) have been working closely together over the last 15 years to make sure that the VA pays all of the benefits that Vietnam veterans and their survivors deserve as a result of exposure to Agent Orange.  Recently, there have been two important developments.  This article provides advice about the steps you should take if you represent yourself, a veteran, or a survivor who may be affected:

 

1.) CLL Claims:  Chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) is the latest disease the VA added to the list of diseases presumptively service connected due to Agent Orange.  The VA issued the regulation adding CLL on 16 OCT 03.  CLL is a malignancy (cancer) of the white blood that results from an acquired injury to the DNA of a single cell, a lymphocyte, in the bone marrow.  This injury is not present at birth.

As a result of the Nehmer lawsuit [Nehmer v. U.S. Veterans Administration, 32 F. Supp. 2d 1175 (N.D. Cal. 1999)] the VA is normally required to pay benefits for an Agent Orange-related disease retroactive to the date the VA received the first claim the veteran or survivor filed based on the disease with the exception of claims that were finally denied before 25 SEP 85.  VA took the position that when it was service connected CLL the Nehmer rules did not apply to CLL claims.  As a result, the VA assigned an effective date no earlier than 16 OCT 03 whenever the VA granted a disability or DIC claim based on CLL even if the first CLL claim was filed before 16 OCT 03.

 

     The Nehmer lawsuit is a class action brought by National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP) on behalf of Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange and their survivors.  NVLSP appealed the VA's decision concerning CLL, and on 1 DEC 05, the federal court that oversees the Nehmer lawsuit agreed with NVLSP that the Nehmer rules do apply to CLL claims.  The court's December 1st ruling requires the VA to pay disability and DIC benefits retroactive to the date of claim to all veterans or survivors who filed a CLL claim before 16 OCT 05.  The VA recently appealed the December 1st decision to the court of appeals. If you know of a Vietnam veteran or survivor who filed a CLL claim before 16 OCT 03, you should contact NVLSP attorney Rick Spataro at (202) 265-8305, ext. # 149 or rick_spataro@nvlsp.org. NVLSP is currently trying to get the court to require the VA to pay the retroactive benefits owed under the December 1st order as soon as possible, even though the VA has appealed the decision.  Rick is collecting a list of all CLL claimants who deserve an earlier effective date under the December 1st order to present to the court.

 

2.)  Blue Water Disability/DIC claims: From 1991 to 2002, the VA took the position that Navy veterans who were awarded the Vietnam Service Medal as a result of service in the waters offshore Vietnam (blue water vets) were entitled to the same presumption of exposure to Agent Orange as veterans who set foot on land in Vietnam.  As a result, many Navy veterans who served offshore and their survivors were granted disability or DIC benefits based on an Agent Orange-related disease. However, in FEB 02 the VA amended VA Manual M21-1 to limit the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange to only those veterans who actually set foot on the land mass of Vietnam.  As a result of the policy change the VA has been denying claims filed by blue water vets for Agent Orange related diseases since FEB 02.  In addition, the VA has taken action to sever awards of service connection in some of the cases that were granted prior to February 2002.

 

     NVLSP has appealed to the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims many of the BVA decisions denying benefits to blue water veterans.  NVLSP has argued in these cases that the VA's change of position in 2002 violates the Agent Orange Act of 1991.  On 10 JAN 06, a panel of the Court heard argument in one of NVLSP's appeals and a decision on the legality of the VA's set-foot-on-land requirement is expected some time this year.  In any case in which you are representing yourself or another blue water Navy veteran/survivor on a claim based on an Agent Orange-related disease, you should keep the claim alive by filing a timely Notice of Disagreement (NOD) after the VA denial, and a timely substantive appeal after the Statement of the Case (SOC).  If the BVA denies the claim, contact NVLSP attorney Rick Spataro so that a timely appeal can be filed with the Veterans Court.  This is a prudent move because if NVLSP wins its appeal, the VA will be required to follow the Veteran Court's decision on the pending claim.  On the other hand, if the VA's denial of the claim becomes final, there is no guarantee that the VA will consider the prior final denial to be a clear and unmistakable error even if NVLSP were to win its appeal.

[Source: NVLSP Staff Attorney msg 16 Feb 06]

 

ARREARS OF PAY:  When a retiree dies, the retired pay for the part of the month in which the retiree was alive is owed to the retiree’s named beneficiary. This is called arrears of pay (AOP). This benefit is not the same as the Survivor Benefit Plan.  AOP is a one-time payment. Since retired pay stops with the death of the retiree, all retired pay received after the retiree’s death must first be returned to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service’s (DFAS).  Then the beneficiary should apply for AOP.  Officials with DFAS Retired and Annuitant Pay Center want to point out information frequently missed in applying for AOP, which delays payment. They ask that you keep this information with your records so that this process will go more smoothly for your survivors. 

 

1.)  Note that the DFAS number to report the death of a retiree is 1(800) 321-1080, the same number you call for other questions about retired pay.  This is NOT the number for the Casualty Operations Center, which is 1(800) 626-3317. 

2.) Beneficiaries applying for AOP must complete a Standard Form 1174, Claim for Unpaid Compensation of Deceased Member of the Uniformed Services. This form is available at www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/eforms/sf1174.pdf or from a RAO or RSO. DFAS officials ask that you pay special attention to the following sections of the form, often missed by applicants.

-     Items 1 and 2 – the claimant’s name and relationship to the deceased – are frequently skipped.

-     Part C should be used to list those who could be beneficiaries if there is no spouse. For example, if there are several children, two could be named in Parts A1 and 2, the rest would be listed in Part C. If there is no surviving spouse, child or grandchild, claimants could include parents or other next of kin.

-       Part E should be completed if the person who paid for the funeral is not the designated beneficiary or the executor.

-     Most beneficiaries remember to sign Part F, but many forget to include their address.

-     All blocks must be completed. The form gives space for two signatures there. If more than two children are signing, they can duplicate the form and provide the same information.

-     Part G must be signed by two witnesses.  Beneficiaries living overseas must include a Citizen Affidavit. If children are completing the form and the non-retiree parent has died, they need to include a copy of the death certificate with the application. If any of the children are minors, guardianship papers must accompany the SF1174. Minors are not authorized to sign for themselves. If the retiree died overseas, the application should include a death certificate translated into English.

If you have questions, call DFAS at 1-800-321-1080. Their goal is to receive a complete application the first time so they can pay the beneficiary within 30 days of receipt. [Source: Army Echoes JAN-APR 06]

 

MEDICARE RATES 2006 UPDATE 04: Medicare/Tricare patients and physicians received a well-deserved last-minute rate cut reprieve 1 FEB, with passage in the U.S. House of the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005, which was approved by a 212-206 margin. It now goes to the President to be signed into law.  Physician Medicare and Tricare reimbursement rates will not be slashed as previously planned, thanks to intense pressure from U.S. Representatives Charlie Norwood, DDS (R-GA) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY).

 

     Norwood and Whitfield succeeded in halting a 4.4% cut in Medicare/Tricare physician reimbursement rates with provisions based on their bill, HR 4078, which instead freezes 2006 rates at 2005 levels, while requiring Medicare to revise the existing formula for establishing rates by 2007. The current formula, if left unchecked, will cut physician rates by over half within a decade.  The American Medical Association predicted cuts that steep would drive most physicians out of the Medicare system, leaving elderly baby boomers without coverage. A similar calamity was predicted within the Tricare program. The effect of the rate cut on Tricare would have been significantly worse than on Medicare. Since Tricare rates are based on Medicare, but can be as much as 25% less, the impact of the 2006 cuts alone could have forced half of participating Tricare physicians out of the program, leaving America’s active duty, National Guard, Reserve, and retired military members and dependents without access to care.

 

     Norwood, a former Army dentist (173rd Airborne, 1968-69) said, “Our victory in overturning what would have been a disastrous rate cut for patients and physicians alike is highly appropriate way to begin 2006. With our troops currently giving battle in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is imperative we show them in more than words that their service is appreciated. These provisions will ensure that those troops and their families will continue to receive Tricare health coverage next year through their current physicians, and that is an excellent way to prove we mean it when we tell them they have our support.” [Source: Rep. Charles Norwood press release 3 Mar 06]

 

TRICARE USER FEE UPDATE 08: Senators Larry Craig (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Lindsey Graham, (R-SC), chairman of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, have endorsed the Bush administration’s fiscal 2007 budget that would raise Tricare enrollment fees and co-payments for military retirees under age 65 and raise prescription co-payments for certain veterans. Graham said that, although the nation owes veterans and retirees a lot, they should continue to sacrifice by paying the huge increases the administration wants. He added that, although he wasn’t budging on the increases, he was willing to consider shifting retiree health care administration from the Defense Department to the Department of Veterans Affairs so that health dollars would not compete with military hardware and personnel costs. Although the idea is controversial, he was throwing it out there to wake everybody up.

 

     Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) calls the administration’s proposal to hike health care fees and co-pays for military retirees under age 65 a step backward, which would balance the budget on the backs of those who have served us. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) said he does not think Congress will accept the idea. He added that Congress has rejected demands for the last three years to impose a new VA enrollment fee and double prescription drug co-payments for Priority 7 and 8 veterans, and he doesn’t see the legislators doing an about face this year.  He cautioned that funding for veteran and retiree programs will, however, have to compete against demands by other programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. He said that if the problem is not faced in 2007 it will resurface in 2008. [Source: Armed Forces News 3 Mar 06]

 

TRICARE USER FEE UPDATE 09: The Republican chairman Rep. Duncan Hunter (CA) and Democrat ranking member Ike Skelton (MO) of the House Armed Services Committee in a 3 MAR Budget letter said the 2007 defense budget proposed by the Bush administration is inadequate to support non-deployed programs not directly involved in the day-to-day operations in the global war on terror. In declaring that the proposed $491.2 billion defense budget falls short, Hunter and Skelton do not ask the House Budget Committee for a specific increase.  But they do lay out billions of dollars of problems that need attention, and conclude by suggesting they are willing to work out a compromise budget. In a major announcement for military retirees, Hunter and Skelton said in their letter that they oppose a Bush administration plan to increase co-pays and enrollment fees for military retirees under the age of 65 and their families, something Pentagon officials have said is needed so that personnel costs don’t squeeze weapons programs out of the budget. Retirees 65 and over are already in effect paying a $936 annual enrollment fee in the form of Medicare Part B premiums.

 

     The budget committee was supposed to start work 8 MAR writing an overall federal spending plan that would set funding limits for various government functions.  Rejecting the proposed enrollment fee and pharmacy co-pays leaves a $735 million hole in the proposed budget. In their letter they said the committee believes the Bush proposals depend too exclusively on increasing cost shares and believes that no action should be taken in fiscal year 2007 until a full review of additional cost control options is completed. DoD has told Tricare contractors to prepare to begin collecting the larger fees effective 1 OCT which the letter said is not acceptable without congressional approval. “Circumventing congressional oversight by quickly implementing fundamental changes to a highly viable medical benefit is not keeping the promise to the sailors, soldiers, airmen and Marines that serve our country”. The 2007 budget requested by the Bush administration is 7% higher than the 2006 budget, but Hunter and Skelton say increased costs eat up the money.  Inflation and pay increases account for $11.4 billion of the increase, fuel prices eat up $3 billion and initiatives related to base closing and realignment account for $4.1 billion.

 

     While Hunter and Skelton seek more money on behalf of the armed services committee, a separate move is underway by the 62-member Congressional Progressive Caucus to cut the defense budget by $60 billion to provide more money for domestic programs. On 8 MAR, the progressive caucus is expected to unveil what it is called the “Common Sense Budget Act” that would take money from the Defense Department and spend it on homeland security, education, health care, energy development and humanitarian assistance programs. [Source: NavyTimes Staff Writer Rick Maze article 6 Mar 06 ++]

 

MASSACHUSETTS VETERANS BONUS: Active duty and reserve servicemembers who are legal residents of the state of Massachusetts may be eligible to receive a bonus from their state government. On 11 NOV 05, the Welcome Home' Bonus bill was signed into law. In part, this law establishes a bonus payment for certain veterans, service members and their families, for qualified active service since 911. The Bonus program provides a one-time $500 or $1000 tax-free payment to servicemembers having six months domicile in Massachusetts immediately prior to entry into the Armed Forces service beginning 11 SEP 01 or thereafter. Discharge must be under Honorable conditions .Those who have served in Afghanistan or Iraq will receive $1000, and those who have served domestically or in other foreign countries for a period of six months or more will receive $500.  To apply eligible veterans or their families must

-     Go to www.mass.gov/treasury/veteransbonus/forms/welcomehome/BonusApp.pdf to complete and download the application form.

-     Provide complete and clear photocopies of ALL DD214s which have been issued to them from 2001 to present.

-     Take or mail the application and documents to the City or Town Clerk or Election Commissioner where the veteran was domiciled prior to entering the Armed Services to secure Certification of residence.

 

For more information, visit www.mass.gov or contact the Massachusetts Treasurer's office Veterans Bonus Division at (617) 367-9333 ext 359 or veteransbonus@tre.state.ma.us.  [Source: Miitary.com Military Report 13 Mar 06]

 

CNGR COMMISSION: The Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 established an independent Commission on the National Guard and Reserves which is charged by Congress to conduct a comprehensive examination of how the Guard and Reserves are used in national defense, including homeland defense, and to recommend any needed changes in laws and policies governing the Guard and Reserves. The final report of the Commission, to be submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Secretary of Defense in March 2007, will include recommendations covering the Guard and Reserves' roles and missions, capabilities, organization and structure, training and readiness, compensation and benefits, career paths, and the funding they receive. During its formal one-year tenure the Commission will conduct interviews, meetings, and hearings involving stakeholders in the Guard and Reserves.  This will include members and their families, employers, military leaders, and state and local government leaders. 

 

     The Commission will examine the Guard and Reserves at a time when their operational tempo has increased significantly beginning with Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm and continuing through Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq prior to the September 11 attacks on the U.S., and Afghanistan and Iraq following the attacks. The U.S. mobilized about 400,000 members of the Guard and Reserves in the seven years between the first Gulf War and 9/11, and about 455,000 in the four years following 9/11. The 13 Commissioners have been appointed by the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees and the Secretary of Defense on the basis of their knowledge and expertise in areas such as national security, military readiness, personnel compensation and benefits, and roles and missions of the Armed Forces, National Guard, and Reserves. Reserve contingent personnel can keep track of the commission’s activities by monitoring their website at www.cngr.gov.  [Source: USDR Action Alert 11 Mar 06]

 

VA APPOINTMENTS UPDATE 01:  The numbers of war veterans enrolled in the VA medical carte program has continued to grow, and many feel the strain. According to Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson, last year, 97% of veterans who requested a primary care appointment got that appointment within 30 days, and 95% of those who requested an acute care appointment got it within 30 days. But an inspector general’s audit found real problems with the way the VA has come up with those numbers.  The audit found that some VA staff, feeling pressured, actually fudged the numbers, and error rates were as high as 61%. In Atlanta, one veteran who the VA said got an appointment within a week actually waited nearly a year. Another veteran in Boston who reported seeing a VA doctor within hours actually waited 472 days. The VA said it has been steadily improving the system, but many veterans' groups worry the situation will only get worse as new Iraq veterans keep pouring in. David Gorman, spokesman for the advocacy group Disabled American Veterans asserts, “The numbers are simply going to overwhelm them, and they are not going to have the proper funds to deal with these folks on a long-term, chronic basis.”   

 

       At least tens of thousands of veterans with non-critical medical issues could suffer delayed or even denied care in coming years to enable President Bush to meet his promise of cutting the deficit in half - if the White House is serious about its proposed budget. After an increase for next year, the Bush budget would reverse present trends of increased annual funding.  According to the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning Washington think tank, in a unreleased 673-page computer printout they obtained from the White House budget office cuts are outlined for 2008 with additional reductions in the following two years. Even with recent funding increases, cost-cutting moves have locked more than a quarter million veterans out of the system. Those excluded have no illnesses or injuries attributable to their military service and earn more than the average wage in their community. [Source:  ABC News report www.abcnews.go.com/WNN 11 Mar & AP article 28 Feb 06]

 

CRSC UPDATE 34:  Sen.Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a new bill (S 2385), the "Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) Act of 2006," that would correct the inequity in the current law that excludes military members who are combat-injured and subsequently medically retired before 20 years of service from receiving both VA compensation and retired pay. Military retirees who spent at least 20 years in uniform and who have any combat-incurred disability no longer subjected to the deduction of VA disability compensation from their earned retired pay.  But a service member who suffers a 100% disabling combat injury and is forced into medical retirement with 19 years and 11 months of service can still lose his entire retired pay.  An identical bill (HR 1366) already has been introduced in the House by Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-FL). Both Senator Reid and Representative Bilirakis have supported significant gains to concurrent receipt legislation over the past three years. In a press release the senator said, "Ending the ban on concurrent receipt remains one of my highest priorities… I'm proud of the progress we've made so far, but we need to keep chipping away at the unfair policy in place now. I am committed to that goal 100%." His full press release can be read at http://reid.senate.gov/record2.cfm?id=252368.

 

     Reid will likely try to attach his bill to a piece of defense-related legislation later this year, and if practice runs true to form, the Senate will approve his idea. In the past, problems have surfaced when Reid-sponsored legislation is considered by the House, which generally has been less generous to disabled retirees. The Pentagon has opposed most concurrent receipt proposals but President Bush has signed bills repealing or reducing the retired pay offset, and has trumpeted his role during speeches before military and veterans groups. That leaves some congressional aides wondering how fiercely the administration might fight Reid’s newest proposal, especially because it applies to combat-related injuries. Reid said his new proposal will take care of soldiers who had hoped to make the military a career but were discharged prematurely for an injury sustained in combat and forced to retired medically before attaining 20 years of service. [Source: MOAA Update 10 Mar 06]

 

SBP DIC OFFSET UPDATE 07:  Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) wrote a letter to the Senate Budget Committee leaders urging the Committee to include authority in the FY2007 Budget Resolution to end the deduction of VA survivor benefits from Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities when the death is caused by service. The letter sought similar authority to accelerate implementation of 30-year paid-up SBP coverage. On March 9, the Budget Committee rejected Sen. Nelson’s proposed amendment by a party-line vote of 12 to 10. All 10 Democrats voted for the amendment; all 12 Republicans voted against it.

 

     Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, also sent a letter to the Budget Committee urging positive action on SBP as well as additional funding for:

-     Army and Marine Corps strength increases;

-     An extra .5% in the military pay raise (from 2.2% to 2.7%);

-     Full manning of Army National Guard units; and

-     Combat-Related Special Compensation eligibility for members forced into medical retirement before attaining 20 years of service.

At the time this article was being written, there was no word about Budget Committee action on these issues. The House Budget Committee, also originally scheduled to draft its version of the FY 2007 Budget Resolution this week, has delayed action until later this month. You can find a list of  Senate Committee members at  http://budget.senate.gov/republican/NewAboutComm.htm (Republicans) and at http://budget.senate.gov/democratic/democrats.html (Democrats) . Those affected by this committee’s vote will also have the opportunity to vote for or against these senators in the upcoming 2006 elections next November. [Source: MOAA Update 10 Mar 06 ++]

 

MOBILIZED RESERVE 8 MAR 06:   Army National Guard and Army Reserve on active duty in support of the present partial mobilization is now 99,229.  In addition the other services have mobilized 5,262 Navy Reserve; 7,578 Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve; 6,957 Marine Corps Reserve; and 408 Coast Guard Reserve.  As of 8 March this brings the total National Guard and Reserve personnel, who have been mobilized to 119,434, including both units and individual augmentees.  This is a decrease of 7,693 from last month’s 8 FEB total mobilization announcement.   At any given time, services may mobilize some units and individuals while demobilizing others, making it possible for these figures to either increase or decrease. A cumulative roster of all Reserve contingent personnel can be found at www.defenselink.mil/news/Mar2006/d20060308ngr.pdf for those now mobilized. [Source: DoD News Release No. 198-06 8 MAR 06]

 

NAVY UNIFORM CHANGES:  Capping a three-year study that included surveys of 60,000 officers and enlisted members and test-wearing of prototype uniforms by hundreds of sailors, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Mullen gave the go-ahead 24 FEB for Task Force Uniform officials to unveil new uniforms that could begin showing up in the fleet as early as next Fall. These will eliminate seven officer and enlisted working uniforms. The Marine-style year round service uniform, to be worn by petty officers and other junior enlisted sailors in offices or classrooms ashore, will have a short-sleeved khaki shirt, or over-blouse for women, with black pants or skirt. Gone will be the summer whites and winter blues.  The new uniforms should be more comfortable and durable than those they will replace and, unlike the current attire, they will have a distinctive military look. The service uniform will be a 75/25 polyester-cotton blend.    

 

     The battle dress working uniform (BDU) to be worn by officers and enlisted aboard ship, has a digital print pattern somewhat similar to camouflage uniforms worn by soldiers and Marines. The new working uniform will be equal parts nylon and cotton.  Most sailors will sport the blue-gray version of the BDU, although color schemes will be created for desert and woodland settings. The new working uniform will be equal parts nylon and cotton. The blouse will feature a new emblem on the left breast pocket: the ACE, which stands for the words anchor, Constitution and eagle. The design is similar to the eagle, globe and anchor, or EGA, worn by the Marine Corps. It will have breast pockets with silver name tapes for sailors E-6 and below and gold for chiefs and officers and plus two tactical pockets on the sleeves. The belt will be a black web belt with a closed-face buckle and the hat will be the traditional Navy and Marine Corps eight-point cover. The decision has yet to be made on the authorization to wear ball caps. Under the uniform, sailors will wear a black cotton T-shirt. In addition, a turtleneck undershirt will be adopted for optional winter wear. The Navy wants the working uniforms to last 24 months (four times as long as those sailors now wear) and adopted the digital design in part because it hides stains and wrinkles. The new working uniform comes with a 21st century repair kit. Swatches of fabric treated with a special adhesive sailors can activate by rubbing in their hands. A patch placed on a torn shirt will remain in place or several months.

 

     More than 70% of wear-test participants favored the digital blue uniform to any other option and a like number came down in favor of the khaki/black service uniform.  Unchanged, for now anyway, are the Navy’s “dress blues,” with their double-breasted and gold-buttoned jackets for officers and the venerable crackerjack style for enlisted sailors. No longer will sailors have any sew-on rank insignia or unit identification marks. Instead, miniature silver anodized metal rank insignia will be worn on their collars. Also included will be a new version of the now-optional garrison cap, on which sailors will wear a larger version of their rank insignia.  The CNO also directed TFU officials to

-     Develop and implement a PT uniform;

-     Investigate bringing back dress khaki jackets for chiefs and officers;

-     Look into adopting an optional ceremonial cutlass for chief petty officers; and

-     Design a new all-weather coat for all ranks.“

[Source: The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot 3 Mar &  Navy Times 13 issue Feb 06]

 

THE MILITARY COALITION:  TMC is a group of 36 military, veterans and uniformed services organizations in joint pursuit of the following goals:

• Maintaining a strong national defense provided by recruiting and retaining skilled and highly capable personnel in the seven uniformed services;

• Maintaining uniformed services compensation and benefits at levels sufficient to attract and retain professional uniformed service members for careers of service to the Nation;

• Representing the interests of the entire uniformed services community, including members’ families and survivors, and responding to assaults upon the compensation and benefits earned by members of that community through years of dedicated service; and

• Educating the public on the extraordinary demands and sacrifices associated with a career in uniformed service, and the need to maintain a similarly unique system of compensation and benefits to attract and retain the kinds and numbers of high-quality personnel needed to meet the Nation’s short- and long-term defense requirements.

 

The philosophy of The Coalition is that, by working together on issues of mutual agreement, the participating organizations can harness the grassroots support of more than 5.5 million members plus their families and accomplish far more than by working on these initiatives separately. When one or more of the Coalition organizations is invited to testify before Congress, they frequently coordinate the testimony with the other Coalition associations and present it on behalf of the entire Coalition. This lends greater weight and unanimity to the testimony than if it were presented by any individual association. TMC legislative priorities for budget year 2007 include:

 

1) Battling to block Tricare fee increases

2) Further expansion of Tricare benefits offered to drilling Guard and Reserve personnel.

3) Lowering retirement age for the Reserve Components from 60 to 55.

4) Easing transition problems associated with rebasing from overseas.

5) Upgrading “seamless” health care coverage for active duty, National Guard, and Reserve members shifting to VA medical care.

6) Ensuring a broad Tricare pharmacy formulary.

7) Winning authority for pretax payment of health, dental and long-term care premiums.

8) Providing full funding for veterans enrolled in the VA health care system.

9) Eliminating the DIC offset to the military’s Survivor Benefit Plan.

10) Resuming DIC payments for qualifying widows who remarry after age 55. 

11) Moving up the effective date (now Oct. 1, 2008) of the 30-year paid-up rule for SBP premiums.

12) Allowing full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability compensation by disabled retirees.

13) Allowing concurrent receipt for medical retirees with less than 20 years of service.

14) Raising relocation reimbursements to cover members’ costs for government-directed moves.

15) Reforming the government travel credit card program to reduce risk-shifting to members.

[Source: Air Force Magazine Mar 06 & www.themilitarycoalition.org]

 

VA CLAIM DECISION REPRESENTATION:  Congressman Lane Evans of Illinois, ranking Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and Congresswoman Shelley Berkley of Nevada, ranking Democratic Member on the Committee’s Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, introduced a bill (H.R.4914) that would permit veterans to hire an attorney when they disagree with a benefits claims decision of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Currently, veterans are not allowed to hire an attorney until the end of the administrative appeals process, specifically, after the Board of Veterans Appeals has rendered a decision. Evans noted that many fine veterans service organizations have traditionally provided full representation to veterans and their families without cost and it is expected that these organizations would continue to represent most claimants.  Nonetheless, he and Rep. Berkley believe that in this day and age, veterans should not be prohibited from hiring an attorney if they choose to do so. Berkley commented there is no good reason why Congress should prevent veterans from exercising their choice to seek legal representation and the present needless prohibition should have been ended ages ago.

 

     The restriction on attorney representation dates from the Civil War era when concern for attorneys preying on sick and disabled veterans resulted in legislation which limited the fee attorneys could charge to $10.00. Although the $10.00 limit no longer applies, veterans are currently prohibited from hiring an attorney to appeal an initial VA decision.  The Veterans’ Choice of Representation Act responds to a 22 JAN 06, Washington Post article which questioned if American soldiers are mature and responsible enough to choose to risk their lives for their country, shouldn’t they be considered competent to hire a lawyer? [Source: House Veterans Affairs Committee news release 9 Mar 06 http://veterans.house.gov]

 

VETERANS’ PREFERENCE UPDATE 02:   Veterans of the Armed Forces have traditional been given some degree of preference in appointments to Federal jobs since the Civil War. These preferences are noted in various public laws which have been enacted by congress.  There are two new sections dealing with Veterans Preference which were signed into law in JAN 06. Section 1111 grants Veterans Preference for veterans who have served on active duty for  a period of more than 180 consecutive days during the period starting on 911 and ending at the close of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This applies wherever the person served in the world. It also applies not just for those seeking employment but also those Federal employees who may be affected by a RIF. Section 1112 clarifies that veterans preference applies to all those “ who are discharged or released from active duty service…” For more detailed information on all aspects of veterans preference refer to www.opm.gov/employ/veterans/html/vetguide.asp#2 . [Source: TREA Leg Up & OPM Vet Guide 10 Mar 06]

 

CORONARY HEART DISEASE MANAGEMENT:  The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has issued a 72-page step-by-step guide to helping people with heart disease make decisions that will protect and improve their lives. Called Your Guide to Living Well with Heart Disease, it covers testing, controlling risk factors, recognizing heart-attack signs, and current treatments. Single copies cost $4, but the entire booklet can be read online or downloaded free of charge at http://www.chsourcebook.com/docs/living_well.pdf  [Source: Consumer Health Digest 7 Mar 06]

 

OBTAINING CREDIT REPORTS: An amendment to the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies to provide you with a free copy of your credit report, at your request, once every 12 months. The FCRA promotes the accuracy and privacy of information in the files of the nation’s consumer reporting companies. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the FCRA with respect to consumer reporting companies. A credit report contains information on where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, arrested, or filed for bankruptcy. Nationwide consumer reporting companies sell the information in your report to creditors, insurers, employers, and other businesses that use it to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, or renting a home. There are three nationwide consumer reporting companies — Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union.

 

     To comply with the FCRA and the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act, these companies have set up one central website, toll-free telephone number, and mailing address through which you can order your free annual report. To order, click on www.annualcreditreport.com, call 1(877) 322-8228, or complete the Annual Credit Report Request Form and mail it to: Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. You can print the form from www.ftc.gov/credit. Do not contact the three nationwide consumer reporting companies individually. You may order your reports from each of the companies at the same time, or you can order from only one or two. The law allows you to order one free copy from each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies every 12 months.  Online you can access it immediately. Requests by phone and mail will be processed and mailed to you within 15 days.

 

     To obtain the report you need to provide your name, address, Social Security number, and date of birth. If you have moved in the last two years, you may have to provide your previous address. To maintain the security of your file, each nationwide consumer reporting company may ask you for some information that only you would know, like the amount of your monthly mortgage payment. Each company may ask you for different information because the information each has in your file may come from different sources. The website www.annualcreditreport.com is the only authorized source for your free annual credit report from the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.  You should never an email asking for your personal information. If you get an email or see a pop-up ad claiming it’s from www.annualcreditreport.com or any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, do not reply or click on any link in the message because it is probably a scam. Forward any email that claims to be from www.annualcreditreport.com or any of three consumer reporting companies to the FTC’s database of deceptive spam at spam@uce.gov. 

 

     Staggering your requests during a 12-month period is a good way to keep an eye on the accuracy and

completeness of the information in your reports. It is advisable to review your credit report because:

     The information it contains affects whether you can get a loan and how much you will have to pay to borrow money.

     You need to make sure the information is accurate, complete, and up-to-date before you apply for a loan for a major purchase like a house or car, buy insurance, or apply

      for a job.

     It will help guard against identity theft. Identity thieves may the personal information

(i.e.  your name, your Social Security number, or your credit card number) they have

obtained to open a new credit card account in your name. Then, when they don’t pay

the bills, the delinquent account is reported on your credit report. Inaccurate

information like that could affect your ability to get credit, insurance, or even a job.

 

     To obtain a second report within the 12 month period you may be charged up to $9.00 unless one of the

following apply: 

1)   If a company takes adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment, and you ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the action. The notice you will be sent with the denial will give you the name, address, and phone number of the consumer reporting company.

2)   If you’re unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days.

3)   If you’re on welfare.

4)   If your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft.

[Source: http://treas.gov/offices/domestic-finance/financial-institution/cip/identity-theft.shtml  Mar 06]

 

TAX REFUND SCAM:  A new tax refund phishing scam is making the rounds on the Internet. The scam works like this:

        1)  An e-mail message supposedly from the Internal Revenue Service, opens with: “You filed your tax return and you’re expecting a refund. You have just one question and you want the answer now - Where’s My Refund?”

        2)  A link is supposed to direct you to a “secure” Web site which will look like the IRS site.  If you hover your cursor over the link, you might see that the address being linked to is not the real IRS site at www.irs.gov.

3)   If you click on the link, you will be asked for your name, Social Security number and credit card information.

4)   After a generic refund amount flashes on the screen, you will be asked for enough information that, if you provide it, will completely steal your identity.

[Source: Armed Forces News 3 Mar 06]

 

 

TFL TRUST FUND:  The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) charges that the Defense Department’s complaint about rising health care costs ignores a nearly $9 billion annual deposit that is supposed to go to the Tricare for Life trust fund. Two years ago, when DoD officials said they were required to fund Tricare for Life at the expense of other DoD programs, a provision in the fiscal 2005 Defense Authorization Act changed the law to shift the trust fund to the Treasury budget. But the Office of Management and Budget, along with budget committees, has continued to charge the deposit against the defense budget.  The MOAA contends that if the provision in the 2005 authorization act was complied with, the Joint Chiefs of Staff would not be required to choose between retiree medical care and weapons funding.  [Source: Armed Forces News 3 Mar 06]

 

MEDICARE PART D UPDATE 05:  The launch of the new Medicare Part D drug program in early January came as a shock to millions of the nation's sickest and poorest seniors and disabled.  Hundreds of thousands had to pay far more than anticipated for their prescriptions or leave their pharmacies empty-handed.  The bulk of the problems affected some six million "dual eligibles," Medicare beneficiaries whose incomes are so low that they also qualify for Medicaid.  By law, states must pay the federal government to provide the new drug benefit for their former Medicaid recipients. Most of the dual eligible beneficiaries didn't choose their drug plans.  Instead under federal law, they were assigned at random to new Medicare Part D drug plans, effective 1 JAN 06. 

 

According to media accounts, as many as 20% of the low-income Medicare beneficiaries were still going without their prescriptions after more than two weeks.  Tens of thousands were assigned to plans inappropriate for their needs. Since the federal government doesn't require drug plans to cover every drug many learned that all their prescriptions were not covered in their drug plan.  Rules allow beneficiaries to switch plans if this happens but that may take several months.  Numerous other factors also contributed to the chaos.

-     Many people did not bring or had not received their drug plan I.D. card or proof of coverage. 

-     Medicare's and drug insurers' call centers were overwhelmed.  

-     Pharmacists found that the Medicare database was riddled with errors concerning eligibility and co-payments.  Medicare officials admitted to a pharmaceutical error rate as high as 90% in the first couple of days of the program.

 

In DEC 05 the government announced contingency plans to ensure that dual eligibles would not lose coverage. It promised that seniors would leave the pharmacy with their prescription in hand, even if there was not immediate evidence of what plan they were in. But the contingency plans failed and many did. Under the rules, every drug insurer must provide a temporary supply, typically 30 days, of any prescription that a person was previously taking.  However, The New York Times reported that during the first week of the program customer service representatives at Medicare's toll free number said they knew nothing about the requirement and beneficiaries said it was virtually impossible to take advantage of it. More than 24 states and Washington D.C. took emergency action to ensure their residents got promised drugs.  Congress is being urged to fix the problems and enact legislation that would extend the Part D enrollment date from 15 MAY 06 through the end of 2006, waiving the penalty for late enrollment.  [Source: TSCL Newsletter Mar 06 ++]

 

 

AID & ATTENDANCE UPDATE 01:  A new survey shows more veterans were denied federal health care benefits in Florida last year than in any other state, with more than 27,000 being turned away. California had 17,378 denials. Veterans organizations worry that such numbers in every state will grow as the VA tries to curb rising health care costs. Aid & Attendance is an underutilized program that could open the door to the VA health care system, as well as provide money for assisted living and home health care for many vets. For years, this VA program has provided monthly payments to veterans and their spouses who have high out-of-pocket medical costs, and who are disabled or homebound, to help them offset health care expenses. The eligibility formula balances income against medical bills, so middle-class vets could qualify for payments as high as $1,744 a month. VA officials think more veterans might be eligible than are tapping into the program. A recent study commissioned by the VA suggested only about one-fourth of eligible veterans nationwide, and about 17% of eligible widows, are participating.

 

     Aid and Attendance could especially assist veterans now, as the VA has clamped down on new health care enrollments for those with no service-connected disabilities. In 2003, the department created what is called “Priority 8,” a classification that barred access to VA clinics, hospitals, physicians and medications for people over certain income limits.  Veterans who qualify for Aid and Attendance automatically get full VA health care and prescription benefits as well. Because the program’s eligibility formula does not count unreimbursed medical expenses against a veteran’s income, someone who made enough money to be denied health care under Priority 8 might get it under Aid and Attendance if his or her medical costs were high enough.  A doctor also must certify that a veteran or spouse has conditions requiring the “aid and attendance” of another person or care center in order to live safely. About half of those receiving the benefit live in nursing homes, with the rest in assisted living centers or receiving home care.

 

     While veterans and their families still may not know about Aid and Attendance, private enterprise has picked up on the program. VA officials have heard about companies that for a fee, help care centers or the veterans themselves apply.  Veteran’s service officers in each state will do the same thing for free. Private companies, however, sometimes will front money to a care facility until the VA approves the benefit, something county governments can’t do. State VA offices and information leading to the location of County Veteran Service Officers can be found at www.va.gov/partners/stateoffice.  [Source: Sun Sentinel article by Diane Lade 16 FEB 06 www.sun-sentinel.com]

 

 

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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