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

Sent: Monday, July 31, 2006 6:10 AM

Subject: RAO Bulletin Update 1 August 2006

 

RAO Bulletin Update

1 August 2006

 

 

THIS BULLETIN UPDATE CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES:

 

== VA Data Privacy Breach [20] ------- (Credit Monitoring Cancelled)

== Navy Personal Data Breach [01] ---------- (Twice since June)

== Disabled Retiree Back Pay ------------ (CRDP/CRSC Adjustments)

== Long-term Care Ins Update [02]  --------- (Insurance alternative)

== Generic Drug Use --------------------------- (Safe & Cheap)

== Medicare Rates 2007 ----------------------- (Fewer Doctors)

== Medicare Premiums 2007------------------- (11% Increase)

== Social Security Fund Depletion [02] ----- (Depletion Continues)

== VA Tinnitus Compensation [02] --------- (No Bilateral Tinnitus)

== VA-DoD Hospital Consolidation --------- (Chicago Area)

== Active Duty Pay 2007---------------------- (Pay Parity Jeopardy)

== Nursing Home Daily Rates ---------- (Shreveport the Cheapest)

== GI Bill Transferability [01] ------------- (Pilot Program Details)

== Fraudulent On Base Sales ---------------- (Congressional Action)

== Tricare Retail Pharmacy Rebates --------- ($450 Million Owed)

== Armed Forces Vacation Club [01] -------- (Affordable Vacations)

== COLA 2007 Update 04--------------------- (3.1%  to Date)

== Flag Legislation [01] ----------------------- (Display Prohibitions)

== Blood Platelets -------------------------- (Shortage in San Diego)

== VA Budget 2007 [05] ---------------------- (Senate Proposal)

== VA Appeals [02] ---------------------------- (Court Backlog)

== NDAA 2007 [08] --------------------------- (Chapter 61 Benefits)

== Debt Reduction Planner ------------------- (Elimination Cost)

== Washington DSHS Veterans Project ---- (Vets using Medicaid)

== Bariatric Surgery [01] ---------------- (High Complication Rates)

== Military Recruiting [01] ------------------ (Impact of MySpace)

== Veteran Employment [02] ---------- (Chicago OCT Symposium)

== Combat Action Ribbon [01] -------------- (USN IED eligibility)

== Tricare Maternity Care Update 01-------- (Ultrasound change)

== Military Tattoo Criteria Update 01------- (Rules Relaxed)

== Traumatic Brain Injury ------------------- (VA Treatment Study)

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

 

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Upon arrival Philippine we found that the locals had stolen the main telephone feedline on our street. Took a week to obtain new cable from Manila and four hours after it was installed it was stolen again.  This is a way for locals to supplement their income because they can burn off the insulation and sell the cable for its copper content.  Until it is replaced again there might be a delay between the time I can view your messages and respond.  If you do not receive a response in 3 days then I did not get your message and you should send again. 

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 20:  The House VA committee conducted seven hearings on information security, which led to the crafting of legislation to help ensure veterans the peace of mind that their personal data is secure.  The bill, H.R.5835 approved by a voice of the Committee on 20 JUL, would:

 

1)  Bolster data security at the VA by centralizing the VA's information technology operation.

2)  Establish a new undersecretary of information services with Cabinet status who would serve as the department's chief information officer along with three deputies for security, operations and management, and policy and planning.

3)  Require the VA to immediately report security breeches to Congress, federal authorities and the veterans whose personally sensitive information is affected.

4)  Require credit-monitoring services for victims, and investigations after any breaches to determine risks of identity theft.  That information could be anything from a birth date or home address, to a Social Security number or financial data.

5)  Call for a study into using personal identification numbers instead of Social Security numbers at the VA.

6)  Require the VA secretary to hire an outside agency to conduct a risk analysis after security breaches to determine costs or potential information misuse.

7)  Create a scholarship program for students earning doctorates in computer science. The scholarships could not exceed $50,000 per person, per year. The VA secretary also could award tuition reimbursement up to $82,500 over five years to doctoral graduates working in the VA's IT department.

 

Members of the House Energy and Commerce and Financial Services committees currently are working to combine separate pieces of legislation aiming to protect personal financial data. A bill could reach the House floor by late JUL. It is currently unknown whether the VA bill also would be part of that package. Chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN) also wants to alter the Federal Information Security Management Act to define the responsibilities of an agency secretary and undersecretary on notification of security breaches.

 

     Former top security officers at the VA offered feedback on the bill.  John Gauss, who served as CIO until 2003, recommended that the bill be implemented within 90 to 180 days so improvements to cyber security do not get delayed and or endlessly studied without action.  He also recommended that the VA look for an undersecretary who has technology qualifications. To meet his proposed timetable and qualifications, he said the VA should be given hiring authority similar to the Homeland Security Department.  His rationale was that If the VA uses business-as-usual hiring processes, it will take months or even years to properly staff the offices established by this legislation.  Buyer said he tried to incorporate some provisions of competing House data-security bills into his legislation. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R-R-WV) has sponsored a bill that includes felony criminal penalties with two- to five-year prison sentences for employees who remove sensitive data. Buyer told her that idea is outside his jurisdiction and that the Judiciary Committee would have to handle it.

 

     VA Deputy Secretary Gordon Mansfield said that because officials at the FBI and the VA inspector general's office are now highly confident files were not compromised as a result of the early May incident, some pieces of legislation that had been proposed are no longer needed.  Also, VA believes that individual credit monitoring will no longer be necessary. VA still plans to hire a company to perform data breach analysis to provide additional assurances that no data has been misused. Data breach analysis looks across multiple industries to detect patterns of misuse related to a specific data loss. VA has funds in its budget that can be used for this purpose, and there will be no reduction in the quality of health care and other services provided to veterans as a result of this expenditure. The Office of Management and Budget on 18 JUL withdrew its request for $160.5 million in additional funding for identity theft protection for those with data included in the May 06 breach. [Source: GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 18 & 20 July plus www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml ++]

 

 

NAVY PERSONAL DATA BREACH UPDATE 01:  The Navy has experienced a second personal data breach.  The first was discovered 22 JUN 06 when personal information on nearly 28,000 sailors and family members was compromised when it appeared on a civilian website.  In this second incident personal information more than 100,000 Navy and Marine Corps aviators and air crew members was discovered and removed from the Naval Safety Center Web site 6 JUL. Full names and Social Security numbers were on the command’s publicly available Web site, www.safetycenter.navy.mil. The data also was on 1,083 Web Enabled Safety System program disks mailed to Navy and Marine Corps commands. The Navy is working quickly to notify affected individuals, who include active and reserve members as well as any aviator who may have served during the past 20 years. The Navy Personnel Command in Millington, Tenn., is setting up a call center at (866) 827-5672 to be operated 24 hours a day to assist affected personnel.  Data breaches appear to have become regular occurrences in our government agencies who’s in place security systems seem to be inadequate to stop them. Veterans should consider obtaining personal protection against identity theft by signing up and paying for such services from companies that specialize in this area.  I have, and consider it just another cost of surviving in our computer age. [Source: Armed Forces News 14 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

DISABLED RETIREE BACK PAY:  Back pay is owed to roughly 20,000 recipients of Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) and 78,000 recipients of Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP). Total back pay owed is said to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Underpayment occurred as DoD and VA officials implemented a complex series of laws, starting in 2003, to end for many retirees the ban on concurrent receipt of both military retirement and VA disability compensation. Within the next few weeks, Defense officials hope to resolve final details with the VA on how their underpayments will be calculated, how processing costs will be shared between departments, how retirees will be notified and when most of these retirees can expect to be paid.  Most of the payments have to be calculated manually, rather than by computer, so it could take six months for retirees to be fully compensated.

 

     Those eligible for back pay have combat-related injuries and illnesses, or service-connected disabilities that the VA rates as at least 50% disabling. All of them also had military careers of lasting 20 years or longer. The delay in fully compensating these retirees can be blamed in part on the twisted path Congress choose for bringing some disabled military retirees relief from the century-old ban on current receipt. The ban requires that retirees who receive tax-free VA disability compensation accept a matching reduction in taxable retired pay. The dollar-for-dollar offset remains in effect today for retirees with non-combat disabilities of 40% or less. Also left out of recent law changes are veterans (i.e. Chapter 61 vets) forced by their disabilities to retire short of 20-year careers. A total of 222,000 military retirees, however, have seen their incomes climb as a result of CRSC, CRDP or both. Almost half of them, whether they know it or not, are owed more, in some cases thousands of dollars.

 

     CRSC took effect 1 JUN 03. Early payments were limited to active duty retirees who applied and were found to have combat-related disabilities of at least 60%, or disabilities of at least 10% for which they received the Purple Heart. Eligibility was expanded on 1 JAN 04, to retirees having any combat-related disability including reserve retirees. CRDP, which took effect 1 JAN 04, is payable to 20-year retirees with disabilities rated at least 50% but not tied to combat. CRDP payments are being phased in and will end the retired pay offset for seriously disabled by retirees by 2014. The size of the reduction varies by level of disability. Changes for 2005 and 2006 will end the retired pay offset faster for the most seriously disabled retirees.  [Source: Tom Phillpott 14 Jul 06article www.military.com/features/0,15240,105439,00.html ++]

 

 

 LONG-TERM CARE INS UPDATE 02:  Long-term care (LTC) insurance provides daily living assistance, such as bathing, dressing and eating, to injured, ill or aging people who cannot care for themselves due to chronic-health conditions. It may also assist people who need supervision due to a severe cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer's disease.  FLTCIP (Federal LTC Insurance Program) meets these needs and offers eligible individuals an option when purchasing LTC. Eligible individuals can apply at any time, and once enrolled, coverage can't be canceled due to age or a change in health.  Those eligible include: active and retired military members; active members of the selected Reserve; retired "grey" reservists even if they are not receiving retirement pay; those people receiving compensation from the Department of Labor; the current spouse of an eligible person; adult children, parents, parents-in-law and stepparents of living eligible people; surviving spouses receiving a survivor annuity, federal employees and annuitants; and separated federal employees with title to a deferred annuity.

 

     The FLTCIP is sponsored by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and offers group premiums and comprehensive benefits. There are two types of plans available, and enrollees may select from pre-packaged options or customize a plan to meet their needs:

-- the facilities-only plan that covers all levels of nursing home, assisted-living facility and in-patient hospice care; and

-- the comprehensive plan that covers everything the facilities-only plan covers, plus care provided at home by a nurse, home health aide, therapist, informal caregiver or other authorized provider. Costs of adult day care centers and home hospices are covered as well.

 

 OPM encourages employees to compare the federal program with other long term care insurance policies, and offers a new Benefits and Features Worksheet at www.ltcfeds.com/documents/index.html#forms . Using the worksheet, those eligible can compare the financial strength of companies, plan options, services covered, premium costs, exclusions and limitations, and more. The Web site also has two premium calculators, one for choosing a pre-packaged plan and one to customize a plan to individual needs, at https://www.ltcfeds.com/ltcWeb/do/assessing_your_needs/ratecalc. For more information, call (800) 582-3337, TTY (800) 843-3557, or visit online at www.ltcfeds.com. Certified long-term care representatives are available M-F 08-1900 EDT.  [Source: Air Force Retiree News Service 12 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

GENERIC DRUG USE:  All generic drugs in the United States must go through the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) rigorous approval process to make sure they are chemically identical to the brand-name drug. The truth is that generics give you the same medicine and the same results as their brand-name counterparts. The FDA requires pharmaceutical companies prove that the generic drug contains the identical amount of the active ingredient and works the same way as the brand-name drug. The pharmaceutical company also must manufacture the generic drug under the same strict quality guidelines as a brand-name drug. Plus, the FDA scientists, chemists and microbiologists reviewing generic medicines must have the same qualifications as those reviewing the brand drugs. Sometimes the generic manufacturer may not be allowed to use the same color or shape because of patents protecting the brand drug. These are only cosmetic differences that in no way impact the safety or effectiveness of the generic version.

 

      Buying generic is completely safe and will save consumer’s money at the pharmacy counter. Generic drugs cost much less than the brand-name version. Brand-name drug companies develop new drugs under patent protection, giving them the sole right to sell the drug. When the patent expires, generic drug companies may submit a shortened new-drug application to the FDA for approval to market an equivalent product under its chemical, or "generic," name. Under the shortened new-drug application process, the generic drug manufacturer does not have to repeat expensive research on ingredients or dosage forms that are already FDA-approved. This saves the pharmaceutical company time and money-and they pass the savings along to you.

 

     When you buy generic drugs under Tricare, your copay is only $3 which is only one-third of the $9 copay for brand-name drugs. The Defense Department's long-practiced mandatory generic drug policy requires pharmacists to fill your prescriptions with a generic drug, if one is available. Tricare will fill prescriptions for brand-name drugs that have a generic equivalent if your prescribing physician establishes medical necessity for using the brand-name drug. If you have a prescription for a drug that has no generic equivalent, your pharmacist will give you the brand-name drug at the brand-name copay price. This could be $9 or $22 depending on whether or not the brand name drug has been elevated to a Tier 3 item. [Source: Dep. Asst SECDEF for Clinical and Program Policy 4 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

MEDICARE RATES 2007:  In July 80 Senators signed a letter to both Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calling for an increase in Medicare Reimbursement Rates for physicians before the end of the session. If Congress does not act, doctor payments from Medicare will be cut by almost 5% in 2007. The American Medical Association shares veteran organization’s concern that that can only encourage more doctors to stop seeing Medicare and Tricare patients. The Kyl/Stabenow letter highlighted that current law allows Medicare rates to be cut by an estimated 37% between now and 2015.  Since Tricare payment rates are linked to Medicare's by law, the same cuts would apply to Tricare providers.

 

     A recently released American Medical Association (AMA) survey indicates that, if Medicare payments were to decline, almost half (45%) of physicians would reduce the number of new Medicare patients they accept.  Similarly, 43% said they would reduce their caseload of Tricare patients.  Many military beneficiaries already face problems finding doctors who will take Tricare patients, especially in areas where there is not a large military population. This is already affecting many mobilized Guard and Reserve families, most of whom do not live near military bases. Cutting provider payments further will only worsen their health care access problems. 

 

     The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is working with AMA and participating in joint press conferences around the country to ensure that Medicare and Tricare beneficiaries have equal access to providers.  Last year, a similar effort eliminated a planned payment cut, but only froze 2006 payment rates at 2005 levels. Bills to fix the problem were introduced in 2005.  They’re now a little dated, but they're the only current legislative vehicle veterans can use to highlight this problem to Congress.  H.R.2356 introduced by Reps. E. Clay Shaw (R-FL) and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) would change the statutory reimbursement formula to reflect changes in physicians' actual practice costs.  S.1081 sponsored by Sen. Kyl would reverse the scheduled cut for 2007 and instead provide a 2.7% increase in physician payments. Anyone wanting to support this legislation can review and/or send a MOAA-suggested letter to their representatives at http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/bills/ by scrolling down to "Health Care Issues" and clicking on the appropriate bill number. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 14 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

MEDICARE PREMIUMS 2007:  Medicare premiums will increase at least 11% in 2007 and are expected to far out-strip Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustments (COLA).  According to the most recent Social Security Trustee report, benefits will only rise by about 2.3% in 2007. In addition, for the first time next year, Medicare Part B premiums will be determined by income. Seniors with incomes below $80,000 will pay about $98.20 for their monthly Part B premium, an increase of $9.70 per month. But seniors with incomes over $80,000 will pay much higher "income related" or "means tested" premiums. To see premium estimates for the next three years refer to www.tscl.org/NewContent/102705.asp. Few details are yet available on how the government will determine and collect the means tested premiums.  The law requires that the Social Security Administration use information from tax returns.  The higher Medicare premiums are effectively a cut in benefits.  Premiums are already escalating at double-digit rates.  Since 2001 monthly premiums have increased from $50 to $88.50.  Once means testing starts, it is possible that Congress may try to expand it.  Income levels could be lowered to affect more seniors, or Congress could impose income relating for deductibles and other Medicare costs.   The Medicare Part B Premium Fairness Act, introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (NY), would repeal means testing.  [Source: TREA Senior Citizens League Leg Up Jul 06]

 

 

SOCIAL SECURITY FUND DEPLETION UPDATE 02:  The Medicare and Social Security Trustees recently warned that the financial condition of the programs has deteriorated over the past year.  In particular, Medicare Part A, which pays for hospital benefits, and is financed by payroll taxes, is in deficit and is likely to remain so without changes.  The continuing rise of Medicare Part B premiums, deductibles and co-insurance also remains a hard pill for seniors to swallow.  With the 2006 Congressional mid-term elections just around the corner, it’s unlikely that Congress will take legislative action prior to elections.  There is concern however, that proposals for much higher Medicare costs are bubbling on the back burner — and will be close to boiling over by year-end.  [Source: TREA Senior Citizens League Leg Up Jul 06]

 

 

VA TINNITUS COMPENSATION UPDATE 02:  On June 19th 2006, the United States Federal Circuit Court of Appeals handed down a decision on one of the most anticipated decisions in the history of tinnitus compensation through the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The case, Smith v. Nicholson, argued that Veterans should receive a 20% disability rating for tinnitus, providing that the tinnitus existed in both ears.  Initially, the case was decided in favor of Mr. Ellis Smith through the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and Mr. Smith was awarded a 20% disability rating for his bilateral tinnitus.  The case was appealed by the Department of Veterans Affairs because the Court of Veterans Appeals had not been consulted in interpreting the initial ruling. During the three-year legal process that the case has endured, there have been approximately 3,000 claims filed before MAY 03 kept open, each veteran hoping to receive a 20% disability rating for their bilateral tinnitus. For the full text of the decision by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals refer to  www.ll.georgetown.edu/Federal/judicial/fed/opinions/05opinions/05-7168.pdf. 

 

     The DAV is filing a case with the United States Supreme Court, but over the years they've shown little interest in veterans' cases.  If the Supreme Court rules in favor of Smith, the 3,000 disability claims that are currently open will be eligible for the 20% disability rating. It would not, however, allow any additional cases to be opened because the VA further revised DC 6260 in May 2003. As a result of the revision claims filed after that date could only get a single evaluation for recurrent tinnitus, whether the sound is perceived in one ear, both ears, or in the head. [38 C.F.R. § 4.87, DC 6260 (2004)].  In the interim the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has imposed a stay on processing any appeals involving this issue until the period allowed for an appeal to the Supreme Court expires (see www.vetapp.gov/MiscOrd-5-06.pdf ). Under Supreme Court rules, a petition may be submitted within 90 days of the date the appealed decision was entered in the lower court. The Chairman, Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA) lifted the stay on processing these tinnitus cases by rescinding his Memorandum No. 01-05-08 dtd. 28 APR 05 entitled, “Processing of Tinnitus Claims affected by Smith v.Nicholson – Imposition of Stay.”, and in a memorandum dated 10 JUL 06, lifted the stay on processing certain tinnitus claims utilizing the interpretation of the regulation that a single 10% rating is the maximum rating available under DC 6260. [Source: Bob Lazzell msg dtd. 37 JUL 06]

 

 

VA-DOD HOSPITAL CONSOLIDATION:  Inpatient medical care for more than 30,000 military personnel and dependents in the Chicago area has been transferred to a veterans hospital as a planned consolidation, the most extensive of its kind in the nation, goes forward. Inpatient care and pediatric outpatient care that had been performed at the Naval Station Great Lakes hospital will now be done at the North Chicago Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The transfer comes after a $13 million renovation completed in JUN 06 added four emergency rooms and six intensive care beds to the veterans hospital, which is less than two miles from the naval hospital. Naval Station Great Lakes’ inpatient mental health services were transferred to the veterans hospital in 2003.

 

     Outpatient care for service members and their adult dependents is scheduled to transfer to the VA center after a 200,000-square-foot medical clinic next to the existing veterans hospital opens in 2010. At that point, the naval hospital is scheduled to close. Funding for demolishing the hospital has been included in the clinic’s $130 million construction cost, but Navy officials said a final decision has not been made about the hospital’s fate. The $130 million tab also includes a parking garage and surface parking lots for the clinic. The consolidation was recommended by a 2001 panel that studied the cost of replacing the 45-year-old Navy hospital with a new facility. The two hospitals’ proximity and their history of sharing medical staff made consolidation attractive. A separate Navy study found that the consolidation would save more than $10 million in construction costs and an additional $4 million in annual operating costs. [Source: NavyTimes Chris Amos article 14 Jul 06]

 

 

ACTIVE DUTY PAY 2007:  In a break with tradition, the Senate Appropriations Committee on 27 JUL approved a higher 2007 pay raise for civilian federal employees than for military service members. On the same day committee members voted for a 2.7% civilian pay hike as part of the fiscal 2007 Transportation-Treasury appropriations bill, they backed a 2.2% pay raise for members of the military as part of the Defense spending bill. The 2.7% figure for civilians matches a mid-June vote by the full House. The 2.2% military raise also matches a House floor vote on the Defense appropriations bill, although that vote went against the House's earlier position to provide a 2.7% military raise as part of separate legislation (i.e. the fiscal 2007 defense authorization bill). For years, federal employee advocates have fought for the principle of pay parity between the two groups after the Bush administration had proposed larger raises for the military, but this year the concept has been turned on its head.  National Treasury Employees Union (NTEU) President Colleen Kelley said the appropriate pay raise for both civilian and military employees is 2.7% and NTEU will support all efforts to provide a 2.7% pay raise to both civilian and military personnel. Kelley added she expects Congress to grant a 2.7% increase to the military at the end of the process, which it could do on the Senate floor and then in conference negotiations.  A spokeswoman for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) said the difference will be negotiated as the bills move to the Senate floor."

 

     President Bush proposed a 2.2% raise in his fiscal 2007 budget for both groups, marking the first time he did not suggest a higher raise for military service members than for civilian government employees. But members of Congress said soldiers deserve a higher raise, especially in a time of war; so the House passed the 2.7% raise as part of the Defense authorization bill. That prompted a pay parity movement from pro-federal worker lawmakers. In a June statement of administration policy, the White House said it strongly opposes a 2.7% increase for federal employees.  They argue it would cost an additional $600 million on top of the Bush proposal and that any recruitment or retention challenges facing the federal government are limited to only a few areas and occupations and should not be addressed by arbitrary across-the board increases.  [Source: GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing  20 JUL 06 ++]

 

 

NURSING HOME DAILY RATES:  Looking for a place to retire—and one you can afford? According to the MetLife Mature Market Institute, the daily nursing home rate for long term care in the 10 least expensive U.S. cities is: 

1. Shreveport, La., $96

2. Little Rock, Ark., $117

3. Kansas City, Mo., $120.83

4. Birmingham, Ala., $123.36

5. Jackson, Miss., $124.01

6. Wichita, Kan., $127.43

7. Dell Rapids, S.D., $127.60

8. New Orleans, $128.65

9. St. Louis, $133.21

10. Charleston, S.C., $135.50

[Source: Augusta Group of Military Retirees msg Jun 06]     

 

 

GI BILL TRANSFERABILITY UPDATE 01:  As of 21 JUL the Army is implementing a pilot program to allow reenlisting Soldiers serving in critical skills the ability to transfer up to half their Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) benefits to their spouse.  To qualify, Soldiers must have served for at least six years, reenlist for a minimum of four years, and be qualified for a Selective Reenlistment Bonus and entitlement to a Zone B or Zone C bonus at the time of reenlistment. . The military is aware that education is a key component of any incentive package that attracts and retains Soldiers and spouses play a key role in whether or not a Soldier chooses to reenlist. MGIB transferability may be an additional lever that will enhance the Army’s ability to retain soldiers with critical skills. Giving service members the option of transferring part of their MGIB benefits to family members has been a top Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) issue for several years, demonstrating both the interest in furthering family member education and in the need for additional financial assistance for military family members pursuing higher education.

 

     Soldiers enrolled in the MGIB who qualify can transfer up to 18 of 36 months of their MGIB entitlement to the spouse, which equals a benefit of at least $18,000. The benefit can be prorated for part-time enrollment. For Soldiers who elected the Army College Fund (ACF) as an enlistment option and/or have enrolled in/paid toward the $600 MGIB Additional Opportunity, their expanded benefit is transferred. Transferability will be just another option in the retention package offered to reenlisting Soldiers. Soldiers who choose transferability will receive a smaller monetary amount for their SRB, as the Army must pay the cost of the spouse’s share of the education benefit out of its funds reserved for bonuses and incentives. The VA will continue to pay the service member’s share.

 

    The Army has considered offering MGIB transferability of benefits since it was authorized on a limited basis by Congress in the FY 2002 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The law allowed the Services to offer service members in critical skills—as determined by their Service Secretary—the ability to transfer MGIB benefits to family members.  While the law would have allowed transferability to children as well as spouses, the Army has decided to limit transferability to spouses only. Given the current conditions established in the law, the Army cannot offer transferability to all Soldiers; however, Army leaders have pledged they would explore the option of requesting that Congress expand their authority based on the success of this pilot.

 

     The Air Force originally ran a pilot program from 1 OCT 02 to 30 SEP 03, but did not offer the program in FY 2004. The Air Force cited funding constraints, the success of other retention tools, and the need to reduce their force as reasons for discontinuing the program. The Navy and Marine Corps currently do not have a program. All eligible soldiers desiring to participate in the program must contact their retention Career Counselor and complete DD Form 2366-2, Montgomery GI Bill act of 1984 (MGIB) Transferability Program at the time of reenlistment.  [Source: NMFA e-News 25 Jul 06]

 

 

FRAUDULENT ON BASE SALES:  A bill aimed at protecting service members from unscrupulous sales of investment and financial products, including insurance policies, passed the Senate on 19 JUL. This is a major step in getting changes in law that have been in the works for years. The timing of Senate action on the Military Personnel Financial Services Protection Act, S.418, is especially fitting, as DoD also has increased regulatory protections. On 10 JUL the Department published new rules in the Federal Register governing the sale of insurance and other financial products on military installations. These rules are designed to protect military families from falling prey to sales pitches for insurance or investment plans that have high costs and low value. They include:

 

-  Policy updates on the ability of on-base financial institutions and non-profit, tax exempt, private organizations to provide financial education.

-  Limits on the use of commercial sponsorship to obtain personal contact information for solicitation; and

-  Required reporting of solicitation policy violations to higher headquarters.

-  A new solicitation evaluation form to help installations detect solicitation policy violations. It incorporates some changes suggested by military leaders and organizations that sell these products, but rejected others.

 

     S.418 prohibits the sale of some financial products, such as a periodic payment product known as the mutual fund contractual plan. It also gives states jurisdiction over military installations for sales of insurance and securities, requires more disclosure to buyers about insurance policies, and sets up new procedures for barring or disciplining sales people who use abusive or misleading tactics when selling to service members. Under the bill, investment products and insurance policies can still be sold to service members and their families, but both the federal government and states would be able to enforce standards. The bill requires states to work with the Defense Department to set standards to protect the military from dishonest and predatory sales practices, and for the Pentagon to report to state insurance commissioners any disciplinary action taken against a sales person or company so that states can also take action. Additionally, the DoD would be required to keep a list of the name, address and other information about anyone who has been barred or had their access limited at any military base. Congressional hearings into problems with insurance sales found a person barred at one base could just move to start business in another location because there was no single place that tracked who was being disciplined. The Defense Department has already started such a registry.  S. 418 is similar to the Military Personnel Financial Services Protection Act (H.R.458) approved in MAR 05 by the House Financial Services Committee. Differences between the House and Senate bills will have to be worked out before a final version is passed. [NMFA e-News 25 Jul 06]

 

 

TRICARE RETAIL PHARMACY REBATES:  As the Justice Department prepares to battle drug manufacturers in court to win what U.S. lawyers say are long overdue price rebates for the Tricare retail pharmacy network, the White House quietly is pressuring Congress not to interfere. Bush administration politicos have aligned the president behind the drug makers and have undercut the Defense Department's plea for legislative relief from high retail drug costs. The administration's cozy relationship with the pharmaceutical industry may be costing the military as much as $260 million a year in drug rebates. Those costs, in turn, could encourage Congress to crimp access to the Tricare retail network for beneficiaries needing maintenance drugs. The charges leveled here come from various critics of the White House stance. Most are Democrats, but a few are disgruntled Republicans.  Drugstore chains also are upset. Their lobbyists worry that efforts to protect drug manufacturers will keep government costs so high in the Tricare retail network that Congress and Defense officials will take other actions to curb costs. These could include forcing beneficiaries to have prescriptions filled by mail order or enticing them through co-pay changes.

 

     The controversy involving the White House surfaces as Defense officials are desperate to ease the growth of pharmacy costs. Since 2000, total costs have climbed from $1.6 billion to almost $6 billion. The sharpest growth has been in the retail network. Tricare prescriptions filled by commercial druggists have tripled over five years. The cost of the Tricare retail network has climbed even faster because brand-name drug manufacturers refuse to grant discount prices, as they already do on drugs dispensed on base or through Tricare mail order. Lawyers for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense agreed last year that the Veterans Health Care Act of 1992 directs drug manufacturers to grant discounts on all drugs supplied to DoD, VA, the Public Health Service and the Coast Guard. The discounts are provided as rebates, which, on average, lower government costs by 30 to 40%.

 

    Last fall, the big pharmaceutical companies answered that finding by filing a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal District. It argues that the usual federal rebates do not apply to the Tricare retail program. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs William Winkenwerder appeared before the Senate armed services' subcommittee on military personnel last April and asked for help. He said drug makers owed rebates to Tricare worth over $450 million, and the tab is rising.. The Defense Department's 2007 budget assumes payment of the drug industry rebates for the Tricare retail network. Yet Congress never received a specific legislative proposal from the department asking to clarify the law. Those who want the rebates paid think the Office of Management and Budget blocked it.  [Source: Honolulu Advertiser Tom Philpott article 24 Jul 06] 

 

 

ARMED FORCES VACATION CLUB UPDATE 01:  The Armed Forces Vacation Club (AFVC) is a space available program offering Department of Defense affiliated personnel affordable condominium vacations at over 3,500 resorts around the world.  AFVC accesses inventory at privately owned resorts and makes condos available to the military community at this discounted flat rate when owners aren’t using them. While most of the resorts are time-share properties there is no obligation for AFVC users to attend a timeshare sales presentation and here are no membership fees or dues. Since owners use their resort less frequently during off-season , that is when most availability occurs. Especially in areas that may be overbuilt like the Canary Islands, Isla de Margarita, Hungary and parts of Mexico. AFVC is not military affiliated but is recommended and used by many Morale, Welfare, and Recreation services of the various military branches because of their consistent service to military personnel in providing low price family vacation accommodations. You are eligible to participate in the AFVC if you are 21 or older and a:

 

-  Member of the United States Uniformed Services (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, NOAA, USPHS; active duty, and both active and inactive Reserve, Auxiliarist, and National Guard) or an adult dependent.

-  Retired Member of the United States Uniformed Services (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, NOAA, USPHS, Reserve, Auxiliarist and National Guard).

-  Spouse or child (21 or older) of an active or retired member of the United States Uniformed Services (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, Navy, NOAA, USPHS, Reserve, Auxiliarist and National Guard) and have a current DD Form 1173 military ID card

-  Civilian employee of the DoD or a United States Uniformed Service (appropriated, non-appropriated, or retired).

-  Foreign exchange service member on permanent duty with the DoD.

-  American Red Cross personnel serving overseas with the U.S. military.

-  DoD Dependent School teacher.

-  Disabled American Veteran rated @ 100% with a valid DD Form 1173 military ID card.

-  Contractor working on a military installation and in possession of an ID card issued by the installation.

 

     Space-A rentals are offered for as low as $299 per unit per week. You can search for availability online at www.afvclub.com by entering the date you want to rent and the location.  You can also call a vacation guide at 1-800-724-9988 for more information.  Space-A rentals can be reserved online.  If you do not have time for a 7 night vacation but want to take a long weekend you can locate resort properties in the U.S. and Canada starting at $40/per night based on region, unit size and season.  Nightly Getaway reservations can be made 60 days or less in advance of your travel. Additional rentals at privately owned vacation homes and condominiums located at Cape Cod, St. Petersburg Beach Area, Florida Keys, Orlando, Hilton Head, Myrtle Beach SC, and Sedona AZ can also be obtained but they can only be booked by calling the AFVC Reservation line at 1-800-724-9988. Through affiliates AFRC can also offer savings on:

-  Hotels:  Up to 70% offers on hotels, cottages, resorts, and campgrounds.

-  Cars: Rental car or maintenance/repair on your car or truck.

-  Cruises:  Special military-only rates on 5 cruise lines.

[Source: www.afvclub.com Jul 06]

 

 

COLA 2007 UPDATE 04:. IN mid-July, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the JUN 06 monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retired pay, VA disability compensation, survivor annuities, and Social Security. The CPI continued its upward trend, rising 0.2% in June - for a total of 3.1% growth so far this fiscal year.  A 0.9% decrease in energy costs contributed to a smaller increase this month. Last year, the CPI had risen 3.2% through the month of June and ended up the year at 4.1%.  With inflation running only slightly behind last year’s pace so far, it would seem likely that we’ll end this year in the same ballpark.  However, it should be noted that last year a late jump in inflation resulted when energy costs skyrocketed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and significantly impacted the CPI during the last two months of fiscal year 2005. But there’s plenty of CPI roller-coaster left to navigate in the next three months, and that outlook could change in a hurry. For more information, please visit MOAA’s website at www.moaa.org/controller.asp?pagename=lac_issues_second_career_cola.  [Source: MOAA Leg Up 21 Jul 06]

 

 

FLAG LEGISLATION UPDATE 01:  In late JUN 06 the House passed a measure (H.R.42) sponsored by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) that would prohibit condominium associations, cooperative associations and residential real estate management associations from making rules against displaying the American Flag.  On 17 JUL the Senate followed suit and passed the measure by a voice vote.  The legislation is now on its way to the president and he is expected to sign it. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 21 Jul 06 & www.moaa.org/controller.asp?pagename=lac_update_060630 ]

 

 

BLOOD PLATELETS:  Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD) has a shortage of blood platelet donors due to large amounts of service members on overseas deployments. NMCSD is seeking volunteers for plateletpheresis, a procedure where platelets are taken from a healthy donor and transfused to seriously ill patients. The automated procedure collects about one tenth of the circulating platelets, an amount easily spared by the donor and regenerated by the body within 48 hours. The collection takes less than two hours. Blood platelets are small cells that help blood clotting. Although they do not cure diseases, they help people with serious illnesses such as leukemia, aplastic anemia, cancer and other diseases in which blood is affected. For more information about donating, contact the Armed Services Blood Program Office at (703) 681-8024. [Source: Armed Forces News 21 Jul 06]

 

 

VA BUDGET 2007 UPDATE 05:  On 18 JUL the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, chaired by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), approved the fiscal year 2007 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill. The legislation appropriates fiscal year 2007 funds for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In approving the bill the subcommittee voted to divert $795 million from military construction (i.e. BRAC) to prevent drug co-payments from increasing and enrollment fees from being charged to modest-income veterans seeking medical treatment who do not have service-connected disabilities. The legislation would provide more than $77.9 billion to fund the U.S.  Department of Veterans Affairs, a 9% increase above the fiscal year 2006 enacted level. It includes $41.4 billion for mandatory veterans’ benefits, 11.3 % above the fiscal year 2006 enacted level.  The subcommittee included $36.5 billion in discretionary spending, more than $2.24 billion above fiscal year 2006. This amount includes $28.7 billion for medical services, $3.6 billion for medical facilities, $399 million for medical facilities and $412 million for medical and prosthetic research.

 

     Veteran advocates were pleased to see the Senate panel reject the administration’s effort and overcome Senator Larry Craig’s (R-ID) continued, stern and animated pleas to raise fees on sick and disabled veterans.  As previously reported, the administration requested a $250 annual enrollment fee and higher prescription drug copayment ($15) for veterans with income of $26,000 or less (Priority Groups 7 & 8) in the president’s budget.  Craig, chairman of the authorizing Veterans’ Affairs Committee and member of the appropriations subcommittee, endorses the medical care fees proposed by the administration.  Craig called these the least deserving veterans. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) chairman of the military construction and veterans affairs and related agencies subcommittee that passed the funding bill said she did not think the Bush administration plan is reasonable. She called this a back-door fee scheme because the Bush administration cut the veterans’ health care budget on the assumption the fee increases would be approved, forcing Congress to either go along or find money to avoid the cuts. The bill will include language preventing the VA from doing the same thing again.

 

     Hutchison said that if the Bush administration proposed applying the higher fees to someone making $100,000 or $150,000 in annual income, she might be willing to discuss it but thinks it is outrageous for Congress to ask someone making $27,000 to pay more.  The Subcommittee’s veteran-friendly action still has several steps to go before becoming final, including approval by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the full Senate and action in conference with the House.  On 19 MAY, the House passed its version (H.R.5385) also rejecting the administration’s fee increase on veterans seeking VA health care.  [Source: NavyTimes Rick Maze article 18 Jul & NAUS Weekly Update for July 21 & ++]

 

 

VA APPEALS UPDATE 02:  A Senate committee is pressing a federal court that handles veterans’ benefits appeals to recall retired judges to handle a growing case backlog.  Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID), chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on 13 JUL said the number of cases pending before the court has doubled in the past two years and is more than three times higher than a decade ago. If these trends continue, it is a reasonable projection that the number of pending cases may grow to almost 7,000 by the end of next year and to 10,000 within the next five years.  The bottom line is that if something is not done soon to reverse these trends, veterans seeking justice from the court may have to wait in a line several years long to get their cases in front of a judge. 

 

    The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, formed in 1989, is not part of the Department of Veterans Affairs but rather a separate part of the judicial branch created specifically to handle veterans-related federal court cases, most of which deal with denial of benefits. The court’s chief judge, William P. Greene Jr., said the number of new cases per year has averaged 2,374 over the past 10 years and the court has ruled on an average of 2,114. Greene, who has been chief judge for about a year, said the backlog started growing immediately after he took over.  Since January, for example, 1,946 new cases have been filed with the court, while 1,478 cases have been decided. He could not fully explain the increase in new cases but speculated that its partly because of a VA administrative appeals process that recently has fully or partially denied an unprecedented number of claims. Another factor is that veterans are becoming more aware and more likely to use their judicial appeal rights, Greene expects this upward trend in new cases to continue. The number of cases before the Court has increased from 2,700 two years ago to over 5,800 currently. Most of the cases deal with disability compensation.

 

     With that pessimistic view, Craig and other senators wonder why the court has not used the common federal practice of recalling retired judges to tackle the backlog. If this situation doesn’t warrant a recall of judges, then what would?  Greene said the court is so new that until recently, it had no retired judges. Now, with six new members, Greene said he has been talking with recent retirees about the possibility of serving up to 180 days a year, as allowed under law. But there are hurdles to overcome. Recalling at least two judges would require giving each judge three clerks and one secretary. That, and the cost of providing extra office space and security, would cost about $1.1 million. The Senate committee wants Greene to act. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said veterans who appeal to the court already have spent an average of 18 months working their way through VA’s administrative process and should not have to wait another year or more.

 

     Sen. Daniel K. Akaka( HI), the committee’s senior Democrat, noted that  for many veterans, the claims process can be an arduous ordeal. Veterans deserve to have their pending issues resolved fairly and in a reasonable amount of time. Veterans’ groups worry about the toll the appeals process has on people seeking benefits. Disabled veterans who are often elderly and quite sick must wait for unacceptably long periods of time for resolution of their appeals, according to Joseph Violante of Disabled American Veterans, which provides attorneys to veterans who do not have legal representation before the appeals court. He also said evidence is scant that the court is serious about cutting the backlog, noting that the 2007 budget for the appeals court seeks funding for just one more employee.

 

     A VA claim may be appealed from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals to the U.S. Court of Veterans Appeals.  This court reviews decisions rendered by VA’s Board of Veterans’ Appeals and is independent of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Only claimants may seek a review by the court and VA may not appeal board decisions. To appeal to the court, the claimant must have filed a Notice of Disagreement on or after 18 NOV 88.  The notice of appeal must be filed with the court with a postmark that is within 120 days after the Board of Veterans’ Appeals mails its final decision. The court does not hold trials or receive new evidence.  The court reviews the record that was considered by the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.  Oral argument is held only at the direction of the court.  [Source: VFW Washington Weekly 17 Jul & NavyTimes Rick Maze article 24 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

NDAA 2007 UPDATE 08:  As the House and Senate continue negotiations over a final 2007 defense authorization bill, a key measure sought by veterans’ advocates will be absent. During Senate debate at the end of last month, Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) amendment to provide an additional benefit for Chapter 61 (i.e. those with less than 20 years service) retirees was not proposed and the House bill does not contain the provision either.  This provision would have changed federal law so that injured veterans with fewer than 20 years of military service could have drawn both a VA disability payment and combat-related special compensation. About 28,000 retired veterans with fewer than 20 years of service would have qualified for the combat-related pay. Right now, they get only the disability payment. Discussions, informal and otherwise, are underway to sort out the thousands of differences between the House and Senate defense authorization bills. At stake are many personnel, quality of life and readiness issues including active duty pay, defense against IEDs, TRICARE policy, survivor benefits and a number of other measures aimed to maintain a strong national defense.  [Source: NAUS Update 14 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

DEBT REDUCTION PLANNER:  People today are racking up big bills and taking on far more debt than they can handle. Experts blame the financial problems Americans, especially older ones, on an array of factors, among them: job loss, medical expenses, death of a spouse, divorce, financial support for children or grandchildren and less retirement income.  To see what it would take to reduce or eliminate your debt refer to www.aarp.org/bulletin/yourmoney/debt_reduction_calculator.html.  Here you can determine how long it will take to pay off your existing debt with whatever monthly payment you feel you can afford.  All you need do is select the type of debt (i.e. credit card, auto, real estate etc.), the amount owed, and the payment you feel you could make to reduce it to a manageable level or eliminate it. The calculator will automatically compute the number of months it will take and the total repayment you will make. For example, If you have accumulated $10,000 in credit card debt at 8% APR (which is quite low for credit card use) and are only making minimum monthly payments of 1% it would take you 13 years 8 months at a cost of  $16,534 vs. making a $200 monthly payment for 5 years 2 months at a cost of $12,204.  This is of course assuming you stopped making any additional charges to you cards.   Obviously, the more you can afford to pay the quicker you can get out from under and the less it will cost you overall. [Source: AARP Online Bulletin 7 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

WASHINGTON DSHS VETERANS PROJECT:  Many low-income U.S. military veterans are using Medicaid benefits because they do not realize they are eligible for comprehensive federal health care programs. Washington state’s Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) became aware of this in the course of reviewing how to stretch the state dollars used in Medicaid to meet the increasing demands. A win-win solution was to help veteran’s get the federal benefits they have earned and redirect the state money veteran’s would have received into service for others in need. Thus, the DSHS Veterans project was born in 2001. A key to the project’s success is access to records. DSHS joined a multi-state consortium called PARIS (the Public Assistance Reporting Information System) that connects records of DOD, VA, other states and the DSHS client eligibility computerized system. The information allows the project team to research a veteran’s records to determine the level of eligibility for benefits. Ultimately, the goal is to immediately identify all Washington’s veterans as they enroll in Medicaid and automatically help them locate all the benefits they are due.  Washington is home to 600,000+ veterans and their dependents. 

 

     By law, Washington and many other states must pursue reimbursement for Medicaid costs associated with receiving long term care (LTC) services, from the estates of deceased Medicaid recipients. This is usually facilitated through the state's Estate Recovery process. Veterans, who use veteran’s health care benefits, can reduce the amount of Medicaid used and reduce or eliminate the amount owed by their estates.  The federal government does not try to recover veterans health care costs because they are benefits of service to the nation. In many cases, the veterans and their families are not aware that they are eligible for V A related benefits. Additionally, there are even more that overlook the requirement to repay the

state for LTC related Medicaid services.  Major benefit targets for the DSHS veteran project include:

 

-  Aid and Attendance: Many veterans on Medicaid may qualify to draw a monthly federally funded pension or compensation from the state Department of Veteran Affairs.

-    Prescription drugs: Veterans enrolled in an appropriate VA health-care system are typically eligible for federal coverage of prescription drugs. Drugs are an enormous cost-driver for the state’s Medicaid program, which spends up to $1 billion a biennium purchasing medication. Any of this cost is shifted to the federal government helps ease that burden.

-  Durable Medical Equipment (DME): Veterans may use Medicaid to purchase these items, but the federal government normally would cover this cost. DME includes medical devices ranging from wheelchairs to breathing aids and other essential equipment.

-  Family benefits: Pensions or increased pensions may be available for not only veterans but also widows and children of veterans. Veterans and their families also may be eligible for federal financial or medical coverage through CHAMPVA or TRICARE benefits. Those cover about 80% of a veterans’ long-term skilled nursing care and 100% of their prescription drug needs. Most VA-related prescriptions can be filled at easily accessible commercial pharmacies such as Rite-Aid, Wal-Mart or Albertson’s.

 

Citizens who have information about a veteran, veteran's widow or other dependents of a veteran on Medicaid may call the DSHS Veterans Project Team directly at 1(800) 280-0586.  To find out more about the program refer to www.aasa.dshs.wa.gov/topics/PARIS/.  [Source: Bill Allman Program Manager msg 26 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

BARIATRIC SURGERY UPDATE 01:  An HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) study has found that about 40% of 2,522 patients who had obesity surgery at 308 hospitals developed a significant complication during the six months after they left the hospital. The researchers reported:

**The overall complication rate increased from 21.9% during hospitalization to 39.6% by the end of the study period.

**The five most common complications were dumping syndrome, which includes vomiting, reflux, and diarrhea (nearly 20%); leaks or strictures resulting from the joining of the intestine and stomach (12%); abdominal hernias (7%); infections (6%); and pneumonia (4%).

**The overall death rate was only 0.2 percent, but 7.2% required hospital readmission.

 

     The study, which followed non-elderly patients with private insurance, is the most extensive to date on postsurgical complications from obesity operations based on insurance claims data.  Most studies have been limited to complications that occur before hospital discharge or up to 30 days post-discharge. Bariatric surgery produces weight loss by mechanically restricting the size of the stomach, which limit the amount of food that can be consumed in a single meal. It is intended for people who are morbidly obese (about 100 pounds over desirable weight) and in danger of dying as a result.  This study illustrates how important it is to consider potential complications when considering whether to undergo a bariatric surgical procedure. Another AHRQ study found that the number of Americans having obesity surgery rose from 13,386 in 1998 to 71,733 in 2002. [Source: Consumer Health Digest #06-30, 25 Jul 06]

 

 

MILITARY RECRUITING UPDATE 01:  Web surfers now can go to the Marines’ MySpace page and click on “Contact a Recruiter.” This directs them to the Marines.com site where they can insert their name, address and phone number on a form to enable recruiters to arrange to meet them. Since the site was activated five months ago, more than 12,000 MySpace visitors have checked in as friends of the Corps, and more than 430 have signed up to contact a Marine recruiter. The Marines consider 170 of them to be prospective recruits. The Army tried MySpace in January, but dropped it after reports surfaced of predators approaching children through the site. The Air Force advertises on MySpace but hasn’t posted a profile. The Navy hasn’t participated.  The site has more than 94 million registered members.  Many younger users of MySpace.com post personal profiles and develop lists of contacts with similar interests.

 

     The Marines may love MySpace, but Air Force officials have their doubts. Special Agent Jared Whittenberg of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations says the site's great for keeping in touch with friends, but warns service members against putting too much personal information on a MySpace page--or worse, posting inside information on military operations. Part of the responsibility of being a member of Air Force is properly representing it on and off duty. About 30 people at Nellis Air Force Base NV already have gotten in trouble for posting inappropriate information, such as solicitation of homosexual prostitution, sensitive operational information and promotion of underage drinking.

 

     The online site MySpace offers individuals free membership to create a personalized Web page. MySpace members can share personal photos and use it to catch up with old friends from college and high school, not to mention meet new people all across the world. In addition to networking with other individuals, the site allows its members to speak their minds by posting bulletins and Web-logs, or blogs, on whatever they want. Users should be concerned that disclosing too much personal information is increasingly dangerous with the threat of identity theft. A thief can piece information together little by little. If they have your mother's name and your birth date, it's not that hard to get your Social Security number. According to a statement from News Corp., MySpace's parent company, the site accounted for 4.46% of all U.S. Internet visits for the week ending 8 JUL, pushing it past Yahoo Mail for the first time and outpacing the home pages for Yahoo, Google and Microsoft's MSN Hotmail. As a result of the increased popularity of MySpace, OSI now checks the site for incriminating information.  [Source: Armed Forces News & GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 28 Jul 06 ++]

 

 

VETERAN EMPLOYMENT UPDATE 02:  The national unemployment rate for the youngest veterans was 15.6 percent in 2005. Moreover, many 20 to 24 year-old veterans feel stuck in jobs that are demeaning or don’t pay them what they’re worth. To counter this, AMVETS is hosting the National Symposium for the Needs of Young Veterans October 18-22 OCT 06, in Chicago, IL. The organization plans to bring together a diverse and representative group of veterans to discuss how to ensure a system of earned benefits that is both adequate and relevant to the needs of younger veterans. Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi will co-chair the symposium. For more information, visit www.veteransnationalsymposium.org. [Source: Armed Forces News 28 Jul 06]

 

 

COMBAT ACTION RIBBON UPDATE 01:  The Navy Department Awards Web Service site has integrated the Marine Corps’ new eligibility criteria for the Combat Action Ribbon (CAR) for Sailors assigned to Marine Corps units.  Under the policy change, Navy members assigned to Marine Corps units who take appropriate actions during exposure to the detonation of an improvised explosive device meet the CAR eligibility. Before the modification, if a roadside bomb was detonated, Navy and Marine Corps members did not rate the CAR unless an exchange of fire occurred.  The policy change is retroactive to Oct. 7, 2001. For more information, see ALMAR 010/06 and MARADMIN 118/06 available in the NAVADMIN links on the left side of the awards web service site at http://awards.navy.mil.. [Source:  Armed Forces News 21 Jul 06]

 

 

TRICARE MATERNITY CARE UPDATE 01:  Tricare Management Activity (TMA) recently changed the maternity ultrasound policy, making ultrasounds easier to obtain when medically necessary.  Ultrasounds for medical necessity have always been part of Tricare’s maternity benefit; however, they were formerly covered as a service within the global fee for prenatal care and delivery services.  According to Army Col. (Dr.) John Kugler of the Tricare Office of the Chief Medical Officer, “Because an obstetric ultrasound is not a simple procedure, and may be an involved process, as of 4 APR 06, the policy was policy was changed to have Tricare cover medically necessary maternity ultrasounds separate from the global delivery fee.” Doctors often perform medically necessary maternity ultrasounds at different times during pregnancy.  According to Kugler, if an obstetric provider has reason for concern, Tricare will cover the ultrasound.  Specific conditions for which Tricare will cover an ultrasound include the following:

-  Estimating gestational age

-  Evaluating fetal growth

-  Conducting a biophysical evaluation for fetal well-being

-  Evaluating a suspected ectopic pregnancy

-  Defining the cause of vaginal bleeding

-  Diagnosing or evaluating multiple gestations

-  Confirming cardiac activity

-  Evaluating maternal pelvic masses or uterine abnormalities

-  Evaluating suspected hydatidiform mole

-  Evaluating the fetus’s condition in late registrants for prenatal care

 

The enhanced ultrasound benefit also helps Tricare beneficiaries and providers develop stronger partnerships as they discuss when it is appropriate to perform an ultrasound to ensure the best outcome.  This benefit enhancement gives uniformed services families greater peace of mind during what can be an emotional time.  Tricare is committed to offering world-class maternity care to world-class service members.  For more information about the enhanced maternity ultrasound benefit, interested parties may visit Tricare’s Web site at http://manuals.tricare.osd.mil and click on the Tricare Policy Manual, Change 39, which was posted on  4 APR 06.  [Source: TMA Communications 3 Jul 06]

 

 

MILITARY TATTOO CRITERIA UPDATE 01:  Today, 36% of Americans age 18 to 29 have at least one tattoo, according to a recent study. The study, which appeared on the Web site of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, provides perhaps the most in-depth look at tattoos since their popularity exploded in the early 1990s. The results suggest that one in four Americans between 18 and 50 are tattooed.  Two surveys from 2003 suggested just 15% to 16% of U.S. adults had a tattoo. On Capitol Hill earlier this year, Rep. Vic Snyder (D-AR) cited the increasing popularity of tattoos among civilians in calling on the services to adopt more liberal policies about tattoos on troops. He raised the issue after hearing from a constituent who was not able to join the Air Force because of his tattoos.  The Army and Navy relaxed their tattoo rules this year. Army officials allow ink on the neck and hands so long as the tattoos are not offensive. A move that came as the service struggled to meet recruiting goals. The Navy loosened restrictions on the size and number of tattoos sailors may have. But where they have given ground on tattoos, the services still restrict piercings, despite their increasing popularity among civilians.

 

     About one in seven people surveyed reported having a piercing somewhere other than in the soft lobe of the ear, according to the study. That total rises to nearly one in three for the 18-to-29 set. Just about half in that age category had either a tattoo or a piercing. Given their youth, that suggests the percentage of people with body art will continue to grow according to the study’s co-author Dr. Anne Laumann, a Northwestern University dermatology instructor. They haven’t had time to get their body piercing or tattoo. They are just beginning to get into it, and the number is already big. Laumann and others believe body art become so popular because it allows people to broadcast to the world what they are all about. Others call it a sign of rebellion or a rite of passage.  The survey found nearly three-fourths of the pierced and nearly two-thirds of the tattooed made the leap before age 24. The survey also found that what your mother may have told you about those with tattoos is true: People who drink, do drugs, have been jailed or forgo religion are more likely to be tattooed.

 

     The same holds for piercings, although rates do not appear to vary with education, income or job category. Nearly one in four people surveyed reported medical problems with piercings, including skin infections. Among those with mouth or tongue piercings, an equal proportion reported chipped or broken teeth. For tattoos, 13% of respondents had problems with healing. Generally, the Food and Drug Administration receives few reports of complications from tattoos. The industry is regulated by state and local officials but not by the FDA, and there is no such thing as an agency-approved tattoo pigment or ink.  The FDA is considering more involvement. None of the respondents had gotten a tattoo removed, although 17% had considered it. The telephone survey on tattoos included 253 women and 247 men and was conducted in 2004. It has a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.  [Source: Navy times article 31 Jul 06]

 

 

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY:  Rep. Michael Michaud (D-ME), the Ranking Democratic Member of the Health Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Congress’ investigative arm, to conduct a comprehensive study of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) efforts to identify and treat veterans with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Servicemembers who sustain a closed head injury may have a mild TBI, which may not be readily identified by medical professionals, veterans, or their families.  Mild TBI symptoms, including slower or confused thinking, memory loss, and mood changes, may not be evident for months or years after the initial injury.  Michaud’s request for the GAO study came after newspaper reports that researchers screening returning troops found that 10% suffered at least one minor brain injury during combat, which may go undiagnosed because troops have no visible wounds.

 

     In addition, the congressionally created VA Committee on the Care of Severely Chronically Mentally Ill Veterans has identified that the VA needs to develop resources to identify and treat returning veterans who have brain injury.  The Committee recommended significant initiatives to address the needs of veterans with TBI. VA’s Inspector General recently issued a report that gave the VA mixed reviews for its treatment of severely and moderately brain-injured veterans.  VA’s case management of veterans care and support for families dealing with a brain-injured veteran were inconsistent. Michaud’s request asks GAO to determine how the VA ensures that veterans who have experienced a mild TBI are identified and treated when they seek care at VA medical facilities, how the VA provides the needed education and support for families caring for veterans with TBI, and the obstacles to identifying veterans with mild TBI.  [Source: Rep. Michael Michaud Press Release 25 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:  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.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 237: Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-15). 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.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 250:  Bobby Jindal (R-LA)

 

H.R.808:  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. The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 207: Rep. Melissa Bean (D-IL-08). 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. The following sponsors were added to this bill giving it a total of 143: Rep Ernest J. Istook, [OK-5] & Rep Mark Kennedy [MN-6]. 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.  The following sponsors wer added to this bill giving it a total of 335: Rep. Ralph Regula (R-OH-16) & Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA-3).  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: 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:  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. 

The following sponsors were added to this bill giving it a total of 51: Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN-3). 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: 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. 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:  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. The following 3 sponsors were added to this bill giving it a total of 173: Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL-6), Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA-2), & Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA-3). 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: 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. 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: 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.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 8: Rep. John Barrow (D-GA-12).   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: To amend title 10, United States Code, to prohibit increases in fees for military health care.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 160: Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-NY-7).  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: To provide for Medicare reimbursement for health care services provided to Medicare-eligible veterans in facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The following sponsors were added to this bill giving it a total of 20: Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS-01), Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC-02), Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA-4) & Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX-10). To support this bill and/or send a message to your Representative refer to http z.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8670886

 

S.185:  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 52. 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. The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 14: Sen David Vitter (LA).  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. The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 63: Sen Tom Harkin (IA). To support this bill and/or send a message to your Senator refer to http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7787396

 

S.2617: A bill 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.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 9: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). 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:  A bill 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. The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 39: Sen Byron Dorgan (ND). 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:  A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to remove certain limitation on attorney

representation of claimants for veterans’ benefits in administrative proceedings before the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.  The bill has a total of 5 sponsors.  Last activity on this bill was in the Committee on Veterans' Affairs where it was ordered it to be reported without amendment favorably and it was Placed on Senate Legislative Calendar under General Orders. Calendar No. 540.  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 will be out of session beginning next week (July 31 to Sept. 4).  The Senate will begin its recess the week after next (Aug 7 to Sept. 4).  Both chambers will be out for the entire month of August.  With members heading back home to campaign and meet with constituents, August is the perfect month to talk to your Congressman/woman and Senators. There are only 98 days until Election Day.  Be sure you are registered to vote and make your vote count. . [Source: USDR Action Alerts 15-31 Jul 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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