FedWatch
by Lisa Nurnberger ~ July, 2001

VA Will Improve Mental Health Care Program


The Department of Veterans Affairs has a plan to improve services for the more than half million veterans it treats for mental health illness. The VA's Undersecretary for Health Thomas Garthwaite described the plan at a conference held by the nonprofit organization the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. He started by saying he considers his Department's mental health program outstanding. 

"The VA for many years has seen mental health as a normal part of all health care and has never tried to restrict benefits like has been done too often in the past in the private sector." 

But, he says there's still lots of room for improvement. That's why the VA has begun collecting data to measure its own performance. 

"We've tried to set up some very consistent guidelines of things we think should be done all the time. For instance we think that all patients should be asked about whether they're depressed or not and whether they're having a problem with alcohol and so forth." 

He says by randomly pulling charts, the VA found it's screened 60 percent of vets for alcoholism so far this year and 62 percent for depression. Both are improvements from last year, but he says, there are inconsistencies at facilities across the county. 

"What it means is that we have to have better training, better methods to remind clinicians, in their visits with patients, to do this, and better ways of rolling that data back up and feeding it to clinicians so they know they're improving." 

The VA is also standardizing treatment protocol. Garthwaite says while he doesn't want to stomp on a practitioner's right to make choices, he won't let them practice bad medicine. 

"When it was first known that antibiotics were good for ulcers there was a fairly long time between when it was first known and the science was very good and when it was universally applied in every doctor's office in every state in America. The same could be said in mental health. When there's an advance in anti-depression medication you have to teach every practitioner how to use it, when to use it. Getting that consistency in delivery takes a long time and what we'd like to do is shorten that time period." 

He says, by monitoring itself the VA can learn how well it's delivering care and make adjustments accordingly. 
 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Benefits Subcommittee Expands Presumptive Illness List And Recommends
Cost-of-Living Adjustment for Veterans

July 12
 

Full Committee Action Expected Soon on the 'Veterans Benefits Act of 2001'

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Vietnam veterans exposed to herbicides and Gulf War veterans with undiagnosed illnesses would gain from a draft bill the House VA Subcommittee on Benefits passed by unanimous voice vote Thursday.

The Veterans Benefits Act of 2001 would add Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2) to the list of service-connected diseases presumed for Vietnam veterans, and expand the definition of undiagnosed illnesses for Persian Gulf War veterans to include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic multisymptom illnesses, and any other illnesses that cannot be defined.

A related provision would authorize the Secretary of Veterans of Affairs to protect the service connection grant of a Gulf War veteran who participates in VA-sponsored medical research.

The measure is a sequel to H.R. 801, the Veterans' Survivor Benefits Improvement Act, which added $100 million in new health care and insurance benefits for benefits and surviving spouses and was signed into law by President Bush on June 5.

Subcommittee Chairman Michael Simpson (ID-2) and Ranking Democrat Member Silvestre Reyes (TX-16) said Thursday's measure now goes to the full Committee and then to the House floor. It would also provide cost-of-living adjustments to service-connected disability compensation for veterans and their survivors. The adjustment would equal the increase provided to recipients of Social Security. Other provisions of the bill would:

· Authorize the VA Secretary to pay unclaimed National Service Life Insurance and U.S. Government Life Insurance proceeds to an alternate beneficiary when the first beneficiary cannot be located within three years of the insured's death;

· Extend to 2005 the VA's direct loan program for Native American veterans living on tribal trust lands;

· Modify the requirement for loan assumption language in home loan documents;

· Eliminate the requirement for veterans to furnish the VA Secretary with a copy of their notices to appeal filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims;

· Require the VA Secretary to establish a two-year pilot expansion of the available hours of the VA's 1-800 toll-free information service, and to assess the demand for the service, and;

· Allow the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to impose registration fees for participation in Court-sponsored activities and to use registration and practice fees for disciplinary and other administrative purposes.

 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
VA COMMITTEE LEADERS QUESTION 'EITHER-OR' HEALTH CARE CHOICE

July 13
 

Smith and Evans want legislation delayed pending joint agency review and report

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Until all potential effects are considered, leaders of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee said they will oppose legislation requiring military retirees to make an irrevocable choice between military or VA health care systems.

Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-4) and Ranking Democrat Member Lane Evans (IL-17) wrote VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on July 13th urging joint consultation by the two agencies with an outside organization to study the proposal. A similar letter was also sent to House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman Jerry Lewis (CA-40) and Ranking Democrat Member John P. Murtha (PA-12) asking them to delay action until VA and the Pentagon submit a joint report to Congress.

"On its face this would seem to be a positive step toward a more efficient use of scarce federal health resources," the letter stated, "but virtually nothing is known about the potential effects of the proposal."

President Bush first unveiled the proposal in his budget message, A Blueprint for New Beginnings. Under the proposal, a military retiree could chose either the VA or military health care system for a defined period, but not both systems.

Chairman Smith and Ranking Member Evans want the proposal studied in comparison with coordinated services for veterans with dual eligibilities for VA and military health care, and with other arrangements that would not limit beneficiary choices. Other areas to study would include:

· The effectiveness of comparable or similar methods in the private sector and in Medicare or Medicaid;

· The acceptability to the beneficiary concerned;

· Timing and cost of implementation;

· Health policy, and;

· Budgetary, information technology, and workload implications.

"This information would provide a sound basis for Congress to consider legislation to authorize such a program in the future," the letter stated.
 


Express-News: Military 
WWII vets' funerals tax modern military 

By Pauline Jelinek 
Associated Press 

Web Posted : 07/18/2001 

WASHINGTON — Deaths of World War II veterans have risen to about 1,200 day, and the Pentagon is looking for volunteers to sound taps, present the U.S. flag and perform other military honors at funerals.

"It's very much of a challenge for all the services," to provide such ceremonies at so many funerals, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. Craig Quigley said.

"But it's something that we need to do," he said. "This the right thing to do."

From the pool of millions of troops that served in World War II, Quigley said some 1,200 veterans are dying daily, up from 1,000 a day two years ago.

The volunteer program, to start later this summer, seeks help from veterans, reservists and others and is aimed at freeing members of the 1.4 million active-duty force already stressed by more deployments.

Not all families ask for military honors. Still, the Pentagon says it performed at 91,174 funerals last year. The number is expected to keep rising for several years until that generation of veterans is gone, then stabilize and finally decline.

"It's all a desire to do the right thing for the families of our deceased veterans, particularly of the World War II generation," Quigley said.

"And when you balance that still-growing number of deaths per month from that very, very large number of Americans that served in the Second World War against the active duty and reserve requirements of today's military, the numbers don't match."

The Pentagon is committed by law to send to two uniformed service members to each funeral — one of which should be from the same service as the deceased. They are supposed to do the folding and the presenting of the flag to the surviving family members and to sound taps.

"And that is what we feel we are committed to doing as a minimum each and every time," Quigley said, adding that a firing squad or honor cordon would "add a level of solemnity and dignity to every funeral service if you could have more people."

Officials said that in preliminary contacts, veterans organizations have said they will gladly take on the responsibility, but will need some training to brush up on the duties. 

07/18/2001 
 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 19, 2001

HOUSE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE APPROVES COLA, EXPANDED LIST OF GULF WAR
ILLNESSES

 


Full House Vote Expected Next Week on Committee's Second Benefits Bill of the Year

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House Veterans' Affairs Committee reported out its second benefits bill of the year Thursday, a package that would expand the definition of illnesses for Persian Gulf War veterans and grant a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the compensation of disabled veterans and their survivors.

In introducing the Veterans Benefits Act of 2001 (H.R. 2540), Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-4) stressed the importance of the COLA and described the bill as a companion to the Veterans Opportunities Act of 2001 (H.R. 801), which has already been signed into law.

The VA estimates the COLA will be 2.5 percent.

H.R. 2540 would authorize the VA Secretary to provide disability compensation to Persian Gulf veterans whose claims for chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or other "hard-to-diagnose" illnesses have previously been denied.

The bill would also authorize the VA Secretary to continue disability payments to a Persian Gulf War veteran who participates in VA-sponsored medical research and who is subsequently diagnosed with a specific disease. Other provisions of  the bill would:

· Add Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2) to the list of service-connected benefits presumed for Vietnam Veterans

· Authorize the VA Secretary Authorize to pay unclaimed National Service Life Insurance and U.S. Government Life Insurance proceeds to an alternate beneficiary when the first beneficiary cannot be located within three years of  the insured's death;

· Extend to 2005 the VA's direct loan language program for Native American veterans living on tribal trust lands;

· Modify the requirement for loan assumption language in home loan documents;

· Require the VA Secretary to establish a two-year pilot expansion of the available hours of the VA's 1-800 toll-free information service, and to assess the demand for the service.

The bill's provisions would complement those of H.R. 801 (now Public Law 107-14), which increased insurance coverage to veterans and their dependents and expanded health insurance for survivors of veterans who die of a
service-connected disability.
 


ARMED FORCES NEWS

July 20, 2001

1. New Vet Benefits Bill Advancing Last week the House VA Subcommittee on Benefits passed the Veterans Benefits Act of 2001. The measure would add Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2) to the list of service-connected diseases presumed for Vietnam veterans, and expand the definition of undiagnosed illnesses for Persian Gulf War veterans to include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic multisymptom illnesses, and other illnesses that cannot be defined. The new measure also would provide cost-of-living adjustments to service-connected disability compensation for veterans and their survivors. The adjustment would equal the increase provided to recipients of Social Security. The legislation is a sequel to the Veterans' Survivor Benefits Improvement Act, which President Bush signed into law on June 5. Full committee action is expected soon. The bill also would:

Authorize the VA Secretary to pay National Service Life Insurance and U.S. Government Life Insurance proceeds to an alternate beneficiary when the first beneficiary cannot be located within three years of the insured's death;

Extend to 2005 the VA's direct loan program for Native American veterans living on tribal trust lands;

Modify the requirement for loan assumption language in home loan documents, and

Eliminate the need for veterans to furnish the VA Secretary with a copy of their notices to appeal filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.

2. GAO Fingers Records Center for VA Claims Delays The National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis is partly to blame for delays in claims processing by the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to the General Accounting Office. The problem is the time it takes the NPRC to provide records requested by veterans. The GAO reported a backlog of 214,000 requests for documents with an expected increase to 240,000 by December, adding about a three-month delay. Rep. Lane Evans, Ill., ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, described the center's filing system as being unchanged for 50 years, with almost 100 million files and records being stored in cardboard boxes. Deputy archivist Lewis J. Bellardo asserts that the center is making a sustained effort to improve services.

3. House Committee Opposes Forced Choice Leaders of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee have declared that, until all potential effects are considered, they will oppose legislation forcing military retirees to choose between military or VA health care systems. Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Ranking Democrat Member Lane Evans, Ill., wrote VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on July 13th urging joint consultation by the two agencies with an outside organization to study the proposal. A similar letter was sent to Chairman Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and Ranking Democrat Member John P. Murtha, Pa., of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, asking them to delay action until the VA and the Pentagon submit a joint report to Congress. President Bush first unveiled the proposal in his budget message.

4. Non-VA Emergency Care Okayed for Some Vets The Department of Veterans Affairs will begin reimbursing non-VA hospitals for emergency services provided to eligible veterans who have no other means of payment. Such veterans must: be enrolled in VA health care, and must have been seen by a VA health care professional within 24 months. When those conditions are met, the veteran pays nothing. VA will pay 70 percent of the applicable Medicare rate and VA payment will be payment in full. The VA will pay for private-sector emergency care only until the veteran can be safely transported to a VA facility. For more information contact the nearest VA health care facility or call 1-877-222-8387
.

FedWatch
by Kimberly Oates

 


Military Works to Step Up Standards at Funerals for Vets

DOD is teaming up with veterans groups to bring a new level of honor to military funerals. 

Secretary of Defense for Force Management Policy, Charles Abell says the Department of Defense, with the help of partners like the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and others, has launched the Authorized Provider Program in order to train the staff needed to beef up the amount of military presence at veterans' funerals. 

Abell says it just makes sense. "Rendering honor to these vets is the right thing to do. It's a fulfillment of a commitment to the nation in return for their service." 

Volunteers would receive the training needed to perform on rifle volley teams or act as pallbearers or color guards. He says, "They would be trained by the local installation commander and once they've completed the training, they would go to the funerals and provide whatever assistance they could." 

While the Pentagon has always encouraged active military participation at soldiers' funerals, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2000 now mandates it. And Abell says they are ready. 

"The minimum honor that will be provided upon request is two military personnel, one of them representing the service of the deceased veteran, a bugler, if a bugler is not available, a high quality recording of Taps and a flag, which would be folded and then presented to the next of kin." 

He adds that the Defense Department hopes to expand what it can offer the families of deceased vets by, "having a rifle squad, having a number of pallbearers, having a color guard, bugler and a representative from the service of the deceased to present the flag--the closer we can come to that for every veteran, clearly the better off we are." 

Any vet who served Uncle Sam "honorably" is deserving of honors. Families just need to put in a request, giving the service as much advanced notice as possible. Uncle Sam then foots the entire bill. 

Abell says all parties are on board and enthusiastic about doing their part. He says, "Feedback from all corners is very positive. The funeral directors are delighted. The veteran service organizations are excited." 

For more information on requesting honors for a veteran, simply click here. 
http://www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil/
 


Express-News: Military 
Navy's newest ship is solid — like its namesake 
By Sig Christenson 
San Antonio Express-News 


Web Posted : 07/22/2001 

NEW ORLEANS — They gathered Saturday on the west bank of the Mississippi River, facing a ship as stout and stoic as the fierce warrior whose last name is stenciled in black on its bow.


Yvette Benavidez Garcia (center) dabs tears as her father is remembered for heroism in Vietnam, at the christening Saturday of the USNS Benavidez in New Orleans.
Photos by Kin Man Hui/Express-News Photographer

A portrait of Medal of Honor recipient Roy Benavidez is presented at the christening of the naval ship named in his honor in New Orleans on Saturday. The late San Antonian was a Green Beret in Vietnam.

The strategic sealift ship built at the Avondale shipyard in New Orleans was built to carry troops, vehicles and weapons to war. 

The USNS Roy P. Benavidez was welcomed into the Navy in the brief moment it took for the late soldier's wife, Hilaria, to release the bottle that smashed against the ship's hull, sending a spray of champagne into the air.

"In the name of the United States," said Benavidez, 67, of El Campo, "I christen thee Benavidez."

A cluster of red, white and blue balloons sailed skyward above the 85-foot-tall bow, festooned with patriotic bunting, and the crowd of 400 broke into applause.

In a ceremony punctuated by patriotic music and, at times, tears, officials and family members gathered on a sticky Saturday not just to cheer the ship, a transport vessel that someday may take soldiers and their equipment into war, but to celebrate a remarkable life.

"We honor a man," said Cmdr. Virgil J. Tillman of the Navy's chaplain corps, "who in the worst of times did his best."

Born in the South Texas community of Lindenau, Raul Perez Benavidez rose from a modest life as a sharecropper's son, migrant worker and seventh-grade dropout to elite, battle-tested Green Beret.

He earned a high school diploma while in the Army and the nation's highest decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor.

Buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery after his death in San Antonio three years ago, Benavidez earned a place among America's heroes by leading a one-man firefight against hundreds of North Vietnamese troops May 2, 1968, in Cambodia. In the end, he saved eight GIs.

Stabbed, shot and clubbed 38 times, Benavidez prevailed only to come within a breath of being sealed into a body bag and written off for dead.

He returned home haunted by wounds that never quite healed, but he quietly pressed on for another 30 years, first serving in uniform and later as a civilian urging kids to share his desire to learn. 

"During his whole ordeal, six hours in hell, he was very stoic because he received numerous wounds," said one of Benavidez's three children, Yvette Garcia, 31, of El Campo. "He just kept going, picked himself up and kept going, and that's how he lived his life.

"He never really showed his pain, even though we knew he was living a daily, constant pain of the wounds of war. You never saw it."

It may be that no one ever saw Benavidez coming, until it was too late.

Short and compact, he didn't stand out in Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, N.C., said retired Army Sgt. Maj. Mando Canales, 62, of San Antonio.

The lackadaisical, always-smiling Benavidez said "shucks" a lot but never cursed as the two learned the art of fingerprinting, map reading and the intricacies of long-range reconnaissance.

"He passed the course just as I did, but we were not at the top of the heap," chuckled Canales, a retired schoolteacher who served in an Alamo City honor guard at Saturday's ceremony. "But I think he was saving all his energy and bravado for Vietnam."

The fateful day was a Sunday. As Benavidez left church, the call came over a field radio. Twelve men on a recon patrol had come under heavy attack. There were wounded.

Overhearing the conversation, the soldier known by his call sign as "Tango Mike Mike" grew alarmed. He had friends among those Green Berets.

Then a staff sergeant, Benavidez jumped onto a waiting helicopter armed only with a standard-issue knife and crowbar, apparently oblivious that enemy gunners had driven off other copters that had swept over the Cambodian jungle in hopes of rescuing the men.

"He said, 'I had to go help them because they were my friends,'" said close friend Benito V. Guerrero, 66, a retired Army sergeant major who first met Benavidez in 1958. "Typical Roy."

The chopper was hit by enemy fire before it landed. Benavidez was wounded in the leg and face as soon as he jumped to the ground. 

But he kept going, virtually alone.

Four of the Green Berets were dead, the others wounded.

That apparently didn't faze Benavidez, who moved the stranded men into better defensive positions and worked to set up a helicopter extraction site. 

He called in artillery and airstrikes, and directed fire for circling helicopter gunships. In time, the rescue began, with Benavidez dragging the wounded men through a hail of fire, then squeezing off rounds at the dense jungle foliage.

But there were too many guns on the other side, perhaps as many as 600 North Vietnamese regulars supported by Viet Cong guerrillas, and no sooner had the helicopter gotten off the ground than it came to earth with a sickening thud. The pilot had been shot dead.

Benavidez was shot — this time in the abdomen and back — while giving covering fire, but he managed to pull the wounded men out of the helicopter.

"In the midst of all that panic and fear, he also had the presence of mind to seize and safeguard classified documents," said Maj. Gen. Kenneth L. Privratsky, commander of the Army's Military Traffic Management Command, which will load and unload the USNS Benavidez. "Just absolute, incredible bravery."

Unwilling to yield in a hopeless moment, Benavidez rallied the survivors and radioed for more helicopter attacks.

He was wounded again and again, once while giving first aid to a fallen soldier, but pressed on until the next helicopter came.

When it did, Benavidez killed a pair of enemy soldiers as they tried to take it down, then made a final sweep of the area for secret papers and missing or wounded men.

When it was over, he lay in the helicopter, near death, his intestines exposed.

"My next semiconscious memory was that of lying on the ground outside the chopper," Benavidez later wrote in a book. "I couldn't move or speak. I was in deep shock, but I knew the medics were placing me in a body bag. 

"They thought I was dead and couldn't respond. To this day, I can still hear the sounds of the snaps being closed in that green bag."

Eyes closed, jaw broken, Benavidez was saved when a friend recognized his face and called for a doctor.

"Growing up as a child and now as an adult, I hear a lot of people across the country refer to my father as the true Rambo," said Noel Benavidez, a 28-year-old Houston computer network engineer.

Built at the 264-acre Northrop Grumman Avondale Industries Shipyard, the $200 million USNS Benavidez is the last of seven large, medium speed roll-on/roll-off ships, or LMSRs, the Navy's newest class of vessels.

With each ship having the cargo load space of eight football fields, they can carry an entire Army brigade, including 58 tanks, 48 other tracked vehicles, and more than 900 trucks for use in combat and humanitarian missions.

Once such things as computers, fiber-optic cables, crew quarters and its two propellers are installed, the ship will undergo a series of sea trials before entering service sometime next year, company spokesman Jeff Nowakowski said.

The breadth and height of the ship, which covered the entire field of view of those at the ceremony, left everyone impressed.

"It's huge. I wasn't expecting it that big," Noel Benavidez said.

Garcia said the sleek tri-colored vessel seemed to embody her father's spirit.

"It looks like a stoic ship," she said, "like dad."

sigc@express-news.net

 


Express-News: Military 
Jewish vets record their memories of World War II 
By J. Michael Parker 
San Antonio Express-News 


Web Posted : 07/23/2001 
 


Leo Rose bombed Tokyo in a fiery low-level raid. Morris Shoss survived the infamous Bataan Death March. Jesse Oppenheimer helped avert a riot on a Pacific-bound troopship.
 

Leo Rose shows old photos and maps during the videotaped interview. The videotapes will be available at the Beldon Library at the San Antonio Jewish Campus. 
Photo by Edward A. Ornelas/Express-News Photographer


They are among 16 area Jewish veterans of World War II who are sharing their war experiences for posterity in an oral history project sponsored by the Jewish Federation of San Antonio.

The resulting videotapes will be made available for researchers at the Beldon Library at the San Antonio Jewish Campus.

They've already made an impression on USAA executive Mickey Roth, who conducted the interviews. He learned new things about people he's known for years and gained new perspectives on the war, he said. 

Rose's older brother, Julius Rose, was lost with his Navy submarine on a mission into Tokyo Bay. As an Army Air Force bombardier/navigator on a B-29 bomber, Rose thought he and his air crew would be killed too. 

Late in the war, Gen. Curtis LeMay ordered firebombing of Japanese cities after high-altitude precision bombing of factories didn't meet expectations, Rose recalled.

"We had to come down to 3,000 feet. We all thought we'd never come home," he said. 

Shoss had even less reason to expect survival. 

After the surrender of U.S. forces on the Bataan peninsula and the nearby fortress island of Corregidor in the spring of 1942, he staggered through the 55-mile Bataan Death March and spent more than three years in a Japanese prison camp.

In September 1944, he was among 650 prisoners bound for Japan when their prison ship was sunk. Only 82 survived. 

"Telling the story helps," Shoss said. "A lot of people who went through this experience went off their rockers with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"The whole experience was like a very bad dream."

The federation hopes other Jewish veterans of the war will share their stories too. They can call Beth Keough at (210) 302-6965 for more information. 

Oppenheimer related how his quartermaster battalion's 5,000 black soldiers and about 60 white officers — fresh from Gen. George Patton's Third Army in Germany — were shipped to the Pacific.

The unit had operated well in Europe. But the ship was hot and cramped, and shipboard rules were enforced by Marines unaccustomed to dealing with black troops, he said.

"The men were kept below decks and couldn't come up. If they were allowed up on deck, they weren't allowed to light cigarettes," Oppenheimer recalled. "It was a clash of cultures and personalities, basically."

Oppenheimer said he and other Army officers stepped in, created a committee to air the troops' grievances and managed to improve their conditions. 

"It was difficult to persuade the Marines to go along with it, but they really didn't have much choice," he said. "We were going to have a full-scale riot on our hands; it was quite obvious." 

The veterans agreed on the importance of preserving firsthand memories of World War II, an upheaval unlike any other.

"Nazism was a cancer," Oppenheimer said. "If we hadn't gotten involved, it would have overrun all of Europe, and the whole world would have been dominated by it."

Businessman Oscar Ehrenberg said he woke up in the middle of the night with the idea for the project. He had just heard a longtime friend relate his experiences in the Battle of the Bulge. 

"Imagine how much better our generation would have understood the Civil War if we'd had videotapes of people who had fought in the battles of Gettysburg, Shiloh and Vicksburg," Ehrenberg said.

jparker@express-news.net

 


VETERANS HONORS
July 23, 2001


The Pentagon is working with veterans groups to beef up military participation at soldiers' funerals. As part of the defense bill last year, DOD has now launched the Authorized Provider Program, which will help train the staff needed to provide military honors at services for deceased vets. The minimum honor provided upon request of the family will be two military personnel, one representing the service of the vet and the other a bugler. But, Defense is hoping to expand its offerings by having a rifle squad, color guard or pallbearers. For more information on how to request honors for a vet, contact your local installation commander.
 


M E M O R A N D U M

TO: Action E-List
FROM: Joseph A. Violante, National Legislative Director

SUBJ: LEGISLATIVE ALERT ON THREAT TO CONCURRENT RECEIPT LEGISLATION

DATE: July 25, 2001



Based on serious concerns about the effects of proposed language for new concurrent receipt legislation, which would replace H.R. 303 and S. 170, the DAV has indicated that it will not support this new bill as proposed. Both H.R. 303 and S. 170 would remove the offset between disability compensation and military longevity retired pay. Both bills have well over half of the members of their respective chambers as cosponsors. In the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 303 has 358 cosponsors, and in the U.S. Senate, S. 170 has 70 cosponsors. Despite cosponsorship by a solid majority in both the House and the Senate, neither bill has been passed. Now, we have been presented with a proposed provision that would take the place of H.R. 303 and S. 170. The DAV objects to this substitute bill because, even if passed, it will mean that there will be no further action to authorize concurrent receipt this year, and it may very well stall all future meaningful action to get legislat!
ion to authorize concurrent receipt. 

Under this new bill's provisions, Congress would authorize concurrent receipt, but the law would not become effective unless Congress enacts other legislation next year to take $40 billion from some other Government program to pay for its cost, which we consider highly unlikely to happen. No member of Congress may be willing to step forward and introduce legislation to take $40 billion from some other popular Government program. 

This new bill clearly does not give any promise or assurance that anyone in Congress will take any further action to actually authorize concurrent receipt in the future. It does, however, give members of Congress a way to escape the pressure being put on them to act on H.R. 303 and S. 170. It gives those legislators who have put tax breaks, pork barrel spending, and other less meritorious causes ahead of disabled veterans a way to make it appear they support concurrent receipt legislation. They can point to their vote for this bill as evidence of their support for concurrent receipt, knowing that this bill does not by itself provide any authorization for concurrent receipt.


The DAV opposes this bill because, not only is it not helpful to our efforts to get concurrent receipt legislation enacted, we strongly believe it will be detrimental. We have a strong belief that, if we agreed to this bill, we would not be taking our members a step closer to getting concurrent receipt legislation, but rather we would be taking them a giant step backward. Next year, without any legislation to press for, our motivated members will have no place to direct their grassroots influence as voters and as constituents. The veterans' and military organizations will have no place to apply meaningful leverage. With this new bill, it will be easy for Congress to excuse its inaction by any number of reasons, such as less favorable revenue projections in the budget, etc. If, as we fear, no member of Congress is willing to take the bold and probably controversial action to introduce offsetting legislation to take $40 billion from some other program, we will have no pla!
ce to direct and concentrate our lobbying. We will have no way to effectively move Congress forward when all 535 members are equally and collectively guilty of inaction but individually immune to criticism for the inaction of the whole. Members of Congress will be individually secure and safe in their inaction, and virtually beyond any effective pressure from us. We will have no effective leverage, and we will have aided and abetted those who put us in that severely compromised and disadvantaged position.

We arrived at our position only after careful assessment. We asked ourselves why members of Congress may be willing to readily support this bill when a majority has repeatedly failed to pass real concurrent receipt legislation. We asked ourselves what will make them more able or willing to pass real legislation for concurrent receipt next year than they are this year, especially if budget projections were to look less favorable.

The DAV urges all its members to contact their members of Congress and tell them that they must act on H.R. 303 and S. 170, not this substitute.



_____________________
JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
National Legislative Director
 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SMITH LEGISLATION ACCELERATES VA-DoD HEALTH CARE SHARING
July 27, 2001


Improved health care for veterans and military, Millions in savings for American taxpayers


WASHINGTON, D.C. - House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-4) introduced legislation Wednesday to establish a five-site demonstration project to speed up the sluggish pace at which the VA and Pentagon share their health care resources.

"It's been 19 years since Congress called for greater cooperation between these two huge agencies with combined health care budgets of $35 billion, " Smith said when introducing his Department of Defense-Department of Veterans Affairs Health Resources Access Improvement Act of 2001 (H.R. 2667). "There has been some progress, but the pace needs to be increased if we are to achieve the dual goals of improving health care for veterans and the military, and saving taxpayers millions through increased efficiency," he said.
 

"We're taking a new approach with this bill," Smith said. "Currently, sharing between the VA and DoD is optional and, unfortunately, neither department has mtaken full advantage of this option. We need to give both departments new incentives and tools to insure that they move more expeditiously to achieve the benefits of sharing their health care resources," he said.

Smith's bill would direct VA Secretary Anthony J. Principi and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to agree on five sites where the two agencies have health care facilities close enough to permit cooperative operations. Such joint operations would include unified budget systems, staffing, compatible software, and graduate medical education programs. The projects would be designed to demonstrate the advantages and challenges of integrating the largest health care systems in the federal government.

The bill would authorize $10 million for each department for fiscal year 2002 and $25 million for each succeeding year of the demonstration project. Both secretaries would be given authority to waive regulations and policies that might impede the project. They would be required to submit a joint "prospectus" within two years for the construction of a new, more accessible and unified federal health care facility in an area where both agencies need a replacement facility.

"As Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, I am committed to insuring that we knock down every barrier that prevents greater sharing and take advantage of every opportunity to improve health care for veterans and the military community," Smith said. "This not only fulfills our sacred obligations to care for those who have, and continue to defend our freedom, it also has the added benefit of enormous savings to American taxpayer," he said.

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.
 


House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs 
Legislative Update 
July 31


I. Significant increase in spending for veterans’ programs in the fiscal year 2002 budget. 

· Increases total spending for veterans by $4.3 billion dollars, including a $1.2 billion increase for VA health care, one of the largest in history. 

· Provides a 16 percent increase in spending for the Veterans Benefits Administration to remedy the backlog of compensation claims accumulated during the 1990s. 

· Provides an additional $300 million for short-term repairs and improvements to VA medical facilities. 

Status: approved by House Appropriations Committee; House to consider VA/HUD appropriations week of July 23). 

II. Emergency funding for the repair of VA hospitals (H.R. 811, the Veterans Hospital Emergency Repair Act). 

· Legislation would authorize $300 million in fiscal year 2002 ($550 over two years) to repair dilapidated and obsolete VA medical facilities. 

· VA Secretary may choose individual projects recommended by VA’s capital investments board. (VA has already compiled a list of 20 such projects). 

· Projects addressing patient safety, privacy, earthquake protection, and accommodation for disabled veterans to get top priority. 

Status: passed the House on March 27, 2001. Pending in the Senate. 

III. Family-friendly benefit enhancements. 

H.R. 801, the Veterans’ Survivor Benefits Improvements Act of 2001, expands Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) to include spouse and children, and: 

· Extends last year’s increase of the SGLI maximum ($250,000) retroactively to October 1, 2000 to cover military personnel who have died in more recent service-connected tragedies. 

· H.R. 801 also provides the spouses and dependents of severely disabled veterans enrolled in CHAMPVA the same health benefit presently provided to military retirees enrolled in TRICARE. 

Status: Signed into law by President Bush June 5, 2001 as Public Law No. 107-14. 

H.R. 2540, the Veterans Benefits Act of 2001 provides a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to the compensation of disabled veterans and their survivors. (The VA estimates the COLA will be 2.5 percent). Other provisions of the bill would: 

· Add Diabetes Mellitus (Type 2) to the list of service-connected benefits presumed for Vietnam Veterans; 

· Authorize the VA Secretary to provide disability compensation payments to Persian Gulf War veterans whose claims for chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or other hard-to-diagnose illnesses have previously been denied; 

· Permit the VA Secretary to continue disability payments to a Persian Gulf War veteran who participates in VA-sponsored medical research and is subsequently diagnosed with a specific disease; 

· Authorize the VA Secretary to pay unclaimed National Service Life Insurance and U.S. Government Life Insurance proceeds to an alternate beneficiary when the first beneficiary cannot be located within three years of the insured’s death; 

· Extend to 2005 the VA’s direct loan language program for Native American veterans living on tribal trust lands; 

· Modify the requirement for loan assumption language in home loan documents, and; 

· Require the VA Secretary to establish a two-year pilot expansion of the available hours of the VA’s 1-800 toll-free information service, and to assess the demand for the service. 

Status: approved by Veterans’ Affairs Committee July 19, 2001; floor action pending. 

IV. A major increase in Montgomery GI Bill assistance for servicemembers and veterans. 

Under H.R. 1291, the 21st Century Montgomery GI Bill Enhancement Act, the monthly education benefit would nearly double over three years, putting the dream of a college education within the reach of more veterans 

The fiscal year 2002 budget accommodates a three-year phased increase in monthly education benefit from $650 to $1,100. 

Status: passed the House on June 19, 2001; pending in the Senate. 

V. Overdue Tribute to the Veterans of World War II 

· “To expedite the construction of the World War II memorial in the District of Columbia,’ (H.R. 1696) put an end to years of delays and removed the last obstacle to building a national memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C. for those who participated in the greatest war in history. 

· According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than three million World War II veterans have died since Congress first authorized the Memorial in 1993. 

Status: Signed into law by President Bush May 28, 2001 as Public Law No. 107-11. 

VI. A major step forward in encouraging VA/DoD sharing of resources and activities 

The Department of Defense-Department of Veterans Affairs Health Resources Access Improvement Act of 2001 would expedite VA-DoD sharing of medical resources, improving the health care of both military personnel and veterans. The General Accounting Office (GAO) reports that American taxpayers could save as much as $300 million a year in pharmaceutical procurement alone with greater coordination between the two agencies. The bill would: 

· Establish an integrated demonstration project at five locations where both VA and DoD have health care facilities in close proximity; 

· Examine such aspects of integrated operation as unified management systems, technology and staffing, and; 

· Authorize the secretaries of both agencies to waive any rules or regulations that impede the purpose of the demonstration project. 

Status: To be introduced the week of July 23, 2001.
 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
HOUSE PASSES SMITH BILL BOOSTING VETERANS DISABILITY PAYMENTS BY $2.5 BILLION OVER 5 YEARS
July 31, 2001


Fully Disabled Veterans to See $767 Increase; Cost-of-Living Adjustment
Predicted to Be 2.7%


WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the fourth major veterans legislation of the year and second major benefits package, a bill Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-4) and Ranking Democrat Lane Evans (IL-17) touted as increasing compensation to 2.3 million disabled veterans or their surviving dependents by granting them a 2.7 percent Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) beginning this December 1.

H.R. 2540, the Veterans Benefits Act of 2001, would also correct what Smith called a "Catch -22" in which a Gulf War veteran would lose his compensation for a poorly defined illness once the illness was diagnosed.

The veterans or survivors who would gain from this measure, Smith said, included "more than 170,000 veterans rated 100 percent disabled who would get an additional $767 each year added to their existing benefit."

The COLA increase, Smith said, "matches the Social Security COLA and will raise payments to disabled veterans by more than $400 million in the first year and $543 million over the next four years. In all, compensation payments will be increased by more than $2.5 billion over the next five years."

Current regulations on Gulf War-related illnesses allow compensation for illnesses that manifest themselves before the end of this year. An Evans provision in Smith's bill extends the deadline another two years. Normally, Smith noted, disability compensation can be awarded only if an illness is detected either in service or within a year of leaving active duty. But a poor understanding of what is causing numerous symptoms justifies an extension, he said.

"When Congress authorized compensation for veterans with poorly defined illnesses in 1994, it believed that this term would encompass those illnesses that were difficult to diagnose, such as chronic fatigue syndrome," Smith added. "What we have learned in the intervening years is that many veterans were denied compensation because well-trained physicians were able to diagnose their poorly defined illnesses."

Smith said the VA Committee specifically added language to cover chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and chronic multisymptom illness. Gulf War veterans would also be compensated for "multiple chemical sensitivity," even if symptoms do not appear for many years after their service in the Gulf.

Another provision of H.R. 2540 would establish a two-year nationwide pilot  program to expand the available hours for the VA's toll-free information service. Finally, the bill would allow payment of National Service Life Insurance or United States Government Life Insurance policies to alternate beneficiaries when the first beneficiary can't be found within three years of the insured's death. Smith said there were over 4,000 cases in which insurance policy proceeds totaling $23 million could not be paid.

Congress has already passed H.R. 801, the Veterans' Survivor Benefits Improvements Act of 2001, which expanded health and life insurance coverage of dependents and survivors of veterans; H.R. 811, the Veterans' Hospitals Emergency Repair Act, which provided $550 million over two years to repair an renovate VA medical facilities; and H.R. 1291, the 21st Century Montgomery GI Bill Enhancement Act, providing a 70 percent increase in education benefits to qualified veterans.

Please visit http://veterans.house.gov, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs web site, named 'One of the Best Web Sites in Congress' by the Congressional Management Foundation, May 3, 1999.
 


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