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


DATE: October 3, 2001


Due to your efforts, we have just passed another milestone on the road to concurrent receipt legislation. The Senate adopted the Reid-Hutchinson amendment to the defense authorization bill, S. 1438, to provide for concurrent receipt of military longevity retired pay and veterans' disability compensation. Senators received thousands of e-mail messages on this issue from DAV's website. Many of you also contacted your Senators by telephone, regular mail, or office visits.

When the Senate and House conferees meet to work out the differences between the defense authorization bill passed by the Senate and the defense authorization bill passed by the House, they will be confronted by two competing provisions for concurrent receipt. They will have the Senate version, which will authorize concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation, and they will have the House version, which will kill concurrent receipt legislation, at least for this year. The DAV vigorously opposed the House provision and vigorously supported the Senate provision in the Reid-Hutchinson amendment. 

This puts us at a crucial point in our quest for concurrent receipt legislation. Whether justice will finally be done or whether disabled military retirees will again see Congress kill this measure depends on whether the conferees adopt the Senate provision or the House provision. This will be a test to show who in Congress really does support veterans and who does not. We must make every possible effort to see that the conferees adopt the Senate provision. This is the last battle in this campaign to get concurrent receipt legislation enacted. We must intensify our efforts and make the strongest possible last push for this legislation. We must tell the congressional leadership in emphatic terms that it is time to do the right thing.

Contact Speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert to urge that he instruct his House conferees to agree to inclusion of Senate concurrent receipt provision in the final bill. Contact Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle to urge that he instruct his Senate conferees to insist that the Senate concurrent receipt provision be included in the final bill. Contact the Speaker of the House by telephone (202-225-0600), mail (H-232 Capitol Building, Washington, DC 20515-6501) or the prepared e-mail message on DAV's website at www.dav.org. Contact the Senate Majority Leader by telephone (202-224-5556), mail (S-221 Capitol Building, Washington, DC 20510-7020), or the prepared e-mail message under the corresponding alert for the Senate on the DAV's website. If you have access to the Internet, also send an e-mail message to your House member to urge support for the Senate concurrent receipt provision. You may access this prepared e-mail message by clicking on the legislative alert titled "CONCERNS ABOUT CONCURRENT RECEIPT LEGISLATION."
National Legislative Director

October 5, 2001


Tricare for Life kicked off on schedule October 1, extending medical benefits to Medicare-eligible military retirees, their spouses and their survivors who are enrolled in Medicare Part B. For eligible beneficiaries, Tricare became a second payer to Medicare. This ended their need to pay many out-of-pocket expenses, and most will probably conclude they no longer need to buy "Medigap" supplemental insurance, Tricare officials said. The only requirements for beneficiaries are that they ensure the accuracy of their information in the Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System and that they be enrolled in Medicare Part B.

FEHBP Suspensions Okayed for TFL A new Federal Employees Health Benefits Program regulation allows FEHBP enrollees to suspend their enrollments in order to join TFL, and to later re-enroll in FEHBP. If those who take advantage of the suspension should lose their TFL coverage involuntarily, they would be allowed to rejoin FEHBP immediately. Alternatively, if they subsequently find that TFL is not for them, they can rejoin FEHBP during an open season enrollment. Retirees and survivors who are eligible for TFL and who want to suspend their FEHBP enrollments, should call 1-888-767-6738. The new regulation is at http://www.opm.gov/insure. Click on "Federal Employees Health Benefits."


October 10

CONTACT: Peter Dickinson, (202) 225-3664

Committee Approves Bills to End Homelessness
for Veterans, Strengthen VA's Health Care System

New Programs Authorized for Veterans Service Dogs, Chiropractic Care

(Washington, DC) - The House Veterans' Affairs Committee today approved legislation to accelerate a comprehensive and coordinated effort to end chronic homelessness among veterans (H.R. 2716) as well as legislation to strengthen the VA healthcare system (H.R. 2792), including establishing new programs for chiropractic care and service dogs for disabled veterans.

"Far too many of America's former soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines now find themselves destitute and homeless," said Committee Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-4), Prime Sponsor of the 'James Drappeaux - Stuart Collick - Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act,' H.R. 2716. "We have a sacred obligation to care for them, just as we have an obligation to care for all those brave men and women now being deployed in this war on terrorism who may one day need our support," he said.

"It is estimated that on any given night, there are at least 225,000 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets, often the victims of drug abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from their service -- that is a travesty," he said. "Our legislation not only offers immediate help to these men and women through Section 8 housing vouchers and additional domiciliaries, it also seeks to address the root causes of homelessness by reaching out to veterans before they begin the downward spiral that lands them on the streets," Smith said.

"The comprehensive homeless veterans legislation which our Committee has approved combines important provisions contained in H.R. 936, which I introduced, with provisions authored by Chairman Smith," said Rep. Lane Evans (IL-17), Ranking Democratic Member of the Committee. "Our shared objective has been to enhance and expand programs that assist the men and women who have served this nation in uniform and who are homeless. We will continue to work together to ensure this measure becomes law and that VA is committed in both word and deed to ending homelessness among our veterans," Evans said.

As approved by the Subcommittee, H.R. 2716 will:

1.. Establish as a national goal the elimination of chronic homelessness among veterans within ten years.

2.. Authorize 2,000 additional HUD Section 8 low-income housing vouchers over four years for homeless veterans in need of permanent housing who are enrolled in VA health care, with priority given to veterans under care for mental illness or substance use disorders.

3.. Authorize $10 million over two years for ten new Domiciliary for Homeless Veterans programs.

4.. $285 million over four years for the Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program.

5.. Authorize $250 million over five years to strengthen the Department of Labor's (DoL) Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) to expedite the reintegration of homeless veterans into the labor force.

6.. Establish a VA - DoL demonstration program to provide information, including referral and counseling services, to incarcerated veterans and veterans in long-term institutional confinement to assist in their re-integration into their communities.

7.. Earmark $10 million over three years for medical care for homeless veterans with special needs, including older veterans, women, substance abusers and those with PTSD.

8.. Require VA to provide technical assistance grants to nonprofit community-based groups to assist other groups in applying for federal grants to address homelessness among veterans.

9.. Authorize VA to provide outpatient dental services to veterans enrolled for care in VHA and receiving care (directly or by contract) in VA or contract programs that traditionally serve the homeless.

10.. Require VA to have a mental health capability wherever it delivers primary care.

11.. Eliminate the cap on Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Service Programs and require centers to be available in not fewer than the 20 largest U.S. cities.

12.. Authorize homeless veterans receiving care through vocational rehabilitation programs to participate in the VA's work therapy program.

The Committee also approved H.R. 2792, the Disabled Veterans Service Dog and Health Care Improvement Act of 2001, which would strengthen a number of VA health programs and authorize several new programs, including ones to provide trained service dogs to disabled veterans as well as chiropractic care.

"Approval of H.R. 2792 will go a long way towards fulfilling the promises we have made to our servicemen and women, particularly those whose duty to our nation has left them wounded, either physically or mentally," said Rep. Jerry Moran (KS-1), Chairman of the Health Subcommittee and Prime Sponsor of H.R. 2792. "The provision of service dogs and the establishment of a chiropractic program are long overdue and will further enhance the VA's ability to meet the needs of all our veterans," said Moran.

"I am most heartened that the Veterans Affairs' Committee has passed H.R. 2792 including a provision that will create a permanent chiropractic program within the Department of Veterans Affairs," said Rep. Bob Filner (CA-50), Ranking Member of the Health Subcommittee. "Today, I celebrate the establishment of this benefit of chiropractic care that will be available to all enrolled veterans," Filner said.

As approved by the full Committee today, H.R. 2792 will:

1. Authorize the provision of service dogs to veterans suffering from severe hearing impairments, spinal cord injuries or similar disabilities.

2.. Establish a chiropractic services program, beginning at 30 VA medical centers next year, and adding at least an additional 30 medical centers each year until all are included within five years.

3.. Require the VA to maintain sufficient capacity in all VA specialized medical programs by requiring each regional network (VISN) to maintain a proportional share of national capacity.

4. Modify VA's system of determining nonservice-connected veterans' "ability to pay" for VA health care services using HUD's housing affordability index, ensuring that no VISN experiences greater than a 5 percent change in annual funding allocation than would otherwise occur.

5.. Require the VA Secretary to assess all special telephone services made available to veterans, such as "help lines" and "hotlines" and report to Congress within one year.

6.. Extend authorities for VA to collect payments from veterans' health insurance policies for deposit into a Medical Care Collections Fund.

7.. Establish a National Commission on VA nursing to review legislative and organizational policy changes needed to enhance recruitment and retention of nurses in the Department.

Both H.R. 2716 and H.R. 2792 were ordered reported, as amended, by voice vote and are expected to be taken up by the full House as early as next week.

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.

Veterans Lobby Balks at Proposal to Streamline Hiring


Stephen Barr can be reached by e-mail at barrs@washpost.com.
By Stephen Barr
Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Veterans preference has proved to be a politically sensitive topic for virtually every administration. Now, it's the Bush administration's turn.

An administration proposal to streamline civil service hiring procedures has drawn criticism from the Veterans of Foreign Wars as "a blatant and deliberate attempt" to circumvent the preference given to federal job applicants who have served their country in military uniform.

Administration officials, however, say that they are dedicated to veterans preference and that they do not believe their streamlining proposal will undermine it. They note that the model for part of the legislative proposal -- an alternative hiring system used by the Agriculture Department -- increased the number of veterans hired.

Veterans preference has played a role in federal employment since 1865 and gives military veterans an edge in hiring over other equally qualified persons. Veterans typically get extra points, based on their service record or disabilities, when agencies rank job applicants for hiring.

While not directly addressing veterans preference, the administration's proposal would revamp civil service law to make it easier for agencies to speed up their hiring, especially for top college graduates who often take a private-sector job rather than wait months to hear back from the government.

According to officials, the administration's proposal would permit agencies to make quick job offers to fill critical positions or when they face a shortage of applicants. The proposal also would permit agencies to use alternative procedures, such as those developed by the Agriculture Department, for evaluating job applicants.

The VFW does not object to streamlining the federal hiring system, but thinks the administration's proposal would make it easier for agency managers to pass over veterans,said Jim Magill, the VFW's director of employment policy.

"In light of the acts of Sept. 11, we don't think this is a message that should be sent to people in the armed forces or who are being activated in the Guard or reserves -- not the time to send a message that they may not be able to get the jobs they have earned through their service," Magill said.

The VFW notified the administration of its concerns about the proposed civil service hiring changes in a letter to Vice President Cheney last month. Shortly afterward, the Office of Personnel Management announced it would hold regular meetings with veterans service organizations to hear their concerns.

"During the current situation in our country, I want to make certain that our veterans understand that the federal government places a high priority on ensuring that veterans receive due preference in competitive hiring and all of the other benefits to which they are entitled," OPM Director Kay Coles James said in a statement.

For several years, federal personnel officials have been searching for ways to modify the government's hiring process, which many managers think is increasingly ill-suited to today's fast-moving, technology-based workplace. Under civil service law, agencies recommend three candidates to the manager who is hiring. In many cases, veterans preference influences who is put on the list.

To broaden the pool of applicants for managers, the Agriculture Department began a five-year "demonstration project" in 1990. The project was later made permanent for two divisions, the Forest Service and the Agricultural Research Service.

Job applicants meeting minimum standards were divided into two groups -- called quality and eligible -- on the basis of their education, experience and ability. Managers could hire from the quality group, with preference given to veterans. But veterans ranked in the second category were effectively removed from consideration for the job opening.

An outside study found more veterans hired at the Agricultural Research Service (16.3 percent at the demonstration sites vs. 9.5 percent at comparison sites) and slightly more veterans hired in the Forest Service (18.9 percent vs. 16.7 percent).

The VFW, however, fears that the Bush administration proposal goes too far in giving managers more discretion in hiring. The group, in its letter to Cheney, promised to "intensify our opposition to this ill-advised assault on our veterans."

Stephen Barr's e-mail address is barrs@washpost.com.

October 12

Immense VA Claims Backlog Tagged 'Characteristic' A VA Claims Task Force that completed a top-to-bottom review of the VA claims processing system has declared that workload crises and enormous case backlogs have become "an inherent characteristic" at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Thus, veterans filing for disability compensation must wait months, some even years, for resolution. VA officials who presented the report pledged to improve the system. VA secretary Anthony Principi said, "President Bush and I are absolutely committed to getting to the core of the VA claims process problems. Examples of the problem:

A backlog of more than 533,000 first-time claims keeps veterans waiting an average of six months for a decision. If the veteran appeals the decision, the process can stretch for years.

As of August, more than 38,000 "substantive appeals" were pending at VA regional offices. Most had been there for more than a year, and more than 18,000 go back to the early 1990s.

When the VA or a court rules on appeals and returns the cases to regional offices, they also wait. More than 31,000 are in regional offices now and more than 10,000 have been there since before 2000.

Even the VA itself must wait lengthy periods to obtain veterans' records. Of the 56,000 backlogged requests at the Veterans Benefits Administration's records center, 4,600 are more than a year old.

October 15

WHAT: Hearing to Examine the VA's Role in Responding to
National Disasters, Terrorist Threats and Wars

WHEN: Monday, October 15, 2001
2:00 PM

WHERE: 334 Cannon House Office Building

Veterans Committee Hearing Room

(Washington, DC) - The Committee on Veterans' Affairs will conduct a public hearing on Monday, October 15, 2001 at 2:00 PM in 334 CHOB to examine the Department of Veterans Affairs preparedness to discharge its responsibilities in responding to national disasters, terrorist attacks, and wars. Among those testifying at Monday's hearing will be VA Secretary Anthony Principi, as well as officials from the Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, FEMA, GAO, and the Red Cross.

With an annual budget around $50 billion dollars and more than 220,000 federal employees, the Department of Veterans Affairs operates the largest integrated healthcare system in the United States, making it an essential asset in responding to potential biological, chemical or radiological attacks. The VA also has defined roles in both the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) and the Federal Response Plan (FRP) in the event of national emergencies. Among the specialized duties of the VA are: conducting and evaluating disaster and terrorist attack simulation exercises; managing the nation's stockpile of pharmaceuticals for biological and chemical toxins; maintaining a rapid response team for radiological events; and training public and private NDMS medical center personnel in responding to biological, chemical, or radiological events.

Through the VA's clinical and medical research activities, they possess unique expertise in diagnosing and treating specific physical and mental conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. The VA is already offering PTSD counseling at the sites of the terrorist attacks and the Committee will also be examining whether the VA could, or should, extend the scope of such activities in the months ahead.

October 15, 2001


On Wednesday October 10, the House Veterans' Affairs Committee approved two pieces of legislation designed to expand and increase VA programs by providing specialized programs including those for spinal cord injuries, serious mental illness, and substance abuse disorders

The legislation now moves on to the floor of the House for a vote in the next week or two.

*HR 2792, the Disabled Veterans Service Dog and Health Care Improvement Act of 2001 includes provisions that:

--Provide service dogs to veterans suffering from severe hearing impairments, spinal cord injuries or similar disabilities.

--Establish a chiropractic service program at 30 VA medical centers to be phased in to all centers over a five-year period.

--Create a National Commission on VA nursing to address the VA nursing shortage by enhancing recruitment and retention of qualified nurses.

--Require an assessment of VA's special telephone services to veterans so that improvements in quality can be made.

National Legislative Service testified against two provisions of HR 2792 viewed as potentially detrimental to the VA health care system. Both provisions were removed from the legislation that is being presented to the full House.

*H.R. 2716 The James Drappeaux-Stuart Collick-Heather French Homeless Veterans Assistance Act aims to eliminate chronic homelessness among veterans within 10 years. Among other provisions, this legislation:

--Provides 2,000 additional low-income housing vouchers for homeless veterans enrolled in the VA health care system, with priority given to veterans under care for mental illness or substance abuse disorders.

--Increases funding by $10 million for homeless veterans' housing.

--Strengthens the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP) to reintegrate homeless veterans into the labor force.

--Provides additional funding for medical care for veterans with specialized needs, including for older veterans, women, substance abusers, and those with PTSD

For the VFW's testimony on these bills go to: http://www.vfwdc.org/shared/congtest01.htm

For the text of the legislation enter the bill number in the box at the top at: http://thomas.loc.gov

Chairman Smith Proposes New National Medical Preparedness Centers Within VA
October 15, 2001

CONTACT: Peter Dickinson, (202) 225-3664
Chairman Smith Proposes New National Medical Preparedness Centers Within VA

Calls for $100 Million For World-Class Efforts To Develop New Diagnostics, Vaccines, Treatments for Chemical, Biological & Radiological Threats

(Washington, DC) - House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-4) today proposed the creation of at least four new National Medical Preparedness Centers within the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop new diagnostics, vaccines, and treatments for chemical, biological and radiological threats.

"As we watch with deep concern the unfolding events regarding anthrax, first in Florida, then New York, and in my congressional district in Trenton, and now perhaps even here in Congress, it is imperative that ensure our Nation is prepared for such incidents, large or small, with timely, effective, and comprehensive responses," said Smith. "That is why I am today proposing, and will shortly introduce legislation, to create four National Medical Preparedness Centers, two for dealing with chemical and biological threats, and two for dealing with radiological threats," he said.

"The mission of these Centers would be to research and develop methods of detection, diagnosis, inoculation, vaccination, protection and treatment for chemical, biological, and radiological threats, such as anthrax and smallpox," said Smith. "These Centers could engage in direct research, coordinate ongoing and new research at other government agencies and research universities, and serve to disseminate the latest and most comprehensive information to public and private hospitals and healthcare workers across the country," he said.

"Through its extensive medical research programs, VA already has expertise in diagnosing and treating viral diseases with devastating health consequences, such as HIV and hepatitis C, and currently operates two War-Related Illness Centers tasked with developing specialized treatments for those illnesses and injuries particular to wartime exposures," Smith said. "In essence, these new Centers would similarly study those illnesses and injuries most likely to come from a terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction," he said.

"Today, in too many instances, we may have no cures, no treatments and no methods of detection or diagnosis until it is too late -- that is simply unacceptable," said Smith. "We need to make a major effort, like we have in so many other areas, whether in putting a man on the moon or in combating diseases, like polio, to prepare America to prevent or respond to the new and very real threats from chemical, biological and radiological terrorism," Smith 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.


Wednesday, March 13, 2002

Smith Praises Record Budget Increase for Veterans

Says It Will "Maintain Our Commitments And Sustain Vital VA Health Care Programs"

(Washington, DC) - Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-4), Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs today backed the 2003 budget proposal of the House Budget Committee, saying it will "maintain our commitments and sustain vital VA health care programs."  Smith particularly welcomed elimination of the Administration's ill-fated proposal to impose a new $1,500 deductible on some veterans seeking VA health care, as well as an historic breakthrough on the issue of concurrent receipt.

"Under Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle's proposal, the VA's budget authority for fiscal year 2003 will jump to a record $56.9 billion, an increase of 11.6%, including a whopping 12% increase in VA health care. That's $2.6 billion above this year's spending level, more than $1.2 billion above the Administration's proposed budget for medical care," said Smith.

"Combined with spending on disability compensation and other VA benefit programs, this budget will give veterans about 99% of the funding that we requested on their behalf," said Smith

On Monday, Smith and the Veterans' Affairs Committee had recommended that the Budget Committee significantly increase VA health care funding, without imposition of the controversial $1,500 deductible.  The Administration had proposed an annual $1,500 deductible for 'Priority 7' veterans - those without service-connected disabilities and whose incomes are above poverty levels.  The VA estimated 471,000 veterans would have had their health care services diminished or eliminated as a result.

"Under the budget plan we recommended, and which is now being adopted by the Budget Committee, the Administration's $1,500 proposal will be replaced dollar-for-dollar with new funds," said Smith.  "From day one, I have called that proposal a 'nonstarter' and I am pleased that Chairman Nussle and his colleagues on the Budget Committee have agreed," he said.

Smith also hailed the language included in the Budget Committee's draft to resolve the problem of concurrent receipt, the glitch in the law that requires military retirees to have their pensions lowered by the amount of disability compensation payments they also receive.  "There is no reason that a veteran, who risked life and limb for his country, and suffers from a disability as a result, should be penalized because he choose to serve honorably in our military until retirement," Smith said.

"Last year, we made historic improvements in the delivery of benefits and services to our nation's 25 million veterans and their families," said Smith.  "We reinvigorated the GI Bill education and training program, jump-started the fight to end homelessness among veterans, increased disability compensation payments, and strengthened the provision of VA health care nationwide.  Now, by adopting this budget proposal, we will be taking a giant step forward to ensure that we leave no veteran behind," 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.



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


DATE: October 16, 2001

In continuing to strategically keep up the pressure on Congress to enact concurrent receipt legislation, we have now added to our website a prepared e-mail message to senators urging them to insist that the Senate's concurrent receipt provision remain in the final defense authorization bill. You may access the alert message and the e-mail by clicking on "URGE YOUR SENATORS TO STAND FIRM ON THE SENATE'S CONCURRENT RECEIPT PROVISION."

Because President Bush's administration strongly opposes legislation to pay military retirees both their retired pay and disability compensation, we encourage you to also send an e-mail to the President. You may access this prepared e-mail message by clicking on "REQUEST ADMINISTRATION TO SUPPORT CONCURRENT RECEIPT LEGISLATION."

Both of these alerts can be accessed from the DAV's web site at www.dav.org. Click on "Legislative Action & You," then "Advocacy in Action." The alerts can be found on the page with the heading "Legislative Action Center."

We have succeeded in getting favorable concurrent receipt provisions in the Senate's bill only because you have responded to our calls to action with thousands of e-mails, letters and phone calls. We can succeed in getting concurrent receipt legislation enacted into law only with your continued grassroots participation. Thank you for your continuing efforts to get this most important legislation passed.
National Legislative Director


October 19, 2001


The Tricare Management Activity has offered the following advice for Tricare beneficiaries who cannot access Military Treatment Facilities due to increased security measures:

Emergency. Seek immediate treatment at the nearest hospital. whether or not enrolled in Tricare Prime. Tricare defines an emergency as a medical, maternity, or psychiatric condition that would lead a "prudent layperson" to believe that a serious medical condition exists. An emergency condition is one in which the absence of medical attention would result in a threat to life, limb, or sight and requires immediate medical treatment. It also may be a condition marked by severe pain that requires immediate relief to alleviate suffering.

Urgent. Tricare beneficiaries who don't require emergency care, yet need to see a doctor before their next regularly scheduled visit need urgent care. Those enrolled in Tricare Prime who have a primary care provider who works out of an inaccessible MTF should call their provider for guidance.

Routine. Such appointments should be rescheduled if access to an MTF is restricted. As with urgent care, beneficiaries should call ahead to their providers' offices for guidance