ARMED FORCES NEWS
COMMITTEE SEEKS VA MEDICARE PAYMENTS
August 2, 2002
 


Committee Seeks VA Medicare Payments
"Federal health care funds should go to the actual providers of health care services, and that includes VA health care," said Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Chris Smith, R-N.J., at a hearing for H.R. 4939. The bill would allo premiums paid by veterans for Medicare Part B coverage to be transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system if those veterans are treated at VA facilities. The VA provides care to millions of Medicare-eligible veterans, many of whom pay a monthly premium to Medicare but receive all of their health care services through VA health care, said Smith. As a result, he said, the VA faces increasingly serious health care budget shortfalls because of the funding misallocation. Medicare-eligible veterans who enroll in VA health care would remain fully eligible for Medicare services, and Part B premiums (currently $54 per month) could not be increased due to this transfer.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
MOAA SLAMS TRICARE ACCESS PROBLEMS
August 15, 2003


The General Accounting Office has released a report on the Tricare program that recommends that the Defense Department improve its oversight of Tricare Prime. DoD responded that new Tricare managed care contracts beginning next year would fill the blanks. The Military Officers Association of America says that is not enough. MOAA expressed disappointment that the report does not address MOAA's concerns that low reimbursements and administrative hassles are keeping doctors from accepting Tricare patients. MOAA also is concerned that Congress might direct a follow-on study of access to Tricare Standard providers, and "another year will have been wasted and military families will be no better off." The association says that DoD and the Tricare Management Authority must begin to address Tricare Prime and Standard access problems now. See the report at http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d03928.pdf.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
CONCURRENT RECEIPT DECISION DELAYED
August 2, 2002


Concurrent Receipt Decision Delayed
Last week the House chose members for a House-Senate conference that will hammer out the details of the fiscal 2003 National Defense Authorization Bill. However, the long-awaited conference will not take place until after the August recess. One of many differences to be decided will be whether to overturn the century-old law that forces military retirees to forfeit one dollar of retired pay for each dollar of disability compensation received from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Senateversion of the NDAA would authorize full concurrent receipt of retired pay and disability compensation. The House version, on the other hand, would authorize concurrent receipt only for retirees with 60 percent or more disability compensation, to be phased in over five years. The Office of Management and Budget has recommended that the President veto the NDAA if it includes any concurrent receipt provisions.

 

MY SAN ANTONIO
Military 
VA chief supports curbs on recruiting patients 
Associated Press

Associated Press Web Posted : 04/15/2002 12:00 AM WASHINGTON 

 WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi is standing by a decision to stop recruiting veterans into the department's overwhelmed health care system.
Principi on Thursday rebuffed an effort by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to oust Laura Miller, the undersecretary whose name was on a memo directing the department's 23 health network directors to stop advertising for new patients.

"This was my decision. I reject any notion that Laura Miller should resign," Principi said.

He said the department remains open to any veteran who wants to enroll in its health care programs and will continue to offer health screenings at such sites as veterans halls.

But, Principi said, it would be misleading to actively recruit new patients into a health care system that — largely because of a congressionally mandated change — already has thousands who are waiting months for clinic appointments.

In a July 18 memo, Miller directed each network director to "ensure that no marketing activities to enroll new veterans occur within your networks."

Even facilities that could absorb new patients were expected to abide by the policy, it said.

Kerry gathered 13 signatures — 11 Democrats, one Republican and one independent — on a letter to President Bush that asked for Miller's removal and for Bush to direct the agency to overturn the anti-recruitment policy.

The department "faces a funding crisis of monumental proportions," Kerry wrote. "But certainly the solution to this crisis is not to deny services or hide them from our veterans."


08/02/2002 


IMMEDIATE RELEASE
High Praise for Veterans Health Care Funding Bill

August 2, 2002
 


WASHINGTON—Legislation introduced in the House of Representatives by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Christopher Smith (R-N.J.) is a bold step toward providing dependable, stable, and sustained funding for veterans health care, according to the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).

The Veterans Health Care Funding Guarantee Act of 2002 (H.R. 5250) calls for a fundamental change in the way government funding is provided for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical care system. "This shift in VA health care funding from a discretionary to a mandatory program would guarantee adequate resources to care for sick and disabled veterans," said DAV National Commander George H. Steese, Jr.

"Year after year, federal funding has failed to keep pace with medical care inflation and the mounting financial burden for veterans health care caused by rising costs and increasing demand for medical services. This has severely hampered, and in many cases denied, timely access to quality health care for our nation's sick and disabled veterans," Commander Steese said.

In introducing H.R. 5250, Chairman Smith said, "we have a sacred obligation to ensure that our nation's veterans receive the honors and benefits that they have earned through their service to this nation."

"A mandatory funding stream...will bring increased stability and predictability in funding the health care system designed to meet the needs of our nation’s veterans," said Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), ranking Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, who cosponsored H.R. 5250.

"The House Veterans' Affairs Committee leadership has taken a bold step toward eliminating the year-to-year uncertainty about funding levels that has prevented the VA from being able to adequately plan for and meet the constantly growing needs of veterans seeking treatment," Commander Steese said.

"Many of America's sick and disabled veterans can't get the medical care they need because for decades policy makers and politicians in Washington have short-changed the veterans health care system budget," said Commander Steese. "With adequate funding assured, it would no longer be necessary for the VA to curb outreach efforts and ration care to veterans."

According to recent VA estimates, more than 300,000 sick and disabled veterans are either waiting for their first VA appointments or have been waiting for longer than six months for care.

The DAV is asking members of Congress to sign a pledge to actively support and work for the prompt passage of guaranteed mandatory health care funding for our nation's sick and disabled veterans.

A prepared e-mail message is available on our web site at www.dav.org . 

 


ARMED FORCES NEWS
August 9, 2002

Assistant VA Secretary Refused VA Care 

Gordon Mansfield, assistant secretary for legislative affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, was sent to test the ability of the VA to care for disabled veterans, and the system failed. Mansfield, in a wheelchair with his legs paralyzed from a combat wound, was turned down by four of six clinics in Florida and two more in Colorado, because they were fully booked, said his boss, VA secretary Anthony Principi. Before October 1998, most VA patients had service-connected disabilities or low incomes. Then, by creating a priority 7, the VA opened treatment to all veterans regardless of disability or income. Principi hopes to arrange scheduling so that enrollees with service-connected disabilities will move to the top of the appointment list. According to Principi, more than 132,000 veterans are on waiting lists just to request care. Another 178,000 are waiting for follow-up appointments, which may be six months or longer.

2001-2002 ANNUAL REPORT
of the 
DISABLED AMERICAN VETERANS

by
JOSEPH A. VIOLANTE
NATIONAL LEGISLATIVE DIRECTOR
for presentation to
THE 81ST NATIONAL CONVENTION
DALLAS, TEXAS
AUGUST 10-14, 2002

NATIONAL COMMANDER GEORGE H. STEESE, JR., AND DISTINGUISHED DELEGATES:

How things can change in the short span of a year’s time. I brought you last year’s report with all the optimism of a promising future in a new millennium and with a bright outlook from surpluses in the Federal budget. I report to you this year against the backdrop of a world that has markedly changed from when I reported to you last year. The turbulent events of this year have impacted greatly on all our lives. They most certainly heightened our appreciation for our men and women in uniform. However, it remains to be seen whether they will substantially impact on our quest to build better lives for America’s disabled veterans. At this point, some of the signs are encouraging; others are
not so encouraging.

Franklin Roosevelt said: “Those who have enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.” As disabled veterans, we also know all too well that our Government tends to forget that young men and women have sacrificed their health and suffer life-long disabilities to preserve our freedoms and protect our Nation.

No other country on earth could have rooted out an entrenched terrorist enemy in its home territory protected by a host government as we Americans did in the war in Afghanistan. Without a strong military, we would have been helplessly paralyzed by the events of September 11, 2001. We could not have responded rapidly and effectively, and we could not have curtailed further terrorist acts. Without young men and women willing to serve, we could not have a strong military. Our debt to them is beyond calculation and expression in terms of dollars, and whether we repay that debt to them as veterans should never depend on its cost in dollars, especially as long as we are among the most prosperous nations on earth because of their willingness to serve. We are the envy of the world, and we owe it to those who are and have been willing to lay their lives on the line in the service of their country. In the DAV, we fulfill our organizational responsibility only if we refuse to let our Government conveniently forget that our most compelling national obligation and the most important part of our national debt is our debt to disabled veterans. 

As our Nation stood in shock at the terrorist attacks, and as the actions of our Armed Forces dominated the national news, the DAV’s leaders swung into action on a variety of fronts to assist our comrades in need. The attack on our homeland brought the DAV’s legislative agenda for our Nation’s defenders more to the forefront. Congress seemed more acutely aware of our responsibility to veterans, but the detrimental effect the attacks had on our economy has made improvements in veterans’ programs a greater challenge because of the decreasing availability of funds. Here, I report to you on the legislative activities that have taken place since the end of last year’s report, in this environment of increased patriotism and national awareness, but also under circumstances of a declining national economy, falling government revenues, increased defense spending, and increasing projected budget deficits. Before I detail those activities, let me acknowledge, on behalf of the entire legislative staff, those who played essential and valuable roles in our effort. 

National Commander Steese and his outstanding group of National Officers took our message to Congress and across the country. We are particularly indebted to National Adjutant Art Wilson for the key direction and fiscal support he gives to our legislative activities and to DAV Washington Headquarters Executive Director Dave Gorman f
or his insight and encouragement. We continue to profit from the counsel we receive from Past National Commander Oliver Meadows and the members of the Interim Legislative Committee—Gene Murphy, Tommy Tomlinson, Al Linden, and Donald Peek, Jr. Our National Service Officers continue to be our best source of feedback on the practical effects of existing law and the need for improvements in veterans’ programs. Of course, I must acknowledge the dedication and professional work of those who assist me every day with numerous and complex issues, those on DAV’s Legislative Staff in Washington. They are: Deputy National Legislative Director Rick Surratt, Assistant National Legislative Director Joy Ilem, Associate National Legislative Director Brian Lawrence, and Legislative Support Specialists Lisa Bogle and Caren Wooley. 

Beneficial legislation for veterans is the product of teamwork. None of us alone can accomplish what all of us working together can accomplish. The stronger the team, the better the chance of success. I say with confidence that the DAV’s grassroots lobby is one of the strongest. My sincere thanks go out to our Benefits Protection Team Leaders who organize our grassroots networks and orchestrate our grassroots campaigns. Our Auxiliary grassroots participants supercharge our grassroots lobbying by DAV members. Our Auxiliary leadership has increased its focus on and participation in our legislative campaigns, and we owe much of our success to the diligent efforts of our Auxiliary members. To increase the effectiveness of our grassroots lobby, many DAV and Auxiliary members have signed on to our DAV “Commander’s Action Network,” or “DAV CAN,” where they are in the ready position for rapid action when called upon by the National Legislative Staff. We currently have 5005 members in this special group of veteran activists. To everyone who contributes to the DAV’s legislative efforts, I extend my sincere gratitude. 

Amid much anxiety and many uncertainties about America’s future economic strength and the availability of Federal funding, we have been largely successful in getting beneficial legislation enacted for disabled veterans because of our teamwork, persistence, and dedication to purpose. As we were preparing for last year’s National Convention, we were continuing to follow the annual budget process and other ongoing issues of concern to our members.

On July 10, 2001, we testified before the Benefits Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding several bills. Among the bills more important to our members that we testified on were H.R. 862, H.R. 1406, H.R. 2359, and H.R. 2361. We supported H.R. 862, a bill to add type-2 diabetes to the statutory list of diseases for which service connection may be presumed in the case of veterans exposed to herbicide agents in Vietnam. We also supported H.R. 1406, a bill to improve and expand provisions for presumptive service connection for undiagnosed or poorly defined illnesses occurring in Persian Gulf War veterans. We recommended that Congress extend the time for application of the presumption. We opposed a provision in H.R. 2359 that would have authorized VA to pay life insurance proceeds to other than the designated beneficiary if that beneficiary did not claim the proceeds within a set time. We supported provisions for a cost-of-living increase for compensation and related benefits in H.R. 2361.

On July 19. 2001, we testified before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on a number of bills. Of primary concern to us was S. 739, The Heather French Henry Homeless Veterans Assistance Act. Discussing the causes and problems of homelessness among veterans, and its solutions, we supported S. 739, which included a variety of measures to improve and coordinate programs for assisting homeless veterans. 

During the final months of the 1st Session of the 107th Congress, we testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and some of its subcommittees on five additional occasions. Among the more important bills, we testified further on bills to improve assistance to homeless veterans, H.R. 2716 and H.R. 936. Other issues involved the provision of service dogs for disabled veterans, improvements in the administration of health care programs for veterans, the capacity of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to play a supportive role in response to major terrorist attacks, and reform of the rules on eligibility for burial in Arlington National Cemetery. 

During this same period, we were continuing our campaign for legislation to authorize concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation, as well as following work by Congress on the fiscal year (FY) 2002 appropriations bill for VA programs. In late July of 2001, we alerted our grassroots of a ruse by some in Congres
s to avoid action on real concurrent receipt legislation. The House leadership was proposing provisions for concurrent receipt that would be included in the defense authorization act to replace popular freestanding concurrent receipt bills, H.R. 303 and S. 170. While most other organizations embraced this move in the House, we made it clear to our members that these new provisions only gave the illusion of authorizing concurrent receipt while in effect doing nothing at all to authorize it. We saw this as a ploy and a way for members of Congress to claim support for concurrent receipt by pointing to their vote for this purely symbolic measure without having to vote for real concurrent receipt legislation, which would cost the Government a substantial sum. Despite the massive grassroots campaign by our members, this provision was eventually enacted, and left the matter of concurrent receipt unresolved. Our efforts were not without benefit, however. The thousands upon thousands of e-mails and other forms of contact with Congress focused attention so much on this issue, that Congress was unable to simply enact this symbolic legislation and thereby avoid facing the matter. Our frank advice to our members about the deceptive nature of this congressional action armed them with enough information to confront their legislators and prevent members of Congress from walking away from this issue without real action.

In our grassroots campaign, our members relied heavily upon e-mails sent through our legislative action service on DAV’s Internet website. Based in part on the large volume of e-mails sent via the DAV website to Congress regarding concurrent receipt, the DAV was chosen to be the first named by Capitol Advantage to receive its award for superior knowledge and proficiency in use of the Internet for grassroots lobbying, or “cyberadvocacy.” Many well-known advocacy organizations and public interest groups use Capitol Advantage’s CapWiz service for grassroots lobbying. As the first to be recognized for this achievement and as the initial recipient of this award from Capitol Advantage, DAV gained the prestige and exclusive status of being the inaugural member of the “CapWiz Honor Roll.” 

We also mounted a successful grassroots effort to foil a bill to combine Veterans Day with Election Day. With veterans’ strong opposition clearly expressed, the bill never gained sufficient support to be moved forward in Congress. On December 15, 2001, the House passed H. Res. 298 by a vote of 415-0. This resolution expressed the sense of the House of Representatives that Veterans Day should continue to be observed on November 11 and separate from any other Federal holiday or day for Federal elections or national observances. In addition, we urged Congress not to enact legislation to extend medical copayments beyond their scheduled ending date. This campaign forestalled statutory extension of the copayments. After a typical hard-fought battle to obtain adequate funding for veterans’ programs, the President signed, on November 26, 2001, the VA appropriations bill for FY 2002, which provided substantially increased funding, but, as is typical, did not fully meet the funding levels sought by DAV and the three other veterans organizations that make resource recommendations each year in The Independent Budget. 

In the final months of 2001, our statistics showed that, on average, approximately 80,000 e-mails were being sent to government officials through the DAV website every 6 months. Obviously, many more contacts were being made by telephone, facsimile, personal visits, and regular mail. These contacts obviously led to many successes and, on the whole, proved effective in our quest for favorable legislation.

Several other pieces of veterans’ legislation were enacted near the end of the 1st Session of the 107th Congress. Public Law 107-94, theVeterans’ Compensation Rate Amendments of 2001, increased the rates for compensation and related benefits by 2.6 percent effective December 1, 2001. Public Law 107-95, the Homeless Veterans Comprehensive Assistance Act of 2001, included a number of provisions to achieve a national goal of ending homelessness among veterans.

One of the more comprehensive acts for disabled veterans was Public Law 107-103, the Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001. This law contained several benefit improvements sought by the DAV. It repealed the estate limitation for mentally incompetent veterans. It restored the presumption that Vietnam veterans were exposed to herbicides, increased specially adapted housing and automobile grants for severely disabled veterans, and increased the plot allowance and the burial allowance for service-connected veterans. In addition, it removed the 30-year limitation on the time for presuming service connection for respiratory cancer as 
related to herbicide exposure, expanded and improved provisions for service connection of undiagnosed and poorly defined illnesses in Persian Gulf War veterans, liberalized provisions for entitlement to nonservice-connected pension, authorized bronze markers for already marked graves of veterans buried in private cemeteries, increased home loan guaranty amounts and extended the Native American home loan program, and increased education allowances for survivors and dependents and those eligible under the Montgomery GI Bill.

Public Law 107-135, the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001, expanded VA’s authority to recruit and retain nurses, authorized consideration of regional differences in the cost of living for income determinations for medical care purposes, mandated that VA maintain specialized medical programs at specified levels, authorized service dogs for veterans with certain disabilities, authorized chiropractic care for ve
terans, and authorized major medical facility construction. Again, despite our disappointment in lawmakers’ failure to enact meaningful concurrent receipt legislation during the 1st Session of the 107th Congress, our efforts were otherwise fruitful, and, in the 2nd Session, we continue unabated our drive for concurrent receipt legislation.

Improving the delivery of health care to veterans and improving the efficiency of VA’s health care delivery system is another area of ongoing attention. With the yearly ordeal of obtaining adequate appropriations for medical care, DAV began a new push in 2002 to have VA medical care funded as a mandatory program under the budget rather than through discretionary spending. Changing veterans’ medical care from a discretionary to a mandatory program would alleviate a number of problems. With funding at sufficient levels mandated by law rather than funding being subject to the politics of the annual appropriations process,
service-connected veterans would be guaranteed the health care they need, and medical facility directors could better plan their programs with advance knowledge of what resources they will have available. Inadequate funding would no longer require the rationing of medical care, and veterans would be able to obtain clinic appointments in a timely fashion.

In January 2002, we provided testimony to the President’s Task Force to Improve Health Care to our Nation’s Veterans regarding coordination of health care services by VA and the Department of Defense (DOD). While we acknowledged that efficiencies could be realized from VA and DOD sharing their health care resources, we stated our adamant opposition to merger of VA and DOD health care systems. We reminded the Task Force that veterans deserve a health care system devoted solely to caring for their needs, and we stated our position that veterans’ health care programs should be funded under a mandatory spendin
g account rather than as a discretionary item in the Federal budget. We stated just as forcefully our opposition to the President’s recommendation that Congress enact legislation to require veterans with dual eligibility for medical care to choose either VA or DOD and not be permitted to use both systems. In testimony before the Health Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, we commented on various initiatives by the military to better address prevention and treatment of illnesses stemming from combat and unique exposure of servicemembers to environmental hazards.

When it convened in January 2002, one of the first major tasks of the 2nd Session of the 107th Congress was to begin work on the Federal budget for FY 2003. This process formally began when the President submitted his proposed budget in February. On the President’s budget proposal for VA, we testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on February 13, 2002, and before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on the following day. In addition to recommending higher funding levels for VA programs than the amounts requested in the President’s budget, we urged the Committees to act on several of our recommendations in The Independent Budget to improve the benefit programs, the benefit delivery system, and the appellate processes for veterans.

Of course, National Commander Steese’s statement on February 27, 2002, to the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees presented our views on the VA budget and other issues important to disabled veterans. In observing that inadequate resources were requiring VA to ration veterans’ health care, he called upon Committee members to work for substantial increases in the appropriations for medical care and made the case for legislation to change veterans’ health care to a mandatory program. He emphasized the injustice in the offset between military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation and renewed his call that the Committee members reinforce their work for concurrent receipt legislation. During our Midwinter conference, many of you also pressed the DAV’s legislative priorities upon your legislators. 

On March 7, 2002, health care sharing between VA and DOD was once again the issue when we testified before a joint hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee and the Health Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. We again supported the concept of cooperation and sharing of some resources between VA and DOD but opposed any move to merge the two systems into one.

While the challenges and funding crises facing veterans’ health care programs occupied much of our time, we also moved aggressively forward on other issues on our legislative agenda. We worked closely with staff in the House to craft legislation to improve the appellate processes for veterans. On March 20, 2002, Congressman Lane Evans (D-Ill.) introduced H.R. 4018, the Veterans Judicial Review Improvement Act of 2002. This bill would change the level of scrutiny the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (CAVC) gives decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) so that CAVC would be required to reverse BVA factual findings that are inconsistent with the benefit-of-the-doubt rule. It would provide authority for CAVC to enter a default judgment against VA in a case where VA fails to timely file a pleading or briefs with CAVC. It would expand the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to include all questions of law, require expeditious treatment of cases remanded by CAVC to BVA or by BVA to VA field offices, and provide authority for CAVC to order interim benefits when BVA or a VA field office does not decide a remanded case within 180 days. It would authorize CAVC to extend the time allowed for filing a notice of appeal for certain equitable reasons. As soon as this bill was introduced, we launched a grassroots campaign to get support and cosponsorship from other members of Congress. To date, the bill has 58 cosponsors. 

April 2002 was a busy month for congressional hearings. On April 10, 2002, we appeared before the Health Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to testify on bills to establish within VA emergency preparedness centers, rapid response capabilities for assistance to local health care authorities, research, and education and training for response to bio-terrorism. We observed that VA, with its nationwide health care system, is an excellent health care resource to have in reserve for national emergencies, but we also noted that VA would need additional appropriations to allow it to prepare for this part of its mission.

In an April 11, 2002, hearing before the Benefits Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, we testified about four bills to make changes in various benefit provisions. Among the provisions of interest to disabled veterans were improvements to VA life insurance programs. We supported a change in law to base premiums for Service-Disabled Veterans’ Insurance (SDVI) on modern mortality tables rather than the 1941 mortality table now prescribed by law, a change in law to increase the face value of Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) from $90,000 to $200,000, and repeal of a provision in law that now requires termination of VMLI coverage at age 70.

On April 16, 2002, we testified before the VA, HUD, and Independent Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee on the President’s VA budget proposal, where we again made a strong pitch for changing VA health care to a mandatory program. On April 18, 2002, we presented testimony to the Benefits Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on H.R. 4015, a bill to improve employment, training, and job placement services for veterans. On April 24, 2002, we testified in support of a bill containing additional authority and funding to enable VA to undertake additional construction for improvement, renovation, and modernization of medical facilities most in need of this construction. 

In April 2002, we also launched a grassroots campaign to get support in the Senate for S. 2079, a bill that Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Senator John D. Rockefeller, IV (D-W.Va.) introduced at our request. This bill contained some of the same provisions contained by H.R. 4018 to improve appellate processes for veterans, and is one of DAV’s top legislative priorities.

On May 2, 2002, we went before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to testify on S. 2079 and 26 other separate bills covering a wide range of issues. Noteworthy among these 26 other bills were provisions in S. 1113, S. 2025, S. 1408, S. 1561, S. 2187, S. 1576, S. 1905, S. 2003, 
S. 2043, S. 2044, S. 2074, S. 2205, S. 2209, S. 2228, S. 2229, S. 2231, and S. 2237. 

Principally, both S. 1113 and S. 2025 would increase the amount of the special pension for veterans on the Medal of Honor Roll. As a participant in The Independent Budget, we supported these bills. 

Regarding S. 1408, which would make the income threshold for medication copayments the same as the income threshold for determining inability to defray expenses of medical care, we reminded the Committee of the DAV’s objection to medical care or prescription copayments of any kind. We urged the Committee to let the temporary authority for collection of copayments expire on September 30, 2002.

As a reaction to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack, S. 1561, S. 2132, and S. 2187 all contained provisions to equip VA to participate in furnishing emergency medical care following attacks of bioterrorism and similar major disasters or medical emergencies. While DAV has no resolution on t
hese issues, we noted with approval their beneficial goals.

We supported the goals of S. 1576, a bill to extend to December 31, 2011, special health care eligibility for veterans who served in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf War. 

Observing the beneficial goals of S. 1905, which would authorize newborn care for children of enrolled veterans and eliminate the requirement of at least 90 days internment as a prisoner of war for eligibility for outpatient dental care, we voiced our approval of these bills. 

We testified in support of S. 2003, a bill to clarify the prohibition against assignment of veterans’ benefits to third parties. This bill was introduced in response to our concern about practices in which disabled veterans are enticed to trade their future compensation for lump sum payments that only amount to a fraction of the amount of the compensation.

We supported S. 2043, which contained provisions to add another 5 years to the VA’s temporary authority for extended and nursing home care for service-connected veterans. Similarly, we supported S. 2044, which would increase funding for, and improve, specialized mental health services for veterans, and S. 2228 which would authorize VA to operate up to 15 centers for mental illness research, education, and clinical activities.

Two of the bills would provide cost-of-living increases for compensation, S. 2074 and S. 2229. We supported these bills, of course. We also supported S. 2205. This bill provides that the service-connected loss of half or more of a breast qualifies as loss of a breast for purposes of entitlement to special monthly compensation. Other provisions would convert the temporary authority for counseling and treatment of sexual trauma victims to permanent authority and would require special reporting from VA to the Veterans’ Affairs Committees regarding the health care furnished to women veterans.

Under S. 2209, a new life insurance program for service disabled veterans would offer up to $50,000 in coverage at a price comparable to that of commercial coverage for healthy persons. This provision is consistent with DAV Resolution No. 104. In accordance with a recommendation in The Independent Budget, premiums for existing SDVI policyholders would be reduced by basing them on current mortality experience instead of 1941 mortality tables. We supported this bill in our testimony.

S. 2231 would increase the amount of the monthly allowance under the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program but reduce the duration of the program from 45 to 36 months. We supported the bill’s provisions to increase the education allowance but opposed provisions to reduce the length of the program.

The basis for paying special monthly compensation for hearing loss would be liberalized by S. 2237. This bill would also require independent scientific review of evidence on occupational hearing loss, particularly acoustic trauma associated with military service and would require VA to consider the merits of a presumption of service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of certain military occupations. We supported this bill as consistent with recommendations by The Independent Budget.

Meanwhile, our efforts to obtain concurrent receipt legislation were ongoing. In May, we alerted our members of a threat by the Administration to veto the defense authorization bill if it included provisions for concurrent receipt of military retired pay and disability compensation. Thousands of you sent letters to the President. While we have seen no change in the White House’s official position, we hope the President will be persuaded not to veto this bill because it corrects this longstanding injustice against military retirees.

On May 14, 2002, we testified in a hearing held by the National Security, Veterans’ Affairs, and International Relations Subcommittee of the House Government Reform Committee. The Subcommittee wanted to hear about the fairness of VA’s formula for determining the funding levels for its medical facilities, specifically whether the formula appropriately takes into account the impact of regional variances in patient demographics and case mix. We reviewed for the Subcommittee some of the identified shortcomings in the Veterans Equitable Resource Allocation (VERA), some of VA’s efforts to fine tune VERA’s application to make it more accurately match resources with workload, and our concerns that the needs of some service-connected veterans were not being met because of funding shortfalls across the Nation. We again took this opportunity to press for legislation to make veterans’ health care a mandatory program.

On May 16, 2002, we went before the Oversight Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to present our views on VA’s management of medical and prosthetic research programs. We noted that opportunities to conduct research attract qualified physicians and provide an incentive to improve medicine in ways that ultimately benefit veterans receiving medical care through VA. We reinforced the consensus that medical and prosthetic research is an invaluable asset to VA, and we noted the necessity for Congress to continue to appropriate significant funds to keep the program effective and viable.

On June 6, 2002, we appeared before the Benefits Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to testify about VA’s progress in implementing recommendations by the VA Claims Processing Task Force. We based our testimony about the status of these reforms and initiatives in VA field offices on information our DAV National Service Officers provided. We noted a number of areas in which VA had begun to effectively implement recommendations for improving claims processing. We also discussed old VA habits of taking action to make itself look good at the expense of actually improving its efficiency. We provided our own recommendations on steps VA could and should take to improve service to veterans.

We were back before the Benefits Subcommittee on June 11, 2002, to give our views on several bills under consideration. Generally, these bills contained provisions pertaining to servicemembers still on active duty and other administrative provisions pertaining to veterans’ programs. None of the bills had provisions objectionable to us. Similarly, we posed no objection when we testified before the Health Subcommittee on June 13, 2002, on a bill to extend VA health care benefits to certain members of Filipino military units that fought along side our Armed Forces during World War II. We noted that expanding VA health care eligibility to this deserving group should be accompanied by additional appropriations to cover the added workload, however. On June 16, 2002, we gave testimony to the Health Subcommittee on a bill to reform the process through which VA purchases its medical care supplies from vendors. We agreed that the bill’s provisions would yield cost savings that could be used to provide more medical treatment to more veterans.

During a June 18, 2002, meeting with President Bush, National Commander Steese, accompanied by National Adjutant Art Wilson and Washington Headquarters Executive Director Dave Gorman, raised with the President some of our legislative priorities, including the importance of concurrent receipt legislation and the advantages of mandatory funding for veterans’ health care.

We provided testimony to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on July 10, 2002, regarding VA and DOD strategies for furnishing appropriate health care to veterans who might have been exposed to environmental hazards during their military service. Observing that members of the Armed Forces are subject to exposure to many potentially harmful and injurious environmental hazards unique to the military, we emphasized the necessity for DOD to share information with VA regarding such exposures and for the two departments to cooperate fully on identification, treatment, and prevention regarding exposure to harmful hazards to minimize the adverse consequences to our people in uniform. We made specific recommendations to improve medical examination and other procedures for those who may have come into contact with toxins or other hazardous materials.

We testified in a hearing before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on July 16, 2002, on the issue of paying for some VA medical care through reimbursements from the Medicare program. Although the DAV supports the concept of reimbursement from Medicare for treatment of Medicare-eligible veterans’ nonservice-connected disabilities, we voiced some concerns about H.R. 4939, the Veterans Medicare Payment Act of 2002. Namely, we objected to the lack of any distinction between service-connected and nonservice-connected disabilities for purposes of reimbursement. We believe the cost of treatment for service-connected disabilities is a cost of national defense that should be borne by the Government out of general tax revenues rather than the veteran’s Medicare premiums. We repeated our position that VA should have the money from Medicare collections in addition to, not in place of, full appropriations, thereby permitting VA to use the extra money to improve its health care delivery beyond what it can do with the current limited appropriations. Again, we reminded the Committee that veterans earned the right to have their health care system funded as a mandatory program.

On July 25, 2002, we provided for the Benefits Subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee DAV’s views on the effectiveness of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the Disabled Transition Assistance Program (DTAP). These programs aid separating servicemembers in the transition from military service to civilian life. We noted the beneficial nature of these programs and recommended that they be expanded and improved to better serve a greater number of individuals leaving military service.

In addition to these many congressional hearings in which we appeared as witnesses on a broad range of issues, we attended many more where other witnesses testified on veterans’ issues and attended committee meetings conducted to mark up bills to be reported to the full House or Senate for a vote. 

As we come to our 81st National Convention this year, we are nearing the end of the 107th Congress. As is typical, final work on veterans’ legislation is yet to be completed by Congress. While Congress has agreed upon a supplemental appropriations bill that includes a badly needed additional $417 million for veterans’ medical care this year, neither the House nor Senate has a FY 2003 VA appropriations bill to consider at this time. The House has passed its annual defense authorization bill, with provisions included for phased-in concurrent receipt for veterans retired from the military on longevity with 60 percent or greater service-connected disabilities. The Senate passed its companion defense authorization bill with an amendment to authorize full concurrent receipt for all disabled longevity retired veterans with 20 or more years’ service. A conference committee must now resolve the differences between the two bills. Of course, we are pressing to keep the Senate version, but the fight will be hard. The threat of a Presidential veto still hangs over this legislation and gives conferees an excuse to retain the less costly House provision, or worse, to do nothing. Our initiative for legislation to make VA health care a mandatory program is well under way and gaining acceptance and momentum in Congress. While we have support from the Veterans’ Affairs Committees, persuading congressional leadership may be a greater challenge, simply because of the commitment of guaranteed funding it requires. Work is also proceeding on legislation urged by the DAV to improve the appellate processes for veterans. As this legislation is acted on by the Senate, we will intensify our efforts to get it moved forward in the House, where it has so far faced some resistance from the majority party. The House has passed several veterans’ bills, and the Senate will be considering those bills and ones reported by its own Veterans’ Affairs Committee in the near future. From this, we expect to achieve a few more of DAV’s modest but meaningful legislative goals this year. 

Much of our work is undone, but we can see the fruits of our labor in the distance. Since I last reported to you, we have traveled far, but we have traveled together. We still have a considerable distance to tread before we reach our destination, but we will arrive there, and we will arrive together. All of us here can then look at each other with a gleam of pride in our eyes and celebrate for a short time the accomplishments we achieved together, working as a team. Then, we must promptly and deliberately move on, for there is always more important work waiting in our business of building better lives for America’s disabled veterans and their families, and we will not get it done resting on our laurels. Our pause for celebration is therefore always a brief one. We cannot rest until all of America’s wartime disabled veterans have been cared for. Our ultimate joy is in achievement for the benefit of disabled veterans, but we also achieve much in the joy of toiling together for our common cause. In the DAV, we face great challenges, but we have an extraordinary team, bound by the most honorable principles and noble goals. For the year ahead, I ask you to help me build and strengthen our team even more, because the challenges will grow ever more formidable. As life itself becomes ever more complex and daunting, so does our task, but we are driven to do what is necessary and right, and we are confident in our own abilities. Many successes in our long, proud history prove that we are on the right path. Thank you for walking that path with me to add another good year to our history.

 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
TRICARE REORGANIZING FOR LESS HASSLE
August 16, 2002

Tricare Reorganizing for Less Hassle

Tricare officials hope to reduce hassles for beneficiaries next year by executing modified contracts and slashing Tricare regions from 12 to three. The contract changes are designed to eliminate excessive paperwork for patients and healthcare providers, as well as reduce delays in referrals for medical care. The modifications also are supposed to make price adjustments by contractors not subject to interpretation, said Dr. William Winkenwerder, assistantsecretary of defense for health affairs. The decrease in the number of regions will reduce re-enrollment requirements and the need to learn new procedures when transferring. As part of the reorganization, Tricare also will institute a single national pharmacy retail contract so that beneficiaries can buy drugs at stores anywhere in the country.

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VETERANS MEDICAL FUNDING IN LIMBO
August 23, 2002

Veterans Medical Funding in Limbo
Last week President Bush said he would not declare the $5.1 billion that Congress included in the fiscal '02 emergency spending bill as a national emergency. He said the bill is more than he asked for and about half of it has nothing to do with a national emergency. Congress had designated the funds as "contingent emergency spending," requiring release or rejection in their entirety. Unless the President changes his mind before September 1, the $275million allocated in the bill for VA medical care is one of the programs in limbo. More than 300,000 veterans new to the VA system are on waiting lists -- some more than one year -- for the initial medical exams they need in order to qualify for prescription drug benefits, said Richard Santos, national commander of the American Legion. "If that's not an emergency, then nothing is," Santos said.

 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
INSURANCE REIMBURSEMENTS TO VA SKYROCKET
August 23, 2002

Insurance Reimbursements to VA Skyrocket
Department of Veterans Affairs collections from insurance companies that reimburse the government for veterans' health care reached record levels in recent months as the number 
of veterans seeking care at VA facilities continued to climb. In each of the last five months, collections topped $100 million. Since the VA gained authority in 1986 to seek reimbursement from third-party insurers and assess copayments for care furnished to certain veterans with annual incomes above an amount set by law, collections have increased from $24 million to an estimated $1.2 billion this fiscal year. Before 1997, collected funds went to the U.S. Treasury. Since then, the VA has been authorized to keep the money for medical care. The VA does not make collections for the treatment of service-connected conditions.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VA: WOMEN STILL UNAWARE OF VA BENEFITS
August 30,2002


Sandwiched between active-duty beneficiaries of Tricare Prime and retired users of Tricare for Life are three million military retirees under 65 and their beneficiaries. Nearly 2 million of these use Tricare Standard, and, according to a White Paper circulating in Congress, many of them are embittered by the system and resentful because of recent improvements to the other two programs. The top priority of the nine-member Military Retiree Grass Roots Group that is circulating the paper is to achieve legislation that would allow retirees to ignore Tricare and enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, which offers a range of health insurance options to a multitude of federal civilians and retirees.

ARMED FORCES NEWS
TRICARE STANDARD CREATING SECOND CLASS CITIZENS?
August 30,2002


Sandwiched between active-duty beneficiaries of Tricare Prime and retired users of Tricare for Life are three million military retirees under 65 and their beneficiaries.Nearly 2 million of these use Tricare Standard, and, according to a White Paper circulating in Congress, many of them are embittered by the system and resentful because of recent improvements to the other two programs. The top priority of the nine-member Military Retiree Grass Roots Group that is circulating the paper is to achieve legislation that would allow retirees to ignore Tricare and enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan, which offers a range of health insurance options to a multitude of federal civilians and retirees.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
CONCURRENT RECEIPT STILL ON THE TABLE
August 13, 2002


In spite of a slew of last-minute arguments against concurrent receipt made by defense undersecretary David Chu, congressional sources say that is likely that the conference committee will approve the House plan to provide concurrent receipt incrementally to military retirees with VA disability ratings of 60 percent or higher. The House plan includes funding, whereas the Senate plan, which would allow full concurrent receipt immediately for all retirees with disability ratings, does not. Passing the House plan would keep lawmakers, who have vowed on the floor to support concurrent receipt, from letting down military retirees and veterans organizations. Under the present law, military retirees who have been awarded disability compensation by the VA must sacrifice one dollar of retired pay for each dollar of compensation received. No other retirees incur this reduction.
 

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