ARMED FORCES NEWS
DD 214's TARGETED FOR ID THEFT
February 1, 2002


DD 214s Targeted for Identity Theft

When service members separate from active duty, the most vital document they receive is a DD 214. In the past, they were advised to file it with their local courthouse to ensure they could get a certified copy when needed, such as for receiving Veterans Administration benefits. However, a DD 214 that is filed at a county courthouse becomes a public record. Some courthouses have even put this information online, and more plan to do so in the future. This has made DD 214s prime targets for identity
 


ARMED FORCES NEWS
160,000 TFL CLAIMS TEMPORARILY REJECTED
February 15, 2002


Some 160,000 claims for Tricare for Life were rejected initially because the patients' military identification cards had expired. However, Dr. William Winkenwerder, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, has announced that these claims will be paid after all, with a grace period lasting until July. This will give the affected beneficiaries time to renew their ID cards. Beneficiaries can track their Tricare-for-Life claims at http://www.mytricare.com.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VETERANS' BURIAL BENEFITS INCREASED
February 15, 2002


The Veterans Education and Benefits Expansion Act of 2001 increases, from $1,500 to $2,000, the burial and funeral expense allowance for veterans who die as a result of a service-connected disability. The act also raises the cemetery plot allowance for certain other disabled veterans from $150 to $300. (The plot allowance is paid when a veteran who is buried in a non-government cemetery was either: eligible to receive VA disability compensation or a VA pension; or was discharged from military service due to disability; or died in a VA hospital. The law also directs the VA to honor requests for government markers for veterans buried in private cemeteries even if their graves have headstones or markers furnished at private expense. Previous law prevented the VA from providing markers in that situation. The new provision for markers applies to veterans' deaths on or after Dec. 27, 2001.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
CLASS ACTION SUIT RETURNING TO COURT
February 15, 2002


The class action lawsuit brought by retired Air Force Col. George "Bud" Day, a Medal of Honor recipient, will be returning to court on March 6. Last February a three-judge panel ruled that the federal government had broken its promise to military retirees who joined the military before June 7, 1956 and were guaranteed free medical care for life. The U.S. moved for a rehearing, which was referred to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C. Visit
http://www.classact-lawsuit.com/index.html.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VFW CONCERNED ABOUT VA BUDGET
February 15, 2002


The Veterans of Foreign Wars says it is concerned about problems in the VA system that even a $1.5 billion increase in the VA's budget will not fix. "A preceding decade of flat and even deficit budgets for VA has placed the system on the brink of disaster," said VFW commander James N. Goldsmith. "Let there be no doubt in anyone's mind that even more dollars will be required for veterans' health care because more and more veterans are streaming into the system." The VFW said
that the president's budget is not realistic because the administration is depending on the VA to collect about $1.5 billion from veterans’ health insurance payments and co-payments for non-service-connected medical care. "VA has continually failed to meet its collection targets in these areas, and projecting an increase of $400 million is a certain recipe for future funding shortfalls," Goldsmith said.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VETS OPPOSE VA'S $1,500 DEDUCTIBLE
February 15, 2002


Some veterans groups and their congressional allies say they will resist an administration proposal to charge certain veterans up to a $1,500 annual deductible for their health care from the Department of Veterans' Affairs. The deductible would impact the new priority 7 group of veterans whose incomes are more than $24,000 if single or $28,000 if married, and who have no service-related disabilities or other qualifications. They or their insurance companies would pay 45 percent of the charges each time they receive medical care until they reach the $1,500 annual cap. The Paralyzed Veterans of America charges that it would put some of the
VA's specialized services out of reach of some veterans. The American Legion says that $1,500 is grossly out of line. The chairmen of both the House and Senate veterans' affairs committees also disputed this funding plan.
 

DISABLED AMERICAN VETERAN'S ISSUE PAPER
FAIRNESS FOR VETERANS' SURVIVORS
February 15, 2002
 

Survivors of veterans and other VA beneficiaries should receive all the benefits due the veteran or other beneficiary at time of death.

Generally, benefits to which a VA beneficiary was entitled but had not received from VA at the time of death are payable to specified survivors. For example, benefits which had "accrued" to a veteran but had not been paid before the veteran's death may be paid to the surviving spouse or children.

Current law limits this payment to benefits that accrued in the 2-year period preceding the ending date of the deceased's entitlement. It now frequently takes more than two years for veterans to obtain final decisions on their claims, and appeals may take several years. Two identically situated surviving spouses may be treated very differently merely by the luck of timing. For example, if a veteran who had prevailed after an appeal taking several years received his or her check the day before death, all retroactive benefits for the time the claim was pending would have been paid and would presumably be available for the surviving spouse. If another veteran in the same situation was awarded retroactive benefits after a long pending claim or appeal but died before the treasury check could be issued, the surviving spouse would receive benefits for only the last two years of the veteran's entitlement.

Veterans' family members often suffer economic deprivation for extended periods because of protracted claims processing times and VA errors that require appeals. With an aging veteran population and long delays in claims processing, more and more veterans are dying before their claims are finalized. This objectionable situation in which VA delays and mistakes deprive veterans of benefits due them should not be allowed to be made worse by this 2-year limitation, which deprives deserving survivors of a substantial portion of the benefits the veteran would have received but for his or her death.

Congress should enact H.R. 3733 to remove the unjust 2-year limitation on the period for which benefits due a veteran or other claimant at death can be paid to a survivor.
 


DISABLED AMERICAN VETERAN'S ISSUE PAPER
HONORING OUR COMMITMENT TO OUR MOST DESERVING VETERANS
February 15, 2002
 

Retired servicemembers should receive compensation for service-connected disabilities without offset against retired pay they earned by virtue of a military career.

Former servicemembers who are retired from the Armed Forces on the basis of length of service must waive their retired pay to receive disability compensation from VA. This is inequitable because military retired pay is earned by virtue of the veteran's long service on behalf of the Country. Entitlement to compensation, on the other hand, is for an entirely separate reasonžbecause of service-related disability.

Many nondisabled military retirees pursue second careers after service to supplement their income, thereby justly enjoying the full reward for completion of a military career along with the added reward of full pay for the civilian employment. In contrast, military retirees with service-connected disabilities do not enjoy the same full earning potential. Their earning potential is reduced commensurate with the degree of service-connected disability. To put them on equal footing with nondisabled retirees, they should receive full military retired pay and compensation to substitute for diminution of earning capacity.

To the extent that military retired pay and disability compensation are now offset against each other, the disabled retiree is treated less fairly than the nondisabled military retiree. This is especially inequitable where the military retiree is totally precluded from employment by service-connected disability. Moreover, a disabled veteran who does not retire from military service but elects instead to pursue a civilian career after his or her enlistment expires can receive full compensation and full civilian retired pay. A veteran who has served this country for 20 years or more should have that same right. The veteran should not be penalized for choosing the military service as a career rather than a civilian career, especially where in all likelihood a civilian career would have involved fewer sacrifices and greater rewards. Compensation should not be offset against military longevity retired pay.

Congress should enact legislation to repeal the inequitable requirement that veterans' military retired pay based on longevity be offset by an amount equal to their VA disability compensation.


DISABLED AMERICAN VETERAN'S ISSUE PAPER
AN ADEQUATE BUDGET FOR VETERANS' PROGRAMS
February 15, 2002

The President's Budget Does Not Provide a Large Increase in Funding for Veterans Programs, as it Claims.

The President's fiscal year (FY) 2003 budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims it provides $6.1 billion more for VA than in 2002, "the largest increase ever" for VA. In reality, the President's budget provides far less than that and far less than what is needed just to maintain VA services at current levels.

The President's budget is artificially inflated by money added to fund new obligations that would be transferred to VA's budget from elsewhere, which do not involve benefits and services for veterans. For example, the touted increase includes $892 million to cover transferring the cost of employees' health care and retirement benefits from the Office of Personnel Management to VA's budget and $197 million to fund veterans' employment and training programs, which would be transferred from the Department of Labor to VA. This claimed increase in the President's budget also includes millions in additional money VA assumes it can obtain through increased collections from pharmacy and medical care copayments. It includes $115 million to pay for CHAMPVA for life authorized by Congress last year. For VA's medical care program alone, it includes $969 million just for cost-of-living increases in payroll and inflation changes. The President's budget even counts as part of this claimed increase an actual projected $855 million decrease in expenditures the President proposes to achieve by driving approximately 121,000 veterans away from the VA health care system by imposing upon them a $1,500 annual deductible, on top of copayments already imposed on medical care and medications. Even with its very optimistic projections of savings from expected new "management efficiencies," VA admits that, unless Congress approves the $1,500 deductible scheme, the funding requested by the President's budget for medical care will be far short of what was needed for medical care at last year's levels and at last year's costs. On top of that, the President's budget baseline did not take into account a more than $400 million funding shortfall for FY 2002, for which VA now seeks a supplemental appropriation.

The Independent Budget coauthored by DAV, AMVETS, the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars of he United States (VFW), projects that the President's FY 2003 budget request for medical care is $1.724 billion below what is necessary just to maintain services at current levels.

Congress should provide $1.724 billion more than the President's budget request for VA medical care.


ARMED FORCES NEWS
VET GROUPS WANT CONCURRENT RECEIPT FUNDED
February 22

Vet Groups Want Concurrent Receipt Funded
Many member organizations of the 31-member Military Coalition are telling lawmakers they want funding for concurrent receipt placed in the fiscal 2003 budget. A House-Senate conference committee, on December 11, voted in principle to end pay cuts for service-disabled military retirees, but it failed to appropriate funds for it. The American Legion, for instance, says "it is just not right" that military retirees with service-connected disabilities continue to have their Defense Department retired pay reduced by the amount of disability compensation that they receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. "If these half-million veterans left the military after they incurred their service-connected disabilities, and retired from any other federal agency except a branch of the U.S. armed forces, they would receive both retired pay and disability compensation in full," said Legion commander Richard J. Santos.
 

RESPONSE RE: INQUIRY TO SECRETARY ANTHONY PRINCIPI, 
DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

Dear Mr. Higgins:

Your electronic inquiry of February 26, 2002 regarding joint Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) operation of the Corpus Christi Naval Hospital has been forwarded to my office for response. I appreciate the opportunity to clarify this issue.

The VA is participating with DOD in conducting a feasibility study to determine the suitability of fully integrating and enhancing VA/DOD health care services in Corpus Christi, Texas. No decision has been made regarding the VA and DOD jointly operating the Corpus Christi Naval Hospital.

Please be assured that the South Texas Veterans Health Care System (STVHCS) is committed to expanding services in the Corpus Christi area in a manner that would not adversely affect the services offered at other facilities in the STVHCS, including the Kerrville Division (KD). 

If you have any further questions regarding services offered at the KD, please contact Ms. Robin Gutierrez, Administrative Officer, KD, at (830) 792-2471.

Sincerely,

JOSE R. CORONADO, FACHE

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