ARMED FORCES NEWS
150,000 RETIREES TO SEE PAY HIKE
February 6, 2004
 

An estimated 150,000 military retirees are see their pay increase effective Feb. 2. This stems from a new law allowing concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability pay for retirees with more than 20 years of service and a disability rating of 50 percent or more. The restored pay will be phased in over a 10-year period that began Jan. 1 and will be retroactive to that date. Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials have already identified eligible retirees and are making adjustments to their pay, so the retirees do not have to take any action to start their concurrent receipt. Some 2,800 who receive retired pay based on a disability percentage instead of years of service will not be paid Feb. 2, pending a DoD decision on how to apply the law in their cases. When resolved, payments will be retroactive to Jan. 1. 
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VA BUDGET ADDS AND TAKES AWAY
February 6, 2004
 

The President's fiscal 2005 budget request includes $67.7 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a $5.6 billion increase over '04 primarily targeted for health care and disability compensation, according to the VA. It would eliminate pharmacy copayments for veterans in Priority Categories 2 through 5 with incomes between $9,894 and $16,509. It also would cancel copayments for former prisoners of war, end hospice copayments, and authorize emergency room care or urgent care for enrolled veterans in non-VA medical facilities. Meanwhile, it would more than double co-payments -- from $7 to $15 -- for veterans in Priority Categories 7 and 8, who are not receiving compensation for service-connected disabilities and who have income above a threshold. In addition, it would impose an annual user fee of $250 for those veterans. 
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
GRAHAM BLASTS VA BUDGET
February 6, 2004
 

Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, has faulted the White House for not adequately funding the Department of Veterans Affairs in the President's fiscal 2005 budget request. "Funding VA at levels that do not even keep up with inflation is an example of how rhetoric and reality are two divergent things when it comes to this administration's lack of commitment to our nation's veterans," he asserted. He added that the budget includes the following provisions that are harmful to the health care of our nation's veterans:

Funding levels that fail to keep up with inflation, with an increase of only $500 million for VA health care, despite current wait times of up to a year for services. 

Funding losses that will result in the elimination of 540 staff to process veterans' benefit claims, despite current wait times of 147 days for claims to be processed and a backlog of 350,000 claims. 

Attempting to force veterans out of the VA health care system by imposing a user fee of $250 on enrollees, as well as doubling the co-pays on prescription drugs for middle class veterans. 

Redirecting $100 million in health care for returning service members, and using it to cover deep cuts in the veterans' benefits budget. 

Removing 4,000 veterans from nursing homes and cutting 3,000 medical staff, despite an increase of 100 percent in the number of veterans 85 and olderover the last five years.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
CERTIFICATE OF CREDITABLE COVERAGE
AUTOMATICALLY ISSUED

February 13, 2004


Defense Military Health System officials are now automatically issuing a Certificate of Creditable Coverage to any former uniformed services sponsor or family member who loses eligibility for health-care benefits under Tricare. Certificates will be mailed to the sponsor's or family member's address as listed in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System. The certificate serves as proof of previous health-care coverage, and limits the time another health-care plan may exclude the holder from participating in a health-care plan because of a preexisting medical condition. Sponsors or family members needing to expedite receipt of a certificate may fax a request to the DSO at (831) 655-8317 or mail it to: Defense Manpower Data Center Support Office (DSO) Attn: Certificate of Creditable Coverage, 400 Gigling Road, Seaside, CA 93955-6771. For more information, contact the DSO at (800) 538-9552, or TTY/TDD at (866) 363-2883, or visit www.tricare.osd.mil/certificate/index.cfm. 
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
PRINICIPI ADMITS VA BUDGET SHORTED $1.2 BILLION
February 13, 2004


Veterans Affairs Secretary Anthony Principi told a House committee last week that he had sought $1.2 billion more for the VA than the White House Office of Management and Budget put in his budget for fiscal 2005. Principi's disclosure came in response to a comment by ranking member Rep. Lane Evens, D-Ill, during a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on the VA budget. Critics of the VA's allocation include Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, who labeled it the difference between rhetoric and reality. The budget would more than double co-payments -- from $7 to $15 -- for veterans in Priority Categories 7 and 8, who are not receiving compensation for service-connected disabilities and who have income above a threshold. In addition, it would impose an annual user fee of $250 for those veterans.
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
PART B LATE ENROLLMENT RELIEF STALLED
February 20, 2004
 

The Medicare prescription drug act authorizes 90,000 Medicare-eligible military retirees to enroll in Part B at any time during calendar year 2004 without a late enrollment penalty, thus becoming eligible for Tricare for Life. However, the only action taken by Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services as of Feb. 9 was to issue a policy document. Thus, Social Security offices are still not enrolling eligible retirees or waiving late-enrollment penalties for qualified members already enrolled. Vice Adm. Norbert R. Ryan, Jr., president of the Military Officers Association of America, has written the Secretary for Health and Human Services about the problem, stating that "each month that goes by is a lost opportunity for outreach and delivery of Part B services that Congress has authorized." He added that the "urgent matter is critically important to thousands of military retirees across the country and overseas." 
 

ARMED FORCES NEWS
VETERANS JOIN FOR MANDATORY VA FUNDING
February 27, 2004


Last week, nine veterans' organizations participated in a press conference at the National Press Club to kick off a campaign to replace the current discretionary funding system for the Department of Veterans Affairs with mandatory funding. So long as VA funding remains a discretionary program, it must compete each year with hundreds of other federal departments and agencies. Under mandatory funding, according to the organizations, the VA would receive the resources it needs based upon the number of veterans using the system. Organizations represented at the conference included The American Legion, American Veterans (AMVETS), Blinded Veterans Association (BVA), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Jewish War Veterans of the USA, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA).

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