RAO Davao City

United States Military Retiree Activities Office Davao City, Philippines

Archive for April, 2008

VETERAN LEGISLATION STATUS – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

For a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community that have been introduced in the 110th Congress refer to the Bulletin’s House & Senate attachments. By clicking on the bill number indicated you can access the actual legislative language of the bill and see if your representative has signed on as a cosponsor. Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote to become law. A good indication on that likelihood is the number of cosponsors who have signed onto the bill. A cosponsor is a member of Congress who has joined one or more other members in his/her chamber (i.e. House or Senate) to sponsor a bill or amendment. The member who introduces the bill is considered the sponsor. Members subsequently signing on are called cosponsors. Any number of members may cosponsor a bill in the House or Senate.

At http://thomas.loc.gov you can also review a copy of each bill’s content, determine its current status, the committee it has been assigned to, and if your legislator is a sponsor or cosponsor of it. To determine what bills, amendments your representative has sponsored, cosponsored, or dropped sponsorship on refer to http://thomas.loc.gov/bss/d110/sponlst.html.

The key to increasing cosponsorship on veteran related bills and subsequent passage into law is letting our representatives know of veteran’s feelings on issues. At the end of some listed bills is a web link that can be used to do that. Otherwise, you can locate on http://thomas.loc.gov who your representative is and his/her phone number, mailing address, or email/website to communicate with a message or letter of your own making.

Refer to http://www.thecapitol.net/FAQ/cong_schedule.html for future times that you can access your representatives on their home turf. [Source: RAO Bulletin Attachment 29 Apr 08 ++]

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TRICARE SELECTION CONSIDERATIONS – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

One of the first things on a new retiree’s checklist after leaving active duty is health care. With the Tricare fee increase proposals the decision on where it will be obtained from is even more critical. Factors that must be considered are extent of family protection, cost, and whether or not supplemental insurance will be required. Many retirees start a second career and enroll in their new employer’s health care plan. Others stay with Tricare and are comfortable with the process. A prime consideration whether you are a new military retiree or a seasoned one is does your current or potential health care program cover all costs? For a number of years now DoD has drafted plans that will drastically increase Tricare enrollment fees and deductibles for 3 million retirees under age 65 and their families to help slow the government’s increasing cost of health care. One aim of these proposals is to encourage working-age retirees to enroll in an employer’s program or switch to other available plans.

If the proposals are approved some retirees will have no choice except to use the Tricare program. Others have options. As with any new program, the key is to get all the facts. Depending on your options Tricare may no longer be the best deal for you. It is recommended you get all the information you can on your own and compare prices. Some employer health care programs provide the employee with limited options. The following questions will guide you toward the best purchase:

• Must I meet a deductible before the plan begins to pay?

• Is there a maximum limit on benefits?

• Is there a pre-existing condition clause?

• Is there a waiting period before the policy becomes effective?

• Will the plan cover amounts beyond what Tricare allows?

• Does the plan pay for services that aren’t covered by the policy?

• Does the plan specifically not cover certain conditions?

• Must certain kinds of care be approved before treatment?

• Is inpatient care covered?

• Is there outpatient or long-term care coverage?

• Will the plan pay the outpatient deductible?

• Will a new plan pay the same as my cost-share under the Tricare diagnosis-related group payment system?

• Will the plan cover enrollment fees or co-payment?

• Does the plan offer reduced premiums or premium adjustments if I participate in managed health care plans?

• Does the plan convert to a Medicare supplement? If so, must it be in force for any specified length of time before conversion?

• Will the plan cover me overseas?

• How will the plan require premium payments? Monthly? Quarterly?

• Can premium payments be increased?

• Does the plan offer rates based on military retired status or based on an age scale?

• Does coverage continue for surviving spouses at no charge?

• What’s the time limitation, if any, for filing a claim?

• If I am a smoker, does the plan have higher rates?

The Defense Department has expressed concern over the recent influx of military retirees into the Tricare program and away from employer-provided health care. Certainly, this concern shouldn’t override the promise Congress made to its sons and daughters who wore the military uniform, protected our country, and gave their all when unique demands were placed upon them and their families. Unfortunately, our military retirees will have to dig deeper into their pockets. [Source: Air Force Times article by Alex Keenan MCPO USCG (Ret) 9 JAN 05 ++]

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TRICARE AUTISM CARE – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

The Department of Defense (DoD) and Tricare announced 15 MAR a demonstration project to care for active duty military dependents diagnosed with Autism. This program allows reimbursement for educational intervention services, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), delivered by paraprofessional providers. ABA is a systematized process of collecting data on a child’s behaviors and using a variety of behavioral conditioning techniques to teach and reinforce desired behaviors while extinguishing harmful or undesired behaviors. Time-limited, focused ABA methods have been shown to improve communication abilities, reduce or eliminate specific problem behaviors and teach new skills to some individuals with autism. Tricare is in need of ABA professionals, or supervisors, and paraprofessionals, or tutors, to provide services that will enhance the effectiveness of academic instruction and provide training in life skills (language, communication, self help, activities of daily living, etc.). DoD has been a leader in providing coverage for health and special education services for children with autism. Tricare is one of the very few health plans providing coverage for special education services. In recent years, the per month special needs benefit for qualifying active duty family members under Tricare’s Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) was increased from $1,000 to $2,500; however, Tricare beneficiaries still find it difficult to obtain services from authorized ABA providers.

Tricare authorized providers are currently limited to those recognized by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB). However, the professionalization of the field remains in its infancy and the number of BACB-certified behavior analysts is limited. These certified professionals are for the most part providing behavior analysis evaluation and intervention planning services rather than the one-on-one technical intervention that is the actual tool effecting behavior change in autistic children. This new field has yet to define the provider class that delivers the one-on-one technical services to children. ABA tutors will increasingly be asked to provide services to the many children being diagnosed with ASD. Tricare’s three Managed Care Support Contractors are building a referral network of ABA providers who will agree to be reimbursed for Tricare-eligible beneficiaries referred for care. Providers and beneficiaries wanting more information should contact:

• TRICARE North Region – Health Net Federal Services (877) 874-2273. This region provides health care services and support in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, the Rock Island Arsenal area of Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, the St. Louis area of Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, the Fort Campbell area of Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

• TRICARE South Region – Humana Military Healthcare Services (800) 444-5445. This region provides health care services and support in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, most of Tennessee and the eastern portion of Texas.

• TRICARE West Region – TriWest Healthcare Alliance (888) 874-9378. This region provides health care services and support in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa (except for the Rock Island Arsenal area), Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri (except for the St. Louis area), Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, the extreme western portion of Texas, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

TRICARE Management Activity, the Defense Department activity that administers the health care plan for the Uniformed Services, retirees and their families, serves more than 9.2 million eligible beneficiaries worldwide in the Military Health System (MHS). The mission of the MHS is to enhance the Department of Defense and national security by providing health support for the full range of military operations. The MHS provides quality medical care through a network of providers, military treatment facilities, medical clinics, and dental clinics worldwide. For more info on what coverage is provided by Tricare for autistic children of active duty and retirees refer to one of the three Managed Care Support Contractors above. For more about the MHS refer to www.health.mil. For more information on neurological disorders such as autism or research programs funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke refer to www.ninds.nih.gov. [Source: MHS News Release 15 Apr 08 ++]

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IRS COLLECTION POLICY UPDATE – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

On 15 APR the House of Representatives today approved the Taxpayer Assistance and Simplification Act of 2008 (H.R.5719) by a vote of 238 to 179. The legislation, introduced by Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY) and Oversight Subcommittee Chairman John Lewis (D-GA) of House Ways and Means , would modernize Internal Revenue Service functions to provide protections to taxpayers and improve outreach. Additionally, the bill repeals the IRS Private Debt Collector program, an imprudent outsourcing of an inherent government function that to date has spent $75 million to collect just $35 million. The bill is the result of hearings conducted by the Oversight Subcommittee. The provisions included in H.R. 5719 as agreed to by the Committee would:

• Repeal the IRS’s authority to use private debt collection companies to collect Federal taxes.

• Eliminate the special requirements for individuals to keep detailed records of calls made on employer-provided cell phones.

• Delay for one year the imposition of a three-percent withholding requirement on government payments for goods and services made after 31 DEC 10.

• Stop federal contractors from using foreign subsidiaries to evade Social Security and other employment taxes.

• Make the administrators of state and local government programs liable for paying the employment taxes on amounts paid by government programs to in-home care workers provided to elderly and disabled persons.

• Prohibit the misuse of Department of the Treasury names and symbols in misleading websites and phishing schemes.

• Protect low-income taxpayers by prohibiting IRS debt indicators for predatory refund anticipation loans, allowing IRS employees to refer taxpayers to qualified low-income taxpayer clinics, and authorizing funding for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance ("VITA") programs.

• Require the IRS to notify taxpayers if it suspects theft of a taxpayer’s identity.

The bill will now go to the Senate for approval and if ultimately signed into law by the President its provisions will be added to the federal tax code. At present the federal income tax code is nearly 1.3 million words long, 282 times as many words as the Constitution. In 2006, the IRS estimated individuals and businesses spent 6.65 billion hours complying with the tax laws. The 1040EZ form, which is supposed to be the simplest form in IRS inventory, on average required 3 hours and 46 minutes to complete. In the interim, the current Senate Budget Resolution includes plans for a tax increase of $1.2 trillion. If the budget is enacted, 116 million taxpayers will see a tax increase and the national debt will increase to $2 trillion by 2013. Under the Senate-passed proposal, 43 million families will see their taxes increase by an average of $2,300, 18 million seniors will pay $2,200 more in taxes, and 27 million small business owners will face a tax increase of $4,100. The resolution passed the Senate by a vote of 51 to 44. [Source: House Ways & Means Committee Press Release 15 Apr 08 ++]

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VA DENTAL TREATMENT UPDATE – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

VA DENTAL TREATMENT UPDATE 02: U.S. Representative Mark Kirk (R-IL) joined with local veterans 15 APR to introduce bipartisan legislation that would significantly boost dental care for service-connected disabled veterans.

The "Make Our Veterans Smile Act" (H.R.5595) was co-introduced on 12 MAR by Congressman Kirk and Congressman Chris Carney (D-PA), the U.S. House’s only actively serving U.S. Navy Reserve intelligence officers. Currently, only 100% disabled, homeless or prisoner-of-war veterans are eligible for dental benefits. The bill expands dental coverage to any service-connected disabled veteran, regardless of disability rating starting 1 JAN 09.

This legislation also allows the VA to use contractor facilities if they find it necessary to meet the demands for dental care. The bill was referred to the House committee on Veteran Affairs and has already gained 44 cosponsors.

According to the U.S. Veterans Administration, 258,000 veterans currently are eligible for dental benefits. More than 2.5 million additional disabled veterans would receive coverage under the Kirk-Carney bill. In Illinois, coverage would expand from nearly 5,000 veterans to more than 60,000 veterans, according to the Congressional Research Service. [Source: Rep. Christopher P. Carney Press release 13 Mar 08 ++]

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VA COMP PAYMENT DISPARITY UPDATE – 1 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

Ohio ranked second-to-last in compensation for disabled veterans, and federal lawmakers are looking at why cases in other states collect thousands of dollars more. More than 85,000 veterans in Ohio receive disability payments, and they routinely trail their peers from other states, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs survey from 2006. Only Indiana’s disabled veterans earned less.

Rep. Zack Space (D-OH-18) is pushing for the VA to have a national standard for payments. Veterans in Ohio receive as much as $4,800 less than those in New Mexico. Veterans in Oklahoma receive $4,185 more than their Ohio peers, and those in West Virginia earn $3,857 more. Space and his colleagues on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs are looking into the disparity.

Part of the reason for the gap is that each state’s veterans’ system sets its own standards for disability. For instance, a soldier in one state might be classified as only partially disabled and thus eligible for small payments. The same veteran could be seen as a more serious case in another state and eligible for greater payment.

Towards this Rep. Space introduced H.R.5709 on 3 APR which would instruct the VA to watch over the system and evaluate how states rate disabilities. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and presently has no cosponsors.

VA spokesman Steven Westerfeld said the department has started training workers who decide each veteran’s level of disability. He also said the VA is considering consolidating the grading system. [Source: ArmyTimes AP article 14 Apr 08 ++]

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MEDICARE PART D UPDATE 1May2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

President Bush recently submitted a bill to Congress that would raise Medicare Part D premiums for seniors. The proposal would increase prescription drug premiums for individuals with incomes exceeding $82,000 and for couples with incomes greater than $164,000. Premiums would more than triple for individuals with incomes over $205,000 and couples with incomes over $410,000. Although fewer than 5% of people with Medicare drug coverage would be affected at first, increasing numbers of middle-income seniors and the disabled would pay higher premiums in the future. The President’s proposal also would freeze the income thresholds, with no annual adjustment. This would cause a problem similar to one currently affecting the taxation of Social Security benefits. When the tax was first enacted in 1983, the public was told that only higher income seniors would be affected. But because the income thresholds are not adjusted, and have remained at $25,000 for individuals and $32,000 for couples, middle-income seniors pay taxes on their benefits today.

The proposal comes in response to a forecast by Medicare Trustees that by 2013 more than 45% of Medicare’s spending will come from general tax revenue, as opposed to dedicated payroll taxes and premiums paid by beneficiaries. Under the 2003 Medicare drug law, the President must propose legislation to limit the government portion of Medicare spending and Congress is required to give the proposals expedited consideration. The law, however, does not force Congress to vote. The President’s Medicare bill does not include proposals to cut payments to hospitals or other health care providers. He did, however, submit an annual budget that would cut an estimated $481 billion from Medicare over the next ten years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Despite the deep and widespread cuts, President Bush did not cut subsidies for private Medicare Advantage plans. The plans cost the government about 12% more than it pays for seniors enrolled in traditional Medicare. Since 2000, Social Security benefits have increased 22%, but Part B premiums have increased 111%.” [Source: New York Times article 16 Feb & CBO report 3 Mar 08 ++]

Posted in Medicare, Tricare, Veterans Health Care | No Comments »

VA INDEPENDENT LIVING PROGRAM UPDATE – May 1 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

On 15 APR Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the proposed Training and Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans Enhancement Act of 2008 (S.2864). The bill stems in part from a 5 FEB 08 congressional hearing on vocational rehabilitation, as well as Committee oversight. In addition, it responds to a DEC 07 VA Inspector General report.

If enacted, this bill will improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Independent Living (IL) program conducted under the authority of chapter 31 of title 38, United States Code, which serves veterans whose disabilities render them unable to work. VA’s IL Program was first established in 1980 by Public Law 96-466, the Veterans Rehabilitation and Education Amendments of 1980.

Initially, that law provided for the establishment of a four-year pilot program designed to provide independent living services for severely disabled veterans for whom the achievement of a vocational goal was not reasonably feasible.

The number of veterans who could be accepted annually into the pilot program was capped at 500. In 1986, the program was extended through 1989 and then, in 1989, it was made in Public Law 101-237, the Veterans’ Benefits Amendments of 1989. In 2001, the 500 annual cap on enrollees was increased to 2,500.

The VA’s Inspector General found, in a report issued in DEC 07, that the effect of the statutory cap has been to delay IL services to severely disabled veterans. This delay happens because VA has developed a procedure that holds veterans in a planning and evaluation stage when the statutory cap may be in danger of being exceeded. By removing the cap on the number of enrollees in the program and making it an official objective of the program to improve veterans’ quality of life Akaka believes it will lead to bettering program participant’s chances of rehabilitation and future employment. [Source: SCVA Press Release 15 Apr 08 ++]

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VA REGULATIONS CHANGE UPDATE – May 1 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

The Veterans Affairs Department is engaged in a massive project to rewrite benefit claims regulations using plain language with the goal to make them clearer and more consistent. For example, VA used its plain language policy on 12 APR, when it issued a proposed rule for claims dealing with disability and death benefits. The new rule also covers claims based on new and material evidence, claims based on hospitalization, and requests to increase benefits. In the introduction to the new rule, VA officials said the purpose of the plain language project was to reorganize "compensation and pension rules in a logical, claimant-focused and user-friendly format." Steve Smithson, deputy director for the Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission at the American Legion, said the term plain language will be interpreted by what he called "the VA mind-set. . . . It’s as plain as they are going to get." The department started the Regulation Rewrite Project in 2002 in response to recommendations made in the VA Claims Processing Task Force Report, which was released in OCT 01. The project is a "huge, complex task dealing with thousands of regulations" in Part 38 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Smithson said. VA is attempting to make this mass of regulations more understandable by putting them in one coherent area rather than spreading them all over the place.

Gerald Manar, deputy director of the Veteran of Foreign Wars’ national veterans service, said, as he understands the rewrite process, the new plain language code eventually will contain electronic hooks, which will make it easier to search regulations and link from one to another. Manar said he considered the term plain language to be somewhat misleading, because VA regulations are complex and quite hard to understand, although the new regulations may have less legalese. VA could end up with wordier regulations, he said, because it could take longer explanation to make benefits requirements clearer. He drew an analogy between the old and new way of writing regulations, saying trying to understand the rewritten regulations could create a headache treatable with only two aspirin, while trying to comprehend the old regulations may have resulted in a headache that would have required an entire bottle to treat.

Manar predicted that the new regulations would be a boon to lawyers representing veterans who have disputed compensation claims because the lawyers will view new language and definitions as a basis for litigation. The House on 14 APR passed a bill requiring federal agencies to use plain language in commonly-used forms. The legislation covers tax, benefit and Social Security forms, grant applications and other public documents, but not federal regulations. [Source: GOVExec.com Bob Brewin article 15 Apr 08 ++]

Posted in Veterans Interest, Veterans Legislation | No Comments »

SOLE SURVIVOR UPDATE – May 1 2008

Posted by Service Officer on 30th April 2008

Congressman, Rep. Devin Nunes, is leading an effort to pass a bill that would ensure basic benefits to all soldiers who are discharged under an Army policy governing sole surviving siblings and children of soldiers killed in combat. The rule is a holdover from World War II meant to protect the rights of service people who have lost a family member to war. The Hubbard Act (H.R.5825), introduced 16 APR, would for the first time detail the rights of sole survivors, and extend to them a number of benefits already offered to other soldiers honorably discharged from military service. The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA), would waive payback of their enlistment bonuses, allow them to participate in G.I. educational programs, give them separation pay and access to transitional health care. H.R.5825 has strong bi-partisan support with 248 co-sponsors. Additionally, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced a Senate companion bill, S.2874. cosponsored by Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. The Department of Defense has identified 52 sole survivors since the Sept. 11 attacks. According to Army spokesman Maj. Nathan Banks the Army will adopt to any changes in policy springing from the legislation. [Source: ArmyTimes AP Garance Burke article 17 Apr 08 ++]

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