March 28, 2013
 

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VFW WASHINGTON WEEKLY

March 28, 2013





1. VFW Protects Veterans' COLA: Last week, the Senate passed a VFW-supported amendment as part of their budget resolution (S.Con.Res.8) for fiscal year 2014 prior to formally adjourning back to their home state offices. The amendment ensured that cost-of-living adjustments, or COLA, for disabled veterans and Social Security beneficiaries would still be calculated equitably in the future. VFW mobilized in support of the amendment with nearly 800 calls to more than 90 Senate offices. To learn more about the COLA issue, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/03/vfw-advocacy-protects-veterans-cost-of.html
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2. VA Slammed for Claims Backlog: Over the past few weeks, the Department of Veterans Affairs has come under intense media criticism for not doing more to anticipate and respond to a huge influx of claims from returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and from older generations, especially with the addition of new presumptive service connections for Vietnam and first Gulf War veterans. Lost in the din has been why paper medical records continue to comprise 97 percent of all VA claims. The answer: The Defense Department lacks a universal, fully interoperable electronic medical record system between its three military medical commands. The VA this week again offered its VistA electronic system to DOD for its consideration. As a congressionally-chartered veterans' service organization that last year helped 125,000 veterans to recoup more than $3.7 billion in earned compensation and pension from the VA, your VFW is well aware of the backlog, and has been a leading voice inside the VA and Congress to help ensure that proper funding, staffing and training is in-place to break it. We have hope that the VA's Veterans Benefits Management System will be able to significantly reduce the backlog, but we also recognize that VBMS will never be truly successful until military medicine joins the digital age in a joint manner.
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3. VFW Supports Veteran Status Bill: This week the Military Coalition, a consortium of the nation's leading military and veterans' advocacy groups including the VFW, sent letters to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) offering support to the Honor America's Guard-Reserve Retirees Act (S. 629 and HR 679), which would recognize service members who served honorably in the National Guard and Reserve as veterans. The bill does not extend benefits to service members, but closes a loophole to honor the service of career members of the Reserve Component. To read the letter, click here: http://www.themilitarycoalition.org/library/13letters/03142013.pdf
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4. Healthcare for Iraq/Afghan Veterans: Iraq and Afghanistan veterans discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003, may be eligible for five years of medical care. The Department of Veterans Affairs is trying to reach out to eligible veterans who served "in a theater of combat operations" to let them know that they may be eligible for complete health care coverage for five years post service. To determine eligibility, visit the Veterans Health Administration website at: http://www.va.gov/healthbenefits/resources/eligibility_check.asp. The VHA website provides comprehensive health benefits and includes a link to their fully developed Veterans Health Benefits Guide. For more information, visit www.va.gov or call 1-877-222-VETS (8387), 8 a.m.-8 p.m. EST.
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5. Your Turn to Discuss VA Mental Health: Last week the Senate VA Committee hosted a hearing on mental health care access for veterans. A recent VA Inspector General report requested by the committee found that VA did not follow scheduling directives and protocols, and appointments were often based on availability and not the clinical needs of patients. Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Ranking Member Richard Burr (R-N.C.), both believe that VA needs to look outside the box to fix what has become a broken process and stated any improvements cannot come soon enough as the number of veterans of all eras seek care and services within VA. Now we want to know about your experiences. For more details about the hearing and to take our quick anonymous poll, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2013/03/senate-discusses-va-mental-health-let.html.
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6. DOD to End Tricare Prime for 172,000: Starting Oct. 1, the Pentagon will eliminate Tricare Prime for some 172,000 military retirees and their eligible family members, forcing them to either enroll in the more costly Tricare Standard or Extra programs or exit altogether. Why? Because they reside 40 miles or more from a military treatment facility. Defense officials are touting the positives of the change by saying the other two Tricare programs offer more provider flexibility, and eliminate the annual enrollment fee. The VFW views the change as a further lessening of earned benefits, especially since Tricare Standard and Extra have more out-of-pocket expenses, which could influence personal healthcare decisions. Another very real concern is DOD will expand the program nationwide, which means DOD is making the change only to save money, not to better serve military retirees. Those impacted number 98,771 in the Tricare South Region, 37,404 in the North, and 36,706 in the West. They are being notified by mail. Provisions do allow retirees who reside within 100 miles of an available primary care manager to sign a waiver saying they don't mind making longer drives. Lawmakers have asked the Pentagon for a full report on the impact of the reduction. To see if you will be affected on Oct. 1, enter your Zip Code at http://tricare.mil/Welcome/MediaCenter/CurrentTopics/ChangestoPSAs/PSALookup.aspx
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7. Army Chaplain (Capt.) Emil J. Kapaun, of Marion, Kan., will be posthumously presented the Medal of Honor for repeatedly risking his own life to recover wounded men during the battle of Unsan in North Korea, Nov. 1-2, 1950, and afterwards as a prisoner of war, by sneaking around the POW camp after dark, foraging for food, caring for the sick, and encouraging his fellow soldiers to sustain their faith and their humanity. Chaplain Kapaun died in captivity on May 23, 1951. His remains have still not been recovered, due to the tense security situation with North Korea. President Obama is scheduled to present the medal in a White Ceremony on April 11. Read more at http://www.army.mil/article/99317.
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8. ABMC Launches New Interactive WWII Site: Experience the history of World War II through an interactive timeline and map now available for free on the American Battle Monuments Commission's website. The interactive timeline also connects with the visual histories of the Normandy Campaign and the Battle of Pointe du Hoc, already available on ABMC's website. Later this spring, ABMC hopes to premiere a new website in time for Memorial Day, along with an interactive timeline and map for World War I. Established in 1923, ABMC oversees 24 cemeteries and 25 monuments, memorials and markers overseas. Explore the new interactive maps and timelines at http://www.abmc.gov/home.php.
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9. Congress on Recess: Members of Congress left Washington late last week to begin a two week spring recess. Before leaving Washington, both Houses passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) which funds the government until September 30, 2013. The CR funds VA at the Administration's recommended levels for FY 2013, which includes a $2 billion dollar increase in Advance Appropriations for medical care accounts. Now is the time to schedule a visit while your members are working in their district and State offices. Discuss critical issues facing our nation's veterans and service members. Tell them you expect them to stand up for those who wear or have worn the uniform. As a veterans advocate let them know that you care about what happens with the disability claims backlog, health care and employment issues facing veterans and their families. For a list of our priority goals click here: http://www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/VFW.org/VFW_in_DC/2013%20Priority%20Goals.pdf. To check out legislation already introduced, visit our website at: http://capwiz.com/vfw/issues/bills/. To join the conversation on a variety of issues, visit our Capitol Hill blog at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/.

As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here, http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org
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