Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Operation Provide Comfort Raffle

Armed Forces Tribute Bike II

2005 Harley-Davidson Road King Police Model
a Former Mongtomery County Police Bike

Customized by Iron Works Cycles, 7676 Airpark Rd, Gaithersburg

Acquired with assistance from Battley Harley-Davidson
“Used Bikes” 7830 Airpark Rd, Gaithersburg

Or win 1 of 2!!

52" flat-panel HDTV
With 1080p resolution Sharp's 52" unit delivers the goods for thousands less than competing models.

Purchase a ticket for $10 and get 1 chance to win your choice (1) of prizes. OR get 3 chances to win for $20. There are to be 3 winners. You are eligible to win more than once, if you buy multiple tickets.

1st prize is a choice of the 3 prizes.
2nd prize is a choice of the 2 remaining prizes
3rd Prizewinner will win the last prize available.

This raffle will benefit at least the following American Legion Post 295 Programs and more…

  • American Legion Baseball

  • Gaithersburg Post 295
    Maryland State Champions 2003, 2004, 2008
    Montgomery County Legion Baseball Champions: 1990, 1992, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2008

  • Gaithersburg Post 295 Jr Legion
    Inaugural season League Runner-up

  • Boy Scouting
    · Cub Scout Pack 1760

  • Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation
    · Operation Provide Comfort
    · Heroes to Hometowns

  • American Legion Oratorical Contest

  • American Legion School Awards
*** Montgomery County MD Raffle Permit 08-03

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

American Legion Post 295 Winter News

***Next Meeting is Thursday Dec 11 7pm Mangiare Bene, Toys for Tots Collection.***

Happy Holidays,

On behalf of all of Post 295’s American Legion Family, I would like to extend our best wishes to you and yours for a safe and pleasant holiday season, and for those members serving in harms way our thoughts and prayers are with you. If or when you are deployed, please contact me so that we may send a “care package” to you.

Many are called, but few are chosen. That applies to many things in life. As a fellow American, you chose to give service to your country when you joined the military. For those of us who have served in time of war, there is a bond that cannot be broken. Our lives and our backgrounds can be as different as night and day, but we are joined by battle, by service and by experiences that are uniquely ours. And we are joined, too, by an organization founded to serve only us with the privileges and benefits we have earned with blood, sweat and courage. In 1919, the United States Congress approved the charter of The American Legion as an organization of veterans. Some of our members served overseas during war-time while others served stateside. Yet we all served during periods defined by Congress as war-time service.

As we reflect on 2009, our Membership is off to a solid start, there are some exciting benefits for being a member; Gaithersburg Post 295 won the State Championship in American Legion Baseball, our Children and Youth program is running well, and our Veterans Affairs programs has had some success and some not so successful outcomes.

I would like to start off by thanking the 422 members of Post 295, who have renewed or joined us this year. Post 295’s membership goal is 476 members. We have reached 88% of our goal! On January 9th at COB, we need to be 100% in order to qualify for the “Outstanding Commander’s Cap.” Post 295 has reached 100% membership by the 1st week of January for the past 6 years! With just 54 renewals we can achieve that goal. It has been my personal goal to reach 100% membership each year. I have put a lot of effort into our membership program. As a personal plea, please renew before December 31st. Dues are still $25. If the $25 is an issue please contact me at 240-505-4660. There are 254 members whom have not renewed for 2009. I suspect that many will not renew, but if every one did our Post would have well over 672 members! Attached to this letter is a list of ALL Legionnaires that have not paid for 2009.

The American Legion Department of Maryland’s newest benefit is “The American Legion Aggregate Electrical Cooperative” Deregulation in Maryland in 1999 has allowed the American Legion to form an electrical cooperative with the potential to save members a lot of cash. There is no obligation to save money, and the actual savings will be calculated before you sign up. BUT, YOUR DUES MUST BE PAID FOR 2009. So if you are living in Maryland and would like to potentially save $ on your electric bill, renew now. You may renew online at The American Legions Web Site which offers secure payment at www.legion.org. There are plenty of other benefits: such as 20% of Sears through Sears Commercial, 17% of Apple Products, 12% off of Dell

Computers and big savings on prescriptions and eyeglasses.
Our youth programs are doing well. This year our Senior American Legion Baseball Team won The American Legion Maryland State Baseball Championship. This is the 3rd time since 2003, that Gaithersburg Post 295 has won the state title. Their showing in the Regional’s was commendable, defeating Delaware 12-1 in a rain shortened game. The team did lose to two proverbial power houses, these kids made me feel small, Boyerstown, Pa and Edison, NJ. The Junior American Legion team played very well and ended their season vying for the division championship.

Cub Scout Pack 1760 has seen an increase in membership as more children and their parents are interested in scouting. Our annual donation to the Pack assists them in purchasing awards and paying for a location to meet in.

As the financial crisis has gotten worse, we have received numerous requests for Financial Assistance. Our biggest success was helping a member with 2 young dependent children avoid eviction. Our failure has been others have called and we have been unable to provide assistance due to lack of funds. There is a application process to apply for funds provided for Temporary Financial Assistance Program in Maryland. Bills and financial conditions are taken into account and every application is evaluated on it’s own merits. Post 295 is not in the position to make loans that is for banks. Many times since we do not have resources, we forward requests to the Department of Maryland.

On a brighter note, we honored centurion Bart Trimboli (100) a D-Day survivor at our Veterans Day Dinner at the Golden Bull with a US Army Freedom Team Salute. We also honored Mannie Aragon, Jason Errilenne and Mike Stanley, we were set to honor 20 more but many were unable to make it. On December 7th, Post 295 hosted a “Welcome Home/Christmas Party” for the 422d Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services). It was a wonderful event. Post 295 presented a National Commander’s Certificate, American Legion Coin and a US Freedom Team Salute packet to each member of the unit. To get your Army Freedom Team Salute packet, please contact me, active duty members are not eligible, but their family members are.

So as the year’s ends and tax time looms, consider making a charitable donation to “your” American Legion Post 295 so that we may expand our programs to be able to assist more veterans. Our non-profit tax ID No is 52-1299542. Our raffle is another excellent way to give to the Post and maybe get something in return, your choice of a Harley-Davidson 2005 Road King, or 1 of 2 Sharp Aquos 52” LCD TV’s!

All the Best,

Bob Ouellette
Commander, American Legion Post 295
Commander, Montgomery County Council

American Legion Post 295
PO Box 690
Germantown, MD 20875

Saturday, November 29, 2008

FW: ALAEC - Electric Coop Details


I was able to get more info on the American Legion Aggregate Electrical Cooperative this Saturday. I was calling to make sure that Auxiliary members would be eligible for the Coop. The entire Legion family is eligible as long as you live in Maryland! Since this is the most exciting benefit to come along.

The 1st location to sign up will be Annapolis Post 7 on December 20th at 11am. There is a letter ready to go out to the Department. He outlined how this is going to work.

Every Friday for the 1st 14 weeks ALAEC will receive a quote and select a supplier for that weekend’s sign up. That weekend at one of our American Legion Posts, members will come to the Post with their 2009 Membership card and electric bill to sign up. SWITCHING OVER MUST BE DONE IN PERSON.

There will be 3 tables. At the 1st table you will checked for a 2009 membership card, the 2nd will calculate the savings, if it is not advantageous you will be advised not to switch, at the 3rd members will sign the contract. Rates will be good for a year.

Stand by for more details.

**If you have family or friends eligible for membership please tell them to join ASAP so that they can save as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

US Army Freedom Team Salute honors 100 year old D-Day Veteran and others

The US Army’s Freedom Team Salute’s director Col Dave Griffith presented commendations to Mr. Bartolo Trimboli, 100, of Potomac. MD and three others. Mr. Trimboli who turned 100 on March 15th was recognized during The American Legion, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Post 295’s Veterans Day program held at the Golden Bull on Tuesday November 11th.

On June 7th, 1945, Pvt Bart Trimboli landed in Normandy as part of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. He was wounded in action and received the Purple Heart. Mannie Aragon of Bethesda served as Captain during WWII and was assigned to the Manhattan Project  was also honored. by the Freedom Team Salute. Also receiving commendations were Mike Stanley, of Montgomery Village who served as a Staff Sergeant in Desert Storm with the 18th Aviation Brigade and SGT Errillene, a US Army recruiter and Operation Enduring Freedom Veteran.  

As Post 295 honored these US Army veterans, it should remind everyone that we should not forget those who are currently serving in harms way or serving worldwide. The Veterans Day programs was organized by Bob Ouellette, Montgomery County American Legion Commander, who was pleased with the turnout. Mr. Ouellette also serves as a Freedom Team Salute Ambassador. Any Army Veteran, Parent, Spouse, Supporter or Employer of National Guard or Reservists can receive a Freedom Team Salute Commendation by visiting www.freedomteamsalute.com or American Legion Post 295 at www.post295.org295.org.

Picture1: COL Griffith pins a US Army Veteran Pin on Bart Trimboli, looking on is Mike Stanley and Jean Davis, Veteran Outreach Manager Freedom Team Salute

Picture 2: Bob Ouellette, Montgomery County Commander, Col Griffith, Director Freedom Team Salute, Bart Trimboli, Mannie Aragon, Mike Stanley, and Carol Errilenne

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Veterans Day 2008

Veterans Day Program
November 11, 2008
The Golden Bull Grande Cafe
7 Dalamar St
Gaithersburg, MD 20877

To uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America; to maintain law and order; to foster and perpetuate a one hundred percent Americanism; to preserve the memories and incidents of our associations in the Great Wars; to inculcate a sense of individual obligation to the community, state and nation; to combat the autocracy of both the classes and the masses; to make right the master of might; to promote peace and goodwill on earth; to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom and democracy; to consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness.

Freedom Team Salute Honorees
World War II December 7, 1941 – December 31, 1946
Manuel Aragon, Signal Corps
Lloyd Biser
Harry Bonfils
Mirek Dabrowski,
George McBain, 6th Infantry Division
Joe MacLeod
Randall Erdley
Andrew Stanley
Bartolo Trimboli, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment D-Day
William L Wolf

Korean War June 25, 1950 – January 31, 1955
Charles Bolcik Sr., SGT, 593d Field Artillery Battalion

Vietnam War Honoree February 28, 1961 – May 7, 1975
Richard Gervasoni, SP5, 57th Signal Co, 160th Sig Group, Long Binh

Lebanon/Grenada Era August 24, 1982 – July 31, 1984
Bernie Richardson

Panama Era December 20, 1989 – January 31, 1990
Paul Hustler

Desert Storm Era August 2, 1990 to
Mike Stanley, SSG, 18th Airborne Corps

Operation Enduring Freedom
Carroll Errilenne, SGT, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 10th MTN

Operation Iraqi Freedom
Jeffrey Hogue, CPT, Commander, 67th Combat Support Hospital

RSVP to: Commander@post295.org

Menu: Prime Rib / Salmon / Chicken Marsala

Cost: $25 per person

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Opportunity at Sears for the Legion

Before the news: Please RSVP for the Nov 11 Veterans Day Dinner, $25 for either Chicken, Fish or Beef. We have a great program.

Ok the big news...

The American Legion has been extended a great opportunity with Sears. Throughout the months of November and December Sears is allowing The American Legion to staff tables in many of their locations nationwide to promote American Legion membership while adding to brand awareness. This is the busiest time of year at Sears and they have guaranteed us HIGH TRAFFIC AREAS! Sears will be providing tables and chairs and all we need to do is
suit up, and show up.

American Legion Post 295, has been approved to be at the Sears in Lake Forest Mall on the following dates. We will have a table on the lower mall entrance to Sears. Volunteers are needed from about 4 pm to 8:30 pm. At our table we will have information on joining The American Legion, member benefits, donation jar and raffle tickets for the Tribute Bike.

Special note: If you live in Maryland. The American Legion is close to signing a deal (Dec 19th) with a major utility provider to form an American Legion Electric Cooperative, ALEC. ALL current paid members of the Legion, Sons of the American Legion and American Legion Auxiliary will be eligible. Be sure to look for more info in the future.

Sears Dates:

November 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28 (Black Friday!) & 30

December 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24

Please contact me to get more info

For the Veteran!

Bob Ouellette

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Veteran Updates


== VA Presumptive POW Diseases [01] ---------- (Updated List)
== Veteran Legislation 2008 ----- ( S.3023 Omnibus Bill Passes)
== Traumatic Brain Injury [04] ---------------- ( Rating Changes)
== COLA 2009 [04] ------------------------------ (5.9% Projected)
== Combat Vet Health Care [03] ------ ( Combat Vet Eligibility)
== SBP Paid Up Provision [06] ------------------- ( SBP Counter)
== Arlington National Cemetery [04] ----- ( New Media Policy)
== VA Health Care Funding [16] ---------------- (Ending Delays)
== Purple Heart ---------------------------------- (POW Eligibility)
== Military ID Cards [02] --------------- (New Requirements)
== DOD Disability Eval System [11] --- (Army Not Complying)

VA PRESUMPTIVE POW DISEASES UPDATE 01: The Department of Veterans Affairs presumes that specific disabilities diagnosed in certain veterans were caused by their military service. If one of these conditions is diagnosed in a former POW, VA presumes that the circumstances of his/her service caused the condition, and disability compensation can be awarded. This includes DIC education and CHAMPVA for spouses of veterans rated 100% or surviving spouses late-veterans that died from discussed medical problems. Disabilities may be presumed under the circumstances described and for the conditions listed as follows:

(1) Imprisoned for any length of time, and disability at least 10 percent disabling:
€ psychosis
€ any of the anxiety states
€ dysthymic disorder
€ organic residuals of frostbite
€ post-traumatic osteoarthritis
€ heart disease or hypertensive vascular disease and their complications
€ stroke and its residuals

(2) Imprisoned for at least 30 days, and disability at least 10 percent disabling:
€ avitaminosis
€ beriberi
€ chronic dysentery
€ helminthiasis
€ malnutrition (including optic atrophy)
€ pellagra
€ any other nutritional deficiency
€ irritable bowel syndrome
€ peptic ulcer disease
€ peripheral neuropathy
€ cirrhosis of the liver
[Source: County of Humboldt Veterans Service office 12 Oct 08 ++]

VETERAN LEGISLATION 2008: After months of delay, the Senate passed an omnibus veterans¹ benefits bill on 16 SEP that includes bigger benefits for veterans and their families, expanded home loans and a variety of other programs. The bill, S.3023, had passed the Senate Veterans¹ Affairs Committee in June but lingered in limbo because of disputes over dozens of
details. With congressional leaders aiming to end this legislative session of Congress soon, passage of the Senate bill was essential for any hope of passing a compromise bill in conjunction with the House this year. The Senate passed the bill by voice vote and with no debate. Sens. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), chairman of the veterans¹ committee, and Richard Burr of North
Carolina, the committee¹s ranking Republican, said the bill passed by the Senate includes a host of compromises and includes the following provisions:

- It would order VA to simplify what it tells veterans when it denies benefits claims or asks for more information.³Notification letters to veterans about the status of their claims have become increasingly long, complex and difficult to understand,² Akaka said. ³These notification letters must be simplified. They should use plain and ordinary language rather than bureaucratic jargon. Veterans should not be subjected to confusing information as they seek benefits.²
- It would temporarily extend an increase in veterans¹ home loans through the end of 2011. The temporary measure allows loans of up to $730,000, but it is due to expire at the end of 2008. Akaka said extending the loan limits for several more years ³would enable more veterans to utilize their VA benefit to purchase more costly homes.²
- It would apply the maximum loan limit to home refinancing, and let homeowners refinance with a veterans¹ loan if they have 5% equity in their homes instead of the current 10% requirement.
- It would require more federal help for service members who have problems with employment and re-employment rights. Under the bill, the Labor Department would investigate more complaints and federal agencies would provide more assistance. The bill calls for mandatory training for federal human resources workers in the Uniformed Services Employment and
Reemployment Rights Act. Burr said every employer should obey the law, but the federal government has a particular responsibility to be a model employer. ³The federal government should make sure that not a single returning service member is denied proper reinstatement to a federal job,² Burr said. ³Unfortunately, this is not happening yet.²
- It would grant spouses of severely injured disabled veterans up to 20 years after the veterans are discharged to use education benefits, twice the time currently allowed.
- It would prevent the Department of Veterans Affairs from making changes in its disability rating schedule without first notifying Congress. Burr said the current ratings system is ³riddled with outdated criteria that do not track with modern medicine,² especially in the areas of combat stress and traumatic brain injuries. VA has been working on several studies that could lead to an overhaul, but many veterans and lawmakers remain concerned that a change could result in lower benefits. Burr said the bill would ³make sure these studies do not get put on a shelf to collect dust² by requiring a report to Congress on the findings and what action is planned by VA.
[Source: NavyTimes Rick Maze article 19 Sep 08 ++]

TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY UPDATE 04: The Dept. of Veterans Affairs announced changes to its schedule for rating disabilities for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), the "signature wound" of Iraq and Afghanistan.A VA press release noted, "Traumatic brain injuries result in immediate effects such as loss or alteration of consciousness, amnesia and sometimes neurological impairments." In some cases "prolonged or even permanent problems with a wide range of impairment in such areas as physical, mental and emotional/behavioral functioning may occur." People with TBI may experience headache, sleep difficulties, decreased memory and attention, slower thinking, irritability, and depression. 22,000 veterans presently are being compensated for TBI, including 5,800 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Those already receiving compensation for TBI injuries can be reevaluated under the new rating schedule criteria. The VA stressed, however, that veterans with the "most severe" forms of TBI would not receive much, if any, extra compensation because the current rating schedule provides adequate compensation in such cases. The rating schedule change mainly has the potential to affect those with mild or relatively moderate TBI who may have been assigned low or modest ratings in the past. Under the new rules, TBI ratings will be based on the degree of "cognitive impairment" and other
"residuals" of TBI. These may include mild to severe loss of memory, attention, concentration, judgment, motor activity, visual spatial orientation, ability to communicate and other functions. The rating schedule goes into effect in late October. Because of the complexity of each individual evaluation, it's not possible to assert that a particular person or particular condition would receive a particular rating increase. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 26 Sep 08 ++]

COLA 2009 UPDATE 04: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of the U.S. Department of Labor reported 16 SEP that the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) decreased 0.4% in August, before seasonal adjustment. The August level of 219.086 (1982-84=100) was 5.4% higher than in August 2007. The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers(CPI-W) decreased 0.5 percent in August, prior to seasonal adjustment. The August level of 215.247 (1982-84=100) was 5.9%higher than in August 2007. Using seasonally adjusted data the BLS found that energy prices were down 3.2% from July and food prices were up 0.6%. Energy prices continue to have the most effect on the CPI. If the September CPI-W remains unchanged from the August CPI-W, the December COLA would be 5.9%. This would
be the highest COLA since the early 1980s. SEP 08 CPI data are scheduled to be released on 16 OCT at 0830 EST and can be viewed at www.bls.gov/cpi. [Source: MOAA News Exchange 24 Sep 08 ++]

COMBAT VETERAN HEALTH CARE UPDATE 03: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) utilizes the Department of Defense (DOD) ³Combat Zones² listing of designated hostile fire or imminent danger pay areas in establishing whether or not veterans¹ are eligible for this category of health care. Although DOD Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger pay existed prior to 11 NOV 98, only proof of such pay after 11 NOV 98, is acceptable. The table provided at http://www.va.gov/healtheligibility/Library/pubs/CombatOperations should assist in the determination of combat veteran eligibility. The following definitions are applicable in determining combat veteran status:

a.) Combat Veteran. A combat veteran is a veteran who served on active duty in a theater of combat operations during a period of war after the Persian Gulf War or in combat against a hostile force during a period of hostilities after November 11, 1998.
b.) Combat Zones. Combat zones are designated by an Executive Order from the President as areas in which the United States (U.S.) Armed Forces are engaging or have engaged in combat. An area usually becomes a combat zone and ceases to be a combat zone on the dates the President designates by Executive Order.
c.) Minimum Active Duty Service Requirement. The minimum active duty service requirement is the shorter of the following two periods: (1) The full period for which they were enlisted, called or ordered to active duty, or (2) Twenty-four months of continuous active duty. NOTE: There remain categories of veterans who are expressly excluded by statute from the minimum active
duty service requirement; e.g., veterans who were discharged or released from active duty for a disability incurred or aggravated in line of duty, those discharged or released from active duty under an early out or hardship discharge, etc.
d.) Hostilities. Hostilities refers to conflict in which the members of the Armed Forces are subjected to danger comparable to the danger to which members of the Armed Forces have been subjected in a theater of combat operations during a period of war. To determine whether a period of hostilities is within the scope of this special authority, VA relies upon the same citation and criterion used to determine eligibility for VA Readjustment Counseling Service contained in 38 U.S.C., Section 1712A(a)(2)(B), as it applies to veterans in service after November 11,
1998. More specifically, criteria used to determine whether a veteran¹s service meets the qualifications required by statute include:

(1) Receipt of an expeditionary medal or other DOD authorized combat related medal. Note: A certificate of award, or presentation of a medal, in and of itself, will not suffice for VA health care eligibility verification purposes without the submission of supporting documentation (such as DD 214, Proof of Receipt of Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger Pay, proof of exemption of Federal tax status for Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger Pay after November 11, 1998), other military service records or orders indicating combat service.

(2) Service in a location designated by an Executive Order as a combat zone;

(3) Receipt of DOD Hostile Fire or Imminent Danger pay or combat pay tax exemption for serving in the area subject to hostilities; or (4) Other factors as may be defined in policy and regulation by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
e.) Hostilities or Imminent Danger Pay. Hostile fire pay is defined as pay to anyone exposed to hostile fire or mine explosion, while imminent danger pay is paid to anyone on duty outside the United States area who is subject to physical harm or imminent danger due to wartime conditions, terrorism, civil insurrection, or civil war.
f.) Medals. Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal (does not include Global War on Terrorism Medal); Kosovo Campaign Medal; Southwest Asia Campaign Medal; and other DOD-authorized combat related medals. [Source: VHA Directive 2008-054 Addendum A 9 Sep 08 ++]

SBP PAID UP PROVISION UPDATE 06: As of this month, SBP payments ended for retirees who are at least age 70 and have paid 30 years (360 cumulative months) of SBP premiums. This affects 137,000 retirees, who will see their retired pay go up in the November checks. The net increase in the check won't be quite as much as the premium, because retired pay is taxable,
whereas the SBP premiums were deducted before taxes. In December, DFAS will display an "SBP Counter" on a retiree's Retiree Account Statement. It will show the total months of SBP premiums paid to date, so individuals can better project when their premiums will end. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 10 Oct 08 ++]

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY UPDATE 04: Army Secretary Peter Geren recently
signed a new media policy for Arlington National Cemetery that calls for the creation of an oversight board to include representatives from the cemetery, the Army and the media. Media coverage of funerals at Arlington became an issue in April, when the Washington Post ran a column about how the media was kept so far away from the funeral of a Marine killed in Iraq that reporters could not hear the service. Under the new policy, family members will have three options for media coverage of their loved-ones' funerals: No coverage, visual coverage, or visual coverage and limited audio coverage. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 8 Oct 08 ++]

VA HEALTH CARE FUNDING UPDATE 16: The chairs of the House and Senate Veterans¹ Affairs committees have introduced legislation, to be taken up next year, to ensure timelier and fully funded budgets for the VA health care system. Proponents say passage of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act (H.R. 6939 and S. 3527) also might lead to a gradual reopening of VA health care to thousands of priority group 8 veterans. These are veterans with no service-connected ailments and, by government standards, adequate income. Priority group 8 enrollments were stopped in 2003. The thrust of the VA health budget reform bill, however, is to approve VA health care funds a year in advance and end a disturbing pattern by Congress of passing VA budgets months after the budget year begins 1 OCT. These two- and three-month delays have forced VA hospitals and clinics to operate with funds frozen at previous year levels, creating supply and staff shortages, hiring freezes, and delays in equipment purchases. The health care budget reform bill would put the VA health care budget under an ³advance appropriation² schedule. If it were in effect this year, Congress would be passing a VA health budget now to take effect OCT 09. Part 2 of the package would improve the level of VA health care funding by requiring the department to use a new actuarial model that quite accurately can project the per capita cost of providing health care to the VA¹s enrolled-patient population. The GAO would be tasked with verifying the accuracy of VA health care cost projections each year. Therefore, if the VA proposed a health budget short of requirements, the White House would feel the political heat and would have to explain both to Congress and to veterans why health
services were being targeted for reductions.

This legislation is an innovation from the Partnership for Veterans Health Care Budget Reform (PVHCBR), a group of eight veteran-service organizations: AMVETS, the Blinded Veterans Association, Disabled American Veterans, Jewish War Veterans, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion, VFW, and Vietnam Veterans of America. In introducing their plan as a bill, Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) chair of the House committee, called it a ³historic new approach to guarantee that our veterans have access to comprehensive, quality health care.² Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senate committee chair, said it would end
VA budgets that are ³untimely and unpredictable.² A bipartisan group of cosponsors came forward in both chambers. Joining Akaka were Sens. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Ted Stevens (R-AK), Lisa Murkowski (R-AR), and John Thune (R-SD). Cosponsors with Filner in the House were Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC), Michael Michaud (D-ME), and Phil Hare (D-IL). The veterans¹ group partnership choose
a new path toward VA health care budget reform after Congress declined year after year to back a law that would mandate full funding of the VA health care system for every veteran needing care. Lawmakers argued it would limit congressional prerogatives. It also would expand VA entitlements in violation of the pay-as-you-go budget rule that the cost of any new entitlement be offset by a cut in another entitlement account or by raising taxes.

One proponent of VA budgeting reform is Bob Perrault, who served as director of three VA medical centers before retiring from the Veterans Health Administration in 2004 as its top business officer. Perrault says that in every year he can remember as the director of those medical centers, congressional delays in passing a VA health care budget resulted in disruptive shortages and inefficient spending patterns. ³We¹d stopped buying equipment. We¹d stopped doing maintenance just to try to maintain [staff] as long as we could,² Perrault says. Patient waiting lists would grow, and dedicated staff got blamed for management lapses, when the real culprit was Congress. Until VA health budgets are reformed, even veterans¹ advocates say
it isn¹t practical to swing open the doors of VA health care again to priority group 8 veterans. If that happens, says Peter Dickinson, a consultant to Disabled American Veterans and former staff member on the House Veterans¹ Affairs Committee, ³we could be in danger of returning to
the days of ¹03 and ¹04, when more than 300,000 veterans waited six months or longer to get an appointment.² Ironically, this year, a day before the new fiscal year began, Congress passed and the president signed into law the Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 2638). It raised VA spending to $94.35 billion in fiscal 2009 NDAA, an
increase of $6.75 billion or 7.7%. Two-thirds of that increase, $4.1 billion, is for health care. This won praise from veteran service organizations. Proponents say passage of the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform Act next year could make legislative performances &lsqauo; like this one on
behalf of veterans &lsqauo; the rule rather than the exception. [Source: MOAA Observation Post Tom Philpott article 10 Oct 08 ++]

VA CLAIMS BACKLOG UPDATE 19: Lawmakers have high expectations that they can reduce the backlog and processing time for veterans¹ benefits claims through a combination of new procedures, including two pilot projects. The Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2008, which passed Congress on Saturday and is being prepared for submission to the White House for President Bush¹s signature, pushes the Department of Veterans Affairs to use electronic
filing and processing of claims to try to improve the speed of claims decisions, reduce the disparity in decisions involving similar issues and cut the number of claims decisions that end up being overturned. The bill also creates a new authority to provide a temporary disability rating for some veterans who have severe and multiple disabilities that are not fully healed. Stabilized and unstabilized disabilities that have an impact on employment could be considered in assigning the temporary rating that would be used to provide disability compensation during the first year after leaving the military.

One of the pilot projects ordered by the compromise bill requires special, expedited treatment for disability claims where the veteran had the help of a veterans¹ service officer to prepare the paperwork. This one-year test would be carried out in at least 10 regional offices. A second pilot
project, to run over three years in at least four regional offices, would have processors and veterans use a checklist when submitting claims in an effort to bring more organization and uniformity to the claims process. The bill also gives VA one year to develop a program using information technology to process claims that would allow veterans to file applications
and to track the progress of their claim online. Several provisions in the bill were drawn from a claims modernization bill sponsored by Rep. John Hall (D-NY) and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) that attempts to improve training for VA workers who are processing claims and to change how employees are evaluated. Hall said processing a first-time claim by a disabled veteran can
take 180 days and even longer if a veteran appeals the initial decision. The long processing time is part of the reason there is a backlog of about 400,000 claims awaiting a decision by VA.

Over the last two years, members of the House and Senate veterans¹ affairs committees have tried to push VA to process claims more quickly while also complaining about the rate of mistakes in claims and evidence that similar claims are decided differently between VA regional offices. In the report accompanying the benefits bill, the two committees say they want
a process that is perceived as fair by veterans, but realize ³it is unreasonable to expect states to have exactly the same average compensation or percentage of veterans receiving compensation.² The bill requires a report &lsqauo; due one year from now &lsqauo; that looks at variances in benefits between regional offices and between veterans of different states to determine whether the differences are justified. [Source: NavyTimes Rick Maze article
2 Oct 08 ++]

PURPLE HEART: Congressman Bob Filner announced on 7 OCT that the Purple Heart will be presented posthumously to all prisoners-of-war who die in captivity. The revised policy allows retroactive award of the Purple Heart to qualifying prisoners-of-war since 7 DEC 41. Posthumous award will be made to the deceased service member's representative, as designated by the secretary of the military department concerned, upon application to that military department. The legislation that makes this possible is Filner¹s bill, Honor Our Fallen Prisoners of War Act, passed by Congress in 2006. The Department of Defense announced its complete implementation 6 OCT. ³The law now presumes that the death of all service members who die in captivity was the result of enemy action or the result of wounds incurred in action with the enemy during capture and imprisonment,² said Congressman Filner. ³Before passage of my bill, prisoners of war who died during imprisonment of wounds inflicted by an instrument of war were eligible for posthumous Purple Heart recognition, but those who died of starvation, disease, abuse, freezing or other causes during captivity were not. There should be no false distinction indicating more courage or more sacrifice by some prisoners of war over others,² said Filner. The Honor Our Fallen Prisoners of War Act had over 200 co-sponsors and broad bi-partisan support in Congress. In addition, many major Veteran Service Organizations supported the bill, including the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the American Ex-Prisoners of War. The Senate bill was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer. ³The inspiration for my bill came from Wilbert ŒShorty¹ Estabrook, who was imprisoned for more than three years during the Korean War, and Rick and Brenda Tavares. Brenda¹s uncle, Corporal Melvin Morgan,
died in Korea of starvation and beatings in 1950 at the age of 20,² said Filner. Each military department will publish application procedures and will ensure that they are accessible to the general public. Family members with questions may contact the Services: Army Military Awards Branch (703) 325-8700, Navy Personnel Command Retired Records Section (314) 592 -1150,
Air Force Personnel Center (800) 616-3775, and Marine Corps Military Awards Branch (730) 784-9340. For further information, media representatives should contact Eileen Lainez, (703) 695-3895, eileen.lainez@osd.mil. [Source: Filner Press Release 7 Oct 08 ++]

MILITARY HISTORY OCTOBER ANNIVERSARIES: Significant October Events in Military History are:

1781 - British troops under General Lord Charles Cornwallis surrendered to General Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending the American Revolution.
1775 - The US Navy was established.
1901 - The first British Navy submarine was commissioned.
1944 - Battle of Leyte Gulf
1950 - The invasion of North Korea started.
1952 - Battle of Hill 598 began, Korean War
1957 - The Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, first man-made earth satellite.
1962 - The U.S. began its blockade of Cuba to compel the Russians to remove long-range missiles aimed at the U.S.
1964 - The Chinese exploded their first atomic bomb.
1965 - The Battle of the La Drang Valley, Vietnam War.
1968 - The Bombing of North Vietnam ended.
1969 - Battle of Loc Ninh, Vietnam War
1971 - Operation Jefferson Glenn, the last major operation in which US ground forces participated in Vietnam
1973 - Egypt and Syria launched military offensive against Israel
1983 -Terrorist attack on Marine Barracks, Beirut
1983 - Operation Urgent Fury, Grenada
1993 - Battle of Bakhara Market, Mogadishu, Somalia
2000 - Bombing of the USS Cole by Al-Queda terrorists
2001 - Operation Enduring Freedom began in Afghanistan
2001 ­ War on Terror Began
[Source: VetJobs Veteran Eagle Oct 08 ++]

MILITARY ID CARDS UPDATE 02: Homeland Security Directive 12 now requires retirees and family members seeking to renew or replace a military identification card to provide two types of ID. Retirees and family members needing identification cards must have two of the following types of current identification -- one of which must include a photo:
€ Driver¹s license or ID issued by a state or outlying U.S. commonwealth or possession ID card issued by federal, state or local government agencies or entities.
€ School ID card with a photograph
€ Voter¹s registration card
€ U.S. military ID card
€ U.S. passport
€ Certificate of U.S. citizenship
€ Certificate of naturalization

For persons younger than 18, who are unable to present a document previously listed, they may bring:
€ School record or report card
€ Clinic, doctor or hospital record
€ Day-care or nursery school record

The above listing is not all inclusive. A list of acceptable documents can be found at http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/I-9.pdf. [Source: VetJobs Veteran Eagle Oct 08 ++]

VA FRAUD UPDATE 13: A Pittsburgh woman pleaded guilty 29 AUG to stealing her dead mother's VA benefits for more than two years. Laurie Davin withdrew more than $38,000 from her mother's bank account from FEB 05 to OCT 07 She pleaded guilty to theft of government property before U.S. District Judge David S. Cercone. According to the prosecution, Ms. Davin's mother, Helen Lang, was receiving the dependency payments on behalf of her husband. But
Ms. Lang died on 3 FRB 05, and the payments should have stopped. Under what is known as the "Death Match" project, investigators with Veterans Affairs inspector general's office found that money was still being deposited to Ms. Lang's account. When confronted, Ms. Davin told investigators that she was having financial problems and that her mother had lived with her for 10 years and contributed toward household expenses. The woman also said she was trying to sell her home, support her daughter in college and was working two jobs at the time. She also had recently for filed bankruptcy. Ms. Davin had power of attorney over her mother's account and used an ATM card to make 144 withdrawals before she stopped. Judge Cercone set sentencing for 15 DEC 08. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Paula Reed Ward article 16 Sep 08 ++]

VA FRAUD UPDATE 14: Three Lowell MA residents residing in the same household are facing federal charges that they bilked disabled vets living at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford MA out of thousands of dollars through identity fraud. Wilfredo Hernandez, 41, has been indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit fraud, identity fraud and
access-device fraud, as have his 60-year-old mother, Gladys Hernandez, and his 27-year-old girlfriend, Jessica Rivera. The Hernandezes were both released on a $10,000 unsecured bond 29 SEP after their initial appearance in federal court. Rivera will appear before the court 9 OCT. Federal investigators allege that Wilfredo Hernandez, who worked at the Edith Nourse Rogers Memorial Veterans Hospital in Bedford as a custodian for about 20 years, and Rivera, a nurse's assistant for about seven years, stole credit-card information, bank-account numbers and blank checks from a handful of veterans. They then shared the stolen information with Gladys Hernandez before using it to pay bills and purchase goods online and by telephone, the indictment says. They also allegedly made out the stolen checks to other family members, who would then hand over that amount in cash.

The trio's indictment lists four veterans who were allegedly targeted. They are permanent residents of the hospital "due to the extensive nature of their disabilities," the indictment says. The trio initiated the fraud in AUG 07, when they used one veteran's information to apply for a credit card with Capital One, the indictment says. There appears to have been no further
activity until 5 OCT 07, when Wilfredo Hernandez allegedly accessed the Sovereign Bank account of a second veteran to initiate a $350 payment toward his cell-phone bill. That veteran's bank accounts were then targeted six more times over the next two months for another $2,430. Federal officials say the trio used that money as cash or applied it toward cell-phone and
cable bills. A third veteran's credit card was also used in NOV/DEC 07 to purchase $1,758.96 worth of products from cable shopping channels QVC and Home Shopping Network, the indictment says. The trio allegedly targeted the Ocean Bank account of the fourth veteran once, in PCT 07, attempting to initiate an electronic payment of $4,947 to the CMD Wholesale clothing
company. The thefts were uncovered in JAN 08, when relatives of the veterans reported the unusual bank activity to the hospital, the indictment says. The case was then investigated by officials from the Veterans Administration and U.S. Secret Service. If they are convicted, the
Hernandezes and Rivera face up to 15 years in prison, along with three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. [Source: Lowell sun Alexandra Mayer-Hohdahl article 30 Sep 08 ++]

ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY UPDATE 03: Arlington National Cemetery, the final resting place for more than 340,000 soldiers, presidents and other distinguished Americans, has moved a step closer to adding thousands of grave sites. On 16 SEP Arlingtoin County officials approved a 4.3-acre land swap with the federal government that will allow the cemetery to add as many as 3,440 burial sites. The move is part of expansion plans set forth more than four decades ago that military officials say will allow burials to continue until 2060. After that, plans are less clear. The 4.3-acre portion will convert Navy Annex land west of the Pentagon to grave sites. Arlington County's Southgate Road would have divided the new cemetery space. The
county will swap land that includes the road for a comparable piece of the annex that the county can use for a potential history complex and for redevelopment along Columbia Pike. The exchange is scheduled for 2011, although that timeline could change, federal and local officials said.

George W. Dodge, president of the Arlington Historical Society said, "It's not just a cemetery now; it's a shrine. It's a shrine to valor and the sacrifices American men and women have made. Given the space constraints, there are only a finite number of days or years it can stay open . . . so acreage becomes an issue. You can trace the history of this country through all the interments there. It's like a walk through history. If it's cut off at some point, you're going to lose that." Soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the Iraq war have been buried on the 624-acre grounds, including William Russell, a colonel from the Virginia regiment who was present during
the winter at Valley Forge. Presidents William H. Taft and John F. Kennedy are there, as are North Pole explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. Dirt dug from graves today is moved nearby to help prepare future sites. Officials estimate that each acre can accommodate 600 to 800 graves. In other expansion plans, the cemetery is building a wall along Route 110 that
will hold 6,500 niches for cremated remains. A third project will add sites near Fort Myer. And what happens a half-century from now, when the land runs out? "It's hard to say," said Kaitlin Horst, a cemetery official. "I don't know that that's been discussed at this point. We're working on the three we have now, and I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it." [Source: Washington Post Michael Laris article 18 Sep 08 +]

DOD DISABILITY EVALUATION SYSTEM UPDATE 11: In JAN 08 Congress ordered the Pentagon to drop its disability ratings rules and strictly follow the VA¹s criteria in assigning ratings to injured and wounded service members. In March, the Army said it would comply. All the other services were to follow suit. The change in law was among the most significant changes to emerge in the wake of 2007¹s Walter Reed scandal. Veterans¹ groups hailed the change, having complained for years that the military had shortchanged wounded combat veterans on their disability ratings and compensation. But seven months later, the Army still isn¹t living up to its promise, at least not when it comes to assessing troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. The VA ratings schedule says PTSD sufferers should receive a minimum 50% disability rating from the rating agency and then be reassessed within six months to determine if the initial evaluation should be changed for the longer term. But a number of soldiers suffering from PTSD have been given disability ratings of just 10%, and then separated from service without the required follow-up assessment. Worse, the Pentagon seems to be gearing up for a broader policy change that would take this approach to PTSD across all the armed services, according to veterans¹ advocates.
This should hardly come as a surprise; it is just the latest in a string of unconscionable decisions coming from the office of Pentagon personnel chief David Chu. This is the same executive who sought to cut combat pay for troops in the war zones and once proposed shunting off the
Defense Department¹s obligations for military retirees onto the VA. Over the past three years, he has advocated doubling and tripling some of the health care fees paid by many military retirees. And just a few weeks ago, Chu narrowed the definition of ³combat related² to reduce the number of disabled troops who might benefit under another provision of the 2008 Defense
Authorization Act, which says some disabled troops do not have to return any severance pay they receive from the military before they can draw disability payments from VA. Chu¹s definition of combat related is significantly narrower than the one already in use to determine eligibility for a separate program for disabled retirees called Combat Related Special Compensation.

Lawmakers had assumed defense officials would use the definition already in place and were stunned to find a new and narrower interpretation. Indeed, Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., already has drafted an amendment to the pending 2009 defense authorization bill directing the Pentagon to use the more generous definition of combat related for both programs. A similar retroactive correction is needed to force the Pentagon to live up to its legal responsibilities regarding the assignment of disability ratings for all medical conditions &lsqauo; including PTSD. A central theme coming out of the Walter Reed hearings was the need to get the Defense Department and VA to share a single government standard in assessing disabilities. Congress¹ intent was to make the VA standard apply across the board. The Pentagon needs to comply with that direction. [Source: ArmyTimes Editorial 17 Sep 08 ++]

HAVE YOU HEARD: A farmer's three daughters leave one night for dates with their new boyfriends, one an Airman, the other a Soldier, and the third a Sailor. The girls all bring their dates home that night, and the next morning, the farmer wakes up bright and early at 05:30 to cook breakfast and meet the boys his daughters have brought home.

- The Marine comes down at 5:45, clean, pressed, and spit-shined, eats two eggs, an apple, and a glass of milk, says, "Thank you for breakfast, sir", and leaves.
- The Airman comes down looking fairly squared-away at 06:30, eats three eggs, two slices of bacon, two pieces of toast, and has a glass of orange juice. He says, "Thanks for the chow" and walks out the front door.
- At 10:00, the farmer gets tired of sitting inside, so heads to the back yard to do some chores, when the Sailor comes dashing out of the house, dress white top stained, neckerchief missing, one shoe in one hand and a scorched old cup of coffee in the other, and yells "Later!" on his way out
of the yard and down the street.
His daughters come down a short time later, and he asks them all for accounts of their evenings. The girl who'd been out with the Airman says, "He was a perfect gentleman. He bought me dinner and a couple of drinks, gave me a hundred dollars to buy myself something nice, and retired at 22:00 to the spare bedroom to sleep". The girl who'd been out with the Soldier
said, "He was a nice guy, we each paid for our own meals, and he tried to sneak a kiss off me. He was sort of drunk, so I let him sleep in my bed, while I took the floor, but, he did give me fifty dollars to buy myself something nice". The third daughter, looking ragged and worn down, talking about her date with the Sailor, says, "That asshole! He came over last night smelling like booze, and finished a bottle of whiskey he'd brought with him. He passed out on my bed last night after repeatedly trying to get my pants off, and this morning he borrowed a hundred bucks 'til payday."

Lt. James ³EMO² Tichacek, USN (Ret)
Director, Retiree Assistance Office, U.S. Embassy Warden & IRS VITA Baguio
City RP

Friday, September 12, 2008

Boycott Venezuelan Goods and Services

I don't normally get excited, but... Hugo Chavez of Venezuela has done everything but declare war on the US.

Sep 12, From Time Magazine "Who needs diplomacy and all its excruciating politeness? Not even the traditional "Yankee Go Home" was enough to convey the pique of President Hugo Chávez on Thursday, as he announced that he had given U.S. Ambassador Patrick Duddy 72 hours to leave Venezuela. "Shithead Yankees, go to hell!" Chávez thundered at a campaign rally in Carabobo state Thursday, announcing that he had also asked Venezuela's Ambassador to Washington, Bernardo Alvarez, to return home until a new government is elected in the U.S. that would "respect the peoples and governments of Latin America.""

Feb 25, President Hugo Chavez's government is taking its battle against U.S. "imperialism" into Venezuelans' vocabulary, urging state phone company workers to eschew English-language business and tech terms that have crept into the local vernacular. through a campaign launched Monday, newly nationalized CANTV hopes to wean employees and others from words like "staff" ("equipo"), "marketing" ("mercadeo") and "password" ("contrasena").

Well who needs Venezuela! Why don't we show the anit-US Chavez and his people that we don't need him. Stop buying goods and services from Venezuelan Companies. On top of the list is CITGO.

With Venezuelan Exports (2006): $68 billion and 57% to the US we can help slow thier ecomony and send a message to Chavez.

Chavez would rather deal with China and Russia than deal with the US. Why should we, the citizens of the United States continue to fund, Terrorists, Dictators, and Kings who wish harm on us? In the past, Chavez sparked concern in the United States when he announced that he would like to see more of Venezuela's oil exports go to China. Venezuela, for instance, increased 2005 oil exports to China by five times the 2004 amount, amounting to 70,000 barrels of oil per day; Chavez has stated that he wants this number to hit 300,000 barrels per day by the end of 2006. Currently, about 50 percent of Venezuela's oil exports go to the United States. http://www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=406&language_id=1

Jun 2007 ~ Venezuela has moved closer to nationalising its oil-rich Orinoco River basin, as four foreign oil companies signed deals giving Venezuela the lion's share of the profits and two US companies pulled out altogether. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/06/27/1963092.htm

Time to send a message. Time to Boycott Venezuela and thier goods and services.

Let's start with Citgo,

Citgo Petroleum Corporation or Citgo is a United States-incorporated, Venezuela-owned[2] refiner and marketer of gasoline, lubricants, petrochemicals and other petroleum products.

For a Larger List http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_companies_of_Venezuela#Import-Export

Buy American, Keep US Dollars in the US!

Bob Ouellette
American Patriot

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New Service Announced for Wounded Warriors, Families and Caregivers


September 08, 2008

New Service Announced for Wounded Warriors, Families and Caregivers

DoD announced today that the Military OneSource service has established a Wounded Warrior Resource Center telephone number and e-mail address for service members and their families, if they have concerns or other difficulties during their recovery process.

Service members and their family members can now call (800) 342-9647 or e-mail wwrc@militaryonesource.com 24/7 to request support. Assistance provided by the resource center will not replace the specialized wounded warrior programs established by each of the military services, but it will offer another avenue of assistance for military facilities, health care services, and/or benefits information.

"The department is committed to aggressively addressing the needs of our service members and their families," said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates.

Specially trained consultants will ensure consistent, quality customer-centric support. The consultants will identify the appropriate "warm hand-off" to either a military service or federal agency with authority to resolve the matter. The resource center consultant will maintain communication with the caller until the issue or concern is resolved.

"The term 'wounded warrior' encompasses the entire population of wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans," said Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Michael L. Dominguez.

The Wounded Warrior Resource Center meets the requirements of Section 1616 of the "National Defense Authorization Act Fiscal Year 2008" for a centralized number and ensures wounded families and caregivers have a number to call at any time.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

B-17G Aluminum Overcast

We enjoyed a nice ride to Leesburg to visit the with Aluminum Overcast. Pictured is ALR 295 rider Rick Hansen.

For the Veterans!

Bob Ouellette

Monday, August 25, 2008

When a Soldier Comes Home

When A Soldier Comes Home

When a soldier comes home, he finds it hard....
...to listen to his son whine about being bored.
....to keep a straight face when people complain about potholes.
To be tolerant of people who complain about the hassle of getting ready for work.
...to be understanding when a co-worker complains about a bad night's sleep.
...to be silent when people pray to God for a new car.
...to control his panic when his wife tells him he needs to drive slower.
...to be compassionate when a businessman expresses a fear of flying.
...to keep from laughing when anxious parents say they're afraid to send their kids off to summer camp.
...to keep from ridiculing someone who complains about hot weather.
...to control his frustration when a colleague gripes about his coffee being cold.
...to remain calm when his daughter complains about having to walk the dog.
...to be civil to people who complain about their jobs.
...to just walk away when someone says they only get two weeks of vacation a year.
...to be forgiving when someone says how hard it is to have a new baby in the house.
The only thing harder than being a Soldier..
Is loving one.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Special Extra Earnings for Military Service

Since 1957, if you had military service earnings for active duty (including active duty for training), you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Since 1988, inactive duty service in the Armed Forces reserves (such as weekend drills) has also been covered by Social Security.

Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for your military service from 1957 through 2001 can be credited to your record for Social Security purposes. These extra earnings credits may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefit.

Special extra earnings credits are granted for periods of active duty or active duty for training. Special extra earnings credits are not granted for inactive duty training.

If your active military service occurred

* From 1957 through 1967, we will add the extra credits to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
* From 1968 through 2001, you do not need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.
* After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service.

[Return to Top <http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/military.htm#content#content> ]

Monday, August 4, 2008

Veterans Bulletin


== Bereavement Check Cashing ------------- (New Rules Requested)
== VA Budget 2009 [04] --------------------- (Bush Threatens Veto)
== Sole Survivor [03] ---------------------------- (House Passes Bill)
== Mobilized Reserve 30 JUL 08 ----------------- (3,789 Decrease)
== Tricare Uniform Formulary [25] ----- (JUL Recommendations)
== Senior Corps Deleted at the request of the group
== VA Lawsuit (Lack of Care) [10] ----------------- (Appeal Filed)
== DIC+SBP [04] -------------------------------------- (Offset Impact)
== Traumatic Injury Insurance -------------- (Payments to increase)
== Military Stolen Valor [08] ------------ (Ex-Atlantic City Mayor)
== Disabled Veterans Memorial [01] ------ (Commemorative Coin)
== GI Bill [26] ------------------- (Post 911 Bill Primer)
== South Carolina Vet Cemetery [01] ----- (Fort Jackson National)
== CRSC [39] ------------------------- (Glitch Surfaces)
== Agent Orange Equity ------------------------ (H.R.6562)
== Prostate Problems [05] ---------- (Abiraterone Clinical Results)
== Will [01] --------------------------------- (Guidelines)
== Overseas Absentee Voting [02] -------------- (2008 Guidelines)
== Government Vet Expenditures ---------- (1947 High Exceeded)
== Military Stolen Valor [07] --------- (Xavier Alvarez Sentenced)
== Tricare User Fee [27] -------------------- (Woes Demand Action)
== Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis [04] ------- (All Vets to be Rated)
== Walking Impact on Disability Risk ------- (41% Risk Decrease)
== VA Voter Registration Ban [01] --------------- (VA Still Resists)
== Medicare Prescriptions ------------------- (Electronic Prescribing)
== COLA 2009 [02] --------------------------- (5.7% YTD)
== Foreclosure [02] ---------------------- (Take it to Court)
== VA Independent Living Program [02] ---------- (High Demand)
== Contact Info for Vets -------------------------------- (Who to Call)
== Cost of Government Day ---------------------------- (16 July)
== VA Retro Pay Project [12] --------- (Recheck of 25,448 Denials)
== VA - How to File a Claim [01] ------ (Online Now Authorized)
== National Park Passports [01] ----------------- (JAN 07 Change)
== Vet Jobs [03] ------------------ (Federal Age Restrictions)
== Pay as You Drive ------------------------ (CA Bill AB 2800)
== VA Claim Backlog [18] -------------- (8,763 Vets Die Waiting)
== Medicare Reimbursement Rates 2008 [12] --- (Veto Overridden)
== Medicare Reimbursement Rates 2008 [13] ---- (Middlemen Cut)
== Death Gratuity [02] --------------------------- (More Choices)
== Blood Thinners ------------- (Possible Warfarin Replacement)
== Know Your Food ----------------------------- (Read the Label)
== Veteran Legislation Status 29 JUL 08 ------- (Where we Stand)

BEREAVEMENT CHECK CASHING: A complaint was filed with federal regulators 30 JUL against a savings and loan that refused to waive check-cashing procedures last month so a couple could pay for the funeral of their son who was killed in Afghanistan. Downey Savings and Loan Association refused to immediately cash two federal bereavement checks totaling $100,000 when they were presented at its Hemet CA branch by the parents of Navy Hospitalman Marc Retmier, attorney Gloria Allred said at a news conference. Allred said the bank wanted the family to wait more than a week while it verified the checks' authenticity — well after the planned date of the sailor's funeral.

Allred has sent a letter of complaint to John Reich, head of the federal Office of Thrift Supervision, asking for an immediate investigation into the incident. She also asked regulators to adopt new rules requiring all thrifts and savings and loans to immediately cash federal bereavement checks. "It is shameful that parents of a child killed in action are treated by a regulated savings and loan as if they were potential 'criminals' by requiring that government-issued bereavement checks be held to verify the authenticity," Allred said.

Downey issued a statement saying it sympathizes with the family but was forced to abide by its procedures. The bank said its "check hold policy conforms with federal banking regulations and industry practices." Retmier, 19, of Hemet was killed 18 JUN in a rocket attack in the northern Paktika province. The next day, Joy and Steve Retmier were given two U.S. Treasury checks to use for defraying expenses, including the cost of their son's funeral, planned for 25 JUN. When they tried to deposit the checks on 20 JUN, officials at the local branch of Downey Savings & Loan told them that the checks would be held until at least 1 JUL to verify their authenticity. Allred said the parents pleaded with a teller to contact the military to immediately verify the checks but she and the bank manager refused. A military recruiter also made the request but was refused by someone at Downey's corporate offices. The next day the family found a credit union that deposited the checks and advanced $20,000 for the funeral, which was held June 25 in Corona del Mar. [Source: NavyTimes AP article 31 Jul 08 ++]

VA BUDGET 2009 UPDATE 04: On 30 JUL the White House Wednesday threatened to veto a spending measure for veterans and military construction unless Congress finds offsets in other spending bills that would amount to $2.9 billion -- the sum exceeding President Bush's fiscal 2009 budget request.
Furthermore, if Congress cannot find offsets for that measure, the White House said it would consider a veto of the remaining 11 appropriations bills. "If Congress determines that additional resources above the president's request are needed, Congress must provide reductions in other
appropriations bills to offset this increase and meet the president's topline [discretionary spending cap] of $991.6 billion," OMB said. "If Congress ... does not offset this increase with spending reductions in other bills, the president will veto any of the other bills that exceed his
request until Congress demonstrates a path to reach the president's top line." OMB added veterans' spending is "104% above the level when the president took office," and therefore "provides ample resources to ensure veterans receive the quality care they deserve."

The House could begin debate on the bill 30 JUL. If approved by the House, it would be the first of the 12 annual spending bills. The White House communiqué comes as Democratic leaders have said that they do not intend to finish work on all the spending bills, in part because of Bush's
unwillingness to negotiate on spending levels. Under the $72.7 billion fiscal 2009 Military Construction-VA Appropriations bill, the Veterans Affairs Department would receive $47.7 billion, which is $4.6 billion above the fiscal 2008 funding level and $2.9 billion over Bush's fiscal 2009 budget request. The overall measure is $3.4 billion more than the $69.3 billion sought by Bush. Congress provided $63.9 billion for the measure in fiscal 2008. "This Congress is dedicated to meeting the needs of our nation's veterans, no matter the political maneuvering of a callous president," a Democratic aide to the House Appropriations Committee said.
"Veterans are not political bargaining chips." Bush issued a similar threat last year, but ultimately agreed to increases for the VA. [Source: Congress Daily Humberto Sanchez article 30 Jul 08 ++]

SOLE SURVIVOR UPDATE 03: Jason Hubbard and his two younger brothers all served in Iraq. He was the only one to return home alive. After the deaths of his brothers Jared and Nathan, Hubbard left the Army under the military's "sole survivor" policy, which allows sole surviving siblings to be discharged before their enlistment period is over. But Hubbard soon found
that the Army was denying him benefits he would otherwise have been entitled to, including health coverage and access to the GI Bill. He was asked to repay some of his enlistment bonus. The House moved 29 JUL to restore those benefits to Hubbard and others in his position. By voice vote lawmakers passed the "Hubbard Act," which ensures that sole survivors are entitled to the same benefits as others who honorably leave the military, including transitional health care, educational support and separation pay that compensates for inability to continue service. Rep. Devin Nunes (D-CA) who is Hubbard's congressman noted that the sole survival policy was established some 65 years ago after the widely publicized death of the five Sullivan brothers at sea during the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. "In all that time, no law has been passed on behalf of sole survivors," Nunes said. "The Hubbard Act rectifies this oversight and honors the patriotic service and enormous sacrifice of the Hubbards." Companion legislation is being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Saxby Chambliss (R-GA). They hope to move it quickly through Congress so it can go to President Bush for his signature. The Defense Department has counted at least 50 sole survivors since 911 according to Nunes' office. Most of the act is retroactive to that date. [Source: AP Erica Werner article 29 Jul 08++]

MOBILIZED RESERVE 30 JUL 08: The Army, Air Force and Marine Corps announced the current number of reservists on active duty as of 30 JUL 08 in support of the partial mobilization. The net collective result is 3,789 fewer reservists mobilized than last reported in the Bulletin for 15 JUL 08. At any given time, services may mobilize some units and individuals while demobilizing others, making it possible for these figures to either increase or decrease. The total number currently on active duty in support of the partial mobilization of the Army National Guard and Army Reserve is 82.075; Navy Reserve, 5,814; Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, 11,218; Marine Corps Reserve, 8126; and the Coast Guard Reserve, 777. This brings the total National Guard and Reserve personnel who have been mobilized to 108,010, including both units and individual augmentees. A cumulative roster of all National Guard and Reserve personnel, who are currently mobilized, can be found a http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Jul2008/d20080730ngr.pdf. [Source: DoD News Release 644-08 30 Jul 08 ++]

TRICARE UNIFORM FORMULARY UPDATE 25: On 24 JUL the Beneficiary Advisory Panel (BAP) met to provide comments to the Department of Defense (DoD) Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee's (P&T Committee) recommendations on formulary status, pre-authorizations, and the effective date for a drug's change from formulary to non-formulary status. Moving a drug to non-formulary status means it will still be available to beneficiaries, but
usually at a higher price. It may also require medication authorization.
Current and new drugs were reviewed during this meeting. BAP recommendations for drugs currently on the DoD Uniform Formulary are as follows: Hydroxytryptamine (Triptans) drugs:
• sumatriptan (Imitrex), sumatriptan/naproxen (Treximet), eletriptan (Relpax), rizatriptan (Maxalt), zolmitriptan (Zomig) will be classified as formulary, and • almotriptan (Axert), frovatriptan (Frova) and naratriptan (Amerge) will be non-formulary within a 90-day implementation period.

Osteoporosis Agents: • alendronate (Fosamax), alendronate/vitamin D (Fosamax plus D),
risedronate (Actonel), risedronate with calcium (Actonel with calcium), ibandronate (Boniva), raloxifene (Evista), teriparatide (Forteo), recombinant calcitonin (Fortical) will be maintained on the Uniform Formulary, and • salmon-calcitonin (Miacalcin) will be placed on the non-formulary
status within a 90-day implementation period.

Newly approved drugs by the Federal Drug Administration were considered by the BAP. Those recommended to be classified as non-formulary with a 60-day implementation period were:
• nebivolol (Bystolic) is used to treat hypertension, • levocetirizine (Xyzal) is used to treat seasonal and perennial allergic rhinitis and chronic idiopathic urticaria, • zileuton extended release (Zyfol CR) is used to treat asthma, and • olmesartan/amlodipine (Azor) is used to treat hypertension.

New drugs that were recommended for formulary status were: • fenofibrate meltdose (Fenoglide) is used for the treatment of hyperlipidemia and mixed dyslipidemia, • simvastatin/niacin extended release (Simcor) is used for the treatment of hyperlipidemia,
• birmonidine/timolol maleate (Combigan) is used to reduce the increase intraocular pressure; aliskiren/H, and • aliskiren/hysdrochlorothiazide (Tekturna HCT) is used for the treatment
of hypertension.

Axert was placed on non-formulary status. For additional information on the recent BAP meeting, refer to www.tricare.mil/pharmacy/bap. [Source: NMFA e-News 29 Jul 08 ++]

VA LAWSUIT (LACK of CARE) UPDATE 10: As promised, the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense has filed an appeal in a case in which it accuses the Veterans Affairs Department of putting veterans at risk for suicide and mental health issues through shortfalls in care. In June, Judge Samuel Conti of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California ruled that the case was
out of his jurisdiction because Veterans for Common Sense could not prove that the problems cited — delays in benefits, lost records, long waits for doctors' appointments, not enough oversight and veterans turned away from hospitals with suicidal thoughts — applied to every veteran, and were therefore not systemic. However, Conti said in his ruling that those
problems need to be tended to, and that individual veterans could sue VA. He said the power to change the system ultimately rests with Congress and VA. But Veterans for Common Sense, in conjunction with Veterans United for Truth, appealed because they believe the courts do have jurisdiction and can force change. They have requested an expedited hearing, citing new
statistics that show a veterans' suicide hotline receives 250 calls a day from people in distress. The case brought to light several problems within the system, including an e-mail from a woman who oversees mental health workers at a Temple, Texas, VA facility in which she said her center did not have the resources necessary to diagnose veterans with post-traumatic stress
disorder and advised them instead to diagnose "adjustment disorder" — a short-term diagnosis no longer applicable to veterans who have had symptoms for more than six months. The case also disclosed an e-mail that showed more than 1,000 veterans in VA's care attempt suicide every month. "For these reasons, plaintiffs believe they should continue to fight, that their cause
is valid, and that Judge Conti was incorrect in holding that the courts are without power to grant veterans a remedy," [Source: AirForceTimes Kelly Kennedy article posted 29 Jul 08 ++]

DIC+SBP UPDATE 04: The husband of Anne Parks-- a military policeman exposed to the defoliant Agent Orange during two tours in Vietnam -- paid 30 years of premiums on their Defense Department Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) insurance policy the couple believed would allow her to pay the bills and live comfortably after his death. When he died in 2006, Parks learned that the law allows the government to significantly cut -- and in many cases
eliminate -- that Defense Department insurance payment if the surviving spouse elects to receive a Veterans Affairs benefit (DIC) established to compensate for the loss of a family member whose death was service-related.
DoD refunded the Parks' premiums, but it paid no interest on the money, which was counted as income and taxed. Called an "offset," the dollar-for-dollar cut was created to limit how much compensation payments cost the government. Nearly 57,000 surviving spouses of military retirees argue that the benefits are separate. One is insurance, bought and paid for
through premiums, and the other is a federal benefit for surviving dependents.

In most cases, surviving spouses were unaware they wouldn't get that money after their husbands or wives died. The offset has forced some elderly surviving spouses to live solely on the VA benefit -- with a base rate of about $13,100 a year -- or to get a job to make the rent or house payments. Eliminating the offset between the SBP and DIC programs is estimated to cost
between $6 billion and $8 billion over the first 10 years, an argument used by some people who oppose eliminating the offset. "That cost is a cost of war," said Jeanne Thompson, president of the El Paso del Norte Chapter of the Gold Star Wives of America. "They don't mind spending money" on equipment and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Gold Star Wives have
been at the forefront of the effort eliminate the offset. "They (members of Congress) don't feel they need to find the money because we're not a very vocal group," said Edith Smith, a Virginia resident who is on the Gold Star Wives Government Relations Committee and has been trying to persuade lawmakers to remove the offset since 1999. "Most of our members don't
understand the process of government and how important it is to participate --just to call their
representatives in Congress."

Legislation has been introduced in the past years and amendments to the NDAA have been proposed but neither has gained the support of enough legislators to change the law. Currently S.935 in the Senate has 50 cosponsors but even if it passes it is doubtful the House, which has no bill on the issue, will act by the end of the 110th Congress. Thus, new legislation will have to be introduced in the 111th Congress to keep this issue alive. SBP, for the most part, is offered to military retirees who pay a monthly premium of 6.5% of their retirement pay. It is supposed to provide the surviving spouse up to 55% of that retirement pay. After the 911 terrorist attacks, the benefit was expanded to include military members who die on active duty. DIC is paid to surviving dependents of service members who die on active duty and military retirees who die of a service-related condition. The basic payment is $1,091 a month. If the surviving spouse
elects to receive this benefit, that amount is deducted from the SBP payment, in some cases wiping it out completely. Most surviving spouses choose the VA's DIC benefit because it is not taxed. The Defense Department annuity is.

Anne Parks' husband died of pneumonia after paying 30 years of SBP premiums. His death was considered service-connected. It took eight months to be approved for the VA benefit, and she was paid retroactively to the date of her husband's death. But that triggered cuts in her SBP payments, which took her by surprise. The Defense Department paid her a lump sum of
$24,000 for the 30 years of premiums the couple had paid, and the federal government immediately took $7,000 of that back in taxes. The cuts to her SBP payment amounted to about $1,100 a month, she said. "It seems that it's unfair because they give it to you and then they take it away," Parks said. Melitta Pisarcik's husband died at the relatively young age of 57. He had been exposed to Agent Orange. She received a refund of $5,000 for payments to the Survivor Benefit Plan, which was taxed. "What happened to the interest?" Pisarcik asked, adding that she was faced with living on $833 a month. [Source: El Paso Times Chris Roberts article 27 Jul 08 ++]

TRAUMATIC INJURY INSURANCE: Traumatic injury insurance is part of the servicemembers' Group Life Insurance program. A monthly premium of $1 is charged on top of the normal SGLI premium for coverage aimed at helping troops and their families with the financial difficulties of severe injuries. More than 1,600 severely disabled veterans could receive retroactive traumatic injury insurance payments as a result of a newly released review of how benefits have been paid under the 3½-year-old supplemental benefits program. The payments, which range from $25,000 to $100,000, could be paid as early as this fall as a result of discussions between the Department of Veterans Affairs, which runs the program, and doctors who are treating severely wounded combat veterans. The average retroactive payment would be $32,000, according to the JUL dated review. About 4,400 people have received traumatic injury insurance payments since the program was created in 2005. The estimated 1,640 people who would receive retroactive benefits as a result of the review include some who did not previously qualify and some who received payments but now would get more, according to VA officials. Officials said the report offers 11 recommendations to expand definitions of traumatic injury for insurance purposes, and all are expected to be included in a revised regulation likely to be issued by VA this fall. No payments can be made until final regulations are issued, but the new definitions would apply to new injuries and also retroactively to injuries since 7 OCT 01.

Officials said that although the recommendations are not controversial and appear to have widespread support, the regulations that will spell out the changes are not final. More than three-quarters of the people due payments as a result of the review suffered a traumatic brain injury or another traumatic injury that resulted in their being hospitalized for 15
consecutive days or more since 11 SEP 01, but did not qualify for insurance payments under the existing criterion. Those criterion use a six-part test to determine who can receive financial help by measuring a person's ability to carry out daily activities: eating, bathing and using a toilet. That criterion would still be used, but inpatient hospitalization for 15 continuous days would be a new way to qualify. The average insurance payment would be $25,000 for those retroactively covered by the change, the report said. Traumatic brain injuries and similar trauma have accounted for 2,550 of the 4,400 payouts of traumatic injury insurance. Another proposed change would extend coverage to about 300 people who suffered limb injuries so severe that amputation was possible but who, instead, have undergone multiple surgeries to save the limb. VA officials said doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio said limb salvage requires more rehabilitation than amputations.

The services, especially medical staff, are heavily involved in the process because, for a service member to receive the benefit, a medical professional must document the injury. One recommended change would provide an insurance payment if a service member loses sight in both eyes for 120 days, a change from the current standard that requires total and permanent
loss of sight. The program provides $100,000 for loss of sight in both eyes and $50,000 for the loss of sight in one eye. The definition of amputation of a hand or foot would change to include the loss of four fingers on a hand or four toes or more on a foot, or the loss of a thumb or big toe. The
benefit would be $50,000 for one affected hand and $100,000 if both are affected, and $25,000 for one affected foot and $50,000 if both are affected. The standard for determining when someone is severely burned also would change. The current standard provides payment for a third-degree burn covering at least 30 percent of the face or body. The review recommends
payment for second-degree burns covering 20% of the face or body after military doctors said that second-degree burns require the same rehabilitation as third-degree burns. The benefit for severe burns is $100,000. Facial reconstruction, not currently covered, would be added, with
payments ranging from $25,000 to $75,000, depending on the severity of the injury and the surgery required. Complete and total paralysis of a limb also would be added as a traumatic injury, worth a payment of $50,000. [Source: ArmyTimes Rick Maze article 28 Jul 08 ++]

MILITARY STOLEN VALOR UPDATE 08: The judge's tone was sympathetic, bordering on sorrowful. He listened as the former mayor of Atlantic City described how he assisted an elite unit behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, insisting it was real, that he was there, and lived through it. But before and after Robert Levy spoke in a federal courthouse in Camden on
25 JUL, U.S. District Judge Jerome Simandle cited evidence from prosecutors and Department of Veterans Affairs officials that it couldn't have happened, that Levy was making up important parts of it. Known as the "Missing Mayor" because he dropped out of sight for two weeks last fall, he admitted that he had lied about his Vietnam War service, embellishing it to include dangerous
exploits with elite special operations forces in order to fatten his veterans' benefits check. The judge let Levy off without a prison term, although the disgraced former mayor will have to repay the $25,198 he wrongly got from the government, plus a $5,000 fine, and serve three years'

Levy stepped down as mayor in October, after admitting his two-week absence was to attend a clinic for treatment of substance-abuse and mental-health issues. During yesterday's hearing, Simandle said Levy unquestionably suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The judge said
Levy continues to exaggerate his military service, specifically by saying he did work for an elite pathfinder unit, which set up landing zones during the war and made other combat preparations in enemy-controlled territory. Levy insisted he had done several missions with the unit even though he was not a member of it. But Simandle noted that Veterans Affairs officials interviewed
commanders and members of the special unit Levy claimed to have served with, and none remembered him. The judge said afterward that "there's no record and no recollection of his service [with the special unit] other than Mr. Levy's." Yet Levy insisted that he had helped the pathfinder unit from time to time. "Being young, 17 years old, I wanted to help and do whatever I could for my country," Levy said. "I just volunteered and went. There were no orders; I picked up my M-16 and my radio and went along. On occasion, they would ask me, and I said yes. I was 17 - young, strong and dumb."

Levy is now unemployed, without an income (the Veterans Benefits Administration has stripped him of all benefits, including those he had been receiving for physical injuries) and still dealing with mental health issues from the war. Simandle repeatedly praised Levy's service, which included two tours in Vietnam that left him with serious psychological ailments that went
untreated for years. The judge said Levy continues having trouble determining what is real and what is not. Jacobs said Levy emerged from the war "with severe psychological wounds." Since leaving the Army in 1984, Levy has grappled with anxiety and depression, Jacobs said. Those problems worsened after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The stress of running for
and serving as mayor - he falsely claimed in campaign literature to have served with the Green Berets - also took its toll. "He couldn't function as mayor," the judge said. "All the other stuff was catching up to him. What he went through was a crisis. He didn't come out of it well." [Source:
Philadelphia Daily News AP Wayne Parry article 26 Jul 08 ++]

DISABLED VETERANS MEMORIAL UPDATE 01: On 18 JUL President Bush signed the American Veterans Disabled for Life Commemorative Coin Act into law. The bill authorizes the U.S. Treasury Department to mint a coin in 2010 to honor the millions of veterans who became disabled while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Proceeds from the sale of the coin will go to help construct the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Congress has authorized the
American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial to be placed on a site adjacent to the National Mall. The Disabled Veterans' LIFE Memorial Foundation describes the memorial's purpose as a way to "embody America's lasting gratitude for the men and women whose lives are forever changed in service to our country." By precedent, only two commemorative coins are minted each year. Though the commemorative coin will help to raise a portion of the funds needed to construct the memorial, more money is needed for construction. For more information on the Disabled Veterans memorial or how to make a donation visit http://www.avdlm.com/, write Disabled Veterans LIFE Memorial Foundation, Inc., 2300 Clarendon Boulevard, Suite 302, Arlington VA
22201-3367 or send an email to info@dvlmf.org. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 25 Jul 08 ++]

GI Bill Update 26: The new GI Bill will be a great benefit for service members when it goes into effect until 1 AUG 09. The new education bill, commonly called the Post-9/11 G.I Bill, will govern payment and reimbursement plans for veterans and servicemembers who seek to further
their education. The new plan will be open to most servicemembers who served on active duty after 11 SEP 01. This includes people who have not been eligible for the Montgomery G.I. Bill, such as Air Force Academy or ROTC graduates, those who declined to participate in the program, and those whose service started before it went into effect in 1985. It is expected
people who have already elected to participate in the Montgomery Bill program will have the option to use the new plan, if they wish; however, it may be in a member's best interest to stick with the Montgomery Bill for certain distance-learning programs or if they would prefer money be sent directly to them..Although the tuition benefit will be available to most people while they are on active duty, in many instances it will be most advantageous to use all the benefits after separating. Many of the details are being worked out between the DoD and VA but this is what we know for sure:

Tuition - The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill will cover tuition with payments sent directly to the school. The formula for determining the amount of tuition and fees paid will be based on the highest cost of a state-supported bachelor's degree program. The tuition amount will be paid directly to the college.
Housing - A housing allowance will be made available to prior service members who attend as civilian full-time students. The rate will be that of a staff sergeant (E5) with dependents. Books & Supplies - A maximum of $1,000 per year will be allotted to the member to cover the costs of books and supplies needed for classes. The stipend will be divided by terms, so if someone attends a two-term school, the allotment will be $500 per semester, whereas the student will receive $333 if they attend a three-semester school.
Tutoring - $100 a month for 12 months will be available for tutor programs should the service member require extra help outside of his or her studies.
Availability – Service members can use the program up to 15 years after they are honorably discharged or retire from the service.
Certification – An extra $2,000 is available to pay for one license or certification test as approved by the VA.
Transferability – A portion of the tuition stipend, as well as the tutoring allowance, may be available for service members to transfer to family members. Details for this are still being worked out between DOD and the VA.
[Source: NAUS Weekly Update 25 Jul 08 ++]

SOUTH CAROLINA VET CEMETERY UPDATE 01: The Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) has named the national cemetery to be built near Columbia SC as the Fort Jackson National Cemetery. VA also awarded a $2.53 million construction contract for the initial phase of development to International Public Works, LLC, of North Charleston. The new 585-acre cemetery will be located in Richland County just east of the city of Columbia and south of Interstate Highway 20 on property donated by the Fort Jackson Army post. VA expects construction of a 15-acre area to begin this summer and burials to begin there later this year. The cemetery staff will work initially from a temporary office, committal service shelter and equipment facility building until construction is completed. That area will include 1,400 full-casket gravesites and 1,100 in-ground cremation burial sites. When the cemetery's 50-acre first phase of development is finished, it will contain 5,000 full-casket gravesites, including 4,200 re-placed crypts and approximately 2,000 columbarium niches. It will provide burials for more than 170,000 veterans and their families who live in central South Carolina.

The cemetery will include an administration/public information center, public restrooms, a maintenance building and two committal service shelters. Other infrastructure will include roadways, landscaping, utilities and irrigation. Veterans with a discharge issued under conditions
other than dishonorable, their spouses and dependent children are eligible for burial in a national cemetery. Other burial benefits for eligible veterans include a burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate and a government headstone or marker – even if they are not buried in a national
cemetery. VA burial benefits information can be obtained from national cemetery offices, a VA Web site on the Internet at http://www.cem.va.gov/, or by calling VA regional offices at (800) 827-1000. For information about the Fort Jackson National Cemetery, call the cemetery staff at (866) 577-5248. To make burial arrangements, call the national scheduling office at (800)
535-1117. [Source: VA News Release 25 Jul 08 ++]

CRSC UPDATE 39: The services began processing in JUN 08 Combat-Related
Special Compensation (CRSC) claims based on expanded CRSC eligibility to
members with less than 20 years of service (YOS) who were retired for
medical reasons (Chapter 61) or retired under the Temporary Early Retirement
Authority (TERA) during the 1990s force reduction. Compensation amounts vary
widely based on several key factors, including rank, years of service, DoD
and VA disability ratings, and the portion of the disability that's the
result of combat. Based on individual circumstances, retirees may receive
CRSC awards that restore part or all their longevity-based retired pay. In
certain other cases, they may see no change in their pay. A few key factors
in understanding the CRSC guidance for compensation are:
- Years of Service: the more service, the easier to qualify (more ret
pay earned by service alone -- 2.5% of pay/yr) .
- Relative VA vs. DoD disability rating: the bigger the difference, the
easier to qualify for CRSC % disability due to combat: The more due to
combat, the easier to qualify for CRSC.
- Key issue: Any retired pay above 2.5% x YOS is still subject to offset
by VA disability comp.
- Multiple factors mean results not always predictable

Thousands of retirees will benefit from the CRSC expansion. However, some
with combat-related disabilities who currently lose their entire retired pay
to the disability offset will still see no CRSC payment because of an
unanticipated glitch in the statutory payment formula. With the many factors
which go into the calculation, there's no clear cutoff to explain exactly
who will get less than expected. In general, those most likely to be
affected are enlisted members with fewer than 14 years of service who have a
high VA disability percentage but a significantly lower percentage that's
due to combat. Some retired officers are also affected. For example, MOAA
has noted under the statutory formula the CRSC award for a E-7 with 12 years
active duty service rated 100% by both DoD and VA, but only 60% is
combat-related would be computed as follows:

DoD Disability Retirement: $2,376
Less Service-Earned Retirement Pay: $950
DoD Pay for Disability would be: $1,426
Max CRSC for 60% combat related: $921
Less DoD Pay for Disability: $1,426 (formula requires this deduction even
when member doesn't actually receive any pay from DoD)
CRSC Award would be: $0

DoD and DFAS aren't the culprits here...they have to pay according to the statutory formula. MOAA has briefed the Armed Services Committee staffs on the problem and a potential legislative fix. Informally, service and finance officials agree that the formula doesn't work as it should in some cases.
But for the majority it works fine as in the case of an E4 with 4 YOS and rated 100% from both DoD and VA (100% combat-related):

DoD Disability Retirement: $1,412 (75% of base pay)
Less Service Earned Retirement Pay: $188 (4 Yrs x 2.5% x pay)
DoD Pay for Disability would be: $1224
Max CRSC 100% combat related: $2527
Less DoD Pay for Disability: $1224
CRSC eligibility: $1303 cannot exceed service earned pay of $188
CRSC Award would be = $188

Best advice to combat-disabled retirees: APPLY! [Source: MOAA Leg Up 25 Jul
08 ++]

AGENT ORANGE EQUITY: On 23 JUL House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) held a press conference to announce the introduction of H.R. 6562, the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2008. The bill restores equity to all Vietnam veterans that were exposed to Agent Orange. It would clarify the laws related to VA benefits provided to Vietnam War veterans suffering from the ravages of Agent Orange exposure. From 1991 to 2002, the VA
granted hundreds, if not thousands of disability claims filed by Navy blue water veterans suffering from one of the many diseases that VA recognizes as related to Agent Orange exposure. These benefits were awarded based on VA rules providing that service in the waters offshore Vietnam qualified the veteran for the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange. In FEB 02 VA did an about face and required veterans to have 'actually served on land within the Republic of Vietnam … to qualify for the presumption of exposure to' Agent Orange. As a result, all pending and new disability claims filed by Navy blue water veterans for an Agent Orange-related disease were denied unless there was proof that that the veteran actually set foot on Vietnamese soil. In addition, the VA began to sever benefits that had been granted to Navy blue water veterans prior to the 2002 change in VA rules.

In order to try to gain a better military vantage point, Agent Orange, which we now know is a highly toxic cocktail of herbicide agents, was widely sprayed for defoliation and crop destruction purposes all over the Vietnam War Battlefield, as well as nearby nations. It was also stored on U.S. vessels and used for vegetation clearing purposes around U.S. bases, landing zones and lines of communication. Currently, VA requires Vietnam veterans to prove "foot on land" in order to qualify for the presumptions of service-connection for herbicide-exposure related illnesses afforded under current law. This issue has been the subject of much litigation and on 8 MAY, the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals upheld VA's overly narrow interpretation. Congress clearly did not intend to exclude these veterans from compensation based on arbitrary geographic line drawing by VA.

If enacted every service member awarded the Vietnam Service medal, or who otherwise deployed to land, sea or air, in the Republic of Vietnam is fully covered by the comprehensive Agent Orange laws Congress passed in 1991. It will make it easier for VA to process Vietnam War veterans' claims for service-connected conditions that scientists have conclusively linked to
toxic exposures during the Vietnam War and that are identified in current law. Chairman John Hall who leads the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, the subcommittee with jurisdiction over these issues stated, "With this legislation, Congress will leave no doubt that the 'Blue Water Navy' and all combat veterans of Vietnam are intended to be covered and compensated; thus ensuring that these veterans will receive the disability benefits they earned and deserve for exposure to Agent Orange.
This is the cost of war. We asked these brave men and women to fight for us and serve their country, and it is a grave injustice that they have had to wait this long for treatment. We must place care of our soldiers among our top priorities. This applies for all past, present, and future conflicts." [Source: HCVA Bob Filner News Flash 23 Jul 08 ++]

PROSTATE PROBLEMS UPDATE 05: This year, according to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 186,000 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer, and about 28,000 will die from the disease. According to phase-I clinical results published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on 22 JUL, a new drug, abiraterone, dramatically shrunk the size of tumors and offered lasting benefits for prostate patients, compared with existing treatments. Researchers found that this experimental drug showed significant benefits for men who had exhausted all other treatments. Though it is in early development, many cancer doctors are optimistic about abiraterone.
Cougar Biotechnology Inc., who sponsored the trial, says the drug could be approved for sale in the U.S. as early as 2011, if all goes well. Initial findings suggest more patients with advanced prostate cancer respond to abiraterone than other drugs in development. There is also evidence the tumors shrink more on this drug and that benefits last longer, in some cases, a year and a half. Prostate cancers are fueled by testosterone. This drug lowers the levels of testosterone below what can be achieved with other drugs. The next step is a much larger, international clinical trial, which is currently enrolling patients. The goal is to determine whether the many
benefits of this drug translate into prolonged survival for patients, the way it has for current trial users. [Source: ABC Medical News John McKenzie article 23 Jul 08 ++]

WILL UPDATE 01: When you die state law will determine what happens to your property if you do not make a will or use some other legal method to transfer your property. Generally, it will go to your spouse and children or, if you have neither, to your other closest relatives. If no relatives
can be found to inherit your property, it will go to the state. In addition, in the absence of a will, a court will determine who will care for your young children and their property if the other parent is unavailable or unfit to do so. If you are part of an unmarried same-sex couple, your surviving partner will not inherit anything unless you live in one of the few states that allow registered domestic partners to inherit like spouses: California, Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, and Vermont. Any adult of sound mind is entitled to make a will. Beyond that, there are just a few technical requirements a will must fulfill:• The will must be signed by at least two witnesses. The witnesses must watch you sign the will, though they don't need to read it. Your witnesses, in most states, must be people who won't inherit anything under the will. (If your state allows "holographic" wills, you don't need witnesses.) • You must date and sign the will. You do not have to have your will notarized. In many states, though, if you and your witnesses sign an affidavit (sworn statement) before a notary public, you can help simplify the court procedures required to prove the validity of the will after you die. You do not have to record or file your
will with any government agency, although it can be recorded or filed in a few states. Just keep your will in a safe, accessible place and be sure the person in charge of winding up your affairs (your executor) knows where it is. A lawyer does not have to write a will, and most people do not need a lawyer's help to make a basic will -- one that leaves a home, investments, and personal items to your loved ones, and, if you have young children, that names a guardian to take care of them. Creating a basic will rarely involves complicated legal rules, and most people can create their own will with the aid of a good software program or book. But if you have questions that
aren't answered by the resource you're relying on, or your situation is unusual, it may be worth it to see a good lawyer Handwritten, unwitnessed wills, called "holographic" wills, are legal
in about 25 states. To be valid, a holographic will must be written and signed in the handwriting of the person making the will; in some states it must also be dated. Some states allow you to use a fill-in-the-blanks form if the rest of the will is handwritten and the will is properly dated and
signed. A holographic will is better than nothing if it's valid in your state. But a will signed in front of witnesses is better. If a holographic will goes before a probate court, the court may be unusually strict when examining it to be sure it's legitimate. And if you don't have guidance --
from a good self-help resource or a good lawyer -- it's easy to write something that turns out to be ambiguous or even contrary to what you intended. Very few wills are ever challenged in court. When they are, it's usually by a close relative who feels somehow cheated out of a share of the deceased person's property. To get an entire will invalidated, someone must go to court and prove that it suffers from a fatal flaw, the signature was forged, you weren't of sound mind when you made the will, or you were unduly influenced by someone.

The law protects surviving spouses from being left with nothing. If you live in a community property state (Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, or Wisconsin -- or Alaska if you have made a written community property agreement), your spouse automatically owns half of all the property and earnings (with a few exceptions) acquired by either of you during your marriage. You can leave your half of the community property, and your separate property, to anyone you choose. In all other states, a surviving spouse has a legal right to claim a portion of your estate, no matter what your will provides. But these provisions kick in only if your spouse goes to court and claims that share. If you don't plan to leave at least half of your property to your spouse, either through your will or outside it, you should consult a lawyer -- unless your spouse willingly consents in writing to your plan. Generally, it's perfectly legal to disinherit a child. If, however, it appears that you didn't mean to disinherit a child -- the most common example is a child born after you made your will -- then the child has the right to claim part of your property. [Source: ACS Manila Newsletter Jul 08 ++]

OVERSEAS ABSENTEE VOTING UPDATE 02: Overseas American citizens are eligible to participate in presidential and state primary elections, run-off elections and special elections that occur throughout the year, as well as the general elections in November 2008. You are strongly encouraged to register to vote and request your absentee ballot early! The official U.S.
Government website for overseas absentee voting assistance is the Federal Voting Assistance Program website at http://www.fvap.gov/. It has a wealth of information about absentee voting including: downloadable absentee ballot applications and write-in ballots, state specific instructions for completing the form, links to state and local officials, and a downloadable
emergency ballot to use when requested materials fail to arrive in time. The Basic Absentee Voting Process procedure is: 1.) Complete an application form and send it to local election officials
in the U.S. 2.) The local official approves your request or contacts you for further information.
3.) The local official sends you an absentee ballot. 4.) You vote the ballot and send it back in time to meet your state's deadline.

To register to vote and request an absentee ballot you can fill out the paper form available at the American Citizen Services (ACS) section of the U.S. Embassy, or download the Federal Post Card Application at http://fvap.gov/pubs/fpca.html. Fill it out and send it in, following the guidelines for your state. Each state establishes voting procedures, and so requirements across the country vary. It is important to be aware of your state's deadlines for registration. Specific information about your state's procedures and a complete 2008 election calendar are available at
http://fvap.gov/. There may be last minute changes to your state's voting calendar, procedures or deadlines. When these occur, the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) will issue a News Release. To add your name to the distribution list for News Releases, send an e-mail to vote@fvap.ncr.gov.
For further information you can also contact the FVAP via Email: vote@fvap.ncr.gov. [Source: ACS Manila Newsletter Jul 08 ++]

GOVERNMENT VET EXPENDITURES: The federal government is spending more money on veterans than at any time in modern history, surpassing the tidal wave of spending following World War II and the demilitarizing of millions of troops. Expenditures hit $82 billion in 2007, because of the rising cost of health care, the expense of caring for an aging population of mostly Vietnam War veterans and a new crop of severely wounded troops from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That exceeds the $80 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars spent in 1947 after most of the 16.1 million Americans serving in World War II left the service, according to a Congressional Research Service report submitted to Congress last month. An 11% hike in spending to $91 billion is slated for this fiscal year, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has proposed $94 billion for 2009. And still more is needed, says U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) who is seeking another $3.3 billion for the 2009 budget proposal. Last month's passage of a new G.I. Bill will add $100 billion in education benefits for veterans over the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office says.

Also, medical costs could climb because of unanticipated long-term problems from wounds such as traumatic brain injuries, which remain little understood, says Adrian Atizado, assistant legislative director with the Disabled American Veterans. Annual costs for a severe head injury can reach $400,000, according to a RAND Corp. study released this year. About 1.6 million Americans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 325,000 of those veterans use VA health care, records show. There are 5.5 million veterans of all ages now receiving VA health care and 2.9 million receiving compensation. Those populations overlap and the VA does not have a current figure on total number of veterans served. Costs soared in 1947 because of a
massive exodus of troops from the military, all entitled to education, training and loan guarantee benefits under the then-new G.I. Bill, the report says. Actual dollars spent in 1947 were $8.4 billion, the report says. Then, health care was only 12% of the veterans' budget, says Dan
Tucker, deputy assistant secretary for budget at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Now health care costs make up 44% of the budget. Costs fell precipitously after 1947, surging slightly in 1975-76 because of Vietnam-era veterans, the report says. Roughly a third of the nation's 23.5 million veterans served in Vietnam. [Source: USA TODAY Gregg Zoroya article 23 Jul
08 ++]

MILITARY STOLEN VALOR UPDATE 07: A suburban water official who lied about being a Marine and receiving the Medal of Honor was sentenced 21 JUL to more than 400 hours of community service at a Veterans Affairs hospital. Xavier Alvarez, 50, was arrested following his comments at a Claremont CA water board meeting last July. The Pomona man also told a former Marine in private that he won the medal for rescuing an ambassador in Iran, according to court
documents. Alvarez pleaded guilty in May to violating the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which makes it a misdemeanor to lie about receiving a military decoration. Alvarez, who could have been sentenced to one year in federal prison, was placed on three years of probation and ordered to pay a $5,000 fine. He must also perform community service once a week for one year at the
Loma Linda VA Hospital. Brianna Fuller, Alvarez's attorney, said her client is sorry for lying about the medal but intends to appeal the decision. Fuller said Alvarez's statements are protected by the First Amendment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Craig Missakian said Alvarez's refusal to resign from the board of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District shows "he has
not taken the crime seriously and shown sufficient remorse." [Source: MarineCorpsTimes AP article posted 23 Jul 08 ++]

TRICARE USER FEE UPDATE 27: For the third consecutive year, the Pentagon's budget request for fiscal 2009 calls for big hikes in enrollment fees, deductibles and pharmacy co-pays in its Tricare health insurance program .It's not hard to see why. Military health care costs have ballooned from $19 billion in 2001 to $43 billion this year, almost 10% of the entire defense budget. At this rate, health care will hit $65 billion by 2015. Clearly, something must be done. But so far, the Pentagon and Congress have been talking past each other. Defense officials say they need fee hikes to raise revenue and to discourage people who have other health care options
from using Tricare in the first place. "Health care costs are eating us alive" Defense Secretary Robert Gates told House lawmakers 6 FEB. "We really need to work with the Congress." To date, however, Congress hasn't said much more than no to fee hikes. That's like ignoring your credit card bill and hoping your bank won't notice. Congress has sat by for more than a decade, ever cognizant of soaring health care costs, but not once raising Tricare fees, which haven't changed since the program's inception in 1995. Not even to adjust for inflation.

The Pentagon's plan will be based largely on a recent task force report that calls for beneficiary costs to double, triple and, in some cases, quadruple. The argument is that unless costs rise significantly, the military will be left to care for ever more people, because those with other
options will have no incentive to look elsewhere for health care. But that position is undermined by the task force's preoccupation with appearances. Bizarrely, one of the main concerns expressed in its report is a desire to avoid making the military health care system seem too generous when viewed by American taxpayers. Meanwhile, the proposed fee hikes make it look as if health care officials set out deliberately to change that perception. For example, the Pentagon task force proposes to increase retail pharmacy co-pays by as much as fivefold. The aim is to push people to use on-base pharmacies or the Tricare Mail Order Pharmacy, which are less costly for the Defense Department. But filling a prescription on base can be far from convenient for those on remote duty or living far from the main gate. And mail order is suitable only for long-term maintenance drugs. Consider, then, the impact of such a change on the spouse of a junior soldier whose kids all get sick at the same time and need antibiotics immediately. Fees would also rise for retirees. The bulk of the increases would fall on retirees under age 65, many of whom have access to other health insurance through private-sector employers.

Deplorably, the Pentagon hopes to discourage these retirees from using a benefit they earned over the course of 20 or more years in uniform by making it financially unattractive. That's tantamount to revoking the benefit entirely. The third piece of the task force plan is a proposed $120 annual enrollment fee for retirees over age 65. Even the task force admits this idea runs counter to the intent of Congress when it created Tricare for Life in 2001.Together, the Pentagon hopes, these fee hikes will generate $700 million in revenue in fiscal 2009, plus $500 million in savings associated with reduced usage of Tricare benefits. So if lawmakers reject
the proposal as they've done twice before, they'll have to find $1.2 billion to make up the difference in next year's budget. The Pentagon's plan is unacceptable. But it is, at least, only the first salvo in this year's debate. Now it's up to Congress to answer with a plan of its own. [Source:
AirForceTimes Don Harribine editorial 21 Jul 08 ++]

AMYOTROPHIC LATERAL SCLEROSIS UPDATE 04: Two years of hard work came to fruition 16 JUL in a move that could benefit thousands of veterans who suffer from Lou Gehrig's disease. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will grant a service-connected disability, the highest category of disability, to all veterans with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a degenerative disease that affects veterans at a rate at 1.6 times the general population. The news came during a conference call among Dr. James Peake, secretary of Veterans Affairs, Sen. Lindsey Graham and retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Tom Mikolajcik, who suffers from ALS and spoke from his
Mount Pleasant home. Mikolajcik cried when he heard the news. He deflected credit for the policy change and praised Peake and South Carolina legislators, including Graham, Rep. Henry Brown and Sen. Jim DeMint. "This will impact thousands of veterans," Mikolajcik said. "This is a reason to have hope — hope meaning helping other people endure." ALS strikes about 15 Americans daily, shutting down nerve cells responsible for movement. Limbs weaken and atrophy before paralysis spreads to the trunk of the body. Seventy percent of people with ALS die within five years. Previously, only veterans of the first Gulf War received full benefits for ALS. The new designation should take effect in AUG 08.

There are eight categories of care in the VA system. A catastrophic illness could give a veteran Category 4 status, Mikolajcik said, and will provide medication and some equipment. "There's a huge difference between Category 4 and 1," Mikolajcik said. That difference, that could mean a
disability pension, help with transportation and grants for home modification. Why veterans are more likely to get the disease is unknown. A voluntary registry of veterans with ALS recorded 2,117 people from 2003-07. Those are only the veterans who knew of the registry and made the
call.. Today, only 800 of them are alive. Mikolajcik met with the previous VA secretary in 2007, and he was told more studies were needed. In April, the retired general met with the new secretary, Peake, when he visited Charleston with Brown. The former commander of Charleston Air Force Base has visited Congress three times to push for ALS research and testified before a
congressional committee last summer. [Source: Charleston Post & Courier Jill Coley article 15 Jul 08 ++]

WALKING IMPACT on DISABILITY RISK: According to a new University of Georgia study older adults can decrease their risk of disability and increase their likelihood of maintaining independence by 41% by participating in a walking exercise program. The study, which appears in the current issue of the Journal of Geriatric Physical Therapy, also found that walking program participants increased their peak aerobic capacity by 19% when compared to a control group and increased their physical function by 25%. Study co-author M. Elaine Cress, professor of kinesiology and researcher in the UGA Institute of Gerontolog, said, "In the past decade,
researchers have focused on the benefits of strength training in maintaining independence, but until now we didn't have good evidence using an objective performance measure that a walking program would improve physical functioning. Our study found that walking offers tremendous health benefits that can help older adults stay independent." The researchers randomly assigned 26 low-income adults aged 60 and older to either a walking exercise group, which met three times a week for four months, or a nutrition education control group. Initially, the group would walk for 10 minutes continually. As the weeks progressed, they increased their walking time to
40 continuous minutes. Each session began with a 10-minute warm-up and ended with a 10-minute cool-down that included balance and flexibility exercises. Trudy Moore-Harrison, the lead author of the study and a former UGA doctoral student, explained that the researchers focused their study on low-income individuals because people with fewer financial resources are
less likely to be physically active and are more likely to have chronic health conditions and lack health care coverage. Moore-Harrison added that walking doesn't require any special equipment other than a pair of comfortable shoes, which makes it a simple and low-cost way for people to
become active. She supervised the group, but the researchers said that motivated community members could lead similar groups across the country.
Getting people to stick with exercise programs can be notoriously difficult, but the researchers found that every single member of the group stayed with the program for its four-month duration. The researchers measured the aerobic capacity of the participants using a treadmill test and found that while the control group saw an 9% decline in aerobic capacity over the
four-month study period, the aerobic capacity of the walking group increased by 19% over the same time period. "Aerobic capacity is really the engine that we draw upon for doing the things we want to do, whether it's cleaning up around the house or running a marathon," Cress said. "By increasing their aerobic capacity, the walking group was better able to perform their daily
tasks and had more energy left over for recreational activities, like going out dancing."

The researchers assessed health status and bodily pain through questionnaires and examined disability by measuring performance on factors such as balance and walking. Physical functioning was measured through both questionnaires and through tests that measured how well the volunteers performed daily activities such as climbing a flight of stairs and putting on and removing a jacket. They found that physical function increased by 25% in the walking exercise group, compared to a decrease of 1% in the control group. And while the control group saw their risk of disability increase over the four-month period, the walking exercise group saw their disability risk go from 66% to 25% – a decrease of 41% in just four months. "We know that walking is good for you, but too many people still aren't doing it," Moore-Harrison said. "This study shows that just walking on a regular basis can make a huge impact on quality of life." The research was supported by the UGA Institute of Gerontology Seed Grant, the Northeast Georgia Area Agency on Aging and the Georgia Gerontology Consortium Seed Grant. The research was done in cooperation with the Athens Housing Authority. [Source: UGA News Release 1 Jul 08 ++]
VA VOTER REGISTRATION BAN UPDATE 01: The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to resist efforts by lawmakers to allow voter registration groups access to patients at hospitals and nursing homes. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James Peake said VA will provide information to veterans about voter registration but will not open the doors to outside groups for two reasons: VA is not prepared to judge whether an organization is truly nonpartisan, and involving federal workers in a partisan operation would violate federal law. "The agency is not in a position to examine the agenda, history and motivations of every organization that may wish to conduct voter registration drives in our facilities," Peake said in a 15 JUL letter to three senators, Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Dianne Feinstein (D-HI) and John Kerry (D-MA). The Veterans Health Administration has a policy, dated 5 MAY 08 to assist patients who want to vote or register to vote, but it does not allow voter registration drives in order to avoid involving employees in partisan activities and disrupting medical facilities. Peake said voting and voter
educational materials are being made available to patients. Akaka, chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, said he is "amazed that VA insists on banning all voter registration drives by outside groups" and thinks VA is reading too much into the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of federal workers. "If VA really cannot distinguish between nonpartisan and partisan voter registration drives, it should just allow both and advise VA employees not to participate if they are uncertain, since the Hatch Act is implicated only if VA employees participate. As it stands, VA policy "makes it unnecessarily difficult" for some veterans to vote,
Akaka said. (Source: Air Force Times Rick Maze article 21 Jul 08 ++]

MEDICARE PRESCRIPTIONS: U.S. health officials said 21 JUL that starting in 2009 doctors can earn additional money from Medicare if they use electronic prescribing systems. The bonus program, which will continue for four years, is designed to streamline the prescription process and cut down on errors. In 2009 and 2010, Medicare will give doctors an additional 2% bonus on top of their fee for "e-prescribing." In 2011 and 2012, the bonus will drop to 1%, and in 2013, the bonus will drop again to 0.5%. After five years, bonuses for e-prescribing will be phased out; doctors who haven't adopted e-prescribing will be reimbursed at lower rates. There will, however, be exceptions for doctors who have legitimate reasons for not complying. Mike Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said during a 21 JUL afternoon teleconference that according to the Institute of Medicine 1.5 million Americans are injured every year by drug errors.
Another study found that each year pharmacists make more than 150 million phone calls to doctors to clarify what was written on the prescription. "That's a lot of people needlessly hurt and a lot of time spent trying to sort out bad handwriting. E-prescribing will help deliver safer or more efficient care to patients," Leavitt said. He noted that the law that set up the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006 mandated that participating pharmacies be able to accept e-prescriptions.

Medicare started paying bonuses to doctors last year for using the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative, which collects data on the quality of care delivered by doctors. Medicare recently paid the first bonuses to more than 56,000 doctors, totaling more than $36 million. Payments ranged
from $600 for individual doctors to $4,700 for group practices. The new bonuses for e-prescribing will be on top of those paid as part of the Physician Quality Reporting Initiative and other Medicare reimbursements. Medicare expects to save up to $156 million over the life of the
e-prescribing program in fewer adverse drug events. Despite the advantages of e-prescribing, barriers to implementing such systems remain. One of the largest barriers is the cost. It's estimated that it will cost about $3,000 per doctor to initiate an e-prescribing system. It also takes between $80 and $400 a month to maintain and operate a system, Kerry Weems, acting administrator of the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, said during the teleconference. Other barriers include state laws that prohibit e-prescribing across state lines, King said. And, there are areas in the country where computer systems are slow and
inefficient, he said. For more on electronic medical records, visit the American Medical Association. [Source: Washington Post Health Day reporter Steven Reinberg article 21 Jul 08 ++]

COLA 2009 UPDATE 02: On 14 JUL, the Bureau of Labor Statistics at www.bls.gov/cpi announced the JUN 08 monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the metric used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retired pay, VA disability compensation, survivor annuities, and Social Security. The CPI jumped 1.1% over May's value because of energy prices. The CPI-W for JUN is 215. 233. This puts cumulative inflation at 5.7% since the beginning of the fiscal year in October 07. The COLA will be even higher if inflation goes up between now and 30 SEP. A breakdown by expenditure item (i.e. food, housing, apparel, health etc.) can be found at www.bls.gov/cpi/cpid0806.pdf. About one in every six Americans -
millions of former feds, ex-military and people on Social Security - will get the JAN 09 COLA. It's automatic. Congress and the White House don't have to do anything to implement it. And, because Social Security is the dangerous third rail of American politics, Congress and the White House know better than to touch it. The majority of federal retirees are under the old Civil Service Retirement System. They will get the full COLA regardless of their age. Retirees who are under the FERS retirement system get one percentage point less than the full COLA and they don't qualify for it until they are age 62 or older. July's consumer price indices will be released on
14 AUG 08. [Source: MOAA Leg Up 18 Jul 08 ++]

FORECLOSURE UPDATE 02: As foreclosures continue to mount, borrowers who have run out of options are turning to attorneys to fight back -- and they're living mortgage-free for months in the process. Although the chances of ultimately keeping a foreclosed home are slim, for $1,500 to $3,000 some lawyers are offering to defend borrowers in court, causing the wheels of justice to turn more slowly. Duking it out can add months and sometimes years to a foreclosure process that in Florida already takes an average of seven months to complete. Homeowners can use the extra time to save for a move, sell the house or mull other options. Investors can continue
collecting rent from tenants, recouping at least some of their losses. Foreclosure defense is proving popular enough that some South Florida bankruptcy and real estate lawyers said they were refocusing their practices to meet the growing demand. As with many issues surrounding foreclosures, the practice is not without controversy. Delaying the inevitable is costly for lenders and for taxpayers who fund the court system, according to some lawyers who represent lenders. The process may also be unethical, they claim, and can put delinquent borrowers into a deeper financial hole. Florida is a ''judicial foreclosure'' state, meaning a lender must sue to force the sale of a property. Yet the majority of cases are tried without the defendant -- the borrower -- even showing up in court, said Timothy Kingcade, a prominent bankruptcy attorney who also defends foreclosures. While a foreclosure may seem straightforward -- a borrower doesn't pay and the bank takes back the home -- lawyers say there are numerous ways to fight:

- One way is forcing the lender to prove it owns the debt behind the mortgage by producing a promissory note. A mortgage is a security instrument pledging property as collateral for a loan if a borrower defaults, but it is not the promissory note itself. As mortgages were bought, bundled and sold off to investors, notes got lost in the shuffle, landing in vaults or warehouses around the country. Physically retrieving them can be difficult and sometimes impossible. About 80% of the time, lenders fail to attach a copy to the lawsuit, Kingcade and others said. When lenders can't prove they own the loan, lawyers can get cases dismissed, said Peter Ticktin of the Ticktin Law Group in Deerfield Beach, whose firm has advertised foreclosure defense services on television.
- Some lawyers also ask lenders to produce all the documents in a loan file, transcripts of phone conversations with the borrower and copies of written correspondence, which can take up to a year or more to compile. Several businesses are involved, and some may have gone out of business. Kingcade said requesting and reviewing a complete file could turn up fraud or other inconsistencies leading to a successful defense, though ``the bank may be entitled to its money, and 99.9% of the time the bank is absolutely right.''

Neither Kingcade nor other attorneys interviewed said seeking out such documents was intended only to stall the process, which could be considered unethical. Ticktin said many borrowers were duped by dishonest brokers and took on loans they could never afford. They could have their cases successfully mediated. Some borrowers' payments were misdirected and not properly credited to their accounts.
Yet, for every legitimate miscommunication and misconduct by a mortgage lender, dozens of bogus defenses are filed, clogging up the courts, some lawyers said. A borrower can easily extend the sale date of a home by up to 90 days by showing up at the last hearing and explaining to the judge why more time is needed. Marc Ben-Ezra, who also files foreclosures statewide for lenders, said the borrower who seeks to delay the inevitable can face consequences. Interest rates and other costs continue to pile up as the process drags on. Borrowers could be liable for the difference between what the lender recoups from the eventual home sale and the amount owed on the loan. Plus, homeowner and condo fees aren't being paid, which places hardships on people who are paying their debts. [Source: Miami Herald Monica Hatcher article 18 Jul 08 ++]

VA INDEPENDENT LIVING PROGRAM UPDATE 02: A House subcommittee was told 17 Jul that the Department of Veterans Affairs' Independent Living Program is failing to adequately address the needs of severely disabled veterans. Bruce McCartney, a former soldier, told the House Veterans' Affairs economic opportunity subcommittee that the ILP is riddled with problems related to application delays, staffing shortages and limited spots in the program. The
ILP, created as part of VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Services, is designed to provide severely disabled veterans with specialized medical and mental health assistance and training in independent living skills. McCartney, who spent 17½ years on active duty, applied for the ILP in 2003 and was taken on what he called a "four year-nightmare." His application spent four years going from local case managers to counselors and regional and local headquarters until he finally began receiving assistance last year. "ILP should service all eligible [veterans], and it
should be faster," McCartney said. "It should not take two to three years." Part of the problem is high demand; the ILP can serve only 2,500 veterans at one time. Veterans can stay in the program for up to 30 months. Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., said many severely disabled veterans have benefited from the program, but he also said he believes the cap on participants should be modified or removed. Theresa Boyd, vocational rehabilitation consultant for Paralyzed Veterans of America, said case managers sometimes try to slow down the process for individual veterans to accommodate to cap. She said VA should hire more staff and remove the cap. John Lancaster,
executive director of the National Council on Independent Living, told lawmakers that the application process should take only about a month. "VR&E should be the crown jewel of programs for disabled veterans," said Rep. John Boozman (R-AR). "While I am impressed with the overall program, I believe we must find ways to make improvements in performance assessment methods so that VR&E can be certain it is meeting the needs of disabled veterans."
[Source: AirForceTimes Cristian Hernandez article 17 Jul 08 ++]

CONTACT INFO for VETS: Anyone in the military community who feels the need to talk to someone regarding their situation can call or contact:

Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1 Para obtener asistencia en español durante las 24 horas, llame al 1-888-628-9454

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Para obtener asistencia en español durante las 24 horas, llame al

U.S Army Wounded Soldier & Family Hotline 800-984-8523

Military Severely Injured Center 800-774-1361

Deployment Health Clinical Center 800-796-9699

Navy Safe Harbor-Severely Injured Support 877-746-8563

Military One Source 800-342-9647
En español llame al: 1-877-888-0727
[Source: EANGUS Minuteman Update 17 Jul 08 ++]

COST of GOVERNMENT DAY: Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) on 16 JUL observed Cost of Government Day by expressing outrage at the federal, state, and local governments' continued abuse of hundreds of billions of tax dollars in outdated, ineffective, duplicative, and wasteful programs and agencies. Cost of Government Day is the date on which the average American worker has earned enough to pay off his or her share of tax and regulatory burdens imposed by all levels of government, according to the Americans for Tax Reform Foundation (http://www.atr.org/). Americans now work more than half of the year 197 days to pay their share of the cost of government with 84 of those days due to federal spending alone. This year, the average American will need to work an additional 16 days out of the year to pay off his or her cost of government compared to 2000 and four days compared to last year.
Earlier this year, CAGW identified 11,610 pork-barrel projects in its 2008 Congressional Pig Book totaling $17.2 billion. The book can be reviewed online at www.cagw.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reports_pigbook2008. Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in
government. [Source: CAGW News release 16 Jul 08 ++]

VA RETRO PAY PROJECT UPDATE 12: The Pentagon's accounting unit agreed 16 JUL to double-check requests by more than 25,000 veterans who were turned down for back benefits, concurring with U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich that "a veteran deserves better." Kucinich, head of a domestic policy subcommittee House panel that found flaws in the military benefits system, also got the Pentagon's acting inspector general to order an audit. This will help determine whether more than 60,051 veterans who were approved for back benefits got the right amounts. The head of the Pentagon's Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) said at a hearing that he thinks the error rate in granting benefits was less than 1%. And an executive of a DFAS contractor, Lockheed Martin, said past problems were caused by automation and data flaws that are now resolved. But DFAS director Zack Gaddy also disclosed at the House hearing that a high-level management team was sent to Cleveland two weeks ago to review DFAS operations. That would coincide with work by Kucinich's staff on the domestic policy subcommittee of the House
Oversight and Government Reform Committee, looking into denial of veterans' benefits.

The controversy stems from a decision by Congress in 2003 and 2004 to allow veterans to collect their military disability pay as well as their veterans pensions. Previously, the amount of their disability pay was deducted from their pensions on retirement. The change created thousands of claims for retroactive payments -- and to what Kucinich says may have been the improper denial of checks for more than 28,283 veterans, as well as errant payments to many others. Gaddy put the number of denials somewhat lower, at 25,448. Kucinich's subcommittee staff reviewed thousands of pages of records and e-mail and determined that DFAS and Lockheed Martin only brought the backlog of 133,057 cases to date last month. After growing
frustrated by numerous delays, DFAS lent its own federal workers to help Lockheed Martin with its Cleveland benefits call center, which freed up more of the contractor's employees to clear the veterans backlog. That raises questions, Kucinich said, about whether taxpayers were billed for Lockheed Martin's call center work even though federal workers were the ones performing it. The Pentagon audit will attempt to answer the question. In helping its contractor, DFAS also reduced its oversight, Kucinich said, failing to double-check or audit Lockheed Martin decisions on benefits as frequently as it should have. The problem now, Kucinich said, is that no one knows whether the decisions on granting retroactive pay and benefits were proper. Even the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Darrell Issa of California, agreed that a 100% review of all denials should be done, "so that if one case falls through the cracks, another doesn't." Joseph
Cipriano, president of Lockheed Martin Business Process Solutions, blamed the problems on poor or incompatible data. A database from the Department of Veterans Affairs was inadequate for the new task, he said. Additional factors such as changes in veteran's disability status and deaths
complicated efforts, and a lot of information had to be input manually before it could be processed. Kucinich cited the case of a retired Army sergeant major, Harold Lewis, who appealed after his denial and ultimately got $15,000 in retroactive pay. This suggested the system was error-prone, Kucinich said. But Cipriano said Lewis case was one of the earliest ones handled. After realizing there was a problem, Lockheed Martin updated the data and fixed the problem, Cipriano said. [Source: [Source: Cleveland Sun Times Stephen Koff article 16 Jul 08 ++]

VA - HOW TO FILE A CLAIM UPDATE 01: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced 16 JUL that on-line applications are now accepted from veterans, survivors and other claimants filing initial applications for disability compensation, pension, education, and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits without the additional requirement to submit a signed paper copy of the application. Effective immediately, VA will now process applications received through its on-line application website (VONAPP) without the claimant's signature. The electronic application will be sufficient authentication of the claimant's application for benefits. Normal development procedures and rules of evidence will still apply to all VONAPP applications. VONAPP (www.va.gov/onlineapps.htm) is a Web-based system that benefits both internal and external users. Veterans, survivors and other claimants seeking compensation, pension, education, or vocational rehabilitation benefits can apply electronically without the constraints of location, postage cost, and time delays in mail delivery. VONAPP reduces the number of incomplete applications received by VA, decreasing the need for additional development by VA claims processors. The on-line application also provides a link to apply for VA health care benefits and much more. Over 3.7 million veterans and beneficiaries receive compensation and pension benefits from VA and approximately 523,000 students receive education benefits. Approximately 90,000 disabled veterans participate in VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program. For more information about VA benefits, go to VA's website at http://www.va.gov/ or call 1-800-827-1000. [Source: VA News Release 16 Jul 08 ++]

NATIONAL PARK PASSPORTS UPDATE 01: The National Park Service is an participant in the new Interagency Pass Program which was created by the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and authorized by Congress in DEC 04. Participating agencies include the National Park Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture - Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and Bureau of Reclamation. The pass series, referred to collectively as the America the Beautiful Pass, went sale 1 JAN 07. It replaces the former Golden Age, Golden Access, and Golden Eagle pass. The new series consist of the following:

- America the Beautiful Annual Pass: This pass is available to the general public at a cost of $80. It provides access to, and use of, Federal recreation sites that charge an Entrance or Standard Amenity Fee for a year, beginning from the date of sale. The pass admits the pass holder/s and
passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas and pass holder + 3 adults, not to exceed 4 adults, at per person fee areas. (children under 16 are admitted free) The pass can be obtained in person at the park, by calling 1(888) ASK USGS, Ext. 1, or via the Internet at
- America the Beautiful Senior Pass: This is a lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over at a cost of $10. The pass provides access to, and use of, Federal recreation sites that charge an Entrance or Standard Amenity. The pass admits the pass holder and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas and pass holder + 3
adults, not to exceed 4 adults, at per person fee areas (children under 16 are admitted free). The pass can only be obtained in person at the park. The Senior Pass provides a 50% discount on some Expanded Amenity Fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launch, and specialized interpretive services. In some cases where Expanded Amenity Fees
are charged, only the pass holder will be given the 50% price reduction. The pass is non-transferable and generally does not cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessionaires.

- America the Beautiful Access Pass: This is a lifetime pass for U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities at no charge. Documentation is required to obtain the pass. Acceptable documentation includes: statement by a licensed physician; document issued by a Federal agency such as the Veteran's Administration, Social Security Disability Income or Supplemental Security Income; or document issued by a State agency such as a vocational rehabilitation agency. The pass provides access to, and use of, Federal recreation sites that charge an Entrance or Standard Amenity. The pass admits the pass holder and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas and pass holder + 3 adults, not to exceed 4
adults, at per person fee areas (children under 16 are admitted free). The pass can only be obtained in person at the park. The Access Pass provides a 50% discount on some Expanded Amenity Fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, swimming, boat launching, and specialized interpretive services. In some cases where Expanded Amenity Fees are charged, only the pass holder will be given the 50% price reduction. The pass is non-transferable and generally does not cover or reduce special recreation permit fees or fees charged by concessionaires.
- America the Beautiful Volunteer Pass: This pass at no charge is for volunteers acquiring 500 service hours on a cumulative basis. It provides access to, and use of, Federal recreation sites that charge an Entrance or Standard Amenity Fee for a year, beginning from the date of award. The pass admits the pass holder and passengers in a non-commercial vehicle at per vehicle fee areas and pass holder + 3 adults, not to exceed 4 adults, at per person fee areas (children under 16 are admitted free). Existing Golden series passes will no longer be sold or issued, but they
will continue to be honored for as long as they are valid. The Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Reclamation will honor all three passes at sites where Entrance or Standard Amenity Fees are charged. In addition, the Corps of Engineers and Tennessee Valley Authority may honor the Senior and Access Passes. Passes cannot be replaced if lost or stolen; a new pass must be purchased. One goal of the new pass program is to install technology at each site that allows for tracking and replacements. Tattered and worn passes can be exchanged for a new one. Passes from previous pass programs cannot be exchanged or upgraded for the new passes. Bicycles are handled differently within the five agencies. Sometimes they are charged as a per person or walk-up fee; other times they are discounted at vehicle fee sites; while some sites allow them in at no charge. Because fees and rules vary regarding bicycles across the agencies and sites across the country, you should contact your site of choice directly for their regulation. For additional info refer to www.nps.gov/fees_passes.htm. [Source: http://www.nps.gov/ Apr 07 ++]

VET JOBS UPDATE 03: A recent decision from the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) could open hundreds of law enforcement and other jobs to veterans who previously bumped up against age restrictions during the application process. MSPB ruled on 2 JUL that the State Department must waive maximum entry age requirements for veterans applying to become special agents at the Diplomatic Security Service. The case, Isabella v. Department of State, stems from a claim filed by Robert Isabella, a preference-eligible veteran who applied for a special agent position at the department. The job description called for someone 37 or younger; Isabella was 36 when he applied and when he turned 37, the agency stopped processing his
application. The reasoning was that he was too close to the cutoff age. But MSPB found that this violated Isabella's rights under the 1944 Veterans Preference Act, the 1998 Veterans Employment Opportunities Act, and the 1994 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The ruling pointed to a section of the Veterans Preference Act that
requires federal agencies to waive maximum age rules for preference-eligible applicants unless the age requirement is essential to the performance of the work. The board determined that in this case the sole purpose of the age restriction was to allow agents to enjoy a full career before reaching the mandatory retirement age, which is normally 57, but can be extended three years to 60 if the agency has a particular need. "Being 37 is not critical to the job," said Mathew Tully, the attorney who represented Isabella.
"[State] has special agents up to age 60, and if you could be 60 and a special agent, it's not a critical element of the job." MSPB ordered State to waive the age requirement for Isabella and finish processing his application. Tully said the ruling opens up to veterans 280 federal law
enforcement and firefighter jobs that used to have age restrictions. The only other field that is not covered by the ruling is air traffic control, which has a maximum entry age of 30. But Tully said the ruling for law enforcement positions would make winning a second case for air traffic
control "relatively easy." "It's crucial that veterans are knowledgeable about the laws that can help them get an edge in federal employment," Tully said. "The more who know, the more who will become federal employees." [Source: GocExec.com Newsletter Brittany Ballenstedt article 15Jul 08 ++]

VA CLAIM BACKLOG UPDATE 18: The title of the House committee report sums up what happened: "Die or Give Up Trying: How Poor Contractor Performance, Government Mismanagement and the Erosion of Quality Controls Denied Thousands of Disabled Veterans Timely and Accurate Retroactive Retired Pay Awards." The report by the majority staff of the House Oversight and Government Reform domestic policy panel, released Tuesday, concluded that at least 28,283 disabled retirees were denied retroactive pay awards because rushed efforts to clear a huge backlog of claims led program administrators to stop doing quality assurance checks on the claims decisions. And of the original 133,057 potentially eligible veterans, 8,763 died before their cases could be reviewed for retroactive payments, according to the report.
At issue are the Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments and Combat-Related Special Compensation programs, approved by Congress in 2003 and 2004 to allow large numbers of disabled retirees to receive full concurrent military retirement pay and veteran's disability compensation.

For more than a century before those programs were enacted, disabled retirees were forced to forfeit a dollar of military retirement pay for every dollar they received in veterans' disability payments. About 223,180 disabled veterans receive monthly CRDP payments, while another 60,155 disabled veterans receive monthly payments under CRSC. Under the programs,
many disabled veterans also became eligible for a single retroactive payment due to changes in their disability status. As of SEP 06, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) determined that 133,057 veterans potentially were eligible for these so-called "VA Retro" payments. Over time, another 84,237 newly retired and other veterans were added to the list. Yet as of 1 MAR 08, more than 60,000 eligible veterans were still waiting for reviews of their cases under the two programs. The claims processing shortfall was raised during a February defense budget hearing; Pentagon Comptroller Tina Jonas told the Senate Budget Committee that she had recently asked Zack Gaddy, the director of the DFAS, to triple the number of people working on the backlog. In FRB 08, the backlog was said to be "more than 39,000" cases.
Jonas said she had been assured that the backlog would be cleared by APR 08. That did not happen, according to the subcommittee report, because Lockheed Martin, the contractor hired in JUL 06 to compute the complex retroactive pay awards, had difficulty making the computations fast enough to eliminate the backlog quickly. The complexity of the computations also hindered Lockheed Martin's ability to develop software to automate the process. Two other factors played a role: The required databases did not exist, and the Department of Veterans Affairs and the military services "were slow to put the data in the necessary form for automation." As a
result, Lockheed Martin was forced to compute the cases manually. It did so, and with just under half the number of workers the government had previously used for the work — a relic of the original contract proposal, according to the report. Lockheed Martin missed its original NOV 07 deadline and every succeeding one, the report stated. The committee said Gaddy personally
monitored the program and "frequently complained to Lockheed about low productivity and the high number of errors DFAS quality control auditors were detecting." Gaddy also expressed concern that the delays were damaging the reputation of DFAS.

To ease congressional concerns and speed up the review process, DFAS chose several "questionable approaches" — assigning federal workers to duties covered by the contract with Lockheed Martin, and suspending independent quality checks on Lockheed's calculations. After those measures went into effect on 1 MAR, up to 60,051 payments were made to eligible
veterans. But the subcommittee concluded that "serious questions" remain about the accuracy of these payments. "While the subcommittee majority staff does not know how many erred payments were sent, we do not believe that DFAS knows either," the report said. Under Lockheed's operating procedures, its quality assurance team also did not verify the accuracy of any "No Pay Due" determinations, which are sent directly to veterans without verification,
the report added. "Neither DFAS nor Lockheed knows how many 'No Pay Due' letters could be in error," the report states. Such letters were sent to at least 28,283 veterans. DFAS and Lockheed Martin announced that the VA Retro backlog was finally eliminated by the end of June, seven months after the original deadline. Lockheed Martin was paid $18.74 million for its work on
the backlog. [Source: AirForceTimes William H. McMichael article Posted 16 Jul 08 ++]

MEDICARE REIMBURSEMENT RATES 2008 UPDATE 12: President Bush sought to block
a bill 15 JUL aimed at forestalling an 11% cut in payments to doctors taking care of Medicare patients, but Congress quickly overrode his veto. The House voted 383 to 41 to override the veto, while the Senate voted 70 to 26, in both cases far more than the two-thirds necessary to block the president's action. With organized medicine, other lobbies, and the military community promoting the popular measure in an election year, Republicans broke heavily from the white house. A total of 153 House Republicans voted to defy the White House, 24 more than in a 24 JUN vote that started the momentum toward passage of the Medicare doctors' bill. Twenty-one Senate Republicans voted for the bill this time, including four senators who had voted "nay" in the two previous Medicare votes. The Medicare bill is the third, along with the recent farm bill and a water resources bill, to become law despite Bush's veto. Overall, Bush has vetoed 12 pieces of legislation during his presidency, including a "pocket veto" of last year's defense authorization bill. At issue in this bill was how the government should respond to a planned reduction in Medicare doctors' fees, mandated by a formula that requires the cuts if certain spending targets are not reached. Under the formula, a 10.6% cut in fees for doctors was supposed to go into effect 1 JUL, but Congress overwhelmingly voted instead to reduce the reimbursement to insurance companies that serve Medicare beneficiaries under its managed-care program. Those reductions would allow the postponement of the pay cut to doctors for 18 months, but would cost the insurers $14 billion over five years. Bush said the cuts to insurers would harm the managed-care
program, which his administration sees as giving seniors more choices and eventually leading to lower health costs for the federal government. "I support the primary objective of this egislation, to forestall reductions in physician payments," Bush said in his veto message. "Yet taking choices away from seniors to pay physicians is wrong." He called the bill "fiscally irresponsible" and charged that it "would undermine the Medicare prescription drug program." But Democrats said their legislation would prevent doctors from fleeing the traditional treatment practices that are used by more than 8% of the mostly elderly Medicare patients. They said
private insurers were receiving too much funding in the Medicare Advantage program. "I guess the president is voting with them and not with America's seniors and those with disabilities when he vetoed this bill," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

The House and Senate votes followed a large political push by the American Medical Association -- which ran ads in home states and districts of key Republicans -- and AARP, which held a lobbying campaign in which 1.2 million of its activists contacted members of Congress urging the veto override.
Health-care experts said Congress is simply moving the problem down the road, since lawmakers will be confronted within the year with the need to take additional steps or allow a major cut in physician fees. "This is stopgap Medicare legislation," said Charles N. "Chip" Kahn III, president of the Federation of American Hospitals. "It is not confronting any of the
major spending or organizational issues concerning Medicare." Yesterday's congressional votes were not as dramatic as the maneuvering that occurred last month over the original legislation. On 26 JUN, Senate Democrats fell one vote short of the 60 needed to pass the measure. But on the day of the veto vote, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) -- recuperating from brain surgery
to remove a cancerous tumor -- left Boston after a morning treatment of chemotherapy and radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital to return to the Senate for another Medicare vote. Once his vote assured Democrats of the 60 needed for passage, another nine Republicans switched sides, pushing the margin to a veto-proof 69 votes. The bill affects the 9.2 million active and retired military personnel and their family members who use the military's Tricare system, because it uses payment rates set by Medicare. [Source: Washington Post Michael Abramowitz & Paul Kane article 16Jul 08 ++]

MEDICARE REIMBURSEMENT RATES 2008 UPDATE 13: Much of the controversy over the Medicare bill enacted 15 JUL concerned how much to pay the insurance companies that offer private Medicare Advantage health plans. The bill made modest adjustments to the formula that determines the subsidies these companies receive, which will save taxpayers $45 billion over the next 10 years. The insurance lobby tried unsuccessfully to convince Congress that
these subsidy reductions would result in benefit cuts and higher costs for enrollees in their plans. The lobbyists did not mention that, for every dollar they receive, insurance companies on average pay 87 cents for medical care, with some plans paying even less. The rest goes to administrative and marketing expenses and, of course, to profit. Original Medicare spends about
3 cents on the dollar on administrative costs. No money is diverted towards marketing or profit. The lobbyists also did not mention that most of the excess subsidies that insurance companies receive remain untouched by this bill. These subsidies will cost taxpayers $150 billion over the next ten years, compared to the cost of providing coverage through Original Medicare.

Insurance companies are not the only middlemen who are taking an excessive cut of the dollars they receive from taxpayers and people with Medicare. Since the Part D drug benefit began in 2006, some pharmacy benefit managers have been overcharging consumers for drugs, particularly for some widely used generics: often the price for the consumer is double or triple
the price that pharmacy benefit managers pay to pharmacies. This overcharging, sometimes called lock-in pricing, pushes consumers into the doughnut hole, where they are forced to pay inflated prices. It also raises costs to Medicare for covering low-income people with Medicare under the Extra Help program. The political influence of the pharmacy benefit managers
has allowed this scam to continue, although the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has recently proposed regulations to put an end to the practice. The Medicare Rights Center and other consumer groups support these new regulations. The cut taken by the middlemen in our health care system has impacts far beyond Medicare. According to a recent report comparing
health care in the U.S. with care in other industrialized countries, the U.S. tops the chart on the percentage of health care spending that goes to administrative costs, marketing and profits. We also have the highest rates of death from preventable or treatable diseases. And we have the highest percentage (over one third) of adults who go without care or medicine
because of the cost. [Source: Weekly Medicare Consumer Advocacy Update 17 Jul 08 ++]

DEATH GRATUITY UPDATE 02: Effective 1 JUL service members will be able to select from one to ten persons of their choosing to receive the $100,000 death gratuity benefit. Prior to the change in law, payments were restricted to the spouse, then children (if applicable), and then to a family member as elected by the service member. It didn't allow a married service member to
leave the death gratuity to anyone else. Beginning 1 JUL, service members will be able to select persons to receive death benefits in increments of 10%. An unmarried service member with children will be able to designate a person of his choice, such as a parent or other person, to receive the death gratuity directly on behalf of their children. Married service members may
elect to leave less than 100% of the death gratuity to the spouse. The law; however, requires the spouse be notified in writing when such as election is made and will not disclose any percentages or identify any additional beneficiaries. If the service member does not make a designation or
designates only a portion of the amount payable, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) will pay the amount of the death gratuity not covered by a designation to the following in the order listed: surviving spouse; if no spouse, then to any surviving children; if no children, then to surviving parents or their survivors. If none of the preceding exist, payment will be made to the appointed executor or administrator of the estate. The death gratuity is not an insurance policy, but should serve as a bridge between the death of a service member and the start of survivor benefits. Benefits, such as the death gratuity, do not replace the need to do proper estate planning and guardianship agreements for minor children. [Source: NMFA Government and You E-News 15 Jul 08 ++]

BLOOD THINNERS: A trio of experimental drugs has doctors hopeful that for the first time in decades, millions of people at risk of lethal blood clots may soon get easier treatment. The first goal is a pill option for people who now need daily blood-thinning shots for weeks after knee or hip replacement surgery. But the ultimate goal is an alternative to that old standby warfarin, also called Coumadin, the nation's most troublesome lifesaver because of side effects and restrictions its 2 million users face. Now in late-stage testing in thousands of Americans are three pills that
work to prevent blood clots in ways that promise to be less burdensome. One of the trio, Boehringer Ingelheim's Pradaxa, just began selling in Europe. The drug research comes as Medicare is considering withholding payment from hospitals when at-risk patients develop clots in their veins, usually the legs _ a common preventable cause of hospital deaths. The National Quality Forum has estimated that only about a third of patients who need protective
blood thinners while hospitalized get them. Known medically as a "deep vein thrombosis" or DVT, such a clot can kill quickly if it moves up to the lungs. There aren't good counts, but
recent estimates suggest that about 900,000 people a year suffer a vein clot, and nearly 300,000 die. Being immobile for long periods, such as during hospitalizations or even long airplane flights, can trigger a clot. Vice President Cheney suffered one after a long trip last year. NBC correspondent David Bloom died of one in 2003 after spending days in a cramped military vehicle while covering the invasion of Iraq. But there are a variety of risks, including increasing age, smoking, birth control pills, obesity _ and especially, big surgeries like knee or hip replacements. Doctors use faster-acting shots of the blood thinner enoxaparin to protect orthopedic surgery patients. But warfarin is a top treatment once a vein clot strikes _ and the leading protection for other types of clots, such as strokes caused by the irregular heartbeat atrial fibrillation. However, too many of those patients go unprotected because warfarin is so hard to use.
Dangerous bleeding is the worst side effect, but it requires monthly blood checks because diet and other factors can throw off the dose. "The need is substantial" for an easier alternative, says Dr. Richard Becker, a hematology and cardiovascular specialist at Duke University Medical Center who is monitoring the pipeline. "I don't know of a drug that has the inherent complexities and potential for harm that Coumadin does."

Hopes have been dashed before. Just a few years ago, the highly anticipated blood thinner Exantra was pulled off Europe's market, and rejected here, because of surprising liver damage. So while trial results have U.S. specialists optimistic about the three new attempts, they're
watching closely for any hints of problems. If they work, their targeted action promises fewer side effects, dietary restrictions or dose problems than warfarin. But warfarin still will play an important role, since the generic form sells for as little as $40 for a three-month supply. Other
drugs In the pipeline are:

• Rivaroxaban tamps down action of a key player in blood clotting, called Factor Xa. Last month, the New England Journal of Medicine published two
studies of more than 7,000 knee and hip replacement recipients who received either a daily rivaroxaban pill or today's standard injections. Pill users were less likely to suffer fatal and nonfatal vein clots. Bleeding and other side effects were similar with both drugs. Johnson & Johnson, which is developing rivaroxaban with Bayer Healthcare AG, plans to seek Food and Drug Administration approval later this summer.

• Pradaxa, or dabigatran, interferes with another blood clotting agent, called thrombin. European regulators cited research showing Pradaxa was as effective as standard shots in protecting orthopedic patients. Duke's Becker cautions that one U.S. study didn't show as big an effect; other research is continuing. This drug works similarly to the ill-fated Exantra, but Becker
says there are no signs of liver toxicity so far.

• Bristol-Myers Squibb's apixaban works against the same clotting factor
as rivaroxaban; its key studies are under way.
[Source: Washington Post AP Lauran Neergaard article 14 Jul 08 ++]

KNOW YOUR FOOD: Almost everyone strives for a healthy diet, whether it's low-fat, low-carb, or low-cal. Others are on specific diets for medical reasons. When you cook from scratch, it is fairly easy to control ingredients and know what you're eating, but that's often not the case with
packaged foods. Nutrition facts labeling, required on most food products, can provide plenty of useful information. It might be helpful to grab a food package from your cupboard and look at the nutrition label as you read the rest of this article:
• Although most similar foods have similar serving sizes, there can be significant differences — an 8-ounce carton of yogurt might be one serving; so might a 4-ounce carton. A 1-ounce serving of cereal could be 1 cup or ¼ cup, depending on the density of the product (e.g., puffed cereals are less dense than granola). What seems to be a single-serving package actually might contain more than one serving. Make sure you consider serving size when calculating calories and other nutrients consumed. When you compare nutrients among products, make sure that serving sizes are comparable.
• Beside total calories, the label lists calories from fat. Although the actual numbers are given, the ratio also can be important if you are trying to limit fat content to 25% to 30% of your total calories. Divide the calories from fat by the total calories to determine the percent of calories
from fat.
• Another section of the food label provides information about food components that should be limited — fats, cholesterol, and sodium (also found in table salt). The amounts are listed by weight (grams) and as a percentage of the recommended daily maximum. The recommended maximum is based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. If you are trying to lose weight, you
might be on a diet of 1,000 calories a day, and your recommended maximum will be lower. For example, a one-serving bag of potato chips might have 10 grams of fat, which is about 15% of the recommended daily maximum of 65 grams for someone on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Someone eating only 1,000 calories a day is eating half as much food, so the fat in that bag of chips
becomes 30% of their recommended daily maximum.
• The next section lists carbohydrates and protein. If dietary fiber is less than 5%, a food is considered low in fiber. • Four other nutrients might be listed — vitamins A and C, calcium, and
iron. If a food product has 20% or more of the daily requirement of any of these nutrients, it is considered high in that nutrient. Some foods naturally contain these nutrients, but others do not.

For more information, see the Food and Drug Administration's Web site at http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/. [Source: MOAA Magazine Ask the Doctor Aug 05]

HAVE YOU HEARD: An Indian walks into a cafe with a shotgun in one hand pulling a male buffalo with the other. He says to the waiter: 'Want coffee.' The waiter says, 'Sure, Chief. Coming right up.' He gets the Indian a tall mug of coffee. The Indian drinks the coffee down in one gulp, turns and blasts the buffalo with the shotgun, causing parts of the animal to splatter everywhere and then just walks out.

The next morning the Indian returns. He has his shotgun in one hand, pulling another male buffalo with the other. He walks up to the counter and says to the waiter 'Want coffee.' The waiter says 'Whoa, Tonto! We're still cleaning up your mess from yesterday. What was all that about, anyway?'
The Indian smiles and proudly says, 'Training for position in United States Congress: Come in, drink coffee, shoot the bull, leave mess for others to clean up, disappear for rest of day.

VETERAN LEGISLATION STATUS 29 JUL 08: Congress returned from vacation on 7 JUL. Congress is scheduled to again recess 6 AUG to 4 SEP. Refer to the Bulletin's House & Senate attachments for or a listing of Congressional bills of interest to the veteran community that have been introduced in the 110th Congress. 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. You can also reach his/her Washington via the Capital Operator direct at (866) 272-6622, (800) 828-0498, or (866) 340-9281 to express your views.
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 13 Jul 08 ++]