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 [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 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 Å’Shorty¹ 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, [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 [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

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