AFSA International Legislative Committee Bulletin 2014-052

AFSA International Legislative Committee Bulletin 2014-052
CMSgt (Ret.) James E. Lokovic
Vice Chairman, AFSA International Legislative Committee
jlokovic@gmail.com

July 7, 2014

1. Is a VA Deal Imminent? With only 25 workdays left until the November elections, and political pressure to shape legislation non-controversially, it is questionable if House and Senate leaders will reach a compromise on overhauling the VA healthcare and claims systems–or if they will “punt” until after the elections. Two major features being debated are allowing veterans more options to get care outside of the VA healthcare system, particularly in rural areas, and giving the VA powers to more easily fire ineffective or incompetent leaders. The extra-VA care option is being sought due to the inordinately long wait times veterans have been experiencing for medical appointments—and the documented cover-up of these unacceptable wait times by VA officials.

The reason so few legislative days remain before the elections is that Congress will be off in August and will work only a few days in September and October as they prepare for the November elections. Unfortunately, focusing on reelection at the expense of doing the American people’s business is an all-too-regular aspect of our system of government—just another reason we need AFSA’s legislative team exerting pressure on the Hill.

2. VA Fix Could Cost Billions. According to the Washington Times, “The VA’s data on patient wait times is so bad that Congress’s official scorekeeper can’t even calculate the costs for fixing the agency, and that has become a major hurdle as lawmakers push for a quick fix on Capitol Hill.

“The House and Senate each have passed bills to try to get a handle on the wait times and other problems afflicting care at VA clinics, but when negotiators from each chamber met last month to try to hammer out a compromise, they ran into problems over the cost.

“Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican, said they couldn’t even begin to debate what’s in the bill because the cost estimate produced by the Congressional Budget Office was grotesquely out of line.”

For the complete Washington Times article, go to: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jul/3/va-fix-could-cost-billions/

3. What About Defense Legislation? Despite positive indications from the Senate, it is also “speculative” as to whether Congress will produce a Defense Authorization Bill until the lame-duck session just after the elections. The full House has already passed its version of the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The full Senate has yet to act on the recommendations of its Armed Services Committee.

Experience from the last two years has shown that by stalling the legislation until just before the end-of-year holidays, Congress is more likely to rush non-popular, Administration-sought legislation through. Keep in mind that it was through this end-of-year process that the military retirement COLA reduction legislation was passed (then mostly corrected through the work of AFSA and others), and the Administration’s military pay raise reduction was also signed into law. Let’s hope this until-the-last-minute delay technique is not part of this year’s strategy.

Remember, the President (see his FY 2015 Budget Plan at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget) is once again seeking a military pay raise reduction, a reduction in the Basic Allowance for Quarters, and conversion to a single military healthcare system in order to reduce healthcare spending primarily by enacting significantly higher costs for military retirees, their family members, and survivors.

4. CMSAF Cody: “Change Inevitable.” During a visit to Robins AFB, CMSAF James A. Cody said, in part, “‘We’re going to be a smaller Air Force. . . Where we maintain capability and capacity is important for what our nation is going to ask us to do.’

“Cody said fiscal challenges are forcing tough and sometimes unpopular decisions. He assured the Airmen that they and their families are always a major consideration.

“‘The future will always change and if we don’t shape it ourselves we will be shaped by it. . . The fact is that what you do has purpose to our nation and is impacting people around the world. Don’t lose sight of that. You and your families are without question our most valuable asset. Our nation treasures each and every one of you.’”

To read the full article from the 439th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, Robins AFB, go to: http://www.aerotechnews.com/nellisafb/2014/07/03/cmsaf-stresses-total-force-unity/

5. Restoring Trust in Military Care. A recent article by the New York Times cited examples of an ineffective military healthcare system due to compromised patient care safety, regular failure to implement mandatory safety inspections (in which some patients were permanently injured or died), and high rates of (probably) unnecessary surgical complications. In coming to this conclusion, Times personnel recently studied 16 major military hospitals. The study also showed “repeated problems with infection control at five of those hospitals.” A Times report on this article can be viewed at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/29/us/in-military-care-a-pattern-of-errors-but-not-scrutiny.html?_r=1

Now, according to the Times, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson has responded by saying, “‘The people we serve expect us to improve. The American public expects us to improve. We expect ourselves to improve.’

The Times article continued, “He [Woodson] called for greater attention to patient safety and more openness about problems in treatment. ‘In moments like these, it can be easy to close down. . . We need to do the opposite. We need to become even more transparent.’

“The newspaper’s examination found babies born in military hospitals were twice as likely to suffer injuries as newborns nationally. And it found that their mothers were significantly more likely to hemorrhage after childbirth than mothers at civilian hospitals, according to a 2012 comparison prepared for the Pentagon.”

“Woodson said the ‘armed forces’ global network of hospitals and clinics must work to restore trust in the caliber of health care following disclosures of shortcomings in maternity and surgical care and a pattern of avoidable errors that have led to injuries and contributed to some deaths.”

To view this article, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/01/us/official-seeks-restored-trust-in-military-care.html?ref=us&_r=0

6. Designating an “Arrears of Pay” Beneficiary. When you pass away, how do your loved ones get any back-retirement-pay you were due and begin receiving Survivor Benefit Plan annuities, if applicable? The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) provides the following information:

  1. Make sure you understand and have properly designated an Arrears of Pay beneficiary.
  2. Tell your beneficiary(ies) who they are.
  3. Explain how overpaid money already deposited might need to be returned to the government when you pass away.
  4. Tell your beneficiary(ies) what documents they will need to file their claim for arrears of pay.
  5. Explain to your beneficiary(ies) that sometimes no additional pay is due to them.
  6. According to DFAS, “When an arrears payment is made, there is a statement on the check that reads, ‘Retired Pay Payable only during life of Payee.’ Please do not let this statement alarm your beneficiaries.  As long as the beneficiary’s name is accurate on the check, the check can be cashed.”

For more information on understanding Arrears of Pay, ensuring proper beneficiary designation (now), and preparing them to make a claim after you are gone, go to: http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/educateyourbeneficiaries.html

7. Air Force Raises Enlisted Accessions Age from 27 to 39. According to the personnel folks at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, the Air Force has raised its enlisted accessions age limit from 27 to 39 in accordance with Department of Defense Instruction.

The change has been implemented and affects all 130-plus enlisted career specialties and applies to Active Duty, Air Guard, and Air Force Reserve Airmen.

You can read more on this at: http://www.aetc.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123415621

8. Legislative Changes Concerning Eligibility for Headstones, Markers, and Medallions. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, “Public Law 110-157, signed on Dec. 26, 2007, allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to furnish a Government headstone or marker for the graves of eligible Veterans who died on or after Nov. 1, 1990, regardless of whether the grave is already marked with a privately purchased headstone or marker. Under the previous law, when the grave was already marked, only Veterans who died on or after Sept. 11, 2001 were eligible.

“Public Law 110-157, also gives VA authority to ‘furnish, upon request, a medallion or other device of a design determined by the Secretary to signify the deceased’s status as a Veteran, to be attached to a headstone or marker furnished at private expense.’ This benefit is available in lieu of a Government furnished headstone or marker, for Veterans in privately marked graves who died on or after Nov. 1, 1990. To order a medallion claimants should use the form, VA 40-1330M, Claim for Government Medallion for Placement in a Private Cemetery. This form can be accessed at: http://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA40-1330M.pdf

“Important: Eligible Veterans are entitled to either a Government-furnished headstone or marker, or the new medallion, but not both.

“There is no change in eligibility for Veterans in unmarked graves:  Regardless of the date of death, VA will furnish, at no charge to the applicant, a Government headstone or marker for the unmarked grave of any eligible Veteran in any cemetery around the world.

Note: There is no charge for the headstone or marker itself, however arrangements for placing it in a private cemetery are the applicant’s responsibility.”

Source: http://www.cem.va.gov/hmm/eligibility_law.asp

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