Appeals Court Rules for Widows
Three military widows, NAUS members Patricia A. Sharp and Margaret M. Haverkamp along with Iva Dean Rogers, received good news on Wednesday when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the ruling in their favor against the Government in regards to offsetting of SBP benefits with DIC benefits.
The issue is that the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003 [Public Law 108-183] restored eligibility for VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to military surviving spouses who remarry after age 57. However, DoD continued to apply the offset to these three ladies and many others.
The three defendants argued that the plain meaning of the 2003 statute exempted them and any other widow who remarries after age 57 from the SBP/DIC offset. The Court agreed.
In rejecting the government's improper offsets, the Federal Circuit explained, "After all, the service member paid for both benefits: Survivor Benefit Plan (“SBP”) payments with premiums; and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (“DIC”) payments with his life."
The ruling should also apply to other remarried widows impacted by the offset. In addition, the ruling places increased pressure on Congress to end SBP/DIC offsets for all adversely affected widows. The Nelson amendment to the Senate version of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act would complete this action for all eligible widows and is currently under consideration by House/Senate Armed Services conferees.
NAUS Note: We applaud the fighting determination it took for these ladies to stand up for the relief their husbands paid for with their lives. We sincerely hope that the Pentagon quickly implements a payment method and makes good on the amounts of back pay due these widow warriors.
Cost Of Living Decline – No COLA Expected, No Medicare Increase
As previously reported, the inflation index used to set the January 2010 federal retiree COLA dropped another 2-tenths of a percent in July, sending the COLA count deeper into negative territory. The count now stands at -2.3 (negative 2.3) percent making it all but certain that there will not be a COLA increase for 2010. On the plus side, although the cost of living has fallen, federal and military pensions, social security benefits, VA disability and survivor benefits will not be reduced.
In addition, a “hold-harmless” provision in Social Security law prevents premiums for most Part B enrollees from increasing in 2010 and possibly additional years. This provision limits the premium increase to the dollar amount of a beneficiary's cost-of-living adjustment (COLA).
The premium protection would exempt about 75 percent of beneficiaries from paying higher Part B premiums in the event Social Security pay is unchanged. The remainder not eligible for premium protection would be individuals with modified adjusted gross incomes above $85,000 or couples with adjusted gross incomes of $170,000. The protection would not apply to any surcharge paid by Medicare users who delayed their enrollment in Part B beyond age 65.
Guam NAUS Chapter President Sends Message
From: Adolf Sgambelluri, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET), President, Guam Chapter
National Association for Uniformed Services
“On Friday, Sept. 11, 2009, an American flag should be displayed outside every home, apartment, office, vehicle, and store on GUAM.
“Every individual should make it their duty to display an American flag on this eighth anniversary of one of our country's worst tragedies. We shall do this to honor those who lost their lives on 9/11, their families, friends and loved ones who continue to endure the pain, and those who today are fighting at home and abroad to preserve our cherished freedoms.
“In the days, weeks and months following 9/11, our country was bathed in American flags as citizens mourned the incredible losses and stood shoulder-to -shoulder against terrorism. Sadly, those flags have all but disappeared. Our patriotism pulled us through some tough times and it shouldn't take another attack to galvanize us in solidarity.
“Our American flag is the fabric of our country and together we can prevail over terrorism of all kinds.”
NAUS concurs whole-heartedly with LtCol. Sgambelluri. The strength of faith, family and patriotism has carried our great country though many hard times. We encourage NAUS members and supporters to display proudly our American flag not only on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks but everyday you can.
Senator Ted Kennedy Passes
U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) lost his battle with brain cancer on Tuesday. Senator Kennedy was the third-longest serving member of the Senate, behind Robert Byrd (D-WV) and Strom Thurmond (R-SC), and one of only seven who have served more than 40 years in that chamber. After a Saturday mass in Boston, Massachusetts, he will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, near his brothers John and Robert. Senator Kennedy is eligible for burial at Arlington by his honorable service in the Army (1951-1953) in combination with being an elected official (1962-2009). NAUS extends its condolences to the Kennedy family at this moment of sorrow.
Scottish Authorities Release Lockerbie Bomber
NAUS shares the outrage of our fellow Americans on the Aug. 24 release of Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the former Libyan intelligence officer convicted of terrorism charges in connection with the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, and who had been expected to spend the rest of his life in prison.
We agree with FBI Director Robert Mueller who wrote to Scottish officials calling their action to release al-Megrahi's inexplicable and “detrimental to the cause of justice.” In the letter, the FBI Director said the release “makes a mockery of the rule of law.”
“Your Life, Your Choices” an End-of-Life Manual
The purported aim of a VA book and planning document entitled "Your Life, Your Choices" has recently sparked strong controversy and heated debate. The material was written in 1997 under a grant from VA, suspended from use in 2007, and is presently either being revised or being recommended by VA health officials. (Top-officials say it's being revised, but various references to it are found in VA healthcare materials.)
VA officials say the document is designed to help veterans make advanced-care decisions, so their family can better understand their wishes and desires regarding end-of-life issues. Strong criticism suggests a darker purpose and points out several sections of the document that encourage sick patients to consider ending their lives prematurely.
According to the VA, the entire matter is under revision, and the document is not currently in use. Considering the expression of concern in the press as of late, perhaps that is best. We trust the VA will take any concerns with the document into consideration as part of its review process.
The NAUS position regarding veterans health care remains starkly clear: every veteran should receive the health care they earned and deserve; vulnerable individuals will never be taken advantage of; and any government decision pertaining to the provision of care be based on an understanding that veterans should be treated as the assets they are and not as burdens to society.
NAUS Note: A primary author of the 52-page document, Dr. Robert Pearlman, advocated for legalized voluntary active euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide in the 1996 Supreme Court case Vacco v Quill. At the time, Pearlman stated a strong belief that physicians “should be legally permitted to accede to the desire of a patient to hasten death when the patient's decision is voluntarily reached, a patient is competent to make the decision, and the patient has been fully informed of the diagnosis and prognosis of an incurable, fatal disease which has progressed to the final stages.” This view is reflected in the pages of the book.
More Health Coverage in Alaska
TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) announced a TRICARE policy manual change that involves a demonstration project for the reimbursement of Critical Access Hospitals (CAH) in the State of Alaska. The project will test the ability to adopt a Medicare-like CAH reimbursement process before implementing the change throughout the U.S. The adoption of the Medicare-like reimbursement process should allow for a higher reimbursement rate.
Should DoD Do More in the Way of Complementary Medicines?
That's the question being asked in the latest edition of “Healthy Debates,” a section on the Military Health System's Homepage where readers can weigh in on health-related matters.
The Military Health System is already using complementary treatment methods such as yoga and dog therapy to strengthen the mental well being of wounded warriors. And the Air Force has invested heavily in the use of acupuncture to manage pain, insomnia and sinus problems.
Should DoD do more for service members and families in the way of complementary medicine? Specifically:
- Should the services continue to integrate complementary medicine for wounded, ill and injured troops?
- Should complementary treatments be used to help prepare troops for battle?
- Based on your experience, what treatments are working, which are not?
- Should complementary treatments be covered under the TRICARE benefit?
Click here to join the debate and share your thoughts.
Mental Health Resource Center
Mental health problems are painful--emotionally, spiritually and socially for all who are involved. The TRICARE Mental Health Resource Center provides information about mental health and the many programs available for military beneficiaries, especially where to go if you or somebody you know needs help. Don't suffer alone; help is available.
Uniform Requirements for USPHS Officers
Regulations for members of the Uniformed Services often change and the USPHS is certainly no exception. A member from one of our Coalition partners, the Commissioned Officers Association of the USPHS, recently provided a comprehensive look at what is authorized for commissioned officers and what is not—included future changes. You can view his presentation by clicking here.
Free Certification for Sailors
The United Services Military Apprenticeship Program (USMAP) allows sailors to earn, for free, a federal journeyman certification administered by the U.S. Department of Labor. USMAP helps sailors take advantage of their work experience, whether in the shipyards or underway, by tracking hours to earn a government certification for use in a resume or a career outside the Navy. All active-duty Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel with a high school diploma or general education degree are eligible to register for USMAP. The service requires participants to log all on-the-job training (OJT) hours to get work credit. Registered members may choose to record their hours online or through paper records by request. For information or for registration in USMAP, visit the USMAP website.
VA Working to Simplify Service Connection for PTSD
On Monday, VA Secretary Shinseki announced that the VA had published a proposed regulation in the Federal Register to make it easier for a veteran to claim service connection for PTSD by reducing the evidence needed if the stressor claimed is related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity. Comments on the proposed rule will be accepted over the next 60 days, and a final regulation will be published after consideration of all comments received, VA officials said.
Under the new rule, VA would not require corroboration of a stressor related to fear of hostile military or terrorist activity if a VA psychiatrist or psychologist confirms that the stressful experience recalled by a veteran adequately supports a diagnosis of PTSD and the veteran's symptoms are related to the claimed stressor.
Previously, claims adjudicators were required to corroborate that a noncombat veteran actually experienced a stressor related to hostile military activity. This rule would simplify the development that is required for these cases, officials explained.
PTSD is a recognized anxiety disorder that can follow seeing or experiencing an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury to which a person responds with intense fear, helplessness or horror, and is not uncommon in war. Feelings of fear, confusion or anger often subside, officials noted, but if the feelings don't go away or get worse, a veteran may have PTSD.
For more information go to page 2016 of the Federal Register / Vol. 74, No. 9 / Wednesday, January 14, 2009 / Proposed Rules.
Last week, the VA sent letters to over 1,800 veterans informing them that they had the fatal disease, ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease) and the benefits they could expect. Many of those who received the letter do not have ALS and are rightly upset at this error. NAUS has received a VA “explanation” of the error and what VA is doing to correct and prevent a similar occurrence in the future, as follows:
“In our efforts to keep veterans informed of their expanding eligibility for benefits, VA sent notifications to veterans with (ALS) for disability compensation benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), outreach letters were sent to 1,864 veterans and survivors last week. VA has since been contacted by a small number of these veterans who do not have ALS, but were mistakenly sent the ALS outreach letter. VA is immediately reviewing the individual claims files for all the recipients of this letter to identify those who received the notification in error. VA employees are personally contacting these individuals to ensure they understand the letter should not be confused with a medial diagnosis of ALS, explain why they mistakenly received the letter and express VA's sincere apologies for the distress caused by this unfortunate and regrettable error. Recipients of this letter are encouraged to call VA at 1-800-827-1000 with any questions.”
Volunteers play an integral role in supporting the important work conducted each day by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Individuals are needed on a recurring basis to take part in research, observation and educational roles like Wildlife Conservation Stewards and Storm Spotters. Interested? Visit NOAA's Volunteer Page for more information.
Coast Guard/NOAA Retiree Newsletter
The current Coast Guard/NOAA retiree newsletter can be found by clicking here.
Massachusetts Veterans Missing Out On Special Bonus Program
Three years after the Commonwealth of Massachusetts established a program to provide bonuses to veterans returning from active duty, some $10 million set aside for the program remains unused.
In 2005, Massachusetts passed the Welcome Home Bill authorizing payment of a one-time, tax-free “welcome home bonus” to its residents with at least six months of active duty service since Sept. 11, 2001. Veterans with active service in Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible to receive $1,000 and those who served elsewhere, either at home or abroad, can receive a $500 bonus. Veterans desiring more information on the program should go to: Massachusetts Veterans Welcome Home Bonus Program.
NAUS on the Road
September will be a busy month for your NAUS staff as we fan out across the country to bring legislative updates to various Retiree Days.
Legislative Director Rick Jones will be at the Duluth, MN, RAD on September 18.
President Bill Matz, MG, USA (Ret) will be at the Ft Belvoir, VA, RAD on September 19.
Veterans Benefits Advisor Mike Plumer will be at the Camp Pendleton, CA, RAD on September 19.
President Bill Matz will be at the Ft. Bliss, TX, RAD September 25-26.
If you are near any of these venues, we encourage you to come by and meet your NAUS staff and bring your friends to join.