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VFW Washington Weekly, June 19, 2009

Posted at 08:57 PM on Friday, June 19, 2009 by Dept MO-VFW

In This Issue:
1. Priority 8 Enrollment Update
2. Endoscopic Procedures Hearing
3. VA Appropriations Update
4. House VA Committee Hearings
5. Defense Bill Passed by Committee
1. Priority 8 Enrollment Update: VA changed enrollment eligibility rules on June 15 to make it easier for more veterans to enroll in VA's health care system. Under this new provision, they expect about 266,000 more veterans to enroll this year and possibly 500,000 in the next four years. VA relaxed income restrictions on enrollment for health benefits. While this new provision does not remove consideration of income, it does increase income thresholds. A web-based calculator is available for veterans to enter personal data at http://www.va.gov/healtheligibility/apps/enrollmentcalculator/. Veterans may also contact VA's health resource center at 1-877-222-8387 or visit the VA health eligibility website at http://www.va.gov/healtheligibility/
2. Endoscopic Procedures Hearing: The House VA Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held hearing following reports that three VA medical facilities failed to use proper safeguards in the cleaning of endoscopic equipment. A recent VA Inspector General report said fewer than half of 42 VA facilities selected for no-notice inspections last month had proper training and guidelines in place. The report came after VA uncovered procedural errors at medical centers in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee that potentially exposed more than 10,00 veterans to HIV and other infections, such as Hepatitis B and C. Members of the committee expressed outrage and disbelief at the findings, and tasked VA to ensure that proper policies and training programs are in place. They also questioned the care and treatment of those exposed and how they are going to regain the trust of the veterans they serve. For prepared testimony and to listen to audio from the hearing, go to: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?newsid=417
3. VA Appropriations Update: This week, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and VA moved advanced appropriations closer to final approval when it cleared a $77.9 billion bill. The bill, as approved, contains $48.2 billion in advanced funding for VA medical accounts for FY 2011. VFW testified before the committee several times in support of the concept, as we believe this will allow VA to better plan for the future, attract and recruit high-quality health care professionals, and allow them to better target gaps in care among other enhancements. For the subcommittee press release, go to: http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/Milcon-FY2010-EdwardsStatement-9-16-10.pdf
4. House VA Committee Hearings:
Thursday: VFW testified before the Subcommittee on Health on several bills designed to improve care to veterans. Some of the VFW-supported bills included:
  • HR 1293, The Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act, would increase the amount of VA grants for minor home improvements. This would be the first increase since 1992, and would bring the total to $6,900 and $2,000 for service and non-service connected veterans, respectively.
  • HR 1335 would exempt catastrophically disabled veterans (category 4) from for nursing home and health care co-payments.
  • HR 2734, and HR 2738 would provide much needed medical care and benefits to family members who are serving as caregivers.
  • Draft bill that would require VA to provide information and outreach to family caregivers, and allow them to also receive counseling and mental health services form VA.
Also on Thursday, VFW testified before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs regarding the VA claims backlog.  This is the third hearing the committee has held on how to simplify the claims process and reduce the backlog. The VFW testified that there is no quick fix to the ratings process, but there are still things that can be done to improve production, reduce backlogs, and ensure claims are completed with quality. We also testified on a VFW proposal to incorporate the best practices of a post-WWII claims system to make expedited provisional decisions based on existing records. Limited to servicemembers leaving the Armed Forces or recently discharged veterans, this proposal calls for the creation of a test program granting benefits on limited information quickly, but with quality. Under this program, a VA examination and a new decision would be required four years after the initial rating. A veteran would have the opportunity to accept the provisional rating or wait the six to eight months for a permanent rating. 
For more on both hearings, go to the House VA Committee website at: http://veterans.house.gov/
5. Defense Bill Passed by Committee: The House Armed Services Committee approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010. HR 2647 authorizes $550.4 billion for DOD and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. It also provides $130 billion to support overseas contingency operations during fiscal year 2010. Some of the VFW-supported provisions include:
  • Providing a 3.4% pay raise to all servicemembers.
  • Extending DOD authority for bonuses and incentive pay.
  • Expanding chiropractic health care to all active duty military members.
  • Extending TRICARE Reserve Select to members of the Retired Reserve who are qualified for a non-regular retirement but are not yet age 60, otherwise known as "gray area retiree.
  • Requiring a medical examination prior to the involuntarily separation of service members with post-traumatic stress disorders or traumatic brain injuries.
  • Providing travel and transportation fees for up to three designated persons visiting hospitalized servicemembers.
For the House Armed Services press release and more on the provisions in the bill, go to: http://armedservices.house.gov/apps/list/press/armedsvc_dem/skeltonpr061709.shtml

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