|Deeply Troubling, Unacceptable Problems at Arlington Cemetery
Tuesday, Army Inspector General LTG R. Steven Whitcomb completed a devastating report that brought to light a faulty record-keeping system that allowed occupied gravesites to be improperly marked or often not marked at all. The report identified 76 separate deficiencies as well as 101 recommendations to improve operations at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).
In reaction to the IG report, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh removed ANC Superintendent John Metzler of all authority and placed his deputy, Thurman Higgenbotham, on administrative leave pending additional personnel actions. Both are career federal civil servants.
“A majority of these findings are deeply troubling and unacceptable,” Secretary of the Army McHugh told reporters Thursday at a Pentagon news conference. “The [inspector general] found Arlington’s mission hampered by dysfunctional management, by a lack of established policies and procedures and an overall unhealthy organizational environment.”
It is reported that in 2008, a master sergeant was buried on top of a staff sergeant already in the grave, but the error wasn’t discovered until the widow of the first service member buried there complained to authorities that someone else’s headstone had been placed on her husband’s grave.
In response, Sec. McHugh established a new position to oversee the Army National Cemeteries Program and Katherine Condon, formerly the senior civilian for the Army Material Command, has been appointed executive director of the cemeteries program. Also on Thursday, at the request of the Army Secretary John McHugh, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki announced that Patrick K. Hallinan, a 31-year employee of VA’s National Cemetery Administration (NCA), is being detailed to the Army to assist in the management of Arlington National Cemetery.
Shinseki said, “We look forward to assisting the Army in serving all Members of the Active and Reserve Components, eligible veterans and their families with the utmost dignity, respect, and compassion.” NAUS Note: We applaud the swift and decisive actions by Sec. McHugh to fix a problem that never should have happened. Our veterans and families must not suffer these types of avoidable and worrisome indignities.
Decision on Medicare/TRICARE Reimbursement Expected Next Week
A Senate vote on H.R. 4213, the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010, is expected to occur sometime next week. This important legislation postpones a scheduled 21.2 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare and TRICARE patients through December 2011.
Some Hill sources report that the Senate may amend H.R. 4213 to go beyond the 19-month period provided in the bill, possibly up to three-and-a-half years. Should this occur, the measure would then have to be reapproved by the House before becoming law, which likely means that Congress will fail to act in time, due to delays in the Senate.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have delayed claims processing to give Congress additional time to correct the problem. CMS has authority to delay processing for 10 business days, which puts the deadline at Monday, June 14. The TRICARE Management Activity has taken similar action.
Congress needs to act. We cannot allow this situation to linger. You can help. Use the NAUS CapWiz system to send a message. Simply click on the link provided to begin.
Concurrent Receipt for Chapter 61 Medical Retirees
The American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (H.R. 4213) also includes a provision to provide full concurrent receipt to Chapter 61 Medical retirees who are rated 70 to 100 percent disabled by the VA. However, because sufficient offsets were not found, the provisions would only be funded for two years.
While we would like to see a more aggressive phase-in, NAUS welcomes forward movement on iexpansion of concurrent receipt. The provision may fall short of our goal, but it will assist a number of brave men and women who served our country in uniform and who carry a disabling injury due to that service.
We remain concerned, however, with the tendency of lawmakers to cite an inability to find sufficient funds for correcting matters like concurrent receipt while seemingly finding money at the drop of a hat for any number of lesser priority items. Please contact your Senators to let them know the importance of moving forward on concurrent receipt. Urge their support. for the concurrent receipt provision as outlined in H.R. 4213. A Sample Letter is available on our CapWiz site for your use.
TRICARE Programs Update
NAUS met Tuesday with TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) Deputy Director Rear Admiral Christine Hunter to discuss TRICARE access, progress and related issues. RADM Hunter assured NAUS that DoD is on track to begin the new “Gray Area” TRICARE benefit approved in last year’s defense authorization bill by October 1. Once implemented, this program will allow Guard and Reserve retirees under age 60 the opportunity to purchase TRICARE Standard individual or family coverage at a premium equal to the full cost of coverage to DoD.
Adm. Hunter also spoke extensively about the rising cost of pharmaceuticals and about actions beneficiaries can take to help reduce them. She told NAUS a 90-day supply of medication obtained by mail order averages $169, and through the retail pharmacy (your local drug store) $294. The TMA new effort centers on getting more beneficiaries to switch to the Home Delivery system.
NAUS supports the Home Delivery because it is a matter of dollars and sense—common sense that is. Prescriptions filled at retail pharmacies cost DoD more than double of those obtained through Home Delivery. The money saved when beneficiaries switch helps counter arguments for higher fees and copays from the pockets of military retirees.
Patients using Home Delivery for maintenance drugs like those used to treat high blood pressure or cholesterol win big too. In addition to the benefit of having medications delivered right to the door, these beneficiaries receive a 90-day supply for the same copay at retail, a 66 percent savings. Learn more about Home Delivery and save money, too, click here.
Agent Orange Update
The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, signed by the President on May 5 (Public Law 111-163), includes significant portions of a bill (HR 2926) introduced earlier in the year by Rep. Glen Nye (D-VA) to protect troops exposed to Agent Orange. The Caregivers bill contains a provision to permanently extend authorization for the VA to provide hospital care, medical services and other treatments to veterans suffering from exposure to Agent Orange or from the ailments commonly known as Gulf War Illness.
HEALTH CARE NEWS
TRICARE Management Activity announced that as of May 26, 2010, the one billionth TRICARE Encounter Data (TED) record was processed for TRICARE services around the world. TED records provide detailed information for each treatment encounter and are required for TMA healthcare and financial reporting.
The TED system helps civilian providers get paid promptly for the services they provide to TRICARE beneficiaries outside of military treatment facilities. Records are processed for provider payments in less than 24 hours in most cases.
The ease and speed of the TED system gives providers an incentive to participate in TRICARE. Increased participation in TRICARE networks provide beneficiaries better access to health care. By verifying and analyzing the information in each record, the TED system allows provider payment to occur promptly and helps reduce payment of duplicate, fraudulent or erroneous claims. To date, the TED system has processed more than $140 billion of purchased services for TRICARE beneficiaries worldwide.
Overseas Travel and TRICARE
Traveling overseas is one of the many benefits of military service. Whether on vacation or a business trip, eating different foods, meeting exciting people and enjoying a different climate can make for a worthwhile trip – unless you get sick or have a medical emergency.
Having a medical emergency on an overseas trip can be very stressful. Understanding your TRICARE coverage before leaving home is key. The TRICARE Management Activity outlines several important considerations regarding overseas care here. If you plan on traveling overseas anytime soon, please take time to review this information.
ACTIVE DUTY NEWS
Corps Seeking Family Readiness Feedback
The Marine Corps Inspector General is looking for your feedback about Family Readiness Program. Marines, sailors, family members of service members, Family Readiness Officers, MCCS Family Readiness Support Personnel and Family Readiness Assistants/Volunteers are encouraged to participate.
The Family Readiness survey component of this assessment will be available until June 18. To complete the survey, visit the Marine Corps Community Services (MCCS) webpage.
Navy Changes Individual Augmentee Policy
Starting in October, sailors filling Individual Augmentee (IA) billets will be operating under a new program called Overseas Contingency Operation Support Assignment (OSA), which will replace the Global War on Terror Support Assignment (GSA) program.
OSA will allow sailors to determine when and where they will deploy in support of Overseas Contingency Operations. Sailors will be also be able to apply online for OSA assignments using Career Management System Interactive Detailing within the 10 to 12 month window before their projected rotation date and prior to negotiating orders with a detailer. If the application is approved, the OSA detailing team will contact the applicant and offer more detailed information regarding OSA opportunities. Navy Personnel Command and United States Fleet Forces are working to update existing IA publications and websites, and a comprehensive policy is slated for release in July.
VA Announces Medication Copay Increases for Some
On Wednesday, the VA announced that veterans who generally have higher income and no service-connected disabilities – referred to as Priority Groups 7 and 8 veterans – will now pay an additional $1 for each 30-day supply of outpatient medications. Taking effect on July 1, the increase to $9 from $8 is the first change in VA medication copay since Jan. 1, 2006.
Veterans in Priority groups 2-6 will have NO increase in their copay. When asked why this increase was necessary the VA replied that the CPI for medication was increasing at a higher rate than the rest of the economy and this increase was deemed necessary. The prices will hold steady for the next 18 months and will again be looked at in January 2012.
States with no Income Tax for Military Retirees
We have received many calls asking about States that do not impose an income tax on military retired pay. Several States do not tax military retirements. They include: Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The following do not carry any State income tax: Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington and Wyoming. And New Hampshire and Tennessee only tax dividend income.
We urge you to contact the State you have interest in to get the latest information on its tax laws. Although the above-mentioned States exempt military retirement pay, they may not exempt other retirements that you are receiving.
Bill to Improve Post-9/11 GI Bill
U.S. Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) recently introduced S. 3447, a bill to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits program. Akaka introduced the bill to provide a starting point for discussion among Members of Congress, veterans service organizations, and concerned Americans who want to improve this benefit program.
Some of the highlights of S. 3447 would:
- Make members of the National Guard and Reserve programs who were inadvertently omitted from inclusion fully eligible for benefits.
- Make all types of training— including vocational programs, OJT and apprenticeship training, flight, all types of non-college degree training and more—eligible for benefits under the new program
- Eligible individuals enrolled in degree granting programs of study at public institutions anywhere in the United States would pay little, if any, out of pocket costs for their education.
- For students enrolled in other institutions of higher learning, benefits would be paid based on a national average cost of education, which would be indexed and increased annually.
- Make a book allowance award of up to $1,000 available to individuals enrolled while on active duty and their spouses.
- Allow individuals enrolled in VA’s program of rehabilitation and training under chapter 31 of title 38 who also have eligibility for the new chapter 33 program to elect the program from which to receive their subsistence allowance. This would mean that a service-connected disabled OEF/OIF veteran would not need to elect to training under the new GI Bill and forego the valuable counseling and support services available under chapter 31 in order to receive an increased living allowance.
This Flag Day (Monday, June 14), NAUS asks you to remember that our flag is a promise of hope, not only to ourselves, but to the world. It flies today as a tribute to those men and women across the country who have served freedom and given hope to millions living overseas.
And please remember that the pledge to the flag is a spoken commitment to all that we as Americans honor our flag and all that it stands for: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
NAUS on the Road
Upcoming NAUS RAD Appearances
On 19 June, NAUS President Matz presents the keynote address at the Buckley, AFB, CO Retiree Appreciation Day (RAD).
NAUS Monterey/Ft. Ord Chapter President Karl Karl will man a table at the Ft. Ord RAD in Monterey, CA on 19 June.
NAUS Board Member General Billy Bowden will man a table at the Tinker, AFB, OK RAD on 26 June.
Annual I Got Mine! Member-get-a-Member Campaign Now Underway
NAUS Members – Earn rewards, including a chance for the grand prize drawing – a $500 Marriott gift card – for EACH new member you recruit during the 2010 I Got Mine! Campaign.
Eager to connect with other NAUS members and network with the larger NAUS community? NAUS is helping you do just that with our partner Harris Connect. An Association Membership Directory – a first for NAUS – is now in production and will include up-to-date contact information of thousands of your fellow NAUS members. Please take a few moments when you receive your postcard or email notice from our publisher, Harris Connect, and call them at 1-800-726-2836 to verify your directory listing information. Members choose whether they wish to be listed, and also how much/how little information they wish to have published in their listing. There is no cost to be listed in the directory, though members will be offered the opportunity to purchase a directory. NAUS receives a small royalty on the sale of each directory, so your participation helps your Association financially too!