NEW VETERANS LAWS
“It All Started With The Mold on the Wall” • On Sunday February 18, 2007 the Washington Post ran a front page story with the headline “Soldiers Face Neglect, Frustration at Army’s Top Medical Facility”. The article gave an unfavorable description of the living conditions and medical care being received by some soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who had been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also described some of the frustration the soldiers were having with the military’s medical discharge system. This news story sparked a whirlwind of media attention. The Washington Post article was picked up on the wire services. National radio and television coverage followed as did an outcry of public concern.
The “Dole-Shalala” Report • As part of President Bush’s response to the Washington Post article about the conditions at Walter Reed the President appointed a “blue-ribbon” commission to study the situation and present a report to the President no later than July 31, 2007. • This commission’s report has become known as: “The Dole-Shalala” Report • It is named for Robert Dole, former Senate Majority Leader and Donna Shalala, for Secretary of Health and Human Services, who co-chaired the commission.
The Dole-Shalala Reportmade 6 basic recommendations • Immediately create comprehensive recovery plans to provide the right care and support at the right time in the right place. • Completely restructure the disability and compensation systems. • Aggressively prevent and treat post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”) and traumatic brain injury (“TBI”).
. • . • . • Significantly strengthen support for families. • Rapidly transfer patient information between DoD and VA. • Strongly support Walter Reed AMC by recruiting and retaining first-class professionals through 2011.
The Recommendations of theDole-Shalala Reportto Completely Restructurethe Disability andCompensation Systems
DoD should rate MEB not PEB. • All service members found unfit will receive a DoD annuity (retirement) based solely on rank and years of service. • DoD annuity payments will not change over time (except for COLA adjustments). • All service members found unfit because of combat related injuries should receive health care for themselves and family.
The VA should update its rating schedule. • A veterans VA rating should be reviewed every three years and upgraded or downgraded accordingly. • The VA should offer financial incentives to veterans to encourage them to complete Voc Rehab. • VA Disability should be restructured: • Transition payments (short term) • Earning Loss payments (end at 65*) • Quality of Life payments
Veterans DisabilityBenefits Commission • Created by Congress (PL 108-136) to study “ a variety of issues pertinent to disabled veterans, disabled service members, their survivors, and their families.” • The “VDBC” made its final report to Congress on October 3, 2007
The VDBC Recommendations: • Ensure equitable compensation for all disabled veterans. • Ensure parity with non-disabled veterans. • Compensate for loss of Quality of Life. • Update the Rating Schedule • Develop PTSD-Specific Rating Criteria and Improve PTSD Treatment.
. • . • . • . • . • Revamp Vocational Rehabilitation • Allow Concurrent Receipt • Allow Young Veterans (without enough Social Security quarters) to receive SSDI • Change the DoD Process for Rating Disabilities • Ensure all veterans benefits are linked to cost increases.
. • . • . • . • . • . • . • . • . • . • Expedite Processing of Disability Claims and Appeals • Improve Transition Assistance • Waive Tricare co-pays for severely disabled service members and grant an allowance for family member caregivers. • Implement a new (more liberal) standard for determining presumption of service-connection.
The recommendations in the Dole-Shalala report and the VDBC report have had and probably will continue to have a profound effect on changes in veterans legislation in 2007 and coming years. • Here are some of the recently enacted changes:
The 2008 National DefenseAuthorization Act (PL 110-181) • The 2008 NDAA enacted into law some veterans issues that were addressed by many individual bills in Congress. • Some of the changes are as follows:
3.5% pay increase for all uniformed service members retroactive to 01 Jan 08 • CRSC for all combat disabled veterans retro to 01 Jan 08 (but not as yet implemented). • Full CRDP for all 100% (IU) veterans retro to 01 JAN 05, but not available until Oct 08 • National Guard Bureau Chief is now a “4-star” billet
Rejected DoD plans to raise Tricare co-pays, deductibles, and to implement annual fees. • Partially eliminates the DIC-SBP offset by creating a $50 per month “Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance” starting 01 Oct 08 and increasing $10 per month annually until the allowance reaches $100 per month.
Requires DoD to use the VA rating schedule for PEB evaluations. • Increases the time for VA medical care from 2 years to 5 years for OIF/OEF vets. • “Guarantees” combat vets metal health evaluations within 30 days of request. • Increases Family Medical Leave from 12 to 26 weeks for caregivers of seriously injured service members.
Reduces the retirement age for Guard and Reserve by 3 months for every 90 days served on active duty in support of “contingency” operations. • Allows Guard and Reserve to use GI bill for up to ten years after separation. (No longer required to be in drill status.) • Requires the SecDef to establish a Board of Review to review PEB rating of 20% or less (since 11 Sep 01).
Increases from 12 (years) to 19 (years) the maximum multiplier for military disability severance pay. • Eliminates offset of VA compensation for military disability severance pay received for combat injuries. • Authorizes VA medical care for all combat veterans discharged more than five years before (29 Jan 08) who did not already enroll in the VA medical system.
Authorizes services members who are involuntarily separated to continue to use the commissary and PX for two years after their separation. • Ensures retirement service credit for services as a cadet or midshipman at a military service academy. • Directs DoD and VA to develop and im-plement electronic health records that are fully interoperable between both agencies.
Other New Federal Laws • PL 110-157 improves compensation for certain visually impaired veterans. • PL 110-111 provided COLA increases in compensation, DIC, pensions, and the clothing allowance.
New Texas Law • On November 6, 2007 the voters of the state of Texas approved a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to create law that “…may exempt all or part of the residence homesteads of certain totally disabled veterans from ad valorem taxation…” • No authorizing legislation has been passed. The next session of the Texas legislature will not convene until 2009.
S 935 to repeal the DIC-SBP offset 44 co-sponsors • HR 1927 to repeal the DIC-SBP offset 98 co-sponsors
HR 2575 would require the VA to provide chiropractic care to all veterans by 31 Dec 2011 17 co-sponsors • S 2575 to permit the transfer of GI Bill benefits to certain family members 20 co-sponsors
HR 1197 would add (type II) diabetes and osteoporosis to the list of presumptive diseases for POWs 7 co-sponsors • HR 634 would authorize the US Mint to strike an “Veterans Disabled for Life” commemorative coin 300 co-sponsors
HR 333: would eliminate all offsets and phase-ins for CRSC and CRDP, allow CRDP for all VA ratings (10% or greater), and authorize CRSC for all chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 active service. 68 co-sponsors
HR 994: would allow military retirees to purchase health insurance on a pre-tax basis and allow a deduction for Tricare Supplement premiums. 301 co-sponsors
S 67: would permit 100% disabled veterans to travel “space-A” on military flights. 8 co-sponsors • S 643: would increase the limit for VA “RH” life insurance from $20k to $40k. no co-sponsors
HR 207: would create a Depleted Uranium Registry 15 co-sponsors • HR 653: would require the VA to grant service-connection based on a combat veteran’s sworn affidavit for any disease or injury alleged to have been caused by combat service prior to 27 July 1953 (Korean War and earlier) 11 co-sponsors
S 1097: would create a “Cold War Medal” for veterans who served honorably during the cold war. 2 co-sponsors • S 1444: would permit free mailing of letters and parcels sent to service members in Iraq and Afghanistan 3 co-sponsors
HR 1223: would waive Medicare part “B” fees for 20 year+ military retirees who entered the service prior to 07 Dec 1956. 114 co-sponsors • HR 2292: would prohibit the payment of bonuses to politically appointed officers of the VA until the backlog of compensation claims falls below 100,000 claims. • 20 co-sponsors.
How to Look-Up Congressional Bills • Senate Veterans Affairs Committee: http://veterans.senate.gov . • House Veterans Affairs Committee: http://veterans.house.gov . • “Thomas” (Library of Congress) use to look-up full text of bill, status, sponsor and co-sponsors http://thomas.loc.gov .