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April 2019 News from MOAA National

Dateline: 4/5/2019

These Bills Will Help Medical Retirees. Encourage Your Lawmakers to Support Them

Multiple pieces of legislation have been introduced this session to address one of MOAA's key advocacy issues - retirees who are forced to relinquish all or a portion of their retirement pay to receive VA disability compensation. MOAA needs your support to get the House and Senate to make these bills a priority.

MOAA and other advocacy groups have long targeted members of this group and have since 2001 expanded the pool of retirees who are eligible to receive full DoD retirement and VA disability benefits. Current law exempts combat-injured retirees from the offset, for example, as well as those who served more than 20 years and have a disability rating of 50 percent or higher.

That still leaves several groups of veterans who must part with their earned retirement benefit, dollar for dollar, to receive VA compensation. These bills seek to right that wrong:

·        The Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act (H.R. 333), introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.), addresses retirees with more than 20 years of service and disability ratings of 40 percent or lower, as well as medical retirees with less than 20 years of service - so-called “Chapter 61 retirees.”

·        The Retired Pay Restoration Act (H.R. 303), introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), would eliminate the offset for 20-year retirees with disability ratings at 40 percent or lower, but would not address those with less than 20 years in uniform.

·        The Senate version of the Retired Pay Restoration Act (S. 208), introduced by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), uses slightly different language to achieve the same ends as the House version with the same name.

 

Why Back All the Bills?

MOAA supports all three pieces of legislation, and continues to support any effort that would address any group of veterans suffering from this unfair system, which has its roots in 19th-century veterans legislation.

“The reality is, we have to trust these legislators and their strategy to gain approval for full removal of the offset,” said Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA's vice president of government relations. “We're seeking the restoration of earned benefits, and not on the backs of other beneficiaries. All of these bills in the aggregate achieve that end, and we'll keep fighting until all retirees receive both their service-earned retirement pay from DoD and their Disability Compensation from the VA.”

MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), offered similar guidance in a letter to Tester and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), an original co-sponsor of S. 208.

“Expanding eligibility for concurrent receipt of earned retirement and disability compensation is an issue of great importance to our members,” Atkins wrote. “MOAA supports any effort to secure concurrent payment of retirement pay and disability compensation for our disabled servicemen and women, such as the Retired Pay Restoration Act. … Although I know that full resolution to issues of concurrent receipt may not be achieved by any single bill, I look forward to working alongside you and others in Congress to provide further relief by securing concurrent receipt for all disabled veterans who have lost their retirement benefits.”

Join MOAA's cause by asking your representatives to support H.R. 333, along with H.R. 303 and S. 208.

 

Here’s How the New VA Appeals Process Works

In a Tuesday ceremony at VA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie officially implemented the VA's new appeals process, which is commonly called the Appeals Modernization Act (AMA). 

Signed into law Aug. 23, 2017, this overhaul of the cumbersome legacy appeals process was no small undertaking. Led by Cheryl Mason (chair, Board of Veterans' Appeals) and David McLenachen (director, Appeals Management Office), the VA devised a three-tiered approach to tackling appeals, with a goal of completing supplemental claims and higher-level reviews within 125 days. Direct appeals to the board are expected to average 365 days.

“With the implementation of the Appeals Modernization Act, I believe that the department is in the midst of the greatest transformative period in its history,” Wilkie said. “The VA is well on its way to becoming a 21st-century administration.”

MOAA was among the veteran service organization partners that played an influential role in the act's development and passage; several VSO representatives, as well as members of Congress and staffers from the Senate and House Veterans Affairs committees, attended Tuesday's ceremony.   

The new law is designed to modernize the current system and provide earlier claim resolution, per the VA. It requires improved beneficiary notification of VA decisions, and it offers three review options for beneficiaries who disagree with those decisions:

1.    Higher-Level Review sends the claim to a senior claims adjudicator with no new evidence allowed. The reviewer can overturn the original ruling based on his or her opinion, or based on a clear and unmistakable error.

2.    Supplemental Claim lets the veteran submit new, relevant evidence to support the appeal.  

3.    An Appeal to the Board gives the veteran the chance to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans' Appeals, either via direct review (no new evidence or hearing, just a new look at the claim); by submitting new evidence without requesting a hearing, or by requesting a full hearing, with new evidence and the chance to testify before a Veterans Law Judge. Under the new system, VA officials “anticipate an uptick in appeals directly to the board, but not a significant one,” Mason said. “The board is ready.”

Find additional information on the Appeals Modernization Act through this VA fact sheet or this list of frequently asked questions. Learn more about how to file and track your appeal here.

The new system takes over for the Rapid Appeals Modernization Program (RAMP), a pilot program that accepted more than 84,000 claims since its November 2017 launch, according to Military.com. RAMP will continue processing claims submitted under that process, but the program won't accept any new appeals.

What Would Major Cuts to Military Medical Personnel Mean to Your Care?

In July, MOAA first identified four key and rather worrisome trends we've been closely tracking that are taking place in the military health care system. Now, we can add the planned reduction in the number of military medical personnel to the list.

If the numbers are as large as we have been led to believe (approximately 17,000 positions), this will exceed and intensify the impact of the other trends, and may have considerable effect on military beneficiaries in significant ways. 

We will not be able to assess the impact of these large cuts in the number of practicing military physicians, nurses, medics, and other allied medical personnel until the fiscal year 2020 defense budget request is approved by the White House and sent to Congress in mid-March. If Congress approves the cuts, to be presented billet by billet, they would start to take effect quickly in FY 2021.

Proposed personnel reductions of such magnitude surely will affect military medical training platforms. It takes years to educate physicians, and there are projections of physician shortages: A recent study released by the Association of American Medical Colleges predicts that by 2030, the United States will face a shortage of between 42,600 and 121,300 physicians. This leads us to our first question: How this will affect the military mission and medical care, and how can leaders expect to have a medically ready force without a ready medical force?

Our second question: What would these cuts mean for beneficiaries? If the plan is just to replace these health care providers with civilians, that's not a reliable strategy. Getting private-sector medical professionals to take jobs near rural bases may not be realistic or feasible. 

Beneficiaries, including active duty families who receive care at military treatment facilities, may be forced to seek it in the TRICARE networks. Pediatric and obstetric care - which are now available to these beneficiaries - may vanish from the MTFs. Lab and pharmacy services, along with radiology, may be greatly reduced. We already are starting to see TRICARE Prime retirees being re-enrolled from MTFs into the civilian networks, resulting in them being charged with new, and higher, co-payments.

These are major shifts in military medicine. MOAA will watch DoD's proposed FY 2020 budget closely and will assess the impact on military beneficiaries.

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