- State Senate passes bill creating 100% disabled veteran driver license designation:
Senate Bill 1777’s author, Senator Frank Simpson, stated that the simple license modification will makke it easier for the state and businesses to know which veterans are eligible for the sales tax esemption and other benefits awarded to fuly disabled veterans. SB 1177 directs the Department of Public Safety to start designating on driver licenses whether an individual is a 100% disabled veterans or the spouse or unmarried surviving widow of a fuly disabled veteran.
- Tricare Dental Program:
A bipartisan House bill would waive premiums and co-payments for National Guard and ReserveServicemembers under the TRICARE Dental Program, with the goal of improving military readiness by reducing the number of nondeployable servicemembers. Reserve component dependents would remain eligible to purchase premium-based TRICARE Dental Program (TDP)coverage. DoD-subsidized dental coverage would remain a unique benefit for active duty family members.Reps. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and Trent Kelly (R-MS) introduced the Dental Care for OurTroops Act
(H.R. 8113) on June 16. The legislation is also part of the larger Healthcare for OurTroops Act of 2021 (H.R. 3512), which would grant reserve component members
more than100,000 of whom do not have private health insurance
no-cost access to TRICARE Reserve Select. MOAA endorses both pieces of legislation as standalone bills, as well as potential additions to the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), now being assembled in both chambers.
- Mine Warfare – Biden Changes U.S. Policy on Usage:
President Joe Biden’s administration announced 21 JUN it would restrict the use of
anti-personnel land mines by the U.S. military, aligning the country’s policy more closely with an international treaty banning the deadly explosives. The announcement reverses a more permissive stance by then-President Donald Trump, and it concludes a review that has lasted for more than a year. Bonnie Jenkins, the State Department’s undersecretary for arms control and international security,said the new policy fulfills “a commitment that President Biden made as a candidate,” when hedescribed Trump’s decision as “reckless.”
Anti-personnel land mines are buried underground or scattered on the surface, and they can pose a lethal threat to civilians long after combat has ended. Under the new policy, the U.S. will restrict the use of these explosives outside of its efforts to help defend South Korea from a potential North Korean invasion. Although the U.S. does not currently have any minefields deployed there, Washington has pledged support for Seoul’s defense, which includes anti -personnel mines. TheU.S. has a stockpile of 3 million anti-
personnel land mines. Under the new policy, any that aren’t needed to protect South Korea will be destroyed. The Pentagon did not immediately respond to aquestion about whether any will be discarded.
- VA EHR:
Veterans Affairs officials will delay deployment of their new electronic medical records system to additional sites until 2023 to ensure “adequate reliability,” officials confirmed to Military Times. The move comes after repeated concerns from Congress about ongoing problems with implementation of VA’s Oracle Cerner Millennium software platform, the same records system being installed by the Department of Defense at its medical sites. Lawmakers were informed of the delay 17 JUN. Department officials had planned to deploy the software at the Puget Sound VA Health Care System (American Lake and Seattle VA Medical Centers) this August, but will now delay that work until March 2023 instead. In addition, plans to deploy the platform to the VA Portland Health Care System (Portland and Portland-Vancouver VA Medical Centers) will shift from this November to April 2023. “In evaluating [the sites’] readiness for deployment, VA determined the system hadn’t shown adequate reliability to support the current schedule,” officials said in a statement
- Transgender Vets Still Waiting on Promise of Surgery Options:
One year after Veterans Affairs officials announced they would take steps to provide gender confirmation surgeries for transgender veterans, no procedures have been completed and none are likely to be scheduled for months to come. Department officials said they are still going through the rulemaking process, with no stated schedule for its end. VA does not currently provide any gender confirmation surgery options for veterans. The long timeline following the high-profile announcement of the news last summer — during Pride month — has left some veterans advocates frustrated and worried that the promise may not even be fulfilled. “The clock is ticking,” said Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America. “I understand the reasons behind the delay and the desire to make sure it is implemented fully, so it can’t just be overturned by a later administration. But they haven’t even gotten to public comment yet. A half measure on this isn’t going to be enough.” Last June, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said the impetus for VA to offer gender confirmation surgeries was “not only because they are the right thing to do, but because they can save lives.” He also warned that allowing VA to carry out and pay for the surgeries would require changing department regulations “which will take time.” The announcement drew praise from Democratic leaders as a sign of increased outreach and inclusion for all veterans. VA officials have estimated that around 4,000 veterans nationwide may be interested in the surgeries. But the news also drew condemnation from several Republican lawmakers, who said VA leaders were reacting to pressure to be politically correct instead of responding to the actual needs of the veteran community. Officials have not released an estimate for what the new procedures will cost.
- Toxic Exposure:
As many as one in five veterans living in America today could see new health care coverage and disability benefits under the toxic exposure legislation advanced by the Senate 16 JUN, but some veterans will see help sooner than others. The package — which was advanced by the Senate in a bipartisan 84-14 vote and heads now to the House for final congressional approval — would cost almost $280 billion over the next decade and radically transform how the Department of Veterans Affairs analyzes and compensates victims of military chemical and radiation exposure incidents. President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill into law if it comes to his desk, and Veterans Affairs officials have already begun preparing staffing and implementation plans in anticipation of the new requirements. “America’s veterans and their loved ones will be better off as a result of this work today,” said Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) just moments before the vote. “This will make the country a better place … Today will show that we can put party politics aside and honor America’s bravest.” The burn pit provisions of the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act have received the most attention in recent months, in part because of the recency of those injuries. Tens of thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have developed rare respiratory conditions and cancers in the years following their deployments, believed caused by poisonous smoke from massive burn pits used to dispose of a host of military waste. But because scientific monitoring was not done at many sites, conclusively linking the smoke to veterans’ ailments has been a difficult task. The PACT Act codifies recent changes in how the Department of Veterans Affairs approaches those kinds of health claims, lowering standards for proof and offering presumptive status for some rare illnesses believed caused by the burn pits. Advocates said those fundamental changes could have wide-ranging and positive impact on veterans for years to come, developing a more patientfriendly approach to how VA approaches any toxic exposure incidents. But they also say the direct benefits for groups that have been excluded in the past are more urgent. Those individuals include 38 not only troops who recently separated but some who served more than five decades ago. Here are highlights from those provisions: The benefit: Provides presumptive status for disability benefits for 23 conditions related to burn pit exposure. Who gets it: Most veterans who served in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars era are expected to be covered under the provision, although specifics of how to implement that still must be written by VA officials. Individuals would receive disability benefits if they contract any type of the following cancers: head, neck, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system, reproductive system, lymphatic system, kidney, brain, skin or pancreas. Individuals would also receive disability benefits if they contract any type of the following ailments: asthma, chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, constrictive bronchiolitis, emphysema, granulomatous disease, interstitial lung disease, pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, sarcoidosis, chronic sinusitis, chronic rhinitis or glioblastoma. Most of the illnesses other than cancer would be eligible for benefits within the next year. The cancer benefits would be phased in from 2024 to 2025, except for individuals facing severe medical issues. The benefit: Provides 10 years of health care coverage from VA upon separation from the military. Currently, all separating troops get five years of coverage. Who gets it: All veterans who left the ranks in summer 2017 or later will have their eligibility automatically extended. Veterans who left between summer 2014 and summer 2017 will be able to apply for additional years of health care coverage, ending at 10 years after the date they separated. The benefit: Provides presumptive status for disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure for veterans suffering from hypertension or monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS). Who gets it: All veterans currently eligible for disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure. For MGUS, the presumptive status goes into effect as soon as the bill is signed into law. Veterans suffering from hypertension will be phased in. Those who age 85 and older, or those suffering extreme health or financial problems will receive immediate benefits status. For others, the presumptive status will start on Oct. 1, 2026. The benefit: Provides presumptive status for disability benefits related to Agent Orange exposure for veterans who served in areas previously not recognized for the chemical defoliant use. Who gets it: For veterans 85 or older who qualify, the benefit goes into effect immediately. For younger veterans, the provisions will trigger on Oct. 1, 2022. The eligible groups include: · Individuals who served in Thailand (or any Royal Thai base) from Jan. 9, 1962, to June 30, 1976; · Individuals who served in Laos between Dec. 1, 1965, and Sept. 30, 1969; · Individuals who served in Cambodia’s Kompon Cham province between April 16, 1969, and April 30, 1969; · Individuals who served in Guam or American Samoa (or their territorial waters) between Jan. 9, 1962, and July 31, 1980; · Individuals who served on the Johnston Atoll between Jan. 1, 1972, and Sept. 30, 1977. 39 The benefit: Provides presumptive status for disability benefits for Persian Gulf War veterans. Who gets it: All veterans who served in the first Gulf War. The provisions remove rules regarding eligibility expiration. The benefit: Provides presumptive status for disability benefits related to radiation exposure for veterans who served at the Enewetak Atoll. Who gets it: Individuals who served at the site from Jan. 1, 1977, to Dec. 31, 1980. The benefit: Provides presumptive status for disability benefits related to radiation exposure for veterans who served in Palomares, Spain.
With the passage of SB 401, Oklahoma joins other states by showing support for military retirees by fully exempting military retirement pay and benefits from state income tax. Also, a new state sales tax exemption was granted pursuant to HB 3649 for qualifying non-profit organizations supporting service members transitioning from military service to civilian life.
Military Sexual Trauma:
VA’s national screening program found one in three women and one in fifty men indicate they were sexually assaulted during military service. Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors may require specialized treatment for their conditions. Many veterans also feel re-traumatized by an impersonal and adversarial claims process.
Numerous reports of the VA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) document VBA’s struggle to adhere to its policy and correct long-standing problems in administering claims for MST survivors. Even after its most recent reform attempting to consolidate claims adjudication for PTSD due to MST at five regional offices, a recent poll of DAV service officers found 70% identified little difference in the timeliness or quality of its decisions on MST. In addition, respondents indicated that veterans’ preference for sex of their examiner was not honored for 40% of claimants. S. 3025 and H.R. 5666 would address many of the problems in the claims adjudication process.
Mission Daybreak Will Pay for Ideas to Reduce Suicides:
Veterans Affairs officials want to give you up to $3 million if you can help solve the problem of veteran suicides. On 25 MAY, department leaders announced the launch of Mission Daybreak, a $20 million “challenge” designed to help VA develop new suicide prevention strategies. The goal is to get thousands of new ideas on how to better help and support veterans over the next six weeks, and award cash prizes for the best 40 ideas in coming months. “To end veteran suicide, we need to use every tool available,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “Mission Daybreak is fostering solutions across a broad spectrum of focus areas to combat this preventable problem.”
VET Legislation Progress:
Veterans, including those who may be at increased risk for breast cancer because of their service near burn pits, could have better access to breast cancer screenings under a pair of bills that cleared Congress this week. The House on 18 MAY voted 418-0 to approve the Dr. Kate Hendricks Thomas Supporting Expanded Review for Veterans in Combat Environments, or SERVICE, Act (S.2102), which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct mammograms for all women who served near burn pits or other toxic exposures, regardless of symptoms, age or family history.
Senators announced a bipartisan deal to greatly expand health care and benefits for veterans suffering from illnesses related to toxic exposure. While the full text of the agreement has not yet been released, the House-passed bill upon which the deal is based did not include breast cancer as one of the ailments for which benefits would automatically be extended. The two mammogram bills were among a slate of 19 veterans-related bills, including several others that also focus on issues primarily affecting female veterans, the House passed this week, its last before it goes on a two-week Memorial Day recess. Bills approved 18 MAY included four meant to improve support for survivors of military sexual trauma. • One bill, approved 417-0, seeks to improve coordination between the Veterans Benefits Administration and Veterans Health Administration when helping veterans file claims related to sexual trauma. • Another, passed 405-12, would add annual training on sexual trauma for members of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, which hears veterans’ benefits claims after they’ve been denied. The opposition came entirely from Republicans. • The House also advanced a bill in a 414-2 vote to require the VA to have the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine conduct a comprehensive review of VA medical examinations for people who submit claims for mental and physical conditions related to sexual trauma. The “no” votes came from Reps. Sean Casten, DIll., and Diana Harshbarger, R-Tenn. • And the chamber passed a bill in a 420-0 vote to create a peer support program at the Veterans Benefits Administration for sexual trauma survivors.
Sen. Bernie Sanders and 14 other senators introduced the Medicare for All Act of 2022 on 12 MAY to create a federally-administered single-payer healthcare system. Under the bill, the program would be implemented over a four-year period. In the first year, traditional Medicare would begin covering dental, vision and hearing aids for those not eligible under current law. The Medicare eligibility age would be lowered to 55 and Medicare Part A, B and D deductibles would be eliminated, as would premiums and copays. People 18 and younger would become eligible to enroll in the new program. A transition plan would also be established to address coverage gaps. The Medicare eligibility age would be lowered to 45 in the second year and to 35 in the third year. By the fourth year, every U.S. citizen would be eligible for comprehensive benefits and would receive a Medicare card to access care. Institutional long-term care for seniors and people with disabilities would continue as it is currently covered under Medicaid. Health benefits provided through Veterans Affairs and the Indian Health Service would also remain unchanged. Benefits would include: • Hospital services, including inpatient and outpatient hospital care, 24-hour emergency services and inpatient prescription drugs. • Ambulatory patient services. 45 • Primary and preventive services, including chronic disease management. • Prescription drugs, medical devices and biological products. • Mental health and substance use treatment. • Laboratory and diagnostic services. • Comprehensive reproductive, maternity and newborn care, including abortion. • Pediatrics, including early and periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment. • Dental health, audiology and vision services. • Home- and community-based long-term services.
S.4223 | Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2022:
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-KS) have introduced the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) Act of 2022 to increase the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and military survivors under the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Chairman Tester said, “When it comes to our nation’s veterans and their families, we’ve got to see to it that they don’t fall back on hard times. Our bipartisan bill will ensure their benefits are keeping pace with the changing economy—providing these folks with the support they need and earned.” Ranking Member Moran said, “We have a responsibility to take care of our veterans, many of whom rely on VA for financial support. As rampant inflation is driving up the cost of living, this legislation helps makes certain veterans are able to keep up with our changing economy and receive the benefits they have been promised.” The Senators’ bill would increase certain VA benefits including disability and dependent compensation, clothing allowances, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children to reflect increases in the cost of living. The cost of living adjustment will be determined by the annual COLA adjustment to social security benefits, as determined by the Social Security Administration, and would go into effect Dec. 1, 2022. The Social Security Administration bases their annual COLA adjustment on the Consumer Price Index, as determined each December by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Vets groups, advocates rally in DC to urge the Senate to pass legislation to help veterans exposed to toxins:
Comedian Jon Stewart joined veterans service organizations on Saturday urging lawmakers to pass a bill that would expand eligibility for health care and benefits to all veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins.
“I think people think veterans … go fight in our wars and you get health care for life, and it’s just not the case,” Stewart told a couple of hundred people gathered at RFK Stadium for a rally to push for a Senate vote on the bill. “And you come home, and you’ve got all these issues, and we talk a good game about supporting the troops but if you’re not there when they actually need support, then it’s just empty.”
Earlier this month, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Jerry Moran of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the committee, introduced the Sergeant First Class Heath Robinson Honoring Our Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act of 2022, also known as the PACT Act. The senators called the legislation historic and they said the bill will provide long overdue health care services and benefits for all veterans exposed to toxins.
The senators on Tuesday released the text of the PACT Act, which seeks to provide an easy path to health care and benefits for veterans who served near open-air burn pits, which were used throughout the 1990s and the post-9/11 wars to burn garbage, jet fuel and other materials. Veterans diagnosed with cancer, respiratory issues and lung disease at young ages have blamed exposure to the toxic fumes from these pits, but the Department of Veterans Affairs contended for years that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to support their claims.
Army Discrimination Policy:
The Army is circulating a draft policy tweak that would specify that soldiers can request to move if they feel state or local laws discriminate against them based on gender, sex, religion, race or pregnancy, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the plans. The guidance, which would update a vague service policy to add specific language on discrimination, is far from final and would need approval from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth. But if enacted, it could be one of the most progressive policies for the force amid a growing wave of local anti-LGBTQ and restrictive contraception laws in conservative-leaning states, where the Army does most of its business. The policy would ostensibly sanction soldiers to declare that certain states are too racist, too homophobic, too sexist or otherwise discriminatory to be able to live there safely and comfortably. “Some states are becoming untenable to live in; there’s a rise in hate crimes and rise in LGBT discrimination,” Lindsay Church, executive director of Minority Veterans of America, an advocacy group, told Military.com. “In order to serve this country, people need to be able to do their job and know their families are safe. All of these states get billions for bases but barely tolerate a lot of the service members.”
VA Secretary: Proposed $300B Budget Would Improve/Save Lives of Millions:
As reported April 29 by Sara Samora for Stars and Stripes, VA Secretary Denis McDonough told House lawmakers that agency officials are requesting the largest VA budget in history because it will improve or save the lives of millions of veterans.”What the budget really means is healthcare for an estimated 9.2 million vets, disability and survivor benefits for an estimated 6 million vets and their families, and lasting resting places for an estimated 135,000 heroes and family members,” McDonough said during a budget hearing of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “What this budget really means is veterans’ lives saved or improved by the work this funding makes possible.”But some House lawmakers questioned whether the $300 billion budget request for fiscal 2023, which begins Oct. 1, will provide services to all veterans
Thousands of Smartphones Purchased by VA Went Unused:
As reported May 5 by Michael Casey for AP, the VA wasted nearly $2 million when most of the smartphones bought during the pandemic for homeless veterans went unused, according to an inspector general’s report. The report, released Wednesday, found that the Veterans Health Administration spent nearly $7 million to purchase 10,000 phones with unlimited prepaid calling plans but that 85 percent of the phones gathered dust. As a result, it lost $1.8 million in wasted data plan costs.
Pentagon Budget Aims To Shrink the Military by Thousands:
Most of the military services are hoping to get smaller, as the Army, Navy and Air Force seek to slash thousands from their rolls. The Defense Department budget request unveiled 4 APR asks for Congress to cut about 25,000 positions from the military services, which would bring authorized end strength much closer in line with current manning levels. The $813 billion budget request is the largest in history, up more than $17 billion from last year, but its goal “is not about making the force bigger,” comptroller Michael McCord told reporters 4 APR. “That is not what … our review concluded we needed to do. We’re looking at making the force more capable.”
The Army and Navy would shrink by more than 5,000 currently serving troops if the proposal is enacted as is, losing about 3,000 and 2,000 service members, respectively. The Air Force wants
DoD 3M Earplug Lawsuit:
The lawsuits of more than 20,000 veterans who claim earplugs used during their military service caused them hearing damage were dismissed by a federal judge after the veterans failed to provide documents needed to continue their cases, according to court records. District Judge M. Casey Rodgers of the Northern District of Florida, Pensacola Division, ordered the dismissals 6 MAY as roughly 270,000 similar cases are still pending. The group of lawsuits against earplug manufacturer 3M has become the largest multidistrict litigation in U.S. history, according to court records.
Claiming VA Benefits:
America’s post -9/11 wounded veterans are facing significant financial challenges. According tothe latest Annual Warrior Survey from Wounded Warrior Project®, 42% of warriors registeredwith the nonprofit reported in summer 2021 not having enough money to make ends meet in the past 12 months. In addition, 13% of WWP warriors reported being unemployed at this time,compared to 5% of the U.S. general population. Thankfully, many veterans have financial support through their benefits obtained via the Department of Veterans Affairs. America’s wounded veterans have earned their benefits throughtheir sacrifice and service. However, the current process of applying for disability, rating changes,or pensions with VA can be confusing and daunting. Veterans often rely on veteran service organization that have trained volunteers and paid national service officers to insure that benefits claims are filed properly and efficiently and veterans never pay a penny for this expert assistance.