NY Metro Vets- January 2007 Newsletter

January 4, 2007 | Other News, Things to Do


This Newsletter Includes the Following Articles:
· President Signs Craig’s Vet Bill Into Law
· Stolen Valor Act Signed Into Law
· VA Insurance Dividends for 2007
· VA “Aid and Attendance” Benefits
· VA Shifts Money to Cover Health Care Costs
· DFAS 1099-R For 2006
· VA Means Test Thresholds for 2007
· VA MY HealtheVet(MHV) Update
· VA Prescription Policy Change
· Gulf War Presumptive Disease
· Guard and Reserve Job Complaints up 70% over 6 Years
· 2006 NYS Veteran Legislation Passed into Law
· Three New York Leaders to be Honored
· NYC Military Employee Pay Back Issue Meeting
· VA CARES Update (St. Albans)
· My Final Thoughts

PRESIDENT SIGNS CRAIG’S VETERANS BILL INTO LAW: On Friday December 22, President George Bush signed into law S. 3421 – the Veterans Benefits, Healthcare and Information Technology Act of 2006. The $3.2 billion comprehensive benefits and health care bill was sponsored by US Senator Larry Craig, the outgoing chairman of the US Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Among its many provisions, the new law partially overturns a policy dating back to the Civil War era that has prohibited veterans from hiring attorneys to help them seek veterans’ benefits until they have spent months “sometimes years” exhausting the administrative process. The original policy came during a time when lawyers were often self trained and notoriously unscrupulous. As signed into law, this bill will now allow veterans or other VA claimants to hire attorneys during VA’s appeal process.

The legislation will also require VA to establish an Office of Rural Health. “For rural states like Idaho, the addition of this office should ensure that VA continues to focus on the needs and challenges of veterans who live in outlying areas,” Craig said.

The new law should also help rural states by allowing VA to create a pilot program which makes non-VA facilities “such as private nursing homes or community hospitals” eligible for state veterans’ home per diem payments.

Among its many provisions, the bill adds $65 million to increase the number of clinicians treating post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and $2 million for additional blind rehabilitation specialists and increases the number of facilities where the specialists will be located. It also authorizes VA to designate six Parkinson’s Disease Research, Education, and Clinical Centers of Excellence, and at least two Multiple Sclerosis Centers of Excellence.

The bill contains provisions that will provide VA with additional tools to help it contract with veteran and disabled veteran-owned small businesses.

The new veterans’ law also authorizes the replacement of the VA facilities in New Orleans, which were wiped out during Hurricane Katrina, and move forward with new hospital projects in Denver, Las Vegas, and Orlando.
The new law will also enable the spouse or child of a servicemember who is hospitalized or receiving outpatient medical care to begin receiving financial help through VA for their education. Sen. Craig crafted that portion of the legislation earlier this year after meeting with Army Sgt. Jeff Mittman who was blinded during an attack in Iraq.

The new law will also enable tribal organizations to obtain grants from the VA to help them establish, expand, or improve veterans’ cemeteries on trust lands. [Source: Jeff Schrade, US Senate, 24 Dec 06]

STOLEN VALOR ACT SIGNED INTO LAW: President Bush signed legislation in December to crack down on people who falsely wear or claim military decorations. The legislation, dubbed the “Stolen Valor Act,” calls for up to six months in prison for anyone who falsely claims to have earned a military honor, and up to a year in prison for fraudulently wearing a Purple Heart, Silver Star or other high military honor.
Both crimes would also be classified as felonies, which can carry additional penalties such as limits on gun ownership and disqualification from certain public offices, depending on the state. It also makes it a crime to make false claims about military awards, such as on resumes.

Rep. Salazar, who sits on the House Veterans committee, hailed passage as a good way to protect and honor the country’s heroes. “This day has been a long time in coming,” Salazar said. “The brave men and women who have earned awards for service to our country should not have those honors tarnished by frauds.”
The bill passed the Senate by unanimous consent in September and it sailed through a voice vote in the House of Representatives in early December. [Source: Various, 20 Dec 06]

VA INSURANCE DIVIDENDS IN 2007: More than a million veterans are in line to share a $369 million in annual insurance dividends during 2007, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA). VA operates one of the nation’s largest life insurance programs, providing more than $1 trillion in coverage to 4.5 million service members, spouses and children. The dividend payments will be sent to an estimated 1.2 million holders of VA insurance policies on the anniversary date of their policies.

Send automatically through different payment plans, the amounts will vary based on the age of the veteran, the type of insurance, and the length of time the policy has been in force. The dividends come from the earnings of a trust fund into which veterans have paid insurance premiums over the years, and are linked to returns on investments in US Government securities.

VA officials caution veterans about a long running scam in which various groups charge fees to locate veterans who are eligible for the dividends. Veterans eligible for the dividends have had VA life insurance policies in effect since they left the military and have received annual notification from the VA about the policies.

Dividends are paid each year to veterans holding certain government life insurance policies and who served between 1917 and 1956. World War II veterans holding National Service Life Insurance (“V”) policies comprise the largest group receiving 2007 insurance dividend payments. They are expected to receive total payments of $286.3 million.

An additional group of World War II ear veterans, those who have Veterans Reopened Insurance (“J”, “JR” and “JS”) policies, will in total receive dividends of $10.1 million. Korean War era veterans who have maintained Veterans Special Life Insurance (“RS” and “W”) policies can expect to receive dividends totaling $71.6 million.

Dividends totaling $1 million will be paid to veterans who served between World War I and 1940 and who hold US Government Life Insurance (“K”) policies. Veterans who have questions about their policies may contact the VA Insurance number at 1 (800) 669-8477 or send an e-mail to: vainsurance@va.gov. For additional info go to: www.insurance.va.gov. [Source: VA News Release 8 Dec 06]

VA “AID AND ATTENDANCE” BENEFIT: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reaching out to inform wartime veterans and surviving spouses of deceased wartime veterans about an under-used, special monthly pension benefit called Aid and Attendance.

Although this is not a new program, not everyone is aware of his or her potential eligibility. The Aid and Attendance pension benefit may be available to wartime veterans and surviving spouses who have in-home care or who live in nursing-homes or assisted-living facilities.

Many elderly veterans and surviving spouses whose incomes are above the congressionally mandated legal limit for a VA pension may still be eligible for the special monthly Aid and Attendance benefit if they have large medical expenses, including nursing home expenses, for which they do not receive reimbursement.
To qualify, claimants must be incapable of self-support and in need of regular personal assistance. The basic criteria for the Aid and Attendance benefit include the inability to feed oneself, to dress and undress without assistance, or to take care of one’s own bodily needs. People who are bedridden or need help to adjust special prosthetic or orthopedic devices may also be eligible, as well as those who have a physical or mental injury or illness that requires regular assistance to protect them from hazards or dangers in their daily environment.
For a wartime veteran or surviving spouse to qualify for this special monthly pension, the veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, one day of which was during a period of war, and be discharged under conditions other than dishonorable.

Wartime veterans who entered active duty on or after September 8,1980, (October 16, 1981, for officers) must have completed at least 24 continuous months of military service or the period for which they were ordered to active duty.

If all requirements are met, VA determines eligibility for the Aid and Attendance benefit by adjusting for un-reimbursed medical expenses from the veteran’s or surviving spouse’s total household income. If the remaining income amount falls below the annual income threshold for the Aid and Attendance benefit, VA pays the difference between the claimant’s household income and the Aid and Attendance threshold.
The Aid and Attendance income threshold for a veteran without dependents is now $18,234 annually. The threshold increases to $21,615 if a veteran has one dependent, and by $1,866 for each additional dependent. The annual Aid and Attendance threshold for a surviving spouse alone is $11,715. This threshold increases to $13,976 if there is one dependent child, and by $1,866 for each additional child.

Additional information and assistance in applying for the Aid and Attendance benefit may be obtained by calling 1-800-827-1000. Applications may be submitted on-line at: www.vabenefits.vba.va.gov/vonapp/main.asp. Information is also available on the Internet at: www.va.gov or from any local veterans service organization. [Source: VA, 19 Dec 06]

VA SHIFTS MONEY TO COVER HEALTH CARE COSTS: The Department of Veterans Affairs is shifting money from construction and maintenance to cover the cost of providing health care to deal with a budget crisis caused by Congress.

The first notice of a shift – $250 million being transferred from the medical services account to medical care – was sent to Congress on December 19 by Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson, whose letter leaves open the possibility that more funds could shift.

VA spokesman Matt Burns said the Bush administration had requested a $2.8 billion increase for veterans’ health care funding in 2007, an amount that would have covered improved mental health and long-term care services and cover the costs of treating returning war veterans.

Not getting the full $2.8 billion “could impede our ability to provide enhanced services in a timely manner,” Burns said in a statement, adding that VA plans to work with the White House and Congress to secure the required funding. Representatives of major veterans’ groups said they expect short-term pain to be felt in the form of delays in repairs and maintenance of facilities and new construction.

Over the longer term, if the flat budgets continue beyond mid-February, VA also could run short of supplies and be forced to freeze hiring. That would be particularly harmful to efforts to reduce the backlog of benefits claims because it would prevent the start of a planned expansion of claims workers, Peter Gayton of the American Legion said.

The current problem, caused by failure to pass a permanent fiscal 2007 funding bill for VA or for any federal agencies other than the departments of Defense and Homeland Security, is that a temporary spending bill approved by Congress does not allow for budget growth.

Congress has given VA permission to transfer up to $684 million to its Veterans Health Administration, leaving it to VA to decide where the extra money will come from. [Source: Army Times, 1 Jan 07]
DFAS 1099-R FOR 2006: Tax statements for 2006 will be mailed by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service beginning January 2, 2007. Your electronic 1099R for 2006 is available on myPay at: https://mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx?flps=99R~APS. The projected distribution dates for DFAS customers tax statements are:

— Retiree Annual Statement: Available on myPay December 9, mailed via U.S. Postal Service December 16-31;
— Retiree 1099R: Available on myPay December 15, mailed December 16-31;
— Annuitant Account Statement: Available on myPay December 18, mailed December 19-31;
— Annuitant 1099R: Available on myPay December 18, mailed Dec. 19-31;
— VSI/SSB W-2: Not available on myPay, mailed January 4-5;
— Active Duty Army, Navy & Air Force W-2: Available on myPay January 22, mailed January 23-29;
— Reserve Army, Navy & Air Force W-2: Available on myPay January 2, mailed January 5-8;
— Marine Corps active and reserve W-2: Available on myPay January 5, mailed January 9-10;
— Civilian employee W-2: Available on myPay January 9th mailed January 11-18;
— Savings Deposit Program 1099INT: Available on myPay January 19, mailed January 19-20; and
— Vendor Pay 1099: Not available on myPay, mailed January 27-31.

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) implemented the myPay web-based system in March 2000. MyPay delivers pay information and lets you process pay-related transactions timely, safely and securely. The Web-based system reduces the risks of identity theft associated with postal delivery by allowing members to access electronic 1099R, RAS and other financial information. Those individuals who have in the past received a myPay personal identification number and accessed myPay will not receive printed documents unless they notified DFAS by 31 OCT that they wanted printed versions. MyPay matches industry standards for the highest level of encryption and security to protect myPay users. If you do not have a PIN for accessing myPay, you can obtain one via email by clicking on the New PIN button on the myPay website at the web address shown above.

A temporary PIN will be emailed to your official e-mail address. Users with military e-mail addresses in the .mil domain or a pre-registered personal e-mail address can receive their new PIN via e-mail. All others will receive their new PIN via mail in about 10 working days from the date of request.

Customers who already had obtained a PIN but have forgotten it can apply for a new one at the myPay site. If you have any questions concerning myPay, call the DFAS contact center at 1(888) 332-7411. If you have any questions regarding the information on your 1099R, call 1(800) 321-1080. [Source: DFAS msg 3 Dec 06]

VA MEANS TEST AND GEOGRAPHIC-BASED MEANS TEST THRESHOLDS FOR CALENDAR YEAR 2007: VHA Dir 2006-064, Means Test and Geographic-based Means Test Thresholds for Calendar Year 2007, has been approved for publication and can be found at: http://www1.va.gov/vhapublications/ViewPublication.asp?pub_ID=1513

VA MY HEALTHeVET (MHV) UPDATE: The VA continues to improve their My HealtheVet web site: www.myhealth.va.gov. My HealtheVet gives veterans easy access to their health information while protecting their privacy. A feature on the site allows veterans to record their personal information and medical data – including emergency contacts, health care providers and insurance, prescriptions, tests and allergies – in a private, secure Internet environment. The web site’s new features significantly expand the information veterans can record and share with medical professionals, family members and others of their choice. Also included is a “Learn About” tab, which leads veterans to a variety of topics in health education.
My HealtheVet establishes a veteran-clinician partnership that should result in better-informed decision-making and move veterans toward more proactive management of their health care. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for veterans to take good care of themselves.

Beginning in 2007, the site will release features and functions for veterans to view online copies of their VA health records. More and more sections of the VA health record will be made available as electronic copies over the next year. These parts of your VA health information will be added to your the Personal Health Record, along with whatever information you enter yourself. The system is being prepared to gather your health information from all VA Medical Centers for inclusion in your electronic Personal Health Record for access whenever and wherever you have web access.

Presently veterans nationwide are able to complete a process called “In-Person Authentication” online, and then be able to view additional prescription information and order refills. For security and privacy of your health records veterans will only be able to access their Personal Health Record after they have completed In-Person Authentication in person. Veterans must go to the VA, present a valid form of identification, view an instructional video, and sign an agreement.

Once an authorized VA employee has verified the identity of the veteran, HealtheVet will allow this new access to their Personal Health Record. More parts of the Personal Health Record will become available over time. When My HealtheVet launches delegation functionality later in 2007 you will also be able to choose who else will be able to view or manage your Personal Health Record. [Source: e-Veterans News 8 Dec 06]

VA PRESCRIPTION POLICY CHANGE: The Department of Veterans Affairs is helping some veterans get generic prescriptions for half the VA price. Veterans in health care priority categories 4 through 8 normally must make an $8 co-pay for drugs from the VA that might be available at the $4 rate being offered by Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and Target Corp. VA deputy undersecretary William Feeley has told VA providers they can write prescriptions that can be filled at any private-sector pharmacy. They cannot transfer the veterans’ prescriptions directly to a private-sector pharmacy, but they can write new prescriptions if they meet state requirements and cancel existing VA prescriptions. For the $4 drugs available at Wal-Mart, visit: http://i.walmart.com/i/if/hmp/fusion/genericdruglist.pdf and for the Target drugs go to: http://sites.target.com/images/pharmacy/pharmacy_4dollar_program_list.pdf. [Source: Armed Forces News 15 Dec 06]

GULF WAR PRESUMPTIVE DISEASE: VA officials announced on December 18th that Veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War who have disabilities from undiagnosed illnesses will continue to qualify for veterans’ benefits and health care until December 31, 2011. In an item published in the Federal Register, VA officials issued an interim policy expected to be final in 60 days that continues a policy started shortly after the Operation Desert Storm.

The current policy of presuming that undiagnosed illnesses are connected to service began in 1994 in the wake of wide complaints about mysterious illnesses that acquired the collective name of Gulf War syndrome. Researchers have not been able to isolate a single illness or disease as a cause, but the VA, under pressure from Congress, has assumed that those who served in the combat theater who have chronic disabilities resulting from undiagnosed illnesses could receive disability benefits and be afforded other veterans’ rights. Initially, undiagnosed illnesses were covered for two years. But that time limit was extended several times, with the secretary of veterans’ affairs getting discretion to set the period for presumptive coverage.
Prior to the VA’s 18 DEC announcement, the latest cutoff for undiagnosed illnesses among Gulf War veterans had been December 31, 2006.

As is standard with government regulations, the VA will be accepting comment on the change until 16 FEB, when a final rule will be prepared. VA officials said in the notice that they are pushing for the extension “to provide consistency in VA adjudication policy and preserve certain rights afforded to Persian Gulf War veterans and ensure fairness for current and future Persian Gulf War veterans.” By future veterans, they are referring to people still on active duty who served in the Gulf War, who would be covered by VA benefits after separation.

Research into Gulf War syndrome continues, VA officials said, with a project under way to see how deployment-related stress can affect long-term health. An ongoing study is not limited to veterans of the Persian Gulf War deployments of the early 1990s but also includes veterans of current conflicts, such as Operation Iraqi Freedom, occurring in part, within the Southwest Asia theater of operations. [Source: Military Times article 18 Dec 06]

GUARD AND RESERVISTS JOB COMPLAINTS UP 70 PERCENT OVER 6 YEARS: The number of reservists and National Guard members who say they have been reassigned, lost benefits or been fired from civilian jobs after returning from duty has increased by more than 70 percent over the past six years. The Labor Department said it handled 1,548 complaints from returning service members in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, up from 895 in fiscal 2001. About one-third of the cases are resolved in favor of employees, the department said. The numbers don’t reflect all the servicemen and women with problems. Many of the cases are settled before they get to the Labor Department. The Pentagon received more than 8,000 complaints this year, nearly double the previous year, but most were resolved without further government action. [Source: VetJobs Veteran Eagle January Newsletter, 1 Jan 07]

2006 NYS VETERANS LEGISLATION: The following legislation from the 2006 legislative session was signed into law by former Governor George Pataki as of December 7, 2006 (Note: For the full list of laws passed, please go to: http://www.veterans.state.ny.us/legislation/legislation2006.htm

Chapter 743 – Requires the Division of Veterans’ Affairs and Division of Military and Naval Affairs to assist veterans and members of the military in obtaining federal health care services for exposure to depleted uranium. It also establishes a task force to study the health effects of exposure to hazardous materials and sets up a registry for those who may have been exposed to such material.

Chapter 495 – Provides spouses of members of the armed forces National Guard and Reserves deployed to a combat theater or combat zone to be allowed up to 10 days unpaid leave while their spouses are on leave.

Chapter 297 – Bans the sale of military decorations found in safe deposit boxes and deemed abandoned, and provides that such decorations be turned over to the custody of the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs.

Chapter 296 – Exempts from sales tax retail sales of tangible personal property sold in gift shops at New York State Veterans Homes.

Chapter 278 – Allows an individual who enters active duty military service after the execution of a rental contract to cancel such contract for goods or services at no penalty and with a full refund. The legislation provides relief for those with rental arrangements for commodities such as vacation properties, other recreation or banquet facilities.

Chapter 208 – Extends for two years – until September 1, 2008 — the time frame for Vietnam, Persian Gulf and Afghanistan veterans to apply for the New York State Veterans Tuition Assistannce Award administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation.

Chapter 179 – Changes the date of the commencement of the Vietnam War to February 28, 1961 for purposes of determining eligibility for certain New York State veterans benefits.

Chapter 48 – Establishes the last Sunday in September as “Gold Star Mothers’ Day.”

Chapter 46 – Amends the Real Property Tax Law to include as tax exempt entitled under Section 458 (3), those veterans who are eligible for, but have not received, pecuniary assistance from the federal government to adapt homes to meet their special disability needs. Such veterans are fully exempt from taxation and special ad valorem taxes. [Source: NYS DVA]

THREE NEW YORK LEADERS TO BE HONORED: Three New York prominent business and civic leaders who are special supporters of The National WWII Museum will be honored on March 7, 2007 at the Rainbow Room in New York City. They are: Maurice Greenberg, Peter Kalikow and John C. Whitehead.
Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, President and CEO of the Museum, will present the trio with the American Spirit Medallion, given to distinguished veterans and friends in recognition of their roles in creating, supporting and sustaining the institution. For more information about this event, please contact Alma Jane Shepard at (504) 527-6012, ext 250. [Source: National WWII Museum Newsletter, Dec 06]

NYC MILITARY EMPLOYEE PAY BACK ISSUE MEETING: The next meeting regarding the City payback issue will be held as follows:
DATE: Tuesday, January 30th, 2007
TIME: 7:00 PM
PLACE: Police Museum, 100 Old Slip, downtown Manhattan (4 blocks south of the South Street Seaport)
Directions: http://www.nycpolicemuseum.org/html/infofaq.html#Location

PLEASE NOTE – This meeting is only open to those Military/Veteran city employees who are affected by the payback issue. Due to space limitations, while we love and appreciate our concerned Veteran brothers and sisters, if an individual cannot present the appropriate City employee identification at the door to verify their involvement in this issue, they will be turned away. For more information on this issue, go to: http://www.silive.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news/116686988993950.xml&coll=1 and: http://www.columbiajournalist.org/rw1_hancock/2005/article.asp?subj=national&course=rw1_hancock&id=1203. If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Amy Maniscalco at: platoonwife@yahoo.com. [Source: Amy Maniscalco]

VA CARES UPDATE: As I stated in last months newsletter, there seems to be a lot of discussion concerning the land re-use for St. Albans among the elected officials in the St. Alban’s area. For those of you who did not see the article, it is at: http://www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=17501483&BRD=2731&PAG=461&dept_id=574905&rfi=6.

It seems that the city and elected officials already have multiple plans for the property and yet the Local Advisory Panel voted to limit reuse to veterans-related endeavors, which would not include a public school.
As I said last month, I wonder if Mayor Bloomberg, Rep. Meeks and the other elected officials who represent the area know that there is an outpatient substance-abuse treatment on the St. Albans campus. Does anyone believe it will be compatible with a school or community center? Also, has anyone discussed perhaps creating some veteran housing to help with Mayor Bloomberg’s new proposals to help our homeless veterans?
The fourth (and last) round CARES hearing will take place at St. Alban’s on January 22, 2007 at 4 PM. I strongly urge ALL Veterans and supporters to attend this very important meeting and speak with one voice that whatever happens, it should be veterans first!

The bottom line is that if we veterans, especially those who live in the area do not stand up and voice what veterans want, the elected officials will get Secretary Nicholson to go along with what they want and we will lose everything. Once again, the information for St. Albans is at: http://www.va.gov/cares/locationSite/Site11.asp?VASite=11. I will keep you posted on any further developments.

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: First off – Happy New Year! I hope that each and every one of you had a wonderful holiday season. I’m sorry that this newsletter is getting to you late but the holidays caught up with me and to my surprise (which I don’t know why I am surprised anymore) alot of Veterans issues came up at the end of the December. As I often do, I looked back at some of my comments during 2006 and I said last January:
“…the two biggest issues that we veteran’s will face here this year will be saving the VA hospital’s and dealing with the veteran’s homeless issue. It truly breaks my heart and makes me angry meeting returning soldiers (you read right) who have come back and are homeless here in the city.”

So once again I ask – what has changed? We are still dealing with the VA CARES issue and possible land grab at St. Albans and the veteran homeless issue is now on the front burner thanks to the Mayor! There are also several other issues of importance to veterans (the city’s Veterans Advisory Board, the City Employee Payback Issue, Resource Centers, etc.). Rather than fully list them and explain them in detail, I will try to put together a list and get it out later this month.

So I once again ask you all for the New Year to stay active in the community, share information with others and help your fellow brother/sister veterans when you can.

Lastly, I want to publicly thank each and every one of you for making NYMetroVets a success! I started this yahoogroup in January of 2005 with the hope of bringing the community together and sharing information so we are more informed and we now have over 200 members! I hope that you all will help me increase the number and help bring our community closer even together. Now, more than ever – we need each other. As always, please pass this newsletter to others.

If you have any comments or questions, please fell free to e-mail me at: bjoe7@hotmail.com. So take care, and until next month…

Joseph Bello, NYC Veterans Advocate