Action Corps Weekly – December 4, 2015
1. VFW Testifies at Senate Hearing: On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Consolidating Non-VA Care Programs.” The purpose of the hearing was to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the Choice Program, looking for ways to improve how veterans receive care in their local communities. VFW Legislative Director Ray Kelley testified on behalf of the Independent Budget (IB), laying out the IB’s vision for the future of non-VA care. He offered several suggestions, including strengthening partnerships with local providers, removing arbitrary distance and wait time requirements, and improving access to emergency and urgent care. The IB plan is based on the findings of several surveys on the satisfaction and preferences of VFW members. Improving health care access by streamlining the non-VA care program is a top priority for the VFW. To watch a video of the hearing and read the testimony, click here: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/consolidating-non-va-care-programs12022015.
2. VA Implements Changes to the Choice Program: This week, VA made several changes to the Choice Program in response to the VFW’s advocacy, recent legislation and the work of other stakeholders. The first change requires VA to consider a veteran’s health care conditions when determining eligibility. Moving forward, veterans who have health care conditions that limit their ability to travel to a VA medical facility for treatment will be eligible to receive care closer to home, regardless if they live less than 40 miles from a VA outpatient clinic. VA’s examples include: “routine and simple procedures, such as simple tests or treatments like an allergy test or an immunization, may be sought through the Veterans Choice Program. Similarly, if a veteran needs repeated appointments for a course of treatment, such as chemotherapy.”
The second change expands eligibility to veterans who live more than 40 miles from a full-time VA primary care physician. This means that veterans who live within 40 miles of a VA outpatient clinic that does not have a full-time primary care physician will become eligible for the program.
The third change requires that VA work with the Choice Program’s administrators (TriWest and HealthNet) to contact veterans who become eligible for the Choice Program to schedule appointments. Before this change, veterans were required to call the Choice Program’s call center (866-606-8198) to initiate their Choice Program appointments. Now, HealthNet and TriWest will contact veterans directly to schedule their appointments, similar to when a VA specialty clinic contacts a veteran to schedule an appointment when the veteran has been referred to the clinic by his or her primary care provider. Veterans with questions about the Choice Program or those who want to check on the status of their appointments should continue to contact the call center. To learn more about the Choice Program or find out if you are eligible, visit: http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/.
3. VFW Participates in Congressional Roundtable: On Wednesday, VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes participated in a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee roundtable on VA employment practices. The discussion focused on ways Congress can ensure VA has the authority to recruit, employ, and retain high quality health care employees. Fuentes stated that VA needs to improve the recruitment and retention of doctors and nurses to ensure veterans have access to the health care they need. Fuentes also informed the committee that VA faces high turnover and attrition of frontline staff who answer phones, schedule appointments, and conduct other administrative tasks that are essential for the operation of VA medical facilities. Fuentes recommended that Congress give VA more flexibility to quickly hire frontline staff. To learn more about what the VFW is doing to improve veterans’ access to care, visit our VA Watch webpage at: http://www.vfw.org/VAWatch/.
4. Avoid Higher TRICARE Copayments for Maintenance Drugs: In October, TRICARE implemented a change made by the National Defense Authorization Act that requires select brand name maintenance drugs to be filled at military pharmacies or through TRICARE home delivery. The new rule allowed beneficiaries to get two 30-day refills of an affected drug from a retail pharmacy. For many, those two refills will run out in December and their next prescription refill needs to be through home delivery or at a military pharmacy. Those who do not move their prescriptions will be required to pay the full cost at retail pharmacies. Active duty service members, overseas beneficiaries, and other beneficiaries who are prescribed generic drugs can continue using retail pharmacies. To learn more about the rule change, request a waiver, or learn how to switch to home delivery or a military pharmacy, visit:http://www.tricare.mil/RxNewRules. For a list of affected prescription drugs, visit: http://www.health.mil/selectdruglist.
5. SECEF Opens All Career Fields to Women: Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced his decision yesterday to open all remaining military occupation specialties to women. The move could open up about 220,000 combat arms branch positions primarily in the Army and Marine Corps, as well as opportunities in the Navy SEALs and Air Force pararescue and tactical air control party fields, among others. In making the announcement, Carter stressed that equal opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean equal participation in all specialties, and that there would be no quotas. DOD has 30 days in which to present its plan to Congress. VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki said women have served honorably and bravely throughout our nation’s history. “We support this new opportunity that allows them to continue to serve in career fields previously barred, not because of their ability, but solely because of their gender,” he said. “Serving in direct line units, and especially in behind-the-line special operations units, are privileges that have to be earned, but as long as the standards for the job are maintained, then the VFW wishes everyone much success.” Read more at:http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/632536/carter-opens-all-military-occupations-positions-to-women?source=GovDelivery.
6. Draft Registration for Women? With the elimination of the combat exclusion clause, the next question is whether women will now be required to register with the Selective Service System. According to officials, stay tuned. No decision will be made until Congress has had time to review the Defense Department report, which will include their views on whether the Military Selective Service Act should be changed. With few exceptions, all 18 to 25-year-old American male citizens are required to register. Failure to do so is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The Selective Service System, which is a small, independent federal agency within the Executive Branch, is on standby and prepared to act as directed. Right now, 16 million 18 to 25-year-old American males are registered; adding women would more than double their workload.
7. Remember Pearl Harbor: VFW Posts and members nationwide will be commemorating the 74th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Monday, Dec. 7, to include VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki, who will be joined by members of the VFW Department of Hawaii for the ceremony that this year is being held on Naval Base Pearl Harbor. That ceremony will stream live at: http://www.pearlharborevents.com/live-stream/. Visitors to Washington, D.C., are invited to attend ceremonies at the National World War II Memorial at 1:53 p.m. Read more here:http://www.wwiimemorialfriends.org/.
8. MIA Recovery Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency recently announced identifications of remains and burial updates for one Marine and three soldiers who had been missing in action from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Returned home are:
– Marine Corps Cpl. James D. Otto, 20, of Los Angeles, will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 8. He was killed in action on Nov. 20, 1943, while fighting on the Pacific island of Tarawa. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/tabid/10159/Article/632492/marine-missing-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-otto.aspx.
– Army Sgt. Robert C. Dakin, 22, will be buried with full military honors on Dec. 12 in his hometown of Waltham, Mass. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, when he was lost in North Korea on Dec. 12, 1950.
– Army Sgt. Billy J. Williams, who was assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Infantry Division, was lost in North Korea on Feb. 14, 1951.
– Army Sgt. 1st Class Billy D. Hill, 21, of Fallon, Nev., was assigned to the 282nd Aviation Company, 14th Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade, when he was lost in Vietnam on Jan. 21, 1968.