VFW Action Corps Weekly – May 5, 2017
In This Issue:
1. New Government Omnibus Bill
2. Appeals Modernization Act
3. House VA Oversight Hearing
4. Senate Telemedicine Hearing
5. VA Specialized Services Hearing
6. DOD Releases Annual Sexual Assault Report
7. TRICARE Formulary Change
8. V-E Day Monday
9. MIA Update
Download a PDF version of this week’s Action Corps Weekly.
1. New Government Omnibus Bill: A bipartisan congressional committee produced an omnibus spending package earlier this week to fund the federal government through the end of the current fiscal year, Sept. 30. The Pentagon’s portion of the trillion-dollar bill totals $598.5 billion, which is almost $20 billion more than originally recommended. Along with more ships, aircraft, missiles and air defense weapons is the 2.1 percent military pay raise, an increase in troop numbers, and additional funding for operations, maintenance, research and development. Also of note is the agreement adds $331 million to the Transportation Security Administration to hire more officers and canine teams; and no border wall, but $1.5 billion was added to repair existing border fencing and to purchase new surveillance technology, such as drones and sensors.
2. Appeals Modernization Act: On Tuesday, the VFW testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on H.R. 457, the VA Appeals Modernization Act of 2017. The bill would create more options for veterans appealing their claims, including one option to take their appeal directly to the Board of Veterans Appeals and another to request a higher level VA adjudicator to make a decision on the claim. It also aims to better notify veterans on the status of their appeals and submit reports on how long it’s taking appeals to go through the process. A modernized appeals system must be responsive to future needs of veterans. This change to the appeals system will allow VA to properly adjudicate the growing number of appeals for the 21st century, providing veterans with more due process protections and non-adversarial options for resolution at the local level, potentially avoiding years of contentious appeals. VA officials and VFW National Veterans Service Director Ryan Gallucci testified that they are supportive of the proposed legislation, which will hopefully have immediate, positive effects for all veterans. Watch the video or read the testimony.
3. House VA Oversight Hearing: On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies held a hearing to review VA’s budget recommendations and other oversight matters. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin informed the subcommittee of the progress VA is making to improve the VA Caregiver Program, expand access to urgent mental health care for veterans with other-than-honorable discharges, and redesign the Choice Program. Members of the subcommittee discussed interoperability between VA and DOD electronic health care records, expansion of disability compensation benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans, and asked Secretary Shulkin to elaborate on his proposal to stop supporting more than 1,000 unused or underutilized buildings which cost VA $25 million a year. The VFW has asked VA for the list of buildings it is looking to have taken off the books and will make certain that facilities which provide veterans’ health care and benefits are not shut down without acceptable replacements or alternatives. Watch the video or read the testimony.
4. Senate Telemedicine Hearing: The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies held a hearing on Thursday about leveraging technology to increase access, improve health outcomes and lower costs for VA through telemedicine. Telehealth allows veterans to consult with medical providers without physically being in the same location, and is complemented by remote monitoring of veterans with certain conditions. Since VA awarded $258 million for a VA home telehealth contract in February, Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran asked panelists from VA to more thoroughly explain how VA intends to use the contract to improve access to care. Testimony was also given by telehealth experts from the private sector to explain how telehealth can actually save money and time. Legislation to allow for the use of telehealth across state lines if the veteran and doctor are outside of a VA facility would have a significant impact on the successful expansion of this program. Watch the video or read the testimony.
5. VA Specialized Services Hearing: The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on Tuesday, focusing on foot and ankle issues and treatment within VA. According to a report released by VA in February 2017, nearly 2 million veterans using VA are at risk for foot wounds, infection and amputations, with an expected increase in demand for treatment for primary and specialty podiatry services. Subcommittee Chairman Brad Wenstrup invited podiatrists from multiple podiatry associations, retired military doctors and podiatrists from VA to testify. Watch the video or read the testimony.
6. DOD Releases Annual Sexual Assault Report: On Monday, the Department of Defense released its Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. According to the FY16 report, the number of active duty military members who experienced a sexual assault in the last year decreased compared to previous years, declining from an estimated 20,300 in 2014 to an estimated 14,900 in 2016. While sexual assault reporting is up slightly (+1.5%), which is a positive sign, over half of those who reported sexual assaults also perceived negative experiences as a result, such as ostracism by their peers or reprisal by their commanders. Prosecution of sexual assault cases remains a challenge as well, with 791 of the 3,677 cases completed in FY16 having a court-martial charge preferred. Read the full report.
7. TRICARE Formulary Change: Nexium, a popular drug used to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease, will be removed from TRICARE’s formulary list. Effective June 28, 2017, the drug will no longer be available in military hospitals and clinics and those patients who choose to remain on the drug will pay increased fees. The change comes because the drug’s producer, biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, cancelled the Department of Defense’s 10-year Nexium preferred pricing agreement on April 1. The increased price is costing the DOD an additional $1.6 million per day. The almost 338,000 TRICARE patients currently prescribed Nexium are advised to contact their doctors to determine if Nexium is medically necessary or if they can safely be switched to an alternative drug. Patients taking Nexium should receive letters from the Defense Health Agency with more details. Read more about alternatives and costs.
8. V-E Day Monday: Visitors to Washington, D.C., are invited to help commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Victory in Europe Day at the National World War II Memorial at 11 a.m., Monday. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking could be limited since it’s the tourist season and it’s a workday. Taxis are plentiful and recommended. The two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. Learn about this and other events.
9. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of one American who had been missing in action from Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors is:
— Marine Corps Reserve 1st Lt. William C. Ryan, Jr., 25, of Hoboken, New Jersey, will be buried May 10 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Ryan was an F-4B radar intercept officer, assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Force 115, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force Pacific. Ryan was on a bombing mission over Savannakhet Province, Laos, when his aircraft was hit by enemy fire. Ryan was unresponsive after the attack and the pilot lost control of the aircraft and was forced to eject. The crash site location prevented a recovery search and Ryan was declared deceased as of May 11, 1969. Read about Ryan.
Do you know someone who wants to help us fight for veterans? Sign up new veterans’ advocates today.
As always, we want to hear your advocacy stories. Email the VFW to share your stories or photos with us.
Missed last week’s issue? Read it here.