FRA NewsBytes May 30, 2014

NewsBytes 05/30/2014

NewsBytes 05/30/2014

In this issue:
VA Secretary Resigns
Caring for Military Families
SGLI Premium Adjustment Effective July 1, 2014
House Panel Reviews IDES

VA Secretary Resigns
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs resigned in the wake of an interim report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) that determined that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) falsified records to cover up the amount of time veterans had to wait for medical appointments at the Phoenix, Arizona VA hospital, and that the problem is nationwide. The report found that 1,700 veterans were kept on a secret waiting list before being put on the official waiting list to make it appear that these patients waited 24 days or less. In fact, these patients had waited on average 115 days for an initial appointment. The false wait times were used to give employees pay increases and bonuses. The report did not determine if delays led to the deaths of any veterans. The IG is appraising VA facilities across the country. The report has identified criminal violations and is coordinating its investigation with the Department of Justice (DoJ). Improper scheduling practices are not new to the VA.&n bsp; Since 2005, the OIG has issued 18 reports finding “scheduling problems” at many VA facilities. The White House issued a statement indicating that the President “found the findings (of the IG report) extremely troubling.”

The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) held a hearing within hours of the release of the IG report. HVAC Chairman Miller said “Right now, there are two things that need to happen. Attorney General Eric Holder should launch a criminal investigation into VA’s widespread scheduling corruption and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki should resign immediately. Shinseki is a good man who has served his country honorably, but he has failed to get VA’s health care system in order despite repeated and frequent warnings from Congress, the Government Accountability Office and the IG.”

Rep. Mike Michaud (ME), Ranking Member on the Committee also called for Shinski’s resignation after the hearing. The officials who appeared before the Committee were Joan Mooney, Assistant Secretary for Congressional and Legislative Affairs; Dr. Thomas Lynch, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Clinical Operations and Management; and Michael Huff, Congressional Relations Officer.

FRA believes that delayed and inadequate care for our veterans is a violation of a solemn vow by our nation to properly care for our veterans. The House has recently passed the “Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act” (H.R. 4031), that authorizes the VA Secretary to remove any agency senior executive if the individual’s performance warrants removal. This FRA-supported bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration. Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their senators to support this legislation.

Caring for Military Families
FRA staff (DLP John Davis) attended a media event in the Capitol building sponsored by Speaker of the House John Boehner (Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) highlighting Caring for Military Families, a joint effort of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation (EDF), and the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP). Former Senator Elizabeth Dole explained that while the nation is quick to rally behind our military and provide veterans the support they deserve, the caregivers themselves are often overlooked. The WWP and EDF recently teamed up to pay for the first comprehensive, evidence-based study on the needs of military and veteran caregivers conducted by the RAND Corporation. The study’s findings confirmed that our nation has neglected the most important factor in the recovery and well-being of our wounded veterans — the spouses, parents, siblings and other loved ones who care for them at home.

An estimated 5.5 million caregivers assist and care for our wounded warriors. This service would cost $15 billion annually if it were paid for. These caregivers are desperately struggling to negotiate the labyrinth of family finances and legal matters, all while managing the daily medical and emotional needs of their injured veterans.

FRA supported the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act that was enacted into law in 2010. Unfortunately this law is limited to supporting caregivers for wounded warriors from the War on Terror. Only 20 percent of the nation’s military caregivers (1.1 million) provide care for Post 9/11 veterans. The other 4.4 million caregivers receive very little support.

FRA is supporting the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act” (S. 1982) that has a provision to expand the current Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) caregiver program to all seriously injured veterans who were injured in the line of duty. This legislation is listed on the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) and members are strongly urged to contact their Senators on this important issue.

See more about Caring for Military Families at: http://elizabethdolefoundation.org/hiddenheroescoalition/#sthash.dxyYFtSM.dpbs

SGLI Premium Adjustment Effective July 1, 2014
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has recently announced that the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program will adjust its monthly premium rate from 6.5 cents per $1,000 back to the 2006 rate of seven cents per $1,000 of insurance, a modest increase to ensure the SGLI program remains in a strong financial position. For a service member with the maximum $400,000 of life insurance, this change will mean an increase of two dollars a month.

The VA claims that in order for the program to remain in good financial condition, it is now necessary to increase the premium rate by half a cent per $1,000 of insurance. Insurance companies hold reserve funds to ensure they can pay future claims, and it is common practice in the insurance industry to adjust premium rates as reserve funds increase and decrease. VA also uses actuaries, individuals who deal with financial impact of risk, to conduct program experience studies when evaluating and adjusting reserve assumptions. Additionally, an independent auditor verifies the accuracy of their reserve calculations each year.

The new premium rate will take effect on July 1, 2014. Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) members who are drilling for points toward retirement or who do not receive pay for other reasons will be billed by their branch of service for the higher premium beginning in July 2014. For information on the new rates, visit: http://benefits.va.gov/insurance/sgli.asp.

House Panel Reviews IDES
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing this week to examine the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES). Legislators express concern about “low-balling” disabled service members’ disability ratings or troops separated with service-connected conditions not documented in their records, causing service members to be separated and turned over to the VA rather than being medically retired.

FRA believes strongly that DoD and VA collaboration is essential to achieving seamless transition, a long-sought goal for FRA. Transitioning between DoD and VA health care systems remains a significant and one of the most challenging aspects of care process for wounded warriors and their families. The Association supports aggressive Congressional oversight.

In 2007, as part of recommendations from the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission (VDBC) and the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors, the Integrated Disability Evaluation System was established. IDES’s objective was to create a single, comprehensive, standardized process between DoD and VA, for service members who are medically separated from service.