FRA NewsBytes October 3, 2014

FRA Newsbytes 10/03/2014

FRA Newsbytes 10/03/2014

In this issue:
Stateside MTFs get Adequate Rating
Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Law for Dependents to be Implemented
Certain TRICARE Beneficiaries Excluded from Yearly Fee Increases
VA To Make Phoenix Whistleblowers Whole


Stateside MTFs get Adequate Rating
The Pentagon this week released a 90-day review of Military Treatment Facilities (MTF), which was ordered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel last May after numerous allegations of poor and delayed care at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. The 700-page report determined that care at MTFs was adequate in comparison to medical care in the private sector. The review visited seven of the 56 stateside MTFs and reviewed data from each of them. “The bottom line finding is that the military health care system provides health care that is comparable in access, quality and safety to average private sector care. But we cannot accept average,” Hagel told reporters at a press conference. The results of the review found wide disparities in care provided at MTFs, with some aspects of the system performing better than civilian care and others ranking below nationwide standards. Hagel ordered the Defense Health Agency to develop a plan for improvement within 45 days.

Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water Law for Dependents to be Implemented
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced last week that it would start covering health care costs for dependents of veterans who were stationed at Camp Lejeune MCB in North Carolina. The FRA-supported “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act” was enacted into law in 2012. This law provides health care for Marines and family members who lived on the Camp Lejeune MCB near Jacksonville, NC from 1957 to 1987 and were exposed to contaminated drinking water at the base. There are 15 named illnesses in the law, including cancer related to lungs, bladder, breasts and kidneys, leukemia, and problems related to female infertility. The exposure resulted from spills from a dump site on base, leaking storage tanks on base, and an off-base dry cleaner. As many as one million people may have been exposed to the polluted drinking water. Under the 2012 law, the VA immediately provided full care for veterans who had been stationed at the base, but told dependents they had to wait. The VA will now cover dependent health care costs incurred since March 26, 2013.

Certain TRICARE Beneficiaries Excluded from Yearly Fee Increases
The Defense Health Agency (DHA) will freeze annual enrollment fees for two groups of TRICARE Prime beneficiaries at the rate in effect at the time of their enrollment. The change will affect survivors of active-duty deceased service members and medically-retired uniformed services members and their dependents, both of whom are part of the retiree group under TRICARE rules. The new final rule, published in this week in Federal Register, goes into effect on October. 30, 2014. This rule is an exception to existing policy, which requires that TRICARE Prime enrollment fees are the same for all retirees and their dependents. These annual enrollment fee increases are limited to the same percentage as the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) increase in retired pay.

In related news, the DHA also announced that TRICARE beneficiaries will no longer receive mailed letters for benefit updates. TRICARE beneficiaries need to watch their email and ensure they have a milConnect account to receive information about changes to their TRICARE coverage. The Department of Defense is no longer sending paper letters to notify beneficiaries about changes to their coverage and eligibility status. Beneficiaries will now receive emails or post cards directing them to online resources where they can view their information.

VA To Make Phoenix Whistleblowers Whole
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald this week declared that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), working closely with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), has successfully resolved whistleblower retaliation complaints filed by three individuals from Phoenix.

“At VA, we take whistleblower complaints seriously and will not tolerate retaliation against those who raise issues which may enable VA to better serve veterans,” said McDonald. “We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first and honor VA’s core values of ‘Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect and Excellence.’”

Based on the validity of their claims of retaliation, each whistleblower has settled his or her complaint with VA and two have accepted new positions within the Department.

Working with the OSC, the VA has taken several steps to strengthen whistleblower protection policy and enhance accountability within the organization. VA leadership has sent a message to all VA employees regarding the importance of whistleblower protection, has emphasized that managers and supervisors bear a special responsibility for enforcing whistleblower protection laws, and has met with employees at VA Medical Centers across the country to reinforce that message.

Additionally, the VA has established the Office of Accountability Review, which reports directly to the VA Secretary, to ensure leadership accountability for improprieties related to patient scheduling, whistleblower retaliation and related matters that impact public trust in the VA.