FRA NewsBytes August 21, 2015

In this issue:
Rep. Walz Pushes to Extend Benefits for Agent Orange
Shipmates have Spoken on Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act Funding
VA May Compensate for Illnesses Linked to Contaminated Water at Lejeune
NDAA Showdown
Social Security Pay Bump for Active Duty Time

Rep. Walz Pushes to Extend Benefits for Agent Orange
Since the passing of the Agent Orange Act in 1991, scientists and medical professionals have learned to understand the toxic wounds of war and how many diseases are connected with exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. The Agent Orange Act is set to expire at the end of September 2015; should it do so, the VA would no longer be required to review the National Academy of Sciences’ (NAS) report, denying thousands of veterans their right to compensation. However, Congressman Tim Walz (Minn.) has recently introduced the “Agent Orange Extension Act,” (H.R. 3423), which will extend benefits from the Agent Orange Act for two years, giving the NAS enough time to finish its report and for the VA to review its findings.

Walz stated that it is imperative to make sure that Vietnam veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange receive the compensation and care they deserve. “I think sometimes we forget, especially folks who are a little younger, how big that deal was in 1991 when we finally added Agent Orange as a cause of these diseases, and I just don’t want to let this slip away before we make sure we’ve covered it all.” The NAS is expected to publish its final report on Agent Orange exposure by March of 2016. FRA is committed to seeing to that this extension legislation is enacted.
Shipmates have Spoken on Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act Funding
Two weeks ago, FRA opened a survey to determine our shipmates’ position on whether to support a suggested method of funding the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (HR-969 and S-681). Congressional leaders are looking for a monetary offset, and one suggestion would have all veterans receiving disability compensation to allow the VA to round down their benefit to the nearest dollar. For example, if you currently receive a check for $100.15, your payment would be rounded to $100, and the remaining $0.15 would be placed in a fund to pay for benefits for Blue Water Vietnam veterans affected by exposure to Agent Orange.

We have received well over 1,000 survey responses, and more than 73% indicated that they would be willing to round down their compensation checks to help blue water Vietnam veterans get the care they desperately need. The results of this survey are not just for the use of our Legislative Team; they will be reviewed by members of Congress and at the VA as well.

If you have not responded and would like to weigh in, the survey will remain open through Monday, August 24, and you can access it here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XRLPGKY.

VA May Compensate for Illnesses Linked to Contaminated Water at Lejeune
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced in early August that it will start a program that may permit some veterans to receive disability compensation if they fell ill from drinking contaminated water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The VA has provided health care expenses for veterans and their family members with 15 illnesses related to exposure to contaminated drinking water, but it has not given “presumptive status” in order to render them eligible for disability compensation. However, veterans may receive disability compensation if they have one of three illnesses; kidney cancer, angiosarcoma of the liver and acute myleogenous leukemia, and served at Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987. The drinking water, which has presumed to affect more than 750,000 people on the Marine Corps base, was suspected to contain volatile organic compounds such as benzene and vinyl chloride.

The Marine Corps first acknowledged the problem in 1985 when they found traces of toxins in their water, which they suspected to be the result of illegal dumping by an off-base dry cleaner. Further discussions regarding establishing “presumptive status” for those affected will begin on August 19 between the VA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The VA will consider all public statements accepted when determining the final scope of any presumptions. Veterans who believe they may have health problems related to contaminated water exposure at Camp Lejeune may file a claim for disability compensation online at http://ebenefits.va.gov.

NDAA Showdown
Senate Armed Services Chairman Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) met with his House counterpart Rep. Mac Thornberry (Texas) in one final effort at a face-to-face gathering on the annual defense policy bill before leaving for the month-long August recess. The two chambers were unable to resolve differences in the competing versions of the FY 2016 defense authorization bill (HR 1735) before the House wrapped up its pre-recess business on Wednesday, but McCain said that he and Thornberry would continue to negotiate through August.

As the House prepared to leave for the summer recess, Thornberry provided his committee members with a memo saying the House would accept 30 percent of the Senate’s proposed pharmacy co-pay increases, which has been one of the reported sticking points. “The House is willing to consider modest TRICARE co-pay adjustments, but only enough to prevent a point of order on the Senate floor related to the retirement system. They would be roughly 30 percent of the Senate proposal. The House is unwilling to accept 100 percent of proposed increases.”

Social Security Pay Bump for Active Duty Time
Since 1957, if you had military service earnings for active duty (including active duty for training), you paid Social Security taxes on those earnings. Since 1988, inactive duty service in the Armed Forces reserves (such as weekend drills) has also been covered by Social Security. Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for your military service from 1957 through 2001 can be credited to your record for Social Security purposes. These extra earnings credits may help you qualify for Social Security or increase the amount of your Social Security benefit.

Special extra earnings credits are granted for periods of active duty or active duty for training. Special extra earnings credits are not granted for inactive duty training.
If your active military service occurred:
•    From 1957 through 1967, the Social Security Administration will add the extra credits to your record when you apply for Social Security benefits.
•    From 1968 through 2001, you do not need to do anything to receive these extra credits. The credits were automatically added to your record.
•    After 2001, there are no special extra earnings credits for military service.

Note: In January 2002, the Defense Appropriations Act (Public Law 107-117), stopped the special extra earnings that had been credited to military service personnel. Military service in calendar year 2002 and following years no longer qualifies for these special extra earnings credits

How You Get Credit For Special Extra Earnings
The information that follows applies only to active duty military service earnings from 1957 through 2001. Here’s how the special extra earnings are credited on your record:

Service in 1957 Through 1977
You are credited with $300 in additional earnings for each calendar quarter in which you received active duty basic pay.

Service in 1978 through 2001
For every $300 in active duty basic pay, you are credited with an additional $100 in earnings up to a maximum of $1,200 a year. If you enlisted after September 7, 1980, and didn’t complete at least 24 months of active duty or your full tour, you may not be able to receive the additional earnings. Check with Social Security for details.