FRA NewsBytes – 4-26-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to distribute NewsBytes on Friday, April 26th.  We apologize for the delay and any inconvenience it may have caused.

In this week’s edition:
FRA Storms Capitol Hill
FRA Participates in VSO/MSO Roundtable
VA to Expedite Claims Decisions for Long-Waiting Veterans
FRA Storms Capitol Hill

Members of FRA’s National Board of Directors and other Association leaders brought the enlisted perspective to Capitol Hill this week as they visited their respective elected officials in Washington, D.C.   These shipmates shared the Association’s position on priority legislative issues with their respective senators and representatives, asking them to oppose the Administration’s call for drastically higher TRICARE Prime fees and pharmacy co-pays and new enrollment fees for TRICARE Standard and new TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) beneficiaries. They also asked that current TRICARE Prime beneficiaries that live outside TRICARE’s Prime Service Areas (PSA) be allowed to continue to have access to Prime coverage (grandfathered) until they re-locate or change their current primary care provider. Shipmates also asked that Congress make adequate physician reimbursements (“doc fix”) for Medicare/TRICARE patients permanent. Furthermore, FRA leaders asked lawmakers to take action to r educe the disability claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and extend disability benefits to Blue Water veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide while serving off the coast of Vietnam.

FRA thanks the more than 3,800 shipmates who supported our efforts with email messages sent through the FRA Action Center this week.

FRA Participates in VSO/MSO Roundtable
FRA’s National Executive Director Joe Barnes and representatives from 22 other military and veterans’ organization participated in a roundtable discussion hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) this week. Rep. Michael Michaud (Maine), ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, also attended the meeting, where discussion focused primarily on the disability claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the importance of interoperable medical records and other issues.

VA to Expedite Claims Decisions for Long-Waiting Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced it is implementing an initiative to expedite compensation decisions for veterans whose claims have been unresolved for one year or longer. VA raters will make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in the inventory, which will allow eligible veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly. Provisional decisions will be based on all evidence provided to date by the veteran or obtained on their behalf by VA.  If a VA medical examination is needed to decide the claim, it will be ordered and expedited. Veterans will be able to submit additional evidence for consideration a full year after the provisional rating, before VA issues a final decision.

“Too many veterans wait too long for a decision, and this has never been acceptable,” said VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. “That is why we are implementing an aggressive plan to eliminate the backlog by 2015.  This initiative is the right thing to do now for veterans who have waited the longest.”

“Issuing provisional decisions not only provides veterans with applicable benefits much more quickly, but also gives them an additional one-year safety net to submit further evidence should it become available. Our door will remain open and if a veteran has additional evidence, their case will be fast tracked,” said Allison Hickey, Undersecretary for Benefits.

Throughout this initiative, VA will continue to prioritize claims for homeless veterans and those claiming financial hardship, the terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, Medal of Honor recipients, and veterans filing Fully Developed Claims (FDC).  More information about filing Fully Developed Claims is available at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/transformation/fastclaims/ ;

Claims for wounded warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Department of Defense (DoD) through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES).  Wounded Warriors separating through IDES currently receive VA compensation benefits in an average of 61 days following their separation from service.

While compensation claims are pending, eligible veterans are able to receive healthcare and other benefits from VA.  Veterans who have served in recent conflicts are eligible for 5 years of free healthcare from VA. Currently, over 55 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are using VA health care, a rate of utilization greater than previous generations of veterans. Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint DoD-VA e-Benefits web portal at www.ebenefits.va.gov/ebenefits-portal/ebenefits.portal
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