Senate Concurrent Receipt Bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has introduced the "Retired Pay Restoration Act" (S. 234) that would allow receipt of both military retired pay and veterans' disability compensation for more disabled retirees.

The bill is a comprehensive concurrent receipt measure that, among other provisions, would repeal the 50-percent-or-higher disability rating required to receive Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) and allow all disabled retirees, including those who were medically retired with less than 20 years of service (Chapter 61 retirees), to receive CRDP benefits and their military retired pay without offset.

Deadline for VA Beneficiaries to Sign Up for Electronic Payments

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reminding beneficiaries that they must sign up for electronic payment of benefits before March 1, 2013. The Department of Treasury has directed VA to stop issuing paper check after that date and the change also applies to recipients of Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Railroad Retirement Board, and Office of Personnel Management payments. Anyone already receiving federal benefit payments electronically will be unaffected by the change.

Senate Bill to Correct Misdiagnosed Veterans

Senator Jon Tester (Mont.), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced legislation (S. 628) that would authorize the Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) to evaluate and, when necessary, correct service records for veterans diagnosed by the Department of Defense (DoD) with a Personality Disorder (PD) or Adjustment Disorder (AD) and discharged after active-duty deployment. Because PD and AD are considered pre-existing conditions, DoD is not obligated to award these veterans benefits related to their conditions.

The legislation is a companion bill to the "Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act" (H.R. 975), introduced by Rep. Tim Walz in the House last month. Tester and Walz believe many of these veterans are actually suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and are eligible for benefits they've rightfully earned and need to properly reintegrate into civilian life.

FY 2014 Budget Includes TRICARE Fee Increases, Reduced COLAs

The Administration released its proposed FY 2014 budget this week, which includes a variety of proposals that threaten future benefits for military personnel and retirees. The budget proposal includes a complex plan to increase existing TRICARE Prime enrollment fees, implement new fees for TRICARE Standard and future TRICARE-for-Life beneficiaries, and phase-in higher pharmacy co-pays over four years. Active duty personnel, survivors of active duty members who died on active duty, medically retired, and current TRICARE-for-Life beneficiaries are excluded from the proposed health care fee increases.

The budget seeks to reduce the percentage increase for active duty pay for FY 2014 and beyond. The plan includes a one-percent increase for 2014 (versus the 1.8 percent increase necessary to keep pace with civilian pay scales) and reduced funding for bonuses and special pays. A one-time round of military base realignments and closures (BRAC) is also proposed.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) FY 2014 funding is increased by 10 percent, plus an additional $1.1 billion (1.9 percent) above FY 2014 levels for advanced appropriations for medical care in FY 2015. Funding the VA's transition to a paperless claims system in all 56 regional offices is a top budget priority.

Funding for the U.S. Coast Guard shrinks in the Administration's budget plan. Coast Guard appropriations would be reduced from $11.03 billion in FY 2013 to $9.79 billion in FY 2014.

The budget also proposes using the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) to calculate future Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) for military retirees, veterans and Social Security recipients. The chained CPI would be used in lieu of the current CPI and would generally reduce COLA increases by 0.2 to 0.3 percent. FRA is committed to ensuring equitable COLAs for all military and veteran beneficiaries and is reviewing other issues addressed in the budget proposal.

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:Fast Claims

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

VA Launches Hotline for Women Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently launched a new hotline to receive and respond to questions about the many VA resources available to female veterans. Veterans, their families and caregivers are encouraged to call1-855-VA-WOMEN, where knowledgeable VA employees who can provide information about benefits including health care services for women, claims and education, as well as information about VA cemeteries and memorial benefits. Staff can answer urgent questions and provide referrals for mental health services and resources for homeless women veterans.

Nearly 15 percent of today's active duty military personnel are women and females comprise 18 percent of National Guard and Reserve forces. The population of women veterans using VA health care has more than doubled, rising from 160,000 in 2000 to more than 354,000 in 2012.