Archive for August, 2012

VA Appeals

Posted: August 31, 2012 in Uncategorized
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To assist veterans with appeals pending the Board of Veterans' Appeals (Board or BVA) provides a customer service home page at http://www.bva.va.gov/OMBUDSMAN_CustomerService.asp . The Status help desk is under the Chairman of the Board of Veterans Appeals and the Director of Administration. The help desk has been set up to answer your questions, give a status on your case, or direct you to the best possible referral source to answer your questions. They will monitor the issues you raise and provide that information to the Chairman and Director. This is not a chat room, so they are unable to communicate with you as you type. They do however, acknowledge, and respond to every E-mail sent. The E-mails are answered in the order in which they are received. For an Email status report on your claim before the Board o state your name, file number and request, and click on the ‘Ask a Question’ tab near the bottom of the webpage. If you claim is not before the Board, note the contact numbers or email for your appropriate Regional Office. All Facebook, Twitter, and Internet addresses will not be answered, nor will political statements, and they will be deleted. They may request verifying information to protect the privacy of our Veterans. The Board also can be reached 1-800-923-8387 M-F 09-1630 EST of by FAX: 1 -202-34-1889 or mail: Board of Veterans’ Appeals, 810 Vermont Avenue, North West, Washington, DC 20420 . For issues other than determining appeal status the following guidance is offered:
 Once BVA issues a decision (including a remand – i.e., sent back to be redone properly), it no longer has the authority to act on the appeal. Contact the Appeals Management Center (AMC) mailto:amcdirmailbox@va.gov, your local Regional Office (VARO) http://www.bva.va.gov/docs/Ombudsman_CustomerService/States.doc or your representative (if you have one to advocate on your behalf). If your residence is in a foreign country, contact the VBA Foreign Service Program http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/foreign/index.htm.
 If you are seeking legal assistance with a claim, contact your local Regional Office at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/ro/rocontacts.htm for a list of Veterans Service Organizations in your area.
 If you owe the VA money, contact the Debt Management Center http://www.va.gov/FINANCE/dmc.asp.
 If you wish to report fraud, waste or abuse in any VA program, contact the VA Office of Inspector General http://www.va.gov/oig.
 If you have an original education claim, contact the VA Educational Benefits Program http://www.gibill.va.gov.
 If you have an original home loan guarantee claim, contact the VA Home Loan Program http://www.benefits.va.gov/homeloans.
 If you have an original VA life insurance claim, contact the VA Life Insurance Program http://www.insurance.va.gov/miscellaneous/index.htm.
 If you have an original claim as a surviving spouse or dependent, contact the VA Veterans Services Outreach or your local Regional Office http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/dependents/index.htm.
 If you have an original request for burial and memorial benefits, contact the VA National Cemetery Administration http://www.cem.va.gov.
 If you are seeking copies of your military records, contact the National Personnel Records Center http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/standard-form-180.html.
 If you are seeking a medal upgrade, contact the appropriate military department Public Affairs Office.
 If you are seeking information about an upgrade or review of your discharge, complete the application form at Military Discharge Upgrade http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/eforms/dd0293.pdf.
 If you are seeking a correction of your military records, complete the application form at Correction of Military Records http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/forminfo/forminfopage2137.html.
 If you would like to have a hearing before a Veterans Law Judge, consider requesting a video hearing http://www.bva.va.gov/docs/VBA-VideoHearing-WebFlyer.pdf.
[Source: http://www.bva.va.gov/OMBUDSMAN_CustomerService.asp Jun 2012 ++]

The Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (MEDVAMC) is the first VA, and only one to date, to offer an innovative, artificial heart valve. Recently approved for commercial use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Sapien heart valve made by Edwards Lifesciences is implanted through a catheter as an alternative to open heart surgery for patients with inoperable aortic valve stenosis disease. World War II Veteran Guy Pardue, 87, of Bastrop, La. received this transcatheter aortic valve on 30 MAY 2012. A member of the first Marine platoon to get the M1 rifle, Pardue, who served in the Pacific, landed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii just days after the surprise attack by the Japanese against the United States naval base. He vividly remembers the nightmarish scene, with bodies of sailors still being pulled from the horribly damaged ships. "In addition to his advanced age, Mr. Pardue suffers from congestive heart failure, carotid and coronary artery disease, pulmonary hypertension, and atrial flutter," said Biykem Bozkurt, M.D., Ph.D., MEDVAMC Cardiology chief and professor of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine (BCM). "We were able to offer him this life-saving device and he was ready to go home within a week."

“Before this operation, I couldn’t take a shower without giving out. I could not breathe; just pitiful,” said Pardue. “My doctor at the Monroe VA Clinic shipped me to the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport. After some tests, they said I was in worse shape than they thought and needed to go to Houston in a hurry … Today, I feel renewed. These doctors and nurses gave me my life back – they are the best there is,” said Pardue, who is now looking forward to cooking his famous vegetable soup with okra, growing tomatoes using a secret technique, and maybe, doing some bass fishing.
Aortic valve stenosis is an age-related disease caused by calcium deposits in the valve that cause it to narrow and stiffen. As it becomes harder to pump the blood out to the rest of the body, the heart weakens. Patients experience fainting, chest pain, heart failure, irregular heart rhythms, and cardiac arrest. Without treatment, symptomatic patients usually die within two years. It affects approximately 300,000 Americans. Many older or sicker patients suffering from aortic valve stenosis are considered poor candidates for conventional surgery, which requires cutting open the chest and temporarily stopping the heart. "With the aging population, the potential impact of this procedure is enormous. People can literally gain a new lease on life overnight.", said Faisal Bakaeen, M.D., chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the MEDVAMC and associate professor of Surgery at BCM. The valve, made of bovine tissue and stainless steel, is about the width of a pencil when it is deployed through a catheter in the femoral artery in the groin. Once it arrives at the correct spot, the valve is released, replacing the diseased one. Patients generally stay in the hospital for an average of three days, compared to seven days with open heart surgery. Surgeons and cardiologists are part of a whole team unified for this one disease process. There is very little tissue trauma and in experienced hands, it can take approximately 60 minutes " said Bozkurt.
Besides Bozkurt and Bakaeen, the MEDVAMC Heart Valve Team is a multidisciplinary team that also includes Cardiothoracic Surgeon Loraine Cornwell, M.D.; Cardiologists Biswajit Kar, M.D., David Paniagua, M.D., Hani Jneid, M.D., Alvin Blaustein, M.D., and Glenn Levin, M.D.; Vascular Surgeons Panagiotis Kougias, M.D. and Carlos Bechara, M.D.; Anesthesiologist Prasad Atluri, M.D.; radiologists; Nursing Coordinator Maryrose Ruma; and other nursing and auxiliary staff. All are specially trained to take care of this unique and complex patient population. “It was immediately apparent that this VA medical center had the teamwork to make this program work and to be successful,” said Blase A. Carabello, M.D., the Medical Care Line executive and vice chair of the Department of Medicine at BCM. “Everyone from nurses and rehabilitation specialists to imaging technicians and housekeepers focuses on the health and well-being of the patient.” Samir S. Awad, M.D., Operative Care Line executive at the MEDVAMC and associate professor of Surgery at BCM said, “This new technology could add years to the lives of our patients. We are proud the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center has some of the best doctors and nurses in the country and offers the latest, minimally invasive alternatives for our Veterans.” [Source: Houston VAMC Press Release 29 Jun 2012 ++

Vet Transportation

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Veterans and their families will have better access to local bus, vanpool and other transportation options with $29 million in grants, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced today. During a conference call with reporters, LaHood said the grants will fund 64 projects in 33 states to help veterans, wounded warriors and their families find affordable rides to jobs, and job training, education, and health facilities. "Ensuring that our veterans and military families have access to quality, convenient transportation is just one way we can thank them for their service," LaHood said. "With these transportation grants, we will help connect veterans and military families with the jobs and training opportunities they deserve, as well as the medical care and other services they need, all located close to home." The Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative (VTCLI), funded and managed by the Federal Transit Administration, supports efforts by local governments and transit agencies to implement technologies — ranging from smartphone applications to real-time transit bus locator information — that make it easier for veterans and others to access and schedule rides on available buses, vans, taxis and other transportation systems.
The unemployment rate for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is more than 12 percent, more than four percentage points above the national average. "America's war heroes deserve a chance to support their families, participate in their communities, receive job training and get to work," said FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, who was in Lee County, Fla., for the announcement. "It's vitally important that we remove barriers to success by making transportation available wherever our veterans choose to live, work and receive care." For example, Lee County, Fla., is receiving $1.4 million to fund information kiosks at locations that include a new Veterans Affairs Department outpatient clinic in Cape Coral, where veterans can readily obtain real-time information on rides and schedules, day or night. Also, a $450,000 grant for the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Dayton, Ohio, will make it easier for returning and retired veterans and those who have disabilities to arrange for rides by phone, smartphone or on the Web, officials said. Dayton is home to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and 80,000 veterans, officials noted.
Rogoff said the transit administration received 81 eligible proposals requesting $41 million for this second round of the VTCLI grants, reflecting strong demand for the program. In fiscal 2011, FTA awarded $34.6 million for 55 veterans' transportation projects around the country. LaHood said the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council on Access and Mobility, which he chairs, is a partnership of federal departments working to better coordinate federal programs on behalf of people with disabilities, older adults and individuals with lower incomes. The council developed the Veterans Transportation and Community Living Initiative, he added. For more information on VTCLI refer to http://fta.dot.gov/grants/13094_13528.html. [Source: DOT News Release 2 Jul 2012 ++]

SBA Vet Issues

Posted: August 30, 2012 in Uncategorized
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The Veterans Affairs Department proposes to change the frequency of reverifying veteran-owned firms that want to do business with VA — from once a year to every two years. The interim final rule took effect 27 JUN. The VA is the only federal agency that verifies businesses are owned and operated by a veteran before they can bid on contracts set aside for veterans. Once service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) and veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) are verified, they enter the Vet-Biz database but must be reverified every year. Other agencies rely on self-certification for SDBOC/VOSB status for set-aside contracts. "The purpose of this change is to reduce the administrative burden on SDVOSB/VOSBs regarding participation in VA acquisitions set asides for these types of firms," according to the interim final rule published in Wednesday's Federal Register. The rule also said the change is appropriate because the agency does a "robust examination" of the business owner's personal and company information to verify the company is in fact owned and controlled by a veteran. One veteran-owned business advocate said the agency had a backlog of verifications due to the current requirement to re-check veteran business owners' status every year. "The major problem is they waste, waste, waste time on reverification, reverification, reverification," Bob Hesser of VET-Force Task Force had told Federal News Radio in an interview earlier this year about VA's verification program. In an email 26 JUN, Hesser said the proposal was highly endorsed. "Many wanted three years but this is a good compromise," he said. [Source: Federal News Radio Jolie Lee article 28 Jun 2012 ++]

Navy Green Fuel

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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The Navy is going ahead with an initiative to power ships with biofuel, despite criticism of the cost. The “green fuel” costs nearly seven times more than conventional fuel. This month marks the first time the Navy is using biofuel in an operational setting — sending five ships to participate in a multi-nation exercise off the coast of Hawaii. A Navy official said that sailing the so-called “Great Green Fleet” this month on the 50-50 blend of alternative and conventional fuel is part of Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ plan to have half the Navy fleet on alternative fuel by 2020. The spokesman also confirmed the fuel — which does not require engine modifications — costs $26 a gallon compared to $3.60 a gallon for conventional fuel. However, he pointed out the cost was for a one-day supply and that prices will drop when the Pentagon, among the country’s biggest fuel users, buys more. Members of Congress have highly criticized the Mabus’ plan because they believe DoD is not in the business of developing alternative fuels. That would be better left to the private sector. They also criticize the high costs involved. And, of course, we continue to hear top defense officials tell Congress and everybody else that health care costs are “eating them alive.” [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 3 Jul 2012 ++]

TRICARE Funding

Posted: August 29, 2012 in Uncategorized
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On 29 JUN Congress received a reprogramming request from the Defense Department to shift more than $7 billion from specifically designated programs to other program initiatives within operations. The request pulls from accounts where spending is less than previously estimated and reprograms increases into areas such as fuel costs (see below article on Navy Green Fuel) , counterterrorism for several Middle Eastern countries, and to compensate for Pakistan closing ground supply routes to Afghanistan. The National Association of Uniformed Services noted that contained in the request is the reprogramming of $708 million of available money from the Defense Health Program. According to DOD, “funds are available because of a significant downward spike in the private sector care (PSC) cost growth rates. Through the first 6 months of FY 2012, private sector care costs are growing at historically low rates of 0.6 percent for active duty and -2.7 percent for all other beneficiaries.”
In its request to Congress, the Department said, “The FY 2012 budget estimate assumed private sector care cost growth rates of 12.9 percent for active duty and 8.5 percent for all other beneficiaries.” With a negative rate of military medical inflation for beneficiaries, the Pentagon estimate for TRICARE costs becomes greatly excessive. “These funds,” the Department said, “are excess to Defense Health Program requirements and can be used for higher priority items with no impact to the program.” A year ago, Congress and the Department increased beneficiary cost 13 percent for TRICARE Prime, while simultaneously moving more than $500 million from the TRICARE program to fund a number of “higher priority items,” including $350 million for non-battlefield and non-military research projects. This year, it’s $708 million. While seeking to shift funds, Pentagon officials continue to assert that the costs of health care earned by military retirees in prior defense of the nation “are hurtful, taking away from the nation’s ability to defend itself.” [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 3 Jul 2012 ++]

Reserve Component Pay

Posted: August 28, 2012 in Uncategorized
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America's citizen soldiers, who train in their hometowns for a weekend a month and two weeks a year, receive more money for one day of training at home than their fellow National Guard and Reserve members earn for a day serving in the war zone. Pentagon officials defended the pay discrepancy as incentive for National Guard and reservists who give up their weekends and must be ready on a moment's notice to serve. But it's one of many problems in the complex Guard and Reserve compensation system detailed in a new Pentagon review that recommends changes to make the salaries and benefits more equitable across the board. The study noted that Guard members and reservists get two day's pay for each day of weekend training – totaling four day's pay for the weekend every month. In contrast, when they are called up to active duty and are deployed overseas to Afghanistan, they get a day's pay for a day's work. As an example, an officer in the reserves or the Guard could get $407 for a day of weekend duty, but get $269 for a day on active duty, or $318 for a day deployed to Afghanistan. Enlisted members could get $171 for a day of weekend duty, $134 for a day on active duty and $161 for a day deployed to war.
The Defense Department will consider the preliminary recommendations made in the review. Solving the issue, however, is tricky because defense officials realize that one remedy would be cutting the pay that Guard and Reserve receive for weekend training at home. "That's a sensitive issue, because you're affecting what people receive," said Thomas Bush, who directed the recent review of military compensation, which included the pay problem. Bush noted that when troops – including Guard and Reserve members – go to war on active duty they get additional hostile fire pay and their salaries are tax free. But even considering those additional benefits, he said, "a day on weekend training is more money." "It doesn't make sense," he said. "It would make more sense, I think, to have a more uniform pay schedule, like the active duty has." Pete Duffy, the acting legislative director for the National Guard Association of the U.S., said changing or reducing pay for weekend warriors would face heavy opposition around the country. "It's an incentive for National Guard and Reserve members to serve," he said, adding that when members have weekend duty, most also have regular jobs, so they end up working 12 days without a day off.
Support and benefits for the Guard and Reserve have grown in recent years, after a backlash – particularly from Congress members and state leaders – during the early years of the Iraq war. Officials were furious that some Guard units were being sent to combat with equipment that was often hand-me-downs from active duty brigades. There also was a push made to beef up enticements for people to join the Guard, as the U.S. military struggled to meet the demands of both wars. The Pentagon increasingly had to tap National Guard brigades to meet the escalating demand for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as combat deployments were extended to 15 months and enlistment standards were lowered to meet recruiting goals. Reservists also were activated for the war, sent overseas to fill specific expertise gaps or called to fill in at bases in the United States. The review also recommended allowing Guard members and reservists to begin collecting their military retirement on the 30th anniversary of their service, as long as they have worked the equivalent of 20 years of service. Currently reservists who serve 20 years can't begin collecting their retirement pay until age 60.
The Guard and Reserve pay and benefits system has evolved over the decades into what the Pentagon review called convoluted, confusing, and frustrating. It confounds the service members as well as their commanders who have to request troops for missions and determine their duty status. That status governs their pay and benefits, but can often change monthly. According to the review, Guard and Reserve members can be called up under as many as 30 different duty statuses, making the system difficult to administer and nearly impossible for troops to navigate and understand. The review recommends paring that down to just six different classifications. Very broadly, reservists can be called to active duty for federal missions such as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars; or they can train and perform missions under the authority of their state, such as for forest fires or hurricanes. There are seven reserve components in the U.S. military: The Army Guard and Reserve, the Air Guard and Reserve, the Navy Reserve, the Marine Corps Reserve and the Coast Guard Reserve. They total more than 1.1 million members, with an operating budget of nearly $50 billion. For current pay rates refer to http://www.military.com/benefits/military-pay/reserve-and-guard-pay/reserve-drill-pay-calculator.html . [Source: AP Lolita C. Baldor article 2 Jul 2012 ++]