January 27, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft,
Will veterans and their dependents be receiving an increase in their VA compensation, pension and dependency indemnity compensation this year? And, can you tell me how much that will be and when it will start?

Thank you for your timely information on veteran’s issues.

Interested veterans’ dependent
Via the internet

Dear Interested
All benefits for veterans and dependents were increased by 1.8 percent effective December 1, 2014.  The first increase would have deposited in your January 1, check.

Shaft Notes
Representative Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) today announced that he will continue to serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee as Vice Chairman. Additionally, he will serve on the House Veterans Affairs Health Subcommittee.

“It is an honor to serve on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and I am proud to be named Vice Chairman once again by Chairman Miller. Veterans have always been a top priority of mine, and I look forward to working over the next two years to ensure our nation’s true heroes get the care and benefits they deserve,” said Bilirakis.

Bilirakis continued: “I am also pleased to join the VA Health Subcommittee in the 114th Congress. Serving on the Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Veterans Health Administration puts me in a unique position to ensure Veterans receive the timely access to quality care they have earned and deserve.”

One of his first acts as Vice-Chairman was to introduce H.R. 303, the Retired Pay Restoration Act, to allow Veterans to receive both military retired pay and VA disability compensation.

“The Retired Pay Restoration Act ensures that all Veterans who receive retirement payments as a result of their military service can also receive disability payments from the Veterans Administration. Currently, some military retirees have their disability pay deducted from their retirement pay; these are two completely different benefits. They should not count against one another. It isn’t right to deny Veterans the financial compensation they have earned and deserve,” Bilirakis said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is announcing the appointment of new members to the Research Advisory Committee (RAC) on Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses.

VA will appoint Stephen L. Hauser, MD as committee chair for a term through September, 2016. Dr. Hauser is the Robert A. Fishman Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of California, San Francisco.  A neuroimmunologist, Dr. Hauser’s research has advanced the understanding of the genetic basis, immune mechanisms and treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Additional appointees include Ronnie D. Horner, PhD, who is a Professor of Epidemiology in the Department of Health Services Policy and Management at the Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina; Frances E. Perez-Wilhite, a former US Army Officer who served as a Lieutenant in Desert Shield in 1990; and Scott S. Young, MD, a former Navy flight surgeon during the Gulf War, who currently heads Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute, an organization dedicated to creating and supporting high quality care delivery programs. These new members will serve terms through September 2017.

“VA is incredibly excited about the fresh perspective these new members will bring to the RAC, and we will continue to invest in research to understand and treat Gulf War Veterans’ illnesses,” said Secretary McDonald.

VA will also begin a study to examine brain cancer in Gulf War Veterans. The formation of the study was prompted by a discussion between VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald and members of the RAC. The members expressed concerns over the possible association between exposure to chemical nerve agents and brain cancer in Gulf War Veterans.

“Formation of this workgroup of VA subject matter experts to study research literature on the incidence of brain cancer in Gulf War Veterans is the latest VA effort on their behalf,” said Secretary McDonald.

Some Veterans may have been exposed to chemical weapon agents during the demolition of the munitions depot in Khamisiyah, Iraq, in March 1991 after the Gulf War ceasefire. VA expects to complete the brain cancer study by the spring.

The RAC was established by section 104 of Public Law 105-368 to provide advice to VA on proposed research studies, research plans or research strategies relating to the health consequences of military service in the Southwest Asia Theater of operations during the 1990-1991 Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm). The Committee periodically releases reports that summarize and make recommendations regarding research on the health of Gulf War Veterans.

Information about the Khamisiyah munitions depot can be found at http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/library/kham_info.jsp. Information about RAC is available at http://www.va.gov/RAC-GWVI.

The National Commander of The American Legion praised Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s recent directives for military commanders to be more welcoming of nonprofit groups that wish to provide support for troops and their families.

“Secretary Hagel has broken through the bureaucratic walls that Legionnaires sometimes face when they try to access military bases so they could provide needed support for troops and their families,” American Legion National Commander Michael D. Helm said. “The Legion’s accredited service officers are eager to assist troops access the benefits they have earned. Additionally we have outstanding support programs such as Operation Comfort Warriors for wounded, injured or ill troops, job placement, transition assistance, a family support network and many other initiatives adopted by American Legion posts throughout the United States and overseas. With frequent personnel changes on military installations, some base commanders haven’t had the opportunities to establish long-term relationships with the Legion and were un-informed of our intentions and the services that we provide. Secretary Hagel has taken measures that re-emphasize the importance of military installations to standardize their procedures and grant greater access consistent with their mission requirements.”



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