May 5, 2015

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt Shaft
I recently read a story which has a quote has a quote in it that suggests the VA is making hard copies of records so veterans can get combat-related special compensation. What board or agency makes the latter determination? Why can’t the records switch be done electronically? Would this new contract they’re about to let allow for seamless transfer of EHRs for veterans between the two agencies involved?

Virgil Dickson
Health Regulatory and Policy Reporter
Modern Healthcare

Dear Virgil
Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) is not a VA program. It is a Service retired pay program administered by the Services and the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).  Service members have to apply to the Service’s CRSC Board for review and award of a CRSC rating. Only the Services determine whether the natures of illnesses or disabilities are combat-related. The VA is helping members by providing the documents necessary for them to apply for CRSC which uses a DOD application form. Here are the Service CRSC sites: Army, Navy/Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard. If a CRSC rating is awarded, it allows the member to receive their retired pay that would normally be denied due to the VA Waiver in the retired pay. The VA Waiver subtracts out of Service retired pay the amount that the member receives in VA compensation; you waive retired pay to receive VA comp. CRSC restores the amount of retired pay that was earned due to years of service. I can’t speak for why the processing is what it is.

Shaft Notes
In order to expand eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it will determine eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program based on the distance between a Veteran’s place of residence and the nearest VA medical facility using driving distance rather than straight-line distance. This change has been published in the Federal Register and is effective immediately.

“VA is pleased to announce the distance calculation change from straight-line to driving distance for the Veterans Choice Program,” said Secretary Robert McDonald.  “This update to the program will allow more Veterans to access care when and where they want it. We look forward to continued dialogue with Veterans and our partners to help us ensure continued improvements for Veterans’ to access care.”

The change from straight-line to driving distance roughly doubles the number of eligible Veterans. Letters are being sent to the newly eligible Veterans to let them know they are now eligible for the Veterans Choice Program under this expansion. If a Veteran does not remember receiving a Veterans Choice Card or has other questions about the Choice Program, they can call (866) 606-8198.

Effective immediately, VA is also changing the mileage calculation for beneficiary travel. The change will ensure consistency in VA’s mileage calculations across the two programs. The beneficiary travel calculation will now be made using the fastest route instead of the shortest route.

Representative Gus Bilirakis, Vice-Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs’ Subcommittee on Health about his bill, the Creating Options for Veterans’ Expedited Recovery (COVER) Act. Bilirakis’ bipartisan legislation will establish a commission to examine VA’s current therapy model and the potential benefits in incorporating complementary alternative therapies.

“While it is vital that Veterans receive the care they need, it is equally important to recognize that one size does not fit all when discussing treatments for Veterans. The invisible wounds they sustain serving our country are just as serious as the physical ones. Many Veterans may thrive under traditional plans and medical care, but some may not be as responsive. We need to provide Veterans with choices, and easy access to alternative forms of therapies that work best for them,” said Bilirakis.

“My bill provides a pathway forward that will eventually allow Veterans to have a range of options for mental health treatments such as outdoor sports therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, accelerated resolution therapy, and service dog therapy.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chair of the House Armed Services Committee, emphasized reform and predictability in the defense budget during his keynote address at the Military Officers Association of America’s (MOAA) Council Presidents’ Dinner April 15 at the Crowne Plaza Old Town in Alexandria.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles T. Robertson Jr., chair of MOAA’s board of directors, introduced Thornberry and highlighted the important role the congressman plays in overseeing the entire Department of Defense and ensuring national security remains strong in a time of unprecedented threats and challenges.

“Widely respected as an innovator and strategic thinker, the chairman was one of the first in Congress to recognize the need to confront terrorism,” Robertson said in his introduction. “He has consistently been on the leading edge of critical national security issues and has written widely on defense matters.”

During his address, Thornberry thanked the currently serving, former and retired service members and their spouses and survivors in attendance and addressed many of MOAA’s 2015 “Storming the Hill” priorities. Earlier Wednesday, approximately 150 MOAA members had taken to Capitol Hill to engage their congressional representatives on issues important to the entire military community — sustaining currently serving pay and benefits, rejecting disproportional TRICARE fee hikes and eliminating harmful effects of sequestration.

“One of my priorities as chairman is … to ensure that we have reforms in the Department of Defense and to make sure that we are as capable as we can possibly be for dealing with this huge array of national security challenges that we face,” Thornberry said.

Whether it is an appropriate sort of pay and compensation system going into the future. Will it enable us to get and keep top-quality people that we’re going to need to face this huge array of challenges that we face?”

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