FRA NewsBytes April 4, 2014

In this issue:
Help FRA Board Storm the Hill
Doc Fix Extension Approved
FRA Co-Sponsors House Guard and Reserve Caucus
VA Disability Claims Backlog Shrinking


Help FRA Board Storm the Hill
FRA’s National Board of Directors will storm Capitol Hill on Thursday, April 10 to share shipmates’ concerns with lawmakers. Get involved from home by contacting your legislators about the Association’s highest priorities. Please use the Action Center (action.fra.org) to send a barrage of e-mails to your senators and representative that will reinforce the messages being delivered in person by your FRA leaders.


Doc Fix Extension Approved
The Senate on Monday approved (64-35) the “Protecting Access to Medicare Act” (H.R. 4302) sponsored by Rep. Joseph R Pitts (Penn.) that would prevent a 24 percent cut in payments to doctors seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients. The temporary one-year extension was approved after lawmakers in both chambers failed to find a solution to the recurrent problem of how to pay for the permanent “doc fix,” which is estimated to cost $138 billion over 10 years. The bill was quickly signed into law (P.L. 113-93) by President Obama. The new temporary fix will expire on April 1, 2015. FRA supports a permanent resolution of the statutory funding formula for Medicare and TRICARE physician reimbursement rates (the “Doc Fix”) to ensure that TRICARE and Medicare patients have access to quality health care services. The “Doc Fix” issue is listed on the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org) and is one of several issues to be discussed with legislators and their staff when the FRA National Board of Directors (NBOD) storms the Hill next week.

FRA Co-Sponsors House Guard and Reserve Caucus
FRA joined 12 other military and veterans’ organizations in cosponsoring the 17th annual House Reserve Component Caucus Breakfast on Capitol Hill this week. Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Tim Walz (Minn.) co-chair the bipartisan caucus and attendees included caucus members, officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), Reserve Component senior enlisted leaders and members of key military associations, including FRA.

The keynote speaker was Christine Fox, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense. She thanked Guard and Reserve members and their families for the sacrifices they have made in defending the nation. She told the caucus that the proposed DoD budget request is $115 billion above mandated sequestration funding levels for the next 5 years. She said the days of a Reserve Component being a strategic reserve are gone, and that the Reserves will remain a seamless part of the total force.


VA Disability Claims Backlog Shrinking
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is boasting that the disability claims backlog has been reduced to less than 350,000. The backlog—the number of disability claims pending for more than 125 days—dropped below that 350,000 mark this week for the first time since February 2011. It marks a decrease of more than a quarter-million cases in the past year, a pace that VA officials believe they can maintain to zero out the backlog in 2015.

In recent testimony (March 12, 2014) before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, NP Virgil Courneya expressed cautious optimism about the dwindling backlog of claims but also warned that there may be a surge of claims when most or all of the U.S. military withdraws from Afghanistan at the end of 2014. A surge of this size could reverse the recent progress in reducing the backlog.

VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey called the dwindling backlog figure a significant step ahead. Officials aren't celebrating the end of the backlog yet, but they are confident they have put in place new technology and processing systems to ensure a similar backlog fiasco won't happen again.

FRA supports legislation (H.R. 2189), sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.) that would create a commission to evaluate the backlog of disability claims at the VA. The bill also directs the Joint Services Record Center (JSRC) to do a comprehensive search to determine which ships’ crews serving off the coast of Vietnam are eligible under current law for presumption coverage for exposure to Agent Orange herbicide. This would help with claims veterans are making when they are sick or, in some cases, have died and claims are made by their surviving families. The legislation has passed the House and is pending before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org) to ask their Senators to support this important legislation.

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