FRA NewsBytes - 07-18-2014

In this issue:
FRA Discusses Awards and Decorations with DoD
Acting VA Boss asks for More Money and Pledges to Reform VA
IG Claims One-third of Finalized Claims Inaccurate
TRICARE and VA Dental Information

FRA Discusses Awards and Decorations with DoD
FRA staff ADLP Stephen Tassin participated in a conference call headed by the office of the Secretary of Defense. Discussion was focused on combat and valor awards to determine if the program adequately recognizes all levels of combat valor, and if award processes and authorities are properly aligned with the joint nature of warfare. Among the items discussed were the question of whether service members with PTSD and TBI should be awarded the Purple Heart, and how to best recognize service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations.

All associations on the conference call agreed that the services need guidance to ensure they are on the same page when granting awards to service members. Awards with a "V" device should have higher placement than those without a "V" device. The decision was made that the Purple Heart should not be awarded to service members with Post Traumatic Stress Depression (PTSD) since it is a disorder, not an injury. It should, however, be awarded to those with traumatic brain injury (TBI). Service members who use remote technology to directly impact combat operations should not be given special awards for their duty. Services should use the current award system to recognize those individuals.


Acting VA Boss asks for More Money and Pledges to Reform VA
The acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Sloan Gibson, testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), forcefully defended the agency’s efforts to reduce the disability claims backlog and asked for $17.6 billion in additional funding. Nearly $10 billion of the new funding would go to funding non-VA care for veterans, and $6 billion would be spent on new medical facilities. The VA plans to hire 10,000 clinical care staff and 1,500 new doctors. The acting Secretary admitted that the VA has lost the trust of veterans and the American people and that the VA has created a work environment where employees are afraid to come forward to discuss discrepancies with senior management. Secretary Gibson stated that the breach of trust involved inaccurate reporting of patient wait times for appointments was and is irresponsible, indefensible and unacceptable. During the meeting, a question was raised about how Secretary Gibson would differentiate himself from the insulated position of former Secretary
Eric Shinseki. Secretary Gibson said that he would not just be receiving information from the same group of filtered people and distance himself from the real issues. In April, the VA began a nationwide access audit to assess the integrity of scheduling practices, the adequacy of training, compliance with policy and proper use of information systems. Sloan told the committee that he will implement the recommendations of the access audit.


IG Claims One-third of Finalized Claims Inaccurate
The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) held a hearing this week to review the VA’s progress in achieving the goal of ending its disability compensation claims backlog by 2015 and explore claims of whistleblower retaliation and “cooking the books” within VBA. At the hearing, Allison Hickey, VA Undersecretary for Benefits, insisted that the claims backlog has been significantly reduced. The VA has set a goal of processing all disability claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. The VA claims that the disability claims backlog has been reduced by 55 percent, from more than 600,000 pending claims beyond 125 days early last year to 275,000 claims today. HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.) and Assistant Inspector General for the VA Linda Halliday said they don’t believe the VA’s reported statistics.

Hickey indicated that VA completed a record 1.2 million disability rating claims in 2013, and that the agency is on track to complete more than 1.3 million rating claims this year and pay a total of $67 billion in benefits. Hickey also said that more than 90 percent of the claims are being processed electronically. The IG office also reports that over a two month period, nearly one-third of the adjudicated claims were inaccurate.


TRICARE and VA Dental Information
The Defense Health Agency (DHA) recently released an eight-page newsletter for TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) enrollees. This publication includes articles about preventing dental decay through fluoride use, going green with TRICARE for benefit updates via e-mail, understanding dental anesthesia options, dental terminology 101, MetLife network dentists, preventing cavities with dental sealants, understanding your explanation of dental benefits, dealing with sensitive teeth, getting dental care when traveling, and medications that can affect oral health. A Kids’ Dental Health Fun Page is also included.

To download a copy of this newsletter, go to: http://go.usa.gov/k9xY.

The VA has also recently implemented a national dental insurance program for individuals enrolled in VA health care and in the CHAMPVA program. Premium rates will vary depending on your geographic region and the plan option you select. Three options are available: basic, enhanced and comprehensive. These plans range from about $8 for basic up to about $27 for comprehensive.

Veterans will not be getting dental care performed by the VA, but veterans must be signed up with the VA for health care to be eligible for the dental insurance plan. This is the first time that the VA has assisted veterans with dental care except for those veterans who are rated at 100 percent service-connected disability, have a service-connected disability for a dental injury, or are on the VA Vocational Rehab program.

More information can be found by going to Delta Dental at: www.deltadentalvadip.org.