Former soldier frets that she may be stuck with medical bill

July 30, 2013

Sgt. Shaft

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I served in the Virginia Air National Guard and had TRICARE Reserve Select. (TRICARE is the Department of Defense’s health care system.) In October of 2012, I had some blood tests done through my doctor’s office. To my knowledge, I was covered under TRICARE Reserve Select. I had also paid for my coverage up until January of 2013.

My End of Term Service for my first six years in the Guard was Oct. 26, 2012. I had blood work done that week and Nov. 1, 2012. I was later notified January 2013 that I was no longer eligible for coverage and they would not pay the approximately $1,000 lab bill I have received.

I’m a full-time student, trying to work part-time and cannot afford this bill, nor do I think I should have to pay. No one notified me of my coverage and when it would lapse, I’ve contacted TRICARE, DEERS (Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System) and the Air Force Personnel office, and everyone says they are unable to do anything about it.

Can you be of any help or direct me to anyone? Is there anything else I can do? This is so stressful and time-consuming, I don’t know what else to do? Thank you.

Sincerely,
Lisa S.

Dear Lisa:

According to my sources at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), I’m afraid there is nothing to do under the TRICARE system. TRICARE Reserve Select is a health plan for members serving in the Selected Reserves or similar category of service.

Like an employer health plan in the civilian world, a person has to be an employee, so to speak, to be covered under the employer health plan. Once separated from the Guard, the TRICARE Reserve Select coverage ends as a result of severed service.

Shaft notes

Rep. Gus M. Bilirakis, Florida Republican and vice-chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, introduced the Perpetual POW/MIA Stamp Act, which would require the Postmaster General to issue a forever stamp featuring the National League of Families POW/MIA flag, in honor of the sacrifices of the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who are prisoners, unaccounted for, or missing in action.

“Our men and women in uniform have made great sacrifices to protect the liberty and freedom of our great nation,” Mr. Bilirakis said. “It is my hope that this stamp will serve as a constant reminder of the plight of America’s Prisoners of War and Missing in Action, and the fact that our job is not over until all service members are accounted for.”

This legislation comes after an outpouring of requests from constituents in and around Florida’s 12th Congressional District. Mr. Bilirakis and Rep. Charles William “Bill” Young, a Florida Republican, originally petitioned the USPS to do the stamp on its own. However, it declined their suggestion.

More than 83,000 service members remain missing since World War II, according to the Department of Defense. In 1982, the POW/MIA flag became the first flag other than the U.S. flag to fly over the White House in Washington, D.C.

Forever stamps were created by the USPS in 2007. They are non-denominational First Class postage. They can be used to mail First Class letters no matter the postage rate.

• Congratulations are in order for the Washington DC Veterans Affairs Medical Center for being recognized as a “Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality” in the Healthcare Equality Index 2013, an annual survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of the country’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organization.

The Washington DC VA Medical Center earned top marks for its commitment to equitable, inclusive care for LGBT patients and their families.

Medical Center Director Brian A. Hawkins said: “We are absolutely committed to a diverse and inclusive workplace, and we are honored to have a welcoming and supportive environment for all Veterans.”

Washington DC VA Medical Center was one of a select group of 464 health-care facilities nationwide to be named “Leaders in LGBT Healthcare Equality.” Facilities that are awarded this title meet key criteria for equitable care, including non-discrimination policies for LGBT patients and employees, a guarantee of equal visitation for same-sex partners and parents, and LGBT health education for key staff members.

Human Rights Campaign Health and Aging Director Shane Snowdon congratulated the Medical Center.

“LGBT patients deeply appreciate the welcoming environment provided by a ‘Leader in LGBT Healthcare Equality.’ It makes a big difference to know that your local health-care facility is fully committed to giving you the same care it gives your neighbors and co-workers,” he said.

Rep. Mike Michaud, Maine Democrat and ranking member of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, has introduced H.R. 2704, the “Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2013,” a bill he wrote to require the VA to institute a more analytical and transparent budget development process.

The bill requires a quadrennial veterans’ review to ensure the VA’s strategy will meet current and future veteran needs; and a five-year program with expected outcomes, milestones and resources. The bill also designates a Chief Strategy Officer to ensure that the planning and programming phases of the process are fully considered and implemented.

The bill was considered during a legislative hearing the committee held recently. Mr. Michaud’s opening statement at the hearing provided details of his legislation. HVAC Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican, supports the bill.

“A five-year plan would look beyond a single year’s budget and next year’s forecast. It would force the VA to accurately and fully account for the taxpayer dollars provided to it,” Mr. Michaud said. “I look forward to working with members of the committee and our veterans to make sure that the VA’s financial management process is not the result of budgeting-by-crisis.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330, call 202/257-5446 or email sgtshaft@bavf.org.