FRA NewsBytes - 3-21-2014

In this issue:

House Approves Doc Fix Legislation as Deadline Looms
Social Security Speed-up of Disabled Veterans Claims
Veteran’s Use of Post 9/11 GI Bill Increasing

 

House Approves Doc Fix Legislation as Deadline Looms
Before leaving town on their week-long recess, the House approved the “SGR Repeal and Medicare Provider Payment Modernization Act” (H.R. 4015) sponsored by Rep. Michael Burgess (Tex.), which will make the “Doc Fix” permanent by repealing the antiquated Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) and replace it with a fair, stable, simplified system of physician payments for Medicare and TRICARE programs. The current temporary extension of the doc fix expires April 1, 2014. If it is not extended or replaced by a new law, doctors seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients will have their reimbursements slashed by 25 percent—a move that may force many providers to stop seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration. Members are urged to use the Action Center to ask their senators to support this legislation at: http://action.fra.org/action-center/

 

Social Security Speed-up of Disabled Veterans Claims
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently announced it will streamline its review of disability claims for veterans, reducing by weeks the process by which it determines benefits. The agency says it will expedite claims for former service members who already have been deemed fully disabled by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), eliminating much of the bureaucratic “red tape” requiring veterans to wait to get a decision about their eligibility for benefits, sometimes for years. This change would add disabled veterans to the list of high-priority groups—including service members wounded in combat—that are put at the head of the line for review.

"It's a very good result for veterans who obviously made a tremendous commitment to their country," said Rep. John Sarbanes (Md.) who has pushed for the quicker review. "They're returning from overseas conflicts and they've suffered injuries that make it impossible for them to have gainful employment."

It's not clear exactly how many people would be affected by the policy, but the SSA estimates it could be tens of thousands of veterans over time. Fully disabled veterans accounted for about 10 percent of all veterans who received disability benefits from the VA in 2012, the last year for which data are available.

Under the new policy, applicants who have been deemed 100 percent disabled by the VA are to be put on a "fast track" at virtually every step of the process. The change won't make it any more likely that veterans will receive benefits, officials say just that they'll get a decision more quickly.

For more information on this issue go to: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/disability-pt.htm

 

Veteran’s Use of Post 9/11 GI Bill Increasing
Information released from the VA indicates that the number of veterans taking advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill program is increasing. This FRA-supported legislation was enacted into law in 2008 and took effect in 2009. Since its enactment, the number of veterans using the benefit has increased by 67 percent fromfiscal 2009 to fiscal 2012—the last year data was available. In real numbers, veterans using the benefit have increased from 564,487 students in 2009 to 945,052 in 2012.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill extended education benefits to service members who have been on active duty 90 or more days since September 10, 2001, or who were discharged with a service-related disability after 30 days. It provides up to 36 months of education benefits, generally payable for 15 years following release from active duty.

A provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill also allows veterans and service members to transfer unused benefits to their children or spouses, but about 79 percent are benefits used by veterans or service members themselves, according to VA data.

The VA has recently created several tools designed to make it easier for veterans to pursue higher education. A new online complaint system, launched in January, allows student veterans to detail problems they have experienced trying to access benefits at certain universities; some schools have been accused of using deceptive tactics to boost veteran enrollment. An online “GI Bill Comparison Tool,” meanwhile, allow veterans to easily compare how they can use their benefits at different universities.

FRAis supporting pending legislation, the “GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act” (H.R. 357) that recently passed the House (390-0). This bill would require schools eligible for GI Bill education benefits to give veterans in-state tuition rates even though they may not be residents of the states where the schools are located. Because of the nature of military service, veterans often have a difficult time establishing residency for purposes of obtaining in-state tuition rates. Those who defended this nation did not just defend the citizens of their home states, but the citizens of all 50 states. As such, the educational benefits they receive from the taxpayers should reflect that fact.

Members are urged to use the Action Center to ask their senators to support this legislation at: http://action.fra.org/action-center/.

Members wanting more information about the Post 9/11 GI Bill can go to: http://department-of-veterans-affairs.github.io/gi-bill-comparison-tool/.

__________________________
NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail newsbytes@fra.org with "Subscribe" in the subject line and your name and address in the body. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number as well. To unsubscribe, please respond to this email with "unsubscribe" in the message line.

If you would like to hear a recorded version of NewsBytes, dial 1-800-FRA-1924 (ext. 112).

Follow FRA on Twitter (https://twitter.com/FRAHQ) and "like" FRA on Facebook (use the shortcut ofwww.fra.org/fb).

FRA is celebrating its 90th anniversary and is the oldest and largest association representing the interests of current and former Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel. If you are not a member and are eligible, please join FRA at www.fra.org. The larger the membership base, the louder your voice is heard on Capitol Hill!