NewsBytes September 18, 2020

In this issue:
DHA Urged to Extend Grace Period for TRICARE Select
HVAC Hearing on Re-authorizing Women’s Veterans Taskforce 
Comedian John Stewart Advocating for Veteran’s Benefits 

FRA and Others Urge DHA to Extend Grace Period for TRICARE Select
The FRA and several other groups have dispatched a letter to the Director of the Defense health Agency (DHA) requesting a 12-month re-instatement period in lieu of the current 90-day re-instatement period during the implementation of new the TRICARE Select enrollment fee that will take effect Jan. 1, 2021. It is now even more essential to allow sufficient time to notify beneficiaries about the new enrollment fees, since the consequences of failing to pay are so severe. Military retirees earned their health care benefit through decades of selfless service to our nation. Missing a communication from TRICARE should not result in them losing their essential benefit. 

As noted in the Aug. 7, 2020 NewsBytes, those TRICARE Select beneficiaries under age 65 that joined the military before Jan. 1, 2018 (Group A) will be required to pay a monthly fee beginning Jan. 1, 2021. The monthly fee for an individual is $12.50 and $25 for a family. This must be done via allotment, if feasible. In order to maintain health care coverage, TRICARE Select Group A retired beneficiaries must pay their TRICARE Select enrollment fees. These and other fee increases were opposed by the FRA and were authorized by the FY2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-S.2943, P.L.114-328). The FRA opposition resulted in a smaller fee and a four-year delay. 

The DHA notes that FAILURE TO PAY WILL MEAN LOSS OF COVERAGE until the following open enrollment period. Beneficiaries who fail to set up their TRICARE Select enrollment fee payment by Jan. 1, 2021 will be disenrolled from TRICARE Select for non-payment. Those beneficiaries will have 90 days from their termination date to request reinstatement. If a beneficiary does not act, they will only be able to get care from a military hospital or clinic if space is available (i.e. all civilian health care costs will be their full responsibility).

The fees are waived for Chapter 61 retirees and their family members and survivors of deceased active duty service members. For more information about the fees please go online

HVAC Hearing on Legislation and Re-authorizing the Women’s Veterans Taskforce 
The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) recently held a hearing to re-authorize the Women’s Veterans Task Force and to discuss pending legislation. The HVAC agreed to extend the Women’s Task Force and Rep. Julia Brownley (Calif.) Chairwoman of the Task Force highlighted the wins of the task force including the passing of the FRA supported Deborah Sampson Act (H.R.2452) and looks forward to accomplishing more in the next session of Congress.

Suicide prevention and mental health were the primary focus of the discussion due to the Senate’s passing of the FRA supported Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (S.785) and sending a formal letter to the house by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) requesting the House to pass the bill. HVAC Chairman Rep. Mark Takano (Calif.) noted it will be easy to pass the Senate bill as is, but he preferred additional improvements to the bill. Ranking Member Rep. Phil Roe (Tenn.) recognized some of the insufficiencies of S.785, but he did stress the importance of passing the legislation without amendment and sending it directly to the president to be signed into law. Roe pointed out the limited legislative days left on the calendar for this session to accomplish final passage and that amending the bill would require Senate approval before sending the bill to the president. Members are encouraged to visit the Action Center to weigh on this issue. 

No Joke! John Stewart Back on the Hill to Advocate for Veteran’s Benefits 
Comedian John Stewart, who was instrumental in advocating and passing of the 9/11 first responders bill, was back on Capitol Hill trying to help veterans who have claimed health issues due to the exposure to toxins from burn pits. Stewart was there to support the introduction of two FRA-supported bills that would provide compensation and health benefits by listing burn pit exposure as a presumptive condition for any service member who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act (S.4524, H.R.8261) was introduced by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Rep. Raul Ruiz (Calif.) in the Senate and House respectively. “More than three million service members could have been exposed to toxic burn pits, yet the VA continues to deny them care by placing the burden of proof on veterans suffering from rare cancers, lung diseases, and respiratory illnesses. Congress cannot sit by as the VA ignores its duty. The bottom line is that our veterans served our country, they are sick and they need health care—period,” said Gillibrand. “The Presumptive Benefits for War Fighters Exposed to Burn Pits and Other Toxins Act will finally establish a presumptive service connection for veterans exposed to burn pits and other toxins and streamline the process for obtaining vital VA benefits.”

Stewart stated “I’m not a doctor, I’m not a scientist. But I’m also not an idiot. If you live next to a toxic smoke plume filled with cancer-causing elements, and you’re breathing it in day in and day out, it’s going to make you sick,” referring to the use of burn pits during the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT).  

The provisions of the bill include the establishment of a new list of diseases resulting from a veteran’s service as a presumptive condition. The following medical conditions are included in the proposed laws: 
  • Asthma 
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease [COPD] 
  • Cancers of any type 

Members are encouraged to use the FRA Action Center to contact their law makers to weigh in on the issue.

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