Veteran Should Check Eligibility for TRICARE Prime

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I retired from active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard on June 1, 2013, after 30 years of service. I then moved to the metro Cleveland, Ohio, area. I did not apply for TRICARE Prime since I was told that on Oct. 1, 2013, all retirees in this area will be forced onto TRICARE Standard.

(TRICARE is the health care program serving uniformed service members, retirees and their families worldwide.)

I have heard that there may be changes coming that will allow existing TRICARE Prime retirees a one-time chance to keep their Prime coverage for life. Is there any truth to this rumor, and should I move as quickly as possible to get signed on for TRICARE Prime?

Thanks! Master Chief Petty Officer Robert J. (Retired)

Dear Robert:

My sources have heard of no such plan from TRICARE to allow a member to keep their TRICARE Prime if they do not meet the TRICARE Prime contract requirements. The only way to stay in TRICARE Prime is if you are approved by TRICARE to waive the drive time contract standard for Prime enrollment. See your TRICARE Benefits Counselor or the TRICARE website.

Shaft notes

• Legislation on the deteriorating state human rights in Vietnam has overwhelmingly passed by the House of Representatives.

Rep. Chris Smith, New Jersey Republican, authored the bill, called Vietnam Human Rights Act of 2013. H.R. 1897 would institute measures to improve human rights in Vietnam by prohibiting any increase in non-humanitarian assistance to the government of Vietnam above Fiscal Year 2012 levels unless the government makes substantial progress in establishing a democracy and promoting human rights.

Approved by the full House of Representatives late this afternoon in a 405-3 vote, H.R. 1897 aims for improvement in freedom of religion expression, assembly and association, as well as the release of all political and religious prisoners, as well as independent journalists and labor activists, and an end to any government complicity in human trafficking. It is believed there are an estimated 600-plus political and religious prisoners in Vietnam.

"The purpose of this bipartisan legislation is simple: to send a clear, strong, and compelling message to the increasingly repressive communist regime in power in Vietnam that says that the United States is serious about combating human rights abuse in Vietnam," said Mr. Smith who held an April 11 congressional hearing that detailed widespread abuses, as well as government officials' involvement in trafficking Vietnamese women to Russia, Jordan and other locations.

"The government of Vietnam continues to expand control over all religious activities, severely restricting independent religious practice and to repress individuals and religious groups it views as challenging their authority," Mr. Smith said, noting the rights and freedoms of Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants and other faiths, as well as journalists, are abused by the government. "There's at least 35 netizens, bloggers, journalists who write online who have been incarcerated by this dictatorship."

Mr. Smith held a congressional hearing on Vietnam in April. Smith's bill was subsequently passed by the House global human rights panel, the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, which Mr. Smith chairs, on May 15. The bill was approved in a unanimous voice vote of the full committee on June 27.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs said that veterans filing an original Fully Developed Claim (FDC) for service-connected disability compensation may be entitled to up to one-year of retroactive disability benefits.

Those benefits, which are in effect Aug. 6, 2013, through Aug. 5, 2015, are a result of a comprehensive legislative package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year.

"VA strongly encourages veterans to work with Veterans Service Organizations to file Fully Developed Claims and participate in this initiative, since it means more money in eligible veterans' pockets simply by providing VA the information it needs up front," said Allison A. Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits. "At the same time, it helps reduce the inventory of pending claims by speeding the process."

FDCs can be filed through eBenefits ( VA officials said veterans who cannot file online should work with an accredited Veterans Service Organization (VSO) who can file claims digitally on veterans' behalf.

"While submitting an FDC provides a faster decision for any compensation or pension claim, only veterans who are submitting their very first compensation claim as an FDC are potentially eligible for up to one-year of retroactive disability benefits under the newly implemented law," the VA said in a statement. "VA continues to prioritize other specific categories of claims, including those of seriously wounded, terminally ill, Medal of Honor recipients, former Prisoners of War, the homeless and those experiencing extreme financial hardship. As part of its drive to eliminate the claims backlog in 2015, VA also gives a priority to claims more than a year old."

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

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