A Reader Shares a New Benefit for Vets with TBI

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

The VA recently announced a new rule that will improve access to benefits for some Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). For more information, see VA's press release (also attached) and the story below.

The regulation, now final, says that Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who are diagnosed with any of five other ailments – including Parkinson's disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands – will have an easier path to receive additional disability pay. This regulation stems from a report of the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine (IOM) regarding the association between moderate or severe levels of TBI and the five diagnosable illnesses. As Secretary Shinseki said, "We decide Veterans' disability claims based on the best science available."

Very respectfully, Drew Via the internet

Dear Drew,

Thanks for keeping my readers up to date on the new TBI regulations and potential entitlement to benefits.

Shaft Notes

• Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) recently voted in support of the annual National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. The must-pass bill is a compromise between the House- and Senate-passed versions, and passed the House of Representatives today by a vote of 350-69.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard worked on and supported several crucial provisions in the final bill, including more than $400 million for military construction projects in Hawai'i and improvements to the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) programs for Iraqi and Afghan citizens who worked as interpreters working with the U.S. military overseas.

"This final bipartisan Defense bill demonstrates a commitment to Hawai'i's strategic importance in the Pacific and provides for good jobs across our islands," said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. "This year's bill also continues support for missile defense and provides resources for the protection of Hawai'i and the mainland from emerging threats around the globe. By improving the Special Immigrant Visa program, the bill recognizes the commitment of the U.S. to the Iraqi and Afghan citizens who put their lives on the line to help our troops overseas. It also will maintain our commitment to Hawai'i's selfless veterans by allowing a one-time chance for certain beneficiaries who live within 40-100 miles of a military medical facility to stay on TRICARE Prime, which is critical for our neighbor island residents.

"While it is disappointing that the Military Justice Improvement Act was not brought to a vote in either the House or Senate this year, I am encouraged by the progress made on the issue of sexual assault in our ranks and the many provisions that were included in the Defense bill."

NDAA Highlights:

  • Military Construction (MILCON): Provides more than $400 million in funding or Hawai‘i military construction projects.
  • TRICARE: Provides a one-time opportunity for certain beneficiaries who live within 40-100 miles of a military medical treatment facility and have not moved to remain on TRICARE Prime. This is a provision that is critical to serve our neighbor island veterans.
  • Rebalance to the Pacific: NDAA reflects the U.S. commitment to the rebalance, but Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard will work to ensure that sufficient resources are dedicated to carry out the renewed focus on the Asia-Pacific region.
  • Missile Defense: Authorizes $9.5 billion for missile defense programs and authorizes funds for a new radar aimed at identifying missile launches from North Korea.
  • Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC): Prohibits a new round of BRAC cuts.
  • Iraqi and Afghan Interpreters: The bill extends and improves the Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa program and makes improvements to the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program. During House consideration of the NDAA earlier this year, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard introduced an amendment to strengthen and reform the backlogged SIV program for Iraqi and Afghan citizens who have bravely served alongside American troops during war. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard spoke in support of the measure on the House floor and it later passed with an overwhelming vote of 420-3.

• The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. announced its 2014 Legislative Priority Goals for the second session of the 113th Congress. Each year the VFW outlines its priority goals to maintain and improve quality of life and benefit programs for service members, veterans and their families. The 2014 priority goals are based on resolutions approved at this year's 114th VFW National Convention in Louisville, Ky.

The new priority goals include advocating for advance funding for all Department of Veterans Affairs programs; protecting quality of life programs for military veterans, service members, retirees and their families; improving transition assistance programs for separating service members and veterans; and continued oversight and improvements to the VA disability claims system.

"For more than a century, veterans' advocacy has been a cornerstone of the VFW's service to our fellow veterans," said VFW National Commander William A. Thien, "and our advocates will continue to fight in 2014 to help ensure veterans, service members and their families aren't used to balance the federal government's budget."

Among the many VFW successes over the past year were critical improvements to VA's consumer resources for student veterans, the creation of a new Stolen Valor Act and the reinstatement of military tuition assistance programs, but VFW advocates know there are still many challenges to overcome in the new year, such as efforts to change the military retirement system, reduce retiree and medically-retired pay, close stateside commissaries, and other threats to veteran and military quality of life programs and benefits.

In 2013 alone, VFW's Action Corps generated tens of thousands of e-mails and phone calls to every congressional office, and their grassroots advocacy will required even more in 2014.

"VFW advocates must remain ever vigilant and continue to make sure their elected officials and the public never forgets the service and sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform and their families," said Thien.

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.

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