Topics in This Week's News Include:
Here's The News!!!
1. HASC Seeks to Improve Support to Wounded and Families:On March 20, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved by avote of 59-0 H.R. 1538, the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act of 2007. Thebill moved quickly from introduction by Representative Ike Skelton(D-MO, 4th) on March 15 to Full Committee approval and placement on theHouse calendar. The bipartisan legislation was designed to addressissues recently highlighted by reports of administrative problems andunfavorable living conditions experienced by wounded service members asoutpatients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The bill addressesimprovements to the management of medical care, personnel actions, andquality of life issues for members of the Armed Forces who arereceiving medical care in an outpatient status.
The bill would provide staff, training and oversight to ensurequality care, reform administrative processes for the disabilityevaluation system, and seamless transition. The bill addresses:
- Improvements to medical and dental care for service members assigned on outpatient status,
- Establishment of a toll-free hot line for reporting medical-related deficiencies,
- Requirement for a 96 hour investigation and response time for all deficiency reports,
- Notification of appropriate Members of Congress about combat wounded service members' hospitalization,
- Assignment of an independent Medical Advocate for service members before Medical Evaluation Boards,
- Establishment of training and workload requirements for Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officers,
- Establishment of a standardized training program for the Department of Defense (DoD) Disability Evaluation System,
- Requirementfor improved training for health care professionals, case managers andService Member Advocates on conditions particular to recovering woundedservice members,
- Establishment of criteria for a service member's removal from the Temporary Disability Retired List,
- Establishmentof a pilot program to improve transition from DoD to the Department ofVeterans Affairs (VA) upon retirement or separation,
- Establishment of a medical support fund to enhance funding for mandated programs,
- Requirement for an annual report on the adequacy, suitability and quality of military Medical Treatment Facilities,
- Requirement for a joint DoD/VA evaluation of the Disability Evaluation systems,
- Establishmentof an oversight board for wounded service members on medical care,quality of life, administrative processing, and family programs, whichwould provide advice and counsel to make DoD programs more efficientand effective.
NMFA supports the Wounded Warrior Assistance Act of 2007. We arepleased how quickly Members from both parties in the House ArmedServices Committee worked together to draft, introduce, and approvethis much-needed legislation. NMFA believes this legislation, ifapproved by the full Congress, will certainly provide needed changes toimprove the quality of care, provide trained staff to help woundedservice members and their families navigate a complex medical system,and provide oversight of the entire system's processes. NMFA willfollow this legislation closely to ensure the bill's intent to assistwounded service members and their families and improve care and betternavigate the system stays intact, and that it does not createadditional layers of bureaucracy in an already complex health caresystem and administrative processes. (Source: http://armedservices.house.gov/apps/list/press/armedsvc_dem/WW_PR_032007.shtml)
2. House Adds Health Care Funds to Appropriations Bill:On March 23, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 1591, theEmergency Supplemental Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2007. As wereported in last week's Government and You E-News, the bill contains anamendment, which would prevent any funds from being used to closeWalter Reed Army Medical Center. Committee Members were concerned overthe ability of two Department of Defense military treatment facilities'(MTFs), the National Naval Medical Center Bethesda and the new FortBelvoir slated to take over Walter Reed's patient care services, to becompleted on schedule and provide appropriate treatment for woundedservice members as Walter Reed closes.
Congress chose to close Walter Reed when it approved the BaseRealignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission report in 2005. It wasdetermined operating two MTFs within 10 miles of each other was aninefficient use of resources. The solution was to expand the NationalMedical Center Bethesda campus and build a new hospital at FortBelvoir. As stated last week, NMFA hopes Congress will fast-trackfunding to facilities affected by BRAC and direct DoD to examine howcare can be expanded at other MTFs to ensure wounded service membershave the care they need and deserve.
The bill would also provide:
- $1.7 billion in additional funds for Defense Health Care, include:
- $450 million for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder/Counseling
- $450 million for Traumatic Brain Injury care and research
- $730 million to prevent health care fee increases
- $20 million to address Walter Reed problems
- $14.8 million for burn care
- $1.7 billion in additional funding for Veterans' Health Care:
- $550 million to address maintenance backlog at VA medical facilities
- $250 million for medical administrative personnel
- $229 million for treating increasing veteran population
- $100 million to allow the VA to contract with private mental health care providers
- $62 million for claims processing for returning veterans
- $3.1 billion to fully fund FY 2007 BRAC needs
- An additional $17 million for the DoD Family Advocacy Program
- $2.3billion to fully fund the cost of fielding an additional 36,000 ArmySoldiers and 9,000 Marines and $720 million for related militaryconstruction costs, and
- An additional $1.4 billion for Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
The bill also includes controversial provisions that would set unitreadiness standards for deployments and require DoD to adhere tostandards for both the length of deployment and service members' timeat home between deployments. It also establishes a timeline for endingthe U.S. military's participation in the war and military and politicalbenchmarks for the Iraqi government and its forces. In his weekly radioaddress on March 24, President George Bush stated he would veto theHouse-approved bill as passed and urged Congress to pass a bill withoutthe deployment restrictions. The Senate is set to debate the bill thisweek.(Source: http://appropriations.house.gov/pdf/08SuppSummary.pdf; http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=32575)
3. Task Force Seeks Input from Wounded Service Members and Families:Recently, President Bush asked Secretary of Veterans Affairs JimNicholson to create an Interagency Task Force on Returning Global Waron Terror Heroes following recent concerns surrounding conditions atWalter Reed Army Medical Center. This inter-agency group is comprisedof the Secretaries of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Labor, Health andHuman Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Education, alongwith the Director of the Office of Management and Budget andAdministrator of the Small Business Administration. The group is leadby the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson.
The Task Force website, www.va.gov/taskforce,provides the means to solicit input from active duty service members,veterans, their family members and others on accessibility, timelinessand the ease of accessing federal services. Comments can also bee-mailed: TFHeroes@va.gov, faxed to 202-273-9599 or, mailed to:
Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror HeroesC/O Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy and PlanningDepartment of Veterans Affairs810 Vermont Avenue, NW (008)Washington, DC 20420
The Task Force must complete an action plan in 45 days from itsestablishment on March 6, 2007. The final report is due June 30, 2007.The Task Force will:
- Identify and examine existing federal services being provided toOperation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom service members
- Identify gaps in the services
- Obtainrecommendations from federal agencies who provide services and benefitsto OEF and OIF service members on ways to fill identified gapseffectively and quickly using existing resources
- Ensure appropriate federal agencies are cooperating and effectively communicating through formal and informal channels
NMFA is pleased with the early progress of the Task Force in settingup this website and providing for other contact methods. Participationby wounded service members, veterans and their families will becritical in the Task Force's ability to accurately identify gaps inservices, access to care and communication issues. (Source: http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1312)
4. Active Duty Wounded Service Members to Share Stories:The National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee Chairman John F.Tierney (D-6th/MA) has requested e-testimony from wounded servicemembers and their families. He is interested in hearing about theirtreatment, administrative processes, and housing at DoD militarytreatment facilities (MTFs) and the VA medical facilities. The decisionto collect these stories was in response to his Subcommittee's first ofa series of field hearings held at Walter Reed Army Medical Center onMarch 5, 2007. Other follow-on hearings will examine the quality ofcare issues facing active duty service members and their families inorder to determine the systemic nature of this issue within the DoD andVA health care systems. A space on Congressman Tierney's website wascreated to collect these stories at: http://www.house.gov/tierney/IMA/veteranfeedback2.shtml or, you can send a letter to:
The Office of Representative John F. Tierney17 Peabody SquarePeabody, MA 01960
NMFA applauds Congressman Tierney's initiative in gatheringinformation on this vital subject. We are concerned the field hearing'sfindings regarding the treatment, administration processes and housingat Walter Reed are not unique. We will continue to monitor these issuesand look forward to the findings of future field hearings.(Source: Press Release http://www.house.gov/tierney)
5. SAT/ACT Power Prep Offer Extended:Thousands of military families have already benefited from free SAT/ACT Power Prep software. For the past two years, through the generosityof NFL players associated with Victory Sports Group (VSG), militaryfamilies have been eligible to receive a $199 test preparation programfor $9.95, the cost of shipping and handling. The program is scheduledto end July 2007. However, families may now use the program for anentire year even if the program is requested on the last day of thesponsorship.
To obtain this special pricing, family members must access the offer through the DoD Military Homefront website, http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/portal/page/itc/MHF/MHF_DETAIL_0?current_id=22.214.171.124.0.0.0.0.0
After verifying military status, the DoD website will forward theuser to the external VSG website where the order will be processed. Formore information on the program visit the website at http://sat.eknowledge.com/. Questions regarding the program should be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org.