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VA advises veterans on health-care reform changes

With the onset of President Barack Obama’s health-care reform, the Affordable Care Act, VA has developed a communication plan on how the new law will affect veterans. Last week, Roscoe Butler, the assistant director for health care, attended VA’s quarterly update meeting for veterans service organizations.

At the meeting, Maame Frimpong, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Department of Justice, indicated that there are concerns that a number of people may try to take advantage of elderly citizens and veterans by creating deceptive ploys and charge them for unnecessary services. The Department of Justice will be closely monitoring this, Frimpong said.

Lynne Harbin, deputy chief business officer at VHA, said her office has been trying to understand the law’s impact on veterans, other beneficiaries, and the VA health-care system. Enrollment in VA health care, CHAMPVA and spinal bifida programs meet the minimum essential coverage standards. She indicated VA has developed a communication plan, which includes:

• Releasing two education training modules for VA employees and over 17,000 employees have completed these training modules through VA’s Talent Management System (TMS).

• Expanding call center hours. The call center — (877) 222-8387 — is available 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday (Eastern).

• Launching an interactive website and health benefit explorer tool where veterans and other eligible beneficiaries can obtain information about ACA and VA health-care benefits. The mailing includes a fact sheet about ACA. All enrolled veterans should receive their letter by Oct. 1.

• Starting direct-mail campaigns to target non-enrolled veterans, e.g., uninsured, low-income, enrollment eligible.

• Mailing 7.5 million letters to enrolled veterans and 166,000 letters to non-enrolled veterans.

Legionnaires can learn more about VA and ACA by viewing MyVeHC Campus Session 138098 "VA and the Health Care Law – Affordable Care Act (ACA)."

In other news:

Helping homeless veterans: Home Depot and The American Legion have teamed up to help homeless veterans in Harrisburg, Pa. On Sept. 24, a house on the 1100 block of Second Street in Harrisburg was being turned into a home for homeless veterans. This renovation is a collective effort between Home Depot and The American Legion. This house, the eighth such project in Pennsylvania, will be for veterans who have already gone through rehabilitation, but don’t have the money for a house. This will be a transitional home for 18-24 months until the veteran can get on his or her feet. "You don’t become homeless overnight. It takes a long time to get there. And in that span you lose a lot, and the worst is self-respect. So, you’ll do anything and everything to survive. And this gives them a sense of self-worth and it just escalates from there," said Richard Coccimiglio with The American Legion. Home Depot and The American Legion hope to have this project finished by Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

Soldier for Life: The Economic Division met Sept. 23 with the incoming special assistant to the chief of the Army and director of the U.S. Army Soldier for Life, as well as other senior leadership for U.S. Army Soldier for Life, to discuss the continue relationship between The American Legion and new incoming leadership of U.S. Army Soldier for Life. This discussion covered topics that ranged from education, employment, homeless veterans, job fairs, and connecting transitioning servicemembers to local Legion post resources. Future meetings between our two organizations are being planned.

The Soldier for Life Office takes a holistic approach to the military life cycle career of a soldier. This office ensures soldiers reintegrating stay strong so they remain Army Strong serving their communities after they leave the Army. This office and the U.S. Army’s strategic imperative of sustaining the All Volunteer Army is directly affected by how well the veterans reintegrate back into their communities.

Encouraging legislation: On Sept. 26, Legislative staff met with the office of Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick or Arizona to promote H.R. 2906, the Fairness to Veterans for Infrastructure Investment Act. This bill would provide veterans with access to existing contracting preferences authorized for transportation projects. The bipartisan legislation is sponsored by Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Cheri Bustos of Illinois; The American Legion is working to help these sponsors gain co-sponsors for the legislation. Read more here.

Letters of support: The American Legion has sent three recent letters of support to members of Congress. The details:

• On Sept. 19, a letter was sent to Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania, expressing support for draft legislation, entitled the Student Veterans Priority Enrollment Act. This measure ensures that colleges and universities that receive federal tuition payments grant priority enrollment to those individuals who qualify for either DOD or VA education benefits.

• On Sept. 27, a letter was sent to Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia for House Resolution 36. This legislation establishes a select committee to investigate and report on the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Resolution.

• Also on Sept. 27, our organization sent a letter to Rep. Judy Chu of California, for draft legislation, titled the Veterans Educational Counseling Transparency in Opportunities and Resources (VECTOR) Act of 2013. This legislation will improve the academic and vocational counseling options available to student-veterans. The legislation requires the VA to differentiate between educational counseling that all GI Bill users are entitled to, and the Voc Rehab program. It further requires VA to let veterans know they are entitled to this "basic" educational counseling, and to provide information on how to apply for it, prior to the veteran applying for GI Bill benefits. Finally, it would allow veterans to apply for benefits through the eBenefits portal. Resolution.

Claims: During the week ending Sept. 20, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 128 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 68.7 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 33 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 65 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims that mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 23 (18.0 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA update: The identification of Army Cpl. Armando Alvarez, 31st Regimental Combat Team (RCT), was officially announced Sept. 23, 2013. While advancing along the eastern side of the Chosin Reservoir, from Nov. 27 to Dec. 1, 1950, in North Korea, the Chinese People’s Volunteer Forces (CPVF) encircled and attempted to overrun the U.S. position. As the battle continued, the 31st RCT, known historically as Task Force Faith, began a fighting withdrawal to a more defensible position. Following the battle, Alvarez was reported missing on Dec. 2, 1950.

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