Veterans to learn COLA increases soon

Military retirees and veterans with service-connected disability compensation will know their 2014 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) later this week.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics will announce September’s Consumer Price Index (CPI) on Oct. 30. That number is the final data point needed to calculate the 2014 COLA for military and federal retirees, as well as for those receiving veterans’ benefits and Social Security beneficiaries. The 2014 COLA is likely to be around 1.5 percent. If so, the increase would amount to about $17 per month. The 2014 increase would take effect on Dec. 1 and would start in January 2014 payments.

The average of the July, August and September consumer price numbers, along with the average figure from the third quarter of 2012, are used to calculate the 2014 COLA. The annual COLAs are based on the percentage increase in the average Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) for the third quarter of the current year over the average for the third quarter of the last year in which a COLA became effective. The CPI-W measures price changes in food, housing, gasoline, and other goods and services.

The American Legion is closely following Congress and President Barack Obama because they have been considering switching to a different formula for determining COLAs for retirees and beneficiaries which will result in less money for these people over time.

The proposed change is known as the "chained CPI" and has arisen during deficit reduction talks over the past few years. The American Legion argues, in part, that for military retirees and beneficiaries, the chained CPI does not properly account for how much retirees and disabled veterans actually spend on their health care. See related resolutions here and here

In other news:

Top spots for veterans jobs: If you were ever curious about where veterans are most likely to find work, has compiled a list of the top five cities that are actively hiring veterans.

1. Hampton Roads, Va. (Virginia Beach, Newport News, Norfolk): In looking for a hub of military-related civilian activity, you could do worse than Hampton Roads, Va. The area boasts the highest concentration of military infrastructure on the East Coast with three Army bases, Department of Defense agencies, naval installations, and seven top defense contracting companies. Many of these locations do require civilian workers to operate, and veterans enjoy a boost to their employability when it comes to federal jobs.

2. San Diego, Carlsbad, San Marcos, Calif: The greater San Diego area is one of the best places for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and California features the largest population of veterans in America. Not only will you likely find a supporting community, the dense military presence offers plenty of opportunities for federal employment at high income brackets. Even if you prefer to tackle the private sector, San Diego is a booming location for biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, and IT security.

3. Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Texas: There isn’t a prevalent military presence in the area, but plenty of companies that are contracted by the military have offices there. The industries range from defense contracting to providing new hardware, but all of them contribute and usually have a good history hiring veterans. Even if the military-friendly doors are barred for one reason or another, with 10,000 corporations, there are plenty of job opportunities.

4. Tuscon, Ariz.: Tuscon provides a strong balance between military operations, private companies and veteran-owned businesses. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and For Huachuca both provide civilian employment opportunities, and successful companies like Boeing, Honeywell and General Dynamics all operate in the area.

5. Huntsville, Ala.: Defense contractors abound in Huntsville, which means great job opportunities for returning veterans. Coined "Rocket City," Huntsville hosts more than 60 federal agencies and organizations that produce defense, space, missile and aviation technology. Furthermore, numerous businesses have sprouted around those industries to support their growth, so there should be employment opportunities for everyone.

TRICARE beneficiaries: Under President Barack Obama’s health-care law, people must have health coverage that meets a minimum standard (called "minimum essential coverage") by Jan. 1 or qualify for an exemption; otherwise, they may be required to pay a fee if they have affordable health care options but remain uninsured. Because of this requirement for insurance that meets a minimum standard; many TRICARE beneficiaries have been asking how this new law affects them and their families.

The answer for most beneficiaries is the Affordable Care Act will have little impact on them due to having their TRICARE benefits. The biggest change is (as of now) that they will have an extra box to check on their federal income tax forms due every April.

Beneficiaries receiving TRICARE benefits - whether at no cost, by electing to pay an enrollment fee, or by paying monthly premiums - have the "minimum essential coverage" required under the ACA. This includes: TRICARE Prime, Prime Remote and Standard; TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS); TRICARE Young Adult (TYA); TRICARE Retired Reserve (TRR); and the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). Please note that eligibility for premium-based TRICARE benefit plans - TRS, TYA, TRR and CHCBP - does not constitute minimum essential coverage. Eligible beneficiaries must purchase and be in good standing, by paying their premiums to have coverage in force, in order for these TRICARE programs to qualify as minimum essential coverage. [TRICARE for Life beneficiaries also have Medicare B and thus are covered.]

There are two groups of TRICARE beneficiaries who do not meet the minimum essential coverage requirement: those getting care for line of duty only related conditions, and those only eligible to receive care in military hospitals or clinics.

Beginning with the 2014 income tax season, and every tax year after that, the Department of Defense should send every TRICARE beneficiary the same information it sends the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This notification will detail whether sponsors and their dependents had minimum essential coverage during the previous year. Sponsors can then use this information when they file their income tax forms. Because the information sent to the IRS is generated using beneficiaries’ Social Security Numbers, it is essential sponsors make sure their family’s Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) information is correct and up to date.

U.N. disabilities treaty: On Oct. 21, Legislative staff continued working with several sister veteran service organizations (VSOs) to lobby for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), better known as the Disabilities treaty. The effort is being led by Vets First and includes VFW, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), Blinded Veterans of America (BVA), and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

The HAVEN Act: Legislative and Economic division staff last week met with the staff of Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada to discuss H.R. 385, the HAVEN Act. This legislation would direct the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to establish a pilot program to award grants to nonprofit organizations that primarily serve veterans or low-income individuals. Legislative staff is working with the VA&R and Economic divisions to prepare for a Senate hearing being conducted on Oct. 30 to discuss 35 proposed bills. These measures include issues relating to VA health care, claims filing, electronic health records, veteran employment, burial benefits and a host of other provisions.

TBI/PTSD meeting: Past National Commander William Detweiler, TBI/PTSD chairman, and staff from the Veterans Affairs & Rehabilitation Division met with staff of the VA Office of Research and Development. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the findings of The American Legion’s TBI and PTSD Committee and understand what complementary and alternative research initiatives were being conducted. VA will be sending a list of all studies on TBI and PTSD that will shared with the TBI and PTSD Committee.

Claims: During the week ending Oct. 18, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 59 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 95 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 19 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 37 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 1 (1 percent) was outright denied.