May 11, 2012

In This Issue:
1. House Committee Clears NDAA
2. House VA Committee Discusses Mental Health Staffing
3. VA Funding Clears House
4. VFW Discusses Veterans Transition
5. VA Telehealth Co-pays Eliminated

1. House Committee Clears NDAA: The House Armed Services Committee cleared their version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Because of your advocacy, the bill does not include controversial TRICARE healthcare premium fees proposed by the administration, but does make some minor changes to retail pharmacy. The cost of generic drugs will stay the same, both in retail ($5 / 30-day supply) and mail-order ($0) — however, formulary drugs purchased in retail will rise from $12 to $17 in retail, and will rise from $9 to $13 through mail order. Non-formulary drugs that are purchased without a medical necessity will rise from $25 to $44 in retail, and from $25 to $43 in mail order. Beginning in FY 2014, all pharmacy benefits will be indexed to annual retire COLA. For example, if these provisions become law and retail, non-generic formulary drugs rise to $17, a 3% COLA increase for FY 2014 would raise the cost in that year to $17.51.
Other VFW-supported provisions include:
* A 1.7% pay increase in pay and extension of bonuses and special pay for service members
* Increased oversight and new regulations and procedures for combating and prosecuting sexual assault in the military
* Cap on number of troops that can be separated from the force in a single year

For details on the entire bill, go to http://armedservices.house.gov/index.cfm/press-releases?ContentRecord_id=c1a26a15-9dd3-4658-abf2-e50d0852ba12.

The House is likely to take up the bill next week. The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to take up their version before Memorial Day after which it will be sent to the Senate floor. From there, a House/Senate conference committee will need to meet to work out their differences and send an agreement back to both houses for final passage before it can go to the President. Rest assured that we will continue to keep you informed and call up our grassroots advocates through Action Alerts to make our voice heard as the congressional process continues.

To join with us to Protect Military Benefits, click here for our Call to Action: http://capwiz.com/vfw/callalert/index.tt?alertid=61313946

2. House VA Committee Discusses Mental Health Staffing: This week, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss the findings of a recent VA Office of Inspector General report outlining serious concerns with access to mental health care within VA. At the request of Committee Chairman, Jeff Miller (R-FL) VA Secretary, Eric Shinseki, and Dr. Robert Petzel, Under Secretary for Health, testified for VA. Much of the hearing revolved around the recent announcement that VA would hire 1,900 new mental health staff — 1,600 clinicians and 300 support staff in hopes of meeting the shortfalls across the country. The committee members had many questions about the VA staffing model and whether 1,900 FTE’s is enough to address the current need. VFW intends to keep a close watch on what improvements are made in the delivery of mental health care for our veterans.
To read more about the hearing, visit our blog at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/05/house-veterans-affairs-committee.html

3. VA Funding Clears House: This week, The House Appropriations’ Military Construction and VA Subcommittee approved funding for VA and military constructions programs. The bill funds VA medical services at $41.4 billion which includes $6.2 billion for mental health care and $5.8 billion for homeless veterans programs and job training services. The bill also provides $73 million for suicide prevention, $220 million for TBI treatment and $250 million for rural health initiatives, The full committee is set to consider the bill before the Memorial Day recess. For more on the bill’s highlights, click here: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=294142

4. VFW Discusses Veterans Transition: VFW joined the Volunteers of America (VOA) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. for a panel discussion on transitional issues faced by today’s veterans. The discussion centered on efforts to advance policy to better serve the nation’s newest generation of combat veterans. Moderator, David Gregory (Meet the Press) pointed out that national media would need to play a critical role in ensuring that veterans’ issues remain at the forefront of the public conscience once the wars end. The VFW has long echoed these concerns, pointing to historical examples of how Americans can quickly forget that the cost of caring for veterans is a true cost of war.
To learn more about the event visit our blog at http://www.vfwonthehill.org/2012/05/vfw-joins-volunteers-of-america-to.html

5. VA Telehealth Co-pays Eliminated: This week, VA announced that veterans receiving VA in-home care via telehealth will no longer have a co-payment for that service. According to VA this will affect approximately 1,300 telehealth users in FY 2013 where a co-payment would have been required. VA data has shown using technology at home enables patients with chronic health conditions to live more independently while actively engaging in managing their own health care. The revised regulation is effective May 7, 2012. For more information about telehealth within VA click here: www.telehealth.va.gov/
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