School will be starting soon and the start of school means changing traffic patterns along with increased traffic volume and congestion. With that in mind, I’d like to remind everyone to slow down and pay attention to school buses picking up or dropping off children.

In this edition there are two events for 23 August that may be of interest and information on the President’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2019. There is also information on services available to transitioning servicemembers through Military OneSource, an update on the implementation of the Forever GI Bill, information on a little-known pension benefit, and a couple of updates on some bills of veteran interest.

Richmond Veterans Job Fair

Recruit Military is holding a job fair at Richmond International Raceway (600 East Laburnum Avenue, Richmond, VA 23222) from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on 23 August for veterans, transitioning military personnel, National Guard members, Reserve members and their dependents. There are currently 43 exhibitors scheduled to attend this event. For more information and to register click here.

TRICARE Webinars

TRICARE will hold webinars on August 23rd (9 a.m. and 3 p.m.) and again on August 24th at 9:00 a.m. to discuss changes that are coming to TRICARE, including the first-ever TRICARE Open Enrollment Season; new access to the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP); and new actions retiring service members need to take to ensure they have healthcare coverage after they retire. To register for this webinar click here.

TRICARE will hold another webinar on August 23rd from 1-2 p.m. to answer questions about benefits. The “Ask TRICARE” webinar will include a panel of subject matter experts to answer your questions about TRICARE health care, pharmacy, and dental programs. Panelists will include representatives from major TRICARE offices and programs, including TRICARE For Life, Policy and Benefits, Reserve Select, Retired Reserve, Overseas Program, Pharmacy Program, and Dental Plans. To register for this webinar click here.

President signs the 2019 NDAA

The President signed the $716 billion defense policy bill for fiscal 2019 into law at the Army’s Fort Drum in New York on 13 August. During the ceremony the President called out specifics in the National Defense Authorization Act, such as the setting of military pay raise at 2.6 percent starting next January, its additions of 15,600 more troops to the armed services’ overall end strength, and a laundry list of added aircraft and ship purchases above what the White House requested.

The President also gave his pitch for a new space-focused military service and suggested the U.S. had lost its technological edge to rivals. President Trump said specifically that China created a military space organization and broadly that other nations are developing technologies to disrupt communications, blind satellites and “jam transmissions that threaten our battlefield operations.”

The President did note certain provisions of the 2019 NDAA that he felt raised constitutional issues. His signing statement on the bill may be read here.

Military OneSource

The Department of Defense announced it will extend eligibility for Military OneSource benefits from the current 180 days to 365 days after separation or retirement from military service to ensure all service members and families have access to comprehensive support as they transition to civilian life. This change goes into effect in accordance with the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2019.

Military OneSource provides information, resources and support for active-duty, National Guard and reserve service members, their families and survivors. Provided at no cost, Military OneSource gives exclusive access to programs, tools, and benefits designed to help ensure service members and their families are mission-ready and able to thrive in both their military and post-military lives. Military OneSource services are accessible 24/7, service members and family members can call Military OneSource at 800-342-9647 or go to www.militaryonesource.mil. To explore additional benefits that may be available through the Department of Veterans Affairs, click here.

GI Bill Update

The Department of Veterans Affairs has begun implementing new provisions of the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017, better known as the “Forever GI Bill.” In one of his first actions since taking the oath of office Monday, new VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said the provisions to expand GI Bill coverage were put into effect 1 August.

The VA said 15 new provisions of the GI Bill went into effect 1 August, in addition to 13 that were already in place. Among the new provisions is one making recipients of the Purple Heart awarded on or after September 11, 2001, eligible for full post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for up to 36 months, if they were not already entitled. Another new provision expands the “Yellow Ribbon Program,” in which degree-granting institutions of higher learning can agree to make additional funds available to a veteran’s education program without an additional charge to the GI Bill entitlement. This program is to be implemented by August 1, 2022. A few other of the new provisions were:

  • Military and Veteran families who have lost a family member can now reallocate transferred Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
  • Additional Guard and Reserve service now counts toward Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility.
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill students may now receive monthly housing allowance for any days they are not on active duty, rather than having to wait until the next month.

More provisions are scheduled related to science, technology, engineering and math benefit extensions; increased benefit levels; a pilot program for high-technology training geared toward “upskilling” Veterans to enter the workforce quickly. For more information, click here.

Non-Service Connected Wartime Pension Benefits

If you are a U.S. veteran who served during specific wartime periods or are the surviving spouse of one, you may be eligible for a little-known Wartime Pension Benefit. The pension is intended to provide a guaranteed minimum income for veterans over 65 or their survivors who qualify. For example: If the veteran has a countable income of $6000 per year with no deductible medical expenses and no dependents, in 2017 the VA would have provided $13,166 – $6000, or $7,166 paid in 12 equal monthly payments. The pension amount increases with the number of dependents.

Countable Income is a complex matter. For pension purposes, countable income is most sources of income received by the veteran or his/her dependents. This includes earnings, disability and retirement income, interest, dividends, rental income, net income from any business or farm, and normally any income from a dependent child. An example of an uncountable income is public assistance (such as SSI). Additionally, unreimbursable medical expenses and educational expenses can be deducted from countable income. The VA is required to deduct all income allowed by law.

A veteran or his/her survivor who is eligible for the Wartime Veterans Pension may also be qualified for the additional Aid and Attendance Supplement or the Housebound Supplement (A veteran can only be eligible for either Aid and Attendance or Housebound, not both). These supplements are paid in addition to the basic pension and provide a small additional income for persons who either need daily assistance with everyday living tasks or are substantially confined to their home. For more information on these benefits click here.

H.R. 299, Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2018

When the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee recently held a hearing regarding the blue-water Navy bill that passed the House in late June by a unanimous vote of 382-0, it did not seem as convinced as the House was about the bill. Two primary opposition points were discussed during the hearing: the “science” behind proving blue-water Navy veterans were exposed to Agent Orange and the way an expansion of benefits will be paid for.

The VA contends that Congress should not expand the presumption of Agent Orange exposure to blue-water Navy veterans because the “science” does not support it. The VA asked Congress to disregard a 2002 Australian study that found Australian sailors who served off the coast of Vietnam likely were exposed to Agent Orange. The VA’s argument to Congress was that the Australian study tested water within 12 miles of the Vietnam shoreline, while U.S. forces were instructed to draw water onto their ships only outside of 12 miles. The VA’s argument did not consider the eventuality that ships might have violated those regulations, something blue-water Navy veterans claim happened quite frequently but was not documented. The VA offered no proof to Congress that every single ship that served off the coast of Vietnam during the conflict strictly complied with the 12-mile rule. While the VA asked Congress to disregard the Australian study, it has never successfully performed a study of its own. Navy veterans contend this is not a “science” problem but rather a record-keeping problem. The Navy did not keep accurate records of where ships were taking on water off the coast of Vietnam to rule out it did not occur within 12 miles of shore. Indeed, the Institute of Medicine stated in 2011, “Given the lack of measurements taken during the war and the almost 40 years since the war, this will never be a matter of science but instead a matter of policy.” Thus, VA’s argument of “the science isn’t there” is no longer relevant and should be replaced with “the record keeping isn’t there”.

In regards to finding additional funds to pay for the presumption, it can be argued that blue-water Navy veterans were already accounted for in 1991. In 1991, Congress passed, and President George H.W. Bush enacted the Agent Orange Act of 1991, which required the VA to award benefits to a veteran manifesting specified diseases if they, “during active military, naval, or air service, served in the Republic of Vietnam.” The VA passed implementing regulations defining service in Vietnam as “service in the waters offshore” of Vietnam. In 1997, the VA general counsel opined that service offshore should be excluded from the definition, and that change made its way into the VA’s formal regulations in 1994. Congress, however, already had passed the legislation in 1991, without such a restriction and presumably the funds to cover the benefits for blue-water Navy veterans were included in the 1991 act.

S.3089, Vet Compensation COLA Act of 2018

This bill would authorize a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for veterans in receipt of compensation and pension, and for survivors of veterans who died from service-incurred disabilities and are in receipt of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). The bill would provide an increase by the same percentage as Social Security, effective December 1, 2018. Receipt of annual COLA increments aids injured and ill veterans, their families, and their survivors to help maintain the value of their VA benefits against inflation. Without COLAs, these individuals, who sacrificed their own health and their family life for the good of our nation, may not be able to maintain a quality of life in their elder years.

Military History Anniversaries

For those interested in Military History, items of interest for 1-15 September can be found here.

 

Sincerely,

Kirk Cox