• Bill to improve transportation services for rural veterans:

On September 8, 2017 U.S Senator Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Congressman Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) and Congressman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to help rural veterans get to and from their medical appointments more easily.
The Rural Veterans Transportation Enhancement Act will:
Expand a pilot program that reimburses veterans
and eligible beneficiaries for travelling to
Vet Centers for mental health care and counseling.
Make the Veterans Transportation Service
program, which allows local VA facilities to hire
drivers and purchase vehicles to transport veterans
to their appointments, permanent.
Extend a grant that allows Veterans Service
Organizations and State Veterans Service Agencies
to explore new approaches to provide transportation
or travel assistance.
Expedite the certification process for volunteer
drivers serving veterans through the Veterans Transportation Service program.
This legislation is endorsed by the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Assoiation, and other veteran service organization.

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• Tricare’s 2017 changes (a partial list):

Currently, Tricare operates on the October to September fiscal year for most coverages. But that changes in 2018. Starting Jan. 1, Tricare will instead operate on a calendar year. That means annual enrollment fees for some users, such as retirees, will be due Jan. 1 instead of Oct. 1, and all catastrophic caps and annual deductibles will reset on Jan. 1 instead of Oct. 1.
Many Tricare users like the freedom of switching between Tricare Prime and Standard based on their current life situations. That flexibility, however, is going away with the new Tricare Select system. Instead, users will be able to switch only during annual open enrollment or when they have a “qualifying life event
The new system, however, brings two enrollment changes for children.
First, all active-duty children newly enrolled in DEERS will be automatically put on Tricare Prime if they live near a military treatment facility or Tricare Select if they are overseas or outside the “Prime service area.”
If parents want a different plan, they must call Tricare within 90 days of birth or adoption, or wait until the next annual open enrollment period or “qualifying life event” to change plans.
If parents fail to enroll their child in DEERS before the 90-day mark, the child will be able to be seen only at on- base clinics on a space-available

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• VA to shorten benefit enrollment program window to expedite claims (

Service members will have less time to claim disability compensation before leaving the military but should get benefits faster under changes being made by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Starting Oct. 1, troops who want to resolve disability claims before leaving the military must enroll in the “Benefits Delivery at Discharge” program 90 days from separation rather than the current 60 days, the VA announced this month

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Help for veterans exposed to burn pits

Congress moved closer Monday to approving help for tens of thousands of veterans exposed to toxic “burn pits” in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The “Helping Veterans Exposed to Burn Pits Act” passed the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 but still needs to pass the House.
Health effects from exposure to chemicals found in burn pits may include cancer, neurological effects, reproductive effects, respiratory toxicity, and cardiovascular toxicity. Studies suggest that troops who worked in these areas are subject to higher rates of asthma, emphysema, and rare lung disorders.

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Senate defense bill goes for final vote

Senators are poised to approve a massive $700 billion defense bill Monday night, setting the stage for a budget fight on how to fund a major increase in military spending.
The plan, like its counterpart in the House, surpasses budget caps of $549 billion for defense spending and will require new congressional action to be enacted. Without it, the effort could trigger automatic, across-the-board budget cuts.
Opponents have already thwarted earlier efforts to lift or repeal the caps. Among them, Democrats are angling for non-defense spending increases in exchange for a larger defense deal.
“Democrats are thinking they are going to have more leverage” when a budget fight comes later this year, said Lauren Fish, a defense strategies research associate for the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security. “It’s a political game to what is a very serious budgetary problem.”
There’s plenty at stake. For example, the Senate’s version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act proposes pay raises for servicemembers, funding of new ships and aircrafts and boosting missile defense as part of a larger effort to address years of cutbacks and readiness concerns.

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Veterans Treatment Court needs your voice

The veterans’ treatment court model was established to remove veterans from the regular criminal justice process and to provide an opportunity for the veteran to address conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse disorder that that may have led to their involvement in the justice system.  In a veterans’ treatment court, the presiding judge works with the veteran and a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Veterans Justice Outreach specialist to establish a structured rehabilitation program and treatment plan that is tailored to the specific needs of the individual veteran.

S. 946, the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2017, requires the VA to hire additional Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists to ensure veterans have greater access to effective and tailored treatment.

The bill authorizes $5.5 million for each fiscal year beginning in FY 2017 through 2027 to hire 50 additional VJO Specialists.  Funding priority would be given to VA facilities that work with newly established or existing but understaffed veterans’ treatment courts.  The legislation requires annual reporting on the implementation of the bill as well as its effect on the VJO program and a mandate for the Government Accountability Office to review and report on the implementation of the bill and the overall effectiveness of the VJO program for justice-involved veterans.

DAV Resolution No. 105 notes that veterans’ treatment courts evolved from a proven national model of diversionary drug and mental health courts to address the specific challenges many wartime veterans face post service and calls for the continued growth of veterans’ treatment courts.

Please use the prepared letter to write to your Senators and request support and passage of S. 946, the Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2017.  Thank you for your efforts and support of the Commander’s Action Network.

Click the link below to log in and send your message:
https://www.votervoice.net/BroadcastLinks/S-LnlqJ1WpHgw80fs0eADQ

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 Concurrent Receipt Amendment Support:

The FRA is asking that veterans support Senator Dean Heller’s amendment to H.R. 2810 that provides for comprehensive concurrent receipt reform. This amendment provides payment of full military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation for all disabled retirees. Currently only some of the military retirees with 20 or more years of service receive concurrent receipt. Only those receiving Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) with a 50 percent or higher service-connected disability rating have concurrent receipt effective January 1, 2014. CRDP beneficiaries with less than 50 percent disability rating and also none of those medically retired with less 20 years of service (Chapter 61) are not eligible for concurrent receipt. This amendment will allow all CRDP retirees to receive concurrent receipt.

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 Welcome Home, Col. Ronald Scott:

As reported September 14 by Tom Fink for CNHI News, Air Force Col. Ronald Scott’s remains have been identified 50 years after his loss. According to DPAA, Scott was declared missing in action following an explosion during an armed reconnaissance mission over northern Vietnam in 1966. A recovery team collected material from the site in 2014. Additional recovery operations were conducted in 2015 and 2016. Remains were sent to the Central Identification Laboratory for analysis, and Scott’s remains were identified through DNA analysis, dental analysis and other circumstantial evidence. He will be honored at a graveside service in Woodlawn Cemetery, in Claremore, on Sept. 22.
Col. Scott will arrive at the Tulsa airport on Thursday, September21, 2017 where members of the Patriot Guard, Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, and others will escort Col Scott to Claremore.

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 Prescription filling options ► new express script policy:

Beginning Sept. 15, 2017, Express Scripts will need annual consent from patients who want to receive automatic refills of their maintenance medications enrolled in TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery. This means that just before one of your prescriptions runs out of refills, Express Scripts will reach out to you to know if you would like your doctor to be contacted to renew the prescription and if you’d like to continue in the Automatic Refill program. If not, Express Scripts will not refill your prescription. “This new process gives beneficiaries more control over their medications and keeps the convenience of automatic refills,” said Amy Aldighere, Express Scripts Sr. Director – DoD Program Management. “It also makes it easier to opt out of the Auto Refill program and helps to prevent beneficiaries from receiving medications that they no longer need or shouldn’t receive.”

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 VA Women Vet Programs ► H.R.2452 | Deborah Sampson Act:

Representative Elizabeth Esty introduced the Deborah Sampson Act (H.R.2452/S.681) This comprehensive measure addresses gender disparities and would improve and expand programs and services for women veterans provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
If enacted, this bill would establish a pilot program for peer-to-peer counseling and make permanent group counseling retreats for women veterans recently separated from military service. It would increase training for providers delivering gender-specific care, expand days of care for newborns from seven to fourteen, authorize medically-necessary transportation for newborns, address privacy and security issues for women in VA health care facilities and correct infrastructure issues to improve the environment of care for women. The legislation would also create a program to assist women veterans with legal services, authorize additional grants for organizations supporting women veterans with families and require data collection regarding women and minority veterans including a report on the availability of prosthetics for women veterans.

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