Monday, March 23, 2009

Under Pressure from the Major Veterans Service Organizations, President Obama Withdraws Plan to Charge Private Insurance for Treatment by VA

I have been writing this newsletter for over ten years on a monthly basis. As a result of my trip last week to Washington, DC, it is appropriate that I write a special edition which is really a follow-up to my earlier piece criticizing President Obama’s proposal to seek third party payment from private insurance veterans receiving treatment from VA for the service connected conditions.

This issue came to a boil last Monday, when the leaders of the major veterans’ service organizations met with President Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Our leadership made it very clear that this proposal was a non-starter. Going into that meeting, the VFW’s position was clear. Previously, Commander in Chief Glen Gardner stated that "It is unconscionable to pass along the costs of war to wounded and disabled veterans. This is one policy proposal that the VFW will work hard to defeat because it breaks a sacred trust that veterans have with their government.

A joint letter from the major veterans’ service organizations unambiguously staked out our position by stating:"This proposal ignores the solemn obligation that this country has to care for those men and women who have served this country with distinction and were left with the wounds and scars of that service. The blood spilled in service to this nation is the premium that service-connected veterans have paid for their earned care.” This same letter asked for a meeting with the President, VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orzag.

By the time of the Monday meeting, this issue was getting some play in the main stream media and the White House was not looking for any adverse publicity. At the conclusion of the Monday meeting, the President stated that the Administration wouldn’t go through with its proposal if the organizations remained opposed. Surprisingly, it took more than forty-eight hours and a major lobbying effort on Capitol Hill before the White House withdrew the proposal. On Wednesday, March 18, 2009 Commander in Chief, Glen Gardner presented the VFW’s legislative priorities to a Joint Hearing of the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee. Gardner opened his remarks by stating the White House’s “…proposal would lead to disabled veterans subsidizing their own injuries through increased premiums and fees as insurance companies try to find ways to pass along the added expense," testified Gardner, a Vietnam veteran from Round Rock, Texas.

"It could also make it harder for veterans to obtain and maintain private health care insurance, and it is entirely possible that this proposal could impair a veteran’s ability to obtain a job." This issue clearly resonated with the members of the Veterans Affairs committees, the Chairmen, Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) and Representative Robert Filner (D-CA) and the Ranking Members Senator Richard (R-SC) and Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN) made it clear that this proposal had no support in The Congress. Chairman Akaka stated the Obama plan was “dead on arrival”, while Chairman Filner remarked, this committee “…will not authorize such a plan…”

This was clearly a lesson in Civics 101 for the Obama Administration. America’s veterans when working together represent an incredibly strong interest group. Additionally, the President can only propose, it is The Congress that disposes. What is troubling is that the Administration’s bean counters have little respect for America’s veterans by believing that veteran’s would willingly assume the burden of paying for a disability resulting from selfless service to this country. Lastly, where was VA Secretary Shinseki? Did he or did he not raise a caution flag on this proposal? Will the man described as soldier’s soldier, really be a veteran’s veteran?

Echoing the concerns of many veterans, Mr. Gardner asked if veterans can trust VA after the revelation that 16,000 pieces of mail were shred at one Regional Office. The Commander in Chief also addressed the need for advanced funding of the VA, further traumatic brain injury research and treatment, suicide awareness and prevention, women veterans' healthcare needs, seamless transition, new GI Bill implementation, vocational rehabilitation program enhancements, military Tricare, homeless veterans and survivor benefits, among others. For a complete copy of the testimony go to

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The American Legion Strongly Opposed to President's Plan to Charge Wounded Heroes for Treatment

WASHINGTON, March 16 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The leader of the nation's largest veterans organization says he is "deeply disappointed and concerned" after a meeting with President Obama today to discuss a proposal to force private insurance companies to pay for the treatment of military veterans who have suffered service-connected disabilities and injuries. The Obama administration recently revealed a plan to require private insurance carriers to reimburse the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in such cases.

"It became apparent during our discussion today that the President intends to move forward with this unreasonable plan," said Commander David K. Rehbein of The American Legion. "He says he is looking to generate $540-million by this method, but refused to hear arguments about the moral and government-avowed obligations that would be compromised by it."

The Commander, clearly angered as he emerged from the session said, "This reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate ' to care for him who shall have borne the battle' given that the United States government sent members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. I say again that The American Legion does not and will not support any plan that seeks to bill a veteran for treatment of a service connected disability at the very agency that was created to treat the unique need of America's veterans!"

Commander Rehbein was among a group of senior officials from veterans service organizations joining the President, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and Steven Kosiak, the overseer of defense spending at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The group's early afternoon conversation at The White House was precipitated by a letter of protest presented to the President earlier this month. The letter, co-signed by Commander Rehbein and the heads of ten colleague organizations, read, in part, " There is simply no logical explanation for billing a veteran's personal insurance for care that the VA has a responsibility to provide. While we understand the fiscal difficulties this country faces right now, placing the burden of those fiscal problems on the men and women who have already sacrificed a great deal for this country is unconscionable."

Commander Rehbein reiterated points made last week in testimony to both House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees. It was stated then that The American Legion believes that the reimbursement plan would be inconsistent with the mandate that VA treat service-connected injuries and disabilities given that the United States government sends members of the armed forces into harm's way, and not private insurance companies. The proposed requirement for these companies to reimburse the VA would not only be unfair, says the Legion, but would have an adverse impact on service-connected disabled veterans and their families. The Legion argues that, depending on the severity of the medical conditions involved, maximum insurance coverage limits could be reached through treatment of the veteran's condition alone. That would leave the rest of the family without health care benefits. The Legion also points out that many health insurance companies require deductibles to be paid before any benefits are covered. Additionally, the Legion is concerned that private insurance premiums would be elevated to cover service-connected disabled veterans and their families, especially if the veterans are self-employed or employed in small businesses unable to negotiate more favorable across-the-board insurance policy pricing. The American Legion also believes that some employers, especially small businesses, would be reluctant to hire veterans with service-connected disabilities due to the negative impact their employment might have on obtaining and financing company health care benefits.

"I got the distinct impression that the only hope of this plan not being enacted," said Commander Rehbein, "is for an alternative plan to be developed that would generate the desired $540-million in revenue. The American Legion has long advocated for Medicare reimbursement to VA for the treatment of veterans. This, we believe, would more easily meet the President's financial goal. We will present that idea in an anticipated conference call with White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel in the near future.

"I only hope the administration will really listen to us then. This matter has far more serious ramifications than the President is imagining," concluded the Commander.

SOURCE The American Legion

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

South West Florida Blue Star Mothers

The first meeting of the new South West Florida Blue Star Mothers is this Saturday - March 14th, 2009 from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Please join us at this historic meeting!!

This month we will sign our Charter and by becoming a Member this Saturday, you will have the opportunity to be a Charter Member!

The meeting place is located at:

Sarasota County Fire Station, Arlington Park,
2070 Waldemere, Sarasota, FL, 34237

Meeting from 2:00-4:00 p.m. with refreshments

Here is the link to the National Association:

We are currently preparing to work on our own website and look forward it's launch once our chapter is Chartered.We gather here to serve and support our local families of active military solders and veterans!

Lets stay in touch and don't hesitate to call me or Deb Marquis anytime.

Deb Marquis, pending President 941-379-3619
Susan Chandler, pending V.P. 941-812-1551

Your with caring support,

Susan Chandler

Veterans Legislative Update - March 2009

Federal Legislative Update

Is President Obama’s Proposed Budget Good News or Bad News Veterans?

The Administration last week unveiled a preview of its budget for Fiscal Year 2010. The good news is that the Obama Administration is calling for a twenty-five million dollar increase in appropriations for the VA for the next five years. This outlay assumes enrolling approximately one half million non-disabled veterans in the VA health care system. However, the bad news is that disabled veterans will be the bill payers for this largesse. The FY 2010 budget request for VA includes a proposal that would bill veterans with private insurance for their service-connected disability treatments. The budget calls for about a $1 billion dollar increase in collections from FY 2009. We believe that the revenue projections for the proposal make up the bulk of the third-party collections increase. The Veterans of Foreign Wars vehemently opposes any attempt to pass healthcare costs on to wounded and service-connected disabled veterans. Billing a veteran's private insurance could lead to higher premiums and make it difficult for veterans and their families to obtain or retain their health insurance, as well as discourage employers from hiring disabled vets.

The VFW is asking all members as well as all Americans to contact their congressional delegations and urge them to stop this proposal from becoming a reality. This is a classic case of double speak, President Obama is calling for a national health care system which contains costs for families. Health care for disabled veterans is not a gift it was earned by their very blood, pain and suffering. We find it absolutely unconscionable that disabled veterans should bare the costs of care for non-disabled veterans. To send a message to Senator Nelson, Martinez or your member in the House of Representatives to: To read the VFW Press Release, go to:

President’s Budget Calls for Expanded Concurrent Receipt of Military Retired Pay and VA Disability Compensation-It has been a long standing goal of the VFW and the veterans' service organizations and military associations to gain full and immediate concurrent receipt. At the end of the Clinton Administration we gained some small relief under the Special Compensation for Severely Disabled Military Retirees. We made significant progress during the Bush Administration when The Congress authorized Combat Related Special Compensation and then Concurrent Disability Pay.

While these benefits were quite generous, not all disabled military retirees are eligible for concurrent receipt. Left out of the mix are those whose non-combat related disabled retirees with VA disability evaluations between 10% and 40%. For the first time in the more than twenty years we have been fighting for concurrent receipt, a President actually addressed this issue in his budget submission to The Congress. According to President Obama’s budget release, it would expand coverage to currently ineligible medically retired members who are highly disabled. No specifics are available yet, but that could mean authorizing concurrent receipt for medical retirees with less than 20 years and at least a 50% VA rating. We’ll need the details to be sure, but any expansion is encouraging news for the disabled retiree community. Having learned a long time ago, there is no free lunch, there will be a bill payer. More likely than not, the bill payer will be the reduction or curtailment of some weapon system.

Senator Bill Nelson Introduces Legislation to End Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivors’ Benefits Payments-Senator Nelson (D-FL) introduced his bipartisan bill, “The Military Retiree Survivor Equity Act” (S. 535), which would repeal the law that requires deduction of VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan annuities. The reduction can be up to $1,154 per month and affects 57,000 survivors. Please also urge your U.S. representatives to cosponsor the House companion bill H.R. 775 sponsored by Reps. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) and Henry Brown (R-SC).

Floridian Members of United States Congress are Slow to Support Bills dealing with TRICARE and VA Health Care-We have been urging the Florida delegation in the United States House of Representatives to cosponsor H.R. 816 “Military Retirees Health Care Protection Act” which prohibits the Department of Defense from increasing TRICARE enrollment fees and co-payments. We are gratified that Representative C. W. “Bill” Young (R-FL10) and Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL24) have joined in this bipartisan effort, however, we are extremely disappointed that the names of the other twenty-three members of Florida’s delegation are conspicuously absent from this bill. The VFW’s number legislative priority this year is H.R. 1016 “Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009”. If H.R. 1016 becomes law it basically establishes a two year funding stream for VA’s health care accounts thus providing VA health care a sufficient, predictable and timely appropriation to meet the needs of America’s disabled and sick veterans. We are pleased that the following Floridians are cosponsoring this bill: Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL13), Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL19) and Representative Suzanne Kosmas (D-FL24). If your representative is not one of the above three, please contact them and tell them to support Florida’s veterans by co-sponsoring H.R. 1016.


State Legislative Update

VFW’s Number State Legislative Priority Gains Support-At last year’s State Convention, the Council of Administration called for legislation which would grant an Ad Valorem tax exemption for active personnel serving in combat operations. Additionally, we called on the legislature to expand eligibility for the “combat related” Ad Valorem tax exemption. Since the last “At Your Service”, we have gained significant support for these priorities. Senators Dave Aronberg (D-27) and Mike Fasano (R-11) have introduced Senate Joint Resolution 1550 and 1934 and Representative Doug Holder (R-70) is sponsoring House Joint Resolution 1155. See the Florida VFW Action Corps Alert 5 below and take action today.

FLVFW Action Corps Alert #5

Issue: Ad Valorem Property Tax Relief for Florida’s active duty service members and veterans.

Background: This week the 2009 Regular Session of the Florida Legislature convenes. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives will consider bills which will grant a 100% Ad Valorem tax exemption to active duty service members and mobilized National Guard members and reservists while they are receiving hostile fire pay or imminent danger pay. Additionally, these bills will expand eligibility for the “Combat Related Disability” Ad Valorem tax.

Why is this important? Many of our mobilized Guard members and reservists often see their income reduced when they serve on active duty, thus, jeopardizing their ability to maintain a mortgage and pay property taxes. The proposed resolution and constitutional amendment eliminates property taxes for those service members who are in combat. In 2006 the people approved a constitutional amendment granting a discount on property taxes to veterans who have one or more combat related disabilities if they were over age 65 and entered service from the State of Florida. Our proposed legislation abolishes the pre-service residency requirement.

Action Needed: Contact your State Representatives and State Senator and tell them that those young men and women in harm’s way fighting the Global War on Terrorism deserve a property tax exemption while in combat. Additionally, our oldest veterans with combat related disabilities should receive a property tax discount. Urge them to support HJR 1155 and S.B. 1934/1550. For a by county listing of the members of the State Senate and the State House of Representatives click on these two sites or

If you have any questions, please call Legislative Chairman Lee F. Kichen at 727-319-7483.

Instant Bingo Machine Bills Introduced-When the Florida Legislature authorized “Instant Bingo” it neglected make legal the machines used to dispense “Instant Bingo” cards. We are urging you to contact your state law makers and ask them to support H.B. 1351 and S.B. 1326 which fixes this oversight.


Washington, D.C. – Congressman Vern Buchanan (FL-13) has written to Veterans Administration (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki urging him to work with Congress on legislation to improve health care for veterans by advance funding the VA budget.

“The VA has only received one on-time budget in the past 12 years,” wrote Buchanan. “Unpredictable and inadequate funding of health care for our veterans is simply unacceptable. The solution is to advance fund the VA’s budget, requiring Congress to approve a budget a year ahead of time to ensure a smooth operation of the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system.”

Buchanan has cosponsored the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act (H.R. 1016) to provide advance appropriations and ensure the 97,000 veterans in Florida’s 13th District receive the best quality health care they have earned and deserve.

“As you know, all too often in the past, funding for the VA has been approved so late in the appropriations process that it has jeopardized the delivery of quality care to our veterans,” wrote Buchanan. “HR 1016 would give the VA enough time to plan how to deliver the most efficient and effective care to an increasing number of veterans with increasingly complex medical conditions.”