Meeting Minutes for January 2014

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Meeting Minutes - Wednesday, 8 January, 2014

Call to order - 09:30, Invocation - Pledge of Allegiance -

  • Greetings: Recognition of visitors and guests - DAV MN Donor Connection Program Gerry,  Falkowski

Senator Amy Klobuchar- Tim Cossalter -    Senator Klobuchar co-sponsored legislation to repeal the reduction in military retiree COLAs in the budget agreement.

The "Military Retirement Restoration Act" would replace the cuts to military retiree benefits from the Bipartisan Budget Act by preventing companies from avoiding U.S. taxes by abusing tax havens.

The bill would:   Repeal the provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act (Section 403) that cuts benefits for military retirees.  The Bipartisan Budget Act modifies the annual cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees by making adjustments equal to inflation minus one percent.  Estimates indicate that this benefit cut could equal as much as $83,000 for an Army Sergeant First Class (E-7).  The Military Retirement Restoration Act simply repeals this provision, which would have saved approximately $6 billion over ten years.

Prevent companies from avoiding U.S. taxes.  The repeal would be fully offset by stopping companies incorporated offshore but managed and controlled from the United States from claiming foreign status and avoiding U.S. taxes on their foreign income by treating them as U.S. domestic corporations for tax purposes.  This provision is identical to Section 103 of the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act and is expected to raise over $6.6 billion over ten years.

2nd District Representative - John Kline - Chaz Johnson - Passing the NDAA allowed continued funding for Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program.

  • Of the 29 students interviewed on December 7th, 25 received nominations to the U.S. Service Academies and 4 have received appointments.  3 to Navy and 1 to Merchant Marines.
  • Unfortunately, the TRICARE Prime legislation Congressman Kline introduced (highlighted below) and passed by the House, but was not included in the Final Budget agreement.  The approved legislation only expanded the radius from 40 miles to 100 miles from a military facility.
  • Our office filed an inquiry on behalf of USMC Cpl. Ethan Nagel, who was recently awarded the Silver Star for his actions in Afghanistan.  Cpl. Nagel’s award had been stuck with the Awards Branch prior to our involvement.

H.R. 1971 - Keep Faith With TRICARE Prime Act.

The legislation would direct the Secretary of Defense to provide certain TRICARE beneficiaries with the opportunity to retain access to TRICARE Prime by allowing a one-time election to continue such enrollment in TRICARE Prime so long as the beneficiary resides in the same ZIP code as he/she did at the time of election of benefits.  Moreover, this legislation would reduce the immediate impact imposed by the new policy, allowing military retirees to make informed decisions on how to utilize their military retirement healthcare benefits.

8th District Representative - Rick Nolan- Rick Olseen - Congressman Nolan’s staff will be meeting with high school councilors about how to get more students involved in Military Academy Nights. The general feeling is students don’t know about the great opportunities they could receive if they were to go to one of the Academies.

I also spoke on the bills that Congressman Nolan has co-authored on bills supporting Veterans and the Military.

On another issue we’ve been hearing  about some serious issues with the vendor operating the C-Box Clinic in Hibbing and Ely. Have you heard anything about them?

MN Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV)- Kathy Vitalis MACV Open House at Building 47 was a success.  Also we had 26 legal clinics in 2013 serving over 1100 veterans.  Other 2013 numbers will be presented at a later date as we are compiling those now.  Legal clinics in Duluth on January 9th and next one in MPLS at the VA on January 14th.

                  3. Federal Agencies

  • VA Regional Office - RO continues to transition to a paperless environment. 
    • As of this week, 91.4% of compensation rating claims are being worked in VBMS.
    • Rating-related pension claims are now being rated in VBMS, with additional system enhancements coming throughout FY14.
  • VBA is transitioning to a national work queue model.  This will ensure Veterans in all states receive the same level of service. 
    • VBA has reduced the national backlog by roughly 32% since implementing this strategy in April 2013.
    • For the time being this workload distribution is occurring manually, with St. Paul retaining MN cases as well as accepting claims from out-of-state.
    • Priority attention continues to be placed on Fully Developed Claims, as well as homeless and other special circumstance Veterans. 
      • The RO has been completing FDCs in less than 90 days, on average, this FY.  
      • FDCs received with DBQs can be completed even faster.
  • VBA is reinstating mandatory overtime effective January 19th in support of eliminating claims pending over 125 days by December 31, 2015. 
  • Veterans received a 1.5% cost-of-living adjustment in their monthly payments beginning January 1, 2014.
  • VBA is expanding benefits for Traumatic Brain Injury - A new regulation set to take effect in 2014 says that if certain Veterans with service-connected TBI also have one of five illnesses (Parkinson’s disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures, or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands), then the second illness will also be considered as service connected for the calculation of VA disability compensation. 

VISN 23 - Mr. Chris Stomberg, Acting Deputy Network Director for the VA Midwest Health Care Network. 

Attached is the handout Mr. Stomberg used to brief members of UVLC at the meeting last week.  If additional information is needed, please let me know.

Topics covered include: 

  • VA Adds Five Illnesses Related to Service Connected TBI - The new regulation, which takes effect in January 2014, impacts some Veterans living with TBI who also have Parkinson’s disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. 
  • Veterans to Receive 1.5 Percent of Cost of Living Increase - For Veterans without dependents, the new compensation rates will range from $130.94 monthly for a disability rated at 10 percent to $2,858.24 monthly for 100 percent.  The full rates are available on the Internet at www.benefits.va.gov/compensation/rates-index.asp.
  • Minneapolis VA Psychiatrist Leads Alzheimer’s Research - More than 600 Veteran took part in a VA-sponsored trial that found Vitamin E, known for its antioxidant power,  helped slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease in Veterans with mild to moderate symptoms. 
  • Veterans Canteen Services - If you can’t find what you want at your VA Canteen Service store, Veterans and VA employees can access items from more than 70 retailers through the VCS catalog online at www.vacanteen.va.gov/OnLineCatalog.php

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Debt Management Center - Tom Grahek, Director

  • National U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, organization serving Veterans and family member nationwide from Fort Snelling for benefit billings.
  • Each month I will try to highlight one of our major areas, this month Veteran waivers of debt requests.
  • A Veteran has a right to request a waiver of a debt for Compensation, Pension, and Education over payments.  Reasons for waivers approved include financial hardship or if they feel they should not be held responsible for repayment of the debt
  • We receive around 3,000 requests for waivers each month.  Remember this is a national number not just MN.  All waiver requests must be sent to Debt Management Center.
  • A waiver should be requested in the first 30 days from the time the Debt Management Center (DMC) sends the first notice to stop debt collection action.  Wait for the letter from DMC saying money is owed and to pay before requesting a waiver.   A waiver can be requested after 30 days but it does not stop debt collection action.  Call 1-800-827-0648 for waiver questions or request a waiver. 
  • DMC will facilitate the waiver once received.  The decision makers on the waiver are the VBA, committee of waivers and compromises.   DMC then works with the COWCs of Compensation and Pension with VBA Philadelphia, Milwaukee and St Paul RO and work with VBA St Louis, Buffalo, Atlanta, and Muskogee on Education.

   Business  Meeting;
Don Rask  Treasurer’s report given, $4,103.09 Motion to accept made and 2nd.  Motion passed
Discussion was made about discounting for payment of dues for multiple years.

Old Business:
Election of Chairman and 2nd Vice.  Motion was made to nominate Ralph Donais for Chairman and Lawrence Dean for 2nd Vice. Motion was made and 2nd.  Motion was made to close nominations, 2nd, Motion passed.  Both positions were passed.

MAG brochure is in the works. 

Use web site to get committee time and dates was mentioned.