Military, veterans' pay and benefit 'stocking stuffers'
Readers familiar with this column know it typically focuses on a single news development affecting a lot of military people or veterans. The strength of that approach is that a critical issue can be covered pretty well.
Sometimes, however, there are waves of news requiring a “round up” approach. In the spirit of the season, we’ll call these “stocking stuffers” but some items here are important enough to win a place under the tree.
TRICARE Reserve premiums fall
Monthly premiums for drilling reserve personnel enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) will drop by 44 percent for individual coverage and by 29 percent for families on Jan. 1.
TRS premiums for individuals will fall to $47.51 a month, down from $81. Family coverage will be $180.17 instead of $253.
Why the drop? Congress established TRS in 2005 with the intent to set premiums high enough to cover the government’s cost to offer a health insurance option to drilling Reserve and National Guard members. Until the program ran for a while, however, there was cost data on which to set premiums. Therefore, Defense officials set TRS premiums to match the federal government’s cost if it offered Blue Cross/Blue Shield coverage.
In a report released a year ago, the Government Accountability Office said TRS premiums were far too high and that DOD should lower them using TRS cost data collected to date. Defense officials balked at that, saying the data was still too uncertain. But Congress ordered the TRS premiums lowered effective in 2009.
TRS is available to Reserve and Guard personnel while in drill status, unless they are enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefit Plan. TRS coverage is similar to TRICARE Standard, the fee-for-service option for active duty families and military retirees.
Eligibility eased for traumatic injury pay
More servicemembers may qualify for Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) following a VA review of current program operations and complaints that eligibility qualifications were too restrictive.
Even program administrators for the service had complained that many more wounded members would be found eligible for TSGLI if injured servicemembers, family caregivers and medical staff better understood TSGLI.
The VA review was to determine whether additional injuries or bodily function losses should be covered, how effectively TSGLI was operating, and whether improvements could be made so more servicemembers would receive the one-time lump sum payments.
The VA findings led to clarifications in the TSGLI “Schedule of Losses” use to judge the traumatic nature of application injuries. The result is a schedule more understandable to service administrators and applicants.
“Existing TSGLI qualifying loss definitions on the schedule, such as those for sight, burns and amputations, were expanded and additional qualifying losses, including uniplegia, limb salvage, facial reconstruction, and a 15-day hospital stay, were added,” Army TSGLI officials said a release.
Officials said servicemembers who already have submitted a TSGLI claim do not need to resubmit documents. The VA as well as TSGLI offices for each service are conducting “a reachback of previously denied claims to see if they qualify for payment under the new guidance. Notifications will be sent to the servicemember if an additional award is due,” the Army press release said.
TSGLI provides tax-free payments of $25,000 to $100,000 per traumatic event to help traumatically injured members pay unseen expenses and adjust financially as they recover.
Physical disability board of review
Servicemembers medically separated since Sept. 11, 2001, now can have their disability ratings reviewed to ensure fairness and accuracy. To be eligible, members must have been medically separated with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less, and not found eligible for retirement.
The PDBR will examine each applicant’s medical separation, compare DOD and VA ratings and make a recommendation to the service secretary. A disability rating cannot be lowered in this process. Any increase approved will be effective on the date of the service secretary making a final decision.
A website with more on the PDBR is: www.health.mil/pdbr . You also can contact the PDBR by writing: SAF/MRBR, 550 C Street West, Suite 41, Randolph AFB, Texas, 78150-4743.
Air Force is lead agent for the PDBR but a joint service board will conduct the evaluations and review of each case.
Vet travel reimbursement
More than a million veterans eligible to be reimbursed for their travel to a VA health facility for care saw their mileage reimbursement jump on Nov. 17 to 41.5 cents a mile.
It was the second increase this year. In February a ridiculously low rate of 11 cents mile, which had been in place for many years, was raised to 28.5 cents. Congress approved a second increase for last month.
Veterans reimbursed for travel to get care will get more good news in the New Year. Deductible amounts that VA, by law, is required to collect on mileage reimbursements will be cut Jan. 9 back to levels in effect a year ago.
The deductible amount for a one-way trip will fall from $7.77 down to $3. The current round-trip deductible of $15.54 will be returned to $6. Also, the ceiling on deductible amounts that can be collected from any veteran in a calendar month will return to $18 from $46.62. As always, deductibles can be waived if they are shown to cause the veteran a financial hardship.