Wednesday, January 02, 2008

NYC Metrovets News

This Newsletter Includes the Following Articles:

· New VA Secretary
· 2008 VA COLA
· VA “Aid and Attendance” Benefits
· DFAS 1099-R for 2007
· VA CWT Program No Longer Taxable
· VA Claim Tips
· Editorial: Long Road Looms for VA
· Veteran Roundtable in NYC (Mental Health)
· Free Anheuser-Busch Theme Park Admission
· Scholarship for Spouses
· Miscellaneous
· My Final Thoughts

NEW VA SECRETARY: The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee endorsed James Peake’s nomination unanimously as Veterans Affairs secretary and the Senate then confirmed him by unanimous consent. In a ceremony on December 20, Peake was sworn in by President Bush as the nation’s sixth Secretary of Veterans Affairs.

Retired Lt. Gen. Peake, 63, the son of a medical services officer and Army nurse, has spent 40 years in military medicine. He retired from the Army in 2004 after being lead commander in several medical posts, including four years as Army Surgeon General. President Bush said one of Peake's first tasks would be to continue to implement recommendations of the presidential commission on veterans care chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

The recommendations include aggressively treating post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, streamlining VA processes and strengthening support for families. Widely supported by both Democrats and Republicans, Peake has promised lawmakers that he would be an independent advocate for veterans and get needed funding for their care.

The favorable Senate vote came after Peake assured lawmakers that he would learn from past VA mistakes by placing more medical staff at VA clinics and budgeting better to meet the agency's needs. He also promised to find other ways to retain senior VA officials than awarding lucrative performance bonuses each year regardless of merit. More than 5.5 million veterans are expected to receive care this year in VA’s 153 hospitals and 900 clinics. VA also provides disability compensation and pensions to 3.5 million veterans and family members, and operates 125 national cemeteries. [Source: AP, 16 Dec 07]

2008 VA COLA: Millions of veterans and eligible family members will see their disability compensation, pension, and survivors’ benefits increased as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides an annual cost-of-living increase for key benefits. A recent law signed by President Bush provides a 2.3% increase in disability compensation and survivors’ benefits. Eligible veterans and family members will see this increase starting in their January 2008 checks.

Under the veterans’ disability compensation program, tax-free payments will generally range from $117 to $2,527 per month depending on the degree of disability. Special payments up to $7,232 per month apply to the most severely injured veterans. Pension disability benefits will also be increased by the same percentage and effective on the same date. The maximum annual rate for permanently and totally disabled veterans or veterans over age 65 can range from $11,181 to $18,654, based on household income and whether veterans are in need of help with activities for daily living.

This increase also applies to survivors of veterans who died in service or from a service-connected disability. Dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) survivors’ benefit payments can range from $1,091 to $2,499 per month. Survivors of wartime veterans receiving death pension are also entitled to an increase. The maximum annual payment rate for a surviving spouse can range from $7,498 to $11,985. Benefits under this program are intended to bring an eligible spouse’s income to a level established by law. Under each benefit program, additional allowances may be payable for helpless, minor or school age children. For more information about VA benefits and services, refer to VA’s website at: or call 1-800-827-1000. [Source: VA News Release 31 Dec 07]

VA “AID AND ATTENDANCE” BENEFIT: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is once again reaching out to inform wartime veterans and surviving spouses of deceased wartime veterans about an under-used, special monthly pension benefit called Aid and Attendance.

This Special Pension (part of the VA Improved Pension program) allows for Veterans and surviving spouses who require the regular attendance of another person to assist in eating, bathing, dressing, undressing or taking care of the needs of nature to receive additional monetary benefits. It also includes individuals who are blind or a patient in a nursing home because of mental or physical incapacity. Assisted care in an assisted living facility also qualifies.

Many families overlook this important benefit with Veterans or surviving spouses who need additional monies to help care for ailing parents or loved ones. This is a "pension benefit" and is not dependent upon service-related injuries for compensation. Most Veterans who are in need of assistance qualify for this pension. Aid and Attendance can help pay for care in the home, nursing home or assisted living facility. A Veteran is eligible for up to $1,519 per month, while a surviving spouse is eligible for up to $976 per month. A couple is eligible for up to $1,801 per month. To be eligible the veteran must have served during one of the following periods:

• World War II: December 7, 1941 through December 31, 1946
• Korean War: June 27, 1950 through January 31, 1955
• Vietnam War: August 5, 1964 (February 28, 1961, for veterans who served “in country” before August 5, 1964), through May 7, 1975
• Gulf War: August 2, 1990, through a date to be set by law of Presidential Proclamation

The VA must determine that your net worth is such that it will probably not support you through the remainder of your life. The VA does not include primary residence or vehicles when determining net worth.

To qualify you must have a “countable income” of less than the pension amount to be eligible for all or a portion of the pension. Countable Income is the amount of income a veteran or surviving spouse receives each year, AFTER deducting all un-reimbursed, recurring health care expenses. This includes assisted living costs, home health care, insurance & Medicare premiums, on-going pharmacy costs and more.

If you have dependents, their health care costs can also be used to reduce your countable income. However, their income must also be added into the equation. There are three levels to the Improved Pension program: Basic Pension, Housebound, or Aid & Attendance. Each tier has its own level of benefits and qualifications. If you or your loved one does not qualify for Aid and Attendance, you may want to check to see if you qualify for another level of the Pension. For more information, visit Veteran Aid at: [Source: Veteran, Dec 07]

DFAS 1099-R FOR 2007: Beginning January 2, 2008, tax statements for 2007 will be mailed by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Your electronic 1099R for 2007 is available on myPay at:

If you do not have a PIN for accessing myPay, you can obtain one by clicking on the New PIN button on the myPay website at the web address shown above to receive a temporary PIN. If you have any questions concerning MyPay, please call our contact center toll-free at: 1-888-DFAS411 or 1-888-332-7411. If you have any questions regarding the information on your 1099R, please call 1-800-321-1080. [Source:, Various, 12 Dec 07]

VA CWT PROGRAM PAYMENTS NO LONGER TAXABLE: Payments under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Compensated Work Therapy program are no longer taxable and disabled veterans who paid tax on these benefits in the past three years can claim refunds, the Internal Revenue Service said recently.

Recipients of CWT payments will no longer receive a Form 1099 from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the IRS said. Disabled veterans who paid tax on these benefits in tax-years 2004, 2005 or 2006 can claim a refund by filing an amended return using IRS Form 1040X. According to the VA, more than 19,000 veterans received CWT in FY 07.

The IRS said it agreed with a U.S. Tax Court decision issued earlier this year, which held that CWT payments are tax-free veterans' benefits. In so doing, the agency reversed a 1965 ruling, which held that these payments were taxable, and required the VA to issue 1099 forms to payment recipients.

In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. [Source: Cornell Law, Various, 31 Dec 07]

USERRA UPDATE: A recent Pentagon study reports that about four in ten returning civilian soldiers filing complaints against their employers are dissatisfied with the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) response to their requests for help. And even though the number of actual employee complaints is going down slightly, companies still lack sufficient knowledge of the reemployment rules. The study found that 44% of the returning Reservists and National Guard members who filed a complaint under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) were dissatisfied with the government’s handling of their cases in 2006, compared with 27% in 2004. Roughly one-third said the Department of Labor’s response was not prompt. In addition, about one in four (23%) said they could not find a job because their previous employers did not promptly rehire them as required by law.

Other findings in the Pentagon report include:
• Nearly 15,000 of the returning Reservists and National Guard members didn’t receive the training they needed to return to their former jobs;
• Nearly 11,000 didn’t get their health insurance back.
• About one-third experienced difficulty getting reemployment assistance from government agencies. [Source: VetJobs December Newsletter]

VA CLAIM TIPS: Three things that will help a veteran with a claim are to know the process; to know how to find info about your illness or injury; and to determine how the VA has handled cases like yours in the past.

1.) A web site where you can see the C&P Exam the VA uses, and print it out, and can show it to your private doctor - These 57 Disability Examination Worksheets are in use both by the doctors of VHA (Veterans Health Administration) who do the disability examinations and by the rating specialists, hearing officers, and Decision Review Officers of VBA (Veterans Benefits Administration) who do the disability evaluations.

2.) A web site you can search, review and print out various pages of regulations, etc. about the VA system and claims - This includes:
= Compensation and Pension - 21
= 38 Code of Federal Regulations - REGS
= Book A - General
= Book B - Adjudication
= Book C - Schedule for Rating Disabilities

3.) A web site where you can search Veteran Board of Appeals to see how the VA has handled your illness or injury, what they were looking for, and what paragraphs in VA regulations apply - Decisions are current through 31 August 07. [Source: Col. Dan, Dec 07]

ARMY TIMES EDITORIAL: LONG ROAD LOOMS FOR VA: The huge backlog of veterans’ benefits claims, now 400,000 and growing, is hardly a secret.

Less well known, however, is the other side of this problem — the appeals process that kicks in when veterans challenge initial decisions on their claims.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has the highest caseload of any federal appeals court. In fiscal 2007, it received 4,644 cases and decided 4,877 — both all-time records for a court that boasts just seven judges. Given the complexity of disability claims and the often murky details, especially with mental health claims, this astonishing caseload makes it hard to believe veterans get a fair hearing on their appeals.

Worse, the appeals backlog is at 6,300 and counting, which is why it takes an average of two years, and often longer, for a decision.

Chief Judge William Greene Jr. has asked Congress to approve the hiring of more support staff, and to allow decisions to be made using condensed records rather than more extensive documents that can take months to gather. A bill to add two more judges to the court is also pending. But there is little apparent urgency to deal with the matter. The bill to add more judges, for example, is mired in the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

The odds are that things will get worse before they get better. After years of delay, the VA is finally hiring more claims processors — which will speed initial decisions and likely appeals, as well.

Having browbeaten VA to hire more claims processors, Congress must swallow its own medicine and add more judges and staff to the appeals court. The backlog is too long, and the time judges have to render a fair decision is too short for justice to be served to our wounded veterans. [Source: Army Times, 15 Dec 07]

VETERANS ROUNDTABLE IN NYC: From the Institute for Professional Development in the Addictions: As our service men and women return from deployment overseas there is a growing need to educate our health care providers about the resources that exist and to collaborate on services that need to be offered. With these concerns in mind the Institute for Professional Development in the Addictions has teamed with the Veterans Outreach Center in Rochester and several other stakeholder organizations to create an opportunity for education, dialogue and networking. You are invited to take part in our upcoming Veterans Roundtable. This initiative will be held at the Department of Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System, 423 East 23rd Street in New York City on January 30 and 31, 2008.

The purpose of this meeting is to bring leaders from Mental Health, Substance Abuse and the Veterans communities together to provide information about the needs of the returning veterans, outline the network of resources that are available, and begin to assess what resources need to be coordinated and provided. A report will be generated from the Roundtable that will summarize the meeting, define the existing resources, and identify the gaps in the system. The report will also define potential models of care and the education and training requirements of the workforce as they relate to the specialized needs of our returning service men and women.

The agenda will include presentations by representatives from federal, state and local organizations who will speak on topics including post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, readjustment, family issues and homelessness. Featured speakers include Dr. Edward Tick, author of War and the Soul and Rob Timmins, Field and Outreach Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Panel presentations will also be conducted; providing overviews of the health care benefits system, the veterans benefit system and the development of state resources. The program is tentatively scheduled to be held from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on January 30th and 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM on January 31st. A block of rooms has been reserved at the Marcel Hotel, 201 East 24th Street, at a rate of $229 per night. Hotel reservations can be made by calling (212) 696-3800. In order to obtain this special group rate, reservations must be made by Thursday, January 3, 2008.

The registration fee for the Veterans Roundtable is $150. We are offering an early registration fee of $125 if you register by January 10, 2008. Space is very limited so we urge you to register as soon as possible. For more information, please visit the Institute for Professional Development in the Addictions at: [Source: Carol Davidson, 19 Dec 07]

FREE ANHEUSER-BUSCH THEME PARK ADMISSION: Military personnel and their families will continue to get free admission to most Busch Entertainment Corp. parks including Sea World (Orlando, San Antonio or San Diego) and Busch Gardens (Tampa Bay or Williamsburg) through the 2008 calendar year, the company announced.

Busch began its "Here’s to the Heroes" program in February 2005 and reports that it has provided free admission for nearly 4 million members of the U.S. and coalition armed forces and family members. The program provides single-day free admission for any active duty, active reserve, ready reserve service member or National Guardsman and up to three family members, to all Busch theme parks except Discovery Cove of Orlando and Aquatica, which opens in Orlando next year.

Military personnel need only register, either online at: or in the entrance plaza of a participating park, and show a Department of Defense photo ID. Also included in the offer are members of foreign military forces serving in the coalitions in Iraq or Afghanistan or attached to American units in the U.S. for training. [Source: Amy Maniscalco,, 21 Dec 07]

SCHOLARSHIP FOR SPOUSES: The National Military Family Association's Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarships are awarded to military spouses to obtain professional certification or to attend post secondary or graduate school. Spouses of uniformed service members (active duty, National Guard and Reserve, retirees, and survivors) of any branch or rank are eligible to apply. Applications are accepted online January 1 through February 29, 2008. For more information, visit NMFA Joanne Holbrook Patton website at: [Source:, 17 Dec 07]


January 18, 2007 - The City Council's Veteran’s Committee is scheduled to have a hearing at 1 PM in the Committee Room at City Hall. The meeting agenda is not set at this time.

MTA Transit Property Protection Agent Jobs Open -

OPERATION RECOGNITION: Vietnam War veterans along with veterans of World War II and the Korean War are eligible to receive a high school diploma in New York State. Candidates must submit evidence of service during one of the three periods and state in writing that they do not possess a diploma. Diplomas may be awarded to next of kin. Veterans should contact the school they attended before the military service or its successor. Veterans needing proof of military service should contact the nearest New York State Division of Veterans' Affairs office. [Source: NY Newsday]

MY FINAL THOUGHTS: First let me wish you and yours a Happy New Year! I hope the New Year brings you all much happiness and success. I also hope that you and your loved ones had a wonderful holiday season. As I often do at this time, I look back at some of my comments and/or issues the community fought during 2007. While I see some victories (Veteran Resource Centers funding, new MOVA Commissioner) I also see a lot of issues with little or no movement (Appointments to the city’s Veterans Advisory Board, the City Employee Payback Issue, Disabled Veteran Vendors).

So like last year, I ask you all once again to stay active in the community, make your voice heard, share information with others and help your fellow brother/sister veterans when you can.

Moving on, there is a rumor floating that the VISN3 Network Director, Mr. James Farsetta will be retiring sometime in February 08. I have heard this from several sources and will be following up. If this is true, then we will be losing a very valuable individual, as he has been a true veteran advocate for all of us within VISN3. I will keep you posted.

Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of you for making NYMetroVets a success! I started this yahoo group in January of 2005 with the hope of bringing the 5-borough community together through the sharing of information from the local level (first) to the federal level. I am happy to report that NYMetroVets has over 300 members and is still growing! I hope that you will help increase our numbers by spreading the word. If you haven’t visited NYMetroVets in awhile, take a quick look – check out the recent photos and the updated links. Now, more than ever – we need each other and with elections coming this year and next, we veterans will be making our voice heard!

If you have any comments or questions, please fell free to e-mail me at: bjoe7@.... As always, please pass this newsletter on to others. So take care, and until next month...

Joseph Bello, NYC Veterans Advocate

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