Veterans Interest - Page 6
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-- US Troops Recall Battle at Musa Qala --  Somebody has to tell their story, a significant victory the media won't even mention 1/20/2008
-- Recruits by race 2004-2005 - 11/13/2007
-- Defense Health Agency Unveiled - 9/19/2007
-- TRICARE Prime Travel Reimbursements - 8/8/2007
-- Legislation Allows Veterans to Salute the Flag - 8/15/2007 :: Pending - this is not yet law
-- Injured Vets Shortchanged Again
-- Avoid Out-of-Pocket Education Fees
-- No Co-Pay on TRICARE OTC Medications

 US Troops Recall Battle at Musa Qala
1/20/08,    By JASON STRAZIUSO

MUSA QALA, Afghanistan (AP) - Chinook helicopters dropped Capt. Don Canterna's company of soldiers on the dusty outskirts of Musa Qala as evening fell. Loaded down with weapons, food, and water, his men walked through the night.

Twelve hours later, daybreak found the 82nd Airborne paratroopers facing a line of mud-brick homes - and the first barrage of Taliban bullets fired from hiding places the Americans couldn't see.

"As the sun was coming up was when we first started getting contact," said Canterna, 28, of Lake Geneva, Wis. "A lot of the fighting was at extremely close range."

For the 600 paratroopers who air assaulted into northern Helmand province - the world's largest opium poppy growing region - the Dec. 8 sunrise ambush was the first volley in what battalion commander Lt. Col. Brian Mennes said was almost 72 hours of continuous fighting.

On Dec. 11, after U.S. troops had closed in on Musa Qala's outskirts, Afghan soldiers poured into town, allowing NATO and Afghan officials to say the country's fledgling army had retaken the Taliban-held enclave, a major symbolic victory.

But American troops still stationed in Musa Qala more than a month after the battle said they in fact did the majority of the fighting, and some chafed a bit that U.S., NATO and Afghan officials downplayed their role.

Why the American troops never got much credit for their role in the battle has to do with NATO's strategy to empower the Afghan army. It's in NATO's interest for Afghans to believe their army is strong, dependable and experienced.

Right after the fall of Musa Qala, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on a visit to Kabul, said the most important lesson of the battle was that "we can work together, and progressively Afghan forces are in the lead."

"We didn't get credit for it, but it was a good mission," said Capt. Jesse Smith, a 26-year-old medic from Lorton, Va. "Taking Musa Qala was the Afghans. Securing the perimeter of Musa Qala was the Americans."

The 82nd Airborne paratroopers under Mennes, the commander of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment based at Fort Bragg, N.C., have seen almost a full year of constant combat. But Mennes said his men faced their toughest battle at Musa Qala against an insurgent force 350 strong.

"It was the most intense," Mennes said. "I think the (insurgents') resolve here was very high."

Lt. Col. David Accetta, the top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, acknowledged that U.S. forces had a role in Musa Qala, but he saved his praise for Afghan troops.

"The Afghans were really the lead and whatever they accomplished was much more significant from my perspective. You expect our guys to be good and get it done but you don't necessarily think that immediately of the (Afghan forces). But they did step up to the plate and did a great job," he said.

That lack of recognition appeared to irk some of the U.S. soldiers who were gathered in Musa Qala's district center over pre-packaged military meals last week. But Canterna said seeing the bigger picture was more important.

"Recognition is always nice but completing the mission is paramount," he said.

When asked if his men were bothered by a lack of recognition, Mennes said "yeah," but he did not dwell on it.

"I think we know what we did. Our partners here appreciate what we did. The (Afghan) governors that we work for and with appreciate it. I think that's the important thing," he said.

As the Americans approached Musa Qala from the north, British troops were stationed south of town to intercept fleeing militants. The British commander, Brigadier Andrew Mackay, said the cooperation was a model for international missions. "A lot of what we did couldn't have been done without" the U.S. troops, he said.

One American was killed on Dec. 9 by an improvised explosive device. Twelve men were wounded, from shrapnel and gunfire. The U.S. forces were supported by fighter aircraft during the battle.

Mennes said he knows of three civilians killed in the fight, a relatively low number. He said his men understand counterinsurgency battles well, and that he's proud his troops are seen by Afghans as a force for good.

"They understand that you can't come in here and blow up all the buildings and kill everyone in front of you, which doesn't allow you to be where we are today. It doesn't allow you to gain the trust of the people we are here to help," Mennes said during an interview at Musa Qala's government center, a heavily fortified but dilapidated building.

"They understand that the kinetic operations (the battles) are just a price for entry to get in here to do what's important, which is earn the consent of the people toward the government," Mennes said.

Message received with this article from a friend, Steve Adams:  My son is at Fort Bragg being trained for the Special Forces. He is a "old" guy for this at 32 years of age. I know that he can handle close up and personal as I and our now county judge taught him. He can handle a job at 400 meters as I and one of the public defenders taught him. I taught him about explosives as I am an amateur "powder-monkey" that still has all of his fingers. I know where they are going to send him when he get to wear that green hat. There is no defense against a sucide bomber or a road side bomb that is set off by a cell phone. I know he will be in the thick of it and will get no recognition for it as the left wingers want to "enhance the image of the Afgan army.

 'Defense Health Agency' Unveiled
Tom Philpott | September 06, 2007
New Agency Eyed to Oversee Medical Training, Research

A Department of Defense plan to put the Army in charge of all military medical training and research could be pulled soon in favor of establishing a new Defense Health Agency to handle these responsibilities and more, senior officials have told the DoD Task Force on the Future of Military Health Care.

The Defense Health Agency, or DHA, would assume oversight of all medical training and research as well as management of TRICARE and responsibility for some “shared” medical activities across the services.

The TRICARE Management Activity would form the foundation of the new agency with additional staff drawn from service medical departments. But the Army, Navy and Air Force would continue to run separate medical departments and retain control of their medical personnel and most facilities.

The DHA concept, seen as only an incremental step toward the dramatic streamlining and greater efficiencies projected from creating a unified medical command, has been endorsed by senior medical leaders. It awaits final approval of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Dr. Stephen L. Jones, principal deputy secretary of defense for health affairs, said England still might decide to stick with an alternative “governance plan” for the military health system that he endorsed last year.

But that plan, which would give the Army responsibility for all medical training and research, has raised worries over “preserving service equities,” Dr. Michael P. Dinneen, director of strategy management for the military health system, told the task force at a Sept. 5 hearing in Washington D.C..

The DHA, Dinneen said, would be “a neutral party” for delivering “support functions…in an equitable manner across the three services.”

Unveiling of the Defense Health Agency concept surprised several task force members, in part because they had just listened to presentations by think tank economists on the merits, potential cost-savings and challenges for the department of creating a unified medical command.

“I hope I wasn’t asleep and missed it but I was expecting a briefing on the joint medical command,” retired Army Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams, former commander of Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii, told Jones. She asked him explain why DoD officials had abandoned plans for a joint command.

The Army, Navy and Joint Staff had backed a unified medical command, saying it would make medical care more effective and save several hundred million dollars a year. The Air Force opposed the idea, citing clash of cultures that could weaken medical support of operational missions.

Jones ignored these disagreements in answering Adams.

“DoD leadership, when presented with the unified medical command, kind of saw that as moving all the way,” Jones told her. “And, of course, within the system, there are pros and cons for doing that.”

The “conservative” alternative England embraced last year would move to selective joint oversight. It would put the Army Medical Research and Materiel Command at Fort Detrick, Md., in charge of all military medical research. It would use the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission’s call for a joint center of enlisted medical training at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio to give Army responsibility for all medical training.

England’s plan also called for a single service to control healthcare delivery in major “markets,” starting with San Antonio and the Washington D.C. area. Finally, he wanted the service consolidation of certain support functions including information management, contracting, facilities’ construction and financial management.

The prospect of rolling so many of these responsibilities under the Army was a topic of many discussions among department medical leaders since December. What has evolved instead, Jones said, is the Defense Health Agency. DHA would be a “step in the direction” of a unified command “if future leadership within the department would like to go” that way, he said. “So, rather than a whole loaf, we’ve kind of cut the bread in half.”

On a follow-up question from Adams, Jones conceded that DHA would oversee delivery of medical care in the San Antonio and Washington, D.C. areas, but not in other major medical markets including San Diego, Tacoma, Wash., Norfolk, Va., and Hawaii. Oversight of these large markets would fall to whatever service has the dominant medical presence.

In interview after the hearing, Adams said the DHA offers less “predictability” than would a unified or joint medical command.

“I’m trying to sort out logically what the benefit is of this, which is a kind of a kluging together of disparate parts, as opposed to saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to unify health care under a joint command structure.’ We all know what that means. It’s defined by doctrine.”

She noted that the DHA would be led by a three-star officer, the same rank held by Army, Navy and Air Force surgeons general.

“It’s kind of like we’ve created a hybrid that is worse than the hybrid we’re living with,” Adams said.

Jones laughed off the criticism, saying more bureaucracy isn’t the goal.

“What we tried to do is make it more streamlined, more transparent, but yet respect the execution [responsibility] of the services” in delivering medical care, he said.

Hours before Jones unveiled the DHA concept, Sue Hosek, a RAND economist, summarized for task force members results of major study completed in 2001 on options for establishing a joint medical command.

RAND interviews then with military medical experts and leaders, she said, “found a lot of sentiment that, if you had to have something, a joint command was better than a defense agency.” The Defense Logistics Agency, she said, “was frequently mentioned, and not as a positive model.”

 TRICARE Prime Travel Reimbursements | TRICARE | August 08, 2007

TRICARE Prime Travel Reimbursement Assists Beneficiaries Traveling for Care
Falls Church, Va. — TRICARE Prime beneficiaries referred by their primary care manager for specialty services at a location more than 100 miles from their provider’s location may be eligible to have their reasonable travel expenses reimbursed by TRICARE.

Beneficiaries must have a valid referral and travel orders prior to traveling, and file a travel claim upon their return. This can be requested at the military treatment facility (MTF) or from the TRICARE Regional Offices (TRO) if the doctor is a TRICARE network provider. Beneficiaries will receive a briefing on the entitlement process, coverage, and their responsibilities at the MTF or from the TRO point of contact.

“Prime enrollees should not have to pay out of pocket for travel expenses to receive approved care at a distant location,” said Maj. Gen. Elder Granger, Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity. “Programs are available to cover these costs, and representatives are standing by to help.”

Reasonable travel expenses are the actual costs incurred by the beneficiary when traveling to their specialty provider. Costs include meals, gas, tolls, parking, and tickets for public transportation (i.e., airplane, train, bus, etc.). Beneficiaries must submit receipts for expenses above $75. The MTF or TRO will provide the beneficiary with specific instructions on how and where to submit his or her travel entitlement claim. Government rates are used to estimate the reasonable cost. Beneficiaries are expected to use the least costly mode of transportation. Costs of lodging and meals may be reimbursed up to the government per diem rate.

This benefit does not apply to travel expense for specialty care experienced by active duty uniformed servicemembers, or active duty family members residing with their sponsors overseas, which are reimbursed by other travel entitlements.

For more information on the TRICARE Prime Travel Reimbursement, refer to

 Legislation Allows Veterans to Salute the Flag

Ryan Cassin, 07.26.2007

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma.) today praised the passage by unanimous consent of his bill (S.1877) clarifying U.S. law to allow veterans and servicemen not in uniform to salute the flag. Current law (US Code Title 4, Chapter 1) states that veterans and servicemen not in uniform should place their hand over their heart without clarifying whether they can or should salute the flag.

'The salute is a form of honor and respect, representing pride in one's military service,' Senator Inhofe said. 'Veterans and service members continue representing the military services even when not in uniform.

'Unfortunately, current U.S. law leaves confusion as to whether veterans and service members out of uniform can or should salute the flag. My legislation will clarify this regulation, allowing veterans and servicemen alike to salute the flag, whether they are in uniform or not.

'I look forward to seeing those who have served saluting proudly at baseball games, parades, and formal events. I believe this is an appropriate way to honor and recognize the 25 million veterans in the United States who have served in the military and remain as role models to others citizens. Those who are currently serving or have served in the military have earned this right, and their recognition will be an inspiration to others.

 No Co-Pay on TRICARE OTC Medications | August 04, 2007

TRICARE has announced a two-year test that will allow TRICARE beneficiaries to substitute over-the-counter (OTC) versions of certain prescription drugs without a copayment.  For now, the test includes the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy only. Plans call for expansion to retail network pharmacies once program details are ironed out.
“The drugs included in this test initially are among the most widely prescribed— those treating gastro-intestinal disorders,” said Army MG Elder Granger, Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity.  Known as “proton pump inhibitors,” this class of medications includes the prescription drugs Nexium, Prevacid, Aciphex, Protonix, Zegerid and Prilosec.
Under the test, beneficiaries receiving a prescription proton pump inhibitor are eligible to receive Prilosec OTC, the only proton pump inhibitor available over the counter.  The Department of Defense Pharmacy and Therapeutic Committee found there is no significant clinical difference between Prilosec OTC and its prescription-only counterparts.
“By requesting that their doctors prescribe the OTC version, beneficiaries can save money on their copay, and there is the additional potential to save the government money as well,” said Granger.  OTCs are generally less expensive—by as much as 400 percent in some cases.
Once the OTC test works its way to retail pharmacies, beneficiaries should not expect to walk into any drug store and get OTC products for free at the register, caution TRICARE officials.  Beneficiaries will still have to get a prescription from their doctor for the OTC drugs.
Beneficiaries already taking the selected prescription proton pump inhibitors through the mail order pharmacy will get a letter telling them about the new program whenever they order medications that qualify them to participate in the OTC test project.
TRICARE encourages beneficiaries who haven’t used the mail order pharmacy in the past, but are taking medications included in the test, to get information on how to sign up at

“Through the mail order program, initially beneficiaries can get up to a 90-day supply and have it delivered right to their mailbox.  Remember, it’s free so it saves money for beneficiaries and potential savings to the government may help sustain the TRICARE benefit,” said Granger.
Medication classes under consideration for future testing include topical anti-fungals and non-sedating antihistamines.

 Avoid Out-of-Pocket Education Fees

Week of July 30, 2007

It doesn't matter whether you are active duty, reserve, veteran, retiree, using the GI Bill, or not -- if you are going to college you should take advantage of the Federal Student Aid programs. There are numerous examples of senior active duty members receiving Direct Loans and large grants. Read more about Federal Student Aid here.

Another great way to avoid paying for school is to apply to scholarships. Scholarship finder has over $300 million worth of free money. Take a look and start applying today.

If you haven't found a school yet and are not sure where to go, request free information from schools that match your personal and academic needs. This search will help you narrow down your choices so you can make the right decision. Start your search here.

 Injured Vets Shortchanged Again
July 19, 2007

WASHINGTON - Injured veterans could be shortchanged in their government disability pay depending on where they live because of wide disparities from state to state, an internal study concludes.

The 1 1/2-year investigation, conducted by the Institute for Defense Analysis, is the first to examine scientifically the reasons behind the Veterans Affairs' uneven handling of veterans claims for disability compensation. It was launched by the VA following reports in 2005 of wide differences in payments.

The 50-page report, made available to The Associated Press, found that average annual disability payments swung widely - from $7,556 in Ohio to $12,395 in New Mexico. Nationwide, the average pay was $8,890.

State-By-State Disability Pay

Illinois, which was the lowest in the nation in 2004 at $6,961, was the seventh lowest at roughly $7,816.

"The process by which VA adjudicates claims has potential for producing persistent regional differences in rating results," said David Hunter, who compiled the study. "For certain claims, different raters could reasonably arrive at different results."

Since reports of disparities emerged in 2005, the VA has struggled to explain them. It has largely blamed problems on demographic factors beyond its control; for instance, whether a particular state had more Vietnam veterans, who on average receive higher payments, or whether a veteran had legal help when making a claim.

Take Action: Tell your public officials how you feel about this issue.

But the study released to the AP found that roughly one-third of the problems could be blamed on poor VA standards and inadequate training. As a result, disability raters in VA regional offices often had too much power and discretion to decide how much pay a veteran was entitled.

The report also faulted the VA for not collecting data on certain types of claims, such as how many post-traumatic stress disorder cases are rejected. As a result, it was impossible to determine whether part of the disparity might be due to a VA office inappropriately rejecting a high number of claims for PTSD, a signature injury of the Iraq war.

Some Soldiers and veterans groups have charged that Army disability review boards, which are under the Pentagon's purview, unfairly reject PTSD claims to avoid paying disability pay. No data was available to determine whether that might be the case for the VA, the report said.

Among the findings:

-PTSD claims generate among the highest disability pay, averaging $20,000 each year to more than 200,000 veterans. While VA staff expected PTSD claims would be more subjective from state to state, their ratings were actually more stable compared with other injuries and illnesses, such as cardiovascular problems.

-Veterans who receive legal help or aid from advocacy groups receive on average $11,162, compared with $4,728 for those who go it alone. Currently about two-thirds of veterans get such advocacy help; the highest representation is in North Dakota (81.9 percent), while the lowest is in Maryland (44.8 percent).

-Vietnam veterans received annual awards of $11,670, compared with $7,410 for those who fought in other wars. The lowest pay was given to Gulf War veterans - $6,506.

The report comes as the Bush administration races to improve its veterans care system following disclosures earlier this year of shoddy outpatient treatment at the Pentagon-run Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

On Tuesday, VA Secretary Jim Nicholson unexpectedly announced he would step down by Oct. 1 to return to the private sector, leaving the helm of the VA's vast network of 1,400 hospitals and clinics that provide supplementary care to 5.8 million veterans.

Both Congress and a presidential commission are considering sweeping measures that could shift more responsibility for rating a veterans' disability from the Pentagon to the VA - a move that some veterans advocates say could further strain an already backlogged VA system.

In interviews, Patrick Dunne, VA's assistant secretary for policy, planning and preparedness, and Ronald Aument, the VA's deputy undersecretary for benefits, said they welcomed the findings and would take additional measures to improve training and oversight.

Beside hiring hundreds of additional staff, the VA is beginning to collect more data on the types of claims rejected, standardizing procedures from office to office and improving collaboration with its medical personnel to ensure claims processors have enough information to make a decision based on objective criteria, Aument said.

The agency also is doubling the size of its quality assurance program - currently 15 people - to review data and audit pay outcomes on a regular basis.

A separate review of the VA system for handling disability claims is also under way to determine how to cut through bureaucratic delays, confusing paperwork and long appeals processes as thousands of veterans return home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

"If we work on accuracy, consistency will in turn follow," Aument said.

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