Fleet Reserves Association
Fleet Reserves Association

From The Bridge

VSO Bridge December 2018.pdf
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Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017


The Veteran Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017 became law on August 23, 2017 (PUB L. 115-55) It is also known as the Appeals Modernization Act.


The new law will:

  •  Modernize the current claims and appeals process
  •  Include three review options for disagreements with decisions
  •  Require improved notification on VA decisions
  •  Provide earlier claim resolution
  •  Ensure you receive the earliest effective date possible

What are the new options for review?

You have three options for review


Option 1: Higher-level Review


Your claim is reviewed by a more senior claims adjudicator and involves:


  •  A higher level de novo review (new look) on the decision
  •  No submission of new evidence allowed
  •  The possibility of overturning the decision based on:
  •  A difference of opinion
  •  A clear and unmistakable error

The reviewer, who identifies or learns of a duty to assist error, can return the claim to the regional office for correction. You or your representative can request an informal phone call to identify specific issues.




Option 2: A supplemental Claim Lane


You can submit or identify new and relevant evidence to support your claim. VA will provide assistance in developing the evidence.


Option 3: Appeal Lane for Appeals to the Board


This option allows you to appeal directly to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. You can choose between three options:


  • Direct review: You have no new evidence and do not want a hearing.
  • Evidence submission: You have new evidence, but do not want a hearing.
  • Hearing: You have new evidence and want to testify before a Veterans Law Judge.







The 2019 COLA is heading towards 3% increase based on July and August inflation data. July & August Consumer Price Index-Wages (CPI-W) combined rose 3.02% on an adjusted basis over the previous year over year period. July & August are the two of three months that count towards the 2019 COLA measurement. COLA increases are based on the inflation measurement period of the third quarter (July-August-September) compared to the previous third quarter.




We won’t know the 2019 COLA increase until mid-October 2018 but here ar the most recent indicators as we start the new year.


  • July and August CPI-W increased 3.02% year over year; the first of three months that count towards 2019 COLA.
  • July 2018 CPI-W increased 3.16% year over year; the first of three months that count towards 2019 COLA.
  • August 2018 CPI-W increased 2.88% year over year; the second of three months that count towards 2019 COLA.
  • 2nd quarter 2018 CPI-W increased 2.89% year over year continuing an upward trend.
  • 1st quarter 2018 CPI-W increased 2.3% year over year. A positive for the new year.
  • The 2017 OASDI Trustees Report estimates the 2018 COLA to be 3.1%
  • The Senior Citizens League estimated a 2019 projected COLA of 3% in June 2018 which would boost the average Social Security benefit to $1,300 or about $39 per month.
  • The Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W) increased 3.0% over the last 12 months (June 2017-May 2018).
  • Factors that affect CPI-W such as the cost of food, medical care, gasoline and shelter (rent) costs are increasing.




  • Retired military veterans, VA rates for compensation and pension for disabled veterans and surviving families will be effective December 1, 2018 and will be reflected on the first check to be paid on December 31, 2018.
  • Social Security benefits will be effective with the December 2018 benefits, which are payable January 2019.
  • Federal SSI and SSDI payment levels will be effective for payments made for January 2019.




If Medicare climbs at an equivalent or higher rate any increase may be offset by Medicare premiums. Additional senior citizen household spending has typically outpaced COLA because the measurement to determine COLA doesn’t reflect the expenses that impact seniors most, like healthcare (not a heavy COLA calculation) and gas (a heavy COLA calculation).




Chained CPI is a new method for measuring inflation and was recently adopted with the new tax plan. Chained CPI dampens inflation by as much as .2 to .3% which has many advocacy groups concerned that this method will carry over to COLA. Few people are against a better measurement of inflation, in fact many advocacy groups believe even the CPI-W is not the best measurement for retirees, however, Chained CPI many contend would be a step backward.




  • Retired Military Veteran
  • Disabled Veterans
  • Veterans Pension Benefits
  • Survivor Benefit Annuitants
  • Surviving Families of Veterans- Parents’ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) Tables.
  • Social Security recipients
  • Federal Civilian Retirees
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
  • Eligibility for Medicare Extra Help and Medicaid
  • Federal & State food and housing assistance programs





If you have ever looked at the details on your paycheck stub, you’ve probably run into the alphabet soup of deductions and withholdings that reduce the amount of money you get to take home on payday. One common item you might find on your paycheck is OASDI tax. OASDI stands for Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance tax, and the money that your employer collects goes to the Fderal Government in order to fund the Social Security Program. Even those who earn too little to owe income tax, OASDI tax usually gets deducted from the first $1.00 of earnings you get from your job.




The Federal Government collects OASDI tax from employees at a tax rate of 6.2%. Employers are responsible for withholding the 6.2% from their employees’ pay and then sending it on to the government. Employers must also match the 6.2% with an additional 6.2% from their own funds.


For self-employed individuals, the effective OASDI tax is 12.4%, because those who are self-employed have to pay both the employee and employer portions of the OASDI tax themselves. An income tax deduction for the employer portion of the self-employment OASDI tax is allowed in order to put self-employed individuals in the same tax position that employers enjoy.






The OASDI tax only applies to wages or salary income up to a certain amount that changes from year to year. For 2017, the maximum amount on which OASDI tax gets applied is $127,200. That means that the most that you’ll pay in OASDI tax is $7,886.40, or twice that if self-employed.


Note, however, that you sometimes will have to work to get any overpaid OASDI tax back. For instance, if you work two different jobs whose total salaries add up to more than the $127,200 limit, then employers might well withhold too much OASDI tax. There’s a space on your income tax return that you can use to claim excess OASDI tax, giving you a refund of the overpaid amount.




Eligibility for Social Security retirement, survivors, and disability benefits hinges in large part on developing enough of a past earnings history to qualify for the program. That, in turn, requires workers to report and pay OASDI tax on enough income over time to meet specific qualification requirements.


Different benefits require different time periods. For Retirement Benefits, you’ll typically need to collect 40 credits, which many can do within a 10 year period. Disability Benefits can kick in sooner, depending on the age of the worker and the age of the workers at the time of disability. Survivor Benefits depend on the work history of the person who dies, leaving some survivors with the benefit of getting monthly checks without actually having paid into the Social Security system themselves.




Some policymakers have suggested that the 6.2% amount for OASDI tax might not be enough to move ahead into the 21st century. For instance, the 2017 Social Security Trustees Report said that if the OASDI tax were raised to 7.58%, it would be sufficient to keep the Social Security program solvent over the next 75 years. Otherwise, benefit cuts will be necessary in order to keep the program solvent.


Nevertheless, the 6.2% rate has been in effect since the 1990s, and few seem excited about changing it. With most projections giving the government until the mid-2030s to resolve the Social Security funding issue before benefit cuts become necessary, it’s likely that the OASDI tax will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. That’s likely to stay the case until Washington lawmakers build up the momentum they need to tackle the politically contentious issue going forward.







After a seven year, nationwide effort to lessen the financial strain on qualified disabled veterans, now almost every State in the US offers some sort of property tax exemption.


“If you are a disabled veteran, in almost every single jurisdiction, you can petition your local authority and you can have all of your local real estate taxes waved. Some cases, they require it’s a one-time waiver”, said Mike Frueh, former National Director of the VA Loan Program. “That’s a fantastic benefit”.




Many states offer exemptions solely for disabled veterans. California, for instance, allows qualified disabled veterans to receive a property tax exemption on the first $196,262 of their primary residence if their total household income does not exceed $40,000 and the veteran is 100% disabled as a result of service.


However, every homeowner’s situation is different. Here are some important things to remember about property tax exemptions:


  • Common exemptions include Veteran, Disabled Veteran, Homestead, Over 65 and more.
  • Not all veterans or homeowners qualify for these exemptions.
  • Exemptions can vary by county and state.
  • You may be required to renew your exemption benefits annually.

Exemption amounts, rates and conditions can vary by county and city just as they do by state, so veterans are urged to contact their local municipal tax assessor’s office for further information.




Unfortunately, many veterans, disabled and able alike, are often unaware of the plentiful benefits available to them. The VA’s 2010 National Survey of Veterans found that 59% of respondents said “their understanding of available benefits was ‘a little’ or ‘not at all’”.


The Government Accountability Office suggests complexity as a possible factor, while others blame a disconnect between the Department of Veterans Affairs and administering localities. Regardless, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer notes property exemptions in particular as crucial benefits that allow veterans to “afford a home and live stable civilian lives”.


Talk through your unique home financing situation, goals and options with a Veterans United loan specialist at 855-870-8845.


I have a listing for all 50 states and the District of Columbia, however, they will be provided by request. Listed are the requirements for N.J., and PA.:


New Jersey: A disabled veteran in New Jersey may receive a full property tax exemption on his/her primary residence if the veteran is 100% disabled as a result of wartime service.

Pennsylvania: A disabled veteran in Pennsylvania may receive a full property tax exemption on his/her primary residence if the veteran is 100% disabled as a result of wartime service. To be eligible a veteran must prove financial need, which according to the state is income less than $88,607. Veterans whose income exceeds that value may still be eligible.







Reimbursement of Non-VA Medical Expenses for Service-Connected Veterans


Benefit Description:


The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), in limited circumstances, may provide reimbursements of non-VA medical expenses for Veterans for their service-connected conditions to include those who are recently granted service-connected awards.


General Qualifying Criteria:


  • A medical emergency, and
  • VA or other Federal facility not feasibly available, and
  • Care or service was for a service-connected disability


Emergency Care:


A medical emergency is generally defined as a condition of such a nature that a sensible person would reasonably expect that a delay in seeking immediate medical attention would be hazardous to life or health.


You may receive emergency care at a community health care facility, possibly at VA expense, when a VA facility (or other health care facility with which VA has an agreement) cannot furnish efficient care due to your distance from the VA facility, VA cannot provide timely care, or when VA is unable to furnish the needed emergency services.


VA Payment for Emergency Care of your Service-Connected Conditions without Prior Authorization:


Since payment may be limited to the point when your condition is stable enough for you to be transferred to a VA facility, you, a family member or a friend need to contact the closest VA medical facility within 72 hours from the time of admission. The emergency is deemed to have ended when a VA provider has determined that, based on sound medical judgement, you could be transferred from the community facility to a VA facility.


VA my pay for your community emergency care;


If you are Service-connected

VA may pay for your:

  • Community emergency care for a rated service-connected disability, or
  • Nonservice-connected condition associated with and held to be aggravating your service-connected condition.
  • Treatment to make possible your entrance into a training course or prevent interruption of a training course, if you are an active participant in the 38 U.S.C. Chapter 31 Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, or
  • Care if you are rated as having a total disability permanent in nature resulting from your service-connected disability, or
  • Other approved reasons.


VA Payment for Emergency Care of your NonService-Connected Conditions without Prior Authorization:


VA may pay for emergency care provided in a community facility for treatment of a nonservice-connected condition only if all of the following conditions are met;


If you are nonservice-connected:

  • The episode of care cannot be paid under another VA authority, and
  • Based on an average knowledge of health and medicine (prudent layperson standard), it could be reasonably expected that a delay in seeking immediate medical attention would have been hazardous to your life or health, and
  • A VA or other Federal Facility/provider was not feasibly available, and
  • You received VA medical care within a 24 month period preceding the community emergency care, and
  • The services were furnished by an emergency department or similar facility that provides emergency care to the general public, and
  • You have no contractual or legal recourse against a third party that would, in whole, extinguish your liability.


Time Limit for filing Claim of Non-VA Medical Expenses:


Generally within 2 years of the date of service or notification of the allowance of a service-connected award (which may include care/services back to the effective date of award in cases of retroactive award).


Retroactive Award Example:


A Veteran is awarded service-connected status via a Veterans Benefits Administration award letter dated January 1, 2010. The Veteran filed the initial claim for service-connection on May 1, 2009. The service-connected award is retroactive to May 1, 2009.


The Veteran may file a claim for retroactive reimbursement of the cost of medical care provided in a non-VA facility. VA shall reimburse the Veteran for such a retroactive claim only when;

  • The care provided is for emergency medical care to treat the Veteran’s adjudicated service-connected condition(s), and
  • The dates of service are not before May 1, 2009 (the effective date of the award), or
  • After January 1, 2010 (the date of the awarded letter), or
  • The claim is filed before January 1, 2012 (2 years after the date of the VA


Where to File Claims:


Veterans may file a claim for private medical expenses with their local VA health care facility’s non-VA medical care office.


For Further Information:


Contact your local VA health care facility’s non-VA medical care office or VA at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).

Authorities: Title 38, United States Code 1728 and title 38, Code of Federal Regulations 17.120-132.




Key Bills Signed Into Law/Passed Resolutions:


H.R. 2147: Veterans Treatment Court Improvement Act of 2018

Introduced Apr, 26, 2017

Sponsored by REP. Mike Coffman, Colorado (R)

Signed into Law September 17, 2018


H.R. 2147 requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to hire 50 Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO) specialists at eligible VA medical centers. This would assist veterans who have entered the criminal Justice system in getting improved access to Veterans Treatment Courts.


The Veterans Treatment Court improvement Act expands a VA program started in 2009. The VA administers the VJO Program in all 50 states, putting social workers together with veterans via a Veterans Treatment Court to create a customized rehab program for each veteran in need of the services.


S. 899: Veterans Providing Healthcare Transition Improvement Act

Introduced April 7, 2017

Sponsored by Sen. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii (D)

Signed into Law September 7, 2018


This amends Title 5, United States Code, “to ensure that the requirements that new Federal employees who are veterans with service-connected disabilities are provided leave for purposes of undergoing medical treatment for such disabilities apply to certain employees of the Veterans Health Administration”.


The intent is to offer new federal hires with military service-connected disabilities time off for medical treatment, extending the policy to “all Veterans Health Administration physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, optometrists, Registered nurses, physician assistants, and expanded-function dental auxiliaries”.




S. Res: A resolution recognizing The American Legion for 100 years of service to veterans and members of the Armed Forces in the United States and their families.

Introduced August 23, 2018

Sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota (D)

Agreed To (Simple Resolution) on August 28, 2018


This Simple Resolution honors a century of service by the American Legion to veterans and their families. The American Legion, according to the text of the resolution, deserves recognition thanks to important “legislative achievements” including the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1994, better known as the Montgomery GI Bill. This resolution also designates August 24 through August 30, 2018 as “American Legion Week”.


The agreement of the Simple Resolution means this legislation has passed and no further action is required.


H.R.  5515: John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

Introduced April 13, 2018

Sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas (R)

Signed into Law August 13, 2018


H.R. 5515 is a funding authorization for the Department of Defense, and military activities, it also defines “personnel strengths for Fiscal Year 2019”. $639.1 billion in base funding is authorized under H.R. 5515, plus another $69 billion for contingency operations. Add $8.9 billion for “mandatory defense spending” for the full total $717 billion.

Implications for the typical service member include a fully funded 2.6% pay raise for military members, extended special pay, and bonuses to retain military members working in high-demand career fields.




 H.R. 1900: National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act.

Introduced June 6, 2017

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Stivers, Ohio (R)

Signed into Law June 21, 2018


This resolution designates the Veterans Memorial and Museum (currently being built in Columbus, Ohio at the time of this writing), as the “National Veterans Memorial and Museum”.


One provision of this resolution requires the Memorial and Museum to submit a report to Congress prior to the redesignation. It also stipulates that the Memorial and Museum would not fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.


H.R. 2772: SEA Act of 2018.

Introduced June 6, 2017

Sponsored by Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia (R)

Signed into Law June 21, 2018


This House resolution requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to “personally approve of a reassignment of VA’s approximately 350 Senior Executive Service (SES) employees and submit a semiannual report to the Congress identifying those employees”. The resolution also requires the VA Secretary to identify the costs of such reassignments.


The bill describes the SES employees as a “major link between appointees and the rest of the federal workforce” as justification for the personal approval process. Such positions include most managerial, supervisory, and policy positions classified above the General Schedule (GS) 15 or equivalent positions in the executive Branch.


H.R, 4910: Veterans Cemetery Benefit Correction Act.

Introduced January 30, 2018

Sponsored by Rep. Austin Scott, George (R)

Signed into Law June 15, 2018




This House resolution (as amended) requires “outer burial receptacles” For Veterans to be provided by the Dept. of Interior when veterans are buried in areas Under Park Service jurisdiction. The resolution also requires these receptacles be used in accordance with VA guidelines and/or the Dept. of the Army.


Under previous requirements, the VA was required to provide the outer burial receptacle to a veteran in a national cemetery under the control of a branch of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs known as the National Cemetery Administration. However, burial sites under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service cemeteries were not covered under the former law that allows such compensation.


S. 2372: VA Mission Act of 2018.

Introduced Feb. 5, 2018

Sponsored by Sen. John Isakson, Georgia (R)

Signed into Law June 6, 2018


The VA Mission Act of 2018 (as amended by the House) consolidates several VA care programs and extends funding Choice Programs.


There is also a new Asset and Infrastructure Review process “to recommend actions to modernize and realign VA’s massive medical infrastructure and also expands VA’s Family Caregiver Program” for veterans who served prior to 9/11, among other changes.


The VA is also required under the bill to create contracts in a network of community care providers and expand treatment/coverage options for qualifying veterans.


H.R 3218: Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017.

Introduced July 13, 2017

Sponsored by Rep. David Roe, Tennessee (R)

Signed into Law August 16, 2017




This House Resolution addresses a 2008 Law which created the Post-9/11 Bill,

H.R. 3218 updates/replaces older legislation. The Forever G.I. Bill, as this Law has become known, is designated to expand and enhance the G.I. Bill program, changing rules for use and transfer of benefits to dependents and creating greater access to certain benefits designed to complement the G.I. Bill.


Significant changes via this legislation includes the elimination of an expiration date for veterans to use G.I. Bill benefits once leaving military service. Additionally, more veterans and dependents will be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program to pay for some school expenses not covered by the G.I Bill. Now, surviving dependents of deceased service members, and active duty service members are both eligible to apply to receive Yellow Ribbon benefits.





There are an additional 10 pages of “Key Bills Introduced” which I did not enter into my report for the VSO Report/Web Page. They will be reproduced by request and mailed to the postal address provided. It was my intent to provide you with the information on the Bills signed into Law as they will have an impact.


Please feel free to contact me for a reproduction of the entire package and one will be provided.





If you have any questions or need of VSO Services, please feel free to contact me;

Email: davidsharp@usa.com

Phone: 610-509-2791

In Loyalty, Protection and Service,

David Sharp, Veteran Service Officer Br. 115 L.V.

PRP NE/NEng Region

Past Branch President




                                FEDVIP Addendum


The TRICARE dental and vision insurance program will end on December 31, 2018. A letter will be sent from Delta Dental just before enrollment begins, November 12, 2018, with phone numbers of providers. TRDP automatically ends and after signing up for new coverage, it will begin January 1, 2019. More information can be obtained at: www.Tricare.mil/FEDVIP. The rates are variable and based on your zip code for cost per month or year.


There are 10 Dental plans with 15 options (high or standard) and 4 vision plans available. Register for emails on the new program(s) at Tricare.Benefeds.Com. The costs will be taken by an allotment from your retired pay. If these funds are not sufficient an Electronic Fund Transfer will be established from your bank account.


One important note is to check with your providers if they accept either PPO or HMO plans. Some will only be in the PPO network. If your Spouse is involved via Retiree Tricare, they also have to sign up for coverage. This sounds like a family plan. The allotment is set up as a post-tax aspect.


Examine if you need the International option if you travel or have a residence other than the one you register the zip code for rates. AGAIN, the costs are based on zip codes and obvious will vary from location to location so the International option will give you coverage with no surprise additional billing.


For more information on this, please visit: www.MilitaryOneSource.com. Please sign up before the end of November so the transition will be smooth and have no interruptions. The first allotment/bank withdrawal will be the beginning of February 2019.














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