Looking For Vets Caught In VA “Means Test” Snafu


flag_homeI’m reaching out to veterans who may have experienced a lapsed VA “means test” renewal and subsequently been charged for medication or care that should have been free.

It happened at St. Petersburg’s Bay Pines Medical Center as told earlier this year. Is it happening at other VA medical centers?

Confusion over the VA “means test” started three years ago when the Department of Veterans Affairs tried to reduce paperwork. The VA eliminated the annual income verification requirement.

But there are exemptions.

And it’s those exceptions such as low-income veterans who have no co-pays that are causing confusion. Many of those veterans didn’t receive notice or ignored their renewal thinking it was a mistake.

If a low income veteran fails to certify his or her income every year, that veteran will be billed for medication and services once the “means test” lapses.

What’s worse, some may not have been unaware of the lapsed charges or thought the bills were a mistake and had money taken from their benefits checks to cover the overdue VA bills.

Veterans at Bay Pines alerted a new administrator to the bureaucratic snafu and he is credited finding a solution.

But that’s only one of more than a hundred VA Medical Centers. Have veterans elsewhere experienced a similar problem? Please contact me at bobrien@wusf.org. And thank you.



Hidden Camera in VA Hospital Room Prompts Privacy Bill

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller (R) being interviewed at a south Texas VA summit.

Florida Cong. Jeff Miller (R) being interviewed at a south Texas VA summit.

The discovery of a hidden camera in the room of a brain-damaged veteran at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center last year has led to new legislation in Congress filed Thursday.

Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Jeff Miller of Florida, introduced the Veterans’ Privacy Act. 

“This type of behavior is as bizarre as it is outrageous. To think that some VA employees actually thought it a good idea to covertly record a patient with a video camera disguised as a smoke detector really just boggles the mind,” Miller said in a written press release.

“What’s worse is that when we questioned VA regarding the legality of these actions, department officials contended they had done nothing wrong. The Veterans Privacy Act will keep covert, Big Brother tactics out of VA medical centers and protect the sacred trust that should exist between VA and veteran patients and their families.”

Miller’s bill will require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to obtain the personal consent of patients before installing cameras in VA medical center treatment rooms.

Navy Secretary Accelerates USS New York Move to Florida

The amphibious USS New York transits New York Harbor past the Statue of Liberty on her way to commissioning Nov. 7, 2009. Photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Eric M. Durie, U.S. Navy.

Forged from the steel of the World Trade Center, the USS New York will make Florida’s Naval Station Mayport its home port sooner than expected.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Friday that the USS New York  is scheduled to move from its current home port in Norfolk, VA in the last quarter of 2013. That’s ahead of schedule by more than a year. The USS Iwo Jima and the USS Fort McHenry will follow in 2014.

Mabus accelerated the timeline to relocate the amphibious readiness group (ARG) ships to ensure the viability of the Mayport ship repair base and to “maintain the capabilities of the Jacksonville fleet concentration area” according to a news release.

“I am very pleased that the Navy is able condense the time horizon for the arrival of the Mayport ARG,” stated Mabus.  “The move underscores just how important Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport are to our national defense, and how committed we are to strategic dispersal on the east coast.”

USS New York. Photo courtesy of MilitaryFactory.com

Air Force to Cut 100 Civilian Jobs from Hurlburt Field

Senior Airman Payne, a combat controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, serves as Air Traffic Control for Hurlburt Field, Florida. (US Air Force Photo by Airman First Class Kimberly Gilligan)

Hurlburt Field announced Thursday it will eliminate 100 civilian positions with the Air Force’s special operations command according to a report from Associated Press.

Base officials, in a news release, said more than half of the jobs are already vacant and will remain unfilled.

Other layoffs are expected at nearby Eglin Air Force Base. Nationwide the Air Force plans to trim 9,000 civilian jobs as part of ongoing cost cutting measures.

A Mom’s Update on Her Young Marine Now in Afghanistan

April and Jared visiting the WUSF Studios just after he got out of boot camp, November 2010.

It was little more than a year ago that 17-year-old Jared Agle left his Florida home a week early for Marine Boot Camp at Paris Island. I work his with his mother April Agle. She’s in the WUSF Business Office.

I met Jared before he left and talked with him again when he returned after 13 weeks of basic training. He left again for months of infantry training before deploying to Afghanistan several weeks ago.

April and her husband have gotten a few phone calls from Afghanistan, but the calls are infrequent and often it drops out. She said it took 30 days for the first family “care package” of food and personal hygiene items to reach Jared’s Forward Operating Base. His comment to her, many serving with him don’t get any packages.

April's USO Teddy Bear.

Like any mother, April worries Jared, but she balances it with an inner pride as she watches her young son mature into a man – a U.S. Marine Lance Corporal. So it was an extra special surprise when she found a package on her doorstep the other day.

Inside the box was a short message for his mom and a USO Teddy Bear wearing a t-shirt. The front says, “My arms may be short, but …” and on the back “… they reach all the way around the world.”

The Teddy Bear was a sign to April that her son was still the thoughtful young man she raised –  who remembered to mail his younger sister a birthday card and thought to send his mom a Teddy Bear while on his way to a combat zone.

April is sharing her journey as a new military mom. Here are a few of her stories:

In Training to Become a New Marine Mom

Letting Go a Week Early

A Boot Camp Marine’s First Letter Home

Birthdays, Weddings, A Mom Misses Her New Marine

A Marine Mom: Paris Island Graduation Day

Volunteers Work to Find Reservists, Guardsmen Jobs

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder will soon take on a volunteer post focused on finding jobs for National Guard members and Reservists and their family.

Many are concerned about finding a job in this economy, but it’s an even bigger battle for Florida’s Reservists and National Guard members returning from war. Their unemployment rate is around 20 percent versus about 11 percent for civilians in the state.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Greg Holder has 29 years military service on active duty and in the Reserves. And he’s concerned about Reservists and National Guard members because of their unemployment rate.

“It’s double our state percentage for the rest of the population,” Holder said. “These men and women sacrificed much to serve their country. They’re exposed to unbelievable conditions. They come back and often times their position has been eliminated as companies have downsized.”

On Oct. 1st, Holder will become the volunteer, state chairman of the Florida Employment Support for the Guard and Reserve, the ESGR. It’s an unpaid position with an organization that coordinates with the Department of Defense.

The Florida ESGR has about 100 active volunteers doing outreach with Reservists, Guardsmen and their families to help them understand their benefits, find jobs and advocate with employers to hire returning veterans.

As chairman of the ESGR, Holder plans to recruit more companies to hire veterans, especially Reservists and National Guard members. He said there’s a rich tradition of Florida companies supporting veterans and that this fall the Jacksonville-based railroad company, CSX, will receive a national award for its program to hire veterans.

New Veteran and Military “Friendly” Laws in Florida

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation to help military spouses get temporary health care licenses and certificates from the state.

In Florida, there are several new laws benefitting veterans, their families and active duty military spouses. One new law aims at helping with the unemployment among military spouses.

Active-duty military families move about every two years which makes it difficult for military spouses especially those with a career in health care because most states require a license. Florida is home to 58,000 active duty military and many have spouses.

“Military spouses because they didn’t have Florida licensure, professional accreditation, they were unable to be in the job market here in Florida,” said Steve Murray, director of communications for the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs.

With the new law (HB1319), if a spouse of an active duty military member holds a health care professional license in another state and relocates to Florida, they can get a temporary license here while waiting for a permanent one.

To honor the former head of Florida’s VA, the temporary certificates for physicians in critical needs areas are named after retired Admiral LeRoy Collins Jr., who was killed last year while cycling.

Some 1.6 million veterans live in Florida. Other new laws aimed at making Florida the most veteran and military “friendly” among states:  the creation of  a Veterans Hall of Fame at the state Capitol Building, property tax cuts to deployed servicemembers, free admission to state parks for Gold Star parents and establishing specific “Wounded Warrior Special Hunt Areas” in Florida’s state forests.

Military Spouse Magazine annually ranks the most military friendly employers – see who made the list in 2011.

Federally, the Department of Defense is operating a military spouse internship program.

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