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Washington update for Week of April 9th, 2018

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



President Donald J. Trump Proclaims April 9, 2018, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day



Since the days of the American Revolution, brave men and women have selflessly answered the call to protect and defend our great Nation. During the conflicts of the past two centuries, more than 500,000 United States service members have been captured and held as prisoners of war (POWs). National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day honors these American patriots, who each paid an extraordinary price to help preserve our liberty.

This year commemorates several significant military anniversaries, including the centennial observance of the Armistice that ended World War I, the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Kasserine Pass in World War II, the 65th anniversary of the Korean Armistice Agreement, the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War's Tet Offensive, and the 25th anniversary of the Battle of Mogadishu. Enemy forces captured and imprisoned American service members during each of these conflicts. During these battles, as with those throughout our Nation's history, military personnel carried out their missions undaunted by risk of capture or loss of life, because of their love for each other and their devotion to the principles of duty, honor, and justice.

On this day, we pay homage to the courageous warriors who endured time in enemy hands and returned with honor to their families. During their capture, they faced loneliness, torture, hardship, separation from loved ones, and uncertainty about the future. In spite of unimaginable tribulations, these patriots persevered and survived. They are American heroes.

Former POWs remain actively engaged in communities throughout our country. Their efforts help fellow veterans and their families cope with life after military service. In addition, their stories are a source of inspiration for current and future generations. Former POWs and loved ones of military personnel who have not returned from past conflicts share a unique connection. Few people can comprehend the emotional toll, the loss, and the pain of uncertainty the families of the fallen or captured endure better than former POWs. Their encouragement, understanding, and outreach helps ensure that their fallen and unaccounted-for comrades are not forgotten.

As President, I remain committed to honoring and caring for former POWs. They have persevered through the harshest of conditions and, thankfully, have returned home to their loving families and a grateful Nation. They deserve our utmost reverence and respect.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim April 9, 2018, as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. I call upon Americans to observe this day by honoring the service and sacrifice of all our former prisoners of war and to express our Nation's eternal gratitude for their sacrifice. I also call upon Federal, State, and local government officials and organizations to observe this day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
sixth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand eighteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-second.






VA Failed to Perform Background Checks for Thousands of Medical Providers



A recent Inspector General report at the Department of Veterans' Affairs found that 6,200 workers have not received any background screening. Another 10,400 employees, or one in eight workers hired by the Veterans Health Administration between 2012 and 2016, did not have their investigations conducted in a timely matter.

Its findings were based on a sample of various VHA medical facilities. By failing to properly to investigate its employees, the IG said, VA was risking putting unqualified or otherwise problematic employees in charge of veterans health care.

Needless to say, this is entirely unacceptable. Veterans deserve to have properly vetted medical personnel.

Most VA medical professionals, such as physicians, nurses, pharmacists and lab technicians, are required to undergo the lowest-level "tier one" investigation to verify their suitability for the job. The Office of Personnel Management conducts the review and sends its findings back to VA to determine if any "derogatory information" should disqualify employees from their position. Investigation results are then expected to be retained both at VA and OPM.

The IG found, however, that VHA was not initiating the investigations in about 6 percent of cases. Agency adjudicators were also not reviewing in a timely manner the investigations that were conducted, which federal regulations require to happen within 90 days. Some employees whose background checks were never initiated had been working at the department for several years, the IG found, despite the requirement for the reviews to begin within 14 days.





Update About FEDVIP (Federal Employee Dental and Vision Insurance Program) for TRICARE Beneficiaries



Recently we have been getting more questions in our Washington office about the pending FEDVIP program. And it is very sensible that people are concerned; since we have some new information it is a good time to write about it again. 

On December 31, 2018 the present TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) will cease to exist. In its place will be the FEDVIP Dental Plan. Anyone who is presently eligible to enroll in TRDP will be eligible to sign up for FEDVIP Dental. This change was authorized by FY17 NDAA Section 715. The new program, like the old is a voluntary dental benefits plan with enrollee paid premiums. (That means retirees and their families from the 7 Uniformed Services.)

FEDVIP will, be run by the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM), not DoD. The enrollment season for this program is November 12th 2018 - December 11th 2018 with coverage beginning on January 1st 2019. There will be no rollover from the present TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP). If you don't sign up during the enrollment season you will not be covered in 2019.  

There are no waiting periods for work except some carriers plans with orthodontia work.

This is the same voluntary program that is available to federal civilian retirees, annuitants (retirees) and their families. The OPM has been running this program for 12 years and it is very popular.

 The Defense Health Agency DHA has put up a website at where you can sign up for updates. At this time, it does not have a great deal of information on it but they are promising to add more.

 You will be able to enroll thru BENFEDS site during the open season. This will be the primary site in which you enroll. However, DHA has also assured us that they will be opening a call center before the open season so you can ask questions and enroll by phone as well.

For the first time you will also be able to sign up for a vision insurance plan through DHA. Again, all retirees and their families from the 7 Uniformed Services will be eligible for the plan. Additionally, Active Duty Family Members will be eligible for the vision plan.

DHA is telling us that we will learn the 2019 FEDVIP plan rates in Mid-October. In the meantime, since this is the same program presently being run by OPM if you go to their website, click insurance and then click dental and vision you can see what commercial plans are presently in the program what they cover and what they cost in 2018.There may be some changes next year but nothing major is expected. So you can get a real idea of the many plans that are included and which one will be best for you and your family. Again, as we get more information we will publish it for you.





Two Scams Aimed at Veterans Targeted by U.S. Postal Inspection Service



Fraudulent charities

According to AARP's Fraud Watch Network, bogus charities that claim to benefit Veterans are a proven strategy for scammers, especially when targeting patriotic older donors. Scammers often use names that sound like authentic organizations when soliciting contributions. The criminals behind these fake charities know Veterans share a bond of honor, and they use that bond to manipulate and defraud. One such scammer, convicted and currently under appeal, operated two fake charities, pocketing the donations his victims thought were going to Veterans. Then he stooped even lower and used the personal information on the checks to steal donors' identities and take even more cash.

Whether you're a Veteran (active or retired), a family member of a Veteran, or a civilian who simply appreciates what Veterans have done serving their country, keep your guard up when encountering solicitations for charities with the word "Veterans" in the organization's name or mission statement. Before donating, verify the charity's name and their reputation. Use sites such as the Wise Giving Alliance, operated by the Better Business Bureau, or Charity Navigator. You can also contact the state agency that regulates charities where you live.

Donors also should have a clear understanding of how their donations will be used. Just because the word "Veterans" is in the name of a charity doesn't mean Veterans or their families will get any benefit. For example, telemarketers' consulting fees are often counted as "program" services. Look closely at the amounts a charity actually spends on programs that directly benefit its intended recipients. Reputable and effective nonprofits spend at least 75 percent of their expenses on program services and no more than 25 percent on fundraising and overhead, according to charity watchdogs. You can research charities at sites like CharityWatch, a nonprofit that analyzes the financial statements of charitable organizations and uses a scale from A+ to F to rate nonprofits based on their financial transparency and spending habits.

Veterans benefit or pension buyout

Many Veterans depend on a pension to cover day-to-day as well as occasional unexpected expenses, such as health emergencies or home repairs. In a pension advance, a company pays the pension holder a lump sum (usually far less than the pension is worth) in exchange for a portion or all of the future pension payments. This can be an attractive arrangement to some retirees, especially those facing temporary hardships or financial challenges that need to be resolved quickly. But though pension advances may seem like a "quick fix" to financial problems, they can eat into or even deplete your retirement income when you start paying back the advance plus interest and fees.

More often than not, a pension advance is a raw deal. Pension advance companies deliberately target government retirees with pensions and typically charge high interest rates and fees for an advance. One representative from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said: "We've heard from Veterans paying interest rates as high as 106 percent." Former service members should especially be on guard, because many of those shady companies use patriotic-sounding names or logos and even claim they are endorsed by the VA as a way of enticing potential customers.

If you or a loved one is considering a pension advance, consider your alternatives. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's Office for Service Members, a financial coach or credit counselor can help you weigh your options. To get started, contact the Financial Counseling Association of America (800-450-1794) or the National Foundation for Credit Counseling(800-388-2227).

Here are three things service members can do to protect their retirement pension:

  1. Avoid loans with high fees and interest. Pension advance companies may not always advertise their fees and interest rates, but you will certainly feel them in your bottom line. Before you sign anything, learn what you are getting and how much you are giving up.
  2. Don't sign over control of your benefits. Companies sometimes arrange for monthly payments to be automatically deposited in a newly created bank account so the company can withdraw payments, fees, and interest charges from the account. This leaves you with little control.
  3. Don't buy life insurance that you don't want or need. Pension advance companies sometimes require consumers to sign up for life insurance with the company as the consumer's beneficiary. If you sign up for life insurance with the pension advance company as your beneficiary, you could end up footing the bill, whether you know it or not.

You can also get a printer-friendly version of this information to share with friends who are considering pension advances.

Whether you're thinking about giving to a Veterans charity or have been offered a cash advance of your pension, use extreme caution. Both of these decisions will likely be charged with emotion, but be smart and do some research before giving up anything. Scammers are determined to get their hands on your money or any personal information that might give them access to your money.

If you or someone you know has encountered any military-affiliated scam, you can join the fight by sharing your experiences, good and bad, with our partners at the Fraud Watch Network (877-908-3360).

About the author: Inspector Marc Ewing is a program manager for the Postal Inspection Service's Mail Fraud program. Ewing previously worked as a fraud investigator in Ft. Worth, Texas, and later Memphis, Tennessee, specializing in investment frauds, pyramid schemes, sweepstakes, and phony business opportunities. He is a former member of the U.S. Air Force and was twice deployed to Saudi Arabia.

About the U.S. Postal Inspection Service: The United States Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) and the oldest federal law enforcement organization, tracing its roots to Benjamin Franklin. As one of the largest employers of Veterans, USPS and the Inspection Service take personally any attack on our Veterans. Learn more about the Inspection Service on FacebookTwitter and at





VA Helps Thousands of Older Veterans Find Alternatives to Potentially Risky Medications



By the late 1970s, benzodiazepines ranked among the most commonly prescribed medications in the world. These include Valium, Xanax and related medications that help calm activity in the brain. For many patients facing conditions such as anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder and depression, "benzos" became the answer.

But over time, that answer began to raise serious questions.

There is increasing evidence that benzodiazepines - along with other medications commonly prescribed for sleep, called "sedative hypnotics" - can increase the risk for adverse events like falls, hip fractures, cognitive impairment, motor vehicle crashes, drug dependence and withdrawal, and even death by overdose.

In October 2015, VA launched a nationwide effort to address the issue in a particularly vulnerable population: Veterans ages 75 and older. This effort marked phase two of VA's Psychotropic Drug Safety Initiative (PDSI), and it aimed to reduce the use of these medications, encourage the use of safer therapies and appropriate monitoring, and enhance prescribing practices for older Veterans.

"There are a lot of Veterans that I have met who have been taking these medications for a very long time," said Dr. Ilse Wiechers, a VA geriatric psychiatrist and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Yale University's School of Medicine. "They were started many, many years ago by a very well-meaning and well-intentioned provider who was trying to help them, usually with problems with sleep or with anxiety. In the interim ... we now have evidence that shows there are safe and effective treatments for things like insomnia and anxiety disorders that are less potentially risky and harmful."

By June 2017, the initiative had achieved dramatic results: More than 30,000 Veterans benefited from improvements in prescribing practices, and the number of Veteran outpatients who received prescriptions for benzodiazepines or sedative hypnotics fell by more than 20,000.

"We really wanted to focus on these older Veterans because there's a growing number of older patients coming into our system," said Wiechers, who is the national director for PDSI. "Because they are so vulnerable to some of the side effects of [these] particular medications and the VA is well-equipped to provide alternative, evidence-based treatments, we wanted to make sure that they're getting the best treatment possible and not being prescribed these medications in excess."

Here's how it worked: VA facilities across the country selected at least one of 14 prescribing metrics to prioritize over the course of the initiative. For example, some chose reducing benzodiazepine use by older Veterans, while others chose to monitor for particular side effects in Veterans taking an antipsychotic.

The PDSI program office then provided the facilities with support tools, technical assistance, educational and collaboration opportunities, and quarterly metrics to monitor progress. Facilities that may have widely prescribed benzodiazepines for insomnia prior to PDSI relied more heavily on cognitive behavioral therapy instead. Likewise, those that had prescribed benzodiazepines widely for anxiety may have shifted toward alternative, safer pharmacotherapy like antidepressants.

As a result, overall performance across the entire VA improved in all 14 metrics.

  • Over 5,700 fewer Veterans with dementia received a prescription for benzodiazepines.
  • Over 5,200 fewer Veterans received potentially harmful, highly anticholinergic medications.
  • Over 1,400 fewer Veterans with dementia received a prescription for antipsychotics.

"The thing that I was most excited about ... was the success that we had in reducing the use of benzodiazepines and sedative hypnotics in our older Veterans," Wiechers said. "This has often been viewed by both patients and their providers as something that is difficult to do. They often will push back on the idea that we should be targeting reduction of benzodiazepines, because they're really hard to taper off, or at least people believe that they're really hard to taper off. But we were able to have quite a bit of success."

That was the case in Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) 16, where six of the eight facilities made it a priority to reduce the prescription of benzodiazepines.

"We have had patients on the front end that were very, very agitated that we were reviewing the case and suggesting to discontinue [the use of benzos]," said Dr. Jason Hawkins, the pharmacy executive for VISN 16. "The reward of that was, a few months later, we would have either the patient or the family members come back and actually thank the staff at the facility for holding our ground and really looking out for the best case for the Veteran. They would say things like they could actually remember interactions with their family now, rather than just being in a haze for a few years."

Both Hawkins and Dr. Stacy Hargrove, an academic detailer for VISN 16, said the initiative benefited from Wiechers' close work with individual VISNs. In addition, the PDSI dashboard proved a particularly effective tool, providing near real-time updates on how facilities were doing in all 14 metrics. With just a few clicks on the dashboard, staffers could drill down to actionable data, such as a list of all patients in the facility, ages 75 and older, with an active prescription for a benzodiazepine.

"I found that some providers, before I kind of demoed it with them, were just a little intimidated by the idea of the dashboard and trying to find information in it," Hargrove said. "But once they saw how really simple it was to use, they were much more comfortable. So, in some ways, this was unique in that it was just very user-friendly - easy to get the data, easy to get the information you were looking for."

The PDSI team has now turned its attention to a critical next phase: improving access to medication-assisted treatment for Veterans with opioid and alcohol use disorders. Particularly in the case of opioids, Wiechers calls it "an issue of life and death with people."

Already, the team has applied one lesson from its work targeting benzodiazepines: "The more facilities we have focusing on one specific performance area, the greater impact we can have across the whole system," she said. So instead of addressing 14 metrics, the team now focuses on just two, with about half of the VA health system working on alcohol misuse and the other half on the opioid issue.

"I really think that we're going to see a much more robust impact across the entire system," Wiechers said. In VISN 16, Hawkins sees successes to build on as well. "Just empower the leaders," he said. "The leaders are already in place, already engaged. Give them the information they need, and let them take ownership."


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