- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Do you know if one who has federal Blue Cross Blue Shield, Medicare and Tricare can drop the first two and pick them up again at a later date because of financial urgency? Also, if you can pick up the aforementioned once again, when is this possible and is the fee increased for Medicare?

Thank you for your response and your outstanding works.

C. R.

Via the Internet

Dear C.R.:

I suggest that you to pose the first part of your question to a federal employee benefits counselor at your agency to be certain.

If you drop Blue Cross Blue Shield as a federal retiree, you may not be able to get it back unless you suspend, and do not cancel, that coverage to use Tricare.

A military retiree is entitled to Tricare regardless of what he does with his Blue Cross Blue Shield. If he’s older than 65 and wants to use Tricare for Life, he must enroll in Medicare Part B.

Shaft notes

Congratulations and semper fi to newly elected Sen. James H. Webb Jr., Virginia Democrat, on his introduction of S.B. 22, a bill to improve educational benefits for post-September 11 military service.

In his floor statement, Mr. Webb said:

“This bill is designed to expand the educational benefits that our nation offers to the brave men and women who have served us so honorably since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“As a veteran who hails from a family with a long history of military service, I am proud to offer this bill as my first piece of legislation in the United States Senate.

“Most of us know that our country has a tradition — since World War II — of offering educational assistance to returning veterans. In the 1940s, the first GI Bill helped transform notions of equality in American society. The GI Bill program was designed to help veterans readjust to civilian life, avoid high levels of unemployment and give veterans the opportunity to receive the education and training that they missed while bravely serving in the military.

“Over the last several decades, Congress subsequently passed several other GI bills, which also gave educational benefits to veterans. However, benefits awarded under those subsequent bills have not been as generous as our nation’s original GI Bill.

“Currently, veterans’ educational benefits are administered under the Montgomery GI Bill. This program periodically adjusts veterans’ educational benefits, but the program is designed primarily for peacetime — not wartime — service.

“Yet, now our nation is fighting a worldwide war against terrorism. Since 9/11, we have witnessed a sharp increase in the demands placed upon our military. Many of our military members are serving two or three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. In light of these immense hardships, it is now time to implement a more robust educational assistance program for our heroic veterans who have sacrificed so much for our great nation.

“The new benefits package under the bill I am introducing today will include the costs of tuition, room and board, and a monthly stipend of $1,000. By contrast, existing law under the Montgomery GI Bill provides educational support of up to $1,000 per month for four years, totaling $9,000 for each academic year. This benefit simply is insufficient after 9/11.

“First, these increased educational benefits will be available to those members of the military who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001. In general, to qualify, veterans must have served at least two years of active duty, with at least some period of active-duty time served beginning on or after September 11, 2001.

“Next, the bill provides for educational benefits to be paid for a duration of time that is linked to time served in the military. Generally, veterans will not receive assistance for more than a total of 36 months, which equals four academic years.

“Third, as I mentioned a moment ago, my bill would allow veterans pursuing an approved program of education to receive payments covering the established charges of their program, room and board, and a monthly stipend of $1,000. Moreover, the bill would allow additional payments for tutorial assistance, as well as licensure and certification tests.

“Fourth, veterans would have up to 15 years to use their educational assistance entitlement. But veterans would be barred from receiving concurrent assistance from this program and another similar program, such as the Montgomery GI Bill program.

“Finally, under this bill, the secretary of veterans affairs would administer the program, promulgate rules to carry out the new law, and pay for the program from funds made available to the Department of Veterans Affairs for the payment of readjustment benefits.

“Again, I note that the benefits I have outlined today essentially mirror the benefits allowed under the GI Bill enacted after World War II. That bill helped spark economic growth and expansion for a whole generation of Americans. The bill I introduce today likely will have similar beneficial effects. As the post-World War II experience so clearly indicated, better educated veterans have higher income levels, which in the long run will increase tax revenues.

“The United States has never erred when it has made sustained new investments in higher education and job training. Enacting the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007 is not only the right thing to do for our men and women in uniform, but it also is a strong tonic for an economy plagued by growing disparities in wealth, stagnant wages and the outsourcing of American jobs.”

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, D.C. 20035-5900; fax 301/622-3330; call 202/257-5446; or e-mail sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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