- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2007

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

We would like to learn more about Tricare coverage before dropping our Mail Handlers Benefit Plan insurance.

Our current health coverage is as follows: My husband has Medicare Part A and B, Tricare for Life and Mail Handers Standard Option. I have Mail Handlers Standard Option and Tricare Standard.

I took Mail Handlers insurance for the both of us when I retired in 1994 from the federal government. I have been laid off from my job and want to cut back expenses; therefore, I want to learn more about Tricare benefits. From what organization in Philadelphia can we learn about Tricare?

Diana

Via the Internet

Dear Diana:

It isn’t clear from your missive if both you and your spouse are eligible for Medicare. If so, you will save considerable money by using Medicare and Tricare for Life.

Bud Schneeweis, a Tricare specialist at the Military Officers Association of America, recommends that you communicate with a Tricare service center in Region North. According to the Tricare Web site (www.tricare.mil), the nearest Tricare service center to Philadelphia is at the McGuire Air Force Base clinic in New Jersey, 877/874-2273.

Shaft notes

• The Department of Defense has announced a new approach for governance and management of the military health care system. Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England approved the plan, at this time a conceptual framework, on Nov. 27.

The concept creates joint oversight and leadership of several key functional areas in the health care system: education and training, medical research, health care delivery in major U.S. markets and critical shared services.

Objectives of the new approach are to streamline operations, create greater efficiencies and cost savings, improve coordination of medical services, improve support to war fighters, leverage better medical research, and create greater standardization in training of military medical personnel.

This approach for governance responds to departmental direction that the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, Joint Staff and military services work together to improve management performance and efficiency of the military health care system.

• Congratulations to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its proactive outreach efforts to inform wartime veterans and surviving spouses of deceased wartime veterans about an underused monthly pension benefit called Aid and Attendance.

“Veterans have earned this benefit by their service to our nation,” said Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson. “We want to ensure that every veteran or surviving spouse who qualifies has the chance to apply.”

Although the program is not new, not everyone is aware of his or her potential eligibility. The Aid and Attendance pension benefit may be available to wartime veterans and surviving spouses who have in-home care or who live in nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

Many elderly veterans and surviving spouses whose incomes are above the congressionally mandated legal limit for a VA pension may still be eligible for the special monthly Aid and Attendance benefit if they have large medical expenses, including nursing home expenses, for which they do not receive reimbursement.

To qualify, claimants must be incapable of self-support and in need of regular personal assistance. The veteran generally must have served at least 90 days of active military service, one day of which was during a period of war.

If all requirements are met, VA determines eligibility by adjusting for unreimbursed medical expenses from the veteran’s or surviving spouse’s total household income. If the amount falls below the annual income threshold for the Aid and Attendance benefit, VA pays the difference between the claimant’s household income and the Aid and Attendance threshold.

The Aid and Attendance income threshold for a veteran without dependents is $18,234 annually. The threshold increases to $21,615 if a veteran has one dependent, and by $1,866 for each additional dependent. The annual Aid and Attendance threshold for a surviving spouse alone is $11,715.

To obtain additional information and assistance, call 800/827-1000.

• Office of Personnel Management Director Linda M. Springer has announced the opening of the Veteran Outreach Office at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. The office will provide wounded veterans with information on training and civilian employment opportunities within the federal civil service, as well as other assistance to help ease transition back to civilian life.

The Veteran Outreach Center will be staffed for two or three days each week by an OPM representative on loan from the Air Force trained to help wounded veterans find federal civilian employment opportunities.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, PO 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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