- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have just discovered your column and think you may be able to answer my question quickly versus hours on the phone searching for a clear answer regarding survivors (spouse) benefits. My husband retired after 22 years of active service. At the time of retirement he elected to participate in the survivors benefit program and has paid the monthly premiums continuously since retirement in 1989. Twelve years into his retirement he was granted a 40 percent service connected disability … a portion of his retirement pay is now called disability pay, apparently he did not quality for additional monies, just a “renaming” of his retired pay.

If he should die what effect does all of this have on my survivor benefits? It appears that what he gets is a tax break on a portion of his retired pay, but will all of this come back to bite us/me later? I don’t know what to expect, but need to plan for the future.

Thanks,
Mary K.
Via the Internet

Dear Mary:

As I understand it If the service member dies before his wife, her survivor benefit annuity is calculated on what his full retired pay would have been before any offset for VA disability compensation was taken.

Dear Sgt Shaft:

The identification tag, affectionately known as the dog tag, might seem like a meaningless piece of metal if it were not for the importance placed on it by many servicemen and women, and their families. It has become a piece of their loved one that they can hold in their hand.

Having spent years on the research of identification tags, or dog tags as it is commonly known in America, the book “Dog Tags: The History, Personal Stories, Cultural Impact, and Future of Military Identification” discusses each of these topics — and has not been addressed as thoroughly before now.

I hope you will consider sharing its release — it is a topic both current and poignant.

A YouTube video about the book is at the following address: http://youtu.be/ZdcvbzPgm9s

Thank you and remember those who have served!

Sincerely,
Ginger Cucolo
www.dogtaghistory.com
233 Second Ave. SW
Ft. McNair, D.C. 20024
contact@dogtaghistory.com

Dear Ginger:

Dog tags have been so meaningful in identifying the remains of our fallen comrades.

Shaft notes

• Kudos to John G. Pare Jr., executive director for Strategic Initiatives for the National Federation of the Blind, for the following strong letter to HHS Secretary Sebulius. In his letter, he stated:

“I write to urge you and your colleagues at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to require that Medicare Part D sponsors pay pharmacies for Audible Prescription Reading Devices (APRDs). As the nation’s largest and oldest organization of blind people, the National Federation of the Blind represents over 50,000 Americans who rely on APRDs and other access technologies in order to safely, privately, and independently access our medication information.

“APRD labels allow blind people to identify and access information about their prescriptions, and you recognized the importance of these technologies in your letter to Congressman Bob Filner, dated December 30, 2010. In the same letter, you assert that pharmacies are allowed to be reimbursed for these technologies in the form of a dispensing fee, and that Part D sponsors are allowed to pay said dispensing fee as part of CMS regulatory provisions. En-Vision America, a manufacturer of ScripTalk (an APRD), met with policymakers at the CMS headquarters to discuss how pharmacies providing APRDs can bill Medicare Part D Sponsors under the above-mentioned dispensing fee provisions.

“Unfortunately, the meeting minutes provided by En-Vision America show a disconnect between your letter to Congressman Filner and the actual rules being executed by CMS. Specifically, the meeting minutes state that “even though Part D negotiates contracts with Sponsor Plans, they never make decisions on what dispensing fees are or whether a Plan must meet any ADA right of their blind and visually impaired patients for an ‘alternate form of communication’ of prescription labels.

“Furthermore, Part D policymakers consulted the CMS Office of Equal Opportunity and Civil Rights, which confirmed that CMS is not responsible for covering technologies like APRDs. Blind people need to access their medical information with the same privacy and ease of use as sighted people, but neither pharmacies nor Medicare Part D sponsors are required to cover technology that protects this right.

“We strongly encourage the Department and CMS to issue a rulemaking that will require Sponsor Plans to cover the dispensing fees of APRD labels, so that clear provisions exist that remove the financial burden from the blind person. We hope to see this action taken shortly, and would be happy to meet if you would like to discuss this issue in further detail.”

• The Subcommittee on Health has favorably reported five bills to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. Among the bills expected to be taken up at the Sept. 8th Full Committee markup is H.R. 2074, the Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act, introduced by Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, subcommittee chairwoman on Health.

The Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act was introduced in response to a June report by the Government Accountability Office that found 284 sexual assaults had occurred at VA residential programs between 2007 and 2010.

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 email sgtshaft@bavf.org.

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