- The Washington Times - Monday, June 14, 2004

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I have been experiencing a great deal of difficulty receiving military health (Tricare Prime) and VA medical care. I retired from the U.S. Air Force after 22-plus years of service.

I have been very ill for the past 12 years or so from complications of diabetes mellitus that developed while I was on active duty. Most recently (2003) this resulted in amputation of both legs below the knee. Through convoluted Tricare referral systems I received initial training legs and physical therapy to begin learning how to walk with them.

I had progressed and healed sufficiently to start the process of building my new, permanent legs. Upon requesting the re-referral process, I was advised that I was no longer eligible for Tricare benefits because I had declined Medicare part B when I qualified for Social Security Disability. I declined because Tricare advised that I was not 65 and therefore not eligible for Tricare for life and that when I was 65 I would be eligible for that option.

Now, Tricare informs me that because I declined part B, I am no longer eligible for Tricare. I was told this provision was part of legislation signed in 1993. They advised me to contact Medicare and re-enroll in part B. Meanwhile, Tricare is denying outstanding claims.

I contacted Medicare and was advised that new legislation was signed in late 2003 that would allow people like me (I am not alone) to re-enroll without fines and penalties. The bad news is that Medicare has not developed the procedures or process to implement the new law.

So I tried to go “VA.” I was rated 100 percent service-connected disabled effective August 2003. I presented myself to the Hampton VA Center May 25. They advised me that I was in their data system as a priority 1 service-connected veteran and am eligible for all services. The bad news is that they are “re-doing” their primary physician structure and the best they could do for me is put my name on a waiting list

So here I sit (in my wheelchair, which is about to be repossessed) with my stumps hanging down, wondering what to do next. I need help with this but don’t know where to turn. Any advice will be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely,

Dick H.

Hampton, Va.

Dear Dick:

I have contacted the top doctor at the VA head shed and by now you should have heard from the Hampton VA Medical Center. I also have shared your plight with the appropriate congressional committees, and it is to be hoped that they will correct this bureaucratic mistake.

Shaft notes

The Sarge is looking forward to joining the Blinded American Veterans Foundation (BAVF), Rep. Michael Bilirakis, Florida Republican, and their guests at the 19th congressional awards reception 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today in Room 334 of the Cannon House Office Building.

The annual event, held in conjunction with the foundation’s Flag Day observance, honors senators, House members, the media and volunteers.

The recipients of the 2004 George “Buck” Gillispie Congressional Award for Meritorious Service are Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, and Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican. The award is named in honor of the late Mr. Gillispie, a blinded World War II veteran who devoted more than 40 years toward efforts to rehabilitate visually impaired veterans.

The Carlton Sherwood Media Award, named in honor of the Pulitzer and Peabody award-winning journalist and highly decorated Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, will be presented to George L. Skypeck, military poet and artist, and Allison Seymour, co-anchor of “Fox Morning News” on TV station WTTG.

The recipients of the George Alexander Memorial Award for Volunteer Service are John F. Ciac, coordinator of the Visual Impairment Service Team at the VA Medical Center in Pittsburgh and Donald Thorson of the Thorson Foundation. The BAVF’s Corporate Award will be presented to MCVET, Message of Hope Choir.

The George Alexander Volunteer Service Award was created as a memorial for a friend of American veterans simply known as “Mr. Volunteer.”

He was rarely in the limelight, always there in the trenches. He never asked for credit, even when it was so truly warranted.

For Mr. Alexander, the miles have been traveled and the promises kept. May he sleep well, knowing that others, in his name, will continue to strive to match his standards of caring and dedication.

A joint Armed Forces color guard will set the stage for the awards ceremony, and the Marine Corps Brass Quintet will entertain guests with a medley of patriotic music.

For more information contact the BAVF at 202/462-4430.

• Kudos to Pitney Bowes for starting the “Memorial Day Letter Writing Campaign” that helped children in schools in several cities write letters to U.S. Marines serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. This program was in conjunction with the company’s ongoing “Powering Literacy” program.

As part of the mail program, children in the fifth through eighth grades had the opportunity to learn about the Marine Corps and Memorial Day from Marine representatives and gain valuable letter-writing skills. Pitney Bowes also provided the writing materials to create personalized letters and paid the postage for the mail.

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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