- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 30, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I am a 100 percent disabled veteran. I live in Virginia with my wife and youngest daughter. My daughter attends college, and without VA Chapter 35 benefits, things would be a bit tough. I have been unemployed and living on retirement and VA benefits since 1997.

Concerning retired (as well as active duty) benefits, perhaps you can help me understand something that’s puzzled me for quite some time. I retired from military service with extensive disabilities during the latter part of 1968. My “retirement compensation” has moderately increased over the years; however, the actual “spending power” of my “benefits” seems to have eroded at an equal or greater pace.

For example, several years ago the cost of gasoline on military installations was noticeably less expensive than “off base.” The difference, I believe, was due to the fact that state tax was not charged on base and the gas was “unnamed” yet certified from various commercial sources. This “benefit” was/is presumably intended to help offset the “less than desirable” salary differential between military and civilian careers, in addition to the fact that transactions on U.S. military installations are exempt from state and local sales taxes.

This morning, I filled my vehicle’s gas tank at Fort Belvoir and could not help but notice that the price of gasoline “on post” is currently no different than the cost of gasoline along Route 1 just outside the main gate. Current research indicates Virginia sales tax on a gallon of gasoline is 27 cents per gallon and the figures for local taxes are “elusive,” to say the least.

Why isn’t the price of gasoline for military personnel and their dependents at least 27 cents cheaper “on post” in the state of Virginia?

Thanks for your comments on this matter. I’m sure I’m not the only active or retired service member with these and similar thoughts.

Stay well, Sarge.

Russell C.

Clifton, Va.

United States Army, retired

Dear Russ:

My sources tell me that gasoline prices on each military base are determined by frequent local market surveys conducted by the local Post Exchange. The PX pays all taxes. I suggest that the PX apparatchiks get new calculators.

Shaft notes

Congratulations to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on winning the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award. The annual award, sponsored by Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, honors excellence and creativity in the public sector. The award was for the model system of electronic health records, developed with extensive involvement of front-line health care providers.

“This great honor is testimony to the vision of health care professionals throughout VA,” said VA Secretary Jim Nicholson. “Our electronic health records are without peer and ensure that our nation’s veterans receive the best care this country can provide.”

Although health care costs in the United States continue to soar, VA is reducing costs and errors while increasing safety and efficiency.

Outside of VA, because patient records are not readily available, one out of seven Americans ends up hospitalized when outpatient care is all that’s needed. For the same reason, one out of five lab tests is needlessly repeated outside the VA system. And while the costs of health care continue to soar for most Americans, the VA is reducing costs, reducing errors and becoming the model for what modern health care management and delivery should look like.

“The involvement of front-line providers, use of performance measures and universal use of electronic health records have enabled VA to set the national benchmark in quality of care” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, VA undersecretary of health. “The electronic records system is called VistA, and it is an essential part of VA’s commitment to giving every patient safe, effective, efficient, compassionate health care.”

VA’s complete adoption of electronic health records and performance measures have resulted in high-quality, low-cost health care with high patient satisfaction. A recent Rand Corp. study found that VA outperforms all other sectors of American health care across a spectrum of 294 measures of quality in disease prevention and treatment. For six straight years, VA has led private-sector health care in the independent American Customer Satisfaction Index.

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 [email protected]

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