- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 26, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Here is an update that I thought would interest you and your readers. As you know, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is currently offering talking prescriptions to our nation’s visually handicapped veterans at most VA pharmacies and Blind Rehabilitation Centers. The VA ScripTalk program has been operational for more than a year with outstanding results. Because of the support of advocates like you, veterans now can get their prescriptions with a tiny microchip embedded in the label.

Using their ScripTalk hand-held reader, the blind and other eligible veterans can get their prescription information spoken. It is a wonderful thing to know that the VA is leading the way in making this technology available to veterans.

I also wanted to let you know that several large pharmacies are looking into making the ScripTalk readers available to patients who buy prescriptions. In addition, the General Assembly chairman of the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee, Delegate Sheila E. Hixson, Montgomery County Democrat, has introduced a bill (H.B. 135) that provides an incentive for pharmacies to offer products like ScripTalk.

Finally, I wanted to thank you not only for your support of our nation’s veterans, but for how you are helping visually handicapped people in general. Thank you for your advocacy and for giving us the opportunity to share your trailblazing vision into the future.


David Raistrick

En-Vision America

Dear Dave:

Kudos should go to the Department of Veterans Affairs for implementing this vital new technology. I am, however, disappointed that many blinded veterans are not able to avail themselves of this prescription safety device because their medical centers are indifferent to their needs.

For instance, the VA Medical Center in the District has done a yeoman’s job in its outreach efforts; however, the Baltimore VA Medical Center has been totally remiss in implementing this program. This unfortunate demographic crapshoot is endemic throughout the VA health care system. This problem should be addressed by the top doctors at the VA.

Good friend Delegate Shelia E. Hixson, Montgomery County Democrat, is a great proponent of ScripTalk. However, Maryland Pharmacy Association apparatchiks such as Gil Genns from the Maryland Association of Chain Drug Stores and Howard Schiff, executive director of the Maryland Pharmacy Association, showed their total disregard for the safety of the visually handicapped of Maryland at a recent hearing on the bill.

Shaft notes

• The Sarge joins the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. in strongly supporting the Military Retirees’ Health Care Protection Act (H.R. 4949) that recently was introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Chet Edwards, Texas Democrat, and Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican.

H.R. 4949 is in direct response to the Defense Department’s fiscal 2007 budget proposal that, if left unchallenged by Congress, would double and triple annual premiums for some retirees younger than 65 who are enrolled in the military’s Tricare health care system.

Under the Defense Department’s plan, enlisted retirees in the grade of E-6 and below would see overall Tricare Prime premium increases of 41 percent for single or family coverage within two years, and senior-enlisted and officer-retiree premiums would increase by 106 percent and 204 percent, respectively. The budget proposal also has automatic premium increases built in for future years.

“DoD’s proposal is absolutely unacceptable,” said VFW Commander in Chief Jim Mueller, a Vietnam veteran from O’Fallon, Mo.

“The military is not a commercial business that can offload health care and other personnel programs and benefits just to increase its bottom line,” he said, “because the bottom line in the military is its people, not its budget.”

H.R. 4949 would prohibit the current premium-increase proposal and transfer the authority for future military health care program increases and enhancements to Congress. The bipartisan bill, which already has four dozen co-sponsors, was sent to the House Armed Services Committee for evaluation. If approved by the committee, it will be forwarded to the House floor for a full vote.

• Kudos to military.com for initiating their Military Spouse Career Center.

Military spouses have a new official career resource at www.military.com/spouse. The Military Spouse Career Center, developed by Monster and Military.com under contract to the Defense Department’s Military Community and Family Policy, offers a job board with more than 700,000 private-sector and government job openings. In addition, there is a weekly newsletter to keep spouses updated on benefits, programs, discounts, etc. Information on popular career fields, career planning, scholarships, licensing, certification, resume-writing and family support resources also are included.

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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