- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

I retired from the U.S. Air Force in August 1987. Within three months of retirement, I was granted 30 percent service-connected disability, which was later increased to 80 percent. I served during Vietnam.

On July 27, 1987, while on terminal leave from the military, I went to work for the Internal Revenue Service, on a “temp” appointment. I got full-time appointment about April 10, 1988. I’m already past the age of 62, and just this year, started talking of FERS retirement, during which I was informed that I could “purchase” the Vietnam service time to “enhance” my FERS retirement, as well as the eight months of temp time. I purchased both increments of time (in good faith) based upon an IRS human resources person telling me I could.

I showed a friend how I did it, and he attempted to do the same thing. He is retiring this week, and was just informed today that he cannot use that year in Vietnam to “enhance” his FERS retirement and that the IRS must refund the money with which he purchased the time.

Have you ever seen or heard of anything like this? If we can’t trust those personnel specialists to assist us with these kinds of decisions, what do we do? I have no retirement date at this time.

I would very much appreciate any guidance you might be able to send my way.


A.L. U.

Via the Internet

Dear A.L.:

According to the powers that be at the Office of Personnel Management, there is no simple answer to the issues posed by your missive. There are so many details that could vary between you and other federal employees in similar situations (for instance, types of military discharge, specific periods of service and types of civilian appointments) that an analysis of the situation cannot be provided without the individual personnel records in hand.

To better assist you with questions regarding creditable military service, OPM suggests you and your buddy link to Chapter 22 of the Civil Service Retirement System/Federal Employees Retirement System handbook, which discusses the requirement of documenting and applying for credit for military service toward retirement: https://www.opm.gov/asd/hod/pdf/C022.pdf.

Shaft notes

Congratulations to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ model system of electronic health records, developed with extensive involvement of front-line health care providers, for winning the prestigious Innovations in American Government Award. The annual award, sponsored by Harvard University’s Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation and administered in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government, honors excellence and creativity in the public sector.

“This great honor is testimony to the vision of health care professionals throughout VA,” Veteran Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson said. “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 the VA system, because patient records are not readily available, one out of seven Americans ends up hospitalized when outpatient care is all that’s needed.

“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 B. Perlin, former VA undersecretary for 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 and a high level of patient satisfaction.

The cost of maintaining the system is $80 per patient per year, less than the cost of one unnecessarily repeated lab test. In the past 10 years, the automated Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture’s efficiencies have offset cost increases associated with a 100 percent rise in the number of veterans receiving VA care.

VistA has helped VA save 6,000 lives by improving rates of pneumonia vaccination among veterans with emphysema, cutting pneumonia hospitalizations in half and reducing costs by $40 million per year. Patient waiting times have declined while customer service has improved, and access to care has increased because of online availability of health information.

In addition to saving money, VistA saves lives and ensures continuity of care even under extreme circumstances. Many of the thousands of residents who fled the Gulf Coast because of Hurricane Katrina last year left behind vital health records. Records for the 40,000 veterans in the area were almost immediately available to clinicians across the country.

• 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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