- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dear Sgt. Shaft:

Once again the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and other members of the Military Coalition are having to gear up to fight the Pentagon’s attempts to triple annual Tricare fees for military retirees younger than 65 in some cases because of the president’s recently submitted budget.

What’s most egregious is that the fiscal 2008 budget assumes even larger fee increases than last year.

MOAA and Military Coalition members said that these dramatic fee increases were not appropriate. Adding to the argument, the Department of Defense had not done enough to pursue other available options to keep health care costs down. Congress agreed.

This year, the Pentagon has not yet published a fee plan. It is waiting for findings from a Defense Department-appointed task force on the future of military health care. That task force is supposed to provide interim recommendations on cost sharing and pharmacy co-pays in May.

In essence, the administration has underfunded the Defense Department health care budget by presuming the task force’s outcome. Also, the administration has challenged Congress to either implement fee increases high enough to save $1.8 billion or find the same amount from another source to make up for the underfunding.

MOAA thinks it is wrong to play this kind of budget “chicken” with the Defense Department health care program. It is especially shortsighted and disheartening to do so in a time of war.

Sincerely,

Ret. Vice Adm. Norb Ryan Jr.

President

Military Officers Association of America

Alexandria, Va.

Dear Adm. Ryan:

This disgraceful fee increase is certainly a bitter pill to swallow for our military retirees. I urge Congress to once again block these sleight-of-hand Defense Department budget shenanigans.

Shaft notes

• I was honored to have recently attended a very special tribute.

The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA), a national nonprofit organization that is the leading provider of social and support services to members of the U.S. military and their families, paid tribute to the military men and women who administer lifesaving medical treatment to our troops on the front lines at the ASYMCA Angels of the Battlefield Gala.

• The Department of Veterans Affairs, long a leader in the treatment and rehabilitation of veterans with brain injuries, is continuing to adapt its programs to meet the needs of veterans from the global war on terror, with new services in place or under way.

The latest innovations for treating traumatic brain injury in combat veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan include mandatory training in traumatic brain injury for all VA health care professionals, screening of all recent combat vets for traumatic brain injury and creating an outside panel to review VA’s services for traumatic brain injury.

Traumatic brain injury can be caused without any visible injuries when explosives jar the brain inside the skull. Symptoms can range from headaches, irritability and sleep disorders to memory problems and depression.

VA has developed a course on traumatic brain injury that is mandatory for all health care professionals. The course teaches primary care providers ways to diagnose traumatic brain injury in patients who might not be aware they suffer from it.

VA’s innovations in the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury began in 1992, when four VA medical centers dedicated special facilities to treatment, rehabilitation, professional education and research regarding brain injuries. In March 2003, those facilities received their first patients from the global war on terror, and in April 2005, they were officially designated as polytrauma centers, featuring teams of specialists in various medical disciplines and case managers working together to help veterans overcome severe injuries.

VA treated more than 5.4 million patients last year, accounting for about 55 million outpatient visits and 600,000 hospitalizations. About 205,000 of the 630,000 veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have come to VA for health care, with fewer than 7,000 being hospitalized.

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 e-mail [email protected]

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