- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I just turned 60, and I am now eligible for Tricare. I have a total of 21 years of military service. I also retired from federal government after 35 years service.

My question:

I pay about $275 a month for Blue Cross and Blue Shield, but now that I am eligible for Tricare, should I drop my private insurance? Do you know the advantages and disadvantages if I drop BCBS. If you do not have answers, who or where can I go to get answers?



Via the internet

Dear Rick,

Those in the know tell me that federal retirees should never drop their Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) coverage. They should always suspend it to use other health insurance, including Tricare. The federal human resources offices have the forms required to do this. That way, if you want to revert back to FEHB, you will be able to do that.

You may find that your Tricare coverage is not as robust as FEHB, depending on the plan you are in now, but you can use some of that $275 monthly to purchase a Tricare supplement and maybe dental or vision coverage and probably still be monetarily well ahead.

Shaft notes

Kudos to Rep. Bob Filner, California Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and his colleagues, who recently approved a package of bills that honors great Americans by naming Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities after them:

1. H.R. 2245: To designate the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Wenatchee, Wash., as the Elwood “Bud” Link Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic (Rep. Doc Hastings, Washington Republican).

2. H.R. 4264: To name the Department of Veterans Affairs spinal cord injury center in Tampa, Fla., as the Michael Bilirakis Department of Veterans Affairs Spinal Cord Injury Center (Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican).

3. H.R. 4289: To name the Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Ponce, Puerto Rico, as the Euripides Rubio Department of Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic (Delegate Luis Fortuno, Puerto Rico Republican).

4. H.R. 4918: To name the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center in Miami as the Bruce W. Carter Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida Republican).

“Naming VA facilities after veteran heroes is a fitting tribute to preserve the memories of these brave service members,” Mr. Filner said. “Our grateful nation joins these communities in honoring the memories and saluting the bravery of these veterans. This country has a proud legacy of appreciation and commitment to the men and women who have worn the uniform in defense of this country, and I thank my colleagues for their support in honoring these heroes.”

In addition to renaming these VA medical facilities, the House passed H.R. 2818, a bill to comprehensively address epilepsy treatment and care at the VA. The bill provides for the establishment of Epilepsy Centers of Excellence at each of the five polytrauma rehabilitation centers within VA. “Studies show that 50 percent of U.S. Vietnam War veterans with penetrating brain injuries developed epilepsy within one to 15 years post-trauma,” Mr. Filner said. “Traumatic brain injury is the signature wound of the current wars, and we should be prepared to care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans that have been exposed to blast trauma and are at risk of developing this neurological disorder.”

The House also passed three resolutions to support veterans and recognize the contributions of veterans organizations: H.Res. 1098: Supporting the goals and ideals of the Year of the American Veteran; H.Res. 1231: Supporting the goals and ideals of Vietnam Veterans Day and calling on the American people to recognize such a day; and H.Res. 1291: Expressing gratitude for the contributions of the American GI Forum on its 60th anniversary.

“Under the leadership of Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, the House has completely supported the goals and ideals of our veterans,” Mr. Filner said.

The Military Coalition (TMC), an influential District-based consortium of military and veterans groups, welcomed Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) as the newest member of the coalition at its most recent meeting.

The addition of IAVA swells the coalition’s ranks to 35 military and veterans associations, representing the interests of active duty, Guard and Reserve, retired, and former members of the seven uniformed services, plus their families and survivors.

TMC is an active advocacy group that focuses its efforts on improving military and veterans’ personnel, compensation and benefits programs. Its successes in recent years have included increased military pay raises, upgraded benefits for wounded members and their families.

“We’re extremely pleased to welcome IAVA to the coalition,” said retired Air Force Col. Steve Strobridge, co-chairman of the Military Coalition. “This is a highly credible group that has been active on the Hill and adds an important voice on behalf of our new ‘greatest generation’ who have sacrificed so much for our country in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Master Chief Petty Officer Joe Barnes, national executive director of the Fleet Reserve, added that “the work IAVA has already done with the Military Coalition has proven how strong the military community can be when we speak in one voice.”

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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