- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I served a year in Vietnam and was honorably discharged. Seven years later I returned to active duty service as an officer and retired in the Reserves in the rank O-4. Is retirement in the reserve considered retirement in the following sentence: “A retired member of the armed forces is generally excluded from the definition unless the individual qualifies as a disabled veteran or retired below the rank of major or its equivalent (5 U.S.C. 2108).” — Dennis C. via the internet

Dear Dennis,

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), under veterans preference laws, military retirees at the rank of major, lieutenant commander, or higher are not eligible for preference in appointment unless they are disabled veterans (this does not apply to reservists who will not begin drawing military retired pay until age 60).

Shaft Notes

The Senate has unanimously passed S. 3162, a bill to clarify that the health care VA provides to children with spina bifida born to veterans of the Vietnam War and to some veterans who served in Korea during specified times, as well as to children of women Vietnam veterans with certain birth defects, meets the standard of minimum health care coverage required by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

“This legislation will put to rest any question: veterans dependents receiving VA health care meet the new health insurance reform laws minimum health care coverage standard,” said Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, author of the bill.

This unanimously approved legislation garnered 59 co-sponsors during its two days on the floor, before passing the Senate on March 26. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, individuals must hold a minimum level of health care coverage. Sen. Akakas bill would simply clarify that care provided by VA to certain dependents with spina bifida and other birth defects as well as to other dependents under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs program, or CHAMPVA, satisfies that requirement.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki recently announced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is taking steps to make it easier for veterans to obtain disability compensation for certain diseases associated with service in the Persian Gulf war or Afghanistan. This will be the beginning of historic change for how VA considers Gulf war veterans illnesses.

Following recommendations made by VAs Gulf War Veterans Illnesses Task Force, VA is publishing a proposed regulation in the Federal Register that will establish new presumptions of service connection for nine specific infectious diseases associated with military service in Southwest Asia during the Persian Gulf war, or in Afghanistan on or after Sept. 19, 2001.

“We recognize the frustrations that many Gulf war and Afghanistan veterans and their families experience on a daily basis as they look for answers to health questions, and seek benefits from VA,” Mr. Shinseki said.

The proposed rule includes information about the long-term health effects potentially associated with the nine diseases: Brucellosis, Campylobacter jejuni, Coxiella burnetii (Q fever), malaria, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Nontyphoid Salmonella, Shigella, Visceral leishmaniasis and West Nile virus.

For non-presumptive conditions, a veteran is required to provide medical evidence that can be used to establish an actual connection between military service in Southwest Asia or in Afghanistan, and a specific disease.

With the proposed rule, a veteran will only have to show service in Southwest Asia or Afghanistan, and a current diagnosis of one of the nine diseases. The 1998 Persian Gulf War Veterans Act requires the VA secretary to review National Academy of Sciences (NAS) reports that study scientific information and possible associations between illnesses and exposure to toxic agents by veterans who served in the Persian Gulf war.

Because the Persian Gulf war has not officially been declared ended, veterans serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom are eligible for VAs new presumptions. Mr. Shinseki decided to include Afghanistan veterans in these presumptions because NAS found that the nine diseases are prevalent in that country.

Noting that this proposed regulation reflects a significant determination of a positive association between service in the Persian Gulf war and certain diseases, Secretary Shinseki added, “By setting up scientifically based presumptive service connection, we give these deserving veterans a simple way to get the benefits they have earned in service to our country.”

Disability compensation is a non-taxable, monthly monetary benefit paid to veterans who are disabled as a result of an injury or illness that was incurred or aggravated during active military service.

For more information about health problems associated with military service during operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom and related VA programs go to www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/gulfwar/ or go to www.va.gov for information about disability compensation.

Send letters to Sgt. Shaft, c/o John Fales, P.O. Box 65900, Washington, DC 20035-5900; fax: 301/622-3330; call: 202/257-5446; or e-mail [email protected]

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