- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

I recently lost my job and I was looking at completing my education to realize that my GI Bill benefits have expired. I contacted the VA and I was told that I could submit a request for an extension.

When I separated from the military I was struggling to pay bills and child support. I no longer have to pay child support so I don’t have that hanging over my head. Would this be a good enough reason to request an extension? By the way, my benefits expired 2 years ago. — Bruce, via the internet

Dear Bruce,

Those in the know at VA tell me that generally, an individual may be granted a delimiting date extension if VA determines that he or she was prevented from initiating or completing a chosen program of education because of a physical or mental disability. Other acceptable qualifying conditions include later periods of active duty service or POW/MIA status after discharge from active duty.

The length of any extension granted will equal the length of time VA determines that the person was prevented from initiating or completing a program of education within the basic period of eligibility because of the disability.

By law, delimiting date extensions can only be granted for the reasons described above.

Shaft notes

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has sent out interim guidance, pending the issuance of final regulations, on a new leave entitlement created by a Department of Defense authorization law (P.L. 111-84) effective last Oct. 28. That provision set standards for the entitlement to up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to care for a covered servicemember undergoing medical treatment, recuperation, or therapy, for a serious injury or illness in certain situations.

The law also allows up to 12 administrative workweeks of FMLA leave during any 12-month period because of any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the spouse or a son, daughter, or parent of the employee is on covered active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty.

NRC fines

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) recently levied the second largest fine the agency has ever imposed for several incidents at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center in Philadelphia, in which patient safety was compromised during prostate cancer treatments.

The NRC is an independent agency created by Congress in 1974 to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for civilian purposes such as in nuclear medicine. Beginning in 2008, the agency conducted several inspections, which revealed serious problems regarding lack of oversight in the Philadelphia VA brachytherapy program.

The inspections resulted in the imposition of the $227,500 fine levied March 17. Brachytherapy is the medical insertion of a number of tiny radioactive seeds into the prostate to destroy cancer cells. The NRC identified eight apparent violations regarding the lack of patient safety procedures.

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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