- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Dear Sgt. Shaft,

For the past 85 years, Fleet Reserve Association (FRA) has represented the enlisted voice on Capitol Hill. As a professional military association open to all current and former Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel, it is our duty to inform our members of legislation that would affect them and their families. Because of this, we proudly publish our monthly magazine FRA Today and our weekly legislative e-mail update, NewsBytes.

However, the best information is not helpful if it is not delivered in a way that is useful to our members. Recently one of our members, Shipmate Joe Parker from North Carolina, challenged FRA to publish its monthly magazine in a way that is accessible to those who are blind. A staggering 13 percent of all wounded service members evacuated from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered some type of serious eye injury, and others will have vision problems due to traumatic brain injury. Additionally, 7,000 veterans also become newly blind or visually impaired each year. It is our responsibility to ensure they get the information they need to protect themselves and their families.

To bring greater attention to this growing population, our February issue highlights options offered through the VA health care system, and we appreciate your willingness to be a part of that feature article. Thank you very much.

Additionally, FRA now posts an rtf file of FRA Today online, for use with audio reader software. To access the file for the February issue, type www.fra.org/fratoday/2-10 (March will be 3-10, and so on).

As an association, we stand ready to serve all our members, and believe it is important to effectively communicate with every segment of the population when a solution is available. We accepted Shipmate Parker’s challenge to us, and now we offer the same challenge to other organizations and businesses: please find a way to make important information accessible to all. — Sincerely, Joe Barnes, FRA national executive director.

Dear Joe,

I am proud of the FRA for making its valuable Web site accessible to the blind. Unfortunately our federal and state governments, which are responsible for enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act, have failed in this endeavor. For instance, blinded veterans are able to use an audio device that reads their prescriptions — ScripTalk — to identify their VA medications. However, the blind, even those working for the federal government, are denied this safety device through their pharmacy.

Additionally the visually handicapped cannot independently enjoy slot machines since these gambling devices no longer accept coins and do not have audible screens. Thus many elderly who become visually handicapped no longer can participate in this pastime, which the gray panthers have been known to enjoy. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia should visit casinos in their states and try to play the slot machines with their eyes closed.

Shaft notes

Kudos to Chairman Daniel K. Akaka, Hawaii Democrat, and his Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Chairman Bob Filner, California Democrat, and his House Veterans’ Affairs Committee for righting a wrong to some of our nations veterans.

“For veterans with limited insurance, a trip to the emergency room should not result in financial ruin,” said Mr. Akaka, who introduced the bill in the Senate last year. “With this new law, VA will be positioned to help veterans who are enrolled in VA care whose insurance does not cover the full cost of emergency treatment.”

The Veterans Emergency Care Fairness Act, signed into law by President Obama, will enable the Department of Veterans Affairs to reimburse veterans enrolled in VA health care for the remaining cost of emergency treatment if the veteran has outside insurance that only covers part of the cost. Previously, VA could reimburse veterans or pay outside hospitals directly only if a veteran has no outside health insurance.

In addition to reimbursing veterans for emergency care in the future, the bill allows the secretary of veterans affairs to provide retroactive reimbursements for care received prior to the passage of this bill. Mr. Akaka has received correspondence from veterans who were unable to receive financial assistance under the previous rules, and plans to share their information with VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that this legislation will cover approximately 700 future claims per year and as many as 2,000 veterans retroactively.

GI Film Festival

The GI Film Festival is pleased to announce that award-winning actor Ricky Schroder will receive the festival’s GI Spirit Award during the 2010 event, to be held May 12-16.

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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