Congressman Garamendi & His Veterans’ Advisory Committee Discuss Wide-Ranging Issues Impacting Veterans, Including Garamendi’s Proposed Solution to National Guard Bonus Crisis
VACAVILLE, CA – Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-Fairfield, Davis, Yuba City, CA), a Member of the House Armed Services Committee, convened his Veterans’ Advisory Committee for a wide-ranging conversation on issues that impact veterans. These periodic meetings are an opportunity for veteran service providers and advocates throughout the region to advise the Congressman on pressing needs in the district and to collaborate on potential solutions. The conversation included the California National Guard bonus crisis that has impacted nearly 14,000 veterans in California.
National Guard Bonuses
Congressman Garamendi gave an update on the outrageous situation that has unfolded in the California National Guard. Approximately 14,000 California National Guardsmen had their bonuses reviewed after enlisting or reenlisting during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has “suspended” repayments, current law requires the DOD to continue to clawback many of the bonuses received by members of the California National Guard during the Iraq & Afghanistan surge in 2006 – 2008. Congressman Garamendi said he will introduce an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act to ensure that these men and women who accepted their bonuses and served will not have to face a clawback. Furthermore, those who have been forced to repay their bonuses even after deploying and fulfilling their obligation will be fully reimbursed.
“We will introduce our fix to the National Guard bonus crisis when Congress returns to session, and we are optimistic that Congress will do the right thing. The National Defense Authorization Act is must-pass legislation, making it the ideal opportunity to solve this bonus crisis promptly,” Congressman Garamendi explained. “No one who served our country during a time of war should be expected to return bonuses they accepted in good faith.”
Billing Delays at Tri-West Causing Veterans to Pay Money Out-of-Pocket They Shouldn’t Owe
After introductions by Congressman Garamendi, as well as Solano County Veteran Service Officer Ted Puntillo, CalVet Administration Director of Field Operations John Kraft, Patient Advocate Aundrey Williams at the VA Northern California Health Care System’s Veteran and Family Advisory Council, and Swords to Plowshares Policy Director Amy Fairweather, the assembled participants began an open discussion.
One problem identified by the participants is a failure on the part of Tri-West to pay health care providers promptly for services rendered to veterans. Tri-West is the insurance company hired by the VA to pay claims for medical services provided by the VA. This problem is leading to veterans receiving bills for services that should be covered by their VA benefits.
“There’s this issue of billing and access. Tri-West is very slow in paying, and the providers are saying we can’t continue this. It’s a problem we need to solve,” Congressman Garamendi said.
Another Billing Concern: “The 72-Hour Rule”
A related concern involved “the 72-hour rule,” whereby veterans receiving outpatient care are required to alert the VA within 72 hours, no matter their medical condition, mental state, or family support. Veterans are often unaware of the requirement, and health care providers and ambulance services often fail to alert the VA, which results in veterans and their families being stuck with the bill. Congressman Garamendi asked for assistance in gathering a list of every health care provider and ambulatory entity in the 3rd District that provides services to veterans, so that the Congressman’s office will alert them to the 72-hour rule.
The VA Appeals Backlog
Congressman Garamendi’s District Director John Evalle, a Retired Chief Master Sergeant at Travis Air Force Base, asked the participants to keep Garamendi’s office informed about any VA appeals that are being delayed. While the VA claims backlog has dropped dramatically following a VA shakeup and Congressional action supported by Garamendi, there are growing concerns that appeals to denied claims are getting the short end of the stick. Several participants echoed this concern.
Senior Mental Health and Its Overlap with the VA
The Congressman noted that the VA’s appeals backlog directly correlates with a major problem affecting the entire medical system: mental health care for seniors. Alzheimer’s and other degenerative mental health diseases are a fast-growing cost driver that threatens to undermine the solvency of Medicare and cause drastic increases in private insurance premiums. The Congressman led the charge to increase Alzheimer’s research funding by more than one-third to over $900 million last year, and he continues to work to increase this budget. He noted that In Home Supportive Services are also an essential part of the solution, as home care is far less expensive than facility care, and seniors who are able to stay at home have a better life outlook, better outcomes, and retain memories longer.
Housing and Jobs
The conversation wrapped up with a discussion on the need for more affordable housing. The housing crisis that currently engulfs the Bay Area is gradually spreading as displaced populations move inward, and the 3rd District is feeling the effects. The Congressman also noted that as a result of his work with his Manufacturing Advisory Committee, his office is assembling job opportunities that many veterans would qualify for, as there is a shortage of qualified labor in several critical skilled labor positions at regional manufacturers.