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Vets Views:Uncertainties abound for military, but here's news so far

Greg Remus

With the prospects of cuts to defense and Veterans Affairs at the federal and state levels it is important to identify what we know is going to happen. First, President Obama approved legislation, which became effective December 1, 2012. The increase of 1.7 percent is a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) compensation to wounded and injured veterans, their dependents and survivors. The increase should have appeared on January checks, deposited on December 31, 2012.

Second, federal legislators are expected to raise drug co-payments on military family members and retirees who fill prescriptions at TRICARE retail outlets or through mail order. The fee increases are scheduled to take effect Feb. 1. It appears the current $12 co-pay for brand name drugs on the military formulary will rise to $17.

The $25 co-pay for non-formulary drugs will jump to $44. The co-pay for generic drugs at retail will stay at $5. For mail order, the current $9 co-pay for brand names on formulary will increase to $13. The $25 co-pay for brand names off formulary will jump to $43. Generic drugs will continue to be dispensed by mail at no cost. For fiscal 2014 and beyond, the plan directs that drug fees be raised annually by the same percentage as retiree cost-of-living adjustments.

Third, the Hubbard County Veterans Service Office, in partnership with the Heartland Express, Hubbard County's transit program, will continue to operate a Veterans Transportation Program used to transport local veterans to their medical appointments at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities.

Veterans are transported to their appointments by either the Heartland Express bus or by certified volunteer drivers who use their own vehicles and then are reimbursed for mileage and meals (but not their time) by the county.

The driver typically comes to your home to pick you up, takes you to your appointment, and then returns you back to your home when your appointment is completed. To schedule an appointment simply contact the Heartland Express office at 732-2421 between the hours of 8 a.m. and noon, Monday thru Friday.

Please provide your full name, address, telephone number, and the date, time, and location of your scheduled appointment. For the convenience of our drivers and other passengers, we ask that you request all of your appointments be made on the same day, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. whenever possible.

The funding of this program was made available through a combination of a state grant from the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, Hubbard County funds and a donation from the Sons of the American Legion.

Finally, the Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it is cutting red tape for veterans by eliminating the need for them to complete an annual Eligibility Verification Report (EVR).

VA will implement a new process for confirming eligibility for benefits, and staff that had been responsible for processing the old form will instead focus on eliminating the compensation claims backlog.

All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits will receive a letter from VA explaining these changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit their unreimbursed medical expenses. More information about VA pension benefits is available at the VA Pension Benefits webpage at pension.

As always the purpose of the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office is to provide assistance and support to eligible veterans, their dependents and survivors in obtaining benefits through the State and Federal Departments of Veterans Affairs, and to provide benefit counseling, claims service, referral and assistance in a variety of other programs.

You can contact me at the Hubbard County Veteran Service Office at 201 Fair Ave, Park Rapids, 732-3561. Have a great day! And I will be in Laporte at the Lakeport Town Hall from 9 a.m. to noon and at the ARCC in Akeley from 1-3 p.m. every 3rd Thursday of each month.