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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

Retiree asks High Court to review free healthcare ruling

Military Update focuses on issues affecting pay, benefits and lifestyle of active and retired servicepeople. Its author, Tom Philpott, is a Virginia-based syndicated columnist and freelance writer. He has covered military issues for almost 25 years, including six years as editor of Navy Times. For 17 years he worked as a writer and senior editor for Army Times Publishing Co. Philpott, 50, enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard in 1973 and served as an information officer from 1974-77.

By Tom Philpott

Retired Air Force Col. George Bud Day, a war hero angry at what he and a generation of military retirees say is a broken government promise of free lifetime healthcare, has asked the Supreme Court to review the case.

On behalf of two retiree clients who began their service careers during World War II, Day on Jan. 27 filed a petition with the Supreme Court seeking review of a federal appeals court ruling last November that reversed an earlier retiree victory.

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled 9-4 that any promises of free lifetime healthcare made by recruiters, or even by service leaders, were not backed by statute and therefore not legally binding.

The appeals decision did not affect TRICARE for Life benefits, a new and highly prized supplement to Medicare for service elderly that Congress approved two years ago. It did so in response, at least in part, to the high-profile lawsuit filed by Day, a Medal of Honor recipient.

Day, however, wants retirees who entered service before July 1956 to receive up to $10,000 in claim reimbursements for past healthcare costs.

The Supreme Court could take months to decide whether to grant Day's petition for a writ of certiorari to review the appeal. Hoping to influence that decision, Day and his supporters, the Class Act Group, plan a rally of retirees in Washington D.C. on Feb. 12.

Details on the rally are available online at: www.lawsuit@classact-lawsuit.com or by calling the group's toll free number: (800) 972-6275.

SGLI rates cut

Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance premiums will fall by 19 percent in July, lowering payroll deductions for 98 percent of active-duty members and 96 percent of eligible reservists.

The Department of Veterans Affairs said premiums for maximum SGLI coverage of $250,000 will drop from $20 a month to $16.25. The new monthly rate per $1,000 in coverage will be 6.5 cents, down from 8 cents.

The cost of family coverage, available to spouses and children of service members holding SGLI policies, also will fall. Spouse premiums are age-based so the reduction in premiums will vary by age group. The largest decline — 42 percent — will benefit spouses 35 to 39. Maximum spousal coverage is $100,000. Children receive $10,000 of free coverage.

Premiums for Veterans' Group Life Insurance, which VA reduced three times in the past four years, are not affected.

More information on VA-run life insurance is available by calling (800) 419-1473 or visiting the Web site at: www.insur ance.va.gov.

As U.S. forces prepare for war with Iraq, hundreds of medical personnel attending the 2003 TRICARE Conference in Washington heard words of praise for the care they give and the lives they save whenever Americans go into battle.

Words of praise

Gen. John M. Keane, Army vice chief of staff, honored conference attendees with remembrances of casualties and the medics who saved them during his own career. As a young officer in Vietnam, Keane said, he saw the bravery of medics and medical evacuation teams. He said he has heard similar stories of timely, skillful care from the wounded returning from Afghanistan.

"What you do is absolutely amazing to me," Keane told TRICARE conferees. He also recounted the courage of both service members and civilians at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

Keane has visited Afghanistan four times in the past year. The attitude of soldiers there, he said, is different from those involved in other recent operations —- Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Somalia, even in the Gulf War.

"Morale is always high," Keane said, "but when you see our soldiers in Afghanistan taking the fight to al-Qaida, there is a difference. There's an extraordinary difference. This is the first time since World War II that we have asked our soldiers to fight directly for the American people. In the past it has always been to help a beleaguered nation somewhere, where some thug had imposed his will on others."

The fight in Afghanistan "is all about the American people. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines — they get it. They understand it. Their intensity and their dogged determination to succeed, and the way they express themselves (and) their willingness to sacrifice for the American people — it would move you to tears. It is absolutely inspirational."

That America was struck first, Keane suggested, had significance.

"The war that began on that day is very much like every single war of the 20th century," he said. "It was a war that was unexpected, for the most part. And we did not start it. And that has been the character of America's involvement in war, certainly through our adult life and throughout most of the history of our country."

Is he concerned that U.S. forces won't feel that same sense of commitment, of fighting to protect Americans, in a war with Iraq? Keane was asked that during a question-and-answer session following his speech.

U.S. soldiers "know who Saddam Hussein is," he said, describing the Iraqi dictator as a "repressive leader and thug who holds many weapons of mass destruction that could be used against the American people. I think they would have great concern about that."

Also, al-Qaida's interest in such weapons is obvious from documents found by U.S. soldiers in terrorist hideouts in Afghanistan, Keane said.

Questions, comments and suggestions are welcome. Write to Military Update, P.O. Box 231111, Centreville, VA 20120-1111, or send e-mail to: milupdate@aol.com.