Recently an email campaign went to all shipmates for whom we have email addresses, asking for assistance with recruiting FRA members. FRA is the oldest and largest Association representing Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard enlisted personnel. The work we do is essential — and the larger we are, the louder we are all heard. We need your help to grow!
Shipmates who are recruited by other members are generally more active in the Association, are more likely to renew their memberships, and tend to recruit other shipmates as well. FRA NHQ understands this and has created a wonderful tool to help you recruit more FRA shipmates!
If you haven’t done so already, please help us grow FRA by requesting these FREE prospective member brochures today! To do so, please call 1-800-FRA-372-1924 or email Shirley@fra.org and provide your address and quantity you would like.
These handy brochures:
Have talking points on the benefits of FRA membership
Provide a “thank you for your service” wallet card for the prospective members
Offer a way for prospective members to request FREE items from FRA such as:
Communicate With Your Elected Officials (guide to communicating with Congress
NewsBytes (weekly legislative email update)
My Personal Affairs (guide to organizing personal finances)
Brochures will be shipped to you upon request and we will include a postage-paid return envelope. They are free, effective and easy to use!
FRA has many ways to win valuable recruiting awards. Show your support for FRA and be rewarded by having grown the Association, making new friends and receiving prestigious and valuable awards. To learn more about recruiting awards, please visit www.fra.org/awards. Eileen Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Return to Table of Contents
L C Buss 024 NED PERSpective A Leg Up on the Lame Duck
Before the 85th National Convention, FRA weighed in with House and Senate leaders regarding the pending FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in anticipation of the upcoming post-election “lame duck” session of Congress which convenes after Veterans Day. According to press reports only a short amount of debate time — perhaps only three days — may be allocated to the Senate version of the legislation when the Senate reconvenes on November 13 for an extremely jam-packed session. Normally Senate debate involves considering hundreds of amendments over at least a three-week time frame.
The Congressional calendar is much different this year due to partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill and the abbreviated election-year legislative calendar associated with the November 6 elections. And once the Senate finishes its NDAA, conference deliberations are expected to commence immediately to resolve differences between that bill and the House version of the legislation leaving little time to effectively weigh in with conferees.
The letter references priority issues for our members that include strong support for several high priority matters — including support for a less-costly pharmacy fee plan endorsed by the House, and opposition to establishing a special commission to review retired pay and perhaps other benefits, a proposal supported by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Among other issues, the Association strongly supports a 1.7% 2013 active duty pay hike and is very concerned about Navy end strength reductions.
FRA is also urging support for anticipated amendments to the Senate legislation addressing full concurrent receipt for all disabled military retirees and eliminating the SBP/DIC offset when the Senate bill is finally scheduled for floor debate and final approval by that body.
The Military Coalition has also finalized an extensive package that includes a cover letter and multi-page side-by-side matrix chart listing key personnel provisions addressed in House-passed, and Senate Armed Services Committee-approved NDAA for FY 2013. Coalition recommendations are also listed with each issue.
In addition to addressing support for the House pharmacy fee plan and strong opposition to the BRAC-like military retirement and compensation commission, the Coalition urges conferees to retain a provision of the House bill expressing a “Sense of Congress” recognizing the “unique and extraordinary demands inherent in a multi-decade service career (which) constitute a very large pre-paid premium for their career health benefits.”
Members of our Legislative Team will also join reps from the Coalition’s other 33 member organizations for visits to members of Congress on Capitol Hill in late October distributing point papers urging support for the House pharmacy co-pay plan and opposition to the military retirement/compensation commission in advance of the lame duck session. This effort is similar to our leadership Hill visits in conjunction with the annual mid-year National Board of Directors meeting each spring.
Meeting with VA Under Secretary for Benefits
Along with several other TMC leaders, I had the opportunity to meet recently with retired USAF BGen Allison Hickey, the Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Benefits, and eight senior executive service leaders who oversee key VA programs. All attendees expressed a strong commitment to improving service to our Nation’s veterans and the agenda included reports on significant efforts within the department to identify solutions and implement new processes to reduce the increasing VA claims backlog. These initiatives include expanding use of new technology and a recently announced three-part segmented process to speed the handling of similar claims. Other reports included benefits assistance services including the EBenefits program (www.eBenefits.va.org), pension, fiduciary and survivors support, administering GI Bill education benefits, veterans’ training and employment initiatives, the new Transition Assistance Program (TAP), VA home loans, compensation services and VA / DoD collaboration efforts. Looking ahead, Secretary Hickey announced plans for subsequent quarterly meetings with TMC organizations to improve communications with these groups and expand awareness on VA programs and support. Joe Barnes is FRA’s National Executive Director and Chairman of the National Committee on Legislative Service and a member of the Special Committee on Future Strategic Planning. A member of Navy Department Branch 181, he is also an advisor to the National Committees on Budget and Finance and Membership and Retention. Return to Table of Contents shipmate forum
Do TRICARE Fee Increases Offset COLAs?
I have been a FRA member since 2009 and am a big supporter of FRA. I try to promote the organization every chance I have.
I do have a nagging question that I hope you can help answer. I understand that my annual TRICARE Prime family enrollment fee will increase on October 1, 2012 to $538.56 as a result of the FY 2012 NDAA, but will the enrollment fees increase every year afterwards?
From what I have read in FRA Today, it sounds like there will be an annual increase in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees that will be capped at the same percentage increase as the retired annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA). Am I correct in this statement? If this is correct, can we have an article in a future FRA Today publication that clearly states retirees will no longer see a COLA because all future COLA increases will automatically go towards the annual increase in the TRICARE Prime enrollment fee?
FRA Response: You’re correct that annual fees for retirees increased on October 1, 2012, and you’re also correct that TRICARE Prime fees will be adjusted annually in the future by the amount of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This is the same index used to calculate annual cost of living adjustments (COLAs) for military retired pay and other inflation adjusted benefits.
It is not, however, accurate to say that military retirees won’t receive COLAs. The percentage increase in retired pay and TRICARE premiums will be the same, but that percentage is applied to different amounts. For example, let’s assume your military retired pay is $18,000/year and you’re paying $538.56/year for TRICARE Prime family coverage. If the CPI formula determines that both retired pay and healthcare premiums will increase by two percent, your retired pay would go up by $360/year, while your TRICARE premium would increase by $10.77/year. FRA as a Resource
I filled in your readership survey, but have to add that my main FRA [source] is Newsbytes! Always read that and always forward to many of my military friends!
You all do one great job!! Thanks!!
FRA Response: Thanks for that feedback. We’re glad it’s helpful to you. We will soon be changing NewsBytes’ format a bit to make it even better.
Please also let your friends know that if they would like, NewsBytes is available by phone at 1-800-372-1924 ext 112, and is updated weekly.
Make Your Voice Heard
I am one of many, many youngsters from the many … shall we say … “poor towns” across this great country. I was born and raised in a small coal mining town in Pennsylvania. There weren’t many opportunities there and college was out of the question. I remember distinctly being told to join the Navy, stay 20 and you’ll be taken care of with a pension and medical care.
After high school graduation in 1948, I went in town to see the CPO recruiter, who only came to town on Mondays. I signed up and stayed. The Navy was my opportunity. The Navy was my college. The Navy was my access to the world. I will always be grateful to the Navy, as will so many small “poor town” boys who did the same.
Medicare and TRICARE-for-Life are good; no complaints. These two medical benefits have never been 100 percent, nor will they ever be. But we must not let it deteriorate beyond a certain level.
FRA is making a good stand for us. They are the Washington connection for us. Let me ask you FRA members: When was the last time you wrote a congressman about protecting our earned benefits?
FRA Response: Sharing your views with your elected officials is the foundation of FRA’s grassroots advocacy and strengthens our collective voice on Capitol Hill. It’s easy when you use FRA’s online Action Center at www.fra.org, where you can find prewritten messages to lawmakers or you can craft your own. Shipmates can also stay connected with their elected officials using FRA’s Communicate With Your Elected Officials, a useful guide to the 112th Congress. This free booklet includes a directory of all members of the House and Senate, as well as helpful tips on effectively expressing concerns to lawmakers. To request your free copy, send an e-mail to email@example.com with your name, mailing address, rank and branch of service or call 1-800-FRA-1924. FRA Tradition Ends in the Southwest Region
Branch 77 (Tucson, Ariz.) has announced the discontinuation of the USS Arizona Memorial Service at the University of Arizona. The ceremony, held annually on or near December 7th, paid tribute to the shipmates lost when the USS Arizona (BB-39) was bombed at Pearl Harbor in 1941.
Submissions: Send Shipmate Forum letters to: Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include “Shipmate Forum” in the subject line. FRA reserves the right to select and edit letters for publication. Letters published in Shipmate Forum reflect the opinions and views of FRA members. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of FRA as a whole. FRA is not responsible for the accuracy of letter content. Return to Table of Contents On & OFF Capitol HILL Busy Lame Duck Session
As this issue of FRA Today reaches our shipmates, members of Congress are planning to return to Washington for a post-election lame duck session, which begins on November 13th. (Congress convening after an election and before the newly elected/reelected President and members of Congress are sworn into office in January is known as a “lame duck” session.) The agenda of must-pass legislation is lengthy and FRA is tracking a number of initiatives during this abbreviated session.
Delaying implementation of sequestration (automatic defense cuts) mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act is a top FRA priority, along with halting a 27-percent reduction in reimbursement rates for doctors treating Medicare and TRICARE patients (“doc fix”), which are scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2013. Further, FRA is also advocating prompt passage of the Senate version of the FY 2013 Defense Authorization bill, so a conference committee can resolve differences between it and the House version that was passed on May 18th. Once approved by both chambers, the resulting conference report will be sent to the White House for the President’s signature.
Congress passed a six-month continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the government operating at FY 2012 funding levels (with some exceptions) through March 27, 2013, so the unresolved spending bills can wait until the 113th Session of Congress convenes in January.
Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org to contact their elected officials on these important issues.
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TMC Honors Lawmakers, Congressional Staff
The Military Coalition (TMC) presented its annual Awards of Merit to Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (Calif.) in a Capitol Hill ceremony in early October, honoring their respective efforts on behalf of the uniformed services community. TMC also presented Freedom Awards to Carrie Wofford and Jeanette James, congressional staff members, for their significant work on issues important to military personnel.
Sen. Murray chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and worked tirelessly on the Vow to Hire Heroes Act and to ensure the nation honors its commitments to veterans and their families. Rep. McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, was recognized for taking the lead in addressing the potentially devastating effects of sequestration spending cuts to the Department of Defense and protecting military families and retirees from disproportional TRICARE fee hikes. Ms. Wofford is the senior counsel to the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and was instrumental in efforts to halt predatory practices of some colleges with regard to veterans’ GI-Bill benefits. Ms. James, who is the lead healthcare analyst for the House Armed Services Committee, worked closely with the Congressional Budget Office on a multi-year TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) pharmacy demonstration that will, if enacted, generate adequate savings to minimize pharmacy copays for TFL beneficiaries in 2013 and beyond.
FRA is a leading member of TMC, which is currently comprised of 34 military and veterans groups that work together to advance legislation beneficial to military personnel, veterans, families and survivors. Joe Barnes, FRA’s national executive director, co-chairs the Coalition and a number of FRA staff members serve in TMC leadership positions.
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Understanding the Legislative Process
Lawmakers in the 111th Congress introduced more than 10,600 bills, yet only about 300 were actually enacted into law. The process by which a bill becomes a law can be fraught with filibusters, funding challenges and a variety of other legislative hurdles. Here’s a brief summary of the legislative process and how you can play an active role in it:
Ideas for new laws originate from many sources, but only a member of Congress can introduce legislation. Constituents, either as individuals or through organizations such as FRA, may ask or “petition” legislators to introduce a bill. FRA sends an annual legislative agenda to Capitol Hill and frequently meets with lawmakers and their staff to propose legislation that will benefit our members.
Once legislation is introduced, it is referred to the committee or committees with jurisdiction over the subject of the bill. A committee will usually pass the legislation on to a subcommittee, which is smaller and has a more narrow focus than the full committee.
The subcommittee can amend, or “mark-up,” the legislation to make it more specific or address specific concerns. When the mark-up is complete, the final version of the bill is voted on by the subcommittee. If the bill fails to get a majority vote in subcommittee, it dies. If the measure is approved by the subcommittee, it is sent back to the full committee, or “reported out.” The full committee may further amend the measure or vote on it as it was approved by the subcommittee.
During this process, committees and subcommittees conduct hearings to facilitate a full and open discussion about a pending bill. Witnesses with expertise on the subject at hand are invited to testify about the merits and shortcomings of a particular bill, either in person or in writing. FRA is regularly invited to share its views during hearings and in written statements presented to the committee or subcommittee holding the hearings. This discussion often results in improvements to a bill or in the eventual defeat of the measure if it’s determined to be an unwise proposal.
If approved at the committee level, the bill is reported out to the House or Senate and is placed on the House or Senate calendar for debate by the full chamber. The House Rules Committee sets the parameters of the debate in that chamber, determining what, if any, floor amendments shall be considered and what length of time will be set aside for floor debate. The Senate has fewer restrictions on floor debate, but any senator can filibuster a bill indefinitely. A filibuster (endless debate on the bill) can be stopped by a cloture vote that requires 60 votes. When debate concludes, the bill is voted on by the full chamber.
Often similar bills move through the House and Senate at the same time. For example, the House and Senate usually have their own versions of the annual defense authorization legislation. After each chamber approves its respective version of the bill, a conference committee is appointed to reconcile the differences between the two bills.
Both chambers must approve identical legislation before it can be sent to the White House for final approval, so it is the conference committee’s job to find common ground and draft a compromise measure, or “conference report,” that is presented to the House and Senate for a final vote. If approved in both chambers, the bill is sent to the President, where he may do one of the following:
Sign the bill into law;
Veto the bill and send it back to Congress with suggested changes;
Take no action while Congress is in session, in which case the bill will become law in 10 days; or
Take no action and let the bill die after Congress has adjourned for the session (pocket veto).
If the President vetoes a bill, Congress may override his decision with a two-thirds vote in both chambers (67 votes in the Senate and 290 votes in the House).
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It’s important for shipmates to remember there is no law protecting their military or veterans benefits. What Congress gives, Congress can take away. FRA was established in 1924 to protect military pay and benefits, and our mission hasn’t changed. Today’s FRA gives current and former Sea Service enlisted members a voice on Capitol Hill and, now more than ever, shipmates’ voices need to be heard. Through our combined efforts, FRA and its members have spoken out to halt health care fee increases, increase pay, significantly improve health care and other benefits, and enhance a variety of quality-of-life programs
The legislative process is complex and heavily influenced by grassroots pressure from advocacy groups like FRA and individuals communicating with their respective members of Congress. There is strength in numbers and this combined approach is more likely to persuade members of Congress to see, and act on, our point of view.
FRA encourages all members to be as informed as possible about legislative initiatives that impact them. In addition to the “On & Off the Hill” section of FRA Today, the Association offers several ways shipmates can stay up to date on new bills being introduced and their progress toward enactment.
NewsBytes:NewsBytes is FRA’s weekly e-mail update that provides a snapshot of what’s happening on Capitol Hill. It’s distributed each Friday afternoon to subscribers, or shipmates can listen to a recorded version by calling 1-800-FRA-1924, ext. 112. To subscribe, please e-mail email@example.com with “Subscribe” in the subject line and your name and address in the body. If you are a member of FRA, please include your member number as well.
FRA’s Action Center: It’s easy to share your views with your elected officials using FRA’s Action Center at www.fra.org. The website offers pre-written e-mail messages (or users can draft their own) that address specific legislative issues that can be sent to members of Congress or local media outlets with the click of a button. The Action Center also allows users to see which bills their legislators are supporting.
Making Waves: When you use the Action Center to weigh in on a particular issue, FRA works hard to keep you posted on the progress of that initiative. When legislative proposals threaten existing benefits, FRA sends Making Waves to those shipmates via e-mail, inviting them to reiterate their concerns to their elected officials.
It’s vitally important for FRA shipmates to be informed about legislative proposals that affect them and share their opinions on these proposals with their elected officials. Communicating concerns to your representative and senators is at the heart of FRA’s grassroots lobbying efforts and has a direct influence on the Association’s ability to effectively represent shipmates and their families on Capitol Hill.
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FRA Meets with House Leaders
In separate meetings FRA and other military and veterans’ organizations participated in round-table discussions hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) Chairman Jeff Miller (Fla.) to discuss laws and policies that affect military personnel and veterans.
During the meeting with Rep. Pelosi, FRA asked legislators to step up efforts to reduce the backlog of unresolved disability claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), exclude the Department of Defense (DoD) from sequestration (automatic budget cuts that take effect January 1, 2013) and enact legislation (H.R. 812, H.R. 3612) that would allow Vietnam veterans who served offshore (so-called “blue water” vets) to make disability claims for exposure to Agent Orange.
Lawmakers assured the group that veterans’ benefits will not be impacted by sequestration, but they could not guarantee that TRICARE benefits would not be reduced or that enrollment fees would not be increased.
NED Joe Barnes attended the meeting of 22 military and veterans’ organizations with Chairman Miller and other members of the HVAC that focused on priority veterans’ concerns, including the urgent need to expand access to mental health providers and reduce the claims backlog. The impact of the six-month continuing resolution (CR, see page 8) on veterans’ programs was also addressed and, fortunately, the advance funding for 2013 VA health care programs will not be affected. Other issues included the importance of increasing awareness of suicide prevention programs and sorely needed veterans’ employment initiatives.
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IG Condemns VA Conferences
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (IG) released a report in early October indicating a lack of oversight by senior VA officials regarding two training conferences for VA employees in 2011. The investigation of conferences in Orlando, Fla., where more than 1,800 VA employees were in attendance, concluded that Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration John Sepulveda, who recently resigned, “abdicated his oversight responsibilities resulting in numerous examples of excessive costs and unnecessary expenditures.”
Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Chairwoman of the Senate VA Committee Patty Murray (Wash.) condemned the wasteful spending and called for better oversight. The VA announced it has taken immediate action to address the issues outlined in the IG report to strengthen oversight and improve accountability.
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GAO: Disability System Needs Better Management
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report (GAO-12-676) on the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES), established by the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The system has been gradually implemented since 2007 in an effort to accelerate the adjudication of benefit claims for injured service members.
Despite the goal of determining VA claims in 125 days with 98 percent accuracy by 2015, claims adjudication time has increased from an average of 283 days for active duty claims in FY 2008 to 394 days in FY 2011. Only 19 percent of active duty claims were adjudicated within 125 days or less in FY 2011. DoD and VA are working to streamline and improve IDES, but the report notes that it is too early to determine if these efforts are successful.
FRA has repeatedly expressed concern about the growing backlog of VA disability claims in congressional testimony, meetings with legislators and their staff, and interaction with DoD and VA leaders. Military personnel injured in service to their country deserve accurate, consistent and timely disability determinations.
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Executive Order to Improve Mental Health for Vets, Troops and Families
President Obama signed an Executive Order aimed at reducing suicides and improving mental health services for veterans, active duty personnel and their families. The order requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase the capacity of its Veterans Crisis Hotline by 50 percent to ensure that veterans who present a danger to themselves or others are connected with a trained mental health professional within 24 hours. The order allows VA to refer veterans in need of immediate mental health care to the TRICARE network, directs the VA and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to expand outreach efforts to service members and veterans, and fill all vacancies for mental health staff positions. The Departments of Defense (DoD) and VA are also required to establish an inter-agency task force to coordinate their efforts, and VA and HHS will establish at least 15 pilot programs involving community-based health providers to expand mental health services in areas not well served by VA.
As many as 18 veterans are committing suicide daily and long waits for mental health care services reported at some VA facilities across the country are a major concern for FRA, along with the growing backlog of unresolved VA disability claims.
In related news, the 2012 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention report was recently released and details a national strategy for reducing the number of suicides that includes community-based approaches. The report, prepared by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, specifies new ways to identify people at risk.
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Veteran Job Corps Fails in Senate, Other Bills Advance
The Senate was two votes short of the 60 needed (i.e. cloture motion) to end debate and force a vote on the “Veterans Jobs Corps Act” (S. 3457) that would help put veterans back to work as police officers, firefighters, and other first responders. Sponsored by Senator Bill Nelson (Fla.), the bill sought to authorize veterans’ training and hiring programs associated with restoring and protecting national, state and tribal forests, parks, coastal areas, wildlife refuges, and VA cemeteries.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) did, however, approve several other measures to expand veterans’ access to mental health care (S. 3340) and authorize a cost-of-living increase to disabled veterans and their survivors who collect benefits (S. 2259). Other SVAC-approved bills include:
S. 3322, sponsored by Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), seeks to clarify certain provisions in the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and improve enforcement measures.
S. 3313, sponsored by SVAC Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), would increase Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reproductive assistance programs to wounded veterans and their spouses.
S. 2241, sponsored by SVAC Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), would require the VA to provide information on the use of educational assistance to service members and veterans.
S. 1707, sponsored by SVAC Ranking Member Richard Burr (N.C.), would require a judicial authority to determine whether a VA beneficiary poses a danger to himself or herself before being barred from owning a gun.
The House also approved legislation (H.R. 4057) that requires the VA to provide detailed information about the educational institutions a veteran is planning to attend with VA educational benefits. The FRA-supported measure, sponsored Rep. Gus Bilirakis (Fla.), also requires the VA to establish a registry for troops exposed to toxic chemicals from burn pits while deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Further the bill limits performance bonuses for VA employees beginning in FY 2013 through FY 2017. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.
The House Financial Services Committee also approved the “Vulnerable Veterans Housing Act” (H.R. 6361) that would not count benefit payments made to veterans for in-home disability care as income when they apply for housing programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rogers (Wash.), will now be considered by the full House.
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Warrior Family Symposium
Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller (Fla.) and retired Army General Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), served as the two keynote speakers at the 2012 Warrior Family Symposium. This all-day event was hosted by the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and the National Defense Industry Association.
The symposium featured wounded warriors, family members and caregivers recounting their varied experiences, challenges, and triumphs on their road to recovery and transition. These first-hand accounts will hopefully lead to the further enhancement and refinement of programs and services that benefit wounded warriors and their families. Medical-disability benefits, care coordination, family-caregiver support, and the transition to civilian employment were also discussed.
The symposium, attended by FRA staff, demonstrated that more work needs to be done to ensure that the nation’s wounded warriors receive the best treatment available in a timely manner. The goal of a truly seamless transition from DoD to VA healthcare programs is a top FRA priority along with ensuring adequate funding for DoD and VA resource sharing in delivering quality medical services to wounded or injured personnel.
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OMB Report on Sequestration
The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) released a report detailing the impact of the automatic budget cuts (sequestration) that will go into effect January 1, 2013, unless Congress takes action to stop them. The cuts are mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act and the White House referred to them as “deeply destructive … to core government functions, but [we] will be forced to make these cuts unless Congress acts responsibly.”
The nearly 400-page report confirms that “military personnel accounts” are exempt from sequestration cuts and clearly states that active duty/Reserve pay, military retired pay, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and Medicare-eligible health care (TRICARE-for-Life) are exempt from the automatic cuts. The report cites potentially deep cuts ($3.27 billion) to the Defense Health Program, but does not detail the impact, if any, on TRICARE Prime and Standard.
The OMB report fulfills requirements of the “Sequestration Transparency Act of 2012” (P.L.-112-155) and includes a disclaimer that “the estimates are preliminary.” If sequestration occurs, results could be different from OMB predictions. Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, criticized the report, stating that it shows a lack of planning and “failed to comply with both the letter and the spirit of the law.”
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TRICARE Prime Fee Hike
TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for retirees and their families increased to $269.28 for individual retirees and $538.56 for retirees and their family members, effective October 1, 2012. Survivors of active duty deceased sponsors, medically retired service members and their dependents are exempt from these increases and active duty service members and their families continue to have access to TRICARE Prime with no enrollment fee.
Prime beneficiaries who enrolled before October 1, 2011, did not incur the 13-percent fee increases imposed on new enrollees who joined the program after that date. The increases that took effect October 1, 2012, reflect the 13-percent increase that was levied on new enrollees last year, plus a 3.1-percent increase that is equal to the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2013. Specific changes include:
Those who enrolled before October 1, 2011, were paying $230/year for individuals and $460/year for families.
Those who enrolled on or after October 1, 2011, were paying $260/year for individuals and $520/year for families.
After October 1, 2012, all Prime beneficiaries (except those exempted) will pay $269.28/year for individuals and $538.56/year for families.
Beneficiaries can opt to pay their enrollment fee monthly, quarterly or annually. To make changes, visit the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil or call the representative for your TRICARE region:
North Region/HealthNet Federal Services – 1-877-874-2273
South Region/Humana Military Healthcare Services – 1-800-444-5445
West Region/TriWest Healthcare Alliance – 1-888-874-9378
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DFAS Requires Direct Deposit
The U.S. Treasury Department has mandated that the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) use only direct deposit when sending payments to retirees and annuitants beginning on March 1, 2013. Direct deposit eliminates the possibility of a lost or stolen check, reduces the opportunity for identity theft, and provides payment in a more timely and efficient manner. Although most beneficiaries already have direct deposit, DFAS urges the small number who are still using regular mail to set up direct deposit with their bank or financial institution now to avoid the last-minute rush in February. For more information, visit www.dfas.mil.
Return to Table of Contents DoD Wants to Reprogram TRICARE Funds
Despite efforts to significantly increase military retiree health care fees, Defense Comptroller Robert Hale has requested permission from Congress to allow the Department of Defense (DoD) to transfer $708 million from the 2012 TRICARE budget to pay for other programs. Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.) chairman of the House Armed Services’ Military Personnel Subcommittee, sent a letter cosigned by more than two dozen committee members to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking why DoD continues to ask for increases in TRICARE enrollment fees, if there is a “surplus” of $708 million in the fund and advised Panetta that, as subcommittee chairman, he will oppose the re-programming request. Return to Table of Contents Retirees and Annuitants Getting 1099-R by Mail
The Defense Finance and Accounting Services (DFAS) reminds beneficiaries to make sure the mailing address on file with DFAS is current, particularly if they wish to receive their end-of-the-year 1099-R by regular mail. If beneficiaries have moved in the past year or will be staying somewhere other than their primary residence when tax season begins, they should let DFAS know so tax documents can be sent to the right place.
Beneficiaries also have the option of receiving their tax statement weeks earlier if they elect to receive it electronically via myPay, DFAS’s online portal. Find out how to switch to electronic 1099-R by visiting:
The House Armed Services’ Military Personnel Subcommittee recently conducted an oversight hearing on military absentee voting that included a status report on implementation of the 2009 Military Overseas Voting Empowerment Act (MOVE).
Subcommittee Chairman Joe Wilson (S.C.) referenced a recent Inspector General (IG) report that found a shortfall in DoD’s MOVE-mandated requirements to establish Voting Assistance Offices (VAO) at military installations. A Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) post-2010 election report to Congress last September indicated there were 224 such installations, but Ambassador (Ret.) Kenneth P. Moorefield, Deputy DoD IG for Special Plans and Operations, testified that some major installations were omitted.
FVAP reported that the number of states that e-mail blank ballots to absentee voters has increased from 13 in 2008 to 47 in this election cycle. The three states that do not provide this option do, however, offer voters the ability to download a blank ballot from a secure website. FVAP hosts a web portal that allows voters to obtain state-specific information on absentee voting rules and deadlines, sent e-mail messages to 1.4 million overseas voters and has provided 81 workshops for Voter Assistance Officers (VAO) at military installations and embassies.
FRA strongly supported the MOVE Act, which removed many obstacles to voting by mandating all absentee paper ballots be mailed at least 45 days in advance, making electronic ballots available for downloading, eliminating the requirement for absentee ballots to be notarized or witnessed, and expanding the acceptance of Federal Write-In Absentee Ballots. Unfortunately, 22 states still fail to comply with all four of these requirements and FRA continues to support all efforts that streamline the voting process for military and overseas voters. FRA urges all military personnel to vote regularly.
Return to Table of Contents Stevens Becomes 13th MCPON
FRA congratulates FORCM Michael Stevens who recently became the 13th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) during a change of watch ceremony where he relieved MCPON-12 Rick West, who retired after nearly 32 years of Navy service. Stevens, who previously served as the Fleet Master Chief for U.S. Fleet Forces Command, is a Montana native and joined the Navy in 1983.
The position of MCPON was created by legislation in 1966 that was strongly supported by FRA. MCPON is the senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy and is appointed by the CNO to serve as an advisor to the highest positions in the Navy on issues impacting enlisted personnel.
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House Passes New Stolen Valor Act
The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a modified “Stolen Valor Act” (H.R. 1775) in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision (United States v. Alvarez) handed down in July. The court declared the original “Stolen Valor Act of 2005” unconstitutional, saying that false claims of military service and awards were protected as free speech. Rep. Joe Heck (Nev.) sponsored the current bill that establishes a more narrow focus than the 2005 law and would make it a crime to lie about having received decorations with the intent of obtaining “anything of value.” Many scholars believe this more narrowly focused bill will pass constitutional review since its impact is limited to individuals who benefit from fictional accounts of military service.
Rep. Heck’s bill was introduced last year and Senator Scott Brown (Mass.) has introduced the Senate companion bill (S. 1728). The House bill now awaits further consideration in the Senate. Senator James Webb (Va.) has also introduced similar legislation (“Military Service Integrity Act,” S. 3372) and plans to offer the bill as a floor amendment to the Senate version of the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254).
The FRA Legislative team is Joe Barnes, National Executive Director; John Davis, Director of Legislative Programs and Branch 181 President; Bob Washington, Health Care Advisor and Outreach Manager; Chris Slawinski, National Veterans Service Officer and Ed Dockery, Assistant Director of Legislative Programs.
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MEMBERSHIP MATTERS: Starting a New Branch
Many FRA shipmates join a local branch to participate in projects and programs, and enjoy the fellowship and camaraderie of other members. But what if you wanted to join the FRA and there was no branch in your local community? There are thousands of FRA members-at-large who support the Association’s mission and are not affiliated with a particular branch. These and other shipmates are encouraged to establish new branches in communities where none exist.
To start a new branch, a current FRA member must agree to organize the effort and the process begins by requesting a New Branch packet. These packets are available through me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 1-800-FRA-1924, ext. 123. There must be interest from at least 25 persons who are eligible for Association membership through their current or previous enlisted service in the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard. Ten should be new or reinstated members and the remainder may be current members in good standing, either as members of another branch or as MALs.
Members-at-large (MALs) enjoy many of the same benefits of FRA membership as branch members. They are represented in FRA’s legislative efforts on behalf of all shipmates, receive FRA Today monthly and have access to all member services available through the Association website (www.fra.org) and our National Headquarters. They are not, however, eligible to hold office or vote at convention, and they don’t enjoy the opportunities to participate in community service projects and social events traditionally associated with branch membership.
New branches formed in Crossville, Tenn., and Greenville, N.C., are great examples of successful efforts by dedicated shipmates. Shipmate Richard Martin was instrumental in starting Branch 294 in Crossville in 2009. He asked a lot of great questions about the process, including how to advertise the initial meeting, how to contact prospective members and invite them to attend, where to hold the meeting, and what to say about the FRA. Shipmate Martin placed an ad in a local paper announcing the meeting date and location; FRA National Headquarters provided a supply of materials to distribute to prospective members including brochures about the FRA and membership applications. He scheduled subsequent meetings and networked with friends, families and those who expressed initial interest to find more folks interested in joining the FRA. After all the requirements were met, the formal request to form a new branch was submitted to the National President and approved by the National Board of Directors. Crossville Branch 294 was established with 29 members and they currently have 47.
Past Regional President East Coast Joe Palmer followed similar steps in 2010 to establish Greenville Branch 301. The branch now has 39 members and is active in the local community.
“There are many different elements in starting a new branch,” says Shipmate Joseph Smith, who is working to establish a new branch in McMinnville, Tenn. “The meeting place, day and time, refreshments, and most of all getting the word out to prospective members are key to the branch start. There are terms [and policies] to become familiar with, which are all important to getting the branch established.” He is working to get the required number of members to start the branch so he can submit the application by the end of 2012.
Creating a new FRA branch in a location where none exists breathes new life into the Association and generates a lot of enthusiasm from new prospects. If you’re interested in expanding FRA to new areas, please contact me at Penny@fra.org or 800-FRA-1924, ext.123.
Penny Collins is FRA’s Director of Membership Development and a member of FRA Branch 24 in Annapolis, Maryland. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Return to Table of Contents Member Benefits TAKE ACTION!
FRA provides the Action Center on www.fra.org and a pocket guide called Communicate With Your Elected Officials to make communicating with members of Congress easy and convenient. On the Action Center, you can access a list of hot issues and send pre-written messages (or write your own) to your legislators to weigh in. You can also look up your senators and representative to see how they’ve voted on issues of importance to FRA shipmates. Both the Action Center and the Communicate With Your Elected Officials guide are free benefits brought to you by FRA. If you would like a copy of Communicate With Your Elected Officials, please e-mail Eileen@fra.org and include your name and mailing address.
FRA offers Communities on www.fra.org to help shipmates keep in touch with their branch, communicate with HQ, and get information. Use the Communities and be involved! Login to www.fra.org and click Communities. You will see the communities to which you belong — each branch and MALs have individual communities. There are also communities for FRA Today and OnWatch readers, people concerned about health care, and more. This is a place to ask the experts or share your opinions or frustrations.
NewsBytes is a free weekly legislative e-mail update designed to keep recipients up-to-date between issues of FRA Today. To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and include your member number (found above your name on the cover of this magazine). To listen to NewsBytes by phone, call 1-800-FRA-1924, ext. 112.
FRA is very interested in hearing from you. There’s always a survey available at www.fra.org/survey. The surveys are quick, easy and help us share your concerns with lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Visit www.fra.org/fb to view FRA’s Facebook page and join our growing list of fans who “like” us. It’s a great place to post photos, videos, have discussions and find old friends. If you’re already on Facebook, you can invite others to check out FRA and use the page as a great recruiting tool! Our fans also are the first to hear of breaking news, get links to items of importance and shortcuts to other pages of interest.
When you login to www.fra.org, not only can you access members-only information, you can also control your membership record. Would you like to subscribe to NewsBytes? Simply click a box. Are you needing a replacement membership card or invoice? Click a box and we’ll send you one within 24 business hours. You can also donate directly to FRA online and even print out a copy of your donation history for your records.
FRA Affinity Partners
FRA also has partnerships with several companies for the benefit of FRA members. When you use these companies, not only do you get a discount, but FRA receives a royalty as well. It’s a win-win situation — and a fantastic way for you to help FRA while you are helping yourself!
FRA MasterCard from USAA
FRA is partnering with USAA to administer a new FRA MasterCard program. This award-winning financial services company is committed to providing outstanding customer service to our shipmates.
GEICO Car Insurance
Call 1-800-MILITARY (1-800-645-4827) and ask for the FRA member benefit discount.
FRA members and spouses are eligible for tuition discounts at Capella University, an accredited, military-friendly, online university that has built its reputation by providing high quality online degree programs for working adults. Visit www.capella.edu/FRA for more information.
Columbia Southern University
In an education alliance with FRA, Columbia Southern University offers competitive tuition rates, waives application fees for service members and offers discounts to FRA shipmates. Visit www.columbiasouthern.edu/Partners/LearningPartners/fleet for further details.
FRA Endorsed Insurance Programs
As an FRA member you can choose from high quality, competitively priced insurance plans to help protect you and your family. Each quality plan has been designed for FRA members like you. You can select insurance protection to meet your family’s insurance needs at economical group rates. Request information regarding the plans of your choice through this website: www.FRAinsure.com or call toll-free 1-800-424-1120.
Navy Times/MARINE CORPS TIMES
FRA members qualify for a special subscription rate of 52 weeks for $39.95. Call 1-800-368-5718 to start or renew your subscription. Use FRA priority member code: 1516N3.
Avis Car Rentals
When making reservations through Avis at 1-800-331-1212 or www.avis.com, be sure to use your FRA membership benefit discount: AWD#T867500.
HERTZ Car Rentals
When making reservations through Hertz at 1-800-654-3131 or www.hertz.com, be sure to use your FRA membership benefit discount: CDP#332104.