January is always a time to reflect on the past year and look ahead to what is coming. National President Jeff Gilmartin is featured in a column this month (From the Bridge, page 5) to share his vision for the coming year.
As this issue goes to press, NP Gilmartin has just returned from Hawaii where he attended events honoring those lost and injured in the attacks on Pearl Harbor and Ewa Field 70 years ago. National Vice President Mark Kilgore also attended an event sponsored by FRA Branches 77 and 163 at the University of Arizona on December 4 and he and his wife, FRA Auxiliary Regional Vice President Southeast Babe Kilgore, attended FRA Branch 290’s Annual Pearl Harbor Memorial Ceremony on board the USS Underwood (FFG 36) in Atlantic Beach, Florida on December 7. Multiple other FRA branches around the country also hosted events to honor the anniversary, including Triangle Branch 182 that sponsored a ceremony at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. We are still receiving photos of these events and we will compile the photos and post them on our Facebook page (www.fra.org/fb is a shortcut to it). We will run as many as we can in the February issue of FRA Today. If your branch held an event, please forward your pictures to my attention at:
125 N. West St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
In our On & Off Capitol Hill section this month, you will find a synopsis of some of FRA’s legislative accomplishments for 2011 (page 14) and the aggressive and comprehensive legislative agenda for 2012 (page 9). Shipmates play an important role in FRA’s legislative work through writing, emailing and calling members of Congress. Please be involved by using the Action Center on www.fra.org and/or requesting Communicate With Your Elected Officials, the free guide FRA offers that provides the contact information for members of Congress as well as detailing who sits on the key committees related to our legislative work. Please read the summary of what the Action Center has accomplished in 2011 on page 8, and call 1-800-FRA-1924 to request your copy of Communicate With Your Elected Officials today!
On page 32 in the December FRA Today we posted the photos of the National Officers. NVP Mark Kilgore was listed as being a member of Branch 61, which is in Chula Vista, California. Although that was true many years ago, he is very much a part of Branch 22 in Pensacola, Florida and serves as their secretary. We apologize for the error.
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 From the bridge by FRA National President Jeff Gilmartin A year is a brief amount of time and I hit the ground running during the last weeks of the 2011 year by conducting the official site inspection of the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada, the site for the 2012 FRA National Convention. I also visited 15 branches over three regions before embarking on other priorities.
As always, membership is a high priority. Decreasing numbers in our membership directly impact our effectiveness on Capitol Hill. While current philosophy suggests an increase in membership retention, along with our current recruitment rates, will stabilize our flagging numbers, the solution does not reside in Headquarters, nor with the National Standing Committee on Membership and Retention. The solution to low membership numbers lies with the branches. With a realistic target demographic of between 40 and 60 years of age, the branches must give the newly recruited something to prove the time they participate in branch meetings and events is worthwhile and the money they spend on annual dues is a worthy investment. Branch meetings should be meaningful, but they should also be fun.
I’ve either seen or heard of great results coming from Ogden, Utah; Fort Worth, Texas; Cheyenne, Wyoming; Goose Creek, South Carolina; Poway, California; and Wilmington, North Carolina. None of these locations have heavy fleet concentrations, but their success is due to the application of innovative ideas and lots of enthusiasm.
Branches: Brag about your successes. When your regional president comes to visit, tell him of your successes and he’ll carry the news to other branches. What works for one branch may not work for yours, but enthusiastic shipmates and working committees need to be shared within your community. Your branch should be known as a spearhead of community work, not just contributors to others’ projects. Public relations start at home.
Shipmates: A successful shipmate is a well-prepared shipmate. Organizations such as the National Association of Parliamentarians and Toastmasters can be helpful in preparing and presenting concise, effective appeals for membership. Be well versed in FRA’s Bylaws and Standing Rules. Becoming an effective public speaker is primarily a matter of practice and being knowledgeable about your subject matter. Polish isn’t necessary, but being genuine and sincere is crucial. Successful recruiting is conveying to your prospect “what’s in it for them.” If you can, also volunteer to serve on regional and national standing committees. Suggest ways for the committees to become fresh and appealing, including participation in events such as Autism walks or sponsoring Young Marines detachments, and looking for alternatives to U.S. Savings Bonds as awards for the Americanism Essay Contest.
During my tenure as National President, I will be looking closely at the Association’s budget. Our National Headquarters staff and others have been diligent in researching and realizing substantial cost-saving measures over the past several years, by implementing new technologies and processes, renegotiating contracts and other efficiencies. Unfortunately, we continue to run a deficit budget. The majority of regions boast five-digit treasuries and should consider assuming the costs of local area events such as Sailor of the Year programs and Pearl Harbor Day memorials. I will be working with the Headquarters Team to further examine existing and expiring contracts. A special committee has also been appointed to examine our Headquarters’ Information Technology assets and make recommendations to the National Board of Directors to better leverage innovations realized by the commercial sector. The National Executive Director has requested the committee’s scope be expanded to include audio-visual equipment, as much of it is either dated or non-functional.
After the earthquake in Virginia last year, it was discovered our Headquarters building sustained damage that wasn’t initially visible and not covered by insurance. Options to address some long-standing plumbing issues within the building are also being explored and I believe we will need to replenish the Capital Improvement Reserve to address proper repair and maintenance of our building.
I look forward to serving the Association and shipmates during the coming year.
Return to Table of Contents shipmate forum
Making Military and Civilian Benefits More Similar
To have military and civilian retirement on a similar basis is ridiculous unless [military personnel are authorized to] operate a 40-hour workweek and receive similar active duty pay PLUS overtime. Please pass that on to our elected officials who have never served in uniform.
Honoring Master Chief Der-Vartanian
The story of the passing of the first female E-9 (October 2011 FRA Today) was interesting and a nice thing for the FRA to do. However, the woman’s name was spelled two different ways in the article. I think the editor should rerun this article with corrections and make an apology to the family.
Jan Van Horn
FRA Response: Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Anna Der-Vartanian died August 4, 2011, at the age of 90 and was laid to rest with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on November 29th. Hundreds of Sailors, family, and friends were at the ceremony to honor the first female master chief. We apologize for the error in our original tribute to Master Chief Der-Vartanian.
Not Everything’s Covered
Shipmate Swinford’s note indicated he was reimbursed after 6 months for lab tests. I wasn’t so fortunate. During my pre-op lab tests prior to surgery for cancer, my doctor ordered blood tests for coagulation studies, i.e., PT & PTT. These tests are always ordered before major surgery. The tests were done on outpatient basis, prior to being admitted to the hospital. Medicare denied payment saying they were not necessary; I had no history of a blood disorder. Tricare For Life said that when Medicare denies coverage, so do they, and I had to pay $89.59. I appealed twice and was denied twice even though I had a letter from my surgeon indicating the need. I could not appeal a third time because the amount was less than $150 (Medicare rule).
More recently I had to pay for a lab test for my wife because Tricare For Life said she hasn’t paid her deductible amount yet. Tricare for Life and Medicare paid nothing for this test.
I was told when I joined the Navy that if I stayed 20 years, my wife and I would have free medical care the rest of our lives. Now I pay $96.50/month and my wife pays $110.50/month for Medicare premiums plus whatever Medicare and Tricare For Life doesn’t cover. And now they want to raise the premiums and the deductions. Tricare Prime was less expensive and the coverage was better.
Fairness for Former Spouses?
I’m writing this in response to Diane Rojan’s submission concerning benefits for second wives. During my divorce, my lawyer and I strenuously tried to keep my SBP and retired pay from being handed over to my ex-wife. She felt that as long as she was married to me during the last year and a half of my career, she was entitled to it all. The judge in my case was not a military-friendly judge. He was known, in the past, to award all entitlements to the spouse just because he could. He awarded my ex-wife my SBP, even though her tenure in my career was only 18 months. This meant money she did not earn would be hers if I died before her. My present wife would get nothing until my ex expires.
The laws do not protect the military person in divorce court. My ex did not get my retirement pay because of federal law and [our short marriage during] my military career. What the judge DID do was define my retirement pay as income and awarded her the equivalent of half my retirement pay as spousal support until her death. This judge still sits behind the bench issuing biased justice.
Dallas B. “Skip” Clark
FRA in Action
I had the pleasure of watching our legislative representative, John Davis, testify on Capitol Hill about military compensation/retirement on C-SPAN. John was the only one of the four testifying witnesses to bring up the aspect of VA benefits for those service members who don’t make the military a career for personal reasons or because of reduction in forces reasons.
He is to be commended for that testimony; however, I kept hoping he would enumerate those benefits for the three representatives that kept hammering on the “poor” service members that don’t complete the 20 years of active duty to qualify for retirement pay.
An honorable discharge, no matter the length of service, qualifies the service member for VA benefits that include education assistance, housing assistance, and medical benefits. The REDUX program in the early ‘90s offered me $15,000 a year for 40 years plus VA benefits. If I was single, either of those two choices would have been viable options, however, my wife sacrificed as much as I during our military career and neither included her. I chose to stay for the full 20 because of her. Submissions: Send Shipmate Forum letters to: Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to email@example.com. 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 Sequestration Budget Time Bomb is Ticking
The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (Super Committee) failed to agree on $1.2 trillion in budget cuts before the November 23, 2011 deadline and, as a result, automatic budget cuts (sequestration) are slated to take effect beginning January 1, 2013. These programmed reductions will come equally from defense and non-defense accounts.
As this issue of FRA Today goes to press, 2012 begins with familiar and ongoing threats to military benefits. The threat of sequestration apparently didn’t strike fear in the hearts of legislators, because the automatic cuts won’t occur for more than a year after the Super Committee deadline. Delaying the cuts until 2013 gives Congress time to possibly avoid the cuts by authorizing reductions in various programs through the regular legislative process. Finding $1.2 trillion in budget savings over the next 10 years won’t be easy and threats to military pay and benefits for those serving and who have served will continue.
FRA is closely monitoring the budget process and will keep shipmates informed through FRA Today and NewsBytes, FRA’s free weekly e-mail update. To subscribe, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return to Table of Contents Action Center in 2011
Calendar year 2011 has been a banner year for shipmates using the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org. Shipmates’ usage of this free service has increased substantially this year and included nearly 42,000 messages to members of Congress since January 1, 2011. (A total of 24,161 messages were sent in 2010.)
Shipmate involvement in advancing the Association’s legislative agenda via the legislative process complements the work of the FRA’s Legislative Team and our members’ continued grassroots participation will be an important factor in determining the Association’s success in 2012. A great example is the nearly 3,000 shipmates who responded to the November “Making Waves” e-mail alert and wrote to oppose pending floor amendments to the National Defense Authorization bill that would have been costly to military retirees. Thanks to shipmate involvement, none of the amendments listed in the alert were called for a vote.
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Senate Passes Defense Authorization Bill
The Senate debated floor amendments to its version of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (S. 1867) before passing the bill by a vote of 93-7 in early December. The Senate-passed bill:
• Authorizes the Department of Defense (DoD) to increase TRICARE Prime enrollment fees by $2.50 per month for individuals and $5.00 per month for families;
• Links future TRICARE Prime fee increases to the percentage increase (based on the annual inflation rate) applied to military retired pay;
• Authorizes pharmacy co-pay increases;
• Requires newly enrolled U.S. Family Health Plan (USFHP) beneficiaries to switch to TRICARE for Life (TFL) coverage effective October 1, 2011;
• Authorizes a 1.6-percent active duty and Reserve pay increase equal to the Employment Cost Index (ECI);
• Reduces Navy end strength by 3,000;
• Prohibits re-enlistment denial for service members determined by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to be fit for duty, but subsequently determined to be unsuitable for military service;
• Authorizes $25 million in supplemental Impact Aid to schools teaching military children and $5 million in Impact Aid for schools educating military children with severe disabilities;
• Requires pre-separation counseling for Reservists within 90 days of demobilization.
The bill drew a veto threat from President Obama regarding a policy on the custody of suspected terrorists. The House passed its version of the legislation (H.R. 1540) in May and a conference committee must resolve differences between the two bills. The resulting conference committee report must then be approved by both chambers and signed or vetoed by the President.
Regarding amendments to the legislation, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) withdrew an amendment that would have allowed future TRICARE Prime premium increases to be based on a DoD index related to healthcare inflation. Additionally, a plan to combine 71 amendments not considered during debate was dropped due to time constraints. At press time, a conference committee is working to reconcile differences between the House and Senate bills.
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2012 FRA Legislative Agenda
FRA fights to preserve and enhance benefits and quality-of-life programs for active duty, Reserve, retired, and veteran personnel of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, their families and survivors. The Association’s 2012 Legislative Agenda was approved by shipmates attending the 84th National Convention in Kansas City, Mo., and includes:
Expand Health Care Options
Health Care Reform: Monitor health care reform and ensure that TRICARE and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care programs are not adversely impacted by unanticipated consequences during implementation.
Oppose Excessive TRICARE Enrollment Fee Increases: The Defense Department (DoD) must sufficiently investigate and implement other options to make TRICARE more cost-efficient as alternatives to shifting costs to TRICARE beneficiaries. FRA will oppose any indexing of future TRICARE fee increases beyond COLA increases.
Support Adequate Funding for Military Health Service: Ensure adequate funding for the Military Health Service (MHS) in order to meet readiness needs, fully fund TRICARE, and improve access and awareness of benefits for all beneficiaries regardless of age, status or location, including Reservists participating in TRICARE Reserve Select, TRICARE Retired Reserve, and Individual Ready Reserve personnel.
DoD/VA Health Care Resource Sharing: Ensure adequate funding for DoD and VA health care resource sharing in delivering seamless, cost effective, quality services to personnel wounded while participating in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, and other veterans, and their families.
Expand Health Care Options for Retirees Under Age 65: Expand health care alternatives including TRICARE Standard, TRICARE Prime Remote and the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP) as options for military retirees under age 65 who do not have access to military treatment facilities.
Pharmaceutical Drug Benefit: Monitor the pharmacy benefit and ensure that pharmacies maintain a broad uniform formulary. FRA supports efforts to reduce prescription costs through “federal pricing” and other discount programs, and will encourage increased utilization of home delivery prescriptions to limit co-pays for beneficiaries and reduce costs as alternatives to higher fees and co-payments.
Allow Military Retirees to Pay for Healthcare with Pretax Dollars: Secure authorization for military retirees to pay health insurance premiums on a pretax basis and allow for a tax deduction for TRICARE supplemental insurance premiums.
Protect Personnel Programs
Active Duty Pay: Secure additional annual active duty pay increases that are at least equal to the Employment Cost Index (ECI).
Defense Budget: Advocate for a Defense (DoD) Budget that is at least five (5) percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to ensure adequate funding for both personnel and weapons programs.
Military Resale System: Oppose privatization and ensure adequate funding for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) to preserve the value of the current benefit and access for all patrons, and oppose consolidation of military exchanges based on results of costly recent studies on this concept and opposition from the services.
End Strengths: Track end strength levels to ensure there are adequate personnel available to meet the demands of OND, OEF and other operational requirements.
BAH: Reform enlisted housing standards by allowing E-7s and above to reside in separate homes, track the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to ensure it is commensurate with actual housing costs, ensure adequate housing inventory and that housing privatization programs are beneficial to service members and their families.
PCS Reform: Track the PCS process; ensure adequate funding of the Transition and Relocation Assistance Programs, and authorization of increased PCS mileage rates and higher household goods weight limits for senior enlisted personnel. Also advocate for shipment of a second POV for accompanied overseas assignments.
SCRA Enforcement: Ensure that the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is enforced by regulatory agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
Coast Guard Parity: Ensure parity with DoD of pay and benefits for Coast Guard personnel plus adequate funding for same within the U.S. Coast Guard budget.
Impact Aid Program: Ensure that the Department of Education has adequate funding to reimburse local school districts for educating military children and that the DoD budget includes sufficient supplemental funds to provide support for highly impacted school districts.
Reservists’ Out-of-Pocket Expenses: Allow full tax-deductibility of non-reimbursable expenses related to military training and weekend drill.
Sea Services Recruiters: Work to ensure that recruiters have unrestricted access to secondary schools, colleges and universities on the same basis as private sector employers.
Improve Department of Veterans Affairs Funding: Support initiatives to help ensure timely and full funding for the VA, with special attention for VA health care to ensure access and care for all beneficiaries.
Agent Orange Disability Claims: Seek to reverse the VA’s policy that prevents “blue water” military retirees and veterans from claiming disability benefits for diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange.
Oppose Access Fees: Oppose establishing a tiered enrollment fee structure for veterans in Priority Groups 7 and 8 within the VA Health Care System.
Improve VA Claim Processing: Work to eliminate backlog of claims at the Department of Veterans Affairs and support reform of the antiquated Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) paper claims system.
Education Enhancements: Ensure full and timely implementation of improvements to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and work to improve other education benefit programs for veterans and survivors of disabled or deceased veterans who died of a service-connected disability, were killed on active duty or while on drill status.
Reserve Retirees Veterans’ Status: Seek full veteran status for Reservists with 20 years or more of service, who do not otherwise qualify for full veterans’ benefits under current law.
Safeguard Retiree Benefits
Protect Military Retired or Retainer Pay: Fight efforts to reduce military retired or retainer pay and ensure equitable cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for all military retirees commensurate with their service and sacrifices, and oppose efforts to civilianize the military retirement system. And advocate for rounding up to the next dollar for retired pay and other benefits.
Concurrent Receipt: Support legislation authorizing the immediate payment of concurrent receipt of full military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation for all disabled retirees.
Reserve Retirement Age: Support extension of authority for early retirement (90 days active duty = three months reduction) for all Reservists who have served since 9/11/01, and the elimination of fiscal year specific rule associated with same.
USFSPA: Encourage the introduction and enactment of legislation to eliminate inequities in the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA).
Retention of Final Month’s Retired Pay: Support legislation authorizing the retention of the full final month’s retired pay by the surviving spouse (or other designated survivor) for the month in which the member was alive for at least 24 hours.
SBP/DIC Offset: Support legislation to repeal the SBP/DIC offset for surviving spouses of personnel who die of service-connected causes.
Paid-up SBP at Age 67: Work to change the minimum age for paid-up SBP from age 70 to age 67, which will allow those who joined the military at age 17, 18 or 19 and serve 20 years to only be required to pay SBP premiums for 30 years.
Retirees’ TSP Contributions: Work to authorize for military retirees the option of continuing to contribute to their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) as they did when they were on active duty.
Base Closures: Support retention of military treatment and other facilities at BRAC sites that are patronized by sizeable retiree and Reserve populations and closely monitor the impact of closures and realignments.
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TRICARE Young Adult Prime Option Available
The TRICARE Young Adult (TYA) Prime option is now available for young adult beneficiaries for a monthly premium of $201. TYA Prime is a managed health care option with low out-of-pocket costs. Care is delivered through military clinics and hospitals and the TRICARE network of civilian providers.
Qualifying beneficiaries must be under age 26, unmarried and not eligible for their own employer-sponsored health care coverage. In addition to TYA Prime, young adult dependents may also be eligible for TYA Standard, which has been available since May 2011, at a cost of $186/month ($176/month after January 1, 2012).
For additional information and application forms, visit www.tricare.mil/tya
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TRICARE Data Theft
Letters were sent to 4.9 million TRICARE beneficiaries by the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a contractor for TRICARE Management Activity (TMA), regarding the theft of their personal data. Computer tapes stolen from a SAIC employee’s car contained beneficiaries’ names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, phone numbers, and laboratory results, but did not include financial data, such as credit card numbers or bank information.
TMA has directed SAIC to provide one year of credit monitoring and restoration services to patients who express concern about their credit. SAIC will also conduct analysis of all available data to help determine if identity theft occurs due to the data breach. TMA believes the risk of harm is low despite the sensitive data involved, as retrieving information from the tapes requires knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure.
Concerned patients may contact the SAIC Incident Response Call Center, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time; at (855) 366-0140 (toll free) for United States callers and (952) 556-8312 (collect) internationally. Return to Table of Contents
FRA Participates in Military Family Caucus Summit
FRA’s National Veterans Service Officer (NVSO) Chris Slawinski participated in the Military Family Caucus Summit on Capitol Hill. The summit was hosted by Caucus Co-Chairs Representatives Sanford Bishop (Georgia) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Washington), and provided an opportunity for military members, veterans, family members and other stakeholders to discuss active duty, guard, Reserve, veteran and family concerns.
Slawinski participated in a breakout session on veteran issues, including the continuing challenges associated with transitioning from DoD to VA for wounded personnel. The panel was moderated by Representative Corrine Brown (Florida), member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC).
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Employment Help for Veterans
President Obama announced the establishment of the Veterans Jobs Bank, powered by the National Resource Directory (www.NRD.gov), that provides a central source for veterans to locate job opportunities. The Veterans Job Bank is unique in that it provides users with the ability to define their search criteria by keyword, Military Occupational Code (MOC) and location. Based on information provided, the search engine pulls a selection of global job opportunities that have been posted or specifically tagged for veterans on job boards, such as Simply Hired and corporate websites.
In related news, the President signed legislation (H.R. 627) into law that includes combined provisions of Senator Patty Murray’s (Washington) “Hiring Heroes Act” (S. 951), Representative Jeff Miller’s (Florida) “Veterans Opportunity to Work Act” (H.R. 2433) and veterans’ tax-credit language. The latest job figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that nearly one million veterans are currently unemployed, including more than 600,000 veterans of past eras and conflicts, and the comprehensive package is designed to reduce the unemployment rate among veterans.
Provisions of the legislation include:
Expanding education and training opportunities for older veterans by providing nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to one year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits for education or training programs at community colleges or technical schools for high-demand jobs.
Making the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) — an interagency workshop coordinated by Departments of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs — mandatory for service members moving on to civilian life and help them secure 21st Century jobs through resume-writing workshops and career counseling.
Providing disabled veterans up to one year of additional vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits.
Mandating DoD work with the states to create licensing and credential standards for returning service members to acknowledge skills learned in their military occupations.
Allowing service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs at VA, Homeland Security or other federal agencies.
Strengthening protections for members of the Reserve Component to minimize hostile work environments.
Providing a tax credit of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans who have been looking for a job for more than six months, as well as a $2,400 credit for veterans who are unemployed for more than four weeks, but less than six months. Also provides a tax credit of up to $9,600 for hiring veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been looking for a job for more than six months.
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FRA Meets with Senate Steering Committee
FRA National Executive Director (NED) Joe Barnes and representatives from other military and veteran organizations participated in a round table discussion in late November with the Senate Democrat Steering and Outreach Committee. The agenda included discussion of the challenges facing today’s veterans, including employment, remote access to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare and other programs in Alaska and service members’ transition from the Department of Defense to the VA. The group also discussed legislation (H.R. 674) combining Sen. Patty Murray’s (Washington) “Hiring Heroes Act” (S. 951), Rep. Jeff Miller’s (Florida) “Veterans Opportunity to Work Act” (H.R. 2433) and veterans’ tax-credit language into a comprehensive package designed to reduce veterans’ unemployment rates. The measure was approved by the Senate and House, and signed into law by the President. (See story below for further details on provisions intended to reduce veterans’ unemployment.)
A total of 16 senators participated in the round table discussion including Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nevada), Super Committee co-chairwoman and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Washington), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (Illinois) and former VA Committee chairman Daniel Akaka (Hawaii).
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Veterans’ Day 2011
In accordance with a long-standing tradition, FRA shipmates participated in Veterans’ Day ceremonies around the country on Friday, November 11th, 2011, which also marked FRA’s 87th anniversary. These included FRA National President Jeffrey A. Gilmartin attending a White House breakfast before ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and a special wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns following President Obama’s address to veterans and their family members who assembled for the occasion. FRA JrPNP Jim Scarbro and Auxiliary President Gini Larson were also in attendance.
The Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) was mandated by the FY2008 Defense Authorization Act to reassess the accuracy and fairness of disability claims that resulted in combined disability ratings of 20 percent or less for service members who were separated from service due to medical conditions rather than being medically retired. Since January 1, 2009, only 2,842 of the more than 77,000 eligible for reassessment have applied. Nearly half of those reviewed have been upgraded to 30 percent or more.
To be eligible for a PDBR review, service members must have been medically separated between September 11, 2001, and December 31, 2009, with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less, and found ineligible for retirement. At the present time, there is no time limit or cutoff date by which you must apply for this review, however, the longer you wait, the more difficult it may be to gather required medical evidence from your VA rating process, your service treatment record or other in-service sources.
To request a PDBR review, visit: http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/eforms/dd0294.pdf
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Veterans’ Critical Issues Report Available Online
The Independent Budget (IB) Critical Issues Report for Fiscal Year 2013 is now available online. Intended to alert Congress, the Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on veterans’ concerns, the report addresses needed legislative and regulatory action associated with healthcare, benefits and other services.
The FY 2013 IB will be released in February and marks the 27th year that AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) have published the guide for policymakers tasked with serving the needs of America’s veterans. Along with numerous other organizations, FRA consistently supports the IB.
A copy of the report is available at: http://www.independentbudget.org/2013/CI_2013.pdf
Return to Table of Contents 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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FRA 2011 Legislative Accomplishments
As we start the New Year and the Second Session of the 112th Congress, it’s important to note the many threats to member pay and benefits that the Association effectively addressed during 2011.
Health Care Benefits
TRICARE Prime enrollment fees will increase by $5 (family coverage) / $2.50 (single coverage), however, the index for future adjustments will be the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which tracks the overall inflation rate for retired pay and benefits — vice a higher health care inflation rate proposed by DoD.
Elimination of the co-pay for prescriptions dispensed via the TRICARE home-delivery program.
A Super Committee recommendation to establish a TRICARE-for-Life enrollment fee ($200) was not approved since the panel failed to agree to future budget cuts. A White House proposal to create a commission to consider restructuring the military retirement system was not approved.
A plan to shift military retirees from TRICARE Prime to TRICARE Standard ($1500 individual enrollment fee / $3500 for family coverage) was halted. The plan would also ban TRICARE coverage for retirees with civilian employee coverage.
The year-long delay on imposing Medicare/TRICARE physician reimbursement rate cuts in excess of 27% ends on 12/31/11 and Congress is apparently working on yet another extension of at least one year. This issue is significant to access to care for beneficiaries.
Proposals Impacting Retirement and Survivor Benefits
Strong and continuing support for full concurrent receipt of military retired and veterans’ disability compensation prompted reintroduction of legislation addressing this issue (S. 344, H.R. 333) along with an amendment to the Senate 2012 NDAA.
An amendment to Senate Defense Authorization bill (S. 1867) to repeal the SBP/DIC offset for surviving spouses of personnel who die of service-connected causes was approved.
FRA opposed a change to the cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) formula associated military retired pay, Social Security, disability compensation and other benefits. The “chained CPI,” would take into account substitutions that consumers make in response to changes in prices resulting in reduced annual COLA amounts.
Congressional testimony and other efforts in opposition to a Defense Business Board (DBB) plan to replace current retirement system with a 401(k) plan helped halt legislative proposals to reform the program, along with a White House proposal to establish a BRAC type commission to consider restructuring the military retirement system and other benefits.
FRA advocated legislation (HR 493) that would forgive overpayment of military retired or retainer pay for any period after the death of the recipient through the last day of the month in which such death occurs.
Active and Reserve Issues
Effectively advocated a 1.6 percent 2012 pay increase for active duty and Reservists despite a multi-year federal employee pay freeze.
Successfully advocated for a provision in the House Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1540) that extends authority to provide lodging for Navy enlisted personnel during ship construction or refitting work.
Supported the “Ensuring Our Military Pay Act” (S. 724) that would guarantee service members (including Reservists) would be paid if there is a government shut down or a default on government debt obligations.
Effectively advocated supplemental Impact Aid via the DoD budget for public schools impacted by military populations — including students with disabilities.
Supported authorization of early retirement and involuntary separation benefits associated with military end strength reductions.
FRA successfully advocated for provision in NDAA that prohibits denial of re-enlistment for a service member determined by Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to be fit for duty, but is subsequently determined to be unsuitable for service.
FRA supported legislation clarifying presumption for “Blue Water” Vietnam veterans with disability claims related to Agent Orange exposure (S. 1629 and H.R. 812).
FRA advocated “The Veterans Appeals Improvement Act” (H.R. 1484) which passed in the House and seeks to establish a Veterans Judicial Review Commission to develop ways to improve the accuracy, transparency, and timeliness of the VA claims appeals process.
Supported legislation (H.R. 2646) that ensures funding for VA hospital construction projects and medical facility leases in FY2012 (P.L. 112-37).
Successfully supported enacted legislation (H.R. 674) to provide tax credits for businesses to hire veterans (P.L. 112-56).
Advocated for enactment of the “Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act” (H.R. 1383) that increases the tuition cap to $27,000 for certain veterans currently attending private schools (P.L. 112-26).
Strongly supported enactment of the U.S. Coast Guard Authorization bill (H.R. 2838) which passed in the House and authorizes Coast Guard programs through 2014.
Halted efforts to significantly change to the military resale system by reducing the annual subsidy of military commissaries and combine the three exchange systems (AAFES, NEXCOM and MCX).