DOD and VA Announce Disability Evaluation System Pilot Expansion
The Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today that beginning in January 2010, the Disability Evaluation System (DES) pilot will expand to an additional six installations across the country.
The new locations will include: Fort Benning, Ga.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Lewis, Wash.; Fort Riley, Kan.; and Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, Va. This expansion brings the total number of military facilities using the pilot to 27.
“The decision to expand the pilot was based upon favorable reviews focusing on the program’s ability to meet timeliness, effectiveness, transparency, and customer and stakeholder satisfaction,” said Noel Koch, deputy under secretary of defense, Office of Wounded Warrior Care and Transition Policy.
In November 2007, the DoD and VA implemented the pilot test for disability cases originating at the three major military treatment facilities in the national capital region. The pilot is a test of a new process design eliminating the duplicative, time-consuming, and often confusing elements of the two current disability processes of the departments. Key features of the DES pilot include one medical examination and a single-sourced disability rating. To date, more than 5,431 service members have participated in the pilot since November 2007.
“Streamlining our disability claims system and working closely with DoD to care for today’s generation of heroes are among VA’s top priorities,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We will never lose sight of the fact that veterans and military personnel have earned their benefits from VA and DoD by virtue of their service to the nation.”
In October 2008, DoD and VA approved expansion of the DES pilot to 18 sites beyond the three initial national capital region sites. This process was successfully completed on May 31, 2009. The estimated completion date for the new six site expansion is scheduled for March 31, 2010.
“This expansion encompasses an additional 20 percent of total service member population enrolled in the program to achieve 47 percent overall enrollments, which will allow us to gather and evaluate data from a diverse geographic area, prior to determining worldwide implementation,” said Koch.
The pilot was authorized by the Defense Authorization Act of 2008 and stems from the recommendations from the reports of the Task Force on Returning Global War on Terrorism Heroes, the Independent Review Group, the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors (the Dole/Shalala Commission), and the Commission on Veterans’ Disability Benefits.
AUSA & Fort Hood Memorial
On the eve of Veterans Day, November 10th, Fort Hood held a memorial service to honor the people who lost their lives in the tragedy that took place on Thursday, November 5, 2009 on the military installation. President Obama, speaking to an estimated 15,000 people at the memorial service, vowed that "justice will be done" in the attack that left 13 dead and 42 wounded. Representatives of AUSA attended the service, including GEN Gordon R. Sullivan (ret), President of AUSA, who commented on the memorial:
“I was honored to be in attendance at the Fort Hood memorial ceremonies this past Tuesday. I experienced sadness and uplifting from this rich Army family experience. I saw the Army and its leadership at its best. Army traditions of honoring the fallen, wrapping care and concern around the families and survivors and beginning the healing. The moments were rich with resolution and bonding in trying times. I and AUSA were proud to have been there to participate in this memorial tribute.”
Also in attendance was LTG Don Jones (ret) AUSA Regional President, and Ron Taylor, President of the AUSA Central Texas-Fort Hood Chapter. AUSA would like to extend our condolences to the families of Fort Hood.
To support the Central Texas- Fort Hood Chapter's victims fund, go to: http://www.forthoodausa.org/
To read President Obama's remarks, please visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2009/11/10/with-gratitude-lives-they-led
AUSA & Government Affairs
AUSA Director of Government Affairs, Bill Loper, attended the kick-off event that launched the newest congressional caucus - the Congressional Military Family Caucus. The keynote speaker was ADM Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He was joined by general officers from all the uniformed services as well as more than 20 members of Congress, each of whom spoke of the military personnel in their respective districts and several of whom serve in a military reserve component.
The purpose of the caucus, which already includes almost 80 members of Congress, is to promote the interests of family members of the uniformed services and educate members and staff on the needs of military families as well as develop legislation to support military families. Among the issues the caucus plans to address are the effects of multiple deployments on families; childcare; education; DOD health care; families with special needs dependents; and spouse employment.
The co-chairs of the bipartisan caucus are Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) who is the spouse of a military retiree. AUSA will work with the caucus through its Directorates of Family Programs and Government Affairs to advance legislation that will enhance the quality of life for our military families.
Gates, Casey Welcome New Army Secretary
The new Army secretary received an official welcome from Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the Army’s top uniformed officer on Nov. 3, 2009 at a ceremony held in Conmy Hall at Fort Myer, Va. Gates hailed former New York Congressman John M. McHugh, who became the 21st secretary of the Army on Sept. 21, 2009 as a staunch supporter for the military during his 16 years in Congress. Gates thanked McHugh, who had served as the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, for his support of important acquisition reform legislation that was passed earlier this year. To read more about the ceremony, go to: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=56498
AUSA FIGHTING 21 PERCENT MEDICARE REIMBURSEMENT DECREASE
AUSA President Gen. Gordon Sullivan, USA, Ret., sent a letter to House leaders last week urging passage of H.R. 3961, The Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009. The legislation would reverse the planned 21 percent reduction in the Medicare Physician Payment rate set to occur in January 2010. It would repeal the flawed formula that results in annual reduction requirements and would replace it with one that emphasizes primary and preventative care services.
Declining participation of providers in Medicare and TRICARE due to low reimbursements is a serious healthcare problem facing Medicare-eligibles and military beneficiaries of all ages. Since TRICARE payment rates are tied to Medicare’s rates, any reductions adversely impact all military beneficiaries, not just those over age 65. Finding doctors who accept TRICARE is an enormous problem for the military community - particularly for Guard and Reserve families, retirees, and survivors who live in areas with a small military population. Payment cuts make the situation even worse.
Service members in harm’s way should not have to worry about their families’ healthcare. There will be long-term negative consequences to retention and readiness if the military TRICARE program cannot provide access to quality care. So AUSA is urging the Congress to reverse the 21 percent Medicare/TRICARE payment cut scheduled for January 2010 by voting for H.R. 3961. Add your voice to ours by sending your own letter. Go to www.ausa.org, click on 'Contact Congress' button on the upper right-hand corner of our homepage to “Vote for The Medicare Physician Payment Reform Act of 2009.” Your voice does make a difference!
Bill Aims to Update, Grow Troops to Teachers
The Troops to Teachers program is in the process of being rejuvenated to attract younger veterans to work as public school teachers under a new bipartisan. The existing program, created in 1994 to help find post-service work for people whose military careers were being cut short by the post-Cold War drawdown, has been limited to career Servicemembers with at least six years of active service or 10 years of reserve service. The Post-9/11 Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act would reduce the requirement so that anyone who has served at least 90 days of continuous active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, would be eligible to participate in the program. Those who have not served 90 days of active service since Sept. 11, 2001, would be eligible if they served four years of active duty, two fewer than current requirements. AUSA has sent a letter to Congress supporting this legislation. To learn more, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/10/military_troopstoteachers_102709w/
House Passes Bill to Expand SCRA Rights
An omnibus veterans’ bill, which includes an expansion of Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act (SCRA) protections and allows parents to be buried in veterans’ cemeteries if their military sons or daughters had no dependents, has passed the House of Representatives and joins a growing pile of legislation. The Veterans; Small Business Assistance and Servicemembers Protection Act of 2009 passed the House. It expands Servicemembers’ ability to cancel service contracts without penalty if they move to a new duty station or deploy overseas for 180 days or more. AUSA has sent letters to senior Congressional leaders urging quick passage of this legislation. To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/11/military_scra_veteransbill_110309w/
Contractor to Help VA with GI Bill Claims
The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) is ready to admit it cannot process GI Bill benefits claims without help. The VA’s undersecretary for benefits said in a statement that a contractor will assist the VA in delivering education benefits to veterans as quickly as possible. Key tasks to be handled by contractors include validating student enrollment and providing recommendations on whether to pay. The VA’s goal of processing claims in 20 to 24 days proved too optimistic, and it ended up taking an average 35 days. To find out more, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/10/military_gibill_contractor_102809w/
More Delays Possible in GI Bill Payments
VA officials said about 14,000 student veterans may not receive November living stipends because their GI Bill claims are not completed, but no additional emergency payments will be made. Instead, VA officials said students would receive payments, retroactive to the start of their enrollment, as soon as their claims are completed. To read more, please follow the link: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/10/military_gibill_paymentdelays_102809w/
TRICARE Telemental Health Services Bring Patients and Providers Together Via Video
Behavioral health care is now closer and more convenient than ever following the introduction of TRICARE’s telemental health program. TRICARE’s telemental health program uses real-time telecommunication technologies to bring behavioral health care closer to the people who need it most. For more information about TRICARE’s telemental health options, go to the Getting Care link at http://tricare.mil/mybenefit/home/MentalHealthAndBehavior
TRICARE Offers New and Improved Pharmacy Benefits
The TRICARE Management Activity is introducing significant new enhancements to beneficiaries as it combines its mail-order and retail pharmacy contract into one new contract called TRICARE Pharmacy. The improvements to the TRICARE Pharmacy program include the Specialty Medication Care Management program in the mail-order pharmacy; expansion of the Member Choice Center providing assistance to help beneficiaries to switch their military treatment facility prescriptions to mail-order; and one call center phone number. To view the full release, please visit: http://www.tricare.mil/Pressroom/News.aspx?fid=564
TRICARE Extends OTC Medication Demonstration Project
TRICARE’s over-the-counter medication demonstration project has been extended by one year. The program allows TRICARE beneficiaries to substitute over-the-counter (OTC) versions of certain prescription drugs. The OTC program, which was scheduled to end November 4, 2009 as TRICARE’s new pharmacy contract starts, will continue; however, it will now offer beneficiaries certain OTC medications for a $3 co-payment. The program previously did not require any co-payment. As before, beneficiaries cannot just walk into a pharmacy and get OTC medications. To use the program they still need a prescription from their health care provider for the OTC drug. For more information about the TRICARE Pharmacy Program, go to: http://www.tricare.mil/pharmacy.
United Health Loses Round in TRICARE Battle
A health insurer has succeeded at slowing Department of Defense (DoD) efforts to shift a giant health plan administration contract to a competitor. Humana Military Healthcare Services, an arm of Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky., (NYSE:HUM) has persuaded the U.S. Government Accountability Office to have the DoD take another look at a contracting decision. The department recently awarded the South Region TRICARE program contract to the United Health Military & Veterans Services unit at United Health Group Inc., Minnetonka, Minn. TRICARE is a program that manages health benefits for military personnel, dependents and retirees who get care away from military and Veterans Department facilities. The new contract could last about 6 years. It has a total potential estimated value of about $22 billion, according to Humana. The old contract is due to expire March 31, 2010. To read this article in its entirety, please go to: http://www.lifeandhealthinsurancenews.com/News/2009/10/Pages/UnitedHealth-TriCare-Battle.aspx
Hot Shots! TRICARE Makes H1N1 Immunizations Easy for Beneficiaries
Immunizations against the H1N1 virus will soon be available. TRICARE Prime, Standard and Extra beneficiaries can get their shots from network and non-network providers without paying a deductible or making a co-payment. A temporary waiver allows non-active duty TRICARE Prime enrollees to get the H1N1 immunization from non-network providers without a referral or authorization, eliminating point-of-service charges. Prime enrollees will not be charged a co-payment or cost share. Active duty Servicemembers should follow the guidance of their respective services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine for the seasonal flu is not expected to protect against H1N1; immunization for the 2009 H1N1 strain is therefore recommended. Both vaccines can be administered on the same day. To learn more, go to: http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=561
Lawmaker Urges Military Breast Cancer Study
A senior lawmaker is pushing for a joint Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs Department (VA) study of breast cancer rates in Servicemembers and veterans to determine if there is a link to military service. The bill, HR 3926, the Armed Forces Breast Cancer Research Act, asks for a joint report in 18 months that would report on the number of Servicemembers and veterans, male and female, who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, what kind of treatment they have received and demographic information about the age and service of the victims. Additionally, the report would address whether defense and VA officials see any service-related breast cancer risk. The legislation comes as lawmakers and the government are looking into claims of an unusual incidence of breast cancer among men who once served at Camp Lejuene, N.C., a base that has a history of environmental problems, including contaminated water. To learn more, go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/10/military_breastcancer_102709w/
Bennet, Udall, /Salazar Push VA to Streamline Benefits Process for Veterans Suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, U.S. Senators for Colorado, and Congressman John Salazar are pushing to streamline a burdensome and tangled VA process that has left military veterans seeking treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) waiting for the benefits they deserve. In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, the three lawmakers wrote that current regulations unfairly burden veterans with having to produce incident reports and statements from fellow Soldiers to confirm a link that common sense confirms, even if they have already been diagnosed with PTSD. For further information and to read the letter to Secretary Shinseki in full, please go to: http://markudall.senate.gov/?p=press_release&id=295
A Virtual Clinic to Treat the Stresses of War
Many veterans are returning home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with serious problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but only one-third receive medical help. Jacquelyn Ford Morie, senior researcher for the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of California, has created a project called Coming Home which is a virtual healing center for veterans. Her hope is that veterans will be more comfortable seeking care in the virtual world she has created. The Institute for Creative Technologies specializes in building virtual humans, which are used for marketing and negotiations. These virtual humans can also act as museum guides in the virtual healing center, or they can assist a veteran with a virtual diagnosis. The veteran’s project has been financed by the Army and the National Science Foundation. Another program has been backed by a military health insurer to use the Web to provide anonymous mental health care to veterans. For more information, please click on: http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/10/22/a-virtual-clinic-to-treat-the-stresses-of-war/
VA to Outline Plans to End Veteran Homelessness
Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric K. Shinseki unveiled a five-year plan to end homelessness among veterans as he, other VA officials and community outreach specialists came together for the Homeless Veteran Summit on November 4, 2009. Shinseki’s team has made addressing homelessness a leading issue since he took charge of VA in January. Department officials estimate that about 131,000 veterans are homeless today in the United States, down from the 2003 estimate of nearly 200,000. Shinseki's comprehensive plan to end homelessness includes preventive measures like discharge planning for incarcerated Veterans re-entering society, supportive services for low-income Veterans and their families and a national referral center to link Veterans to local service providers. Additionally, the plan calls for expanded efforts for education, jobs, health care and housing. To read more, go to: http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123175860
2010 Scholarship for Military Children Program Opened November 3, 2009
Scholarship applications are now available as of Nov. 3, 2009 in commissaries worldwide and online through a link at https://www.commissaries.com and directly at http://www.militaryscholar.org. Since the program began in 2000, it has awarded $7.3 million in scholarships to almost 5,000 children of Servicemembers. Only dependent, unmarried children, younger than age 21 (age 23 if enrolled as a full- time student at a college or university) of active duty personnel, Reserve, Guard and retired military members, survivors of Servicemembers may apply for a scholarship. Eligibility is determined using DEERS, the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System database. The applicant must be planning to attend, or already be attending, an accredited college or university full time in the fall of 2010, or be enrolled in a program of studies designed to transfer directly into a four-year program. Applicants should prepare to submit an essay on the following topic: “You can travel back in time; however, you cannot change events. What point in history would you visit and why?” Applications must be turned in to a commissary by close of business Feb. 17, 2010. At least one scholarship will be awarded at every commissary location with qualified applicants. To find out more information, go to http://www.commissaries.com/press_room/press_release/2009/DeCA_102_09.cfm
DeCA Hits All-time High in 2009 Customer Service Survey Results
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) received more than 20,000 shoppers in the 2009 Commissary Customer Service Survey. The overall score of 4.67 (on a scale of 1 to 5) was DeCA’s highest mark ever, representing a rise of 0.06 points over last year’s results. For further information, please go to: http://www.commissaries.com
AAFES Seeking Sizzling Holiday Creations for $3,850 in Shopping Sprees
The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) and Hershey’s are joining culinary forces to determine which AAFES shoppers have the most talent in the kitchen. The Patriot Family Holiday Creations contest, which runs Nov. 1 – Dec. 31, 2009, will spotlight recipes and photos of cakes, cupcakes and cookies decorated in holiday style by military shoppers. Aspiring chefs must submit an original photo of their holiday decorated baked goods with the recipe to email@example.com. The entries will be judged on originality, creativity, ease of preparation and presentation. The grand prize winner will receive a $2,000 AAFES shopping spree with runners-up shopping sprees of $1,000, $500, $250 and four for $25. Complete rules concerning the Holiday Creations contest are available online at the AAFES Patriot Family Connection at http://www.aafes.com. Final judging and winners of the contest are expected to be announced around Feb. 15, 2010.
AAFES Congratulates New Parents with Exclusive Savings
Military families can count on the Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) to deliver tax-free savings to help them stock up on everything they’ll need to take care of their newest recruit. AAFES’ “Congratulations Baby!” booklet includes a variety of coupons for baby products including disposable diapers, infant formula and baby shampoo. In addition to specials on items for the baby, proud parents will also find coupons for them as well. AAFES’ “Congratulations Baby!” booklet is available in the customer service area of all BXs and PXs.
USAA Now Open to Honorably Discharged Veterans
USAA has expanded its customer base to include all honorably discharged veterans and their families, making about 35 million more people eligible for membership. USAA’s services include insurance, financial planning, investments and banking products. To find out more information, please go to:
No TRICARE For Life Changes
VA launched the first and most visible phase of a big Web renovation project that will better serve our nation's veterans. The conversion began on Nov.8, and was scheduled to be completed by Veterans Day, Nov. 11. VA asks members to understand that as they implement this new design across more than 500 VA websites there may be minor errors on some of the 80,000 pages. VA will studiously examine all pages after the conversion and make corrections as needed.
Holiday Mailing Guidelines Set
The U.S. Postal Service has set guidelines for mailing holiday mail and packages overseas. Mail and packages for troops that serve in the Iraq and Afghanistan area should be sent by Dec. 4, 2008. Holiday mail, including packages and cards, going to military bases in other parts of the world should be shipped by Dec. 11. Priority mail flat-rate boxes are the best value when shipping to military members serving at home or anywhere overseas. The largest flat-rate box costs $10.95 to ship to an APO or FPO address. That is a $2 discount, and the boxes are free. Include the mailing address, return address and the contents of the box on a slip of paper with the other contents. For more information, visit the U.S. Postal Service website.
Not sure what to get your servicemember for the holidays? We've gathered dozens of gift ideas for everyone on your list, no matter what your budget is! Find the perfect presents with the Holiday Gift Guide.
Vets' Caregiver Bill Stalled
More than a month after the new fiscal year began, the House and Senate are working to pass a group of bills to improve veterans' benefits and health programs. However, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), is stalling the bill's process because he believes his colleagues are too willing to pass or spend whatever is necessary to assure their reelection. The $3.7 billion packet of health care initiatives, called an omnibus bill, includes the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2009 (S. 1963). Read the full article at Military.com.
VA's New Look Website
VA launched the first and most visible phase of a big Web renovation project that will better serve our nation's veterans. The conversion began on Nov.8, and was scheduled to be completed by Veterans Day, Nov. 11. VA asks members to understand that as they implement this new design across more than 500 VA websites there may be minor errors on some of the 80,000 pages. VA will studiously examine all pages after the conversion and make corrections as needed. Check out more information on the changes.
VA Working to Improve Vet Education
The Department of Veterans Affairs is working with Florida and other states to help veterans make the transition from combat to college life. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki addressed educators and veterans during a conference at the University of South Florida on the importance of programs that ease the transition from active duty to veteran status. He emphasized the significance of ongoing outreach to ensure that veterans are fully informed of available education benefits, the newest of which is the Post 9/11 GI Bill. To further aid veteran-students, VA and USF began "VetSuccess on Campus," a pilot program designed to ease the transition process -- particularly for disabled veterans. The program places VA's Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service and mental health counselors on campus to help Veterans succeed in college. It will eventually expand to other parts of the country.
For more information about VA's education benefits, visit www.va.gov
New Veterans Employment Initiative Announced
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
November 09, 2009
President Obama Launches Major Veterans Employment Initiative
Initiative Would Transform Federal Government into Model of Veterans Employment
Washington, DC – Today, the White House announced the launch of an initiative that is designed to transform the federal government into the model employer of America’s veterans. This evening, President Obama will be joined by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Office of Personnel Management Director John Berry to sign an Executive Order on the Employment of Veterans in the federal government, which establishes the Veterans Employment Initiative for the Executive Branch. The Initiative underscores to federal agencies the importance of recruiting and training veterans, aims to increase the employment of veterans within the Executive Branch, and helps recently hired veterans adjust to service in a civilian capacity.
“Honoring our sacred trust with America’s veterans means doing all we can to help them find work when they come home so they never feel as if the American Dream they fought to defend is out of reach for them and their families,” said President Obama. “But this initiative is about more than repaying our debt for their courageous service and selfless sacrifice. It’s also about continuing to fill the ranks of federal employees with men and women who possess the skills, dedication, and sense of duty that Americans deserve from their public servants. And few embody those qualities like our nation’s veterans.”
The Executive Order creates an interagency Council on Veterans Employment that will advise the President and the Director of the Office of Personnel Management on the veterans’ employment initiative. The Council will be chaired by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. OPM Director John Berry will serve as the Vice Chair and Chief Operating Officer of the Council.
“Veterans have shown unmatched dedication to public service,” said Secretary Shinseki. “They offer leadership and technical skills that are in high demand, whether in the public or private workforce. Not only does this initiative present an opportunity for Veterans to serve their Nation once again, the Nation will benefit from the education and training Veterans received in the Armed Forces. I am looking forward to working with Secretary Solis and Director Berry to achieve the objectives of this initiative across the federal government.”
“Veterans are an important part of our nation’s past, present and future. They deserve our full support as they reintegrate into the civilian workforce,” said Secretary Solis, “In signing this Executive Order, President Obama underscores his Administration’s commitment to our military men and women, and keeps us squarely on the path to achieving the goal of good jobs for everyone.”
“President Obama strongly believes in honoring the service of our veterans and he sees this initiative as an opportunity to put some real muscle behind that promise,” said Director Berry. “The strong sense of patriotism and public service held by members of our armed forces doesn’t leave them when they exit from active duty. It benefits our government to seize this opportunity to utilize their skills and dedication to service. The Veterans Employment Initiative will help our federal agencies identify qualified veterans, clarify the hiring process for veterans seeking employment with the federal government, and help our veterans adjust to civilian life once they are hired.”
The Order also establishes a Veterans Employment Program office within most federal agencies. These offices will be responsible for helping veterans identify employment opportunities within those federal agencies, providing feedback to veterans about their employment application status, and helping veterans recently employed by these agencies adjust to civilian life and a workplace culture often different than military service.
In addition, the Office of Personnel Management will issue a government-wide strategic plan that will focus on creating leadership commitment and an infrastructure in each agency to promote continued skills development and employment success for veterans. The strategic plan will also include marketing strategies aimed at agency hiring managers as well as veterans and transitioning service members.
“This Executive Order reflects the shared commitment across the Obama administration to hiring American veterans,” said Secretary Napolitano. “Veterans play a vital role in the Department of Homeland Security’s mission to protect the nation, which is why we have pledged to grow our veteran workforce to more than 50,000 Department-wide by 2012.”
At the end of Fiscal Year 2008, there were approximately 480,000 veterans working within the federal government.
For more information, visit: www.fedshirevets.gov
TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy Services No Longer Available to those Living Overseas
The Department of State is discontinuing postal activities for DoD retirees not serving overseas in an official capacity using a U.S. embassy or consulate post office box. Therefore, TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy services will no longer be available for those beneficiaries because TMOP cannot deliver to a foreign address. This change does not affect retirees who have a post office box on a military installation.
Express Scripts will continue processing TMOP orders until December 1, 2009. Mail service to affected beneficiaries will continue until December 31. Beneficiaries will then need to have their prescriptions filled by a host nation pharmacy or a Military Treatment Facility. They may be required to pay out-of-pocket and submit claims to the overseas claims processor WPS for reimbursement.
Retirees and Vets Allowed to Salute Flag
Traditionally, members of the nation's veterans service organizations render the hand-salute during the national anthem and at events involving the national flag while wearing their organization's official head-gear. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2008 contained an amendment to allow un-uniformed servicemembers, military retirees, and veterans to render a hand salute during the hoisting, lowering, or passing of the U.S. flag. A later amendment further authorized hand-salutes during the national anthem by veterans and out-of-uniform military personnel. This was included in the Defense Authorization Act of 2009, which Former President Bush signed on Oct. 14, 2008.
FLTCIP Period Extended, Again, for Some
Nearly 72,000 enrollees in the FLTCIP long-term care insurance program who are facing premium increases were sent letters giving incorrect figures on the increases, and those enrollees will be given another month to decide whether to stick with their coverage or change it, OPM has said. The program is in what's called a special decision period, in which all enrollees initially were to be given until December 14 to decide whether to change coverage under terms of a new contract that became effective in October. However, at the urging of Congress, that period was extended to February 14 for those who have policies with automatic inflation protection and who took out those policies before age 70—they are facing premium increases of up to 25 percent. OPM says that the letters sent to about 71,600 such enrollees showed incorrect new premium amounts, and that notices of the mistake are now being sent and that new letters will go to them in December with the correct information. The mistake represents the latest in a series of setbacks for the program, which has upset many enrollees who contend that they were led to believe that premiums would be fixed for life under the automatic inflation protection option.
Vet Percentages Change Little
OPM has put out its annual report on employment of veterans by the federal government, showing once again that the share is higher than in the American workforce as a whole, but also that the numbers are little changed from the prior report. In 2008, 25.5 percent of the federal workforce had veterans status--which confers preferential hiring treatment and layoff protection--the same as in 2007, compared with the 8.3 percent level in the general workforce. The percentage of employees deemed to be disabled veterans rose from 5.7 to 6 percent, and those with disability ratings of 30 percent or more rose from 3.1 to 3.4 percent; those compare with 0.8 and 0.3 percent in the overall workforce, percentages that didn't change between 2007 and 2008. By agency, the highest percentage of veterans is at Defense, 40.6 percent, followed by Transportation, 29.4, VA, 26.4, and DHS, 24.6. At the low end are National Science Foundation, HHS, AID, EPA, Education and SSA, all under 10 percent. The report follows the White House announcement of an initiative to further encourage agencies to hire veterans and to ease the job-seeking and transition processes for veterans.
Space-A travel an option for retirees
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (AFRNS) – Retirees who dream of climbing an Egyptian pyramid, schussing down a black diamond ski slope in Bavaria, or walking on a Hawaiian beach can make these dreams come true with space-available travel.
Typically, these dreams require a lot of money; however, Space-A travel is free with the exception of customs or federal inspection fees on some chartered commercial air service missions.
Air Mobility Command aircraft fly all over the globe and often have open passenger seats available. An AMC aircraft takes off every 90 seconds. More than 130,000 Space-A travelers take advantage of this military benefit each year.
Retired Airmen with a retiree ID card and who are eligible to receive retired or retainer pay, fly as Category VI passengers. Since missions can be rerouted, delayed or cancelled for a variety of reasons -- weather, maintenance issues or higher priority missions – retirees need to be flexible. They need to plan for any potential delays and added expenses for stays, especially in high-cost areas.
There are four different methods for signing up for Space-A travel: in person at the passenger terminal or remotely via telephone, fax or e-mail. Sponsors must provide their name and information on all traveling dependents, and their desired destination(s).
Retirees can also use the DOD-chartered airlift missions for Space-A travel, if seats are available. Although retirees cannot visit their grandchildren in Iraq or Afghanistan, they can travel to Germany if the aircraft transitions there.
If traveling overseas, retirees should know the restrictions of the host country. For example, retirees traveling to Germany are not authorized to purchase items in the base exchange, but they can go off base and shop in the local community. Status of Forces Agreements restrictions, U.S. State Department Travel Advisory guidelines, the Foreign Clearance Guide and passport and visa requirements are all necessary items to research.
Surviving Spouses' Court Victory To Stand
The Defense Department has decided not to challenge a federal court ruling that effectively allows three surviving spouses of deceased retired service members to continue collecting both Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits, even though they remarried after age 57.
In the case, Sharp v. U.S., the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in August upheld a district court decision that determined the three women who brought the lawsuit were entitled to both forms of compensation. Government lawyers contended that their SPB should have been offset dollar-for-dollar by the amount of tax-free DIC they receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veterans' and military service organizations hailed the ruling, and DoD's decision not to appeal. "This court victory … could be the first step in an effort to eventually completely repeal the SBP/DIC offset," the Fleet Reserve Association said in a Nov. 6 statement published on the organization's Web site.
Military Spouse Residency Relief Act
Good news on the homefront! The Military Spouse Residency Relief Act was passed by Congress last week and is awaiting the President's signature.
The body of the press release is shown below:
Washington, DC –Tuesday, November 3, 2009.
A comprehensive military family legislation, the Military Spouses Residency Relief Act (S 475 and HR 1182), which will legally recognize military spouses by providing them the option to claim the same state of domicile as their active duty spouse, passed through the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support, and is now being brought before the President to become a law.
The bill was introduced by Congressman John Carter (R-TX), who represents Fort Hood, the largest military installation in the country. “This is fantastic news for our service families worldwide,” says Carter, who has been pushing the legislation for the last three years.
Senators Richard Burr (R-NC) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the companion bill into the Senate, which passed unanimously in August. The legislation will amend the Servicemember’s Civil Relief Act (SCRA) of 1940 allowing military spouses to share a home state with their spouse, the service member.
Currently, military spouses experience impediments in voting and property ownership as well as deterrents in employment and education. The bill offers fair treatment of the military spouse and improves the quality of life for military families by allowing the stability of a single state of domicile to call home.
TRICARE Streamlines Pharmacy Benefits
Service members and their families will be able to use a single toll-free phone number – (877) 363-1303 – when obtaining or refilling retail, specialty, or mail-order prescriptions through TRICARE, the network of military health-care providers. The change is among several TRICARE adopted when it combined mail-order and retail pharmacies under a single contract, provided by St. Louis-based Express Scripts Inc.
The change follows an industry-wide trend. Officials are hopeful that beneficiaries will find the new system easier to navigate, while the health-care system saves money.
More information is available on the Web at www.tricare.mil/pharmacy or www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE.
Update: 2010 Military Retirement COLA
Each year military retirement pay is adjusted to meet the increased cost of living. This Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA) varies from year to year based on the previous year's Consumer Price Index (CPI). The CPI dipped below 4 percent in the first two quarters of FY2009 and was still in negative numbers at the end of the fiscal year. Due to the negative CPI in FY2009 there will likely be no COLA increase for military retirees in 2010.