FLTCIP Opportunity Coming
Meanwhile, the FLTCIP long-term care program will have an enrollment opportunity reflecting changes in certain benefits and premiums under a new contract issued in the spring. Premium rates will remain the same for current enrollees who took the future purchase option for inflation protection—which essentially gives enrollees the choice to buy inflation protection at a higher cost—but rates for those with automatic inflation protection will increase effective in 2010 by 5-25 percent for those who elected that option before age 70.
Enrollees will be able to choose to keep their premiums about level by making certain benefit changes, keep their current benefit structure, or elect revised benefits. New offerings will include: higher home health care reimbursement, up to 100 percent of the daily benefit amount; the choice of a two-year benefit period, in addition to the current options for three years, five years or lifetime coverage; higher daily benefit amounts, available from $100 to $450 in $50 increments, compared with the current range of $50 to $300 in $25 increments; coverage for up to 500 days for informal care provided by family members who do not normally live with the insured rather than 365 days; a waiting period based on calendar days not days of needing care; and coverage for bed reservations up to 60 days. Those not already enrolled in the FLTCIP can apply at any time, with the new benefit offerings becoming available October 1.
New GI Bill Update
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has posted the final 2009-2010 Maximum In-State Tuition & Fees table. It has taken much longer than the VA would have hoped with Guam and Ohio finally reporting their 2009-2010 tuition and fee rates this week. This means veterans and school administrators nation-wide can finally get to work determining exactly how much the New Post-9/11 GI Bill will cover. To learn more, read the full blog post http://military-education.military.com/2009/08/new-gi-bill-update-aug-17.html on the Military Education Blog. To read the full article, go to: http://www.military.com/military-report/new-gi-bill-update-aug-17
VA Likely to Miss Deadline to Process Education Benefit Claims
The Veterans Affairs Department (VA) has a backlog of nearly 200,000 education benefits claims from veterans just three weeks before universities and colleges start classes for the fall, and it is unlikely the VA can process the applications in time. Hundreds of thousands of veterans have filed for education benefits established by the 2008 GI bill, formerly called the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which greatly expanded the benefits the government gives veterans for college education. The VA has been overwhelmed with claims and the backlog means schools could get paid late. Colleges and universities basically have two choices: decline to enroll veterans for the fall semester, which would cause bad publicity, or carry the veterans until VA payments arrive. To read this article in its entirety, please go to: http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20090813_9181.php?oref=topstory
Obama: Fixing VA Could Take Years
President Obama met with Military Times and a small group of other defense reporters on August 4, 2009 at the White House to discuss the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Obama shared his goal to “break down the hurdles that exist between veterans and VA.” But lowering one of those hurdles — creating what Obama called “a VA that is consumer-friendly, that is oriented not towards keeping people out but bringing people in” — will not happen quickly. “It’s fair to say that this is a multiyear project.” As evidence of that effort, Obama and Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki touted a boost in VA funding, an increase of 4,000 claims adjusters since January 2007, a total of 18,000 mental health providers, a national suicide hotline, technological improvements in the benefits claims process, the ongoing effort to create electronic medical records that VA and the Pentagon can easily share and a more proactive and helpful attitude at both agencies. To find out more information, go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/08/military_obama_veterans_081309w/
COLA Won't go Negative as Consumer Prices Fall
Although the cost of living is falling, paychecks for military and federal civilian retirees won’t get smaller under current federal law. For the first three months of fiscal 2009, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has dropped 5 percent, a sign of a weak national economy, in which food, lodging, transportation, and healthcare services, which comprise the index are becoming less expensive. Since the CPI is the basis for automatic increases each Dec. 1 in Social Security, military and federal civilian retired pay and other federal entitlements, some recipients have been concerned that their government checks might shrink. However there is no such thing as a negative COLA. In a weak economy COLA is not increased. “With the CPI down 5 percent for the first three months, the only way there will be a COLA in December is if prices rise more than 5 percent in the next 9 months.” A 5 percent increase in 9 months has happened only once in 19 years. To read this article in full, go to:
Mass. Vets Bonus Program Funds Go Unused
Up to one-third of eligible veterans have not participated in the 2006 “Welcome Home” program that provides as much as $1,000 to military personnel returning from active duty. The program pays Massachusetts veterans who served in the armed forces, the National Guard or reserves for at least six months after Sept. 11, 2001, from $500 to $1,000, depending on where they were deployed. To find out more information, go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/08/ap_vets_bonuses_massachusetts_081809/
VA Works to Stop Vets From Repeating Crimes
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is bracing for an influx of Soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA has launched an ambitious effort to locate veterans who’ve had a brush with the law and offer them treatment to help prevent repeated crimes. The VA started its Veterans Justice program early this year. Through the program the VA is training 145 specialists at its hospitals nationwide to help veterans who are in jails awaiting trial or serving misdemeanor sentences. VA specialists would provide a civilian court a report on an accused veteran’s medical history—and available VA benefits and programs that might assist that particular veteran. Ultimately the decision is up to the judge and prosecutors if the veteran should undergo treatment rather than serving jail time. The VA is also participating in 10 “veterans courts” to help former Servicemembers accused of crimes get into treatment programs in exchange for reduced sentences or dismissed charges. More than 40 such courts are planned across the country. To learn more about this new program and the ways the VA is trying to assist veterans, read the article here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/08/ap_vets_va_crimes_080509/
US Court Hears Vets' Appeal on Mental Health
Military veterans’ advocates took their complaints about a dysfunctional mental health system to a federal appeals court and were urged by the chief judge to negotiate improvements with the government. The advocacy group sued the government in 2007, saying the VA had made mental healthcare virtually unavailable to thousands of discharged Soldiers through perfunctory exams, delays in referrals and treatment, and a bewildering benefits system. The VA has a backlog of 900,000 disability claims, averaging nearly 4 ½ years to decide veterans’ appeals of benefit decisions and does not allow lawyers to represent veterans in their initial claims. After hearing the same evidence at a non-jury trial, the U.S. District Judge said in June 2008 that the VA was too slow to provide care but that courts lack authority to make the sweeping changes the advocates proposed. Those changes include requiring faster decisions and improved mental healthcare and suicide prevention programs. The advocacy groups also wanted the VA to allow legal representation and independent review of benefit decisions. Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2009/08/13/MN51197NHC.DTL#ixzz0O4AibYLK
VA to Open National Pharmacy Call Center
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will open a national call center in Waco, Texas, to help answer questions from veterans and VA pharmacies. It will be located in a building in the Waco VA complex that will undergo a $4.5 million renovation, starting next month and is expected to employ 224 workers. To find out more, go to: http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/APStories/stories/D9A1FH9G2.html
VA Hope More Vets Will Take HIV Tests
The Veterans Affairs began offering routine HIV tests to veterans who receive medical care. Under the new policy, veterans must verbally consent to the test, and they can opt to decline it. The new policy follows recommendations from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, which advises that all patients should be offered HIV testing even if they are not considered at risk. The hope is that by dropping the written consent, more veterans will get tested, and when necessary receive medical treatment. About 22,000 veterans with HIV get care at VA facilities. To learn more, click here: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/08/ap_va_hiv_tests_081709/
TRICARE Assistance Program
The web-based TRICARE Assistance Program (TRIAP) demonstration began on August 1, 2009 in the United States and will continue until April 1, 2010. The purpose of this demonstration is to test the use of web-based technologies to: deliver information and counseling services to beneficiaries; determine if web-based technologies increase the efficiency of identifying beneficiaries who need behavioral healthcare; identify behavioral health needs of beneficiaries earlier; and refer and provide beneficiaries access to the appropriate level of behavioral healthcare more effectively. This demonstration project will expand access to existing behavioral health services by using audiovisual telecommunications systems such as video chat and instant messaging to access existing behavioral health centers in your region. To find out more information, go to: http://www.tricare.mil/mybenefit/ProfileFilter.do;jsessionid=KQhJlWszT2TvB4ZyZYF11p6mBLzxQpVVlr59D1pwSLTykLyhXSn2!-496339013?puri=%2Fhome%2Foverview%2FSpecialPrograms%2FTRICAREAssistanceProgram
Paralympics Offer Wounded Veterans a Chance to Dream
28 disabled veterans and active duty Soldiers met in Chicago last week for a training camp aimed at steering them to high-level Paralympic competition -- or at least to help ease them back into athletics after life-changing injuries. The camp, one of about six across the country this year sponsored by the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), was a place for coaches to scout new talent at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The Paralympics, held since 1988 at the same site as the Olympic Games, typically feature only a few veterans. The USOC wants to increase military participation, especially given the number of disabled young Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and the advances in prosthetic and other medical technology that make sports more accessible and comfortable for those with amputations or other disabling injuries. The Paralympics grew out of a competition in England in 1948 for injured World War II veterans. To read this article in full, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/08/AR2009080802129.html
New Drugs Reviewed
The Beneficiary Advisory Panel (BAP) met to provide comments on the Department of Defense (DoD) Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee’s (P&T Committee) recommendations on formulary status, pre-authorizations, and the effective date for a drug’s change from formulary to non-formulary status. Moving a drug to non-formulary status means it will still be available to beneficiaries, but usually at a higher price. It may also require additional medical authorization. The BAP reviewed both current and new drugs. For a complete list of formulary medications, go to: http://www.tricareformularysearch.org/dod/medicationcenter/default.aspx. For additional information on this or other BAP meetings, please visit: http://www.tricare.mil/pharmacy/bap/.
Humana Military Healthcare Services Receives Distinguished Award
Humana Military Healthcare Services, the TRICARE contractor for the South Region, received the “Pro Patria Award” from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) organization. This award is the highest level of recognition an ESGR Field Committee can bestow upon an employer and is given annually to one employer in each state. Pro Patria awards are given to employers providing the most exceptional support of national defense through leadership practices and personnel policies supporting their employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. To learn more about ESGR and this award, please visit http://www.esgr.mil.
Military Spouses Get Federal Hiring Preference
New Guidelines under the Obama Administration will soon give federal agencies the option of hiring certain military spouses without them having to compete for jobs. The guidelines apply to the spouses of military Servicemembers relocating to new assignments, some physically disabled spouses, and those whose husband or wife was killed in the line of duty. They will be able to apply for a federal job and request recruiters allow them to bypass the traditional hiring process. Hundreds of thousands of spouses could potentially benefit, since roughly half of the 400,000 to 500,000 active duty Servicemembers restationed each year are married. To read this article in full, go to: http://voices.washingtonpost.com/federal-eye/2009/08/military_spouses_get_federal_h.html
DeCA Renews Efforts to Hire Employees with Targeted Disabilities
The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) recently announced its goal to hire at least 189 people with targeted disabilities over the next two to three years. Targeted disabilities include severe hearing or vision impairments, missing extremities, and partial or complete paralysis. They also include serious medical conditions such as convulsions, mental retardation, mental or emotional illness, and severe distortion of the limbs or spine. This hiring effort is part of an overall goal, mandated by the Department of Defense, to have 2 percent of the entire DoD workforce consist of people with targeted disabilities. DeCA presently employs 126 such individuals, so an additional 189 would bring the agency’s total to 315; which is 2 percent of the agency’s 15,714 civilian employees who are not contract workers or local nationals working at overseas stores. To find out more information, go to: http://www.commissaries.com/press_room/press_release/2009/DeCA_78_09.cfm
Commissaries help promote 2009 Constitution Day Poster Contest
DeCA has joined several organizations to promote the 2009 Constitution Day Poster Contest. The poster contest is open to youth in grades K-12 (including homeschoolers) to celebrate Constitution Day, Sept. 17, 2009. Contest entrants must design a poster showing how they benefit from the freedoms embodied in the U.S. Constitution. Entries must be postmarked by Oct. 1,2009. Details, resources and entry forms are available at the GovDoc Kids Group wiki, http://www.govdocs4children.pbwiki.com. Each winning student will receive two copies of his or her poster. Contest winners will be posted on the GovDoc Kids Group wiki on Election Day, Nov. 4. The first 100 entrants will receive a copy of “The U.S. Constitution & Fascinating Facts About It” – a pocket-size guide to the Constitution provided by ConstitutionFacts.com. For more information, contact Government Documents Librarian Martha Childers, Johnson County Library, at 913-495-2464. For contest requirements, the submission deadline and the website, go to: http://www.ConstitutionFacts.com.
September Case Lot Sale Promises Huge Savings
Commissary customers can save 30 percent or more on their purchases every day, but in September they can save even more by shopping at a worldwide case lot sale in their community. The Defense Commissary Agency’s (DeCA) worldwide case lot sale promises record numbers of customers taking advantage of savings of 50 percent or more on bulk-sized products. For more information about the worldwide case lot sale, please click on the following link: http://www.commissaries.com/stores/html/store.cfm?dodaac=N&page=case_lot_dates
Program Trains Veterans to Run for Office
Veterans Campaign, a nonpartisan, non-ideological training program for veterans thinking about running for political office will be held in September at Princeton University. The two-day course, which starts on September 12, 2009 is free, however, those attending will have to cover their own transportation, food and lodging costs. The idea of helping veterans run for office came from memories of Marine officers bemoaning the fact that the number of veterans serving Congress has been declining for some time. To read this article in full, please click on the following link: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2009/08/military_traningvets_politicaloffice_081309w/
Retirees must report all marriages to DFAS
Retirees who marry for the first time, or who later re-marry, must notify the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to properly establish their desired Survivor Benefit Plan coverage within one year of the new marriage.
Getting a military dependent identification card and entering the new spouse in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System, or DEERS, does not update pay records at DFAS or trigger SBP coverage.
A retiree who was married at retirement and declined SBP spouse coverage, cannot later enroll in the plan on behalf of that spouse or any future spouse unless during a Congressionally approved open enrollment period. Enrollments during open season normally result in penalties and extra charges.
Retirees who originally elected SBP coverage for the previous spouse must send DFAS a copy of the marriage certificate together with:
-- A properly completed DD Form 2656-6, Survivor Benefit Plan Election Change Certificate.
-- Airmen who were not married when they retired may elect SBP for the first spouse they marry after retiring , but the DD Form 2656-6 must be received by DFAS before their first anniversary.
Documents should be sent to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, US Military Retirement Pay, PO Box 7130, London, KY 40742-7130.
For more information, visit the SBP portion of the Air Force Retiree Web site at www.retirees.af.mil.
Retiree, annuitant COLA update for 2010
It is that time of the year when military retirees and annuitants begin wondering what their annual cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, will be for the upcoming year. The straight answer: No one knows yet.
COLA increases are determined each year based on the rise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for urban wage earners and clerical workers. The Department of Labor will calculate the change in the CPI for goods and services from the third quarter average of the previous year to the third quarter average for the current year. The final determination will not be made until later this year.
Basically, Congress and the Administration decide how much to increase federal pay for the coming year. Because military retirees and annuitants do not receive pay increases but cost-of-living adjustments, they must wait for the final CPI results to be calculated.
VA inspector general seeks reports of fraud, stolen valor
Retirees can now report VA fraud or acts of stolen valor to the department’s inspector general office.
Veterans Affairs has its own criminal investigations division that assists the department in detecting and preventing fraud and other criminal violations such as benefits fraud, bribery, identity theft, and stolen valor fraud.
The VA defines stolen valor as the fabrication or gross exaggeration of combat experiences or physical disabilities.
The division also investigates crimes against persons and property such as patient abuse, sexual assault, and theft.
To report suspected fraud or crimes -- or VA fraud, waste or mismanagement -- contact the IG hotline at (800) 488-8244. People may also send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to VA IG Hotline (53E), PO Box 50410, Washington, DC 20091-0410. (Courtesy of VA)
Number removal from ID cards continues
In response to an increasing awareness of the growing need to protect the safety of service members, retirees and their families’ identity information, the Department of Defense is beginning to remove Social Security numbers from its identification cards.
The removal is being done in phases as computer software is modified. Phase One is under way and involves removing the family member’s number and replacing it with “XXX-XX-XXXX” on the card. The sponsor’s number will remain visible for now.
Phase Two involves removing all printed Social Security numbers beginning later this year. Both the sponsor and cardholder numbers will be replaced with “XXX-XX-XXXX.”
Phase Three, set to begin in 2012, will involve removing Social Security numbers embedded in barcodes
In January 2010, retirees with an indefinite expiration date on their card can begin requesting a new card without a printed Social Security number. Family member ID cards will change when the cardholders’ expired cards are renewed.
There are more than 1,500 ID card centers worldwide. To find the nearest center, visit the RAPIDS site locator at www.dmdc.osd.mil/rsl/owa/home.
People must present two forms of identification and one must be an unexpired federal- or state-issued photo ID.
Specific guidance is published in the Air Force Instruction 36-3026-IP, June 17, 2009.
Eligibility certificates vital to SBP annuitants
Survivor Benefit Plan annuitants are sent a Certificate of Eligibility each year about 60 to 90 days before their birthday to ensure their annuity payment is legitimate and going to the correct account. All annuitants, no matter their age, receive the form.
If the COE is not returned to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service within 60 days, another one is sent. If a COE is not received within 90 days of the first mailing, the account will be suspended, according to DFAS officials.
The certificates are a good way for DFAS officials to verify annuitant addresses and other vital account information. Annuitants need to complete the form, return it via the postal service or update their online myPay account.
If DFAS officials do not receive the completed form by the annuitant’s birthday, they will assume the annuitant is no longer eligible and suspend SBP payments. DFAS officials will restart the suspended payments as soon as they receive the completed form verifying eligibility.
For more details, call DFAS at (800) 321-1080.
It’s never too early to think about taxes, necessary forms
Early each year, the Retirement Services Office is inundated with calls from retirees and surviving spouses eager to get a copy of their tax form, or 1099R. (Many people ask for their W-2, but retirees and annuitants receive 1099Rs.)
Retiree Services has nothing to do with tax forms or account statements. These documents are prepared and mailed out only by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. Much like the traditional December holidays, the mailing of 1099Rs and annual Retiree Account Statements happen at the same time each year – about mid-December. Both of these items are mailed in the same envelope to the address on file.
People with an active myPay account online can print out these documents. They can also pre-select whether they wish to receive these documents electronically only, or both electronically and in hard-copy.
DFAS officials encourage retirees and annuitants who have not already done so to establish an online myPay account if they have computer access. An account can be set up by visiting www.dfas.mil/ and clicking on the myPay icon. People will need to request a new Personal Identification Number, or PIN, and use the online account regularly so it does not become dormant.
If retirees and annuitants do not have computer access, it is critical that they establish a myPay phone account. Call toll free (877) 363-3677 to request a PIN for a phone account. It takes about two weeks for the PIN to be mailed.
Long-term care coverage available
Nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, in-home care, adult daycare, – not many people think about these issues until they have to, and by then, it’s usually too late to prepare properly. Thinking about long-term health care insurance today can help people be prepared for tomorrow.
The Office of Personnel Management offers such insurance for Air Force retirees; their spouses; retired reservists, even if they are not yet receiving retired pay; and surviving spouses receiving a federal survivor annuity.
Long-term care is care people need if they can no longer perform the tasks of daily living by themselves because of chronic illness, injury, disability, the aging process, and/or severe cognitive impairment such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Information on the OPM’s Web site points out that as people age and the average life span increases in the United States, the chances of needing long-term care increase. After age 65, an American has more than a 70-percent chance of needing some form of long-term care. In 2008, the national average cost of a semi-private room in a nursing home was $69,715 annually, according to the Web site, and the average stay was 2.4 years. That’s more than $167,000 per average stay.
Also, the Web site states anyone can need long-term care at any time in their life. Currently, 40 percent of people receiving long-term care services are working-age adults between 18 and 64. Vehicle and sporting accidents, strokes, brain tumors, spinal cord injuries, and disabling illnesses such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease are examples of injuries and ailments that can happen at any age.
Most health insurance programs, including Tricare and Tricare for Life, provide little or no coverage for long-term care. This is why the OPM sponsors a long-term care insurance program for the “federal family” by contracting with commercial insurance companies. Currently, more than 224,000 people are enrolled.
Long-term care isn’t intended to cure, but it provides consistent care that can span years. Unlike many long-term care insurance plans, the comprehensive option in the OPM’s program can provide benefits for approved care given at home by friends, family members, and other non-licensed caregivers. The insurance coverage is guaranteed renewable and can never be canceled as long as premiums are paid. It cannot be canceled because of age or a change in health.
According to the Web site, the program offers one-on-one assistance from “certified long-term care insurance consultants” who do not work on commission by calling (800) 582-3337. More information is also available on the OPM’s Web site at www.ltcfeds.com.
Some disabled veterans can stop SBP
Retirees participating in the Survivor Benefit Plan who have a service-connected totally disabled rating by Veterans Affairs may request to stop participating in SBP.
This applies to retirees who have held the VA totally disabled rating for at least 10 consecutive years or, if for a lesser period, at least five years from their discharge date or release from active duty. Based on the provisions of Public Law 96-402 (1 Dec 80), the initial date for determining the five- or 10-year period is the effective date of the VA rating of total disability. Validation must be obtained from the VA if not available from the retiree.
Withdrawing from the SBP under this option ensures the surviving spouse will receive a full refund of the SBP premiums the member paid for the five- or 10-year period if the VA awards Dependency and Indemnity Compensation to that surviving spouse.
Refund of SBP premiums is not authorized if the member terminates SBP coverage under the provisions of Public Law 105-85, the option that allows a one-year period, beginning on the 25th month following commencement of retired pay for participants to end their SBP coverage.
To request discontinuation under Public Law 96-402, provide a written request accompanied by the written consent of the spouse beneficiary under the SBP to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service in Cleveland.
Checklist eases process after death
When a retiree dies, the surviving spouse and/or children frequently find themselves so overcome with grief that the last thing they want -- or need -- to face are the details involved with what to do next. This process may be made easier for the survivors with some advance preparation.
No one likes to think about their death or the death of a loved one, so many people avoid making any preparations at all while they are alive. But preparing for death can be one last gift to those people left behind.
Survivors often have no idea who to call about what, or where to look for important papers. A lack of preparation can delay settling financial affairs and insurance claims when money is needed most.
Retirement Services offers a casualty assistance checklist on its Web site to help retirees and their survivors prepare, or they can create their own. At a minimum, a self-prepared checklist should include:
-- Retired pay/benefit contact information;
-- A financial/legal contact list, including account numbers;
-- A listing of where-to-find important documents, including the DD Form 214;
-- An outline of funeral wishes
Indefinite ID cards an option
At age 75, the spouse of a retired military member or a survivor of a retiree can receive an indefinite identification card, as can certain family members who are permanently disabled or incapacitated.
The 2007 Defense Authorization Act authorized the uniformed services to issue ID cards without an established expiration date to those family members who are permanently disabled or incapacitated and family members 75 and older entitled to a card.
For more information, contact the DEERS Beneficiary Helpdesk at (800) 538-9552.