Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 10 Nov 2011 

11/10/2011 

Retirees May Lose TRICARE Prime

According to reports, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has stepped up his push to block working age retirees from using TRICARE Prime. McCain suggested to the powerful 12-member Joint Select Committee on Debt Reduction it would help avoid spending cuts that would directly impact readiness.

Let your elected officials know how you feel about Senator McCain's proposals.

The History of Veterans Day

Veterans Day falls on November 11, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson first proclaimed an Armistice Day for November 11, 1919. In 1953, an Emporia, Kansas man named Alvin King, the owner of a shoe repair shop, had the idea to expand Armistice Day to celebrate all veterans.  President Dwight Eisenhower signed it into law on May 26, 1954. For more information, including educational materials, visit VA's Veterans Day webpage, VA's History of Veterans Day, the Military.com Veterans Day site , the History.com website, and the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Day webpage.

Grants for Injured Soldiers

Army Emergency Relief (AER) has increased the amount of its grants to wounded warriors evacuated from theater. Soldiers medically evacuated from Iraq or Afghanistan are eligible for a $500 grant from AER to help them with incidentals at the new treatment location. For more information, visit the Army Emergency Relief website at www.aerhq.org/index.asp , or call them toll free at (866) 878-6378.

Military Tribute at Knott's Berry Farm

Knott's Berry Farm holds an annual Military Tribute offering servicemembers and veterans, and a guest, free park admission. The 2011 Military Tribute Days run through 24 November (Thanksgiving Day). Free admission requires proper Military ID, Veterans may use their DD214 or Dept. of Veterans Affairs ID. In addition, members and veterans can purchase up to six additional tickets for just $17 each. Visit the KBF website for more information.

For more discounts for military families, servicemembers and veterans, visit the Military.com Discount Center.

Release No. 11-04-11

Nov. 7, 2011

New form will assist with death notifications

CLEVELAND (AFRNS) -- Defense Finance and Accounting Service officials report that survivors can now use a “fast form” to report the passing of a retiree on the Internet rather than waiting on the phone.

The DFAS Form 9221 for notification of death can be processed quicker than faxed or mailed forms, said officials, and they save paper and postage costs. Officials warn that if a survivor doesn’t receive confirmation of receipt from DFAS within 48 hours of submitting the form, they should call 800-321-1080.

The form can be completed and submitted online from the privacy of a customer's home, or with the help of a casualty assistance representative. Submitting the form initiates all of the same actions a DFAS customer care center representative would:

-- The retiree's account will be suspended to avoid release of monthly payments.

-- A Standard Form 1174 claim form will be sent to the retiree's arrears-of-pay beneficiary.

 -- If the decedent was enrolled in the Survivor Benefit Plan or the Retired Serviceman's Family Protection Plan, an annuitant care package will be sent to the beneficiary.

 The notification-of-death form is only for reporting the death of a military retiree. Annuitant deaths must still be reported to one of the DFAS customer care representatives at 800-321-1080.

 To access the notification of death fast form, click on the link at http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/forms.html.

Release No. 11-02-11

Nov. 7, 2011

Military post offices in Iraq closing Nov. 17

 by Cheryl Pellerin

American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON - Because U.S. forces are coming home from Iraq by the end of the year, the U.S. Postal Service will stop accepting mail addressed to military post offices in Iraq starting Nov. 17, Defense Department officials said Oct. 26.

Military post offices in Iraq also will stop processing mail Nov. 17, and service members there should begin now to advise those who send them mail about the Nov. 17 deadline.

Mail still in the postal system through Nov. 17 will be processed and delivered to service members in Iraq, officials said.

In November, U.S. military postal service responsibilities in Iraq will transition to State Department embassy or consulate post offices for service members assigned to Office of Security Cooperation or the Chief of Mission in Iraq.

These sites will provide letter and parcel mail services to service members assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation or the Chief of Mission in Iraq.

The transition will be closely coordinated with the U.S. Postal Service Agency, which will delete ZIP codes for Iraq military post offices from the USPS database to prevent undeliverable mail from entering the postal system after Nov. 17, according to defense officials.

If APO mail arrives in Iraq after a service member departs, mail will be redirected to the new mailing address provided or, if no mailing address was provided, returned to sender.

Any mail mistakenly accepted by a USPS post office after Nov. 17 will be returned to sender once it reaches the International Gateway in New Jersey.

Related Sites:

Military Postal Service Agency http://hqdainet.army.mil/mpsa/

USPS Postal Bulletins http://about.usps.com/postal-bulletin/pb2011.htm

Study finds no evidence of health problems from burn pits

By Lisa Daniel

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON -- An Institute of Medicine study released Oct. 31 found no evidence between exposure to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan and long-term health problems.

A 14-member committee of the institute, the nonprofit health research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, could neither prove nor disprove that service members' exposure to burning trash piles in Iraq and Afghanistan could cause long-term health problems, and recommended that more studies be done, a summary of the report says.

The report further states that ambient air pollution may pose greater health risks than the abundance of chemicals emitted from military burn pits.

The study was done at the request of the Veterans Affairs Department after some service members, veterans and Congress members expressed concerns about the safety of people who were in the vicinity of the burn pits, especially in the early days of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, when the contents of the pits were less regulated.

The committee focused its research on air samplings from a burn pit in Balad, Iraq, where safety questions were raised. The samplings were taken in 2007 and 2009. Because there is virtually no data on health outcomes from the chemical mixtures found at the pit, the committee sought information on similar chemical exposures to people most like those in the military: firefighters -- including those with exposure to wildland and chemical fires -- and incinerator workers. They determined, however, that the information still was insufficient to draw a conclusion about an association between the air samplings and long-term health outcomes.

The issue has been studied extensively in the past few years and there has been no finding of a causal relationship, R. Craig Postlewaite, the department's chief of health assurance, said in an Oct. 27 interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.

"The toxicology isn't there; the science isn't there," he said.

Still, Postlewaite said, the department is committed to studying the matter, and will do further studies with VA to provide for longer follow up with exposed troops, a better assessment of exposures, and to fill in data gaps.

"We acknowledge there could be short-term, acute health effects" from the burn pits, he said, and it is plausible that some people could be adversely affected in the long term -- but the studies have yet to show that.

The military stopped using burn pits in Iraq in 2009, Postlewaite said, and is drawing down the number in Afghanistan. In both areas, he said, no other options were available for waste removal, especially early on in military operations there. "We now have strict regulations about what can go into burn pits and where they are located," he said.

The committee found that local air pollution may be more of a factor in health problems than the burning pits.

"The committee's review of the literature and the data from [Balad] suggests that service in Iraq or Afghanistan -- that is, a broader consideration of air pollution than exposure only to burn pit emissions -- might be associated with long-term health effects, particularly in highly exposed populations such as those who worked at the burn pit or susceptible populations -- for example, those who have asthma -- mainly because of the high ambient concentrations of particulate matter," the report says.

The Defense Department routinely analyzes air, water and soil samples before troops deploy, but sometimes that is not enough, Postlewaite said.

"We send our people all over the world, ... and sometimes they end up in situations where there is a potential [environmental] health risk we have little control over," he said.

Biographies:

R. Craig Postlewaite http://www.health.mil/About_MHS/Leadership/details/Dr_Craig_Postlewaite.aspx

Related Sites:

Institute of Medicine Burn Pit Study http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Long-Term-Health-Consequences-of-Exposure-to-Burn-Pits-in-Iraq-and-Afghanistan.aspx

Institute of Medicine http://www.iom.edu/About-IOM.aspx

 

Related Articles:

DOD Continues to Study Dust, Burn Pit Health Effects http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=64748

Veterans’ Comp COLA Is Passed By Congress/Sent On For President’s Signature

On Wednesday the House of Representatives passed S894, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2011. S894 passed the Senate on October 19, 2011. This measure will be sent to the White House, and the President is expected to sign it into law.

The cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which takes effect on December 1, 2011, would increase the rates of disability compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors. These increases match the increases granted to Social Security recipients, which are expected to be 3.6 percent. This marks the first increase in two years.

Originally, the House passed its version of the COLA bill, HR1407, on May 23, 2011. This version included a section extending the VA’s authority to provide specially adapted housing assistance to individuals residing temporarily in housing owned by a family member. This authority was extended to December 2012 in P.L. 112-37, the Veterans Health Care Facilities Capital Improvement Act of 2011, enacted on October 5, 2011. After the Senate adopted its version of the COLA the House chose to take up the passed bill to allow it to quickly become law rather than needing to go through conference.

Redesigned USA Jobs Website Attracts Criticism (Follow up)

As written about in the update last week, the Office of Personnel Management has redesigned the federal government job search website, usajobs.gov. The reactions from the job-seeking public have not been kind. Articles in the Washington Post and Government Executive have found numerous issues with the new site. According to Government Executive, the “most frequent complaints centered on the site's search function… commentators said the tool for filtering search results isn't working properly --for example, location-based searches return results outside of the specified regions.”

Many readers also complained about losing the searches they had saved under USAJOBS 2.0, although OPM had stated on its website and via emails to users prior to the relaunch that no saved searches would carry over. Bugs in the results pages, login difficulties and long load times also were high on readers' list of grievances. TREA has received complaints about the site’s inability to efficiently manage documents uploaded to the site.

OPM stands by the product, updating the public via daily reports on the site. OPM has stressed that they have taken every complaint seriously, and that technical concerns, when replicated, they responded to the user and fixed any problems." OPM spokeswoman Jennifer Dorsey also has stressed that OPM has engaged industry partners like Microsoft and Google when designing the system and benchmarked progress with Monster.com, which formerly managed the old USAJobs site.

Staff on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee indicated that USAJobs could be the subject of a future hearing, but did not disclose further details. TREA will keep you informed of any developments.

If you or someone you know has been having problems with the USAJobs website, call TREA at 866-548-4876, email us at treadmin@treadc.org and we will help you or speak to somebody at OPM on your behalf, or go to the USAJobs Facebook page, where they have real-time people monitoring problems and answering questions (available at http://www.facebook.com/USAJOBS).

Burn Pit Study Inconclusive; Press Conference Held on Thursday

A report, conducted by the Institute of Medicine and requested by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that the air around the Joint Base Balad burn pit at the height of the Iraq War included dangerous particulate matter that could cause long-term respiratory illnesses.

However, the report, which was released this past Tuesday, suggested that poor air quality in Iraq and Afghanistan may be a bigger threat to servicemembers’ long-term health than exposure to toxic smoke from burn pits. It also says that there are many unanswered questions.

The researchers said that the unhealthy “particulate matter” in the air around Joint Base Balad likely came from general environmental sources – “windblown dust combined with elemental carbon and metals that arise from transportation and industrial activities” – and not the burn pit’s toxic smoke. With that factored in, the study found no additional threat from the plastic, metal and other waste being burned in the waste fires.

However, study authors were quick to point out that those conclusions aren’t meant to prove that working and living around burn pits was safe. Researchers noted that air-quality monitoring data supplied by DoD was limited.

TREA urges further research into the topic, and in the meantime urges the creation of burn pit registry to identify servicemen and women who were possibly exposed to toxic smoke while they were carrying out orders overseas. That way, when more conclusive medical studies are done the federal government will be able to easily contact them and let them know what possible health effects they can expect from that exposure.

Earlier this month, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested that defense and VA researchers begin using the term “Iraq/Afghanistan War Lung Injury” for the high rates of respiratory illnesses among returning troops. However, that research also didn’t isolate whether the problem was from the frequent use of burn pits or other environmental problems in the war zone.

TREA is supporting legislation to create a burn pit registry at a press conference this Thursday, November 3 on Capitol Hill. Congressman Todd Akin (R-MO) and Senator Mark Udall (D-NM) have cosponsored HR3337. This is a very important bi-partisan bill. Urge your Members of Congress and Senators to support it as well.

More on the Military Health Systems Data Breach

DoD put out a formal statement concerning the data breach caused by the loss or theft of encrypted back-up tapes that contained personal and/or medical information of 4.9 million TRICARE beneficiaries who had been treated at either MTFs or military clinics from 1992 to September 7, 2011. That is approximately half of all TRICARE beneficiaries. While there was no credit card or other direct financial data on the tapes they could include names addresses phone numbers, social security numbers plus clinical notes and other medical records. While TMA is saying that they think the threat of harm is low since they do not think the tapes were targeted for theft and that they cannot be easily read this is a huge amount of data and we must be vigilant. Please read the following statement, FAQs and phone numbers to call for more information TREA will keep careful track of this ongoing story.

Data Breach

STATEMENT

On September 14, 2011, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) reported a data breach involving personally identifiable and protected health information (PII/PHI) impacting an estimated 4.9 million military clinic and hospital patients. The information was contained on backup tapes from an electronic health care record used in the military health system (MHS) to capture patient data from 1992 through September 7, 2011, and may include Social Security numbers, addresses and phone numbers, and some personal health data such as clinical notes, laboratory tests and prescriptions. There is no financial data, such as credit card or bank account information, on the backup tapes.

The risk of harm to patients is judged to be low despite the data elements involved since retrieving the data on the tapes would require knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure. Considering the totality of the circumstances, we determined that potentially impacted persons or households will be notified of this incident via letter. We regret that the information required to initiate notification is not available at this time, but we will ensure that it is done in an accurate and timely manner and in compliance with all applicable DoD guidelines. Due to the large volume of individuals potentially impacted by this incident, we anticipate that individual notification will take at least 4-6 weeks; therefore, this notice is being posted in the interim. The incident continues to be investigated and additional information will be published as soon as it is available. Meanwhile, both SAIC and TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) are reviewing current data protection security policies and procedures to prevent similar breaches in the future.

Anyone who suspects that they were impacted by this incident is urged to take steps to protect their personal information and should be guided by the Federal Trade Commission at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/defend.html

Concerned patients may contact the SAIC Incident Response Call Center, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time at the following numbers:

United States, call toll free: (855) 366-0140
International, call collect: (952) 556-8312

Questions & Answers

Q. Whose personal information was at risk of compromise?

A. Approximately 4.9 million patients who received care from 1992 through September 7, 2011 in the San Antonio area military treatment facilities (MTFs) (including the filling of pharmacy prescriptions) and others whose laboratory workups were processed in these same MTFs even though the patients were receiving treatment elsewhere.

Q. What type of information was lost?

A. The PII/PHI data elements involved include, but are not limited to names, Social Security numbers, addresses, diagnoses, treatment information, provider names, provider locations and other patient data, but do not include any financial data, such as credit card or bank account information.

Q. Can just anyone access this data?

A. No. Retrieving the data on the tapes requires knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure.

Q. Why have more than two weeks passed before this notification was posted?

A. The exact circumstance surrounding this data loss remains the subject of an ongoing investigation. We did not want to raise undue alarm in our beneficiaries and so wanted to determine the degree of risk this data loss represented before making notifications.

Q. Will you be notifying beneficiaries?

A. After careful deliberation, we have decided that we will notify all affected beneficiaries. We did not come to this decision lightly. We used a standard matrix to determine the level of risk that is associated with the loss of these tapes. Reading the tapes takes special machinery. Moreover, it takes a highly skilled individual to interpret the data on the tapes. Since we do not believe the tapes were taken with malicious intent, we believe the risk to beneficiaries is low. Nevertheless, the tapes are missing and given the totality of the circumstances, we determined that individual notification was required in accordance with DoD guidance.

TRICARE and SAIC are working together to identify as quickly as possible all beneficiaries whose information may have been involved in the breach. Because of the databases involved, we expect to be able to send individual notifications within the next 6 weeks. In the interim, we are posting this general announcement so that our beneficiaries were aware of the situation.

Q. What should affected beneficiaries do to protect themselves?

A. Beneficiaries can monitor their credit and place a free fraud alert on their credit for a period of 90 days using the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) web site. The FTC site also provides other valuable information regarding actions that can be taken now or in the future, should any problems develop. This information is available at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/defend.html

Q. Will credit monitoring and restoration services be provided to protect affected individuals against possible identity theft? If no, why not?

A. No. The risk of harm to patients is judged to be low despite the data elements involved. Retrieving the data on the tapes would require knowledge of and access to specific hardware and software and knowledge of the system and data structure. To date, we have no conclusive evidence that indicates beneficiaries are at risk of identity theft, but all are encouraged to monitor their credit and place a free fraud alert on their credit for a period of 90 days using the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) web site.

Q. How can affected beneficiaries get more information?

A. Beneficiaries can call the SAIC Incident Response Call Center, Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Time at the following numbers:

United States, call toll free: (855) 366-0140
International, call collect: (952) 556-8312

World War II Japanese American Veterans Honored

At a ceremony on WednesdayCongress presentedits highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to approximately 19,000 Japanese Americans who served in the 10th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service during World War II. The units were made up mostly of second generation Japanes Americans “Niseis” from Hawaii.” The 442nd was the most decorated unit in U.S. military history for its size and length of sevice.”

Approximately 1250 people attended the ceremony at the Capitol. Approximately half were veterans of the units; men who are now in their 80s and 90s. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI) was one of the honorees having lost an arm while fighting with the 442nd. He said, “This has been a long journey, but a glorious one.”

DoD Announced BRAC Money to Improve Access to MTFs

This week the Department of Defense announced that they were distributing $299.6 million in BRAC money to improve road access to 4 Military treatment facilities around the United States. They are: Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.; Fort Belvoir, Va.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; and Joint Base San Antonio. The creation or enlargement of all 4 facilities will put great strain on already overused roads. For those of you who live near any of these bases this is very good news.

No timetable for distributing the money was announced DoD officials said that first the localities must present “comprehensive plans and environmental information.”

“The panel awarded $88.9 million for improvements to access to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the panel allotted $5.7 million for improvements for access to Madigan Army Medical Center.

At Fort Belvoir, $180 million will go to widen U.S. Route 1.

Finally, at Joint Base San Antonio, $25 million will go to building the Interstate 35-Loop 410 Connector

Give Troops Choices On Pay And Benefits

Would troops prefer the promise of TRICARE for Life health care coverage or a cash bonus of $5,500 for every year they serve on active duty? According to The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think tank, the Pentagon does little research into the kind of benefits troops really want and appreciate.  Rather than focusing exclusively on how to reduce costs, the Defense Department (DoD) should instead focus on how to get better value from its compensation and benefits programs.  Personnel costs have soared during the past decade and the military today spends 46 percent more per Servicemember than in 2001, but a recent survey has suggested troops are less satisfied with current pay and benefits than they were before 2001.  To improve satisfaction levels, the Center suggests the military should offer a menu of pay-and-benefits packages so Servicemembers can select those that will have the most positive impact on their recruitment and retention decisions, thus creating a total compensation package that Servicemembers prefer over the existing package at a lower total cost to the department.  To understand more about this subject, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-report-give-troops-choices-on-pay-and-benefits-101911/

Key Senators Back Increase In TRICARE Fees For Next Generation

Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and John McCain, R-Ariz., its ranking Republican, endorse President Obama's call to establish a $200 enrollment fee on TRICARE for Life (TFL) next year.  A super committee of 12 lawmakers has until 23 November to recommend a plan to Congress that will help reduce the nation's enormous debt by $1.5 trillion over a decade.  The first-ever TFL fee would increase to $295 in 2013 and, under the president's plan, would be raised annually thereafter to keep measure with health care inflation.  Levin and McCain also back Obama's other cost-saving initiative for TRICARE which includes charging sharply higher co-payments on drug prescriptions filled through the TRICARE network of retail pharmacies.  To read more about these TRICARE costs, please go to: http://www.pnj.com/article/20111023/NEWS12/110230314/Tom-Philpott-Key-senators-back-increase-TRICARE-fees-next-generation

White House Endorses 2012 Defense Spending Freeze

As Congress works to pass spending legislation for 2012, the White House has endorsed a Senate plan to freeze the Defense Department's (DoD) base budget at 2011 levels.  In September, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously for a defense spending bill that provides $513 billion for the Pentagon's base budget, freezing spending at 2011 levels. However, this does not include war funding or military construction, which is funded under separate legislation.  The White House's new position shows how much has changed since it first unveiled its budget request for the Pentagon in February. Back then, the White House expected the Pentagon's budget to continue to enjoy real growth, but that was before a budget for 2011 was passed or the debt ceiling debate and the resulting Budget Control Act of 2011 was signed into law.  The Budget Control Act's security cap made it difficult to increase military resources above inflation in FY12, and this position by the Administration makes that even less likely now.  To read more about the spending freeze, please go to: http://defensenews.com/story.php?i=8042547&c=AME&s=TOP

Vets Mobilize Against Defense Cuts

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., fired off a letter to President Obama that expressed how deeply troubled he is with the Administration’s proposal.  Perceived erosion of benefits, proposed or implemented, creates enormous morale, recruiting, and retention problems and leads to perceptions of betrayal of trust among those serving, those retired, and those who would join the all volunteer force in the future wrote Gen. Sullivan. The nation’s largest veterans groups, angry that lawmakers who are usually friendly to defense are open to cuts in military spending, are mobilizing their members to urge congress to preserve veterans’ benefits.  The American Legion, which has 2.4 million members, sent a letter to all members of Congress warning against cuts that it says would gut the U.S. military and compromise the well-being of veterans.  The letter follows a “call to action” issued 18 October by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) to its 2 million members, which raised an alarm about recommendations made to the Joint Special Committee on Deficit Reduction, or “super committee.”  To read Gen. Gordan Sullivan’s letter to President Obama in full, please go to: http://www.ausa.org/legislation/newsletter/Pages/LegislativeNewsUpdate26September2011.aspx.  To read more about The American Legion and the VFW, please go to:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/vets-mobilize-against-defense-cuts/2011/10/19/gIQA17FhyL_story.html

U.S. Army May Cut 22 Percent Of Brigades

U.S. Army leaders are planning to cut some brigade combat teams (BCTs) and reorganize the rest as the force shrinks by 50,000 Soldiers as part of the annual Total Army Analysis.  Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army's chief of staff, ordered the officers overseeing the analysis to make brigades more effective as the Army shrinks its force from 570,000 to 520,000 or fewer.  Service leaders have not decided how many active-duty BCTs to cut, but analysts expect 10 to 15 to disappear since the Army has already announced plans to reduce its end strength by 27,000 starting in 2015, and subtracting 10 to 15 BCTs would fall in line with current and future reductions planned in 2015.  To read more about the decrease in troop numbers, please go to: http://www.defensenews.com/story.php?i=8031422&c=FEA&s=CVS

Senate Approves COLA Increase For Disabled Vets

By voice vote, the Senate passed S 894, the Veterans Compensation Cost-of-Living Act of 2011, which directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to give disabled veterans the same increase on the same effective date as the increase in Social Security.  The Senate moved 19 October to make sure disabled veterans will receive the same 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) as Social Security beneficiaries and military retirees, but in typical congressional fashion, it is not yet a sure thing.  The 3.6 percent increase, the first increase in two years, would be  effective 1 Dec and paid in January, in veterans’ disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for survivors, additional dependent compensation and clothing allowances for some veterans. To read more about this bill, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-cola-senate-approves-increase-for-disabled-veterans-102011w/

Vet's Work Act Passes House

During the week of 14 October, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Veterans Opportunity to Work Act with more than 400 votes.  The bill, known as the VOW Act, is designed to help veterans of all eras by creating opportunities for job training and employment. The next step is for the Senate to pass this bill. According to reports, the leadership of the Senate's Veterans Affairs Committee has indicated it would have their support.  To read more about this bill, please go to: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2011/10/vow-act-passes-house-now-onto-senate/

VA Awards $7.5 Million to U.S Olympic Committee

The Department of Veterans Affairs awarded $7.5 million to the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) to provide recreation and sport activities for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.  This grant provides adaptive sporting opportunities for Veterans in communities nationwide.  VA funds are provided to the USOC’s member organizations, Paralympic Sports Clubs and Veteran and military organizations to start community-based, physical activity programs for disabled Veterans and disabled members of the Armed Forces.  Disabled Veterans can locate adaptive sporting events in their communities by visiting the U.S. Paralympics Web site at: http://www.usparalympics.org. Public Law 110-389 authorized VA to award grants to the USOC to plan, manage and implement an adaptive sports program.  The law also authorized VA to establish an Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events.   For additional information on VA adaptive sports and special events, visit the VA Web site: http://www.va.gov/adaptivesports.

Draft Gulf War Task Force Report is Released

On 21 October, Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric K. Shinseki announced that the Department’s Gulf War Veterans, Illnesses Task Force has completed the draft of a comprehensive report that outlines how the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will address the concerns of Veterans who deployed during the Gulf War in 1990 and 1991.  Over the past year, the task force has examined, evaluated, designated and adjusted the initial roadmap contained in last year’s report.  VA has designated steps to improve care and services to Gulf War I Veterans and these improvements are becoming a part of VA’s culture and operations.  This year’s report focuses on improvements in the delivery of health care for Gulf War Veterans.  Modifications to clinical care models used for Gulf War Veterans, which is the most critical point of service VA provides, are some of the most substantial changes.  To learn more, please go to: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2187

Group Calls Out DoD Over Domestic Abuse Records

The Defense Department has been ignoring a law requiring it to keep better records of domestic violence incidents, and it’s time for Congress to “re-engage”.  Over 10 years ago, Congress recognized domestic violence in the military as a serious matter and directed the Defense Department to track the problem.  However, despite numerous reports of escalating domestic violence in the armed forces it seems as if DoD has not complied. Apparently, DoD is exploring the best options to meet the database requirements which analyze and report domestic abuse data annually. One issue may be that the program doesn’t have enough funding and is hampered by the lack of statistics.  To read more about this subject, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-group-calls-out-dod-over-domestic-abuse-record-102011/

More Than One In 10 Americans Use Antidepressants

U.S. government researchers recently claimed more than one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 takes an antidepressant, a class of drugs that has become wildly popular in the past several decades.  Antidepressants were the third-most common drug used by Americans of all ages between 2005 and 2008 and they were the most common drug among people aged 18 to 44, according to an analysis by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics.  According to the analysis, less than a third of Americans who are taking one antidepressant drug and fewer than half of those taking more than one have seen a mental health professional in the past year.  Although first introduced for depression, several antidepressants are now used to treat a host of other problems, including anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, bulimia and even post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Military Voting Increased Last Year, Report Finds

Buoyed by a new law that requires states to make absentee ballots more accessible to military personnel serving overseas, troops voted at a higher rate than the general population in last year’s midterm elections.  Overall, 46 percent of the military cast ballots, a 21 percent increase from the 2006 midterms and slightly higher than the 45.5 percent of the general population that voted last year according to a report released on 18 October by the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP).  FVAP is a Pentagon office that oversees the distribution of absentee ballots to troops and their spouses.  To learn more about FVAP or to read this article in full, please go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/military-voting-jumped-last-year-report-finds/2011/10/18/gIQAHYCUvL_story.html

Grant to Fund New Mentoring Program for Military Families

KidsPeace, the national organization serving children and their families with mental health needs, is one of only nine nonprofits nationwide to be awarded a federal grant of $570,000 from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and the Department of Defense to launch a new mentoring program for military children. Will Isemann, KidsPeace President & CEO, announced that the grant will fund new sub-sections of the KidsPeace websites TeenCentral.Net and ParentCentral.Net to establish an e-mentoring program with components of team mentoring and group mentoring for youth of military families and their parents. These e-programs will address the emotional needs of youth whose parents are deployed and provide platforms for youth and their parents to openly communicate with e-mentors and with each other in an effort to mitigate emotional struggles and avoid juvenile justice behaviors related to a parent's deployment. To read more about this mentoring program, please go to:  http://www.sacbee.com/2011/10/24/4003379/kidspeace-awarded-major-grant.html#ixzz1bntkGZZ0

Tuition Assistance Cuts-You Tell Us!

According to a message put out by the Marine Corps, the Defense Department (DoD) is allegedly slashing the amount Servicemembers can get for tuition assistance.  What do you think of this move? Is tuition assistance important to you? How many credit hours do you need, or do you expect to need, per semester? Do the current tuition assistance rates meet your needs? Would you need to change your course load if the rates went down? How would the change affect your plans for your military career?  Tell the Army Times what you think. Send a message to mailto:armylet@atpco.com with the words “tuition assistance” in the message line. To understand more on these cuts, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/10/military-dramatic-tuition-cuts-coming-101911/

Opportunity to Thank Our Veterans

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has created a website that will allow visitors to provide a thank-you in a variety of ways to the men and women who have worn a military uniform in service to their country. Visitors can send their thanks three ways by (1) providing a written message, (2) uploading a photo, or (3) using a video message. Visitors also are encouraged to spread the word about the website through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. The goal of the initiative is to have 1 million visits to the site by Veterans Day.  To learn more about this subject or new website, please go to: http://www.myveteransday.org/

Veterans Day Poster Available

The Veterans Day National Committee recently selected the National Veterans Day poster for 2011 designed by John Magine, a Vietnam Veteran who works as a visual information specialist at the VA Medical Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.  The poster was recently shipped to VA facilities nationwide, and can also be viewed, along with past years’ Veterans Day posters, and downloaded in a variety of formats from the Veterans Day website at http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/gallery.asp

Holiday Mail Deadlines Set

The United States Postal Service and Military Postal Service Agency have released deadlines to ensure packages arrive to Military and State Department post offices overseas by Dec. 25, 2011. Deadlines to ensure arrival by Dec. 25 are Nov. 12 for parcel post mail; Nov. 26 for space-available mail; Dec. 3 for parcel airlift mail; Dec. 10 for priority mail and first-class mail, letters and cards; and Dec. 17 for express mail military service.  Not all Military or State Department post offices are eligible for Express Mail Military Service. For information on mailing deadlines and restrictions, email the Military Postal Service at: mailto:MPSA-TR@conus.army.mil or visit the Military Postal Services Agency website at: http://hqdainet.army.mil/mpsa/

Wilford Hall Receives Accreditation

Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center (WHASC), located at Lackland Air Force Base in TX, has achieved accreditation by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care or AAAHC.  Accreditation distinguishes the center from many other outpatient facilities by providing the highest quality of care to its patients as determined by an independent process of evaluation.  Status as an accredited organization means WHASC has met nationally recognized standards for the provision of quality health care set by the national industry association.  To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/military/article/Wilford-Hall-receives-accreditation-2226462.php

Army Expects Saving By Moving E-mail

The Army's chief information officer, told an audience during the AUSA Annual Meeting on 10 October in Washington, DC, the Army has embarked on an enterprise agreement with the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to provide e-mail service, and calendaring service, to the Army, There are many reasons for the Army doing this, but the primary reason is to save taxpayers’ money.  The Army is pinning its hopes on cloud computing to save money, and become more efficient in the way it provides digital communications and collaboration to its Servicemembers globally. The new agreement with DISA means all those Army Microsoft licenses and service agreements will now be administered on behalf of the Army by DISA. Part of the goal of moving from the Army's Exchange Servers into the DISA Exchange servers in the cloud is efficiency, combined with better identity management.  To read the entire article, please click: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=697&sid=2093377

DD214s are Free:

It has come to our attention that there are people advertising to obtain a veteran's DD214 for a fee when this service is in fact free for veterans and their family members. Need a copy? Read more here: http://www.army.mil/article/67903/.

North Korea MIA Recoveries to Resume:

U..S. and North Korean officials reached an arrangement last week to resume operations to recover the remains of American servicemen missing from the Korean War. The recovery operations are expected to begin in Unsan County, about 60 miles north of Pyongyang, and in the Chosin/Jangjin Reservoir area, where more than 2,000 soldiers and Marines are believed to be missing. The U.S. had halted its recovery missions in 2005 due to increased tensions on the Korean Peninsula. The new arrangement is a stand-alone humanitarian matter that is not tied to any other issue between the two countries. Almost 8,000 American servicemen are listed as MIA from the Korean War. More than 5,500 of them are believed to be missing in North Korea. Read more here: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14874.

Eleven MIAs Return Home:

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to 11 airmen, one from Vietnam and 10 from World War II. Returned are:
* Army Air Forces 2nd Lts. Robert R. Bishop, 24, of Joliet, Ill., Thomas Digman, Jr., 24, of Pittsburgh, Donald W. Hess, 28, of Sioux City, Iowa, and Arthur W. Luce, 24, of Fort Bragg, Calif.; Staff Sgts. Joseph J. Karaso, 21, of Philadelphia, and Ralph L. McDonald, 22, of East Point, Ga.; and Sgts. John P. Bonnassiolle, 20, of Oakland, Calif., James T. Blong, 19, of Port Washington, Wis., Michael A. Chiodo, 22, of Cleveland, and John J. Harringer, Jr., 20, of South Bend, Ind. On April 29, 1944, their B-24J Liberator crashed near the town of East Meitze, Germany, while on a bombing mission of Berlin.
* Air Force Col. Gilbert S. Palmer Jr., 37, of Upper Darby, Pa. On Feb. 27, 1968, Palmer and another crewmember were on a photo-reconnaissance mission of enemy targets in Quang Binh, North Vietnam, when their RF-4C aircraft crashed in an unknown location that eventually turned out to be across the border in Laos.
Read more about their recovery and identification at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

New Proposal from Senate Majority Would Cut Federal Health Programs, Raise Taxes

On Wednesday afternoon of this week the Washington Post reported that Senate Democrats have proposed to the “Supercommittee” that is responsible for coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years through 2021, a plan that would reduce the budget by $3 trillion. The plan, if agreed to, would cut federal health programs, including Medicare, and also raise $1.3 trillion in new taxes.

According to the Post, the proposal would be equally divided between tax increases and cuts to programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Prominently discussed in the past have been such measures as raising the Medicare eligibility age and changing the current formula used for calculating the annual Social Security COLA to one that is less generous.

According to a report, this offer was made as an attempt to reach an agreement that could stop the automatic spending cuts that will go into effect if the Supercommittee and then the Congress as a whole cannot reach an agreement on the $1.2 trillion in cuts. If they fail to reach an agreement cuts to the federal budget will automatically go into effect starting in January of 2013. Half of those cuts would come from the DoD budget.

If this plan were agreed to it would have a disastrous effect on military retirees. Because the Social Security COLA is used as the figure as the COLA for all government beneficiaries, not only would military retirees have their Social Security COLA cut, but their military retirement COLA would be smaller, and those receiving VA disability benefits would have a smaller COLA. In addition, if Congress agrees to cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits, we believe it is virtually impossible that it will not also cut the military health care (TRICARE) benefit.

However, because Republicans in the Congress have steadfastly refused to consider any tax increases, some observers are speculating that the plan has little chance of being accepted and could instead be a political move.

This new proposal comes on the heels of separate letters sent to the Supercommittee last week from both the Democratic and Republican leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). They both gave support to the President’s proposals to establish enrollment fees for Tricare For Life and increase pharmacy co-pays, as well as changing the military retirement system.

However, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) sent his own letter to the Supercommittee urging caution when considering the TFL proposed enrollment fees and changes to the military retirement system. We are quickly learning who are real friends are in Congress and their number is rapidly shrinking.

Nonetheless, TREA is fighting hard to stop any cuts in TRICARE, pharmacy or COLA benefits and we will keep you informed as the debate continues in the coming weeks.

Director of OPM Announces Increases in Veteran Hiring

Last Friday, October 19, John Berry, the Director of the Office of Personnel and Management (OPM), announced at a meeting attended by TREA, that through the first three quarters of this year the Federal Government had hired 4% more veterans than it had through the same time period last year, even while federal hiring slowed down by 30,000 overall hires. So even though less people were hired overall by the federal government, more veterans were hired. TREA was represented by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders at the meeting.

Also discussed at the meeting was the fact that USA Jobs, OPM’s online job website, had recently switched from a contract managed by monster.com to one managed in-house by OPM. He wanted to assure TREA that any problems any of our members were having would be taken seriously and fixed with all possible speed. If anybody has recently experienced any problems with www.usajobs.gov please contact TREA’s legislative office in Washington, DC at 800-554-8732.

Director Berry also mentioned a plan to do a “Town Hall” style program where OPM would put on a “Veteran Hiring Symposium” in roughly 27 large cities across the country over the next year. The symposiums would focus on things like hiring people with PTSD and the skills that veterans bring to the workforce for federal hiring managers as well as private sector employers in that region. There was also discussion of a plan to have actual members of various Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) appear in OPM training videos and public service announcements. Much more to come on this later.

A representative from the Veterans’ Health Administration (VHA), part of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) was also there. Michael Culpeper, Deputy Chief Officer of Workforce Management & Consulting Office, explained that the VHA has over 80,000 veterans working for it now and that 30% of all of their new hires are veterans. He said that their goals are to increase veteran hiring to 40% by FY2014, increase access for veterans to join the VHA, and to find ways make sure veterans stay onboard at VHA through things like “job coaches,” which are exactly what they sound like: they keep veterans focused on what’s important and make sure they continue their careers and access to great federal benefits.