Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 28 November 2012 

11/28/2012 

 

NO DEFENSE BILL YET

We were hoping that Congress’ return to town last week for the post-election lame-duck session meant that the Senate would start debate on the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill.  Not so.  The week was consumed with developments/hearings about the terrorist attack in Libya, the sex scandal that forced CIA Director David Petraeus to resign and a lot of rhetoric about avoiding the “fiscal cliff.”  It is expected that the Senate will take up the defense measure after they return from this week’s Thanksgiving break.  

One issue we are focused on is the proposed TRICARE pharmacy fee increase.  We know fees are going to go up, but by how much they will increase in fiscal 2013 and how much they will increase in the out-years is the question.

The fiscal 2013 Defense budget proposed a drastic increase in pharmacy copays.  The proposal would also block retail outlets from dispensing “third tier” drugs, those deemed too expensive to be on the military formulary.   

The House-passed defense authorization bill rejected the DoD proposal and instead came up with an alternative plan.  The bill includes a more moderate increase in TRICARE pharmacy co-pays in 2013 and a cap on pharmacy co-pays beginning in 2014 that would allow fees to rise by no more than the annual retiree cost-of-living allowance (COLA).  

To pay for the difference in the DoD proposal and their version, the House established a 5-year pilot program that would require TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries to obtain refills of maintenance drugs through the TRICARE mail-order program.  However there are loopholes to the requirement:  Beneficiaries would be allowed to drop the program after a year-long trial period and waivers would be allowed under certain circumstances.

The chart below clearly shows the differences in the plans. 

Retail Rx (30 day fill)

Current Fee

DoD/Senate Proposal

House Proposal

Generic

$5

$5

$5

Brand

$12

$26

$17

Non-Formulary

$25

N/A*

$44

Mail-Order Rx (90 day fill)

Current Fee

DoD/Senate Proposal

House Proposal

Generic

$0

$0

$0

Brand

$9

$26

$13

Non-Formulary

$25

$51

$43

Military Treatment Facility Rx

$0

$0

$0

*N/A - Not available at retail after FY12

The Senate’s version of the defense authorization bill is silent on the pharmacy issue. Their silence means that the Defense Department could proceed with its plan. 

While AUSA does not believe that pharmacy co-pays should increase at all, we realize that they will. Therefore, we recognize that the House plan is the best deal we can get for our members.  Forget the dramatically higher co-pays the DoD proposal would implement immediately, for 2017 and beyond co-pays would be adjusted yearly to match medical inflation.  Again the House bill limits co-pay adjustments to no more than the percentage increase in military retirement.

Therefore, in anticipation of the Senate debate, AUSA joined forces with its partners in The Military Coalition to urge the Senate to adopt the House provision that limits pharmacy copay increases.  The Coalition ran a full page ad in two of Capitol Hill’s most influential newspapers:  The Hill and Politico.  As a result, the Coalition has received interest from several senators' offices about sponsoring a possible amendment on this issue.

You can help!  Click here to send an AUSA-suggested message to your senators.  Use the letter titled "Don’t Triple Military Rx Copays".  Together we can keep the pressure on them to avoid dramatic increases to pharmacy copays by receding to the House and adopting the House language.

COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT FOR 2013 ANNOUNCED

The Social Security Administration announced that based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index from the third quarter of 2011 through the third quarter of 2012, military retirees can expect a 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment effective Dec. 1.  The increase will appear in the January checks.

The same percentage increase will apply to Social Security, federal civilian retired pay and other government entitlements linked to the Consumer Price Index.

 IT'S THE MOST WONDERFUL TIME OF THE YEAR. NOT!

As the Second Session of the 112th Congress draws to a close, we are once again facing a huge reduction to Medicare physician reimbursement rates.

A 1997 deficit reduction law called for setting Medicare physician payment rates through a formula based on economic growth.  The "sustainable growth rate" (SGR) worked for the first few years because Medicare expenditures did not exceed the target and doctors received modest pay increases.  However, in 2002, physicians were scheduled to receive a 4.8 percent pay cut which resulted in a huge outcry.  Because payment rates in the TRICARE program are tied to Medicare rates, this affects many military beneficiaries. 

Every year since, Congress has staved off the scheduled cuts by implementing a “fix”. But each deferral just increases the size – and price tag – of the fix needed the next time. Finding a permanent solution to the annual cuts in reimbursement rates has proven to be next to impossible. 

The current fix expires on Dec. 31, and physicians will face a nearly 27 percent drop in reimbursement rates.  By Congressional Budget Office estimations, it would cost about $300 billion to replace the current formula.  Additionally, the uncertainty over reimbursement rates and the constant threat of payment cuts cause more and more physicians to opt out of treating Medicare and TRICARE patients.

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., sent a letter to Hill leadership last week urging them to pass legislation that would reverse the 27% reduction.  “Finding doctors who accept TRICARE is an enormous problem for the military community; particularly for Guard and Reserve families, retirees, and survivors living in areas with a small military population.  Payment cuts make the situation even worse,” Sullivan’s letter said.  

More than likely, Congress will approve another one-year patch during the lame-duck session.  AUSA will continue to work with the Hill to find a permanent solution to this old problem.

AAFES Makes Top 25 Spouse Employer List

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service announced today that it has been designated as one of the top 25 Military Friendly Spouse Employers by Military Spouse magazine. The sixth annual list recognizes those companies which hire spouses of active duty servicemembers and make an effort to develop workforce development policies that acknowledge the unique challenges of military life. The Exchange was recognized for its forward looking policies that support the unique employment needs of military spouses. The list of 2013 Military Friendly Spouse Employers is available on the MilitaryFriendly.com website at www.militaryfriendly.com/home/mfse.

Spouse Surveys Critical to Family Support, Official Says

Defense Department (DoD) officials are sending a new spouse survey to select active-duty families to assist in determining programs that best suit their needs.  It is really a chance for spouses to give their feedback, their input, and their experiences back to the Department of Defense.  The department now surveys active-duty spouses in even-numbered years and reserve-component spouses in odd-numbered years.  The new active-duty spouse survey was launched on 19 November 2012 and will be in the field for about three months.  The questions cover all areas of military life, such as moving, experiences with deployment, experiences with children and experiences with military programs.  For more information about this survey, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118579

Hiring Our Heroes-Military Spouse Business Alliance Career Forum December 4th Fair

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is hosting a Military Spouse Business Alliance Hiring Fair and Career Forum.  This event is located at Fort Bliss, Texas at the Centennial Club, Building 11199, Sgt. E. Churchill Street, East Fort Bliss, Texas, 79916. This Hiring Fair is on 4 December 2012 from 1000-1300.  The Military Spouse Business Alliance, presented by Capital One, is bringing you a one-of-a-kind Hiring Fair and Career Forum exclusively for spouses of Active Duty, Guard, Reserve and retired Veterans, and all are welcome.  This affair features employers seeking employees, particularly military spouses, presentations and workshops to assist spouses plan a career and provide support regarding resumes.  You must pre-register for this free event at: hoh.greatjob.net and must be done by 27 November.  If you have any questions, please contact Hiring Our Heroes at: mailto:hiringourheroes@uschamber.com or call 202.463.3110.

Family Programs Offer Transition, Education, Employment Aid

Military families now have greater access to programs designed to assist them with a spectrum of family support matters.  Charles E. Milam, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, told the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service that the enhanced programs are in accordance with President Barack Obama’s recently signed proclamation declaring November as Military Family Month.  The Defense Department (DoD) strives to direct programs that help military families with a range of issues, from installation and school transitioning, facilitating employment for spouses and nonmedical military counseling services.  To learn more, please go to:  http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118562

Military-to-Civilian Skills Credentialing Pilot Underway

After completing an analysis of industry and employment trends, the Defense Department has embarked on a pilot program to help service members obtain civilian professional credentials, the department’s director of training readiness and strategy told reporters on November 20, 2012. Read more: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118604

DLA Readies Holiday Meals for Afghanistan-deployed Troops

According to Rich Faso, a Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Troop Support Subsistence director of customer operations, this holiday season, at more than 200 locations in Afghanistan, Servicemembers will dine on a holiday feast reminiscent of home. Rich lauds the workforce and industry partners for making the Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts possible. He stated that, "The personnel at DLA Troop Support and our servicing vendors take great pride in ensuring that our warfighters in distant, austere environments get as close to a traditional holiday meal as possible."  Deliveries of more than 60,000 pounds of beef, 20,000 pounds of ham, 45,000 pounds of turkey, 28,000 sweet potatoes and 5,800 pies have been made across the country and are ready to be prepared for distribution to overseas-deployed troops.  DLA Troop Support Acting Commander Navy Rear Adm. Patricia Wolfe expressed the importance of making certain this mission is accomplished every holiday season. To read the entire article, please view: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118591

Say Thank you to Our Troops Today

Thanks-A-Bunch(TM) and Military.com have come together to offer you a unique opportunity to say "thanks" to our troops, our veterans and their families (American Heroes).  They are proving an opportunity to give them with a $50 Thanks-A-Bunch gift card that you can purchase for just $10, which is also tax deductible.  This will help the Servicemember and/or family to help pay for a nice meal out with family and friends.  For details about these gift cards, please go to the Thanks-A-Bunch website located at: http://www.thanksabunch.org/milcom/?ESRC=mrvr.nl

Report Takes Aim at Pay and Benefits

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) points to freezing future pay raises as the CBO says that any impact reducing pay increases might have on recruiting and retention can be mitigated by offering larger enlistment and reenlistment bonuses. Also, it suggests that TRICARE fees will increase and alter future retirement benefits.  The report estimates that out-of-pocket costs to military beneficiaries today are just one-fifth of what civilian workers pay for healthcare. Unless fees are raised, CBO projects that military health care costs will jump from $51 billion in 2013 to $77 billion (in 2013 dollars) by 2017.  The military community should be aware that the deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" is likely to impact their families as much as the sequestration itself. Read more at: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2012/11/avoiding-the-fiscal-cliff-could-be-equally-painful/

Your Life, Your Future, Your Benefits

Life as a military spouse can be a juggling act with responsibilities for the kids, finances, a career, and more. Not to mention, your spouse may be deployed or you may be asked to relocate. That's why there are several resources that can inform you and provide knowledge for a better financial future. Using your military family benefits should be a “must.” One benefit is the $417k VA Loan Benefit.  This could allow you to buy or refinance with $0 down and no PMI and lock in a low rate for your family. For details, see: https://secure.military.com/leads/VALoanNew/Step1.jsp?ESRC=121119SOL_spouse_a.se  You may also possibly take classes anytime from anywhere.  Search a variety of degree programs offering the flexibility of online studies for the military spouse on the move by clicking: http://edu.military.com/gibill/?lpid=military-spouse-education-mother&ESRC=121119SOL_spouse_a.se. You would be able to continue to learn even if you PCS!

Army Releases October Suicide Data

The Army released suicide data today for the month of October.  During October, among active-duty Soldiers, there were 20 potential suicides: five have been confirmed as suicides, and 15 remain under investigation.  For September, the Army reported 15 potential suicides among active-duty Soldiers: four have been confirmed as suicides, and 11 remain under investigation.  For 2012, there have been 166 potential active-duty suicides: 105 have been confirmed as suicides, and 61 remain under investigation.  Active-duty suicide number for 2011: 165 confirmed as suicides, and no cases under investigation.  Soldiers and families in need of crisis assistance can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.  Trained consultants are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and can be contacted by dialing 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by visiting their website at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.  To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=15688

US Family Health Plan Earns 92.6 Percent Satisfaction Rating from Military Beneficiaries

The US Family Health Plan, a Department of Defense (DoD) healthcare option for military family members in six areas of the country, has achieved a 2012 overall member satisfaction rating of 92.6 percent, far exceeding the satisfaction rates of other managed care plans for 18 consecutive years.  Compared to the 202 plans documented in the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) 2012 Quality Compass Report, the US Family Health Plan rating is at the 99th percentile for overall satisfaction.  Ratings for customer service, access to care, claims processing, how well physicians communicate, and satisfaction with personal doctors and specialists are also at the top of industry standards.  To learn more, please go to: http://www.tricare.mil/mediacenter/contractornews.aspx?fid=144

Future of Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction-related Research at NIH

Two years ago, the National Institutes of Health Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) issued a report recommending that NIH move to establish a new institute focused on substance use, abuse, and addiction-related research in these areas.  Another option strongly considered by the SMRB was the functional integration of existing research resources, rather than creation of a new institute.  NIH has made significant progress in the last two years, coordinating research on substance use, abuse, and addiction across its various institutes and centers.  This progress has bolstered my confidence that NIH can achieve the SMRB recommendations without structural reorganization.  Moreover, given budget uncertainties, NIH must focus on advancing the entire biomedical research enterprise.  To read this article in its entirety, please go to: http://www.nih.gov/about/director/11162012_statement_suaa.htm.

Exchange recognized as top 25 Military Friendly Spouse Employer

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) recently announced that it has been designated as one of the top 25 Military Friendly Spouse Employers by Military Spouse magazine. The sixth annual list recognizes those companies which hire spouses of active duty Servicemembers and make an effort to develop workforce development policies that acknowledge the unique challenges of military life.  the Exchange was recognized for its forward looking policies that support the unique employment needs of military spouses.  Additionally, this is the fourth year the Exchange has been acknowledged by Military Spouse magazine for its active recruiting and employment of military spouses.  All 25 employers recognized can be viewed at: http://www.militaryfriendly.com/home/mfse

Vice Chairman Commends Business Leaders for Hiring Veterans

Hiring veterans is neither an act of charity nor patriotism, but a smart choice, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told business leaders at the start of the fifth annual “Business Steps Up: Hiring Our Heroes” event held at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  As keynote speaker for the event, Nave Adm. James A. Winnefeld Jr. said he was there to “kick off what is a very important topic how to best serve the brave men and women who served our nation in uniform who are home looking for work,” and how to best serve business people who want to hire quality people for their organizations.  To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118565

Congress to Decide on 2013 Tricare Rx Fee Hikes

Tom Philpott | November 24, 2012

The House and Senate will decide in the next few weeks how military pharmacy fees will be raised in 2013, a step that arguably will be the most significant taken to date to slow growth in military healthcare budgets.

Out-of-pocket costs for military families and retirees who have prescriptions filled in the TRICARE network of retail pharmacies depend on final language in the fiscal 2013 Defense Authorization Act. Congress intends to pass a final defense bill by mid-December.

The House-passed plan for pharmacy fees could win over Senate colleagues during final negotiations on the bill. It already is more palatable with military associations. It calls for more modest co-pay hikes than proposed by the Obama administration. But it would achieve the same first-year savings by requiring beneficiaries 65 and older to use the TRICARE mail order pharmacy program for refills of all maintenance drugs, those that control chronic conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes.

Any brand name prescription filled by mail rather than in drug stores or supermarkets saves the department 27 percent, on average, said Rear Adm. Thomas J. McGinnis, chief of pharmaceutical operations for TRICARE.

Officially the administration continues back the pharmacy fee increases it unveiled last spring. Prescriptions would remain free on base, and the co-pay for generic drugs would stay at $5 at retail outlets. But the administration plans to raise the $12 co-pay at retail to $26 for brand names on the military formulary. The formulary is the department's list of approved drugs based on price and effectiveness. The administration also wants to ban retail outlets from filling prescriptions for non-formulary drugs, forcing beneficiaries to use mail order for the most costly brand name medicines.

Also the new higher co-pays would climb by $2 more each year until reaching $34 in 2016. After that, they would be adjusted yearly based on overall medical inflation. Co-pays for brand name drugs at mail order also would jump to $26 from $9, for a 90-day supply, and then climb slowly to $34 by October 2016, under the administration's plan

TRICARE already has authority to make these changes. The question is will Congress step in and modify the plan. The Senate Armed Services Committee, in marking up its version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, stayed silent on the issue. So unless the bill is amended on the floor next week to interfere with the plan, the Senate will signal TRICARE to proceed with planned fee changes. Last June, the department even published a proposed regulation to do so, and invited public comment.

It withdrew the proposed regulation when the House passed in its version of the defense bill with an alternative pharmacy fee plan. The House proposes bumping the co-pay for formulary brand names at retail only to $17 versus $26 proposed by the administration. It also would continue to allow prescriptions for non-formulary drugs to be filled at retail, but would raise the co-pay for these more costly drugs to $44 versus the current charge of $25.

More significantly, the House plan would limit future co-pay increases to the annual percentage cost-of-living adjustments to military retired pay.

Given actions to date by the House and the Senate committee, some retail pharmacy fee increases are a certainty. The battle ahead is details.

After the Senate passes its defense bill, a House-Senate conference committee will smooth out any differences, including on pharmacy co-pays. McGinnis suggested the House plan could take longer to implement, delaying new fees perhaps until April 1, given the requirement that beneficiaries 65 and older use mail order for maintenance drugs.

"We would have to do a contract modification with Express Scripts," he said, referring to the company that administers TRICARE pharmacy programs, "so that would take a little bit longer to implement."

Also there would have to be an aggressive information program to explain to senior beneficiaries that prescription refills must be filled by mail order. The House bill would set this requirement for at least a year. But McGinnis said once beneficiaries try mail order, 98 percent of them like it and choose to continue to use mail order over their local pharmacies.

If the House plan does prevail, elderly beneficiaries will have time to absorb details before it starts. One of those details is certain to be a "fail safe" provision that would allow a patient to get a 30-day supply of any maintenance drug at retail if there's a hitch in the mail order process.

TRICARE estimates that it pays an average of $324 every three months for a brand name medication filled at retail but the cost falls to between $233 and $239 through mail order or if filled on base. If beneficiaries ask for a generic substitute for any brand name drug, the department three-month cost falls to about $60.

Beneficiaries too save money with mail order because, for the same co-pay prescriptions typically are filled for 90 days versus 30 days at retail. And generic drugs are provided at no charge through mail order.

Given the incentives and the convenience of mail order, McGinnis said usage has popped within the military community over the past year. In June of 2011, a million prescriptions a month were filled by mail. That monthly total has climbed since then to about 1.5 million.

McGinnis said the departure of Walgreens from the TRICARE retail network last January helped in that regard. Many former Walgreens customers shifted to mail order and liked it, McGinnis said.

"We are not getting any complaints from anybody. That really worked out well [and] saved us a lot of money," the pharmacy chief said.

Without Walgreens, the retail network still meets contract requirements for serving beneficiaries, McGinnis said. In urban areas, 91 percent of beneficiaries must live within two miles of a pharmacy. In the suburbs, 95 percent must live within five miles and in rural areas, 95 percent of beneficiaries must be within 15 miles of a network pharmacy.

Without Walgreens, the network still has 57,600 pharmacies. To put that into perspective, McGinnis said, there are 36,000 grocery stores, 14,000 McDonalds and 11,000 Starbucks in the United States. 

Army Docs Reevaluate More PTSD Cases

Stars and Stripes reports that a wide-ranging review of behavioral health diagnoses at Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington closed in September with Army doctors changing more than half of the cases they evaluated, giving 150 servicemembers new diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The review followed complaints early this year about a team of Madigan forensic psychiatrists who sometimes adjusted PTSD diagnoses. Dozens of re-evaluations are still outstanding. Former patients can still have their diagnoses reviewed by contacting Madigan. They would be referred to the hospital's Integrated Disability Evaluation System. They also can call an Army Medical Command hotline at 800-984-8523.

Applying for VA Benefits

You may be eligible for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits if you are a: (1) veteran, veteran's dependent; (2) surviving spouse, child or parent of a deceased Veteran; (3) uniformed servicemember; or (4) present or former reservist or National Guard member. VA has several ways to apply for your benefits: (1) the Pre-Discharge Program enables servicemembers the opportunity to file claims for disability compensation up to 180 days prior to separation or retirement from active duty or full time National Guard or Reserve duty (Titles 10 and 32); (2) VA's VONAPP website enables servicemembers, veterans and their beneficiaries, and other designated individuals to apply for benefits using the Internet; (3) Local VA regional offices and VSO's (Veteran Service Organizations) can assist you as well.

Tinnitus Affecting Veterans

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs revealed more than 10 percent of all veteran disability claims in fiscal year of 2011 were due to tinnitus, an early sign of hearing loss. In the military community, the most common cause of tinnitus is noise exposure. Second to tinnitus, actual hearing loss is the next most claimed disability, with 60,229 veterans - or 7.5 percent of all disability claims - citing hearing loss in FY 2011. A similar study in 2011 is available in VA's Journal of Rehabilitative Research and Development 

Get a List of Your Military Benefits

The Military.com Benefit Calculator is designed to quickly and easily connect you with your benefit information based on your military service and status. Get a list of Federal Benefits, State Benefits, National Guard State Benefits, Special Military Discounts and more. Find Your Benefits Now.

Army Hire a Veteran Program

The Army's Warrior Transition Command (WTC) recently unveiled its three-pronged Hire a Veteran education campaign plan, which aims to help employers understand that wounded warriors can bring a wealth of leadership experience and skills to the table and to their bottom line. The WTC is producing a video that highlights the incredible value our wounded warriors bring to the civilian workforce given their unique training and experience. The video and an online toolkit are available for download and distribution to HR professionals and employers at the WTC website at www.WTC.Army.mil. The video, "Hire a Veteran -- Obstacles & Solutions," features the stories of Soldiers who spent more than six months with a Warrior Transition Unit recovering from severe wounds, illness or injuries and how they pulled themselves up and out into the civilian workforce.

For more veteran job guides or to translate your military skills into civilian job occupations, visit the Military.com Veteran Jobs Center

CBO Report Takes Aim at Pay and Benefits

The Congressional Budget Office points to freezing future pay raises, increasing TRICARE fees, and altering future retirement benefits as means to avoid the "fiscal cliff". The military community should be aware that the deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff" is likely to impact their families as much as the sequestration itself.  

TRICARE Prime Overview

According to TRICARE all active duty servicemembers are eligible in TRICARE Prime. However they must fill out an enrollment form and submit it to the regional contractor by either filling out the enrollment form. In addition servicemembers receive most of their care from military medical personnel.
For active duty families, there is no enrollment fee for TRICARE Prime, however they must complete an enrollment form to select Prime as their coverage plan. Get a full overview on Military.com.

Commissaries Duplicative and Wasteful?

Sen. Tom Coburn released a report, titled 'Department of Everything,' which details several "duplicative and wasteful" programs that the report argues have nothing to do with the nation's security that are wasting money and resources. The report identifies five major programs that are forecast to cost the DoD over $67 billion dollars over the next ten years. Commissaries and stateside DoD Elementary Schools programs are among the list of programs that duplicate existing resources and programs. The report claims that cutting those two programs alone could save over $24 billion over 10 years. The report also identifies several odd and expensive DoD programs like Pentagon Jerky and micro-breweries.

National Family Caregivers Month

November is National Family Caregivers Month when the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) salutes the family members and friends who are taking care of our Veterans. For more information, read the story on the VA Health Care webpage and visit the National Family Caregivers Association website

Send Messages to Troops Overseas

In honor of National Military Family Appreciation Month, Evergram has announced an outreach program in which military families and civilians are invited to send words of encouragement and gratitude to our deployed troops overseas. Tell our troops how much they mean to you and our country by sending a message through ThankOurTroops.Evergram.com. Messages will be delivered on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.

November is Military Family Month

President Obama recently declared November as Military Family .  This annual proclamation marks the beginning of a month-long celebration of the Military Family in which the Department of Defense (DoD) and the nation will honor the commitment and sacrifices made by the families of the nation's Servicemembers.  Throughout the month of November, military families serving around the world are honored through a variety of observances and recognized for their commitment and the many contributions they make every day in support of the military and our nation. Efforts to recognize the sacrifices of the military family by Active, Guard, and Reserve leaders are being joined and supported by DoD organizations to include the Army Air Force Exchange Service, Defense Commissary Agency, and others. Contact your local MWR or Family Services offices to learn more about events scheduled in your area.  For further details, see: http://www.military.com/military-family-appreciation-month

Obama Recognizes Veterans' Service, Sacrifice

President Barack Obama laid a flowered wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in a traditional display of remembrance and gratitude for every Servicemember who has worn the nation's uniform. The president assured that the sacrifices of living and fallen veterans and their families and friends would never be forgotten. The president assured that the sacrifices of living and fallen veterans and their families and friends would never be forgotten.  There is a drive for the commitment to care for veterans, as more than a million warriors will transition back into civilian life over the next few years, the president said.  As veterans return, the president explained, it falls to Americans as fellow citizens to be there for them and their families as those who once wore the uniform now find new ways to serve.  To read this entire article, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118506

Social Work Interns Help Military Family Students in 140 Schools

For three years a professor of social work at USC has helped to educate a small army of counselors who work with kids in military families at schools and other agencies. The goal of this session is to encourage students to help one another cope with the stress of moving.  Educators,  need to accept that in many respects, students in military families are not like other children. They’ve had to deal with many relocations. They’ve had to cope with changing roles in the family before, during, and after a parent’s deployment. And they’ve had to handle the real possibility that war can permanently remove a parent from their lives.  The social work interns who help these students work through a program called Building Capacity in Military Connected Schools, created by USC social work professor Ron Astor.  For more information on this program, click: http://www.scpr.org/blogs/education/2012/11/13/11053/social-work-interns-help-military-family-students-/

Coming From The AUSA Last Frontier Chapter; TRICARE Benefit Unchanged

The TRICARE benefit will not change now that UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans will replace TriWest Healthcare Alliance as the TRICARE West Region health care contractor. Beneficiaries currently using the TRICARE civilian health care networks are expected to find that most TriWest providers will also have agreements with UnitedHealthcare. For details and the latest updates about the contract change, visit the TRICARE West Region Transition website at http://www.tricare.mil  to sign up to receive email notifications with new information.

Chaplains Support Sandy Relief Operations

National Guard chaplains are providing support as part of Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery operations as they are providing religious services and prayer for recovery teams.  Many of the chaplains who have responded are from the New Jersey and New York areas, which provides for a greater connection to the communities affected by the storm.  And while chaplains in the affected areas are primarily there to support military members, they have ministered to non-military members as well. Putting things in perspective is one way that chaplains work to provide hope and encouragement for those they support.  For details on chaplain support, please click: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118497

Businesses Affirm Support of Reserve Component Employees

Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Defense Department (DoD) agency, announced that representatives from the Associated Builders and Contractors, Coca-Cola Refreshments, McDonald's Corp., Safeway Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have signed or will sign statements of support for their National Guard and reserve employees in honor of Veterans Day.  The statement of support is a pledge that demonstrates an employer's commitment to uphold their legal responsibilities as a military employer, to value the characteristics and skills service members contribute to the workforce, and to identify opportunities to support Guardsmen, reservists, veterans and their families.  Since Sept. 11, 2001, almost half of the more than two million Americans who have gone to war have been Guardsmen and reservists. As recently as Hurricane Sandy, men and women of the National Guard and reserve components were called from their civilian lives to work alongside first responders and participate in search and rescue missions. The support of America's employers has provided these citizen warriors with stability, predictability and peace of mind. Find details at: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118523  

GED Test Available for Servicemembers

The GED test is now available on an after-the-fact reimbursement basis to eligible military personnel. To find the closest official GED testing center, visit the GED Testing Service website at http://www.gedtestingservice.com/testers/locate-a-testing-center. Test Control Officers may download the GED Reimbursement Request (DANTES Form 1560/47) from DANTES TCO Portal at http://www.dantes-tco.com/. For more information visit the DANTES Examination Programs GED Web page at http://www.dantes.doded.mil

Parade Signifies Military Ethic, Nation's Gratitude

As New York and surrounding areas continue to rebound from Superstorm Sandy’s devastation, thousands gathered today to watch the 2012 New York City Veterans Day Parade.  According to Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter, the parade was the first large-scale event since the city canceled its annual marathon this month and said it conveys the military’s connection to the city and to the world.  It also signifies the ethic that Servicemembers have shown in the storm’s aftermath and “especially animates the military as an institution.”  As the era of Afghanistan and Iraq comes to a close and the military draws down in size, it is more important than ever to help veterans be the “incredible leaders and contributors they can be.  In addition to comments focused on what the country should do for veterans, he also acknowledged the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War’s onset. To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118509

Study Finds Ties to PTSD

A study in the in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry, for the first time provides clear evidence that smaller amygdala volume is associated with PTSD, regardless of the severity of trauma. But it's not clear whether the physiological difference was caused by a traumatic event, or whether PTSD develops more readily in people who naturally have smaller amygdalas. An abstract of the article is available on the Archives of General Psychiatry website at: http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1389371

Trained Dogs Help Veterans Suffering From PTSD

An estimated one in five veterans deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2001 has or will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression.  What these Servicemembers need is a service dog, said Debra Schaser, founder of Canine Hearing Companions in Vineland, N.J.  Used traditionally for blind, deaf or physically disabled patients, service dogs have only recently been trained to perform tasks that can improve PTSD symptoms, such as create a buffer in public places or wake a veteran from a nightmare.  Although veterans would possibly benefit from service dogs, few veterans are able to afford such companionship. This, in turn, led to the creation of Vets Helping Heroes, a charitable foundation that raises money to provide service dogs to disabled veterans.  For a better understanding of this topic, please see: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/11/gannett-dogs-help-veterans-cope-ptsd-111212/

New Online Science Game for Children

The National Science Center (NSC) is now training kids to stay safe from cyber-attack malware when they are surfing the web or using email and cell phones. The new online game called Cyber Swarm Defenders is targeted to 6th-8th grade students and is also appropriate for younger students. Cyber Swarm Defenders is deployed through the social networking site jabbersmack.com, which was built for children ages 13 and under. Kid-safe requirements are built in, including a parental control feature. To access the game, visit the NSC website at http://www.NationalScienceCenter.org  and click on the Cyber Swarm banner button. Or, go directly to Jammer at: http://www.jabbersmack.com/#/brands/view/VQYE
To play, participants must first register on jabbersmack, which is not accessible on some older versions of browsers.

Consumer Protection on Social Media

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's (CFPB) Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) opened two valuable new communications channels to the military community with the launch of an OSA Facebook page and Twitter feed. These accounts give OSA and the CFPB the opportunity to digitally engage directly with Servicemembers, military families and veterans on the consumer financial issues that matter most to them. These accounts also give OSA the ability to offer military members tips, tools and other resources to help them keep financially fit. You may find the OSA Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/home : and the Twitter feed at: https://twitter.com/CFPBMilitary

USO-Metropolitan Washington: Turkeys for Troops!

Thanksgiving dinner is an extra special time for members of the military who often cannot be with loved ones for a long time. Through donations to the Turkeys for Troops program, the United Service Organizations' (USO) Metropolitan Washington will prepare Thanksgiving gift baskets for military families in need. The Gannett Foundation, USA Today, and WUSA9 donated a $10,000 check to the USO-Metro. Featured here are WUSA9 General Manager Mark Burdett and the head of the USO-Metro, Elaine Rogers.  To make a donation, please go to: https://npo1.networkforgood.org/Donate/Donate.aspx?npoSubscriptionId=7814&ref=wusa9.com

After Delay, Senate Passes Veterans' COLA

By voice vote, the Senate passed a bill that provides 4 million veterans and survivors a 1.7 percent cost-of-living (COLA) increase effective December.  The measure now goes to the White House for President Obama’s signature.  The bill providing the COLA, HR 4114, had been left at the side of the legislative road in September when Congress took a break for the elections.  According to Veterans Affaris (VA), if Congress did not act by 13 November, VA might not have had time to adjust its payroll mechanism. VA later revised the processing time, saying veterans would be paid as long as Congress acted by early December and as long as it was an across-the-board increase. Details are found at: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/11/military-senate-passes-cola-bill-111312w/

New VA Claims Coach App

The American Legion has developed and launched a smartphone app to help veterans apply to the Department of Veterans Affairs for disability compensation. The "Claims Coach" app provides an applicant access to a certified Legion service officer, a resource guide, tips on working through each stage of the application, and a handy way to keep track of submitted documents. You may download the app by going to: http://mobile.legion.org/node/211502. To read more information about the app, please click: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2012/11/08/new-phone-app-helps-vets-with-va-claims.html

Veterans Awarded Overdue Bronze Star Medals

Two former service members -- one from World War II, the other from the Vietnam War -- were awarded their long-awaited Bronze Star medals in a ceremony at the Defense Information School on 9 November 2012. former Army doctor Capt. Charles E. Rath Jr. and former Army medic Spc. 4 Charles Shyab received their medals finally received their honors.  Misplaced paperwork was the cause of Rath waiting 67 years and Shyab 44 years for their medals.  Veterans Day and every day, we are thankful for the service and sacrifice of all our veterans and their families.  Additionally, our veterans who fought for our freedom should not have to fight for the recognition they have earned.  To read further information, please see: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118498

COLA Passes Senate

Returning to work this week, the Senate quickly passed a cost-of-living adjustment or COLA for VA. The 1.7 percent increase affects VA compensation for disabled veterans and surviving spouses. The COLA bill ties the rate for veterans' COLA to the increase in Social Security compensation which is determined each year by the consumer price index (CPI). The House passed their version in July. The President is expected to sign the bill soon. The increase in benefits for 3.9 million veterans and their families will take effect December 1, 2012. Since benefits are paid retroactively, the first check to reflect the increase is due on or about January 1, 2013. For more on the COLA bill visit out Capitol Hill blog at: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2012/11/senate-passes-cola-increase-for-vets.html

House Committee Discusses Employment Initiatives:

The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing to discuss ongoing veterans' employment initiatives. The committee members asked representatives from VA and the Department of Labor to evaluate their programs. Most of the hearing focused on persistent high unemployment among Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans, the VA's implementation of the new Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) and the Department of Labor's goal to refine the roles of Disabled Veteran Outreach Program specialists and Local Veterans Employment Representatives. VFW will continue to monitor and advocate for comprehensive veterans' employment solutions and hold agencies accountable for the programs they have implemented to serve our nation's heroes. For complete coverage of the hearing click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2012/11/watch-house-discusses-veterans.html

New Military Family Survey Begins

The 2013 Military Family Lifestyle Survey is now available online for veterans, service members and their families. The survey is open through December 3, and should take approximately 20-25 minutes to complete, depending on your responses. Go to the Blue Star Families website to participate at http://www.bluestarfam.org/Policy/Surveys/Survey_2013.

Two Korean War MIAs Identified

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office recently announced the identifications of remains belonging to two Korean War soldiers. Returned home are:
* Army Sgt. Stanley W. Bear, 19, of Greenup, Ky. On Sept. 4, 1950, Bear would be reported as missing after battling enemy forces near Haman, South Korea. He was assigned to F Company, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. Unidentifiable remains would eventually be recovered and interred as an "unknown" in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
* Army Cpl. Elmer C. Kidd, 22, of Seneca Falls, N.Y. In late November 1950, Kidd and his unit, the 31st Regimental Combat Team, were advancing along the eastern banks of the Chosin Reservoir, in North Korea, when they were attacked by a massive enemy force. Kidd would be reported missing after a fighting withdrawal to positions south of the reservoir.
Read more about their individual stories at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/

 The “Fiscal Cliff” and Why it is Important to Military People

The looming fiscal cliff is all over the news with lots of people wringing their hands about trying to stop it from happening. But what is it and why should you care?

The term “fiscal cliff” is a term being used in Washington as a short-hand way of describing a combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1 if Congress cannot reach a compromise and change current law. The mix includes the Bush-era tax cuts, the 2010 Obama tax holiday, partial expensing of investments, and the onset of tax provisions to support the implementation of the 2012 Affordable Health Care Act. In addition to these tax provisions are federal government spending measures that include the expiration of emergency unemployment benefits, a scheduled reduction in Medicare payments to doctors and other health care providers, and automatic, across-the-board cuts in discretionary defense and non-defense spending. These last automatic cuts are what have been referred to as “sequestration.”

Unless Congress can reach an agreement on changing the laws, military people will be affected by some or all of the following: the automatic cuts in defense spending, the cuts in payments to Medicare providers, and tax increases.

TREA: The Enlisted Assn. has been fighting hard to stop the pending Medicare cuts, since they will also affect TRICARE, as well as the cuts in military medical care benefits that have been proposed as a result of the pending defense budget cuts. No one knows what will happen because Congress has a very short amount of time to deal with these major issues. Our best guess is that they will come to some short-term agreement to stop the fiscal cliff for two or three months and let the new Congress which comes into office in January try to work out long-term agreements. But that is only a guess.

SecDef Panetta May Leave DoD Soon

Speculation mounted this week that Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta might leave his post after a deal is struck regarding the $1.2 trillion in automatic, across the board federal spending cuts that are scheduled to take place January 1.

Panetta, who served as Bill Clinton’s White House Budget Director, was brought in to deal with Congress and to get the Pentagon’s budget under control. Once that is done he intends to return to his native California, hopefully before he turns 75 in June.

Some of the names most commonly mentioned at the top of the list this week include Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Michelle Flournoy, the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, and Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Flournoy is the highest-ranking female civilian to ever serve at the Pentagon, and Senator Kerry was his party’s Presidential nominee in 2004 and is currently Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Secretary Carter has a doctorate in theoretical physics and recently served as Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Other names on the list, said to number at least 15, include Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and former Senator Sam Nunn (D-GA). Senator Levin is the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator Reed is on that committee and is a West Point graduate. Republicans said to be on the list include General Colin Powell (USA-Ret), and former Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME).

Whoever succeeds Panetta is going to have a whole host of problems, from dealing with the fallout from the Arab Spring to Israel and Iran to managing America’s “strategic pivot” to focusing on China’s rise in the coming decades to dealing with cuts in the Pentagon’s budget. Regardless of who becomes the new Secretary of Defense TREA will continue to fight the cuts in personnel benefits that DoD has been proposing, beginning in the last three years of the Bush administration and continuing to the present time under President Obama.

Senator Patty Murray’s (D-Wash.), Chairman of the Senate VA Committee, Veterans Day Statement

“Today is a very special day in America. On this day, we celebrate and honor the great sacrifices our veterans have made for each of us. It is because of their sacrifice that we are a free people; that we enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship; that just last week we democratically and freely elected – as we do every four years – a president of the United States. But as we spend time today reflecting on, and giving thanks for, the sacrifices made by those who have served, let us also reflect on the shared duty we owe to our nation’s veterans.

“Today is a day to ask ourselves whether we have kept faith with our veterans; whether we are keeping the promises we made to them as a nation when they signed up to serve. Today is a day to take stock of where we have fallen short in delivering the care and benefits our veterans earned; to take stock of what our veterans need today and what they will need tomorrow; and to ask – what more can we do to ensure our veterans can easily access the care and benefits they deserve?

“The answer to each of these questions is that we have more work to do. That is why I was proud the President signed my VOW to Hire Heroes legislation into law late last year. Thanks to this legislation, we’ve been able to take a real, concrete step toward putting our veterans back to work. But it is only that – a first step. The next step must be building partnerships with businesses across the country to hire our nation’s heroes.

“Yet even as we work to build these partnerships, we face another critical challenge as thousands of our veterans begin their transition home. It is a challenge we are all too familiar with, which is ensuring timely access to top quality mental health care. Not every veteran will be affected by these invisible wounds. But when a servicemember or a veteran has the courage to stand up and ask for help, VA and DoD must be there. They must be there with not only timely access to care, but also the right type of care.

“Challenges like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience. And we will do everything possible to ensure that those affected by these illnesses can get help, can get better, and can get back to their lives. At the end of the day, the only way that we will be able to ease the difficult transition home for these men and women is by working together – with private and public partnerships, with investments in unique new programs, with unified encouragement to seek mental health care and overcome stigmas, and very importantly, with a plan to get these veterans back to work. Our servicemembers and veterans have done everything we have asked of them. While they don’t ask much in return, surely we can – and must – do better on their behalf.

“As we celebrate the many sacrifices and accomplishments of veterans across the country today, we must also remember the many veterans who have been impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Some have been displaced from their homes. Others may have difficulty reaching their normal VA medical facility. Some who rely on their VA compensation and pension benefits to make ends meet are experiencing difficulties receiving their checks as a result of the hurricane. So while we keep those affected in our thoughts and our prayers, I would encourage everyone to reach out to your local veteran service organizations to see what you can do to help. The American Legion, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, Vietnam Veterans of America, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America – each of these organizations, and others, is a resource for veterans affected by Hurricane Sandy.”

To me, every day is “Veterans Day.” Although there is value in singling out one specific day to demonstrate our support and encouragement for the members of our Armed Forces, that support should not evaporate on November 12. America’s veterans are facing numerous challenges as they return home, and it is up to each of us to make them a part of our community.

This November, let us not forget the service and sacrifice of veterans and celebrate them every day of the month, whether that is through reaching out to a neighbor whose husband or wife is deployed, volunteering at a local veteran service organization, or contacting our Chamber of Commerce if you have job openings to give a chance to an unemployed vet.

There are many ways to show your support for our veterans every day of the year. If you are presented with the opportunity to help a veteran, even if in only some small way, I hope you will do so.