THE COALITION STRIKES BACK!
Members of the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee heard directly from a co-chairman of The Military Coalition (TMC) on why the Defense Department’s proposal to increase/enact fees for military retiree health care is just plain wrong.
TMC Co-chairman Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF, Ret., challenged the Defense Department witnesses on their position that raising TRICARE fees does not “break the faith” with the force. "If keeping faith means no changes for today's troops on retirement, then it's breaking faith to raise their [health] fees by [up to] $2000. That's no different from a $2000 retired pay cut," Strobridge said.
Strobridge continued, “For generations, the government has induced millions to serve their country in uniform with promises that for rendering that sacrifice, they'd earn the current retirement and health care package. In other words, their extended service and sacrifice constituted their prepaid premium.”
Strobridge also took issue with the premise that military retirees pay far less for health care than federal civilians. "Whenever somebody gives me that argument I ask: If the military deal was so great, are you willing to pay what they did to earn it? Would you sign up to spend the next 20 to 30 years being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or any other garden spot the government wants to send you to? Military people pay far steeper premiums for health coverage than any civilian ever has or ever will."
Once again, several of the panel members seemed to agree with Coalition’s position. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said that the DoD’s proposals “simply shift the cost burden through TRICARE fee and cost share increases to not only our working age retirees, but for the first time to our most senior military retirees. Wilson called the plan “wrong-headed” and said that “the subcommittee has a number of concerns about the department's initiatives.”
Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., suggested that Congress look at the $200 billion to $300 billion of redundant and duplicative government programs identified in a February 2011 GAO report “before we start penalizing the people that have given a lifetime of service to this country.” He concluded his remarks by telling the DoD witnesses that they tell Defense Secretary Leon Panetta that the TRICARE fee plan “is FUBAR.”
What we cannot stress enough is how important it is that you let your elected representatives in Congress know how you feel about the Defense Department’s plan. It doesn’t matter how you contact them, please just contact them. AUSA has several letters on our website, www.ausa.org that you can use. Click here and enter your zip code. A minute or two of your time will greatly strengthen our hand on Capitol Hill.
AUSA ON THE HILL
AUSA vice president, LTG Guy Swan, USA, Ret., and Director of Government Affairs William Loper recently met with key defense staff members from the House Armed Services Committee to discuss AUSA's legislative priorities.
Gen. Swan paid particular attention to outlining our position regarding DoD proposals to increase/implement TRICARE fees and create a BRAC-like commission to review retirement benefits. In return, he and Loper received insights from the staff members concerning these and other issues that will affect the Army and AUSA members now and in the future.
Gen. Swan will continue with his series of outreach meetings with congressional staff and members of Congress as the legislative year progresses.
AUSA PROVIDES TESTIMONY FOR VA HEARING
AUSA’s Vice President for Education, LTG Theodore G. Stroup, Jr., USA, Ret., provided testimony for a recent hearing of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee on AUSA’s legislative priorities.
The testimony touched on many issues including the need to:
--Raise education benefits for National Guard and Reserve service members under Chapter 1606 of Title 10. For years, these benefits have only been adjusted for inflation. Currently, Reserve GI Bill benefits have fallen to less than 25 percent of the active duty benchmark giving them much less value as a recruiting and retention incentive. This also sends a signal to Reserve Component personnel that their service is undervalued. Further, a transfer of the Reserve MGIB-Select Reserve authority from Title 10 to Title 38 will permit proportional benefit adjustments in the future.
--Address the inequity between members of the National Guard called to active duty under Title 32 and those called to active duty under Title 10. Those members under Title 32 do not receive veteran's status for their active duty military time while those under Title 10 do. Similarly, Army Reserve personnel who are not called to active duty can complete a full reserve career and yet not be entitled to be called veterans.
--Build on the inclusion of more Category 7 and 8 veterans, so that ultimately all Category 7 and 8 veterans can receive care from the VA.
--Support full concurrent receipt for those with disabilities of 49 percent and below. AUSA urges that the thousands of disabled veterans left out of previous legislation be given equal treatment and that the disability offset be eliminated completely.
--Allow members who were forced to retire short of 20 years of service because of a combat disability be “vested” in the service-earned share of retired pay at the same 2.5 percent per year of service rate as members with 20+ years of service. This would avoid the “all or nothing” inequity of the current 20-year threshold, while recognizing that retired pay for those with few years of service is almost all for disability rather than for service and therefore still subject to the VA offset.
--Amend the U.S. Code appropriately to allow terminally ill veterans who hold National Service Life Insurance and U.S. Government Life to receive benefits before death, as can holders of Servicemembers Group Life Insurance and Veterans Group Life Insurance.
--Develop and deploy an interoperable, bi-directional and standards-based electronic medical record; a “one-stop” separation physical supported by an electronic separation document (DD-214); benefits determination before discharge; sharing of information on occupational exposures from military operations and related initiatives. AUSA strongly recommends accelerated efforts to realize the goal of “seamless transition” plans and programs.
--Supports continuing congressional efforts to help homeless veterans find housing and other necessities, which would allow them to re-enter the workforce and become productive citizens.
The inherently difficult nature of military service has never been more self-evident than during the current conflict. While grateful for the good things done for veterans, AUSA reminded the committee members that we consider veterans benefits to have been duly earned by those who have answered the nation’s call and placed themselves at risk.
Army Senior Leaders Visit Lewis-McChord
The Army's second highest-ranking officer arrived Friday with a group of Army senior staff members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to ensure its leaders had every available resource at its disposal. Gen. Lloyd Austin III, vice chief of staff of the Army, said his intent was to ensure I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, (JBLM), could continue providing the highest-level services to the growing installation. He praised the support JBLM and I Corps provide for more than 42,000 Servicemembers and their families. The visit also served to highlight Department of the Army's support for JBLM's health care provider, Madigan Healthcare System which included a stop at Madigan Army Medical Center, or MAMC. To read more about this visit, please click: http://1.usa.gov/GQFkyL
Senior Enlisted Leaders Meet to Tackle Troop, Family Issues
The military’s top enlisted leaders and their spouses gathered in Washington DC to discuss the most pressing issues affecting service members’ lives, and to identify possible solutions.
On the first day of the Defense Senior Enlisted Leaders Conference, leaders touched on a wide range of issues including pay and benefits, suicide prevention, community awareness and outreach, and transitions from military to civilian life, Army Master Sgt. Terrence Hayes, public affairs chief for the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman, told American Forces Press Service.
“This conference brings our senior leaders’ experience and knowledge to the table,” he said, noting the venue serves as both an idea exchange and an avenue for practical solutions. Read more: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67717
TriWest Healthcare Alliance to Protest TRICARE Contract Award
TriWest Healthcare Alliance announced today that it will protest the Department of Defense award of the TRICARE contract to provide access to health care for America’s military families in the 21-state TRICARE West Region, to UnitedHealth Group. TriWest has held the contract for 16 years. TriWest was initially awarded this most recent contract in July 2009 and underwent a lengthy protest process led by UnitedHealth Group, which led to a rebid of the T-3 contract in August 2011. Learn more at: http://www.triwest.com/en/about-triwest/triwest-news/corp-news-archive/2012/03/triwest-healthcare-alliance-to-protest-tricare-contract-award/
Civilian Psych Staff Doubled Since 2007
As Soldiers have increasingly struggled with post-traumatic stress, suicide and drug abuse, the Army has added thousands of civilian mental health specialists to treat troops and their families. Army Medical Command reports it has more than doubled its inventory of civilian behavioral health care providers since 2007. Amid lengthy deployments and 10 years of war, the Army has seen behavioral health needs rise among troops. Since 2003, more than 70,000 Soldiers have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. The Army is balancing the demands placed on uniformed behavioral health professionals by hiring civilians. To understand further about this subject, please go to: http://bit.ly/GHuSIN
MetLife Opens TRICARE Dental Program Enrollment
Beginning March 21, 2012 Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, Inc. (MetLife) will be accepting new enrollment applications for the TRICARE Dental Program (TDP). As the TDP contractor, MetLife will provide dental benefits to more than 2 million active duty family members, Selected and Individual Ready Reservists and their families. MetLife will begin providing dental coverage to beneficiaries on May 1, 2012. Most current TDP enrollees won’t have to do any paperwork or take any action during the transition. Only TDP enrollees using automatic payments from their checking account or credit card to pay their monthly premiums need to contact MetLife to reauthorize their payment. These enrollees will receive correspondence from MetLife on or near March 21, 2012 with further instructions regarding payment reauthorization. For more details, please click: http://1.usa.gov/GIASAE
Deadline to Apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay Extended
The deadline for eligible Servicemembers, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to 21 October 2012, providing eligible Servicemembers more time to apply for the pay under the program guidelines. RSLSP was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss authority between 11 September 2001, and 30 September 2009. Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status. To apply for the pay, or for more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.
Many Military Families Struggle With Finances
The stress factors with the families is just unbelievable. While laws give active-duty Soldiers extra combat pay, provide housing allowances and exempt them from taxes, experts say, families are straining under multiple deployments, frequent relocations and the difficulty spouses have in getting and keeping jobs in new cities. Service members and their families do have access to financial counselors, but many shy away from it because they don’t want their commanders to know. Additionally, young Servicemembers have little experience dealing with their own finances and don’t know what to do with the ups and downs of military life. Now, there are more than 40,000 nonprofits, big and small, trying to help the troops these days so Soldiers and their families do not fall into financial trouble. To read this article in its entirety, please see: http://bit.ly/GQUpzg
Army EAP is There to Help
The U.S. Army's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) helps civilian employees in identifying and resolving personal problems that may affect their job performance and well-being. The program also assists management in addressing productivity issues. Substance abuse, financial and marital problems, depression and eating disorders are just a few of life stressors where EAP can help. The program is funded by the Department of the Army and a part of the Army Substance Abuse Program. For more information, visit the Army Substance Abuse Program's Employee Assistance Program webpage at: http://bit.ly/GGTaIQ
The Military Drawdown Can Hit Anyone
A recent article in the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) reminds troops that the drawdown and associated reduction in forces can affect any Servicemember and that they should take advantage of the education benefits while they can. Education is one of the major elements of being prepared to join the civilian workforce. To read more about the drawdown and education opportunities, please go to: http://mnstr.me/GUgoZw
Conference to Focus on Building Troops' Resilience
Nearly 750 military leaders and psychological health care experts gathered in Washington DC for the Defense Department’s fourth annual Warrior Resilience Conference. The conference centers on providing service members, units, families and communities with resilience-building techniques and tools that can be used “in garrison or in the field,” explained U.S. Public Health Service Cmdr. George Durgin, resilience division chief for the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury, which is hosting the conference .Read more: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67727
Exchange forges Partnership with Cornell University on Disability Employment
In an effort to gain a better understanding of policies and practices within both federal and private sectors and to introduce best practices that will increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service has partnered with Cornell University in a disability research study. Learn more: http://publicaffairs-sme.com/pressrelease/?p=658
Services Strive to Extend Expertise Across Health Care
Troops deployed to Afghanistan are receiving the best trauma care in the world, and the services are determined to continue that level of expertise as service members return home, the military's top health professionals told a Senate panel on March 28, 2012. Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, the Army's surgeon general and former chief of its nurse corps, said Army health professionals have a proud history of standing side by side with troops on the battlefield since the nation's beginning. http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67737
House Examines National Cemetery System
The Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs recently held an oversight hearing to examine the current state of our National Cemeteries. The National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has come under fire recently due to a series of audits revealing, to date, over 240 mismarked or unmarked graves and 8 veterans or their loved ones buried in the wrong place at 13 cemeteries nationwide. Statements from and a webcast of the hearing is available on the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs website at: http://1.usa.gov/GDv55Z .
Twilight Tattoo 2012
Twilight Tattoo is an hour-long military pageant featuring Soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) and The U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own." Twilight Tattoo performances will take place every Wednesday evening throughout the Summer in Washington, D.C. Each performance is free and open to the public. Bleacher seating is on a first-come, first served basis. For more information and a list of performance dates, visit the Twilight Tattoo website at: http://www.twilight.mdw.army.mil/ . For information on group reservations, contact the U.S. Army Military District of Washington at (202) 685-2888. Follow the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" on its website at http://www.usarmyband.com.
Military Families Can Take Steps to Prevent Lost or Stolen Pets
A missing pet can be a devastating experience for family members and can result in a dangerous situation for the animal. However, military families can take steps to keep their beloved pets safe and secure. Learn more: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67659
VA Secretary Opens Veterans Winter Sports Clinic
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki opened the 26th annual National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Colorado. The winter sports clinic, jointly sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and Disabled American Veterans, uses recreation as a rehabilitative tool for veterans with disabilities ranging from spinal cord injuries and orthopedic amputations to visual impairment and neurological conditions. Shinseki, a disabled veteran who lost part of his right foot in Vietnam, praised the strides the veterans have made in their recuperation and urged them to continue striving to live life to its fullest. To learn more about the new clinic, please see: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67676
Veterans Get Risky Painkillers
Stars and Stripes reports that a new study has found that recent U.S. War veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) along with physical pain are often prescribed Morphine and similar powerful painkillers. Subsequent suicides, other self-inflicted injuries, and drug and alcohol overdoses were all more common in veterans with PTSD who received these drugs. The Department of Veterans Affairs paid for the study, which is based on VA health care data. An abstract of the study is available on the Journal of the American Medical Association website at: http://bit.ly/yzgXGc
VA Addresses GI Bill Backlog
According to the VA some veterans are experiencing delays in receiving their GI Bill benefits for the spring term. The VA points out that the issue is limited to only one of their regional processing offices and that they've surged additional staff and resources to resolve this situation as quickly as possible. And one more thing to remember: Students using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits must ask their school officials to complete an enrollment certification, which the school official will send to VA to confirm that they are taking classes, the number of credits, and the costs for tuition and fees. On average, VA processes these certifications in about 13 working days for a returning student. First time applications take 30 days on average to complete. To read more: http://military-education.military.com/2012/03/va-addresses-gi-bill-backlog/#ixzz1pl1A71Ka
TRICARE Contract Battle Heats Up Tom Philpott | March 29, 2012
TriWest Protests Lost TRICARE Contract in West Region
TRICARE beneficiaries across 21 western states won't know for another three months whether TriWest Healthcare Alliance will continue to administer their healthcare benefit beyond March of next year.
After 16 years, TriWest lost its latest bid to continue to run the TRICARE West Region under a third generation support contract, this one worth an estimated $20.5 billion over almost six years.
Defense Department officials awarded the contract instead to a company new to TRICARE users, a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, Inc., of Minnetonka, Minn., the nation's largest health insurance entity.
TriWest, however, is protesting that award to the Government Accountability Office. GAO has 100 days, until early July, to decide whether the contract was awarded properly or if it should be reversed or re-bid.
David J. McIntyre, Jr., TriWest's president and chief executive officer, said Tuesday the challenge is based on two issues. One is that contract officials "disregarded several hundred million dollars" in discounts that TriWest had guaranteed. Even ignoring those discounts, said McIntyre, the government has conceded TriWest's bid was lower than its rival's.
TriWest also argues that UnitedHealth was judged to offer "best value" based only on a review of its performance on its five largest accounts, and not on a broader review of problems raised by providers or beneficiaries that resulted over the years in legal judgments and hefty fines.
"Do a Google search like my nine-year-old [son] did of this other entity. I mean you have to wonder: with that lengthy list of items, of not delivering on their commitments, of being fined [and] I mean massive fines, not just one but a whole lot of them -- whether that really merits being rated at the top category of past performance," McIntyre said.
Before awarding the contract, officials "never bothered to go to the public market space to figure out what might be out there. They didn't contact other entities [UnitedHealth] performs work for. They didn't contact the insurance commissioners in the states that they operate in," he said.
McIntyre compared it to "buying a house without an inspection. This process should be about thoroughly reviewing not only bid information – i.e., the résumé – but the backgrounds of the parties bidding. I would hope that we would not buy body armor in such a fashion. And, in our opinion, we certainly shouldn't be buying healthcare, which is the military family's body armor, in such a fashion."
In July 2009 UnitedHealth won the South Region contract and TriWest the West contract. But Humana, the incumbent contractor for the South, filed a protest and in February 2011 GAO reversed UnitedHealth's award. After UnitedHealth lost its final protest of the South contract last July, its challenge of the West contract award to TriWest became "live."
TRICARE decided to reopen bidding on UnitedHealth's argument that too much weight had been given TriWest's promise to negotiate discounts below Medicare levels and not enough on quality of care. By last September, TriWest appeared more vulnerable when it agreed to pay $10 million to settle whistle-blower claims the company had failed to pass along to the military certain discounts it had negotiated with providers.
The West region serves almost 2.9 million beneficiaries across Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and western Texas.
McIntyre said he understands UnitedHealth intends to serve this population with a network of providers about 80 percent the size of TriWest's network of almost 180,000. TriWest, meanwhile, would go out of business.
Matt Stearns, spokesman for UnitedHealth Military & Veterans Services, the business unit that would service the West Region, declined to comment on specifics of McIntyre's "unfortunate" reaction.
"It's typical for an incumbent who has lost an award to claim the process is unfair. But the unfounded public assertions will only cause beneficiary and provider confusion," Stearns said.
Stearns said, "UnitedHealth has the nation's largest provider network, providing access to hundreds of thousands of physicians and health care providers nationwide. Now, I understand that is not completely analogous to the TRICARE program. But it shows that we have the resources and the breadth and depth to provide the families of TRICARE West with access to quality health care."
He pointed to a recent Fortune Magazine survey of business executives, directors and analysts that listed UnitedHealth as the most admired and innovated company in the health insurance business. He added that the New York state insurance regulator recently said the company is a "leader in trying to protect consumers" and is committed to transparency.
Joyce Raezer, executive director of National Military Family Association, said she is nervous to read forecasts by TRICARE officials of a "seamless" transition to the new contractor for the West region.
"I've seen enough of these to be worried about every transition," Raezer said. Any shift in TRICARE contractors creates problems.
"If a military spouse is six months pregnant next spring and her provider says, 'I am not going to be in UnitedHealth's network' that becomes a problem. Now it can be solved. But to that spouse, at that time, it's a problem. And if her husband is deployed it becomes a bigger problem."
With every new TRICARE contract, she said, some families are forced to find different physicians or to change health care facilities.
"You never have 100-percent provider match from one contractor to another. They build their own networks. So you are going to have some beneficiaries – probably more in some areas than in others – have to change providers. On an individual level that can be traumatic."
Raezer echoed the comments of several advocates for beneficiaries in calling TriWest "a really good citizen in the military community." Its support of charities and of organizations like NMFA would be missed, Raezer said. She said she was speaking on behalf of NMFA. But she also revealed she is a member of TriWest's Executive Advisory Board, a non-paid panel of retired officers, spouses and executives that advises TriWest on customer issues.
DoD Extends Education MOU Deadline
DoD recently announced that they are extending the deadline for schools to sign the voluntary education MOU. DoD will not implement the MOU until sometime this summer and schools will have ample opportunity to review the MOU before the policy goes into effect. This means that untilDoD sets the new implementation date for the MOU, which is anticipated the summer of 2012, schools will remain eligible for TA, even if they have not signed the MOU yet. DoD says that as soon as the staffing is completed, the amended MOU and the policy implementation date will be announced on the DoD MOU web page. Learn more at the Military Advantage blog.
Top Cities for Job Growth and Raises
Anywhere there's fossil-fuel expansion, skilled workers are in short supply, so companies may have to raise pay to attract employees. NewGeography's top cities for job growth include five Texas towns: Fort Hood, El Paso, College Station, Midland, Austin, Bismark, New Orleans, Dubuque, Manhattan, Pascagoula and more. Get a full list on Military.com.
Learn Proper Flag Disposal
How people should honor the flag when it becomes worn, torn, faded and threadbare is not clear to many who fly it. The section of law dealing with American Flag etiquette, generally referred to as the Flag Code, clearly states that, "When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner." Many veterans service organizations collect worn flags for proper disposal. For more information on our flag, read the Flag Code and visit the American Flag Etiquette webpage.
Rabies at Fort Rucker
After a Soldier died from rabies last year, troops across the military were asked to report any previously unreported contact with potentially infected animals. At Fort Rucker, the instructions are now more specific. Any soldier who had contact, such as a bite or scratch, with a potentially infected animal while on deployment since Sept. 1 and did not report it is asked to report it now. Also, any Soldier who reported contact and has not received treatment for rabies is asked to report that as well. For soldiers at Fort Rucker, all reports of contact with potentially infected animals should be directed to Ricardo at (334) 255-7376. For more information on rabies, visit the Centers for Disease Control website.
Senators Defend Retirees from Administration TRICARE Proposals
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) chaired a hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services on Wednesday, March 28 to receive testimony on active, reserve, and civilian personnel programs. Senator Webb has been a critic of the administration’s proposed TRICARE fee hikes that would begin in FY 2013, particularly for those who are covered under TRICARE For Life (TFL). TREA was represented at the hearing by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders.
“I’ve said many times that I believe that whether there is a specific contractual obligation or not, when someone has served a full career, we have a moral obligation to provide them with lifetime medical care,” said Senator Webb. He then asked the panel if they agreed that lifetime medical care was a moral obligation.
Jo Ann Rooney, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and Director of TRICARE Management Activity, both concurred with that principle, but neither repeated the word “moral” back to him.
Senator Webb agreed with the assertion of Robert Hale, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer, that the DOD must develop a comprehensive package in terms of the costs of health care, training, and equipment. However, he took exception with DOD’s plan to increase costs for retirees who have already completed a career of military service.
“You can’t renegotiate the front end once the back end is done,” Senator Webb said, referring to the proposed TRICARE fee hikes. “This is an obligation that has been made to people whose military careers are now done.” Senator Webb, along with Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-SC), noted that while active duty personnel numbers are set to decrease by 5%, DOD civilians are only set to see a 2% decrease. This was a discrepancy the senators urged Secretary Hale to take a closer look at.
Citing the chart below, Senator Webb also raised concerns that the costs of enrolling in Medicare Part B at age 65, which all military retirees must do in order to obtain TRICARE For Life coverage:
“For a retired servicemember who wants TRICARE For Life, a DoD benefit, they are required to sign up for Medicare B,” said Senator Webb. “When we summarize the cost of TRICARE For Life, we don’t take the cost of Medicare Part B and apply it when you are looking at the health care costs inside DoD, right?”
“That’s correct,” said Woodson.
Rooney also confirmed to Senator Webb that the Department of Defense will continue to reduce or eliminate flag and general officers to meet the reduction goal by 2016. She said that 140 billets had been targeted for elimination, and 49 of those had already been eliminated.
TRICARE West Region Contract Awarded to United Health Group/TriWest Protests Award
TMA awarded the West Region TRICARE contract to UnitedHealth Military & Veterans Services on March 16. On March 26, TriWest, the present contractor filed a protest of the award with the GAO saying that they thought the award process was “flawed and unfair.” This means that all 3 regions’ awards of the TRICARE managed care contracts will have been protested.
The protest freezes the contract in place. Normally, a GAO protest takes 100 days to adjudicate. TMA says that their schedule is still to have the present contract with TriWest run though March 31, 2013. The contract is worth $20.5 billion over 5+ years. (5 one year options) In July 2009 TriWest was awarded the T-3 contract but after lengthy delays due to the protests in the North and South regions TMA required a rebid last year.
The TRICARE West Region includes Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, western Texas, Washington and Wyoming. It covers 2.9 million TRICARE beneficiaries
TriWest Healthcare Alliance has preformed the contract for the past 16 years. The company was created by 18 Blue Cross/Blue Shields and university health systems in the region to bid for the TRICARE West contract.
When announcing the protest TriWest’s President and CEO said: “On March 16, the U.S. Department of Defense made an inexplicable decision to award the TRICARE West Region contract to a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a company with a long history of performance problems and legal issues, and with no history of providing health care to the military. Due to what we discovered in the government’s debriefing, TriWest will exercise its legal right to challenge this decision, with the goal of winning back the contract and continuing to provide military personnel, retirees and their families in 21 western states with the healthcare coverage they deserve and value.” Mr. McIntyre added:” “For us, this protest does not have to do with our disappointment. It doesn’t even have to do with the realities that if we were unsuccessful, we would shut our doors. It has everything to do with the fact that when we got into the middle of the sessions, we discovered two fundamental areas where the process didn’t work properly.”
United Health spokesman Matt Stearns reacted to the protest by saying:” “UnitedHealthcare looks forward to putting our experience, expertise and resources to work on behalf of Tricare beneficiaries, and we are grateful for the opportunity to do so…Our proposal offers significant value to the military health system and to beneficiaries by leveraging UnitedHealth’s industry-leading capabilities, providing significant long-term cost savings far beyond the administrative value of managing the contract.”
The new round of contracts was originally awarded in July 2009. In the North TRICARE region, Aetna was awarded the contract which was held previously by HealthNet. HealthNet protested and won the new contract. In the South region Humana held the contract. It was awarded initially to UnitedHealth Military and Veterans Services. Humana protested the decision; TMA rebid the contract and then awarded the contract to Humana. A protest to that decision filed by UnitedHealth unsuccessfully protested that decision to the GAO.
TriWest has presented several challenges to the award procedure in their protest. The fact that their bid was lower (Several news articles said that in was $200,000,000 lower) has been widely discussed in DC. This is happening at the same time that DoD is proposing large enrollment fees/co-pays to TRICARE beneficiaries. TREA will keep you informed on what happens next.
Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus Rolls Out “I Hire Veterans” Initiative
Senator Manchin (D-WV) said: “Think of this as the new Yellow Ribbon. Unemployment is one of the biggest problems our servicemembers are facing, so we wanted to show that we can walk the walk when it comes to hiring veterans. Veterans who have served this country are so skilled and qualified for so many jobs, and they’ve proven to be undeniable assets in our Senate offices and in businesses throughout this nation. We’re so proud to display this logo as a sign of our commitment to ending the veterans’ unemployment crisis, and we invite members of the public – especially business owners – to join us. And I hope that consumers who are shopping at different stores take their business to stores that hire veterans as a sign of their support. Looking ahead, this simple logo is just the first of many ways we can work together to do more to hire veterans.”
Senator Scott Brown (R-MA) said: “I’m proud to have four veterans on my staff. During their time in uniform, service members develop a one-of-a-kind set of skills that can help any employer take their organization to the next level. Those who have answered the call to defend our freedoms deserve our support and assistance in finding civilian employment. Our veterans represent one of the best investments any business could make.”
Senator Brown is stepping in for Co- Chairman Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) while he is in the hospital healing from a stroke. Senator Kirk’s spokesman said: “The Veterans Jobs Caucus stands in appreciation of our 40 million veterans for their service to this nation,” said a spokesperson for Senator Kirk. “These men and women have done everything their country has asked of them. Once they return home, it is our basic duty to help them reintegrate into the workforce. Senator Kirk is proud that this Caucus will support the transition of veterans leadership and skills into experience sought by U.S. employers.”
TREA is one of the 21 original endorsers of this new caucus. TREA’s Washington Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman represented TREA at the roll out.
As of March 22 there were 26 members of the caucus. We have heard that there are now 29. Along with focusing on this crucial issue all members of the caucus must have hired at least one veteran for their staff. Senator Manchin (co-chair) (D-WV),Senator Kirk (co-chair) (R-IL),Senator Tester (D-MT), Senator Heller (R-NV),Senator Rockefeller (D-WV), Senator Scott Brown (R-MA),Senator Begich (D-AK), Senator Baucus (D-MT), Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), Senator Klobuchar (D-MN), Senator Bennet (D-CO), Senator McCaskill (D-MO), Senator Carper (D-DE), Senator Toomey (R-PA), Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD), Senator Mikulski (D-MD), Senator Shaheen (D-NH), Senator Isakson (R-GA), Senator Wyden (D-OR), Senator Landrieu (D-LA), Senator Stabenow (D-MI), Senator Whitehouse (D-RI), Senator Hoeven (R-ND), Senator Harkin (D-IA), Senator Gillibrand (D-NY)
Administration’s Top Personnel Official Says Feds Should Not Discriminate Against Guard/Reserve Personnel
The Washington Post on Thursday of this week reported that the top personnel official in the Obama Administration is calling on senior federal executives to make sure that the federal government complies with the law that directs Guard and Reserve personnel not be denied jobs or penalized because of their military service.
According to the article, John Berry, Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) stated in a memo to the President’s Management Council and the Chief Human Capital Officers Council that “This Administration has zero tolerance for violations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act [USERRA].”
This follows a Post report last month that said the federal government is the biggest offender of the USERRA law.
“… in some cases, the U.S. government has withdrawn job offers to service members unable to get released from active duty fast enough; in others, service members have been fired after absences,” according to the Post article that was published on February 19.
The federal government is the largest employer of Reserve Component personnel, with about 14 percent of the 855,000 Guard/Reserve members employed in federal government civilian jobs, again, according to the Post.
This follows a hearing held last month by the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on the issue of Guard/Reserve reemployment rights. According to testimony before that committee by Ted Daywalt, CEO and president of VetJobs in Marietta, Ga., there was a 700 percent increase in USERRA complaints between 2006 and 2010.
He blamed the increase on the change in Defense Department policy in 2007 on use of Reserve Component personnel. As a result of the policy change, according to Daywalt, “…a National Guard member could be mobilized for up to a 24-month tour in Iraq or Afghanistan, be demobilized and allowed to return to a civilian working life, only to be mobilized a second time for as much as an additional 24 months for a total of 48 months in any 60-month period.”
Just as troubling as the increase in complaints is the fact that Daywalt also told the committee that he has heard from one senior HR executive at a major company who said that while his company will continue to support current employees serving in the Reserve Components, they will no longer hire employees who are in the National Guard or Reserve. Daywalt stated he has heard similar sentiments from HR managers in other companies.
The Military Coalition strongly supports any efforts to enforce the USERRA protections for Reserve Component members. It is extremely troubling that the federal government is the worst violator of the USERRA law and we urge Director Berry to closely monitor this situation within the federal government.
At the same time, we have personally warned Pentagon officials that the policy of continuous use of Reserve Component personnel cannot continue without severe negative reactions from employers. It is not hard to figure out that employers are going to be very reluctant to hire members of the Reserve Components if those individuals are going to be going for large periods of time. It remains to be seen if the Pentagon is paying attention to these warnings.
Brokaw, McChrystal and Immelt Talk Up Benefits of Hiring Veterans
One million veterans are currently unemployed. Veterans under the age of 25 are jobless at a rate greater than their peers, which doesn’t make sense: these people are hard-working, fit, and do as they’re told, dream assets for any employer. As the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts continue to wind down and the military continues to downsize, these problems are likely to only get worse.
NBC News anchor emeritus Tom Brokaw and General Stanley McChrystal (ret-USA) discussed the problem recently. Both pointed out that returning veterans have valuable skills that can help get the economy growing again.
“Last year the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan had an unemployment rate that is nearly five times the national average,” Brokaw said. “These young people are coming back during the biggest economic downturn since the great depression.”
Veterans find it hard to garner respect in the job market, according to McChrystal.
Some veterans have a tough time networking and touting their skills to potential employers. A recent survey conducted by Military.com found that 61% of hiring managers do not understand how a military person's skill set can translate into stateside jobs.
The military also worries that if veterans continue to find it difficult to get jobs in the civilian world, new recruits will shy away from enlisting. Recruiters for a long time have touted the military as a way to get skills that make them more valuable in the job market once they get out of the service. It seems this might no longer be the case.
To combat some of these problems, Congress passed the VOW to Hire a Hero Act last year with bipartisan support. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s “Hiring Our Heroes” campaign has hosted more than 100 job fairs for veterans across the country, and aims to hold over 400 by the end of the year. On March 28, Monster/Military.com will host a virtual job fair for transitioning servicemembers, veterans and military spouses.
Both Brokaw and McChrystal stressed that, much like the post-WWII boon when returning troops helped shore up the nation’s economy, today’s veterans can play an important role in contributing to an economic recovery.
“There is a tradition of American business growing its leadership from military ranks,” Brokaw said.
For more on the US Chamber of Commerce’s efforts, go here: http://www.uschamber.com/hiringourheroes
According to General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt, at a facility in Durham, N.C., GE employees are busy building the GE90 — the world’s largest and most powerful jet engine. The people working on these marvels of engineering are highly skilled, and many of them happen to be veterans. In fact, almost 40 percent of GE employees in Durham have served in the military.
Immelt says that building jet engines requires precision and perfection. With their great attention to detail and determination, veterans are often a perfect fit for the opportunities GE offers. This is true not just in their aviation business, but throughout GE.
GE currently employs more than 10,000 veterans and reservists. And in February, GE announced both that they would sponsor the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring our Heroes Initiative and commit to hiring another 5000 veterans over the next five years. GE also announced that their Veterans Network, which consists of employees who share a common bond of military service, would offer one-on-one coaching for veterans transitioning at 50 of the Hiring our Heroes job fairs.
Immelt said that veterans arrive at GE with not only translatable skills and expertise but with the intangibles and values that define GE’s culture. He said that GE and the military have three things in common: a commitment to integrity, a commitment to performance; and a commitment to learn and grow stronger. Frankly, veterans know how to compete and win.
By honoring our veterans and reservists and tapping their skills, GE believes that it can be a better company, and by doing so make the country even stronger.
New “GI Benefit Watchdog Bill” Introduced in the Senate
On Wednesday SVAC Chairman Murray (D-WA) and Committee members Senators Akaka (D-HI) and Begich (D-AK) introduced the “GI Bill Consumer Awareness Act of 2012. “
The bill would create an online guide to help servicemembers, veterans, and family members using the Post 9/11 GI Bill and other VA educational benefit programs find the information needed to judge which schools to go to and how to efficiently and effectively use their benefits.
The bill also directs the VA and DoD to develop “develop a joint policy to curb aggressive recruiting and misleading marketing aimed at servicemembers and veterans using the GI Bill.”
Veterans Military Skills Bill S2239 Proposed in the Senate
Last week we told you about HR4155- a bill that would require the federal government to require the federal government to treat relevant military training and experience to satisfy training requirement for federally issued licenses and certifications. On Tuesday a similar bill, S2239 was introduced by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL). Furthermore, he has 3 original co-sponsors to his bill: Senators Blumenthal (D-CT), Snowe (R-ME) and Klobucher (D-MN).
TRICARE Dental Under New Management
MetLife will take over managing the TRICARE Dental Program and begin providing dental coverage for more than 2 million active duty family members, Selected and Individual Ready Reservists and their families on May 1, 2012. This change does not affect TRICARE's Retiree Dental plan. All TDP enrollees will receive welcome packages and new enrollment cards.
Bill May Boost Disability Payments
Congressman Jason Altmire (D-PA4) and Congressman Geoff Davis have introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives a bill that would increase disabilities payments to wounded Reserve members, putting them on a level with active-duty Purple Heart recipients. The "Citizen Soldier Equality Act" would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to consider Reserve members equal to active-duty soldiers while they are deployed. Information on the bill (H.R. 4177) is available on the Govtrack.us website.
New GI Bill Legislation Introduced
Virginia Senator Jim Webb recently introduced in the U.S. Senate the Military and Veterans Educational Reform Act of 2012 (S. 2179). Senator Webb says the new legislation is needed to ensure that the education benefit isn't weakened by veterans using it at some for-profit schools that do not always meet the same educational standards as traditional institutions. For more information, read the articles on the Military.com website and the Military Advantage Blog, and let your elected officials know how you feel about this bill at the Military.com Legislative Center.
The Fight for Commissaries and Exchanges
Shopping at your local commissary can save between 20 to 50 percent on your grocery bills. During the budget debate last year, some members of Congress considered proposals that would have radically restructured commissaries and exchanges and raised prices and negatively impacting military families. In response to this threat, military families, advocacy groups, and American industry formed the Save Our Benefit coalition to help preserve commissary shopping privileges on military bases along with the network of outlets at veterans' hospitals.
New GI Bill for Unemployed Vets
A new GI Bill program, now known as Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), will offer up to 12 months of Montgomery GI Bill benefits for older unemployed veterans. The program is part of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act which also includes tax breaks for companies that hire veterans. That means that pre-9/11 veterans who often feel left out, may soon qualify for as much as $17,600 ($1473 a month) for education and training. Learn more about this new VRAP retraining and education benefit.
Larry Dandridge and AUSA Charleston SC Chapter
On 6 March 2012, AUSA’s Charleston SC Chapter VP for Veteran Affairs and QNA's Filed Data Division, Sample Data Collection (SDC) Program, East Region Manager was awarded the "Department of Veteran Affairs Special Contribution Award" for his many hours of volunteer work helping wounded, ill, injured, and needy troops and disabled vets at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center over the past seven years. Larry was recognized for all the volunteer work he does as a Patient Advisor, Strategic Planner, Patient and Family Centered Care (PFCC) Instructor, and Member of the Customer Service Council. Larry has been honored many times in the past 8 years for his volunteer work with wounded, ill, injured, and needy troops and disabled vets and their families by the Association of the US Army (AUSA), the VA, the Military Officer's Association (MOAA), and others
First Lady Talks Military Family Support on 'Letterman'
First Lady Michelle Obama encouraged Americans to rally in support of military families during an appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" recently. During her appearance, she stated that Servicemembers and their families have served and sacrificed for more than a decade, the first lady noted, yet most Americans are unaware of the extent of their challenges. The first lady encouraged people to find military families in their midst and then "do whatever they do best," whether it's offering to mow a lawn or babysit for a family with a deployed loved one, or providing pro bono accounting or attorney services. To read more about this appearance, please go to: http://1.usa.gov/GC66NJ
First Lady Lauds Minnesota's Military Family Support
First Lady Michelle Obama met with military families and support group leaders in Minnesota last week to "shine a spotlight" on the state's efforts to aid troops and their families. Speaking at a March 16 roundtable on Minnesota Air National Guard Base, the first lady called the state a model of military family support. Read more: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=67602
DoD Switches Contractor for Tricare West
The Pentagon has awarded a contract worth up to $20.5 billion to United HealthCare Services of Minnetonka, Minn., to manage its Tricare West Region. The decision comes at the expense of current contract holder TriWest Healthcare Alliance Corp., a consortium of 18 not-for-profit health agencies and hospitals that employs about 1,700 people throughout 21 western states, including 1,000 at its Phoenix headquarters. The decision followed a “best value source selection process,” according to a Defense Department release, resulting in the decision that the offer from United HealthCare’s Military & Veterans Services group would “provide beneficiary satisfaction at the highest level possible through delivery of world-class health care” of the two companies. TriWest has held the contract since 1996. In 2009, when the contract was up for rebid and the decision made to award it to TriWest, UnitedHealth’s Military & Veterans Services group protested the decision. A delay related to a contract decision in Tricare’s South Region prompted Tricare officials to reissue the solicitation, drawing offers from TriWest and United Health. Two Tricare contract awarded in 2009 were appealed and eventually decided in favor of those filing the appeals. To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/03/military-dod-switches-contractor-tricare-west-031912w/
Care Coordinators and Advocates Train to Assist Wounded Warriors Nationwide
Last week, 33 Recovery Care Coordinators and Army AW2 Advocates completed a DoD-sponsored training with the simple goal of providing them as much information as possible to help them succeed in their responsibility to assist wounded, ill and injured Service members and their families through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration. Learn more: http://warriorcare.dodlive.mil/2012/03/19/care-coordinators-and-advocates-train-to-assist-wounded-warriors-nationwide/Military Kids Can Apply for Free Summer Camps