Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 4 Jan 2012 

1/4/2012 

 

Obama Signs Defense Spending Bill Despite Reservations

President Barack Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act on 31 December 2011, while acknowledging serious reservations about parts of the act to include provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.  According to Obama, the act authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for Servicemembers and their families and vital national security programs that must be renewed.  Additionally this bill increases active-duty and reserve pay by 1.6 percent and governs Defense Department (DoD) activities, from procurement to military personnel policy.  Moreover, it also holds critical initiatives to control spiraling health-care costs within the DoD, develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, build the security capacity of key partners, modernize the force and boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide.  To learn more about the Defense Spending Bill, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66640

Panetta to Offer Strategy for Cutting Military Budget

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will disclose his strategy that will guide the Pentagon in cutting hundreds of billions of dollars from its budget while also sustaining the United States’ needs to meet the 21st century threats.  Panetta plans to carefully shrink the military, but keep it large enough to fight and win one major conflict, not two, like the past decade or so.  Currently, Pentagon officials are discussing potential cuts to every aspect of military spending to include nuclear arsenal, salaries, retirement and health benefits.  To read more about this strategy, please go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/03/us/pentagon-to-present-vision-of-reduced-military.html

Defense Bill: Pay and TRICARE Fees Go Up

After weeks of bickering over a provision dealing with detaining terrorism suspects, Congress finally sent the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 to President Barack Obama for signature. This means troops should have gotten their 1 January 2012 across the board military pay increase on time. In addition, the defense bill will peg any future increase in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for military retirees to future retiree Cost-of-living-Adjustments (COLA).  To learn more about these TRICARE fees, please go to: http://militaryadvantage.military.com/2011/12/2012-military-pay-raise-nearly-a-done-deal/

Many to See BAH Increase in 2012

Due to an overall increase in the cost of housing, military Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates across the country increased an average of 2 percent over last year's rates. Some locations will see an increase of as much as 40 percent (Minot, ND). The national-average increase of 2 percent can be tied to several factors including local costs for rent, utilities, housing shortages, and local economic pressures. To check out the 2012 BAH rates for your local area, please go to: http://www.military.com/benefits/content/military-pay/basic-allowance-for-housing/basic-allowance-for-housing-rates.html . To learn how these increases will also affect Post-9/11 GI Bill housing stipends, please click: http://www.military.com/education/content/gi-bill/2012-housing-stipend-faqs.html

TSP Contribution Limits to Increase

The 2012 elective deferral limit for regular Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) contributions has increased from $16,500 to $17,000 for 2012. The TSP catch-up plan contribution limit will remain at $5,500. Military members can contribute any whole percentage up to 92 percent of basic pay, as long as the annual total does not exceed $17,000 for 2012. If contributing from basic pay, Airmen may also invest all or part of their bonuses, special pay, or incentive pay. For more information about TSP, visit the Thrift Savings Plan website at  http://www.tsp.gov. Click on "Summary of the Thrift Savings Plan" located under civilian or uniformed services TSP Forms and Publications.  For more on TSP and other military pay benefits, visit the Military.com Benefits Center at: http://www.military.com/benefits.

GI Bill 2.0: New Housing Allowance

The Post-9/11 GI Bill now offers a housing allowance for students enrolled in online classes.  This housing allowance payable to students enrolled solely in distance learning, including Online Education, is about half the national average BAH for an E-5 with dependents as the rate was $673.50 for 2011. This is subject to prorating based on the number of credits being taken and took effect on1 October 2011.  To see all new rules for the GI Bill which are now in effect, please click: http://www.military.com/education/content/gi-bill/pending-gi-bill-changes.html

Congress Approves $10 Million For Gulf War Illness Research

Congress has approved dedicating $10 million to research the mysterious Gulf War illness, ending concerns from veterans' groups that the money would disappear because of budget problems. The spending bill passed by the Senate and signed by President Obama includes the money for specific research into the series of ailments suffered by veterans of the Persian Gulf War.  The research is different because it is not directed by the departments of Defense or Veterans Affairs. For years, Veterans Affairs focused its research on the mental health issues of Gulf War veterans, rather than assuming a physical cause, and recent research suggests the cause may be the bug sprays, anti-nerve-agent pills and sarin gas in which troops were exposed to, and treatments targeting that possibility have shown promise.  To read this more about this research, please go to: http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2011-12-18/congress-funds-gulf-war-illness-research/52053018/1

Sexual Assault Report, Two New Policies Announced

The Department of Defense (DoD) released key findings from the Academic Program Year (APY) 2010-2011 “Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies.”  One of the DoD’s strategic priorities is to address the increase in the number of reports made to authorities to ensure victims obtain needed support and services.  Additionally, under a new policy on expedited transfers, Servicemembers who have been the victim of sexual assault and have filed an Unrestricted Report now have the option to request an expedited transfer from their unit and/or installation. A second new policy standardizes the retention periods for sexual assault records across the military services.  In unrestricted cases, specified documents will be retained for 50 years and in restricted cases, for five years, to ensure victims have extended access to documents related to the sexual assault.  For more information on these new policies, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14981

Army Submits Gravesite Study of Arlington National Cemetery

Secretary of the Army John McHugh recently released to Congress the results of a year-long effort to ensure accountability of gravesites and records at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC).  McHugh submitted the report in accordance with Public Law 111-339, which directed the Army to provide an accounting of gravesites at ANC, and put in place a plan of action for any discrepancies which may be found.  McHugh formed a task force who were in charge with physically identifying every gravesite, cross-referencing each with all available records, identifying discrepancies, applying appropriate corrective actions and developing standardized procedures that can be instituted into the daily operations of the cemetery.  The gravesite accountability effort resulted in the first-ever review, analysis and coordination of all Arlington records that included more than 14 decades of varying records.  The end result will be a single database that will serve as the authoritative record at Arlington National Cemetery.  To understand more about the ANC study, please click: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14977

Get Help Prepping for Transition

Today's economy is demanding and Servicemembers need specific skills, the right mindset, and a powerful network to help them get in the door and make an impact on civilian industry. Fidelis is a rigorous end-to-end education solution that is being built to help veterans better navigate through their transition. Fidelis is partnering with top tier colleges and companies to provide Servicemembers personalized pathways out of the military and into industry by offering custom coursework, personalized transition coaching, a mentor network, and job opportunities delivered through a next-generation social platform. Veterans pay nothing additional for Fidelis' services. Learn more at http://www.fideliseducation.com.

Top 35 Veteran Employers

A list of the "35 Top Employers for Military," was compiled by Civilian Job News, which took a look at a variety of companies, both large and small, over different industries. Included with each employer listing are links to more information about veteran hiring, as well as current Monster.com job postings for those companies. These companies include: Amazon, The Exchange, BNSF Railway, CACI International, Capstone Corporation, CenterPoint Energy, Chesapeak Energy Corporation, Cintas and More. Get the full list of our top 35 Veteran Employers by going to: http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/content/career-advice/job-hunting/top-35-veteran-employers.html

Hiring of Veterans Increases

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) reports that the federal government hired the highest percentage of veterans in more than 20 years during the past fiscal year. According to preliminary figures released by the OPM, veterans represented 28.5 percent of total federal hires in fiscal 2011. Meanwhile, Labor Department statistics from early December show the unemployment rate for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars stands "stands at 11.1 percent. For more information, see http://www.military.com/veteran-jobs/content/search/government-jobs/federal-hiring-of-veterans-new-high.html.

DoD Priority Job Placement for Vets

Civilian employees adversely affected by actions such as transfer of function or base realignment and closure may be eligible for assistance through the Department of Defense Priority Placement Program (PPP).  Depending on the situation, the program provides mandatory placement, matching eligible well-qualified employees to vacant positions throughout the DoD.  For a PPP placement to occur, the registrant matched against a job vacancy must be well qualified for the position and certified by the current supervisor.  For more information please go to: http://www.military.com/military-report/dod-priority-job-placement-for-vets?ESRC=milt

TSA Launches New Toll Free Number for Air Travelers with Disabilities

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has launched a new helpline number for air travelers with disabilities and medical conditions. People in need of assistance can call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 before you travel for answers to questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. TSA recommends that passengers call about 72 hours before traveling so that when needed, TSA Cares can coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager at the airport.  For further information about the new TSA Number and assistance, please go to: http://www.tsa.gov/press/releases/2011/1222.shtm

All-DoD Football Team: Nominate Your Kid

The first annual Military.com All-DOD Team, presented by Military.com and Football University, is made up of the 24 premier football players who are currently dependents of active military personnel throughout the globe. The 24 best high school players (11 offensive players, 11 defensive players, a kicker and a punter) will be selected from all of the nominations submitted and honored at jersey presentation, held at a local school and/or military base, that celebrate their selection as a Military.com All-DOD Team member. To submit a video nomination today, please go to:
http://alldodteam.military.com/?ESRC=mrvr.nl

Exchanges Offer Gift Cards

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s 3,100 retail facilities in all 50 states and some 30 countries offer gift cards for Servicemembers.  While only authorized military shoppers can redeem Exchange gift cards, any American can send them by simply calling 800-527-2345 or logging on to http://www.shopmyexchange.com and clicking “Support Your Troops” and then the Gift and Calling Cards” icon.  Exchange gift cards range in values from $10 to $500 and can be addressed to a specific Soldier, Airman, Sailor or Marine or sent to “any Servicemember” through various relief agencies.  To learn more, please go to:http://www.mhttp://www.military.com/military-report/exchanges-offer-gift-cards

AAFES Coke Holiday Sweepstakes

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service will award grand prizes of $2,600 in American Express gift cards to five lucky entrants of its “Coke Holiday Sweepstakes.”  Military shoppers can enter the “Coke Holiday Sweepstakes” at their local Exchange.  No purchase is necessary to enter and the drawing will take place on or about February 10, 2012.  To learn more, please go to: http://www.military.com/military-report/aafes-coke-holiday-sweepstakes

Release No. 01-01-12

Jan. 3, 2012  Defense bill limits retiree health care increases

By Karen Parrish - American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama signed the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act on Dec. 31 which contains a critical initiative to help control spiraling health-care costs within the Defense Department.

 Section 701 limits annual TRICARE enrollment fee increases for retirees and their family members to an amount equal to the percentage by which retired pay increases that year. The act also contains critical initiatives to develop counterterrorism initiatives abroad, build the security capacity of key partners, modernize the force and boost the efficiency and effectiveness of military operations worldwide. The NDAA also includes:  

Section 347 requires DOD to finance an independent assessment of overseas troop basing, advising retention, closure, realignment or establishment of U.S. military facilities outside the United States “in light of potential fiscal constraints on [DOD] and emerging national security requirements in coming years.”  

Section 402 reduces authorized Army minimum end strength from 562,000 to 547,000. The other services’ authorized minimum strengths are unchanged, with 325,700 for the Navy, 202,100 for the Marine Corps and 332,800 for the Air Force.  

Section 512 of the act creates a new member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which currently includes the Army and Air Force chiefs of staff, the chief of naval operations and the Marine Corps commandant. The new member will be the chief of the National Guard Bureau, who will have responsibility for “addressing matters involving non-federalized National Guard forces in support of homeland defense and civil support missions.”

Section 526 extends voluntary separation pay and benefits authority, formerly set to expire Dec. 31, to the end of 2018. Section 530 converts the high-deployment allowance from mandatory to authorized. The allowance currently pays $100 a day, in addition to all other pay and allowances, to a deployed service member who has been deployed 401 days or more out of the preceding 730 days. 

Section 702 sets mental health assessment requirements for service members deployed for contingency operations. The act calls for a series of assessments: one within 120 days before deployment; another during the period between 90 days after a deployment begins and 180 days after it ends; a third within a year after the deployment ends; and a fourth between 18 months and 30 months of redeployment. 

The act states assessments are intended to “identify post-traumatic stress disorder, suicidal tendencies, and other behavioral health conditions … in order to determine which such members are in need of additional care and treatment for such health conditions.” 

Assessments are not required for service members “not subjected or exposed to operational risk factors during deployment in the contingency operation concerned,” the act states. 

Section 954 affirms that DOD “has the capability, and upon direction by the president may conduct offensive operations in cyberspace to defend our nation, allies and interests,” subject to the law of armed conflict and the War Powers Resolution. 

President Barack Obama acknowledges “serious reservations” about parts of the act, particularly provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.  

“I have signed the act chiefly because it authorizes funding for the defense of the United States and its interests abroad, crucial services for service members and their families and vital national security programs that must be renewed,” Obama said in a statement released Dec. 31.

 Post-9/11 Military Disability Ratings Could Increase

 Veterans discharged between Sept. 11, 2001, and Dec. 31, 2009, with disability ratings of 20% or lower, are being urged to apply for a review of their military medical disability rating.  In January, the VA and Defense Department’s Physical Disability Board of Review, or PDBR, hope to begin sending letters to thousands of Post-9/11 veterans to urge them to apply for the review.  Congress created the PDBR to address inconsistent disability ratings between the four services, and to determine if some veterans are eligible for increased ratings.  Currently, only 3,000 out of 77,000 eligible veterans have applied for the review, with half receiving upgrades to 30% or more, which would make them eligible for a military medical retirement, retiree pay, access to military healthcare and other benefits.  The hard part, according to officials, is finding these new veterans, which is where VFW members can help.  If you know a Post-9/11 veteran who was separated with a low disability rating, tell him or her to go online to www.health.mil, click the “About MHS” link atop the page, and then click the “Physical Disability Board of Review” link.  They'll thank you for it later.

Rules Ease for Undiagnosed Gulf War Illnesses

Veterans of the Persian Gulf War with undiagnosed illnesses now have an additional five years to qualify for VA benefits.  A recent change in VA regulations affects veterans of the conflict in Southwest Asia.  Many have attributed a range of undiagnosed or poorly understood medical problems to their military services, with chemical weapons, environmental hazards and vaccinations among the possible causes.  At issue is the eligibility to claim VA disability compensation based upon those undiagnosed illnesses, and the ability of survivors to qualify for VA’s Dependency and Indemnity Compensation.  Under long-standing VA rules, any undiagnosed illnesses used to establish eligibility for VA benefits must become apparent by Dec. 31 (tomorrow).  The new change pushes the date back to Dec. 31, 2016.  Read more at http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2239.  

TRICARE Loses Walgreens

It appears there will be no last-minute contract agreement between Walgreens and Defense Department contractor Express Scripts, which means beginning Jan. 1, military TRICARE beneficiaries will no longer be able to fill their prescriptions at a Walgreens pharmacy. Beneficiaries who need help finding an alternate pharmacy or to switch their medications to home delivery can contact Express Scripts at 1-877-885-6313. Read more at http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66626.  

TRICARE Home Delivery Pharmacy

The TRICARE pharmacy home delivery program already fills over 1 million prescriptions a month, and a recent reduction on copays for generic prescriptions gives many beneficiaries an even greater incentive to receive their regular medications by mail. TRICARE beneficiaries can now get generic prescriptions without a copay. Ideal candidates for the pharmacy home delivery program include those with several regular maintenance medications for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes who already fill their 90-day generic prescriptions at a local pharmacy. For more information, visit the TRICARE website.

TRICARE Pharmacy Options Changing?

Despite questions about whether the Walgreens pharmacy chain will continue as a TRICARE provider, beneficiaries will have several options for filling prescriptions, according to the DoD. The retail pharmacy contract between Express Scripts Inc., or ESI, and the Walgreens pharmacy chain is set to expire on Dec. 31.
If the contract is not renewed, Walgreens will no longer be a pharmacy network provider, but beneficiaries will be able to find a nearby network pharmacy using the "find a pharmacy" feature at the ESI website, www.express- 

Dover Mortuary Process Changed

As soon as officials at the Air Force Port Mortuary in Dover, Del., realized cremated and incinerated servicemember remains were being disposed of in a landfill, they changed the process. A retirement--at-sea option has been available since 2008 for subsequently-identified remains. The remains are cremated and placed in a sea-salt urn. The mortuary arranges with the Navy to have the retirement at sea. The Air Force has set up a hotline for families who have questions about the processes the mortuary used. It is 1-855-637-2583. Or families with questions can e-mail officials at dover.pm@pentagon.af.mil

DFAS - WHAT DOCUMENTS WILL I GET THIS YEAR?

This year you may receive some documents you are not expecting. Here's a description of each of them:  http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/documentsthisyear.html

ARE YOU USING YOUR eRAS?

Did you know you can view, print or save an electronic Retiree Account Statement (eRAS) on myPay every month? The eRAS is a complete summary of your pay, deductions and benefits. Find out more:

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/usingeras.html

COST OF LIVING ADJUSTMENT FOR 2012

Based on the increase in the Consumer Price Index, there will be a 3.6 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay and Survivor Benefit Plan annuities. Find out when it takes effect:

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/cola.html

13 PAYMENTS MAY AFFECT YOUR TAXES  

Your 1099R tax statement includes 13 payments this year. This isn't a mistake.  The pay schedule for retirees was adjusted in mid-2011 to comply with the law. Get the details:   

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/13paystaxes.html  

1099R REQUESTS 

If you lose your 1099R, there are two ways to get a copy, but the quickest, easiest way is myPay. Find out how: 

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/1099requests.html 

NEW FORM MAKES REPORTING RETIREE DEATHS EASIER 

DFAS has launched a new online form to make it easier for grieving family members to report the deaths of military retirees. Share this information with your loved ones: 

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter/newform.html 

DOWNLOAD ENTIRE NEWSLETTER - Click the URL below and then use the "PDF Version" link at the bottom of the web page, if you'd like to save or print the entire newsletter in one document. 

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/newsevents/newsletter.html

Monthly Electronic Retiree Account Statement (eRAS)   

Your monthly electronic Retiree Account Statement (eRAS) is now available on myPay.  Click the link below to log in and access your eRAS. 

https://mypay.dfas.mil 

While you're logged in to your account, please also take a few moments to verify that all of your contact information is correct.  The key to receiving your military retired pay and other important information in a timely and efficient manner is to make sure that both your mailing address and email address on file are up to date. 

NEED HELP PICKING UP YOUR ELECTRONIC ACCOUNT STATEMENT? 

If the Web address above is highlighted, click on it to open a browser window.  After you log in to myPay, you will be taken to a menu from which you can reach your eRAS. 

If the Web address above is not highlighted, follow these steps:

   - Open a Web browser window.

   - Copy and paste the entire Web address into the location or address bar of the browser.

   - Press enter. 

TROUBLE LOGGING IN TO MYPAY? 

Visit www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary for instructions on starting a myPay account, requesting a login ID or requesting a temporary password.

 HELP US SPREAD THE WORD. 

The eRAS is only available on myPay.  Please share this news with your fellow military retirees who may not have myPay accounts. 

Retired and Annuitant Pay

http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary.html

Rural Telemedicine Provisions Pass in FY 2012 NDAA

The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which was recently passed by both chambers of Congress, incorporates provisions taken from The Servicemembers' Telemedicine & E-Health Portability Act, or the "STEP" Act that enables expansion of the current Department of Defense (DoD) state licensure exemption to allow certain credentialed health care professionals to work across state borders without having to obtain a new state license. The bill was authored by Congressman Glenn Thompson (R-PA) and cosponsored by Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D-NV).

Currently, DoD has limited ability to allow its health care professionals to provide care when the patient is in a different state. As a result, many who rely on military care, including mental health services, are required to travel long distances to receive treatment, presenting increased financial burdens and unnecessary obstacles to accessing care. By removing this state licensure burden, the legislation empowers qualified DoD professionals to use cutting edge telemedicine and e-health applications to treat servicemembers regardless of their physical location.

The DoD's hands are currently tied when it comes to credentialed civilian employees and contractors who have stepped up to fill shortages in desperately needed positions, especially in the area of behavioral health treatment. The "STEP" Act language expands the definition of "health care professional" under the previous exemption to include certain qualified DoD civilian employees and personal services contractors.

TREA supports this initiative to expand military healthcare providers so as to meet the growing needs of our military men, women, spouses and dependents.

Military Base Schools Outperform Public Schools…AGAIN

The 2011 federal National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) has once again found that 4th and 8th grade students in military base schools outperformed public school students in both reading and math. And the differences are not small. 39% of 4th graders at military schools were proficient in reading while 32% of 4th graders were proficient in public schools. Additionally, the achievement gap between black and white students is much smaller in military schools than it is in public schools.

On the NAEP reading test there is a 26 point between 4th grade black and white students while there is only an 11 point gap in military schools (205/231 out of a possible 500 in public schools 233/22 in military school.)

There are many possible reasons for while this is true. The report suggests smaller class size, not teaching to test, school administrations are allowed more discretion as to how they are allowed to supervise teachers, and the military commands’ support for education. The New York Times suggested that steady (if not high pay) and reliable health care benefits might be the reason. (They did not mention the instability of numerous call ups for parents and the danger of them being killed or wounded might cause.)

Regardless of the reason this is another piece of evidence that the military base schools are doing a first rate job. We expect that some in the government will again, try to close these schools down to help cut the budget and when that happens we should remind the federal government what a good job they are continuing to do.

New Bill (HR1801) Would Allow Uniformed Military and Their Families to Zip Through Airport Security

The House Homeland Security Committee has approved HR1801 and issued a report concluding that the military would qualify for expedited screening like the pilot programs the TSA started on October 4 which streamlines security checks for frequent flyers and flight crew members.

The bill would require the Transportation Security Administration to promulgate within 180 days guidelines to expedite the screening of military members and their accompanying family members as well as some military items such as military combat boots.

The report said: “The legislation is not intended to have members of the Armed Forces bypass the security checkpoint or reduce the level of security screening.”

The bill is expected to be considered by the full House under suspension of the rules, a status normally used for non-controversial measures. The procedure doesn’t permit amendments and requires a two-thirds vote for passage. So it seems clear that the House leadership expects that it will pass. As of yet there is not a similar bill in the Senate.

New 2012 GI Bill Housing Rates - CORRECTED

The Department of Defense released the new Basic Allowance for Housing rates for 2012. Most eligible Post-911 GI Bill recipients will see a modest increase in the Post-9/11 GI Bill Housing Stipend as a result. However, these new rates will not go into effect until August 1, 2012. 

AAFES, AFRC Resorts Sweepstakes

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service and Armed Forces Recreation Center (AFRC) Resorts is offering a vacation for a one Lucky family of four that wins the "AFRC Resorts Sweepstakes." The family will receive roundtrip airfare and seven nights' accommodations at one of four AFRC Resorts. Military shoppers can enter the "AFRC Resorts Sweepstakes" at their local Exchange through January 1. No purchase is necessary to enter and the drawing will take place on or about Feb. 6, 2012.

AAFES Offers Check Cashing Service

The Exchange is offering shoppers inexpensive access to their money with free check cashing and cash back on debit transactions. Authorized shoppers can cash personal checks up to $300 per day, per customer at no charge and as always, checks will be accepted up to the exact amount of any purchase. Customers will also be able to use their debit cards to receive up to $50 cash back at the registers. The Exchange also cashes a wide variety of other checks and instruments for cash at no charge such as U.S money orders, traveler's checks, Western Union checks and payroll checks issued by authorized government contractors and other non-appropriated fund agencies. Shoppers can visit their local Exchange for more information about its free check cashing policy.

Service Dogs for Veterans

Trained service dogs are helping veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)  and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The non-profit organization Stiggy's Dogs trains psychiatric service dogs to perform specific tasks from reminding veterans to take their medicine, waking them up from a nightmare or alarm clock ringing, to directing them through a crowd. For more information, visit the Stiggy's Dogs website

1ST SESSION OF THE 112TH CONGRESS ENDS. ON SECOND THOUGHT...

To do list for Congress:

--Pass the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2012.  Check

--Fund the Defense Department for the remainder of fiscal 2012.  Check

--Permanently repeal the failed Medicare physician payment formula.  Fail  Well then, provide another temporary patch so that physicians will not face a nearly 30 percent drop in reimbursement rates on 1 January when the current patch expires.  Fail

Both the Fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the defense spending bill cleared Congress and are headed to the President for signature.  Military personnel will see a 1.6 percent pay raise next year.  Also, any increases in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees in any year will be tied to the cost of living allowance (COLA). 

Unfortunately, we are once again facing drastic cuts in the reimbursement rates for physicians who treat Medicare/TRICARE patients. 

Because payment rates in the TRICARE program are tied to Medicare rates, this affects many military beneficiaries.  Each year, Congress implements short-term patches that merely make the problem worse. By Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimations, it would cost about $300 billion to replace the current formula. However, that price tag increases each year Congress fails to permently change the physician payment formula.  The American Medical Association estimates that the 12 temporary patches that Congress has applied have raised the cost of solving the problem by more than 500 percent! 

Also known as the “doc fix” (although it never actually gets fixed), tax-extender legislation passed by the Senate over the weekend included a provision that would have prevented the steep cuts but only until February 2012.  House Republicans rejected the plan because they want the Congress to pass a longer term deal.

As this update goes to press, it is anyone’s guess how this will be resolved.  Speaker of the House John Boehner said that the House will vote on the Senate-passed measure, but that he expects it to fail.  Meanwhile, the Senate has already left for the Holiday recess. 

Once again we are urging a call to action.  Please go to www.ausa.org, click on “Legislative Agenda” and then "Contact Congress".  Put your zip code in the box entitled “Elected Officials” and then click on the prepared letter "Prevent Medicare/TRICARE Cut”.

Panetta Warns Further Cuts Would Be 'Damaging'

On 30 November, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta continued to emphasize the negative effective $1 trillion in defense spending cuts over the next decade would have on the military, should congress not find alternative ways to reduce the national debt.  The inability of the lawmakers to reach a deficit reduction deal last week could possibly damage this country.  A bipartisan supercommittee announced it could not agree on a plan to cut $1.2 trillion in federal spending by its 23 November deadline resulting in a sequestration, which mandated spending cuts across the government.  The Department of Defense’s (DoD) share of the cuts is about $600 billion over 10 years.  When coupled with already planned defense spending cuts over the next decade, DoD is facing a $1 trillion reduction to planned spending.  These cuts do not go into effect until January 2013, meaning Congress has more than a year to write new legislation modifying or eliminating these cuts.  To read this article in its entirety, please go to: http://defensenews.com/story.php?i=8430049&c=AME&s=TOP


Democratic Sen. McCaskill Finds House Defense Bill Riddled With Earmarks

House Republicans banned earmarks after they won control of the chamber last fall in a wave of voter anger over excessive government spending.  But more than half of the amendments to this year's House Department of Defense (D0D) authorization bill were earmarks, according to Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri.  Earmarks are directed spending requests from lawmakers that benefit their districts or states and receive little or no oversight.  McCaskill said that the House Armed Services Committee's chairman, Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., set up a system that enabled members to circumvent the earmark ban by offering pre-approved amendments that outlined the projects and the funds they hoped to secure for their districts.  But McKeon disputed these claims and stated that McCaskill’s contentions were inaccurate and that the bill had been highlighted as a model for government transparency.  To learn more about these specific earmarks, please click: http://www.kansascity.com/2011/12/11/3311557/democratic-senator-finds-house.html#ixzz1gKaRU22N

Army Moves Forward with Civilian Reductions

The Department of Army announced that it is moving forward with plans to reduce the size of its civilian employee workforce.  In July, the Army announced a planned reduction of approximately 8,700 positions by 30 September 2012. These cuts are based on Department of Defense (DoD) resource decisions as reflected in the fiscal 2012 President's Budget and require a reduction of Army civilian employees to comply with decreased funding levels.  The Army has identified 70 different locations affected by these reductions across eight commands and agencies with nearly 90 percent of the cuts taking place affecting Installation Management Command, Army Materiel Command, and Training and Doctrine Command.  To read more about these cuts, please go to: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=14958

Military Pay Raise May Hit Snag

Funding for 2012 military operations, procurement, weapons systems, personnel and military family programs, and the proposed 1.6 percent military pay raise face major obstacles due to a last minute insertion in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The controversy is over the insertion of a provision that some fear would allow the government to hold U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism in custody without charges or due process, indefinitely.  To read more about the pay raise snag, please see: http://www.military.com/military-report/military-pay-raise-hits-snag?ESRC=miltrep.nl

GI Bill 2.0 Changes: Housing Allowance

A New Online Housing Allowance will be payable to students enrolled solely in distance learning (including online education). The housing allowance is half the national average BAH for an E-5 with dependents which averages at a rate of $673.50 for 2011). This is subject to prorating based on the number of credits being taken, and was effective as of October 1, 2011. This does not include active duty or their GI Bill eligible spouses. To see a list of this, and other GI Bill 2.0 Changes, please click: http://www.military.com/education/content/gi-bill/pending-gi-bill-changes.html

Bill To Speed Up Troops In Airports Gets Boost

Legislation to speed military travelers and their accompanying family members through airport security checkpoints has taken a big leap forward.  The Democratic chairman and Republican ranking member of the Senate committee who are responsible for the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) screening recently introduced their companion bill to a bipartisan measure passed 30 November by the House. This could possibly make it more likely Congress will pass the measure soon.  Expedited screening would be limited to Servicemembers in uniform traveling on orders, and their accompanying family members, at airports that have so-called “Trusted Traveler” lanes for passengers who have undergone background checks. Trusted Traveler, which launched in October, is available only at a few major airports but is expected to expand.  To learn more about this Airport change, please click: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/12/military-senators-support-bill-to-ease-airport-security-for-troops-120811/

House Members Make Case on Sexual Assault Provisions

A bipartisan group of 47 House members sent a letter to Armed Services leaders in both chambers urging them to include in the final version of this year's defense authorization bill (HR1540) referring to the House's provisions pertaining to sexual assault and rape in the military.  The provisions on sexual assault are among the many that must be reconciled between the two chambers' versions of the policy measure.  The House provisions in the fiscal 2012 bill make clear in this letter that a victim of sexual assault is entitled to legal assistance.  Additionally, the House provisions also would protect the confidentiality of communications between a victim and the victim's advocate and would ensure that certain records be retained.  To further understand this bill, please go to: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d112:h.r.1540:

NAMI: Says DoD is AWOL on Mental Health Care for NR & RC

These are critical times for returning Reserve and National Guard Soldiers and their families. The risk is high and there is a mental health crisis in the National Guard.  Pentagon data reports that more National Guard troops have died from suicide each of the past five years than were killed in combat or died of accidents or illnesses in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The House and Senate Appropriations Committees are moving to finalize the fiscal year 2012 Department of Defense (DoD) Appropriations bill. The House version of the Pentagon's bill includes funding for an essential mental health program which would embed mental health workers in Guard and Reserve units in encourage Soldiers to seek mental health services when they need them, similar to a program for Active Duty Soldiers as well. For more about the DoD on mental illness, please go to: http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=press_room&template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=131421

Battaglia: Reducing Suicides a Top Priority

Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Bryan B. Battaglia, the Defense Department's (DoD) senior enlisted advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs stated military leaders are committed to reducing suicides in the ranks.  A report on military suicides by the Center for a New American Security concludes that suicide among Servicemembers and veterans challenges the health of America's all-volunteer force. From 2005 to 2010, Servicemembers took their own lives at a rate of about one every 36 hours, according to the report. It also states that while only 1 percent of Americans have served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, former Servicemembers represent 20 percent of the suicides in the United States. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates 18 veterans die by suicide each day.  For the entire article please go to: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=66431

Senators Tell VA to Speed Up Care for Mentally Ill Vets

Senators have been critical of the director of mental health operations for the nation’s veterans, saying the federal government must speed up services for those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other afflictions.  Faced with a 34 percent increase in the number of veterans who have sought mental health services since 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has not kept pace.  As a result, too many veterans are waiting far too long to get help, which reportedly is leading to a major increases of suicides, increased drug abuse and other problems.  Senators were irritated with the results of a survey of VA health care providers released last month which stated nearly 40 percent of the veterans seeking mental health treatment could not schedule an appointment in their own clinics within two weeks, as the government’s guidelines require.  More than 1.2 million veterans sought mental health care in 2010.  The number of mental health professionals assigned to veterans increased by 48 percent from 2006 to 2010.  The department has made mental health care a high priority, but there seems to be much more to do.  To read this article in full, please go to: http://www.bostonherald.com/business/healthcare/view.bg?articleid=1384946&srvc=business&position=recent

Homelessness Among Veterans Declines 12% in 2011

The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that a new national report shows that homelessness among Veterans has been reduced by nearly 12 percent between January 2010 and January 2011. The 12 percent decline keeps the Obama Administration on track to meet the goal of ending Veteran homelessness in 2015. According to the 2011 supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), 67,495 Veterans were homeless in the United States on a single night in January 2011 which is a significant reduction from last year’s single night count of 76,329.  VA also announced it will make $100 million in grants available to community agencies across the country to prevent nearly 42,000 veterans and their families from becoming homelessness and to quickly return them to stable housing.  For more information on Veteran homelessness, please go to: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2234

Officials Announce Absentee Voting Guidelines

The Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Military Postal Service Agency announced absentee ballot mailing date guidelines that apply to various overseas locations.  Military members serving overseas and other U.S. citizens living abroad must consider mail transit times when submitting their absentee ballots to vote in upcoming presidential, Senate, House, gubernatorial, state legislature, local and other elections.  The 2012 U.S. presidential election will be held 6 November 2012 so officials recommend that absentee voters sending ballots from the following countries mail them out no later than the following: Iraq: 22 days before the election; Afghanistan (excluding air stop locations), Egypt, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Turkmenistan: 17 days before the election; Germany: 11 days before the election; Afghanistan air stop locations, Bahrain, Cuba, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates: 10 days before the election; and Japan, Korea and the Philippines: seven days before the election.  For a full list of absentee ballot mailing dates for overseas locations, visit http://www.FVAP.gov

Adaptive Sports Help Wounded Soldiers Find A New Way Of Life

12 Soldiers will represent the Army in the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo., the equivalent of the Olympics for wounded Servicemembers.  Teams from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines and Special Operations Command compete against each other in seven sports. The Warrior Games are part of the Wounded Warrior Program, which help severely injured or ill Soldiers transition into their new life circumstances.  The main point is for these Soldiers to take up an adaptive sport and to realize they can get off the couch and they don't have to play the X-Box all the time.  To read more, please go to: http://newsok.com/adaptive-sports-help-wounded-soldiers-find-a-new-way-of-life/article/3630438#ixzz1gKN91Z4w

Nominate A Top Military Child By 15 January

With a deadline of 15 January there is just a little more than a month to nominate an outstanding military child for Operation Homefront’s 2012 Military Child of the Year Award. Onechild from each service will be named.  Each recipient will receive $5,000, and will be flown with a parent or guardian to Washington, D.C., for a recognition ceremony on 5 April.  Judges will be looking for children who demonstrate resilience and strength of character, and thrive despite the challenges of military life.  Additionally, each nominee must be between ages 8 and 18, have a valid military ID or currently be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting Service, and be able to travel to Washington for the ceremony.  For more information about this award, please go to: http://www.operationhomefront.net/MCOY/  or http://www.armytimes.com/news/2011/12/military-child-of-the-year-2012-120711w/ 

Military Children Stay a Step Ahead of Public School Students

The results are now public from the 2011 federal testing program known as NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, and once again, schools on the nation’s military bases have outperformed public schools on both reading and math tests for fourth and eighth graders.  Even more impressive, the achievement gap between black and white students continues to be much smaller at military base schools and is shrinking faster than at public schools.  The NELP found that in military based schools standardized tests do not dominate and are not used to rate teachers, principals or schools.  Additionally, these schools seem to be more nurturing than public schools. To learn more about these school differences, please go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/education/military-children-outdo-public-school-students-on-naep-tests.html?_r=2

New Online Tools Provide Veteran Job-Seekers Secure Access to Military Records, Skill "Translators"

Veterans now have on-demand access and can download official data about their military training and experience, which can be used to help them find jobs and continue their careers. Through VA’s online My HealtheVet portal found at: https://www.myhealth.va.gov/index.html , veterans can see official information about their military service, including deployment data, in-uniform experience, and Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes which define the type of work performed and skills learned during their tour of duty. Veterans can then electronically download that information to their personal computers by using an enhanced version of the Blue Button located at: https://www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/anonymous.portal?_nfpb=true&_nfto=false&_pageLabel=faqsHome#what_is_BB . They can also use this information when they search for jobs using the Veterans Job Bank at: https://www.nationalresourcedirectory.gov/jobSearch/index

Veterans Who Can Help Your Job Search

Meeting the right people can make the difference in your next job search. The Military.com Veteran Career Network can connect you with over 1 million veterans working in companies, government agencies, career fields, industries or locations that may be of interest when searching for a job. To search for veterans willing to help individuals with their job search and career please go to the website: http://benefits.military.com/vcn/search.do

Exchange Gift Cards Ensure Troops' Stockings are Stuffed for the Holidays

According to the National Retail Federation, more than half of all shoppers in 2010 said they would like to receive gift cards, marking four years in a row that gift cards have topped consumers’ holiday wish lists, so the Exchange wants to help please the military consumer.  The Exchange continues to offer gift cards as an excellent way to send troops exactly what they want and select their own gifts.  The cards can be purchased at various amounts.  While only authorized military shoppers can redeem Exchange gift cards, anyone can send them by simply calling 800-527-2345 or logging on to http://www.shopmyexchange.com and clicking “Support Your Troops” and then the “Gift and Calling Cards” icon.  For more information on the Exchange and its gift card availability, please go to: http://publicaffairs-sme.com/pressrelease/?p=537

Play Military Trivia and Win an iPod

Test your knowledge with our Military.com Trivia Challenge. Do you think you know military history and trivia? Here's how you win: For each question you answer correctly you will receive one point, and for each point you will earn an electronic raffle ticket. At the end of the month, Military.com will have a random drawing of all the tickets and pull out one to determine the winner. Play as little or as much as you you want during the month, and the more questions you answer correctly, the greater your chances of winning. To play now, please go to: http://www.military.com/Trivia/Home?ESRC=mrvr.nl