Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 30 July 2013 

7/30/2013 

 

HOUSE APPROVES DEFENSE SPENDING BILL

The House's approval of the fiscal 2014 defense appropriations bill last week means that they have now passed all three of the major defense-related bills.  The Military Construction/VA bill and the Defense authorization bill were approved on June 4 and June 14, respectively. 

The appropriations bill provides $512.5 billion in non-war funding and includes $85.8 billion in funding for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO).

The bill includes a 1.8 percent pay raise for military personnel, and prohibits the Defense Department from furloughing civilian workers, including Dual Status Military Technicians, beginning on Oct. 1. 

AUSA would like to thank Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, for introducing an amendment that would prohibit any new fees on the TRICARE for Life program.  Her amendment was approved by voice vote. 

In a speech on the House floor, Hanabusa said, “Year after year, we hear from the Defense Department that healthcare costs for our soldiers and veterans are spiraling out of control, and that TRICARE is ‘crippling’ DoD with its rise in costs.  Yet, for the past two fiscal years, the Pentagon has found a way to reprogram hundreds of millions of dollars from defense health accounts to ‘higher priorities.’

“DoD’s own documents prove military health costs are not ‘exploding’ – the combined personnel and health care costs are less than one-third of DoD budget, the same as they’ve been for 30 years.

“The relatively low cost of healthcare and strong benefits are the fundamental elements are necessary to not just recruit, but also sustain an all-volunteer force.  Significant cuts to the critical incentive packages that sustain a top-quality career force will undermine long-term retention and readiness.”

The White House has already issued a veto threat to the spending bill.  A statement from the Office of Management and Budget said that enacting the legislation would “hurt our economy and require draconian cuts to middle-class priorities."

What’s next:  It’s all up to the Senate now.  The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee is scheduled to mark up its version of the bill tomorrow with approval expected by the full committee on Thursday.  However, the likelihood that it is passed before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year is slim.  The Senate heads out for its five week August recess on Friday and they are slated to only work 16 legislative days in September.   The schedule constraint coupled with the budget battles expected later this year probably means that another continuing resolution is on the horizon.  There have been no details released on that yet. 

VETERANS' LEGISLATION ADVANCES

A package of bills approved by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee last week would improve benefits and health care services for veterans and their families.  The package also includes a measure that would bring the Department of Veterans’ Affairs in line with a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. 

The legislation cleared by the committee would:

§  Improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military.

§  Extend to caregivers for veterans of all eras eligibility for the family caregiver program.  This program currently provides services and benefits – including a monthly stipend, reimbursement for travel expenses, counseling, training and respite care – to caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.

§  Expand eligibility for benefits for spouses married in states that allow gays to wed.  The measure would bring the VA into conformance with a June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a federal law that unconstitutionally denied federal benefits for all legally married couples.

§  Require quarterly reports to Congress on efforts to eliminate a backlog of benefits claims by 2015.  VA would have to detail both the projected and actual number of claims received, pending, completed and on appeal.

§  Improve veterans’ health care through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services.

§  Expand access to education benefits for veterans and their survivors, including making recently-separated veterans eligible for tuition at the in-state rate and improving the level of benefits offered to survivors of service members killed on active duty.

§  Expand employment opportunities for veterans through new programs that will encourage employers to hire veterans and by renewing the popular Veterans Retraining Assistance Program from VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011.

§  Provide cost-of-living increases in veterans’ disability payments at the same rate as Social Security benefits.

§  Require a judge’s order to prohibit a veteran who has been determined to be mentally incompetent by the VA from purchasing or possessing a firearm.

The committee has not identified funding to pay for the legislation; therefore, the legislation will not go to the Senate floor for debate until the Congressional Budget Office provides cost estimates.  Committee Chairman Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., pledged to work to find funding— and also said he doesn’t want Congress to scrimp on veter­ans programs.

DEFENSE SPENDING BILL HITS A SNAG

The legislative process 101:  Once a bill is reported out of a House committee, it then goes to the Rules Committee who will determine the particulars of debate for the bill—how much time will be allowed for debate, whether amendments can be offered, and other matters.  The committee will produce a rule which must be passed by the House. 

The Defense Appropriations Bill was scheduled to go to the House floor for approval this week.  House Republican leaders intended to limit debate and only allow certain amendments to be offered to the bill.  However, that plan was shelved when some Republican members, angry that they could not offer certain amendments, elected to join the Democrats and kill the rule.  The amendments included ones that would target the National Security Agency’s phone surveillance program and U.S. military aid to Egypt's government and to Syria's rebels.  The members said they'd rather sidetrack the bill than pass it without getting these votes.

Accordingly, the plan to move this week is in jeopardy.  If the GOP leadership fails to reach an accord with its members, the bill will certainly be postponed until after the August recess which starts on Friday.

LAWMAKER, STAFFERS ATTEND AUSA BREAKFAST

AUSA hosted Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., key congressional staff members, and top Army and industry leadership at its Institute of Land Warfare (ILW) breakfast last week.

The featured speaker, LTG William Phillips, Director of the Army Acquisition Corps, outlined the impact the current budget crisis is having on Army acquisition, readiness and modernization.  He urged that the Congress return to the normal appropriations and authorization process and come to some resolution on the sequestration. 

LTG Phillips also gave the audience a detailed explanation of how the Army is working smarter to streamline the appropriations process and save money. 

HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES VETERANS' LEGISLATION

The House Economic Opportunity Veterans Affairs Subcommittee approved several measures last week that address education and work benefits for veterans. 

Among the approved bills was one introduced by Rep.Bill Young, R-Fla., that would extend benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill to children of military members who succumb to combat-related wounds after a medical discharge, was approved.  The program currently provides education and housing assistance to veterans with at least 90 days of service after Sept. 10, 2011, and is available only to children of soldiers who die while serving on active duty.  AUSA strongly supports this measure.

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., offered a bill (HR 1842) that would permit a court to stay mortgage proceedings against a servicemember while he or she is eligible for hostile-fire or imminent-danger pay.  Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., the subcommittee ranking member, said that the legislation would “provide increased protection against home foreclosure for veterans, specifically veterans who are serving in a combat theater.”  To be covered under the bill, a servicemember would need to notify creditors when he or she is eligible for hostile-fire or imminent-danger pay.  Additionally, the bill also would apply up to one year after a servicemember is medically discharged or placed on convalescent status.

The approved package of bills also included those that would:

* Clarify that separately accredited educational institutions in the same state may consolidate information on veterans enrolled in their programs into one report. (HR 331)

* Permit veterans in a part-time educational program to receive retraining assistance if they are enrolled for at least 16 seat-time hours. (HR 1357)

* Extend the Veterans’ Advisory Committee on Education for two years and include veterans of the post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. (HR 2011)

* Extend homeless veterans reintegration programs for five years. (HR 2150)

* Authorize the Veterans Affairs Department to choose GI benefits for a veteran if the veteran initially elects benefits that are clearly against his or her interests. (HR 2481)

What’s next:  The slate of bills will go to the full Veterans’ Affairs Committee for approval. 

AUSA Family Programs Attends Military Families and Veterans Action Summit

Held in the picturesque landscape of Bainbridge Island, Washington, leaders and members of the military family support community participated in a three-day summit at Islandwood to create an action plan for improving the lives of military families and veterans in Washington State. AUSA Family Programs Director, Patty Barron, was honored to be among the 80 invited participants at the summit. As a member of the Military Families group, AUSA and others identified areas that must be addressed for a service member and his/her family to successfully transition into the civilian sector in the state of Washington. Also discussed were existing programs, the need for a community collaborative, and the identification of an organization or group that will serve as the connector for the community.To learn more about the Military Families and Veterans Action Summit visit their website.  

GI Bill Transferability Changes Take Effect August 1

Starting August 1, retirement eligible service members will be required to make an additional four year service commitment in order to be eligible to transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. This commitment applies regardless of time in service, where previously service members who were at or near retirement eligibility were eligible for options that reduced the service obligation requirements. The upcoming change largely affects senior officers and NCOs who are retirement-eligible, and who previously would have incurred service obligations of zero, one, two or three years when they transferred GI Bill benefits to family members. Read about the additional effects of the rule change here.

Veteran Recruiting Services Virtual Fair

Veteran Recruiting Services will hold a nationwide virtual career fair on July 30. This fair gives the military community, specifically recently separated service members and their spouses, the opportunity to familiarize themselves with dozens of organizations working to serve military families and learn about career possibilities. The service is free and participants can access the career fair from their couch or nearest internet connection. This fair will cover all career industries and takes place from 1-4pm. Those interested should visit the Veteran Recruiting Services website to register and learn more information.

Commissary Rewards Card Observes first Anniversary with Mobile App

On Aug. 8 the Defense Commissary Agency will observe the first anniversary of the Commissary Rewards Card. To coincide with this milestone, a mobile application will be available for patrons using the Apple iPhone. This mobile application can be found in the app store on all iPhones and iPads, allowing patrons the ability to access their rewards card account, select coupons and, review clipped, redeemed and expired coupons. The application also allows patrons to locate commissaries and obtain specific store information such as phone number and address. An Android app is planned for fiscal year 2014. Card users will also see options to receive alerts based on their purchases, reminders of clipped coupons awaiting redemption or expiration, and notices when new coupons are available.

2013 AUSA Annual Meeting and Military Family Forum Registration Open

Registration is now open for the 2013 AUSA Annual Meeting, October 21-23, along with the Military Family Forums. These forums within the Annual Meeting are designed to engage and inform both the military community and the greater civilian community around them. We are excited to connect with military families, share resources, and gain insight from our scheduled speakers and panelists. Our forums this year will feature the Army’s top leaders and in depth discussions about holistic approaches to self-care, outside the installation community resources, and the rapidly expanding world of military community and family support via social networking and online outreach.

We look forward to seeing you in October. Register today

AFAP Celebrates 30 Years and Adapts to Current Fiscal Climate

This July, the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP) celebrates 30 years of grassroots advocacy. At its core is the opportunity for Soldiers, Family members, survivors, retirees, and Civilians across all Army Components to identify, prioritize, and elevate quality of life issues to senior leaders for action and resolution.  In the past, AFAP conferences have been held at the local garrison level where issues were either handled locally or elevated to Army Commands, and if needed, to HQDA. Among the highlights of this process was the opportunity for AFAP delegates from all components to be selected to attend and participate in the HQDA conference, held every year in Washington DC. But in AFAP’s 30th anniversary year the process might be changing, but the “Voice of the Customer” mission will remain intact.  AFAP will transition into a new three tier process: 

1) New issues will enter AFAP at the Garrison/Unit AFAP Conferences which will begin this Fall/Winter.  AFAP delegates will continue to be selected locally and representative of al AFAP constituents.
2) Issues will then be sent to Headquarters, Army Staff for Issue review.
3) Reviewed issues will then be sent to Command Focus Groups for selection of Issues to be brought before the General Officer Steering Committee at HQDA.

The fiscal reality of today’s military is this: programs such as AFAP, that rely so heavily on the perspective and experiences of its constituents must find innovative ways to continue the back and forth discourse with senior leaders. AUSA has always been a proud supporter of AFAP and will continue to be a strong partner in the process.  You too can make a difference. Submit your issues via Army OneSource  or volunteer to be a delegate at your local installation/unit. Make your “VOICE” heard. Although the process has changed, the bottom line has not. The AFAP process is YOUR vehicle for change.

Hagel Announces Cuts to Headquarters Staffs

Funding for the top Defense Department staffs will be cut by 20 percent as Pentagon officials work to craft a strategy-based spending plan that accounts for likely future spending cuts, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday. Speaking to reporters at Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida during a three-day visit to military installations in the Southeast, Hagel said the cuts will take effect for his office and those of the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff and the service chiefs from 2015 to 2019. “Uncertainty is a tremendous enemy for all of us, for obvious reasons,” Hagel said. “I've got to prepare this institution and our people for the facts of life and the reality as it is and the law that is now in place.” Hagel said his major objective for the review the department conducted earlier this year was to prepare for probable future cuts. In a letter to the Senate last week, the secretary outlined possible force cuts and civilian reductions in force that may ensue if sequester remains in place beyond the current fiscal year. Read more here.

Exchange Celebrates 118 Years of Service with Deals at Burger King and Express

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) celebrates a past, present and future of savings and service on July 25, the organization’s 118th anniversary. In recognition of this historic milestone, the Exchange is offering two fantastic dining deals for authorized patrons to enjoy.

First, Express locations worldwide will be offering any size fountain drink or Gold Peak tea free from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on July 25. In addition, Exchange Burger King locations will be serving Whoppers for only $1.18 with the purchase of a medium size or larger drink or fry on July 25 and 26. “Offering these deals to our patrons is just another way to thank current and former service members for everything they do for our country,” said the Exchange’s Senior Enlisted Advisor Chief Master Sgt. Tony Pearson. “As we have done for 118 years, we will continue to go where they go to support them and their families wherever they are called to serve.” Read the full press release here.

Pilot Program Enhances Autism Care and Treatment

The rumor of loss of benefits for military dependents with autism and autism spectrum disorders was dispelled recently when TRICARE outlined a pilot program that will enhance their quality of care. With an estimated 8,500 children of active-duty military families having a form of autism, this was not an issue officials felt comfortable curbing with other budgetary uncertainties. Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs and director of the TRICARE Management Activity said, “We understand that there’s a lot of anxiety in the community of interest around autism about suspected changes that would adversely affect care,” he said. “Providing care to children who have autism spectrum disorder and making sure they get the full range of care they need is a priority to us.” There’s also no change in benefits to anyone enrolled in the basic medical program that began July 2012, Woodson said. An expansion of services through the autism pilot program, he added, will also allow retirees and their families to receive ASD benefits. To read more, click here.

2013 AUSA Annual Meeting and Military Family Forum Registration Open

Registration is now open for the 2013 AUSA Annual Meeting, October 21-23, along with the Military Family Forums. These forums within the Annual Meeting are designed to engage and inform both the military community and the greater civilian community around them. We are excited to connect with military families, share resources, and gain insight from our scheduled speakers and panelists. Our forums this year will feature the Army’s top leaders and in depth discussions about holistic approaches to self-care, outside the installation community resources, and the rapidly expanding world of military community and family support via social networking and online outreach.

We look forward to seeing you in October. Register today

Former DoD Official Has Idea to Cut Down on Waste

Former Department of Defense Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy says the Pentagon should end the “use it or lose it” policy that encourages DoD to spend all of the money in its accounts by the end of every fiscal year, regardless of the soundness of the spending. Doing so would create a more cost-conscious culture by taking away the incentive for program managers to hurry up and spend recklessly at end of the fiscal year.

According to the Federal Times, Flournoy said“Today's system essentially penalizes anyone who does not spend every last dime of their budget by the end of the fiscal year,” at the National Contract Management Association conference held in Nashville last Monday. Flournoy served as Undersecretary from 2009 to 2012.

The reason that DoD managers spend their remaining budgets is that if they don’t Congress is likely to cut program spending the following year.
TREA wholly supports this type of smart, systemic change that would promote more responsible spending plans throughout DoD. This reform would also have the added benefit of lessening the need to reduce DoD personnel costs.

A better system, Flournoy said, would be to reward program managers who meet milestones while saving tax dollars. Those managers could receive accelerated promotions and awards, she said. TREA will keep you updated on any developments.

Congress Trying to Deal with the “Doc Fix” – Permanently

Last Tuesday the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health approved a bill that would do away with the yearly need for the “doc fix” that we have warned of for the past several years. The “doc fix” refers to the need to stop automatic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors that had been enacted into law in 1997. Every year since 2002 Congress has passed legislation to block those cuts.

However, even as Congress blocked the cuts, the law remained in effect, so each year the size of the cuts needed to comply with the law the next year grew, until doctors were facing a 26.5 percent cut in their payments this year.

This new bill doesn’t contain any mechanism to pay for the repeal which means funding for it must be found if it is going to pass.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission has recommended a list of cuts in the Medicare program that would offset the cost of repealing the law requiring the cuts. That list would have drug companies and pharmacy benefit management companies pay just over 31% of the cost, while physicians would pay 27.5% and hospitals would pay 10.6%. The rest of the cost would be shared by managed care plans, home health providers and unnamed “others.”

While Congress would love to get the “doc fix” monkey off their backs, deciding how to pay for it will be the difficult part and there is no guarantee they will be able to reach an agreement.
This is an issue that we have been concerned about every year and we will watch this closely. If they can’t reach an agreement on this “permanent” fix, they will have to go back to a yearly fix. Either way, we’ll be on guard to make sure our members don’t suffer increases in costs or a loss of medical care options in the future.

Commissary Benefit is in Serious Danger

The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits, a group of veteran and military organizations, together with associations of businesses that supply commissaries and exchanges. The coalition had a meeting this past Wednesday.

Congress’ demands for cuts in government spending is having a major impact on the Department of Defense and as a result, almost ALL of the benefits promised to military people are under attack.  In addition, there is a deliberate attempt to try and divide active duty from retirees from Guard/Reserve from veterans.

The mandated furloughs for DoD employees have already resulted in a cutback in store hours in commissaries. But worse cuts could be coming.
While the FY 2014 budget, which begins this October 1 appears to fully fund commissaries, the FY 2015 budget could be devastating. Among the options reported to be under consideration are:

  1. A 30% cut in the number of commissaries;
  2. Closing all commissaries;
  3. Closing commissaries in major metropolitan areas;
  4. Increasing the costs of products in commissaries;
  5. Cutting overseas transportation for commissary products

The most important thing you can do is to shop at your commissary and then let your Senators and Representative know that the commissary benefit is important to you and you don’t want to lose it.

Veterans' Committee Advances Health Care, Benefits Bills

From Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Press Release:
WASHINGTON, July 24 – The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs today approved a package of bills to improve benefits and health care services for veterans and their families.
Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said the package includes a measure to bring the Department of Veterans Affairs in line with a Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. Other legislation approved by the Committee would improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual assault in the military. Another bill would make the VA provide detailed reports to Congress on its effort to eliminate a staggering claims backlog.

 The legislation cleared by the committee would:
• Expand eligibility for benefits for spouses married in states that allow gays to wed. The measure would bring the VA into conformance with a June 26 ruling by the Supreme Court that struck down a federal law that unconstitutionally denied federal benefits for all legally married couples.
• Improve the delivery of care and benefits for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military. The Pentagon in May released a survey estimating that 26,000 people in the armed forces were sexually assaulted last year, up from 19,000 in 2010. This legislation was inspired by Ruth Moore. Raped in 1987 by her Navy supervisor, Moore struggled for 23-years to receive VA disability compensation. Her battle for benefits finally succeeded when she lived in West Danville, Vt., and contacted her congressman, Bernie Sanders, for help.
• Extend to caregivers for veterans of all eras eligibility for the family caregiver program. This program currently provides services and benefits – including a monthly stipend, reimbursement for travel expenses, counseling, training and respite care – to caregivers of seriously injured post-9/11 veterans.
• Require quarterly reports to Congress on efforts to eliminate a backlog of benefits claims by 2015. VA would have to detail both the projected and actual number of claims received, pending, completed and on appeal.
• Improve veterans’ health care through increased access to complementary and alternative medicine, chiropractic care and transportation services.
• Expand access to education benefits for veterans and their survivors, including making recently-separated veterans eligible for tuition at the in-state rate and improving the level of benefits offered to survivors of service members killed on active duty.
• Expand employment opportunities for veterans through new programs that will encourage employers to hire veterans and by renewing the popular Veterans Retraining Assistance Program from VOW to Hire Heroes

House Economic Opportunity Subcommittee Seeks Changes to VRAP

The House Veterans Affairs committee’s subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing last week to consider changing the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) so that veterans can attend school on a part-time schedule. Currently the program requires participants to go to school full-time, but many licensure and certification courses only offer part-time classes.

Over 105,000 veterans have applied to use VRAP, which provides a year of monthly GI Bill benefits for a veteran to attend a full-time training program to learn a new and marketable skill. But only 52,228 of those 105,000 are currently enrolled in school.

The program is limited to veterans ages 35 to 60 who are unemployed when they apply, are not eligible for other veterans education benefits and are not receiving veterans disability benefits based on a determination of unemployability. Those attending training receive $1,564 a month in Montgomery GI Bill benefits.

Congressman Bill Johnson (R-Ohio), the author of HR 1357, said the current program requires spending 18 to 22 hours a week in class to be considered a full-time student. His bill would reduce minimum class time to 16 hours a week since most technical schools only offer 16 hours of instruction a week.
One of the biggest problems veterans face is finding an accredited school with a one-year program. Only two-year public colleges are eligible, eliminating private and for-profit schools, as well as one-year programs offered at four-year public schools, although Johnson’s bill doesn’t address this problem.

 Senate Democrats meet with VSO representatives

Last Wednesday Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senator Mark Begich (D-Alaska) chaired a meeting of 18 Democratic Senators and representatives of several VSOs and MSOs to discuss legislative issues in this session of Congress. Among the Senators present were Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Tom Carper (D-Del.) of Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) Washington Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman represented TREA at the meeting. The focus was on the VA backlog, as well as education and training for veterans, jobs for veterans, the needs of women veterans, and advanced funding for the rest of the VA’s discretionary budget that does not already receive advanced funding.

New Tricare Autistic Therapy Program Starts; Open to Retiree Families

A one year pilot program providing ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy for autism spectrum disorder started last Thursday. For the last several years only active duty family members could receive ABA therapy through the ECHO (Extended Health Care Options) program. When a service member retired they were no longer qualified. For years TREA and many other VSOs fought to change these limitations.

Then last year two things happened. First Congress ordered the creation of a one year TRICARE ABA pilot program. Second a federal judge ruled in a class action case that DOD must provide retirees with ABA therapy if they provided it to the active duty.

The pilot program is complicated (and getting more complicated every day). But this is wonderful news for thousands of military retiree families (DoD’s educated guess is at least 5,400 families will be effected). Again, regardless of the complications this is wonderful news.

DoD Warns of Looming Promotion Freezes

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel informed the Senate Armed Services Committee that if Congress fails to end budget sequestration, DoD could be forced to freeze military promotions, suspend recruiting, put a hold on all PCS orders and make bigger reductions in forces than current law allows.

VA Reevaluates Sleep Apnea Ratings

The Department of Veterans Affairs is studying changes to disability ratings for obstructive sleep apnea, particularly the 50-percent rating being awarded when VA physicians prescribe use of a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, for sleep-deprived veterans. The good news for more than 114,000 veterans already drawing compensation for sleep apnea is their ratings would not be reduced with broad change to the rating schedule. 

Congress Wants Your Feedback on VA

The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs is inviting veterans to complete its new Facebook poll, which asks one simple question: Do you think the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing enough to hold poorly performing employees accountable? Take the poll.

Marathon to Benefit Vet Health Research

Always Brothers invites members of the running community to take part in 100 Miles for One Mind, an ultramarathon to honor military heroes from Washington state and raise money for One Mind for Research, a Seattle nonprofit dedicated to curing brain diseases. Runners, who can register as individuals or as part of a relay team, will depart Leschi Marina at 6 a.m. Aug. 10 and run through south King County and parts of Pierce County before finishing at CenturyLink Field at 9 a.m. Aug. 11. This is the third year Always Brothers, a non-profit fraternal organization made up of Marines, other veterans, and their supporters, has hosted a 100-mile, 24-hour ultramarathon to benefit Marines and their families. The ultramarathon isn't a new sports phenomenon, but this ultra has a special mission: it's not a race. All runners -- Marines and civilians alike -- will start and finish together. This year's event will honor fallen U.S. service men and women from Washington state and will raise awareness and money for One Mind for Research, a Seattlebased non-profit dedicated to improving the lives of people, including veterans, who are affected by traumatic brain injury (TBI), post-traumatic stress (PTS) and other diseases of the brain. For more details, visit the Always Brothers website.

TRICARE Dental Payment Methods Change

Effective October 1, 2013, all TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) beneficiaries will be required to pay their monthly premiums by an Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or through military retired pay allotment. The ability to pay premiums by check or through an online bill pay system will end in September. However, most TRDP enrollees will need to take no action. Delta Dental sent letters to all TRDP participants on July 19 with information on where to submit EFT authorization forms and how to submit an EFT authorization online at the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program website at www.trdp.org. For more information, visit the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program website at www.tricare.mil/trdp.

National Cemeteries: A Sacred Trust

In a partnership of shared mission, the National Cemetery Administration, the Department of the Army, National Park Service and the American Battle Monuments Commission, ensure those who fought for this country are guaranteed a proper burial, their loved ones are comforted and their sacrifice is recognized. This sacred trust began more than a century and a half with the passing of the Omnibus Act of 1862, authorizing the establishment of national cemeteries. Read more about our national cemeteries and VA burial benefits for veterans on the VA VAntage Point Blog and visit the National Cemetery Administration Burial Benefits webpage

Hagel: More Cuts Needed to Salvage Readiness

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel explained Monday the urgent need to cut any unnecessary costs -- to include headquarter staffs -- in order to salvage training and readiness, which is rapidly declining following the massive cuts to the defense budget.

Hagel has reduced the budget for his office by 20 percent. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey will be doing the same. Hagel told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Louisville, Ky.,  to also "expect each military service to make comparable reductions in their headquarters budgets."

"I expect these cuts to not only save us money, but also to result in organizations that are more effective and efficient as well as more agile and versatile," he said.

The defense secretary announced the headquarter cuts during a trip last week to visit bases on the East Coast to address troops and civilian workers as Defense Department civilians faced an 11-day furlough to save the Pentagon money.

Every dollar now spent on large staffs, headquarters and overhead, or facilities not needed, is a dollar not available for training and equipping troops, sustaining vital programs, and taking care of families, Hagel explained.

During a recent visit to Fort Bragg, N.C., Hagel said he found troops already short of training rounds. The Army has also curtailed other training areas, he said, while the Navy is keeping some ships in dock, not at sea.

To preserve military readiness even with the severe budget cuts, Hagel said he has given "clear guidance to the services  ...that they should not retain more people, equipment, and infrastructure that they can support, that they can afford to keep trained and ready."

Hagel noted that readiness "does not have a vocal constituency" when it comes to the budget, most likely a reference to the powerful lobbying and corporate interests who weigh in regularly on the Hill to save major weapons programs.

"You can't buy back readiness" once it has been lost, he said. "You all have fought and put your lives on the line for this country. You did so with the expectation that you would be given the equipment, training, and support you needed to succeed. Many of you, especially those veterans of the Korean War, have seen the costs, measured in precious American lives that come with sending a hollow force into battle."

Given the new financial reality, Hagel said the DoD will have to set clear strategic priorities to implement the Defense Strategic Guidance spelled out by President Obama last year; this includes a larger naval presence in the Pacific, troop reductions in the Army and Marine Corps.

The Pentagon is currently implementing $37 billion in reductions for the current fiscal year. Another $52 billion in sequester cuts looms ahead next year, and so on until the sequester chops $500 billion from federal spending over a 10-year period.

And these are on top of $487 billion in reductions over the next decade as part of the Budget Control Act of 2011, Hagel said.

"Sequestration is an irresponsible process and it is terribly damaging.  I hope that our leaders in Washington will eventually come to some policy resolution, a resolution that stops sequestration," Hagel said.

Hagel also addressed the highly publicized issue of military sexual assault at the VFW national convention. He said he "made clear to DoD's senior leaders that the scourge of sexual assault in the military must be stamped out."

"It is a stain on the honor of millions of military men and women, and it is a threat to the discipline and cohesion of the force," he told the convention.

Hagel said he is meeting weekly with the Pentagon's senior leaders to personally review assault prevention and response efforts and to make sure the directives and programs that have been initiated are being carried out

Army Admits Iraq/Afghanistan Records Were Lost

In a recent letter to the leaders of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Secretary of the Army John McHugh admitted that the Army has lost field records from both Iraq and Afghanistan. Among the missing records were those of dozens of Army and National Guard units, including the 82nd Airborne Division. In fact, at one time there was an estimate that records were missing for as many as 50 brigades and 2 entire divisions. However, McHugh said the Army cannot confirm the accuracy of that estimate and they showed documents were missing completely from 17 brigades, while it had only partial records from another 74 brigades.

These records are critical for both historical research purposes and especially for the service men and women who need them for documentation for health-related claims to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

However, in a five-page enclosure that was sent with the letter it stated, “It is important to note that individual Soldier’s health and service records are kept separately from unit records and are available to the VA.”

It further stated, “Servicemembers may obtain copies of operation records by submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the unit they served with or when filing a claim with the VA. If a servicemember files a claim for health-related benefits, the VA can access the individual’s medical and personnel records through its established process, and work with the Military Services to obtain the necessary documents to help substantiate the claim. In some instances a unit will not have the requested records in its possession and will issue a “no record” response under FOIA.”

McHugh stated that the Army’s goal is to have “one consolidated, catalogued and searchable collection at the Center for Military History” (CMH), which he said has been funded to index and search all operational records in its possession. He also said all Army elements that served in OEF, OIF and OND have been directed to immediately begin transferring their records to CMH, regardless of the format they are in.

Obviously, records that exist in units but have not been transferred to CMH will take awhile to get there and then, if necessary, be converted to an electronic format and/or indexed and catalogued. But the fact that the Army has admitted its problem and has started working on it is a positive step.

Report on South Korean POWS Still Being Held in the North

Last week The Washington Post had a front page article reporting on the continuing fate of South Korean POWs being held in the North. It reported that when the Korean War armistice was signed on July 27th 1953 approximately 80,000 South Korean soldiers were unaccounted for. A few were thought to be dead but most were thought to be Prisoners of War. The armistice called for the 2 Koreas to shop prisoners. The North returned only 8,300.

Instead of returning them the North Korean government had most of them working in coal mines. Starting approximately 20 years ago a few elderly former POWs started to escape back to the South and tell their stories (they fled through the northern tip of North Korea into China and then back to South Korea). 60 Years from the end of the War South Korean authorities think that approximately 500 may still be alive.

The story had no mention of any possible American survivors. To read the whole article, go to: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/some-south-korean-pows-still-trapped-in-the-north-60-years-after-armistice/2013/07/13/0e094914-e54e-11e2-aef3-339619eab080_story.html

Plus the Continuing Problems with North Korea Today

On July 12th the Panamanian authorities boarded and searched a ship, the Chong Chon Gang, because they said they suspected that drugs were being smuggled. When the crew resisted and the Captain attempted to commit suicide they became more suspicious and found that that there were missiles and other military equipment on board travelling from Cuba to North Korea.

On Wednesday Cuba’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that they had sent the weapons to North Korea They said that the shipment was primarily sugar but included “240 metric tons of “obsolete defensive weapons,” including two anti-aircraft “complexes.” (“Volga,” the export version of the Soviet-era SA-2 surface-to-air missile systems, and the “Pechora,” the expert version of the SA-3) Additionally they said the nine missiles, two Mig-21 aircraft, and 15 motors for the jet were that were found were: “to be repaired and returned to Cuba.” They then stated: “The agreements subscribed by Cuba in this field are supported by the need to maintain our defensive capacity in order to preserve national sovereignty.” This, of course raises worries that Cuba may be looking to buy missiles from North Korea. (They exports three variants of the short-range Scud missiles and the medium-range Nodong missile.)

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Continues to Focus on Needs of the Military

Last Tuesday the cfpb along with 26 other federal departments and agencies, state governments and non-for-profits held its first ever Military Consumer Protection Day. It has also stood up a blog to discuss important issues to the full military family. To access some of its very helpful information just click below.

Read the blog: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/your-first-line-of-consumer-defense/

Navy Ship Mail Must Now Use 9 Digit Zip Codes

This week the Navy announced that all mail sent to “Navy ships, squadrons and mobile units” must use the full 9 digit zip code (not merely the 5 digit normal one) or it will be returned to the sender. The statement also said that mail presently en route will be returned if it does have the 9 digit zip code.
Recently the U.S. Postal Service closed 2 of its military mail operations and opened a new center in Chicago. The sorting method has now been changed from manual to automated. And the new automated system requires the 9 digit zip code (5 digits-4 digits.)

The statement said that Commanding officers have been directed to provide sailors with the 9 digit code so they can pass it on to their correspondents.

Renomination of Dempsey and Winnefeld Runs into Problem

On Thursday, July 29th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Dempsey and Vice Chairman Navy Admiral Winnefeld testified before the SASC for their confirmation hearing for a second term as Chairman and Vice Chairman. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) said that he would put a hold on General Dempsey’s nomination because the General refused to give his personnal opinion on which course in Syria is more dangerous either continued limited American action or establishing a no-fly zone and providing significant weapons to the rebels. Gen. Dempsey said he provided advise to the President but refused to say what is was since “ it would be inappropriate for me to try to influence the decision with me rendering an opinion in public about what kind of force we should use." When the Senator said that his stand contradicted his prior promise to provide the Committee his personal views and recommendations even if they conflicted with the Administration’s position Dempsey said he would “let this committee know what my recommendations are at the appropriate time."

The General and Admiral Winnefeld were renominated by President Obama for a second 2 year term on June 26th. Both were also questioned on what to do about sexual assault in the military and what to do about the failings of DoD’s POW/MIA office. There will certainly be more on this in the weeks to come.