Retiree & Veteran Affairs 22 January 2013 

1/22/2013 

 

SUCCESS! FY 2013 NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL REJECTS ADMINISTRATION PROPOSALS

Last week, the president signed the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law.  
 
First and foremost, AUSA would like to salute Congress for recognizing that service in defense of America is not just another job.  A provision in the NDAA said “It is the sense of Congress that—(1) members of the uniformed services and their families endure unique and extraordinary demands and make extraordinary sacrifices over the course of 20 to 30 years of service in protecting freedom for all Americans, as do those who have been medically retired due to the hardships of military service; and (2) access to quality health care services is an earned benefit during retirement in acknowledgment of their contributions of service and sacrifice.”
 
AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition scored a huge victory when Congress voted to reject the administration proposals to increase some TRICARE fees and establish new ones.  They also rejected DoD proposals to drastically increase pharmacy co-pays.  
 
While the bill does include a modest increase in TRICARE pharmacy co-pays for 2013, caps beginning in 2014 will only allow fees to rise by no more than the annual retiree COLA.  
 
To make up the lost revenue from capping co-pays at lower rates, the NDAA requires TRICARE-for-Life eligible beneficiaries use either military pharmacies or the mail-order system for refills of maintenance medications for at least one year.  Look for more information on how this initiative will work as the details become available.
 
While Congress will allow the establishment of a Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, it rejected the administration’s request that members of the commission would all be appointed by the administration.  It also rejected the proposal that any recommendations by the commission would have to be considered by Congress using BRAC-like rules that would have barred any amendments and required an up or down vote.  
 
The NDAA also:
 
* Authorizes a 1.7% pay increase for the military and extends bonuses and special pay.
 
* Caps the number of troops that can be separated from the Army and Marine Corps in a single year.
 
* Requires DOD to develop a comprehensive policy on the prevention of suicide among service members.  It also requires the secretary to establish a position within the Office of the Secretary of Defense that would be responsible for overseeing all suicide prevention and resilience programs of DOD and the military services.
 
* Introduces bipartisan reforms aimed at the way the Defense Department interacts with the private sector, opening more opportunities for small businesses, increasing competition, and spurring innovation.  It also requires the Secretary to develop a national security strategy for the industrial base and eliminates obstacles to small business competition for Defense Department initiatives.
 
* Declines to take up administration requests, such as two rounds of base closure, which could damage vital military infrastructure.
 
* Sustains America's heavy armored production base by maintaining minimum sustained production of Abrams tanks, Bradley fighting vehicles, and Hercules recovery vehicles.
 
* Fully funds the Army Ground Combat Vehicle development program.
 
* Fully funds requests for 50 AH-64 Apaches, 59 UH-60 Blackhawks, and 44 CH-47 Chinooks
 
* Resources underfunded critical dual-use equipment requirements for Guard and Reserve forces.
 
 AVOID, FIX OR DELAY

There will be no rest for the 113th Congress which convened on 3 January.  In their last-minute fiscal cliff deal, Congress not only failed to resolve the sequestration dilemma, they delayed it until March 1, just in time to take up the continuing resolution that expires on 27 March, the bump against the debt ceiling limit in late February/early March and the release of the President’s budget request for fiscal 2014.  The early months of 2013 are going to be rocky!!
 
Here is a breakdown:
 
--Sequestration - Automatic spending cuts (sequestration) to defense and domestic programs which were scheduled to take effect on January 2 were delayed to March 1.  The fiscal cliff deal reduced the required $109 billion sequestration by $24 billion (to $85 billion, with half still to come from defense), and replaced those two months of cuts with a combination of other spending cuts and revenue increases.
 
Also, because defense spending in the current continuing resolution is higher than the cap contained in the 2011 law, the Pentagon is also facing a separate $11 billion sequestration.  The fiscal cliff deal delayed that until March 27.  
 
--Continuing Resolution (CR) - Way back in September 2012, instead of passing routine appropriations bills, Congress approved a CR that extended government spending through March 27.  If the deadline passes and no agreement on spending is reached, Congress can either pass another CR extending the deadline or the government shuts down.  
 
--Debt Ceiling – The debt limit is the total amount of money that the government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations.  Obligations include Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, and tax refunds.  Failure to increase the debt limit would have catastrophic economic consequences, causing the government to default on its legal obligations.  It is anticipated that the government will essentially run out of money by late February/early March. 
 
Members of Congress have already laid down their markers for the upcoming debate.  Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio said that any increase in the debt limit would have to be offset by spending reductions.  So far, the president had said that he will not negotiate on the debt ceiling. Sound familiar?  
 
--President’s FY 2014 Budget Request – The administration’s budget request is due on Capitol Hill by the first Monday in February, which this year is February 4.  However, sources say that it will be delayed until March.  It doesn’t really matter because it will land in Congress at the same time as all of the other big ticket items.  
 
One thing we will not have to worry about until the end of the year is the “doc fix.”  The measure blocks the scheduled 27 percent reduction in the Medicare reimbursement for physician services through December 31.  AUSA wants to thank all of you who took the time to contact your members of Congress on this issue.  
 

SULLIVAN "MOST INFLUENTIAL"

The inaugural 100 Most Influential People in U.S. Defense list, published by Defense News, catalogs the most critical defense leaders in government, the military, and industry.  AUSA President, Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., is on that list.  
 
The publication cited Sullivan for using his position to fight for his beloved service and for making the Association into a vibrant advocate for Army programs, soldiers and their families.  
 
Sullivan and AUSA appreciate the recognition.  As previously stated, the 113th Congress is not going to be easy.  In this current fiscal environment, we may not get much more than we have now, but you can be assured that we will fight tooth and nail to keep what we do have while continuing to press Congress and the Administration to do what is right for our members and the Army.  
 
You can view our Legislative Goals for 2013 by clicking here.  In the coming days, we will be sending our goals to the new Congress to ensure they know where we stand.  Additionally, our leaders will meet with the new members of Congress who sit on the committees that affect defense policy and spending as well as committees related to veterans.  

 Release No. 01-03-13

Jan. 11, 2013

 Officials announce TRICARE Prime service area changes

 By Amaani Lyle

American Forces Press Service

 WASHINGTON (AFRNS) – Retirees and their dependents will be affected when long-delayed reductions to areas where the TRICARE Prime option is offered take place Oct. 1, TRICARE officials said Jan. 9.

 As TRICARE seeks to synchronize service area shifts once staggered by contract delays, some military retirees and their dependents will be moved to TRICARE Standard coverage, S. Dian Lawhon, beneficiary education and support division director, said during a conference call with reporters. Those affected reside more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility or base closure site, she said.

 Active-duty service members and their families will be unaffected.

The new contracts limit Prime networks to regions within a 40-mile radius of military treatment facilities and in areas affected by the 2005 base closure and realignment process, she explained. But provisions will allow Prime beneficiaries who see providers outside the 40-mile service area to remain in Prime if they reside within 100 miles of an available primary care manager and sign an access waiver, she added.

"If TRICARE retirees and young adults live less than 100 miles away from a remaining Prime service area, they can re-enroll in Prime by waiving their drive standards and there will be room made for them," Lawhon said, adding that the networks are required to connect providers to those who elect to waive their drive standards.

Contractors such as United HealthCare Military & Veterans, Health Net Federal Services and Humana Military will continue to assist beneficiaries in obtaining providers in their regions, she added.

"Health care is best if it's local," Lawhon said. "We've established the drive standards [to enable] people to access their primary and specialty care within a reasonable period of time."

Austin Camacho, TRICARE's benefit information and outreach branch chief, said the out-of-pocket, fee-for-service cost of TRICARE Standard would cost a bit more, depending on the frequency of health care use and visits. No cost applies for preventive care such as mammograms, vaccines, cancer screening, prostate examinations and routine check-ups, he added.

Officials estimate the changes will lower overall TRICARE costs by $45 million to $56 million a year, depending on the number of beneficiaries who choose to remain in Prime, Camacho said.

Lawhon and Camacho said beneficiaries should speak to their health care providers and families to assess the best course of action.

 "We're hoping people will take a careful look at their health care needs," Lawhon said. "We have seen that people using the Standard benefit are very pleased with it, and their customer satisfaction is the highest of all." (Courtesy of TRICARE)

Fiscal Crisis Threatens Military Pay… Again

January 17, 2013 | Terry Howell

File this one under the heading, “The more things change the more they stay the same.”

For the last few years each “fiscal crisis” has triggered fear that military servicemembers won’t get paid. This week the President renewed those fears when he stated that “If congressional Republicans refuse to pay Americans bills on time, Social Security benefits, and veterans’ checks will be delayed.” He added, “We might not be able to pay our troops or honor our contract for small business owners.” (read Bryant Jordan’s full article)

Once more it appears that our elected officials are willing to hold military servicemembers, veterans, and the elderly hostage to ensure they get their way. As to be expected, fear and anger spread quickly through the military and veteran communities.

I normally try to avoid editorializing in this blog, which serves as a means to get pay and benefit information out to our members without a particular bent. However, living in this perpetual “groundhog day” nightmare, I can’t avoid sharing my opinion.

As it turns out the very first post in this blog back in August 2010 was about proposed military pay cuts. In March of 2011, the fear was that military paydays would be missed due to a government shutdown. In March of 2012 I wrote an article titled “Is Sequestration Real or Political Brinksmanship?” Those are just a few of the examples of how many times military pay has been on the chopping block in just the last couple of years. By the way, none of these threatened pay cuts, wage freezes, and stoppages actually happened.

I am not pointing this out to say that it can’t happen this time (or next), I am just saying that I am getting fed up with Congress and the White House using our troops as hostages. Enough is enough.

Some in Congress appear to get it. In 2011Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) introduced the Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act of 2011H.R. 1297, this bill never made it to the floor of the House. In response to this year’s flail, Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) announced his intent to introduce a similar military pay protection act. We’ll see how far that goes. I don’t expect to see this bill pass either, after all, why would our government give up their hostages before the negotiations are completed?

Let your elected officials know how you feel about holding military pay and veteran compensation hostage.

Wal-Mart to Hire Veterans

The nation's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, has announced a plan to hire every veteran who wants a job, provided that the veterans have left the military in the previous year and did not receive a dishonorable discharge. The program will officially begin on Memorial Day and will eventually lead to the hiring of more than 100,000 people in the next five years. The new program represents one of the largest hiring commitments for veterans in history.

33 States Waive CDL Test

Maryland has joined 33 other states in agreeing to waive the skills test for veterans and servicemembers who have military training that would entitle them to a commercial driver's license. A provision of the commercial learner's permit rule gives state driver licensing agencies the authority to substitute two years of commercial motor vehicle safe-driving experience in the military equivalents of commercial motor vehicles for the skills-test portion of the commercial driver license. The rule applies to active duty, Reserve, Guard and Coast Guard members, and veterans within 90 days of separation. More states are considering such a waiver. For more information, contact your state's motor vehicle administration or department of transportation.

GI Bill Transferability Update

When initially implemented, the Post-9/11 GI Bill education transfer program was phased in to enable servicemembers nearing retirement to accept a 1-, 2-, or 3-year active-duty service commitment. That phase-in period expired July 31, 2012 and all active-duty now incur a 4-year ADSC. Servicemembers interested in transferring a portion or all of their GI Bill education benefits to family members can contact the education services team at afpc.dpsitedu@us.af.mil. Eligible members can apply to transfer benefits through the MilConnect website at www.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect. Air Force personnel may also apply through the Virtual Military Personnel Flight self-service actions section, accessible via the myPers website or the Air Force Portal. For more information about the Post 9/11 GI Bill and transferring education benefits, visit myPers, and enter "Post 9/11 GI Bill" or "9083" in the search window.

New Overseas Mail Requirements

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently sent out a mandate that all letter mail being shipped to overseas military installations be addressed with a nine-digit zip code, starting January 2013. The policy change came with an upgrade to USPS's mail sorting system and the opening of an additional centralized gateway for receiving and shipping all government mail. The new mail sorting system will enable mail to be delivered and sorted quicker by giving the sorting machines another way to divide up the mail. The new address format will include the box number as a four digit number at the end of the zip code. For more information, visit the USPS website.

Retirees Not Near Bases to Lose TRICARE Prime Oct. 1

Tom Philpott | January 10, 2013

The military's managed-care option -- TRICARE Prime -- will be ended Oct. 1 for retirees, their family members and for military survivors who reside more than 40 miles from a military treatment facility or from a base closure site, TRICARE Management Activity announced Wednesday.

Most of these 171,400 beneficiaries will need to shift health coverage from Prime to TRICARE Standard, the military's fee-for-service health insurance option.  For beneficiaries who use more than preventive health care during the year, the shift will mean higher out-of-pocket costs.

[Let your elected officials know how you feel about this change in TRICARE benefits.]

Defense officials expect the move to save the health care system up to $55 million a year.

The rollback in number of Prime service areas will not impact active duty members or their families living far a military base for tours as recruiters or in other remote assignments.  Their health insurance through the separate TRICARE Prime Remote program will not change.

But grown children of members or of retirees who elected coverage under TRICARE Young Adult insurance will, like retirees, lose access to managed care providers under Prime if they reside more than 40 miles from a base.

TRICARE had considered ending Prime in remote service areas of the West Region on April 1, to coincide with changeover for that region's TRICARE support contactor. On that date, the TriWest Healthcare Alliance will give way to UnitedHealthCare Services of Minnetonka, Minn.

"The primary concern was the beneficiaries.  We didn't feel like we had enough time to notify them and help them through the transition," explained S. Dian Lawhon, director of beneficiary education and support at TRICARE Management Activity headquarters in Falls Church, Va.

Congressional committee staffs also had complained about a staggered start across regions to a major benefit change.  So the Prime service area rollback will occur in the North, South and West regions simultaneously next fall.  This will cause another set of challenges in remote areas of the West Region that an April 1 start there would have avoided.

TriWest needed years to build its current network of providers far from military bases across the region.  UnitedHealth will now be paid additional monies under a contract change order to build its own remote networks of providers.  Those networks will only operate until October.

How successful UnitedHealth can be in luring providers, or even beneficiaries, to new networks that will be dissolved quickly is anyone's guess but the scheme has skeptics.

"They are just kicking the can for six months at significant expense to the government," said one TRICARE contracting official with knowledge of the move. "When they have a [defense budget] sequester looming, proceeding down that path really doesn't make a lot of sense."

TRICARE's far more critical challenge, however, is to educate impacted beneficiaries that their Prime coverage will end and most of them will need to shift to TRICARE Standard.  An aggressive information campaign is planned with the first of three letters of explanation and warning to be sent to affected beneficiaries and families within 30 days, Lawhon said.

Under Prime, beneficiaries get their care from a designated network of providers for a fixed annual enrollment fee, which for fiscal 2013 is set at $269.28 for individual coverage or $538.56 for family. Retirees and family members also are charged a co-pay of $12 per doctor visit.

Under TRICARE Standard, beneficiaries choose their own physicians and pay no annual enrollment fee.  When in need of care, retirees must pay 25 percent of allowable charges themselves.  They also pay an annual deductible of $150 for individual or $300 per family.  Total out-of-pocket costs, however, cannot exceed a $3000 per family catastrophic cap.

Some beneficiaries who see local Prime coverage end will be able to enroll in a remaining Prime network near base.  To do so they would have to reside less than 100 miles from that exiting network and would have to waive the driving-distance standard that TRICARE imposes for patient safety.  That standard when enforced required that an assigned network provider be within a 30-minute drive of the beneficiary's home.

If displaced Prime beneficiaries meet the two requirements, then an existing network will make room for them regardless of number of beneficiaries enrolled, Lawhon said.  But joining a new network also will mean new doctors.  So most displaced Prime beneficiaries are expected to choose to use TRICARE Standard instead to get care locally and, in many cases from the same physicians who treated them under TRICARE Prime.

"People who use Standard are very, very pleased with it," Lawhon said. As a group they report higher scores on customer satisfaction surveys than do Prime user, she said.

The push to end Prime in areas away from bases began in 2007 with design a third generation of TRICARE support contracts. It took years to settle on winning contractors for the three regions, however, due to various bid protests and award reversals.  Health Net Federal Services has run North Region under the new contract since April 2011.  Humana Military Healthcare Services has had the South Region under the new contract since April 2012.  Along with TriWest, these contractors have continued to run remote Prime networks under temporary order while waiting final word from TRICARE on imposing Prime area restrictions written into original contracts.

The driver behind new restrictions on Prime is cost.  Managed care is more cost efficient for the private sector but more expensive for the military to offer than traditional fee-for-service insurance.  This is true in part because Congress won't allow Prime fees to keep pace with health inflation.  So more beneficiaries using Standard means less cost to TRICARE.

Of beneficiaries impacted by the Prime area rollback, more than half, almost 98,000, reside in South Region.  Roughly 36,000 are West Region beneficiaries and more than 37,000 are in the North Region. 

Let your elected officials know how you feel about this change in TRICARE benefits. 

DoD Battles Rumors Over Troops' Meals

A chain email has been circulating online, claiming that "elected officials believe that our military who are deployed overseas don't have a need for breakfast anymore." In response, the DoD has taken to Twitter to clarify that some troops in Afghanistan's Paktika province are receiving Meals, Ready to Eat instead of hot breakfasts as U.S. forces prepared to pull out next year. The decision was based off a need to reduce logistics, not because of budget cuts, military officials said in a statement. "We want to assure you that all soldiers are receiving four meals per day (if they want all four)," the statement said. Making similar changes in other areas would be up to local commanders. 

Eucom Extends Civilian LQA Allowance

The Department of Defense is extending housing allowances by one year for DoD civilians employed overseas by the U.S. European Command who were mistakenly granted the benefit. DoD has directed all components with employees in the Eucom area of responsibility to audit their employees' pay files to determine who is affected. For affected employees, there will be a one-year continuation of living-quarters allowances (LQA) payments and a waiver of indebtedness. DoD policy does not allow blanket waivers, so each affected employee will have to file for a waiver of indebtedness. Each case will be weighed on its individual merits.

ESGR Freedom Award Nomination Deadline

Reserve-component servicemembers have until Jan. 21 to nominate their employers for a 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which recognizes employers who go beyond what the law requires in supporting the National Guardsmen and reservists who work for them in their civilian lives. The Freedom Award is the nation's highest recognition for employers who support Guard and Reserve members, and employers of every size and industry are eligible to receive the honor. Guard and Reserve members, or a family member acting on their behalf, may nominate their employers at The Freedom Award website.

KCI is Hiring Veteran Talent

People Like You Are Our Most Important Asset. KCI offers the excitement and challenges of a growing and innovative company in the medical device marketplace of advanced wounded care solutions -- helping to heal patients, restoring them to active, and productive lives. At KCI, we refer to our employees as "Team Members" because we work together to provide the best products, service and outcomes to our customers. Diversity and prior-servicemembers are central to our hiring efforts and we believe success hinges on integrity, motivation and leadership found in U.S. Military Veterans.

Vet Bonuses in Ohio

Veterans of the Persian Gulf War have only until December 31, 2013 to apply for a tax-free bonus from the state totaling between $150 and $5,700. The only requirements are that the veteran was an Ohio resident when he or she entered the service, is currently an Ohio resident and he or she served at least 90 days on active duty between Aug. 2, 1990, and March 3, 1991. It does not matter whether the applicant was in a combat zone. Veterans of the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars are the only ones who are eligible at this time. For more information, called 1-877-OHIO VET (1-877-644-6838) or visit the Ohio Veterans Bonus Program website

Overview: Thrift Savings Plan

The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement and savings plan available to servicemembers. There are differences between the traditional version of the Thrift Savings Plan and the Roth version. On October 1, servicemembers became eligible to take advantage of a Roth version of the Thrift Savings Plan, where money is deducted from taxed income, but becomes tax-free money when it is withdrawn. However, the traditional TSP is pre-taxed money, so it reduces the amount of your income in that year. Servicemembers can take advantage of TSP from day one of their enlistment through the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). For more information, visit the Thrift Savings Plan website at www.tsp.gov, view the video on TSP on YouTube and visit the Military.com TSP Overview

Security Breach at DODDS Europe

In late-October, 2012, U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity-- Europe (DoDDS-Europe) became aware of the theft of computer memory devices that may have included personal information related to students and sponsors from School Years 2002-03 through this school year. The breach affected four different locations; Aukamm Elementary School, Hainerberg Elementary School, Ansbach Middle High School and Ramstein Intermediate School. Notices have been sent to sponsors of students at these four schools. However, there are a number of names for which no contact information could be found. People possibly affected should be guided by the actions recommended by the Federal Trade Commission at its website and place an initial fraud alert on their credit file. Those with questions and concerns can e-mail Privacy.Office@eu.dodea.edu.

'Healing Heroes' Helps Military Families

A new and unique book has just been released that supports MILITARY FAMILIES who are facing changes due to the injury of someone they love. The book "The Healing Heroes Book: Braving the Changes When Someone You Love Is Wounded in Service" is an activity book and valuable tool for military children and families to help them deal with the feelings and challenges, adjust to the changes, and cope when someone they love is wounded in service. Download sample pages and order the Healing Heroes Book at the Watering Can Press website.

TRICARE Initiates Change

Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, TRICARE will only accept monthly premium payments using recurring automatic payments by credit /debit card or Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) from a linked bank account. For those enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) and TRICARE Reserve Retired (TRR), you must comply by Jan. 1, 2013 to avoid potential loss of coverage for you and your family. For more information, visit the TRICARE website.

Parker Hannifin Committed to Hiring Veterans

Engineering YOUR Success. You were serious about your career in the Military and now we are serious about engineering your success as the nation's most valued talent. Explore working for a company who is the leader in motion and control technologies

A Look at Sleep Apnea

Millions of Americans suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, but many people do not realize they have the condition. So, less than 25 percent of cases are diagnosed. Classified as one or more pauses in breathing during the night, sleep apnea is commonly diagnosed through snoring. With sleep apnea, added breathing abnormalities can happen up to one hundred times per night causing lasting effects during the day including lethargy. Sleep apnea increases the risk of hypertension, stroke and heart attacks, heart failure and heart arrhythmia. There are many methods of treatment. For more information, visit the National Sleep Foundation website at www.sleepfoundation.org. You may also receive disability compensation for sleep apnea -- to find out, fill out this VA questionnaire

TRICARE For Reservists

Reservists are entitled to early TRICARE for up to 180 days prior to their activation, for orders of more than 30 days in support of a contingency operation. This benefit is called Early Identification Date TRICARE (EID-TRICARE). For members to receive the maximum benefit, it is essential to receive orders as early as possible. For more information, visit the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil. A briefing is also available on the AFRC Portal, "Timely Activation Orders for EID-TRICARE Benefits." 

Army Family Scholarships

Army Emergency Relief (AER) scholarships for the academic year 2013-2014 will be available starting, Jan. 2, for spouses and children of Soldiers, retired Soldiers and reserve-component Soldiers on Title 10 orders. The application deadline is May 1. The Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarships are for unmarried children under the age of 23. The Spouse Education Assistance Program Scholarships are based solely on financial need. Applicants of both scholarships must be pursuing their first undergraduate degree at an accredited college or university. Forms and instructions for both scholarships can be found on the Army Emergency Relief website at www.aerhq.org/dnn563/EducationalAssistance.aspx . To request more information, applicants can call 866-878-6378 or email scholarships@aerhq.org. To make a donation to Army Emergency Relief, visit the AER website at www.aerhq.org/dnn563.