Retiree & Veteran Affairs 4 December 2013 

12/4/2013 

 

AUSA ON THE HILL

AUSA’s Vice President for Education Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., and Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper represented AUSA at a military association roundtable hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to discuss issues important to the associations.  Members of Congress also attending included those who sit on committees such as Veterans’ Affairs; Budget; Homeland Security; Military Construction/VA Appropriations subcommittee as well as members of the House Armed Services Committee.

Topics discussed included advance appropriations for the VA budget.  Congress currently funds only the medical care portion of VA’s discretionary budget – roughly 86 percent of the total – one year in advance.   

Also discussed was the House’s proposed 1.8 percent pay increase for members of the military.  The Senate’s bill would provide a 1 percent raise.  Association leaders urged that the House fight for the 1.8 percent raise in conference committee.  They also reiterated their position that there should be no further increases in TRICARE fees or copays.

VA LEGISLATION ADVANCED

Legislation that would expand access to health care and dental care at the Department of Veterans Affairs was voted out of committee by the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs this week and is headed to the full Senate. 

Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced a bill (S. 1604) that would expand access to health care provided by the VA.  A statement released by the committee said that, “Veterans above certain income levels and without serious service-connected disabilities are unable to receive care.  Sanders’ measure would reaffirm the nation’s commitment to those veterans with the most severe service-connected disabilities and lowest incomes, while expanding access to veterans currently unable to enroll in three important ways.”

The bill would (1) require the VA to provide services to certain veterans previously ineligible to receive care when they do not have access to health insurance other than through the Affordable Care Act; (2) extend the period of time combat veterans are eligible to enroll in VA health care from five years to 10 years after discharge from active duty; and, (3) significantly simplify each state’s income threshold for veterans, which would allow additional veterans to enroll the system.

Other legislation advanced by the committee includes:

·       S. 932 - Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013.  Introduced by Sen. Mark Begich, D-AK., the bill would authorize advance appropriations for discretionary Veterans’ Affairs spending.

·       S. 1581 – The Survivors of Military Sexual Assault and Domestic Abuse Act of 2013 would authorize the VA secretary to provide counseling and treatment for sexual trauma victims in the armed forces without initial consultation and referral from the Pentagon.  The measure would also require the secretary to screen veterans for domestic abuse and require reports on military sexual trauma and domestic abuse.  Sen. Sanders introduced this measure.

·       Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced S. 1262 which would establish a veteran’s conservation corps to assist veterans in the transition from military service to civilian life.  The corps would train and employ veterans in conservation, resource management and historic preservation projects as well as disaster relief personnel.

A package of other approved bills includes provisions that would expand access to VA dental care, require reports on hearing loss in the veteran population and ensure veterans have access to immunizations.

CALL TO ACTION!!

Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., needs your help.  After attending a series of high-level meetings on the devastating effect sequestration is having on our nation’s defense forces and the Army, AUSA’s President is asking you to help him get out the message: It is time for politicians to stop talking and act to end sequestration

Sullivan said, “If left in place, the Army will become hollow with furloughed civilians, tiered levels of unit readiness, backlogged pilot training, flying hour cuts, falling crew certification, deferred battle loss replacement and facilities maintenance and cancelled schooling and unit Soldier training that will lower professional leader development and unit readiness.

“All of us understand that the Army must be smaller in an era of fiscal constraint, however, I cannot emphasize enough that sequestration with its rigid implementation and lack of responsible oversight does not allow the Army leadership the funding certainty or financial flexibility to responsibly structure, fund and maintain the Army of the future.”

AUSA’s message is similar to the one that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno gave to the Senate Armed Services Committee at a hearing last week. 

Odierno said, “If Congress does not act to mitigate the magnitude, method and speed of the reductions under the Budget Control Act with sequestration, the Army will be forced to make significant reductions in force structure and end strength.  Such reductions will not allow us to execute the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance, and will make it very difficult to conduct even one sustained major combat operation.

“Ultimately the size of our Army will be determined by the guidance and funding provided by Congress. It is imperative that Congress take action to mitigate and ease sequestration reductions,” Odierno said.

Here is where you come in.  You at the grassroots – chapter – level can make a difference.  Contact your members of Congress.  Tell them that they must stop the madness of sequestration for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 at the very minimum.  That will give the Army leadership time to properly examine endstrength, readiness, and modernization to ensure the best Army in the world remains the best Army in the world. 

But wait!  If you act now, you will also get to send your representative another letter that urges them to attend a classified Members-only briefing before they cast any votes to keep sequestration cuts in place.  The briefing will outline the negative impact of sequestration on our military’s readiness to respond to global events.  Since it is tomorrow, Nov. 14 at 2:00 pm, time is of the essence.  

We have a handy tool that AUSA members (and the general public) can use to get the message out.  Go to the AUSA home page www.ausa.org and click on the red Contact Congress button on the right hand side below the President’s Message.  Then click on the AUSA-suggested message titled “Support a Moratorium on Sequestration”.  The letter urging your representative to attend the classified briefing is titled, “Classified Readiness Hearing for House Members:  Will You Attend?”

It strikes me that what has been created by sequestration is irresponsible, allowing all to say “not my problem” when in reality it is a problem we all must work together to solve.  Gen. Sullivan and the Association sincerely appreciates your help. 

AUSA ON THE HILL

AUSA Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper, along with other representatives of The Military Coalition met with Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I Vt., last week to discuss pressing veteran’s issues.  Sen. Sanders, a strong advocate for veterans, is determined to try to expand Veterans Administration services to more veterans, particularly in the areas of dental care and access to care for category 7 and 8 veterans. 

AUSA is grateful for his advocacy.  After the meeting, Loper attended a press conference called by Sen. Sanders to show support for his initiatives.

VA COLA PASSES HOUSE

The House passed the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013 this week.  The bill authorizes an increase for Department of Veterans’ Affairs disability compensation, clothing allowance and survivor benefits equal to this year’s Social Security COLA – a 1.5 percent increase.

Unlike Social Security benefits, which are automatically adjusted to account for annual increases in the cost of living, veterans’ benefits rely on Congress to pass legislation authorizing the increase every year.

AUSA TESTIFIES BEFORE RETIREMENT COMMISSION

The Defense Department’s claim that, if left unchecked, “personnel costs will consume the entire DoD budget” was among the topics discussed yesterday at a hearing before the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.  AUSA’s Vice President for Education LTG Guy Swan, USA, Ret., represented the Association. 

The Commission was established by the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and is charged with reviewing military compensation and retirement systems and to make recommendations to modernize such systems in order to ensure the long-term viability of the All-Volunteer Force.

Swan told the members of the Commission that the reality with regards to personnel costs is that they have stayed steady at about 30 percent for the last 30 years while the DoD budget continues to take a smaller percentage of total federal spending – about 17% now.  Therefore, in the aggregate, personnel costs have been consuming less of the total federal budget over time.

He also addressed other misconceptions such as:

§  Compensation cost increases since 2001 prove that cost growth is out of control.  AUSA firmly believes that 2001 is the wrong starting point for this argument.  Congress implemented fixes throughout the 2000s to close a pre-existing chronic pay gap, repair recruiting and retention, and deliver promised health care coverage.  Now that the fixes are in place, steep cost increases will not need to continue.

§  The military retirement system is unaffordable and unfair.  In reality, retirement costs as a percentage of pay have remained nearly constant over time.   The 20-year retirement system was designed to ensure that enough mid-career service members would tolerate the hardships of military life and stay for a full career.  It takes 5 – 8 years to create a professional NCO or junior officer and 15-17 years to create a battalion commander or command sergeant major.  Experienced service members must be motivated to remain in service; they are irreplaceable.  Without a robust retirement system, the All-Volunteer Force will not have enough new volunteers when the economy recovers and quality recruits have other career options.

§  Health care costs are eating DoD alive.  In reality, health care represents about 16 percent of the US GDP.  In contrast, health care represents only about 10 percent of the DoD base budget.  You know that DoD has underspent on TRICARE for three straight years by nearly $3 billion.  Growth in FY 12 was .6 percent.  The TRICARE fee increases already put in place by Congress over the past three years mean the system can be sustained in its current cost structure.  Continuous access to high quality health care is earned, deferred compensation for our troops – not an entitlement.  Let’s remember that less than 1 percent of our citizen’s volunteer and they earn every penny they receive.

§  Significant budget savings can be realized by cutting other forms of compensation.  For example, adopting a “Chained CPI” approach for calculating cost-of-living adjustments could cost the average military retiree more than $100,000 over a lifetime, directly reducing quality of life, yet the savings realized from the military retiree population would be very small compared to the overall budget deficit.

The Commission’s report to the president and Congress is due by 1 May 2014 and contain detailed findings and conclusions of the Commission, together with its recommendations for such legislation and administrative actions it may consider appropriate in light of the results of the study.

Did you know that you can submit your comments/opinions to the Commission?  Here is a link to their website.  http://www.mcrmc.gov/index.php/public-comments.  Make sure your voice is heard!

2014 COLA ANNOUNCED

The Social Security Administration announced that the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for 2014 will be 1.5 percent.  This increase affects military retirement pay, VA rates for compensation and pension for disabled veterans and surviving families, and social security recipients and will begin on 1 Jan.

Additionally, based on the increase in average wages, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $117,000 from $113,700.  Of the estimated 165 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2014, about 10 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum.

TRICARE and the Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is now in effect. For most TRICARE beneficiaries, the new law will not have any effect because they meet the minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act. However, there are two groups of TRICARE beneficiaries who do not meet the minimum essential coverage requirement -- those getting care for line-of-duty only related conditions and direct care only beneficiaries. Beneficiaries and retirees not enrolled in any of these health care coverage plans, employer based plans, or Medicare must seek coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace or visit the VA health care website at http://www.va.gov.health for coverage options.

For more information, visit the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil.

Scholarships for Military Children program opens Dec. 3


Applications for the 2014 Scholarships for Military Children Program become available Dec. 3 at commissaries worldwide or on the Internet at http://www.militaryscholar.org.

Applications must be turned in to a commissary by close of business Feb. 28, 2014. Packages must be hand-delivered or shipped via U.S. Postal Service or other delivery methods, not emailed or faxed.

This year's award amount has risen to $2,000, and the program awards at least one scholarship at each commissary with qualified applicants.

An applicant must be a dependent, unmarried child, younger than 21 - or 23, if enrolled as a full-time student at a college or university - of a service member on active duty, Reserve or Guard member, retiree or survivor of a military member who died while on active duty, or survivor of a retiree.

Applicants should ensure that they and their sponsor are enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System database and have a military ID card. The applicant must attend or plan to attend an accredited college or university, full time, in the fall of 2014 or be enrolled in studies designed to transfer to a four-year program.

Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps service members and their families, administers the program. Scholarship Managers, a national, nonprofit, scholarship management services organization, manages and awards the scholarships. Commissary partners and the general public donate money to the program; every dollar donated goes directly to funding the scholarships.

Since inception of the program in 2001, more than $11.3 million in scholarships have been awarded to 7,412 military dependents from more than 71,000 applicants.

For more information, students or sponsors should call Scholarship Managers at 856-616-9311 or email them at militaryscholar@scholarshipmanagers.com.

Commissary Gift Card Program

Commissary gift cards, available in denominations of $25 or $50, are a great way to provide the necessities to your loved ones and friends conveniently and quickly.

Here are five great reasons commissary gift cards are so convenient for giver and receiver:

  1. Card balances can be checked easily by phone and online.
  2. Anyone can purchase the cards for authorized patrons to use.
  3. Cards are available in-store worldwide and on our website.
  4. There is no limit to the number of cards you can purchase.
  5. Cards can be shipped anywhere in the United States as well as to APO, FPO or DPO addresses.

 The Pentagon is considering closing all commissaries in the United States. 

 The President said: “We can do better than that.” -- We can and we must!

 Closing these stores would be a terrible betrayal and more evidence of promises made and promises broken in our military benefits.  Commissaries are a vital part of military pay and compensation. They are one of military families’ most valued earned benefits. They help make ends meet and recognize military service at a time when the Administration says that: programs and services for our military families are more important than ever to take care of our military who have endured 12 years of war.   

And, closure of these stores would be a slap in the face of the thousands of family members and Veterans who work in these stores--employment  the President  and First Lady have so consistently fostered.   

We realize these are tough economic times, and that sequestration and shrinking budgets are forcing the Pentagon to make some drastic decisions. Commissaries have stepped up to the plate and made their fair share of reductions in costs over the years.  Singling them out for outright closure just isn’t right.  

The President asked for a review of military compensation and retirement, and Congress created a commission to do just that. Why would he not allow them to do their job? Why would he let DoD cut commissary benefits before they have had a chance to be thoroughly reviewed?  

We know the President and the First Lady care for our military families because they said so--time and time again.  Our military have fought the good fight for our Nation, now we ask the President to fight the good fight for them!  

Please don’t allow their hard earned commissary benefit to be taken away! 

TAKE ACTION by writing the President

 Join Save Our Benefit.  Like us on Facebook.  

Ask your friends to join our efforts as well!

FRAUD WARNING

The Department of Veterans Affairs has sent out the following warning.

Please be careful
FRAUD ALERT: Veterans should be aware of a marketing scam targeting callers trying to reach the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) National Call Center or GI Bill Call Center. A marketing company has established two fraudulent numbers that differ from the two official VA call center numbers by one digit. If the fraudulent number is dialed by mistake, the answering party will offer a gift card and try to obtain personal and financial information, including credit card information, from the caller. The answering party may even transfer the caller to the VA after the caller’s information is obtained. Note that VA will never ask you for a credit card number or banking information over the phone. Before giving personal sensitive information over the phone, be sure you know who you are talking to.

The numbers to be avoided are:
800-872-1000 (the VA National Call Center number is 800-827-1000)
888-442-4511 (the VA GI Bill Call Center number is 888-442-4551)
VA has notified law enforcement authorities to address this situation.

CBO Issues Report Detailing Cuts in Federal Spending that Can Impact Military Retirees, Vets

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report last Wednesday that detailed a series of spending cuts that have the potential to impact military retirees and veterans. This is just part-in-parcel of what TREA’s Washington Office has been warning about: the mood in Washington, D.C., is one of budget-cutting, and there are no sacred cows any more.

We have always done our best to fight similar proposals off in the past, and we will continue to do so in the future. Here are some of the proposals:

Cap military pay raises — From 2000 through 2010, Congress approved basic pay raises that averaged a half percentage point above private sector wage growth. DOD could save $25 billion from 2015 to 2023 by capping raises yearly at .5 percent below civilian wage growth. CBO predicts only a “minor” effect on force retention.

TREA has fought for higher wage growth for the active duty precisely because Congress failed to pay the military fairly in the face of private-sector wage growth in the 1980s and 90s. The military was not getting ahead with the pay raises of the last decade; they were simply being paid fairly for past wrongs.

While DOD says that the enlisted ranks are paid more highly than 90% of the population of similar age and educational background, they fail to account for those meeting the demanding physical and moral standards of the military. Also, if they are expected to operate the most sophisticated military machine in the history of the world, they should be paid accordingly.

Raise TRICARE fees —One option is to have TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) users — retirees, spouses and survivors age 65 and older — pay the first $550 of costs not covered by Medicare and then 50 percent of the next $4,950. CBO says this would slow TRICARE costs by $31 billion from 2015 to 2023 but also save Medicare dollars as older beneficiaries seek fewer health services. Besides shifting responsibility for the debt on the backs of military retirees, another drawback is that some TLF users might not seek needed preventive care or manage their chronic conditions as closely as they do now.

Another argument against it is that it breaks a moral contract with those who have already answered the call of duty for their country. They already paid for healthcare up front through their sacrifice and service, and the military coalition will fight any such proposals to make them pay more.

Another option targets “working age” retirees and families enrolled in TRICARE Prime. This option raises fees, deductibles and co-pays. The Prime changes for retirees could save from $2 billion to $11 billion by 2023, depending on final details.

Concurrent receipt — We have fought for years to get concurrent receipt for military retirees who have a disability rating over 50% from the VA. Now the CBO is suggesting that our victory be turned back. CBO says $108 billion could be saved from 2015 to 2023 if the ban on concurrent receipt were restored for current and future retirees.

The report says that allowing concurrent receipt encouraged many more retirees to seek a VA disability rating.

The problem, however, is that VA disability ratings are designed to compensate veterans for disabilities suffered in service to their country, in other words, “to make them whole.” Military retired pay is designed to reward those who spend twenty years or more of their lives serving their country. The two are entirely different concepts.

Needless to say, all of these options are non-starters. We will fight them on Capitol Hill, making sure the voice of the enlisted ranks is represented when Congress starts making actual budget-cutting decisions. It is more important than ever that you support our efforts, and that you tell your friends and family what is going on so that they contact their representatives in Congress and tell them to look elsewhere for budget savings.

REA Testifies Before Military Compensation and Pension Modernization Commission

TREA recently spent two hours testifying before the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCPMC) on the needs and concerns of the enlisted ranks of all branches of the uniformed services. Deirdre Parke Holleman, TREA’s Washington Executive Director, was one of three representatives on the enlisted panel. It was an active, interested and engaged panel of six Commissioners who listened about pay, retirement TRICARE, commissaries and exchanges, VA benefits, education benefits and much more.

This is a dangerous time for all uniformed services earned benefits. IT IS CRITICAL THAT YOU LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD.  

The MCPMC is a group of officials who clearly are willing to listen. As we have previously told you they have a website where they are asking for and collecting comments from the public. Please let them know what these earned benefits mean to you. Go to www.mcrmc.gov click on comment and tell them the importance of these earned benefits.

Army Announcement Concerning AKO Accounts

The Army has issued the following notices and asked that we distribute it to our members. All Army retirees and family members who have AKO accounts please take note.

Retirees, family members must enable AKO email auto-forwarding by December 31

By Army CIO/G-6 and PEO EIS

Retirees and family members should activate the forwarding function in their Army Knowledge Online account profile before Dec. 31, 2013, when their email will no longer be accessible.

As of Jan. 1, 2014, they cannot log into their inboxes or reach information and messages archived in Army Knowledge Online, known as AKO, email folders.

As part of the Army's AKO transition to enterprise services, Army retirees and family members can have their AKO email automatically forwarded to a commercial email address until Dec. 31, 2014. In the past, users could only forward AKO email to a government email address.

Users may need to update business and billing accounts, such as utilities, credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions, mailing lists, etc., if AKO email was used for these accounts. Retirees may need to update their myPay email address to continue getting messages from the Defense and Accounting System.

Retirees and family members who use AKO email as their primary email should sign up for an alternate email account before Dec. 31, 2013, and have email forwarded.

Through DOD Self-Service Logon or DSLogon, retirees and family members continue to have access to personnel and benefits information on DOD and Veterans Administration, or VA, websites. During the transition, AKO email addresses can be used to logon to DOD and VA websites until Mar. 31, 2014. Starting in April, these websites can only be accessed through DSLogon or an alternate method.

All Soldiers (active duty, Guard/Reserve, retirees, veterans) and eligible family members can obtain a DSLogon account, which allows access using a single username and password. DSLogon complies with federal security guidelines and provides a secure user experience. Users must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System to obtain an account.

For sites not currently using DSLogon, such as MyPay, users must establish an individual username and password.

The Army remains committed to virtually connect with all retirees and family members. The Army public website, www.army.mil, remains the source of official Army news, information, and social media. It is accessible from any location and on any device.

All Army business processes will move off the current AKO platform onto next-generation enterprise services over the course of several years; migration is expected by fiscal year 2017.

The Army is currently modernizing the AKO infrastructure and services to become more interoperable across DOD, to lower cost and to improve efficiency and security. The Army is moving toward enterprise services for collaboration, content management, and unified capabilities (including chat, voice and video over IP), which all draw on the identity service underpinning DOD Enterprise Email.

AKO and many official Army sites will only be accessible via the government-issued Common Access Card, known as a CAC. Because retirees and family members are not eligible for CACs, they will no longer have access to AKO.

The Army established AKO in the late 1990s to provide online information services for U.S. Army personnel, and then later extended some AKO services to retirees and family members. Services have included email, collaboration, discussion forums, a directory, and direct access to many DOD and VA websites.

Carper Announces Military TSA Program at Airports

From press release:
Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as Reservists and National Guard members, eligible for expedited screening

Senator Tom Carper (D-Del), chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, announced a partnership between the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Defense to expand expedited screening benefits to all U.S. Armed Forces service members, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard, at participating airports around the country, including Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI).

Currently, members of the U.S. Armed Forces can utilize TSA Pre ê lanes at 10 domestic airports by presenting their Common Access Card. The partnership expands the program to the military at 100 airports offering TSA Pre ê, allowing service members to keep their footwear on as well as light outerwear, belts, laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry on in select screening lanes.

The new process being established under this agreement allows all active duty, U.S. Coast Guard, Reserve and National Guard service members to use their DoD identification number when making reservations. That ID number will be used as their Known Traveler Number. When arriving at the airport, service members will then be permitted access to TSA Pre ê lanes for official or leisure travel on participating airlines.

A list of participating airports can be found here: http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/tsa-precheck-participating-airports

Further information on TSA Pre?™ for military members can be found at www.TSA.gov and www.defensetravel.dod.mil.

Businesses to Hire 10,000 Veterans

Starbucks has announced that they are planning to hire at least 10,000 military veterans and active-duty spouses over the next five years as part of a plan to grow their workforce by 200,000 over the same time period. Starbucks aims to have a total workforce of 500,000. AT&T announced a plan to hire 5,000 veterans over the next five years, which they, too, have expanded to 10,000.

Additionally, Subway has announced special waivers for veterans who want to become franchisees. The standard license fee of $15,000 will be waived for any veteran who wishes to start a Subway restaurant on a government or military site, and the fee will be cut in half for development anywhere else.

Heller, Heitkamp Introduce Bill to Help Homeless Vets

From press release:
Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act of 2013. This bipartisan legislation exempts the VA’s Aid & Attendance benefit from being considered as income when applying for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides the aid and attendance benefit to veterans with little or no income.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) distributes the aid and attendance benefit as part of an enhanced pension program. The benefit is specifically designed for wartime veterans who are severely disabled and have little or no income. A number of these veterans also rely on housing assistance through HUD.

Under current law, the aid and attendance benefit is counted as income when determining eligibility for housing assistance through HUD, which ultimately reduces the availability of housing assistance for low-income, severely disabled vets. Heller and Heitkamp are seeking to exempt from consideration of income by HUD any expenses related to a veteran’s aid and attendance benefit.

Similar legislation introduced by Representative Joe Heck (R-Nev.-3) passed the House of Representatives in October.

Senate Fights Over National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

For more than a half century Congress has always managed to pass the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), even if they could pass nothing else. However, some people are wondering if that record will come to a halt this year.
The House of Representatives passed its version of the NDAA several months ago but the bill has just been taken up on the Senate floor only recently. One of the most contentious issues is how to handle military sexual assault cases. Interestingly, this is not a partisan issue as there are Senators from both parties who are on both sides of this issue.

Senators have been unable to reach agreement on which of the more than 400 amendments to the bill to bring up for debate and a vote and out of frustration Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to end debate on the bill this week. However, he fell short of the votes he needed.

Most people expect Reid to bring the bill back up in December but with partisan anger having been increased in the last few days no one is sure if the Senate will manage to pass the bill.

If the Senate does pass it, it will still need to go to a Senate-House conference committee to work out the differences in the bills. However, Congress is not scheduled to be in session for almost half of December.

This is an extremely important bill for military people and TREA is urging the Senate to get their job done and pass the bill.

AUSA Family Readiness Holiday "Survival" Guide

Somehow, it’s that time of year again. Cooking to do, errands to run, presents to buy, in-laws to keep happy, kids to pick-up from college, the works. The holidays usually leave us with warm memories, but truth be told, it can all be a little stressful in the heat of the season. Every year we make promises to do things differently next time around (how did that Christmas shopping in July work out?), but ultimately end up at the same frazzled pace. Coupling the holiday bustle with the many stressors that often come with everyday military life (deployments, relocation, school, jobs) and you could have a recipe for complete burn- out come New Year’s Day. Here are some tips to help you sail into 2014 unscathed by holiday fatigue.

Scale Back and Stay Organized

 It would be nice if we could just announce “ALL PARTIES AND GIFT EXCHANGES ARE CANCELLED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE,” but it would probably be difficult to get everyone on board. So even though you can’t scrap all of your responsibilities altogether, it is okay to scale back a bit. You don’t have to attend every ugly holiday sweater party or make sure everyone attending a Christmas party in the tri-state area gets to taste your famous crab dip. If you’re worried you’ve already bitten off more than you can chew, don’t worry, you can still manage it. It sounds almost too easy, but start by making a list of things you need to buy or bring. Don’t get overwhelmed if the list initially seems to run down the page, off the table, and out the door. Now review your list, stopping next to each item to ask, “Is this really a must-do?” Be honest, and if the task still makes the cut, put it in the queue in order of “due date.” Most people think of present opening day as the absolute deadline for gift buying; a mindset that leaves for last-minute –panic-attack- inducing trips to the mall. Set a deadline for buying presents, and actually take the time to meet that deadline, wrap presents as you get them, and be done with it. Same goes for parties you attend (or throw). What can be done in advance and what can easily be done on the day of your event? Don’t be afraid to enlist help from those who ask, “Can I help with something?” Also, take a few cheats from the grocery store now and again. When it comes down to it, your kid’s classmates are just happy to have cookies, store bought or not.

Take Care of Yourself

The holiday fun stops for most of us come January, but for the workout industry, it’s just beginning. We’re sure you notice the uptick in attendance at your gym of people getting “back on the wagon” after a month of sampling every slice of pie and sugary drink, but you won’t have to join the millions with the “fix it” mentally if you incorporate a few preventative measures now. You don’t need to say no to holiday treats altogether, just as you don’t have to adopt the training schedule of a competitive athlete to offset a few rich meals. Just try to do something. At our recent AUSA Annual Meeting Military Family Forums, Surgeon General LTG Horoho recommended at least 30 minutes of daily activity. It doesn’t have to be strenuous- even taking the dog for a walk counts. Staying active also allows you to avoid mental fatigue and the dreaded feeling of cabin fever. Take as few as 10 minutes each day and put yourself in a “time-out” to de-stress and give your mind some much needed R & R. And don’t forget to sleep—it allows your body to fully recharge and will help you make the most of your days! Learn more about holistic self- care by watching our 2nd Military Family Forum at the Family Readiness page.

Enjoy the Season

This should be easy enough, but in the midst of all the holiday chaos, it can be easy to forget that this whole season should be about enjoying time with friends and loved ones (and getting a few new sweaters). So make the time to reconnect with the people you care about, and take advantage of the activities in your community.

Get organized, stay mentally and physically active, and enjoy yourself: that’s our recipe for a successful and healthy holiday season! Let us know if these tips work out for you and stay connected with Family Readiness by following us on Facebook, on Twitter at @ausafamprgms, and at www.ausa.org/family. 

National Military Family Association Military Spouse Scholarship Open Dec 1

The National Military Family Association’s Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship application period opens December 1 at 9AM. Scholarships are awarded to spouses of all uniformed service members: active duty, National Guard and Reserve, retirees, and survivors. The scholarship funds may be used for tuition, fees, and school room and board for GED or ESL, vocational training and professional certification, licensure fees, degree seeking (undergraduate and graduate degrees, including Ph.Ds. and post-doctoral programs), and more. Scholarship selection is based on your completion of survey questions, short-answer questions, and an essay question. You must be a military spouse to apply.

Pentagon Launches Major Child Abuse Study

The Defense Department’s newly organized child abuse working group will conduct a rapid review of child and domestic abuse and will issue its first report in February 2014.The group project, which will last a year, was ordered in light of recent revelations of widespread child abuse in the services. Two “rapid improvement events” are planned. An initial study to begin this month will focus on child abuse and neglect. A second will look at domestic and intimate partner abuse starting in January. The group is sponsored by the Office of Military Community and Family Policy. Its members include representatives of all four services as well as commanders and experts from the Family Advocacy Program; the medical, legal, law enforcement and chaplain communities; family programs; child and youth programs; and the Department of Defense Education Activity. Read the full report here.

Tips for At-Home Safety during Deployment

Are you doing all that you can to keep you and your family safe and secure? Military Spouse shares a few tips, even ones so simple you’ve probably overlooked them, to keep you, your house, and your deployed spouse safe: - Always lock your doors and windows, even when you are home. - Get to know your neighbors and your neighborhood - Maintain your yard and house - Have emergency numbers readily available.

TRICARE Provides Preventive Care

TRICARE supports military families, retirees and other eligible beneficiaries with prevention-based information and resources, a focus on family-centered care, and supportive programs and services to help them "take charge" of their health all year. Some of the preventive services TRICARE covers are: (1) breast cancer exams/mammograms, (2) immunizations, (3) prostate cancer exams, (4) well child care, and (5) cholesterol testing. Costs for these preventive services vary based on an individual's TRICARE plan. TRICARE Standard beneficiaries may have to pay some cost shares for some preventive services, but most are cost-free. For more information on preventative services covered under TRICARE, visit the TRICARE Preventive Care webpage at www.tricare.mil/preventivecare.

Transferring GI Bill Benefits

Servicemembers have the opportunity to transfer the benefit to immediate family members. Legally, GI Bill benefits are tiered based on the number of days served on active duty, giving activated National Guard and Reserve members the same benefits as all other active duty members. These benefits include: (1) up to the full amount of tuition and fees for a state-operated college or university; (2) monthly housing allowance, which is based upon the location of the school; and (3) annual books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000. The Post-9/11 GI Bill also provides work-study programs, tutorial assistance and license and certification test reimbursement. For more information, visit VA's GI Bill website at http://www.gibill.va.gov/.

Learn more about transferring GI Bill benefits.

The Patient's Role in Patient Care

When it comes to health care, each patient is ultimately responsible for getting the care they need. First, patients should know or have a copy of their health history including prior hospitalizations and a list of current and past medical problems. This includes the most current copies of test results, x-rays, and labs. Next, be sure to have a list of all current medication --prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins and herbal supplements, as well as the dosage. Next, make a written list of the top three to five issues to be discussed with the doctor. Finally, know and understand your TRICARE health care benefit; especially what it does and does not cover. For more information, visit the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil/plans.

Same-Sex Spouses Eligible for Benefits

Federal employees with same-sex spouses are now provided the same Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) coverage as those with opposite-sex spouses. Included in FMLA benefits are the right to take FMLA leave to care for a spouse with a serious health condition or who gives birth to a child, to care for a spouse who is a covered servicemember with an injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the .line of duty on active duty, or for qualifying exigencies while a spouse is on active duty or has been notified of an impending call to activate. Employees who had to use other leave to care for a same-sex spouse between June 26 and Oct. 21 may be able to re-designate that time off as FMLA leave. Airmen can obtain more information about civilian benefits and other personnel issues, visit the myPers website at https://mypers.af.mil.

One Million Now Benefit from Post-9/11 GI Bill

Over $30 Billion in Benefits for Veterans, Servicemembers, Families

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently announced that 1 million Veterans, Servicemembers, and family members have benefited from the Post-9/11 GI Bill since the program’s inception in August 2009.

The Veterans Benefits Administration, which administers the program, has distributed over $30 billion in the form of tuition and other education-related payments to Veterans, Servicemembers, and their families; and to the universities, colleges, and trade schools they attend.

"This is one of the most important programs helping our Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans reach their educational goals and find a good job,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We're proud this important benefit is making such a big difference in the lives of so many Veterans and their families."

“Over the next few years, as more than a million service men and women end their military careers and return to civilian life, education will be at the forefront of that transition,” said Dr. Jill Biden. “As a community college teacher, I have seen firsthand the qualities our veterans bring to the classroom – dedication, a sense of teamwork, and a commitment to their work. Helping our veterans succeed in the classroom so they can go on to find good jobs to support their families is one important way we can thank them for their service.”

Today, VA announced that Steven Ferraro, who is currently attending Middlesex County College, a public community college in Edison, N.J., has been identified as the 1 millionth Post-9/11 GI Bill beneficiary. Ferraro served in the Army from 2003-2013 and deployed to Iraq in 2008 as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is the father of three and is majoring in communications.

“I thought it was a great privilege to be the one millionth recipient of the GI Bill,” said Ferraro. “Coming back to college after leaving the military, it was a great stepping stone for me and my family.”

“We are pleased that the Post-9/11 generation of Veterans is taking advantage of this significant benefit program,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “The scope of the program we’ve administered thus far would fund the undergraduate student bodies of Virginia Tech, Ohio State University, West Virginia University, and University of Florida combined – for eight years.”

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a comprehensive education benefit created by Congress in 2008. In general, Veterans and Servicemembers who have served on active duty for 90 or more days since Sept. 10, 2001 are eligible. On average, VA processes the initial claims for Post-9/11 GI Bill educational benefits in 23 days.

VA’s new automated processing system, called the Long-Term Solution, uses more than 1,600 business rules to support end-to-end automation of Post-9/11 GI Bill claims, ensuring accurate payments without the need for manual handling, also resulting in quicker processing of education claims.

Servicemembers have the opportunity to transfer the benefit to immediate family members. Legally, GI Bill benefits are tiered based on the number of days served on active duty, giving activated National Guard and Reserve members the same benefits as all other active duty members. These benefits include:

  • Up to the full amount of tuition and fees for a state-operated college or university. The Yellow Ribbon Program may provide additional assistance for students attending private institutions or who are charged out-of-state tuition and fees;
  • Monthly housing allowance, which is based upon the location of the school; and
  • Annual books and supplies stipend of up to $1,000.  

The Post-9/11 GI Bill also provides work-study programs, tutorial assistance and license and certification test reimbursement.

Enacted in 1944, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, known as the “GI Bill of Rights;” recognized that military service was an inherently selfless act which demanded a certain amount of compensation. As a result of the bill, nearly half of the 16 million Veterans of World War II went to school and received an education – helping to rejuvenate the post-war economy and transform not only the lives of Veterans, but the fabric of the nation.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill builds on the same great legacy of the original GI Bill, giving Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans and their families a chance to improve their lives and invest in their future through higher education. For more information on VA education benefits go to http://www.gibill.va.gov/

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Begins Accepting Payday Loan Complaints

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is now accepting complaints from borrowers encountering problems with payday loans. Payday loans, also known as “cash advances” or “check loans,” are often short-term, small-dollar loans, generally for $500 or less.

“Before the Consumer Bureau, consumers who had trouble with payday lending products had few places to turn,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “By accepting consumer complaints about payday loans, we will be giving people a greater voice in this market.”

Payday loans are often described as a way for consumers to bridge a cash flow shortage between paychecks or the receipt of other income. They can offer quick access to credit, especially for consumers who may not qualify for other credit, but can come at a high cost. Many payday loans are for small-dollar amounts that must be repaid in full in a short period of time. Payment is generally due the next time the borrower gets paid -- meaning the loan may require repayment in only a few weeks. Many lenders require that borrowers grant them advance access to checking accounts in order to repay the loans.  

Payday lenders have sprung up across the country over the past 20 years, beginning in storefront locations. Many payday loans now are also offered through the Internet. The CFPB has authority to oversee the payday loan market and began its supervision of payday lenders in January 2012. The CFPB has taken a number of steps to learn more about the marketplace for payday loans, and released a report on payday loans earlier this year. That report found that payday products can lead to a cycle of indebtedness for many consumers.

Consumers can submit payday loan complaints to the Bureau about:
Unexpected fees or interest
Unauthorized or incorrect charges to their bank account
Payments not being credited to their loan
Problems contacting the lender
Receiving a loan they did not apply for
Not receiving money after they applied for a loan

The CFPB began taking consumer credit card complaints on July 21, 2011, and now accepts complaints about mortgages, bank accounts and services, private student loans, consumer loans, credit reporting, debt collection, and money transfers. The Bureau requests that companies respond to complaints within 15 days and describe the steps they have taken or plan to take. The CFPB expects companies to close all but the most complicated complaints within 60 days. Consumers are given a tracking number after submitting a complaint and can check the status of their complaint by logging on to the CFPB website.

To submit a complaint, consumers can:
Go online at www.consumerfinance.gov/Complaint
Call the toll-free phone number at 1-855-411-CFPB (2372) or TTY/TDD phone number at 1-855-729-CFPB (2372)
Fax the CFPB at 1-855-237-2392
Mail a letter to: Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, P.O. Box 4503, Iowa City, Iowa 52244

Additionally, through AskCFPB, consumers can get clear, unbiased answers to their questions about payday loans at consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb or by calling 1-855-411-CFPB (2372).
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The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a 21st century agency that helps consumer finance markets work by making rules more effective, by consistently and fairly enforcing those rules, and by empowering consumers to take more control over their economic lives. For more information, visit consumerfinance.gov.

Commissaries to Scan ID Cards at Checkout
from DeCa Public Affairs Division:

The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) has announced that commissaries will begin scanning customers' Department of Defense ID cards at checkouts.

The commissary at Fort Lee, Va., became the first store to scan ID cards on Oct. 22 and other stores began doing the same Nov. 10. The rollout will be completed by mid-January.

The change was made because by scanning the ID at checkout DeCA will no longer need to maintain any personal information on customers in its computer systems, such as the system used for customers who write checks.

Cross-referenced with other DOD data, the scan data will give DeCA useful information about patron usage, by military service, along with customer demographics that does not identify specific personal data of an individual. This will eventually help the agency identify shopping needs and preferences - information that is essential in today's retail business environment. It will also allow more accurate reporting to the military services on commissary usage.

The demographic information DeCA will use is strictly limited to: card ID number, rank, military status, branch of service, age, household size and ZIP codes of residence and duty station. DeCA will not be using any personal information such as names, addresses or phone numbers.

VA Offers Dental Insurance Program
From VA press release:

VA is partnering with Delta Dental and MetLife to allow eligible Veterans, plus family members receiving care under the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), to purchase affordable dental insurance beginning Nov. 15, VA officials have announced.

“VA continues to explore innovative ways to help Veterans get access to the care and services they have earned and deserve,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This new dental program is another example of VA creating partnerships with the private sector to deliver a range of high-quality care at an affordable cost, for our Nation’s Veterans.”

More than 8 million Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care can choose to purchase one of the offered dental plans. This three-year pilot has been designed for Veterans with no dental coverage, or those eligible for VA dental care who would like to purchase additional coverage. Participation will not affect entitlement to VA dental services and treatment.

There are no eligibility limitations based on service-connected disability rating or enrollment priority assignment. People interested in participating may complete an application online through either Delta Dental, www.deltadentalvadip.org, or MetLife, www.metlife.com/vadip beginning Nov. 15. Coverage for this new dental insurance will begin Jan. 1, 2014, and will be available throughout the United States and its territories.

Also eligible for the new benefits are nearly 400,000 spouses and dependent children who are reimbursed for most medical expenses under VA’s CHAMPVA program. Generally, CHAMPVA participants are spouses, survivors or dependent children of Veterans officially rated as “permanently and totally” disabled by a service-connected condition.

Dental services under the new program vary by plan and include diagnostic, preventive, surgical, emergency and endodontic/restorative treatment. Enrollment in the VA Dental Insurance Plan (VADIP) is voluntary. Participants are responsible for all premiums, which range from $8.65 to $52.90 per month for individual plans. Copayments and other charges may apply.

Historically VA’s free dental services have gone to Veterans with dental problems connected to a medical condition that’s officially certified as “service connected.” Free dental services will continue for those Veterans.

For more information on VADIP, visit www.va.gov/healthbenefits/vadip, or contact Delta Dental at 1-855-370-3303 or MetLife at 1-888-310-1681.

Veterans who are not enrolled in the VA health care system can apply at any time by visiting www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll, calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387) or visiting their local VA health care facility.

Cartwright Introduces Legislation to Protect Federal and Military Retirees from Exploitation

Congressman Matt Cartwright (D-Penn.) has introduced the Annuity Safety and Security Under Reasonable Enforcement (ASSURE) Act along with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va). The legislation, introduced with the support of 38 colleagues, aims to protect federal and military retirees by expanding ‘Truth in Lending Act’ disclosure provisions to any situation where a federal or military pension is used as consideration for an “advance.” The bill also caps the interest rate on such an “advance” at prime plus six percent. Currently, there is no private right of action in many of the applicable federal statutes that prohibit pension assignments. This bill allows for such an action.

These simple measures will protect federal retirees from exploitation, allow individuals to assert their rights in court, and ensure that retirees maintain their financial independence.

“While current federal law already prohibits federal and military retirees from assigning their pensions to a third party, many companies have resorted to skirting state and federal laws by requiring the retiree to deposit his or her pension in a separate bank account controlled by the firm,” said Cartwright. “Moreover, firms refer to the product they sell as a “pension advance” rather than a loan. In reality, these “advances” require borrowers to sign over all or part of their monthly pension checks and carry interest rates that are often many times higher than those on credit cards.”

A review by The New York Times of more than two dozen contracts for pension-based loans found that after factoring in various fees, the effective interest rates ranged from 27 percent to 106 percent — information not disclosed in the ads or in the contracts themselves. Furthermore, to qualify for one of the loans, borrowers are sometimes required to take out a life insurance policy that names the lender as the sole beneficiary.

In May 2013 the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee launched an investigation into this practice. Moreover, several state regulators initiated investigations into these practices, most notably in New York and Massachusetts. Unfortunately, the pension lending companies continue to target retirees who often have little or no recourse.

“Federal workers, military career servicemen and women, and postal workers spend a lifetime earning a federal annuity, an annuity to which they’ve contributed each paycheck. Federal annuities were designed to provide retirees with a stream of guaranteed income that gives them a sense of financial security in their golden years. Unfortunately, pension advance companies often prey upon federal retirees and veterans,” said Cartwright.

“The ASSURE Act provides protection to American retirees from predatory lenders who go to great lengths to target and mislead retirees in their most vulnerable moments,” said Jeanette Dwyer, President of the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, endorsing the ASSURE Act. “Through selling ‘pension advances’, they coerce federal and military retirees to sign away the rights to the retirement benefits that they worked their whole lives to accrue, only to leave them no recourse after the fact. The ASSURE Act caps interest rates on these types of loans and creates a private right of action to protect those exploited by predatory lenders.”

Save Time, Do It Online with TRICARE Tools

Military life is full of change and transition. From permanent change of station moves to dis-enrolling and reenrolling children in school, service members and their families have a list of tasks to complete to make sure their families have everything they need when they need it, including access to health care. TRICARE eliminates some of this stress with tools that give beneficiaries the power to learn about the plans they qualify for, and then compare plans to make sure they have the health care coverage they need.

Although the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) determines eligibility, beneficiaries can find out which TRICARE plans their family may be qualified to use with the TRICARE Plan Finder. Log on to www.tricare.mil/planfinder to use the Plan Finder tool. It can be completed by the sponsor or a family member. After answering a series of questions, the tool displays a list of plans beneficiaries may be eligible to use based on the responses provided. To compare plans, visit www.tricare.mil/compareplans to learn the differences between the plans available. The tool features side-by-side comparisons of the TRICARE plans to make sure beneficiaries have the information to make the best decision for their family.

To be eligible for any TRICARE plan, beneficiaries must be registered in DEERS. New members should be registered in DEERS as soon as possible, including newborns. It’s also important update contact information. To do this, sign into milConnect at https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/milconnect. Choose "My Profile," click "Update and View My Profile,” make the necessary changes and press submit.

Beneficiaries must add or remove family members to their DEERS record in person at the nearest military ID card issuing facility, however, appointments can be made online at https://rapids-appointments.dmdc.osd.mil. Military transitions can leave beneficiaries feeling stressed with many things to be done and no time to do them. Save some time by using TRICARE’s online tools.

Forty Percent of Veterans in New York City Need Food Assistance According to Report

According to a report by CBS News in New York City, veterans who are returning to New York City after leaving the service are relying on soup kitchens and pantries to get the food they need. The president and CEO of the Food Bank for New York City, Margarette Purvis, used the occasion of Veterans Day to emphasize the plight of these veterans.

In a statement, she said that 95,000 veterans, or 40 percent of New York City’s veteran population are going hungry. “That is not a guesstimate; that is a fact,” she said.

She added that with the $5 billion cut in funding for the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) the situation will only get worse.

AUSA Spouse Membership Now Available

In life, we are members of numerous communities: religious, athletic, educational, social, you name it. The military community—large and sprawling across the globe, also has different sub-communities and membership categories like “child,” “parent,” “neighbor,” and “spouse.” The community has come a long way, and there are many avenues for support, but in a world where there is something for everyone, it can be easy to feel disconnected or that your voice isn’t being heard. AUSA understands the challenges and hurdles faced by the military families of today, and the importance of including you in the military support conversation. We would like to formally recognize your membership and commitment in the community by inviting you to join as a Spouse Member. By joining AUSA you will have the opportunity to make your voice heard, get involved at both the national and local level, pass on wisdom to younger spouses, and get involved in issues that you care about. This membership was created for all military (currently serving, retired, or surviving) spouses as well as spouses of Department of the Army and Department of Defense Civilians. As this membership is aimed to engage military spouses in issues that are specific to this lifestyle. Join us in working to make AUSA the strongest voice and resource for today’s Army community! Click here to sign up.

 KSU/Fort Riley Partnership a Model for Military Community Support Pete Slavin

There are military-connected school children in every school district in the United States, Sandy Risberg reminded listeners Oct. 22 at the 2013 Annual Meeting and Exposition of the Association of the United States Army. Risberg described what Kansas State University is doing about preparing teachers to help these students.

Risberg, an instructor at KSU’s College of Education and a military spouse, mother, and former teacher, is well aware of the special challenges students from military families face, including frequent moves and parents on deployment. Many KSU undergraduates preparing to teach were already being placed in schools at Fort Riley and in neighboring school districts with high concentrations of military students. But they needed to know more about them. Last year, KSU became one of the first universities to join a White House initiative called Educate the Educators, designed to better prepare teachers in training and already in the classroom to meet the needs of military-connected children. Risberg was chosen to lead the program, called Military ED-OPS. She said she is doing so in three ways: teaching teachers about military culture, providing workshop to local school districts, and sharing materials online with school districts. Risberg started by taking KSU education faculty on a day in the life of a military facility at nearby Riley. After lunch in the dining hall, they visited post housing. “Our faculty had no idea they had a 50 percent turnover rate in students every single school year," she said. Then they visited the teen center, where “they got all sorts of ideas about how we could get our college students, our pre-service teachers, engaged with military families” at Fort Riley, volunteering and working with military kids. Risberg started building an online resource portfolio for faculty and students. She also designed workshops on the culture of the military family. The workshops also go into the social-emotional cycle that corresponds with the deployment cycle and how teachers can help build resiliency in the classroom. This information will be available soon as an iBook, titled Military Connected Student, which she wrote. In the midst of all this, Risberg made a documentary film, A Walk in My Shoes: Military Life, which premiered at KSU on September 11 before 400 students, faculty, soldiers, and community members. The documentary tells the story of seven people – soldiers, spouses, college students and educators and gives their thoughts on the dedication, service, rewards and challenges of being connected with the military. The film has already been shown in a number of states. Risberg hopes that s by sharing the documentary freely; Military ED-OPS may shake the education world as far as working with our military kids everywhere. Risberg is also taking the documentary and workshops into local school districts to reach teachers already in the classroom. KSU has one of the nation’s larger teacher preparatory colleges. With graduates working in 50 states and 53 countries, Risberg says, Military ED-OPS is just the beginning of our expanding footprint.”

 VA Meets President's Mental Health Executive Order Hiring Goal

The Veterans Affairs Department has hired 815 peer specialists and peer apprentices, exceeding the hiring goal set in a 2012 presidential executive order aimed at improving access to mental health services for veterans, service members and military families. "We are proud to have exceeded the hiring goal established by the president in his executive order," said VA's undersecretary for health, Dr. Robert A. Petzel. "We are well on the way to have all of these new hires trained by the end of the calendar year." In addition, the department has held mental health summits at 151 VA medical centers to further engage community partners, veteran service organizations, health care providers and local governments, officials said, and to address the broad mental health needs of veterans and their families. Read the full report here. MSEP 2013 Annual Partner Meeting and Induction Ceremony

AUSA Family Readiness was excited and honored to attend the Military Spouse Employment Partnership 2013 Annual Partner Meeting and Induction Ceremony, in addition to participating in several panel discussions throughout the day concerning mentorship opportunities for military spouses. DoD is committed to improving the quality of life of service members and their families, and MSEP is partnering with the White House Joining Forces initiative, companies, large and small, government agencies and organizations across America to provide career opportunities for our military spouse community. Learn more about the opportunities MSEP provides by viewing this video, and by visiting their website. You can also view the 2013 Annual Partner Meeting and Induction ceremony here.

 Updated Fact Sheet: TRICARE Young Adult Program

The TRICARE Young Adult Program fact sheet provides an overview of the TRICARE Young Adult (TYA) program. The fact sheet features information on eligibility, purchasing and enrolling in TYA, how to obtain a uniformed services identification card, covered services, costs and fees, ending TYA coverage, and changing TYA plan options. Contact information is also included. Download the fact sheet here. Military Friendly Schools® Virtual College Fair

November 20 attend a virtual college fair, featuring pre-vetted schools with world-class programs and policies for military students. Thinking about going back to school when you get out? You’re not alone. Taking the first steps after getting out of the military can be daunting. Where do you start? Who are the right people to talk to? What questions should you ask? Find out at our Military Friendly® Virtual College Fair, exclusively featuring Military Friendly® Schools. This upcoming Military Friendly® Virtual Event will put you in direct, live conversations with representatives from various schools with military programs in place! We’ve done the hard part for you, screening thousands of schools and employers and selecting the best as Military Friendly®. The event is free but space is limited, so register here today!

Fort Hood Building, Massacre Site to be Demolished

FORT HOOD, Texas - Fort Hood officials plan to demolish the medical building where an Army psychiatrist killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 others during a shooting rampage in 2009. Fort Hood spokesman Chris Haug said Wednesday that Building 42003 will be razed, while other parts of the Soldier Readiness Processing Center complex are set to be moved. Haug says officials haven't decided what to do with the site once the building is removed. The widow of one victim says she'd like to see a park at the site.

The area has been fenced off as a crime scene since Nov. 5, 2009, when Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire inside the building and left dying soldiers and pools of blood on the floor.

Hasan was convicted in August and sentenced to death.

New Generation of Vets Struggles to Find Jobs

The unemployment rate for veterans who served after 9/11 remains stubbornly high despite public and private programs aimed at easing their transition to the civilian job market.

The job market is tough for many former servicemembers -- even for those with the drive that earned them the Medal of Honor.

Figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the jobless rate for Iraq and Afghanistan vets was 10 percent in October, down slightly from the 10.1 percent rate in September, but the same as the 10 percent recorded on Veterans Day 2012.

A Defense Department panel on employment last week noted that the culture shock of separating from the military and immediately jumping into a demanding job market can be frustrating for a vet.

"There aren't too many jobs out there for snipers," joked one of the panelists, Dakota Meyer, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions as a Marine corporal at the 2009 Battle of Ganjgal in Afghanistan.

The 25-year-old Meyer, who has drifted in and out of jobs since leaving the Marine Corps in 2010 and been treated for post-traumatic stress, said that "veterans bring so many skills to the table, companies need to realize that."

Another Medal of Honor recipient, former Army Staff Sgt. Clint Romesha, said he prepared for separating with his sergeant’s attention to detail, but the adjustment was still difficult.

"It was really scary to make that transition," said Romesha, who was awarded the medal for his valor in the 2009 battle at Combat Outpost Keating in Afghanistan. "I utilized the great programs the Army has, but there's no magic wand that makes sure you cover your bases," he said.

Romesha had noted the experience of other soldiers transitioning out: "Two months to ETS [Estimated Termination of Service] and they have nothing lined up. You have to have a goal to take out into the world, especially in this economy."

In his preparation, Romesha became aware that employment rates for vets can vary widely among the states. He and his wife were from California but his brother-in-law, who worked in the energy sector, told them there were jobs to be had in the booming oil economy of North Dakota. They settled in Minot, N.D., where Romesha now works as a safety specialist for an energy company.

Overall, vets tend to do better than their civilian counterparts on employment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said. The unemployment rate for all vets in October rose to 6.9 percent compared to 6.5 percent in September, while the national average for veterans and non-veterans was 7.3 percent, the BLS said.

The unemployment rate for 9/11-generation vets was 9.6 percent for men and 11.6 percent for women. The demographics overall rate of 10 percent also represented a significant increase from the 7.2 percent recorded in June, the lowest since 2008.

At the time, many analysts attributed the drop to efforts by the White House, corporations and non-profits to encourage employers to hire young workers just out of the military.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, who joined Meyer at the Department of Labor forum last week, said that vets receive priority for counseling and job placement at more than 2,600 of the department's American Jobs Centers nationwide.

Vets bring "the essential skills that companies are looking for: leadership, problem-solving and teamwork," Perez said.

The businesses that recruit and hire veterans have the bottom line in mind, Perez said. They employ vets "because they know it's as sound a business decision as they can make," he said.

However, the state of the economy and political gridlock in Washington can often frustrate the best intentions of the government and the private sector when it comes to hiring vets.

During the government shutdown last month, the Pentagon had to postpone more than 40 Transition Assistance Program workshops on jobs and benefits for about 1,400 separating servicemembers, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The federal government, which has been a reliable employer of vets, has also been shedding jobs.

In its October jobs report, the BLS said federal employment had declined by 12,000 jobs for the month, not counting the hundreds of thousands of federal employees who were furloughed during the shutdown. Over the previous 12 months, federal employment had dropped by 94,000 jobs, the bureau said.

In his weekly radio address, President Obama said, "If you fight for your country overseas, you should never have to fight for a job when you come home."

Obama added, "I've made sure the federal government leads by example, and since I took office, we've hired about 300,000 veterans to keep serving their country."

"Our new transition assistance program is helping veterans and their spouses find that new job and plan their career," he said, "and I'm going to keep calling on Congress to do the right thing and pass the Veterans Jobs Corps -- put our veterans to work rebuilding America."

Obama also noted the efforts of his wife, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, in their "Joining Forces" campaign to find jobs for vets.

"They've already hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses, and they've committed to hiring over 400,000 more," Obama said of the effort.

In a promotional video he made for the Army's Career and Alumni Program, Romesha called on the business community to take another look at the 300,000 servicemembers who join the civilian job hunt each year.

"I can tell corporate America on hiring a vet that you get such a quality employee out of the deal and the American soldier is resilient and those qualities and skills are something you just don't want to pass up to help your own organization continue to progress with great soldiers that are now great employees,"  Romesha said.

He also called on his brothers and sisters in uniform to think of civilian life as "continuing on with service, just in a different uniform."

Military Suicides Drop; Unclear Why

WASHINGTON - Suicides across the military have dropped by more than 22 percent this year, defense officials said, amid an array of new programs targeting what the Defense Department calls an epidemic that took more servicemembers' lives last year than the war in Afghanistan did during that same period.

Military officials, however, were reluctant to pin the decline on the broad swath of detection and prevention efforts, acknowledging that they still don't fully understand why troops take their own lives. And since many of those who have committed suicide in recent years had never served on the warfront, officials also do not attribute the decrease to the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan.

Still, they offered some hope that after several years of studies, the escalating emphasis on prevention across all the services may finally be taking hold.

With two months to go in this calendar year, defense officials say there have been 245 suicides by active-duty servicemembers as of Oct. 27. At the same time last year there had already been 316. Each of the military services has seen the total go down this year, ranging from an 11 percent dip in the Marine Corps to a 28 percent drop for the Navy. The Air Force had a 21 percent decline, while Army totals fell by 24 percent.

The officials provided the data to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to disclose it publicly.

Last year the number of suicides in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines spiked to 349 for the full 12-month period, the highest since the Pentagon began closely tracking the numbers in 2001, and up from the 2011 total of 301. There were 295 Americans killed in Afghanistan last year, by the AP's count.

Military suicides began rising in 2006 and soared to a then-record 310 in 2009 before leveling off for two years. Alarmed defense officials launched an intensified campaign to isolate the causes that lead to suicide, and develop programs to eliminate the stigma associated with seeking help and encourage troops to act when their comrades appeared troubled.

The Pentagon increased the number of behavioral health care providers by 35 percent over the past 3 years and embedded more of them in front-line units. It also beefed up training, expanded crisis phone lines and delivered more than 75,000 gun locks to the services to distribute.

"Suicide is often a perfect storm in an individual life, where many supports and many things come undone around a servicemember," said Ami Neiberger-Miller, spokeswoman for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. "I think there's been a lot of people encouraging our troops who are in trouble to seek help, that help is available, that help can work and that suicide is not the only option."

While much of the suicide prevention effort involves similar studies and programs, each service has set up its own particular methods to deal with the problem.

Navy Capt. Kurt Scott, director of the service's suicide prevention programs, said the Navy is working to recognize the causes of stress beforehand and then help sailors figure out ways to deal with it. Often stress is tied to family issues, including the strains of leaving for deployments, substance abuse, depression or financial problems.

A study released this summer in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no evidence of a link between suicide and troops who deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan combat zones over the past decade.

Scott said that sailors are receiving annual training, including sessions on how to identify stress in their subordinates or comrades. The training also helps sailors identify personal and work-related issues that might cause anxiety as they prepare to deploy, and then suggests ways to deal with the stress - including exercise or talking out the problems with chaplains or other troops.

The Marines have also targeted substance abuse as something that appears to increase the risk for suicides.

Adam Walsh, who works with the Marine Corp's community counseling and prevention programs, said it's too early to declare that suicides are declining in general. He said, however, that the Marines are updating an alcohol abuse prevention campaign and also now require that every battalion and squadron have a suicide prevention program officer.

The Army, which is by far the largest military service, has the highest number of suicides so far this year, with 124, while the Air Force had 43, the Navy had 38, and the Marines - the smallest service - had 40.

Army spokesman Paul Prince said the service has certified nearly 2,500 military and civilian leaders to be able to interact with soldiers on suicide prevention, and has conducted thousands of hours of training with the troops.

Price said suicide remains a daunting issue for the Army and the nation and "defies easy solutions." So the service has expanded soldiers' access to behavioral health services to improve their ability to cope with the stress that can be caused by separation, deployments, financial pressures, other work-related issues and relationships.

Lt. Col. Brett Ashworth, a spokesman for the Air Force, said airmen have a new program that emphasizes leadership responsibilities in the effort to prevent suicides and a new Air Force website includes tips on recognizing distressed personnel.