Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 16 July 2013 

7/16/2013 

 

DÉJÀ VU: A FEELING THAT ONE HAS SEEN OR HEARD SOMETHING BEFORE

A letter from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to the Senate Armed Services Committee leadership outlined some the current effects sequestration is having on the department as well as summarizes the department’s initial contingency plan for fiscal 2014 if sequestration continues and the department is hit with a $52 billion budget cut.  

The letter confirms what we have been saying - that the current sequestration is severely damaging military readiness.    

Hagel says that if sequestration continues, the department would be forced to:

* Reduce operations and maintenance (O&M) accounts by 10-percent 

* Reduce modernization accounts by 15- to 20 percent

* Halt all accessions

* End all permanent-change-of-station moves

* Stop discretionary bonuses

* Freeze all promotions

* Reduce end strength more rapidly than planned 

* Implement mandatory civilian reductions-in-force

* Further reduce military training

BUT, according to Hagel’s letter, Congress could avoid exacerbating these serious training and readiness issues if only they would accept proposals that would increase TRICARE fees, slow growth in military pay raises and implement another round of Base Realignment and Closures.

We are disappointed.  Disappointed that once again the secretary's message portrays service members and other beneficiaries as unworthy of the compensation they have earned and implies that they are the cause of declining readiness.  It demonizes that small portion of the American people who have and continue to sacrifice the most. 

Disappointed that DoD continues to pit sustainment of the military's most valuable long term resource - the All Volunteer Force - against short term O&M costs.  It is a specious argument, especially given recent reports of over $100 billion of waste in the budget.

Disappointed that the White House, Senate and the House of Representatives refuse to recognize the disastrous effect it is having on the military and civilians and sit down at the table and hammer out a serious solution instead of indulging in the blame game.

Former Defense Secretary (and this year’s AUSA Marshall Award recipient) Robert Gates said it best when discussing sequestration in a recent interview, “There may be a stupider way to do things, but I can't figure out what it is.  The result is a hollow military, and we will pay for it in the same way we've paid for it every time we've done this in the past, and this is, in the next conflict—and there will be a next conflict—with the blood of our soldiers.”

WE'RE HEARING:

--that the fiscal 2014 defense appropriations bill could go the House floor this week.  The $512.5 billion bill exceeds the discretionary limit set by the 2011 Budget Control Act which could generate more opposition than usual.  There is no timetable for the Senate’s action on its bill.

--that the bi-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a report that contends that the Pentagon could save billions in health care costs by raising Tricare fees for working-age retirees, but it would save only millions if it cut other medical programs.  AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition have said (and testified) repeatedly that rather than seeking to raise beneficiary costs, defense leaders should be held accountable for improving efficiency and consolidating redundant, counterproductive health systems.  We have never compared savings.

--that the House Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committees held an unusual joint hearing that focused on the DoD and VA collaboration to assist servicemembers returning to civilian life.  Senior officials testifying assured the committee members that they are closing in on solutions that will alleviate the backlog of veterans’ health benefit claims and streamline processing of current and future claims.  In a written, joint opening statement submitted for the record, DOD witnesses stated the two departments will work through the calendar year on achieving full interoperability of health data through a series of near-term “accelerator” efforts.  These efforts, they said, will result in each service member and veteran having a single, seamless, shared, integrated healthcare record.

--that Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., has introduced two bills related to civilian furloughs.  The first (H.R. 2613) would allow, but not require, the president to exempt DoD civilians from furloughs.  The second (H.R. 2614) would authorize the president to exempt civilians from furloughs if they served in the military since August 2011, when the Budget Control Act was enacted.  Barrow introduced the measure out of concern for members of the reserve components who were called up to serve in war zones and later, when they returned to their Defense Department civilian jobs, were handed furlough papers. 

--that the House passed legislation that would allow veterans’ groups to receive donations of surplus federal property, such as vehicles or electronics, for the full range of services they provide.  Introduced by Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., the bill addresses limitations on the kinds of donations veterans’ organizations may accept for free.  Under the Federal Surplus Personal Property Donation Program, veterans’ groups and other private agencies that serve the public can accept surplus equipment or supplies at no cost if the donation will be used for health or educational services.  The bill is now headed to the Senate for action.

DoD Launches Spouse Ambassador Network

On July 16th, AUSA will participate in the inaugural Spouse Ambassador Network roundtable at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Ten organizations will gather at the roundtable to share information and work collaboratively to support military spouse career opportunities. The mission of the Spouse Ambassador Network is to educate, empower, and mentor military spouses to encourage career fulfillment by promoting and sharing resources while facilitating effective relationships with local and national stakeholders.

The Spouse Ambassador Network will offer the opportunity for Military Spouse Employment Partnership companies and organizations to broaden their commitment by sharing Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program and partner information and resources with military spouses in the communities where they reside. The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is a career partnership connecting military spouses with more than 180 partner employers who have pledged to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses in portable careers. This partnership helps military spouses find employment, build on their education and experience and achieve their career and personal goals.

“We are excited to introduce this collaboration among MSEP partners that will benefit military spouses,” said Meg O’Grady, director of the Department of Defense Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, “With the strong collaboration of our MSEP partners, the Spouse Ambassador Network will facilitate networking and information sharing in communities across the country and around the world where military spouses reside.” For more information on the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, please visit their website.

Joining Forces Emphasizes Importance of Spouse Employment in Overall Readiness

Being a military spouse often comes with its share of challenges, particularly when it comes to continuing education and employment opportunities. On its blog the Joining Forces initiative emphasized how critical spouse employment and education were to military family readiness efforts. Currently, 84% of spouses have some college, 25% have a bachelor’s degree, and 10% have an advanced degree. Facilitating the opportunity to pursue higher education not only helps to support self-esteem and personal actualization, it can also strengthen financial stability for their families.

Over the last two years Joining Forces has committed to working with state legislatures and Governors to cut the red tape for military spouse credentialing and licensing portability. To date, there are 36 states that have enacted legislation with 9 more considering legislation this year. Credentialing and licensing portability are critical for military spouse employment, but prior to employment it is crucial for military spouses to be able to pursue the higher education needed to secure these qualifications. To read the rest of this blog entry, and to find out about spouse scholarship opportunities, click here.

Officials at MCEC Conference Highlight Changes in Family Programs Community

At the Military Child Education Coalition’s 15th National Training Seminar, officials and senior leaders in the military community spoke about the challenges, changes, and continuing dedication to support the family program and education communities. With the effect of budget cuts beginning to take in many facets of military life, General Dempsey cautioned that military family programs will not escape the possible strain. “We’re not exactly sure how deeply those resources will be reduced,” he said, when he and his wife, Deanie, spoke during a town-hall type forum with educators, military spouses, child and youth professionals, members of nonprofit organizations, advocates and others.

Charles E. Milam, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for Military Community and Family Policy, emphasized the need to work with local communities near military bases where three-quarters of military families generally live. The Defense Department must ensure that care providers and educators understand the unique needs of military kids when a parent deploys, Milam said. "They need to understand that there will be change and it will affect military children. We have to focus on the needs of our families who live off the installations," he stressed. "I have read countless accounts the last 15 to 20 years of how there's a common theme that military families are not aware of the services and programs that we offer on installations."

Secretary Hagel reinforced that quality education for military children is a key priority in DoD strategy, and announced that the department has selected the first round of schools that will receive DOD educational partnership grants for the upcoming school year. A total of nearly $20 million will go to 15 public school districts that serve 23 military installations across the country. “ … Our military children look to all of us. They look to us for guidance and reassurance every day. And supporting them is the most important thing we'll ever do.” Read the full summary of the event and Secretary Hagel’s remarks here.

Click here to watch a video of Dr. William Beardslee’s presentation about families and helping children cope with adversity and nurturing resiliency.

How DoD Furloughs Affect Military Families

Military Spouse Magazine put together a list of the different ways furloughs affect military families. Nearly 85% of the DoD’s civilian workforce, approximately 650,000 individuals, will see a day without pay this week, as the Defense Department initiates mandatory furloughs. While active duty military will not experience pay cuts, it’s important to understand exactly how this will affect you and your family.  Click here to read about how cuts will have an effect on things like where you shop for groceries, medical clinics, and schools.
 
2013 AUSA Annual Meeting and Military Family Forum Registration Open

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

We look forward to seeing you in October. Register today

TRICARE and States of Emergency in Colorado, Arizona

Due to the West Fork wildfire, the Governor of Colorado has issued a State of Emergency in the following counties: Mineral, Rio Grande. and Hinsdale. Also due to the Yarnell Hill fire, the Governor of Arizona has issued a State of Emergency in Yavapai county. TRICARE beneficiaries get emergency prescription refills through July 20, 2013 if they are in these counties in Colorado and through July 27, 2013 if they live in Yavapai County, Arizona. To get an emergency refill, take your prescription bottle to any TRICARE retail network pharmacy. To find a network pharmacy call Express Scripts at 1-877-363-1303 or search the network pharmacy locator.

Career Training for Female Vets and Spouses

Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) is a training program providing women veterans with the tools to become successful business owners.  The next V-WISE conference is scheduled for Seattle on August 16-18, 2013, and is open to female veterans as well as active duty and female spouses/partners of military personnel interested in learning about entrepreneurship and starting, running or growing a business. Deadline for registration is July 15, 2013.  For more information and to apply, visit www.whitman.syr.edu/vwise/

Emergency Preparation for TRICARE Families

During emergencies, TRICARE sometimes waives referral and authorization requirements and allows beneficiaries to obtain extra doses of their prescription medication. Sign up for state-specific TRICARE disaster alerts at the TRICARE Disaster Information webpage at www.tricare.mil/disaster. Also, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a template families can use to build their disaster plan at the Ready.gov website at www.ready.gov/make-a-plan. All families should also have a disaster kit including water, food, extra batteries and a first aid kit. Visit www.ready.gov/basic-disaster-supplies-kit for more details on how to build a disaster kit. FEMA's Ready.gov website at www.ready.gov offers a wealth of information about preparing for disasters. A list of resources for families with special health needs can be found at www.disability.gov/emergency_preparedness.

Army Emergency Relief Awards Scholarships

Army Emergency Relief has announced the award of 3,469 scholarships for children of active-duty and retired Soldiers, as well as 1,145 scholarships under the Spouse Education Assistance Program. The Maj. Gen. James Ursano scholarships for military children are awarded based on three criteria, including financial need, academic performance, and demonstration of leadership. A student could qualify under one, two or all three of the criteria. Scholarships in the Spouse Education Assistance Program are awarded based on financial need. Scholarship award amounts vary each year based on the allotted budget and the total number of applications completed. For more information on the scholarships, visit the Army Emergency Relief website and click on the Scholarship link on the left-hand side of the webpage.

Commissaries Testing Curbside Pickup

It is called "CLICK2GO," and Fort Lee, Va., commissary shoppers were the first to buy groceries online and pick them up at the store curbside when the service began on July 10. With CLICK2GO, authorized commissary shoppers access the system from DeCA's website. Customers may select from a wide variety of commissary products offered online based on the store's stock assortment. They shop online, check out and select an available pickup time. Customers go to the commissary curbside location at the designated pickup time, and pick up and pay for the products they ordered. CLICK2GO is being tested at Fort Lee first, followed later this year at two other stores -- the commissaries at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and Offutt Air Force Base, Neb., to iron out any operational glitches before the service is offered on a wider basis.

Finally, Some Good News (at Least Better News) About Veterans’ Unemployment Numbers 

It has been a very long time in coming but finally there is some good news for veterans looking for work. The June figures from the Department of Labor Statistics show a drop to 6.3% for veterans unemployment In May the veterans unemployment rate was 6.6% so it is a drop of .3% in one month. Furthermore it is below the steady national unemployment rate of 7.6%

So finally employers are recognizing the added value they get when they hire a vet. Additionally, the unemployment rate for veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan the unemployment is 7.2% in June down .1% from May. So finally, veteran’s unemployment is below the national average. But we must not let up. TREA and all of us must continue to support veterans in the civilian sector.

 VA, DOD Officials Participate in Joint HVAC-HASC Hearing

This past Wednesday top officials at the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments pledged to create a system to exchange standard clinical health data, which will allow the departments to develop an integrated electronic health record without the need to build a joint system from scratch. The testimony took place at a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs Committees.

In April 2009 President Obama directed VA and DOD to develop an integrated electronic health record, but the project was shelved when the future cost estimate swelled to $28 billion earlier this year.

Instead of pursuing an integrated health record, Frank Kendall, Defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics said DOD and VA will focus on developing and deploying a data management service to give clinicians from both departments access to patient health information viewable through a graphical interface. This system is due by January 2014.

Kendall also revealed that DOD has begun the bidding process to replace DOD’s primary electronic health record system, known as the Armed Forces Health Longitudinal Technology Application (AHLTA). Of the 15 replacement systems under consideration, 3 are based on the VA’s system, known as Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA).

Congressional leaders were, to say the least, skeptical of this testimony. Rep. Jeff Miller, (R-FL), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, and Ranking Member Michael Michaud (D-ME) noted the symbolism that when this same hearing was held last year, both the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs appeared to testify. This year neither showed up.

Chairman Miller noted that “the two departments are, once again, moving on their own tracks, with promises we’ve heard before about making two separate systems ‘interoperable.’ Pardon my frustration, but it seems the only thing interoperable we get are the litany of excuses flying across both departments every year as to why it’s taking so long to get this done,” Miller said.

SecDef Hagel Sends SASC Letter Commenting on Pending FY2014 Budget with Sequestration

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has repeatedly asked DOD to provide them with a proposed budget for FY2014 that is calculated assuming that sequestration will continue into the next federal fiscal year. On July 10th Secretary of Defense Hagel sent a letter dealing with that question. While he repeated that he is strongly opposed to the sequestration he said that DoD will need a contingency plan if the sequestration level budgetary caps remained in effect. He stated that those caps would “lead to an approximately $52 billion to the DoD budget compared to the President’s FY2014funding request…”

He said that with these cuts “the size readiness and technological superiority of our military would be reduced, placing at much greater risk the country’s ability to meet our current national security commitments.”

He then said that if the sequestration requirements remained in place they would need to put in place “an extremely severe package of military personnel actions including halting all accessions, ending all permanent change-of-station moves, stopping discretionary bonuses and freezing all promotions.”!!! (Emphasis added)

While we do not believe that DoD would institute these draconian proposals the next sentences worried us. The Secretary then said:”We urgently need Congressional support in enacting difficult but necessary measures proposed by the President in his FY2014 and prior budgets. These include slowing growth in military pay raises in a manner that still supports the all-volunteer force and raising fees for health care programs for retirees while still maintaining the generous benefits they deserve.”

While the Secretary also called for Congress agreeing to the retirement of “some lower-priority weapons”, the rate of the drawdown and another round of BRAC; the immediate focus was again on active duty pay and retiree medical costs. This clearly means that the Administration is not letting up on these attacks on your benefits and we must not let up either. To put it mildly we are not out of the woods yet. None of us can let up.

DoD Report Savages Work of its Own Joint POW/MIA Office

This week the Associated Press finally obtained a Pentagon report that found that its “Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command” (JPAC) is inept, mismanaged and wasteful. Indeed it found that the office is at risk to “descending from dysfunction to total failure” if changes are not made.

JPAC is headed by a two star general and is in charge of trying to account for the estimated 73,661 service members still listed as missing from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

The internal report was written by a JPAC employee Paul M. Cole. His findings were critical of the field operations that go out to find remains rather than at the lab work that use the findings to identify the remains. Among his dramatically harsh finding the report says:

  • “In recent years the process by which JPAC gathers bones and other material useful for identifications has "collapsed" and is now "acutely dysfunctional."
  • JPAC is finding too few investigative leads, resulting in too few collections of human remains to come even close to achieving Congress's demand for a minimum 200 identifications per year by 2015. Of the 80 identifications that JPAC's Central Identification Laboratory made in 2012, only 35 were derived from remains recovered by JPAC. Thirty-eight of the 80 were either handed over unilaterally by other governments or were disinterred from a U.S. military cemetery. Seven were from a combination of those sources.
  • Some search teams are sent into the field, particularly in Europe, on what amount to boondoggles. No one is held to account for "a pattern of foreign travel, accommodations and activities paid for by public funds that are ultimately unnecessary, excessive, inefficient or unproductive." Some refer to this as "military tourism."
  • JPAC lacks a comprehensive list of the people for whom it is searching. Its main database is incomplete and "riddled with unreliable data."
  • "Sketch maps" used by the JPAC teams looking for remains on the battlefield are "chronically unreliable," leaving the teams "cartigraphically blind." Cole likened this to 19th century military field operations.”

While the prior JPAC commander Army Maj. General Stephen Tom banned the use of the report for any purpose the present commander Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly K. McKeague, conceded to the AP that the office is dysfunctional. He was quoted as saying:”I'd say you're right, and we're doing something about it. He said changes, possibly to include consolidating the accounting bureaucracy and putting its management under the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, are under consideration.”

This is a mission of great concern to the members of TREA, the Enlisted Association. We will continue to focus on this issue and inform you of any additional information.

App Links Veterans with Network of Other Vets

At the funeral of a fellow Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011, two men who had served in the same sniper section during deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan discovered that on the day the Marine sergeant took his own life, three other Marines from the unit lived within just 15 miles. None of them knew that their brother was nearby and needed help.

This was the inspiration to create a smartphone application that links struggling veterans with an informal network of military friends to reach out to locally. POS REP, short for position report, allows those in distress to pop off an electronic “help flare” so other users of the military social app in the geographic area can spring into action.

The goal of POS REP is to show veterans that they’re not alone and that there is a community around them that is willing to help them with whatever they’re struggling with.

So far, the app is only designed to work with troops in the U.S., but the designers hope to expand it to the overseas audience eventually.

POS REP provides an online social network for military chat but takes the technology a step further by placing users on a local map showing where other veterans and services are located through global positioning. The users, who can see and be seen by others, can also use the app to update service record information or show support for service organizations.

It is important that service members and veterans be cautious when choosing apps for their mobile devices; with apps like POS REP it is possible to give away private information, such as your location or your name, unless you take precautions not to. The app is very clear about how to protect your personal data.

POS REP is available for both Android and Apple phones.

Scholarships Available for Children of Those Lost in the Line of Duty

The Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation is a new charity that is dedicated to making sure that children of members of the military who have died “in the line of duty” can get an undergraduate degree with no costs to them or their families. No loans and no cutting into savings. The program covers all branches- Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. And scholarships are awarded all year long- there is no open season.

They will help the student get all the financial aid they qualify for from the federal government, state and local governments and private charities and programs. But then if you need more for housing or books or a new computer they will cover it. So far they have given $5.2 million to 328 children. As of now there are no limits to the amount of the grant you can receive (but who knows if that may change in the future.)

Do you know anyone who might qualify? Go to www.fallenpatriots.org and enroll them know. What if the child is young? Enroll them now. The Foundation can help them while they are preparing for college. And they won’t lose them. Please let other people and organizations know about this wonderful opportunity.

VA Rolls Out Grant Application

This week the Department of Veterans Affairs announced a new program to increase the availability of medical transportation for veterans in “highly rural areas” (A highly rural area” is defined as one with less than 7 people in 1 square mile.)

In July the VA began accepting applications for grants to help state Veterans Service Agencies and Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) operate or contract for transportation services to transport Veterans to VA medical centers and other facilities that provide VA care. The transportation under a new regulation will be at no cost to the veteran. VSOs and State Veterans Service Agencies may apply for grants up to $50,000 to fund transportation of veterans to and from VA medical centers and other facilities that provide VA care. The services may be provided through contracts with private bus or van companies.

The VA Also Announced the Award of Several Grants

This week the Department of Veterans Affairs announced several grants. They included 319 grants totaling $300 million to community agencies in all 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to help an approximated 120,000 homeless and “at-risk” veterans and their families.
“Under the Supportive Services for Veteran Families program, VA is awarding grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide services to very low-income veteran families living in -- or transitioning to -- permanent housing. The SSVF program supports VA's efforts to prevent at-risk veterans from becoming homeless and rapidly re-house those who have recently fallen into homelessness.”

VA Secretary Shinseki further explained:”With these grants, we are strengthening our partnership with community non-profits across the country to provide veterans and their families with hope, a home, and a future. The work of Supportive Services for Veteran Families program grantees has already helped us prevent and end homelessness among tens of thousands of homeless veterans and their families, but as long as a single veteran lives on our streets, we have work to do."

Veterans to Be Honored at This Year’s MLB’s ALL-STAR Game on Tuesday

On Tuesday July 16th 30 veterans will be honored at this year’s Major League Baseball All Star Game. One veteran was chosen for each major league time. They were chosen by People Magazine and the MLB in their joint “Tribute for Heroes” contest. Each veteran will represent their chosen MLB team. Each veteran will participate in the All-Star pre-game ceremony and All-Star Week festivities. One of the "Tribute for Heroes" winners will be featured in People magazine. The event and subsequent game will be broadcast on the Fox network July 16 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and 4:30 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

The Major League Baseball's All-Star Game will be held at Citi Field in Queens, New York, home of the New York Mets. To find out more about the contest and the winners go to: http://mlb.mlb.com/tribute/2013/   

Bank Ordered To Repay Service Members' Fees

Some service members who were saddled with hidden and deceptive fees when they received auto loans from U.S. Bank are going to get their money back. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a federal watchdog agency, ordered U.S. Bank and a nonbank partner company, Dealers' Financial Services, to refund roughly $6.5 million for failing to disclose the fees. The action affects those who financed vehicle purchases through the companies' Military Installment Loans and Educational Services (MILES) program.

The two companies, based in Minneapolis, Minn., and Lexington, Ky., respectively, required service members to repay their loans using the military allotment system - allowing the companies to draw money directly from paychecks before the checks were deposited into personal bank accounts. Bringing the allotment system into the equation opened the door for the misuse CFPB uncovered, the agency said in a statement. With allotments, lenders at times would require service members to use third-party processors that charge fees. By requiring the use of allotments, the companies left service members with no choice but to pay the fees. "This can cost service members more in fees than alternatives like online banking, which are often free," CFPB stated. Furthermore, the companies were not required to disclose the fees - which could add up to about $180 during the course of a typical 60-month MILES loan. U.S. Bank also told service members that payments would be deducted once a month, when in fact they occurred twice monthly.

The discrepancy ultimately cost $75 over the duration of a car loan. Dealers' Financial Services was cited with understating costs of vehicle service contracts and insurance, and misleading customers into believing the company would pay for all expensive repairs - all adding to the cost of each loan. Besides refunding the deceptive overcharges, the $6.5 million will include $3.3 million in restitution for violating the Truth in Lending Act. The companies also will provide more accurate disclosures, and no longer will require the use of allotments. Affected service members do not have to take any action to receive the money they are due. Under the order, the companies are required to provide victims with either a credit to their bank accounts or a check. More information is available online at http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/what-you-should-know-about-military-allotments/.

TRICARE for National Guard, Reserve

Understanding TRICARE health care options for National Guard and Reserve members can be confusing as it varies based on their duty status. When activated for more than 30 days, Guard and Reserve members are eligible for TRICARE Prime. If a Guard or Reserve member gets injured or aggravates an existing injury or illness as a direct result of his or her duties during a period of activation less than 30 days, that Guard or Reserve member may be covered under line of duty (LOD) care or notice of eligibility (NOE) care for members of the Coast Guard. For more information on LOD/NOE care or to download the TRICARE Treatment of Line of Duty Conditions Fact Sheet, visit the TRICARE Line of Duty/Notice of Eligibility webpage at www.tricare.mil/LOD.

For Returning Vets, Not Jobs but Careers

Service men and women exiting the military today face numerous challenges. For many servicemembers finding a job immediately is crucial in supporting a family, paying the bills, and re-integrating oneself into society. Consequently, veterans often wind up taking the first job offered, rather than defining a long-term, meaningful career. For more on this issue, and some advice on how to set yourself up for a successful career and not a stop-gap job, see this Military.com article.

Find Civilian Jobs that Match Your Military Experience

Translate your military skills, experience and training to find career opportunities that best align with your capabilities. The Military Skills Translator is quick, easy and gives great results - just enter in your Branch of Service, Military Job Title and Pay Grade.  Translate your Military Skills Now.

New Resource for Vets in Kansas

Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas recently unveiled a new state website that pulls together information on educational opportunities, jobs and health care for military members. The new KanVet site is a one-stop shop for the state's 7,700 National Guard members and 227,000 military veterans. The new website will be useful to veterans who need to develop job skills, as well as those that have valuable job skills from their service time but are unsure how to translate them to the private sector.

DFAS Processing Vouchers

The Defense Finance Accounting Service (DFAS) Travel Pay Services processes Relocation Income Tax Allowance (RITA) vouchers on a first in, first out basis. Government Services Administration recently released the RITA rates. Due to the volume of claims we have received, the DFAS expects to process all claims in approximately 30 days. For more information regarding the filing of a RITA claim or other PCS entitlement, contact a travel customer service representative at 1-888-332-7366 or DSN 699-0300.

AAFES Shopping Spree

Army and Air Force Exchange Service shoppers will have a shot at winning a $1,000 shopping spree this summer courtesy of the Exchange and Pepsi/Frito Lay. From now to July 25, shoppers can enter at any Exchange store for the chance to win one of 15 $1,000 gift cards redeemable at any Exchange store or at ShopMyExchange.com at www.shopmyexchange.com. Winners will be picked by random drawing on or around Sept. 6. No purchase is required to enter. Entrants must be 18 or older with a valid driver's license. To find an Exchange location near you, visit the Exchange Stores webpage at www.shopmyexchange.com/ExchangeStores.

New Navy RAD Website

The Chief of Naval Operations' Reduce Administrative Distractions (RAD) Team recently launched its new website, and the effort is underway to get direct input from Sailors on how the Fleet can streamline or eliminate administrative processes to allow more time to focus on mission readiness. The interactive RAD website provides all ranks, active, Reserve and Navy civilians with a platform to voice their concerns about administrative tasks, procedures, instructions and training, and propose solutions to fix these issues. It will function much like a social media interface, allowing users to comment and vote on posts. The collected data can be analyzed by many different variables, from what is bothering commanding officers to what junior Sailors are concerned with. For more information, or to give feedback, visit the RAD website.

Blue Star Museum Program is Up and Running Again

This summer the Blue Star Museum Program grants free admission to over 2000 museums and attractions through Labor Day. To find out which museums are included do to the site below and use their interactive map.
http://www.bluestarfam.org/Programs/Blue_Star_Museums

The program is available to any bearer of a CAC card, a DD 1173 ID card (dependent ID) or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card which includes- active duty U.S. military - Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, NOAA Commissioned Corps - and up to five family members. It does not include military retirees and veterans or unmarried partners, or parents with a child currently serving on active duty, or for those who have lost a child on active duty.

Visiting NYC? There are 42 museums and attractions. Visiting Chicago? 12 museums Los Angeles and environs more than 25. This is certainly worth checking out when you are planning a vacation or just a trip downtown.

40th Anniversary of the All Volunteer Force

Monday was the 40th Anniversary of the All Volunteer force. Secretary of Defense Hagel noted the day by stating:

     “ Forty years ago today, the Department of Defense implemented one of the most consequential and far-reaching changes in the history of America's armed forces with the establishment of the all-volunteer force. 

      In commemorating the birth of our modern military, we recognize and thank the millions of men and women and their families who have served our country -- on active duty, in the reserves, and in the National Guard. Skeptics and detractors claimed an all-volunteer force could not be sustained, but these remarkable Americans proved otherwise. They helped win the Cold War, stood against aggression in the Persian Gulf, kept peace in the Balkans, and put their lives on the line in Iraq and Afghanistan in the years since 9/11. They choose to serve our country because they believe in a cause that is bigger than themselves. They've always put the interests of the nation first, as have their families. It's because of their sense of duty that the American military remains the most trusted institution in our society today. 

      Our all-volunteer force faces challenges. It will need to rebalance, adapt, and evolve, as it has over the last 40 years. America's all-volunteer force will continue to make our military the strongest, most capable, and most respected fighting force in the history of the world.”

Rare Joint HASC/HVAC Hearing to be Held Next Wednesday

Next Wednesday the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) will hold an unusual joint hearing in 2118 Rayburn House Office Building at 10:00 a.m. The subject is: “DOD and VA Collaboration to Assist Service members returning to civilian life.” We expect that the hearing will focus on a single electronic medical record, disability claims, TAP, military skill conversion to civilian licenses / certification etc.

Scheduled to testify are: Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics; Jessica L. Wright, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; Jonathan Woodson, MD, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and Director, TRICARE Management Activity; Stephen W. Warren, Acting Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Robert A. Petzel, Under Secretary for Health, Department of Veterans Affairs and Danny Pummill, Deputy Undersecretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs.

We expect it to be video streamed. It should be interesting.

VA’s Fully Developed Claims (FDC) Webinar Set for July 17th

The VA has been developing a Fully Developed Claim (FDC) program that is intended to both speed up adjudication of VA disability claims and increase the accuracy of the decisions. They are holding a webinar on July 17th. Below is their announcement and how to sign up.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wants you to know that you’re in a position to help our nation’s Veterans and their families by understanding the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program. The FDC program enables Veterans and their survivors to submit all evidence and medical records at the time they submit their claim. FDC’s are processed more quickly by VA than traditional claims and help reduce the backlog. That’s why VA is sponsoring this webinar series targeting professionals who treat, serve, or otherwise interact with Veterans in their job. The free, one hour webinar will help give you a basic understanding of the program and provide you with the most up to date resources to help Veterans and their families submit FDC applications. The webinar will be offered on July 17th at 9:30 AM and again at 1:30 PM ET, you can learn more and register at: goo.gl/8QXV1. “

VA Reviews Sleep Apnea Disability Ratings 

Tom Philpott reported on June 20th that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reviewing the disability ratings system for obstructive sleep apnea, particularly the 50-percent rating being awarded when VA physicians prescribe use of a CPAP, or continuous positive airway pressure machine, for sleep-deprived veterans.

According to News Channel 25 in Waco, Killeen ad Temple Texas, VA’s sleep apnea disability claims have nearly doubled in the past three years. In 2009 the total sleep apnea claims were 57,679 and in 2012 they were 114,103. The Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) directs that a normal sleep apnea condition gets a 50 percent rating. That compares to a 30 percent rating for someone with a toe amputation and a 40 percent rating for someone with a lower leg amputation. The lower leg amputation is, however, available for special monthly compensation.

According to Jonathan Hughes, a policy consultant for VA's compensation service, "essentially there's no functional impairment related to that" 50-percent rating for obstructive sleep apnea under the VASRD. Since there’s no functional impairment, it is likely that the ratings for sleep apnea will be decreased.

Hughes added that for more than 114,000 veterans already drawing compensation for sleep apnea their ratings would not be reduced with broad change to the rating schedule under current law.

Disaster Advise from TRICARE (Especially for Families with a Special Medical Need Family Member  

Below is an article from TRICARE outlining what a family should do if they experience a summer disaster (hurricane, flood, locust etc.) It has a particular focus on families with a special needs family member. What to do if drugs need to be refrigerated? What if a person must be in a climate controlled environment? Where do you meet if there is an emergency and what family plan do you have? Hope it is helpful.

Emergency Preparation for Families with Special Health Needs

The 2013 hurricane season began June 1, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a very active season. Hurricanes and other disasters present a serious danger to anyone living in their path, but families with members who have special health needs face unique challenges when disaster strikes. These families need to make additional preparations in case the worst happens.

It’s important to remember that families may have to rely on their own resources following a disaster. A common misconception is that government assistance is available immediately. It can take several days or even weeks for federal aid to arrive, depending on the size of the disaster and the number of people affected.

During emergencies, TRICARE sometimes waives referral and authorization requirements and allows beneficiaries to obtain extra doses of their prescription medication. Sign up for state-specific TRICARE disaster alerts at
www.tricare.mil/disaster.

The first step is to have a disaster plan. The plan should have information on meeting places, important personal information for each family member and locations for where family members are likely to be if a disaster strikes. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a template families can use to build their plan at www.ready.gov/make-a-plan. All families should also have a disaster kit including water, food, extra batteries and a first aid kit. Visit www.ready.gov/basic-disaster-supplies-kit for more details on how to build a disaster kit.

Families with special health needs may have to consider what to do with medications that have to be refrigerated, and what to do if a family member requires a climate controlled environment if the power goes out. If you live near a military base and are part of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), contact the local EFMP office and ask if the base has a plan to support family members with special medical needs during a disaster.
If the disaster plans involves going to an emergency evacuation shelter, make sure to bring everything needed to support a family member with special needs. Don’t assume the shelter will have medications, incontinence supplies, medical equipment or other items. Expect to sleep on a cot or on the floor and bring any necessary positioning pillows or other specialty bedding. Families with a service animal should bring its tags, license, medication, food, water, bags for waste and other items it may need.

As with many other aspects of living with a family member who has special medical needs, preparing for a disaster requires additional thought and preparation. Each family’s needs are unique, but some tips apply to most – pack light, bring an extra pair of reading glasses or hearing aid batteries and bring all relevant medical information, including a list of allergies and military IDs or insurance cards. Share emergency plans in advance to help family members with a communication disability and prepare emergency plan reminders in a form they can comprehend during a tense situation.
FEMA maintains a website,
www.ready.gov, with a wealth of information about preparing for disasters. A list of resources for families with special health needs can be found at www.disability.gov/emergency_preparedness.

Always be prepared for a disaster, and if the worst happens, think safety first. Preparing in advance can relieve a great deal of stress and make a big difference when facing an emergency.

Article on DOD’s Efforts to Protect Military Families from Financial Scams

DOD Helps Military Families Avoid Money Scams
By Terri Moon Cronk
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 1, 2013 – While dodging financial scams seem to have become a part of life, Defense Department officials have measures to protect the military community from such circumstances, a senior Pentagon official said in a recent interview.

Scamming incidents in the military parallel those in the civilian community, Barbara Thompson, director of the Defense Department’s office of family policy, children and youth, told American Forces Press Service.

But scammers might target military families because of service members’ dependable incomes and frequent moves, opening them up to potential scams that can affect their financial readiness when renting or buying a home and securing car loans, she added.

“It’s really important that we look at our entire [financial] readiness campaign as a way to empower our service members and their families to have the flexibility to meet the goals and dreams of their future,” she said.
It’s vital for military families to do their research and build their awareness against scams, she added, and myriad resources to help in this endeavor are available on and off military installations.

“You may decide to do a move on your own and find someone who doesn’t have liability insurance, or doesn’t deliver your household goods to your residence [and instead] goes off with them,” Thompson said.

She also warned against house closure, auto loan and credit and debit card scams. “Sometimes, they look official and as though they’re sponsored by a government agency, but it’s deceit,” she added.

Installation legal assistance officers can help when such issues arise, and certified financial counselors can provide support, guidance and advice at family assistance centers on military installations, she said. The counselors know the community and are likely to be aware of less-than-scrupulous vendors and service providers, she said.
The Military OneSource website offers a wealth of resources such as financial counseling and tip sheets on how to be a good consumer and avoid pitfalls, Thompson said.

DOD also has federal partners in the battle against financial scams, such as the Federal Trade Commission’s Scam Watch, and the Treasury Department’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, where one can register a complaint that will be investigated, Thompson said.

The Better Business Bureau Military Line compiles information on businesses that are less than reputable, Thompson said, and installation commanders also have the ability to put unscrupulous businesses on a list, she added.
Getting references from friends and colleagues and staying away from businesses that have negative consumer feedback are important steps, she said. Using the installation’s credit union or bank also will help to ensure good choices in the community, she noted.

If a military family does find itself to be a victim of a scam, DOD also offers resources to help. Consulting with the legal assistance officer on the installation not only helps with recourse, Thompson said, but also advises the installation of a business that’s not reputable to protect other service members and their families. “You learn a lesson, but you also make sure somebody else is not taken advantage of,” she added.

“The bottom line is you have to be a smart and savvy consumer,” Thompson said. “You need to really think about your purchases, your purchasing power, and do your due diligence to make sure you’re getting the right information and the right product for the money you’re going to spend.”