Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 20 March 2013 

3/20/2013 

AUSA ON THE HILL

As part of AUSA’s support for its Guard and Reserve membership, last week, Government Affairs Director Bill Loper attended a House Guard and Reserve Caucus breakfast meeting and a military manpower and force structure briefing sponsored by the same caucus.  

 The briefing touched on a Reserve Forces Policy Board report that focused on eliminating gaps in the Defense Department data bank on the fully burdened and life cycle cost of military personnel.  At the breakfast, reserve component leaders from the services also briefed the attending members of Congress on issues impacting the reserve components.  Member of Congress in attendance included Caucus co-chairs Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., as well as Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, Madeleine Bordallo,D-Guam, Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Steve Palazzo, R-Miss., and Paul Cook, R-Calif.  

Later in the week as part of AUSA’s outreach to new members on the Hill, AUSA Vice President Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., and Loper met with Reps. Gabbard and Tom Cotton, R-Ark.  Both are Army veterans.  

 Rep. Gabbard is a currently serving captain in the Hawaii Army National Guard who voluntarily deployed to Iraq and later to Kuwait.  She was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal during Operation Iraqi Freedom, was the first female distinguished honor graduate at Fort McClellan’s officer candidate school, and was the first woman to receive an award of appreciation from the Kuwaiti military.  

Rep. Cotton, after completing Harvard Law School, declined a JAG commission and instead went to officer candidate school to become an Infantry platoon leader who served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He holds the Bronze Star Medal, the Combat infantryman Badge and the Ranger Tab.  He also served in the Old Guard.

AUSA welcomes these Army veterans and looks forward to working closely with them on issues that affect our members and the Army.

 TUITION ASSISTANCE CANCELLED

New enrollment in tuition assistance (TA) for service members was abruptly cancelled  by the Army as part of its efforts to manage severe budget cuts mandated by Congress in the Budget Control Act of 2011.

 In response to the announcement, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., said, "This loss in financial support that is necessary for our soldiers to pursue educational courses to improve themselves – personally and professionally --during their off-duty time while in the service or as they transition to the civilian sector during troop cutbacks is a blow to the morale of our all-volunteer force."   

While not directly affecting those now enrolled in approved TA courses, depriving many soldiers who wish to begin charting a self-improvement, educational goal to grow and improve themselves, especially our men and women who are or have been downrange and our wounded warriors is, said a brigade commander, a “significant morale killer.” 

Command Sgt.Maj. Jimmie Spencer, USA, Ret., AUSA’s Director of Noncommissioned Officer and Soldier Programs issued a statement that said, in part, “I understand that we are at war and that is our number one priority, but putting TA (tuition assistance) on hold is painful.  

 “We at AUSA are in the process of gathering information to develop a way to soften the blow.  The budget shortfall is the problem and this situation is not likely to improve anytime soon.  So we must start thinking ‘outside the box.’”

 It was Congress’ actions that dealt the budget-cutting hand to the Army.  Now they are seeking ways to soften the blow the tuition assistance cancellation will have on the force.

As the Senate resumes consideration of the continuing resolution to fund the government through the rest of fiscal 2013, Sens. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., will offer an AUSA-supported amendment that would simply bar reductions to the funding for tuition assistance.  

It remains to be seen whether or not the amendment will be adopted.  Even if it is, the House version of the bill did not include similar language so the matter would have to be decided in a conference committee that will reconcile the two versions of the bill.  

BUDGET CUTS AND THE IMPACT ON THE ARMY

The impact of budget cuts on military personnel and family support programs was the focus of a hearing held last week by the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the Armed Services Committee.

 In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson acknowledged the difficulty the military services are having managing their programs while operating under a continuing resolution instead of a regular budget.  He and Rep. Susan Davis, the Subcommittee’s ranking member are particularly concerned about the impact possible civilian furloughs will have on critical programs and functions.

 Jessica Wright, DoD’s Acting Undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness confirmed that civilian workers are facing 22 days of furloughs beginning in late April through September.  She said that the unpaid days off amount to a 20 percent reduction in pay and would also impact economically on the communities in which they live.  

 While military pay is protected, “our military personnel will receive reduced training leading to diminishing readiness and ultimately diminishing morale,” Wright said.

 The Army’s personnel chief, Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg touched on several programs that could be impacted such as “child abuse prevention, intervention programs and other family advocacy programs, support to families with children with special needs, resiliency training that assists soldiers and families in building stronger relationships, post recreation centers -- bowling alleys, libraries.” 

Bromberg also said that because of civilian furloughs, the Army estimates that it will have to close military entrance processing stations down one day a week.  Since the Army is the executive agent for this function, it affects all services and could mean that ten to fourteen thousand less recruits would be processed across the services.  

Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs also discussed how the furloughs could impact health care.  “Forty percent of our military medical centers are staffed by civilians, and as a result of the furlough program, access may be impacted.”  He also said that military medical facility maintenance and needed restoration and modernization projects would take a hit.

 When asked about the Army’s cancellation of tuition assistance, Bromberg said “It is just a sheer matter of prioritization.  It's been a very good program for many, many years.  But for us, $383 million, is that the right amount?  We're going to go back and relook at the program. Should we -- how do we prioritize it?  He continued, “I think we can probably take at least $115 million in savings in this program and still turn some back on, but probably not to the same extent that we have it today.”

It is expected that this hearing will be the first of many on the impact of the budget cuts.  

GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN AVERTED?

A spending measure passed by the House on March 5 would take the threat of a government shutdown off the table while providing funding for the Defense Department and the VA for fiscal 2013.  The measure leaves the cuts imposed by sequestration in place, but will give the Pentagon and the VA greater flexibility on how their money can be spent. 

 The bill did not offer that same flexibility to other government agencies.  They will continue to be funded at the current levels for the rest of the fiscal year.  

 That is the sticking point for the Senate as the bill heads their way. The Democratic leadership in the Senate plans to move their own version of the spending package this week.  The main difference between the bills is that the Senate version will include new appropriations bills the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Homeland Security.  Beyond adding fiscal 2013 funding, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski said that the bill could expand reprogramming authorities for those agencies to soften sequestration cuts.  

Republicans appear willing to include the expanded package of bills provided it does not exceed $984 billion in discretionary spending, a figure matching the cap set under previous budget laws minus the automatic sequester cuts. 

 Although we would like to see Congress return to a normal budget process, removing the threat of a government shutdown is welcome news.  

 NEW MEDAL CREATES CONTROVERSY

Before he departed, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced the creation of The Distinguished Warfare Medal which will be awarded to individuals for "extraordinary achievement" related to a military operation occurring after September 11, 2001.  It is intended to recognize military achievement in cyberwarfare or combat drone operations for actions that do not include valor in combat.  However, the medal's order of precedence is being widely criticized because it is rated above the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart.  

 Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers have weighed in on the medal.  

Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., Tom Rooney, R-Fla., and Tim Murphy, R-Pa., introduced legislation that would prohibit the Defense Department from rating the Distinguished Warfare Medal equal to or higher than the Purple Heart. 

 Rep. Murphy said, “A medal for someone who sits far from the battlefield and operates a remote control panel thousands of miles from the battlefield should not have that medal ranked above the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.  Literally, you could be sitting in a mock-up of an airplane thousands of miles away from battle and at the end of the day you go home.  It's not the same as being deployed to a war zone.”

Last week, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and John Boozman, R-Ark., followed the House lead and introduced a bill that mirrors the House version.    

The Defense Department has already signaled its unwillingness to change the medal’s order of precedence.  In response to a letter sent to the Pentagon by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that he was convinced the new Distinguished Warfare Medal was “properly ranked among other medals.”

2014 BUDGETS ON THE WAY

Although Congress and the White House are still working on the fiscal 2013 budget, they are also turning their focus to 2014.  It is anticipated that the President’s Budget will be submitted on April 8 while House and Senate Budget Committees are poised to release their budgets this week.

 As this process starts, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has words of warning for the Obama Administration and Congress.  

In his latest President’s Corner, Sullivan says, “After World War I, known as the “War to End all Wars”, the idea abounded that another war was so remote a possibility that no large defense force was necessary.  Defense appropriations fell year after year, and the active Army and its reserve component charitably could be described as understrength, unbalanced and poorly trained and equipped – a hollow defense force.  So as enemies armed (and presumably saw a weakened American military), the public seemed unaware and uninterested, the Congress unconcerned and the President, still trying to rebuild a failed economy, unwilling to demand money for defense.

“Read that paragraph again – is there an echo of today in those words?  If so, a first reaction might be to urge military leaders to sound the alarm – ask for more funding where needed, explain the dangers of too small a force.  Again, history gives us examples – in 1925 an Army general, when asked why his service was not asking for more money than was in a proposed budget, reminded the Congress that legally he was bound to ask for no more than called for in the president’s – his Command in Chief’s – budget  He was correct.

 “Almost 70 years later another Army general lamented the national tendency to use a resource-driven model to reduce defense spending for no strategic reason, solely to save money.  He wrote, “It frightens me when I hear someone propose a hundred-billion-dollar cut in our armed forces without any rationale other than that the money can be used elsewhere.”  The result then is military services pitted against one another, rather than considered as a unified part of a balanced strategy.  Such approaches have failed before and will fail again.

“There will be more wars, and they will require boots on the ground – they will not be won from a ship or a plane – manned or unmanned, but with the blood and sweat of Soldiers who must be properly trained and equipped.”

 Is MyCAA Next on the Chopping Block?

by Amy Bushatz

In the last week four out of five services – the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard – have halted their servicemember tuition assistance programs thanks to sequestration. The Navy is the only service still offering the benefit to its members. But what about the spouses?

DoD is silent on the fate of MyCAA, the tuition assistance program offered to military spouses regardless of branch.

“… Because of the current fiscal situation, we are evaluating all programs across the department,” Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Leslie Hull-Ryde told us. “At this time, I have no specific announcements to make related to MyCAA.”

Still experts on education program funding expect DoD to announce any day that they will close MyCAA.

“I would expect DoD to suspend MyCAA very soon,” Terry Howell, Military.com’s education benefits expert, told us. “Like (tuition assistance) the DoD is being very quiet about their next moves.”

If MyCAA is suspended the same way the servicemember tuition assistance programs have been, those who are currently enrolled in courses will not be impacted.But no one will be able to enroll in new classes unless the program is restored.

But whether or not it would come back may even be in question. DoD officials told me in 2012 that an expansion of the program was out of the question due to funding constraints. And now that we’re in a belt tightening era programs like MyCAA may be the first to go permanently.

“I think the longevity of the MyCAA program has long been in question, not just because of recent budget cuts, but because of the question of how effective this program is,” said Bianca Stzalkowski, founder of the Military Spouse Education Initiative. “I believe MyCAA was created as an incentive when we were expanding the Marine Corps and Army, and now that we have to downsize I believe it will go away.”

When first launched the scholarship, dubbed Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts or MyCAA, allowed spouses in families of all ranks to receive up to $6,000 in tuition. But the program was so wildly popular with over 130,000 spouses applying within a year of its 2009 opening, that it quickly outpaced its funding. Officials abruptly shuttered the service to new applicants in early 2010, pledging to review and reopen it in the future.

The program was restarted eight months later with drastic benefit cuts and a stiff rank cap barring spouses from most officer and senior enlisted families. The cap was met with a furious outcry from excluded spouses who felt their time in a service family had earned them the benefit.

But the revamping achieved its goal of cutting users. So drastic was the drop in enrollment that DoD asked the Senate to shrink their funding request for the program in fiscal 2102 from $190 million to mere $70 million.

Of that request only $66 million was spent in fiscal 2012. About 37,000 spouses used MyCAA last year, according to DoD.

Officials were not able to get us current MyCAA usage or funding statistics by deadline.

If MyCAA goes away altogether, however, all is not lost Stzalkowski says.

“My reaction to the elimination of the MyCAA would be that spouses can turn to alternative sources of funding for their education that will allow the spouse to choose their own degree path, such as a Pell Grant, scholarships through the Spouse Clubs, branch aid societies, and private organizations like the National Military Family Association and Thanks USA,” she said. “Programs like MyCAA that limit a spouse to an Associate’s degree do not positively impact a spouse’s ability to get the kind of job they desire. If it did, we wouldn’t have an approximate 26 percent unemployment rate among our military spouses. If the Department of Defense wants to create an education program it needs to be effective, not just a check in the box to say they are giving a benefit to spouses.”

If you’re in the market for degree funding or education help or ideas, make sure to check out Stzalkowski’s Military Spouse Education Initiative.

Read more: http://spousebuzz.com/blog/2013/03/will-dod-close-mycaa-tuition-assistance-too.html#ixzz2O5OxOprw
SpouseBUZZ.com

How Can We Leave The Military Without Regret

Featured, Military Life, Transition by Jacey Eckhart

My friend Bob walked into one of those Transition Assistance Program (TAP) workshops to learn how to leave the military. After 20+ years in the service, he walked out with one thought on his mind: “Now is not the time to leave.”

Bob took new orders. Snap.

Why is it so hard to leave the military?

Seems to me that one of the features of military life is that the moment we join, we start making plans to leave. Some people are counting down the days to when they leave the service.

So why is leaving the military less like the orderly transition to a new life the rest of the world thinks we should have, and more like leaping naked from a speeding truck off a bridge?

It isn’t from a lack of help. In this time of sequestration, there are lots of programs designed to help us make the transition to our “next career.” When I have been talking to people making the transition out of the service for Military.com’s Spouse Summit segment Career Endgame I notice how there are some missing pieces.

Whether folks are leaving after five years or 30 years, the endgame is so much more complicated than it looks.The military career endgame is made up of a thousand questions that all hinge upon each other. And no one starts with any of the answers.

– Are you going to leave the military.  Are you trying to tell me something about that last board?
–  What job do you want to do after leaving the military? What am I suited for?
– Where will you live?  Where will the job be?
– Will you sell your house? Will anyone buy it or will we be stuck here forever?
– Will the goals of your family be met at your new location?  I think so—that is if they agree to move again.  The wife is making more money than I am.
– Do you have the right skills for this market? Let me call my Detailer….

The worry factor for all these questions is huge. Maybe all these folks are a lot like me. Maybe they are worried that whatever they do, it will be the wrong thing and that they will live to regret it.

Which isn’t surprising. In the research about regret, the top two regrets of Americans always center around education (I should have stayed in school, studied harder, got my degree) and career (should have picked a different field, should have taken that job in Kentucky, should have jumped ship sooner).

The researchers note that we tend to collect our regrets in life at the decision points where we think we once had the most opportunity. We don’t regret natural disasters. We don’t regret buying a car. We regret the moments when we had the biggest array of choices that would make the biggest difference … and chose the wrong thing.

So of course our regrets and our fears make a big play right at the moment when we look to leave the military.This is a time of huge opportunity. This is a time to get the life we were all longing for during those deployments and separations and moves. Make a mistake here and you will regret it.  SO DON’T MAKE ANY MISTAKES!!!

That’s just dumb. We will all have regrets about the process of transition. There are too many decisions to be made to get them all right at the same time.

That’s why we are taking a new approach to the Military Career Endgame at the Spouse Summit this year. Instead of the usual questions, we have another layer of the process to add that you may have never considered before. (So definitely plan to attend the Summit!!) We have another way to approach the Endgame that doesn’t require you to know every benefit or be able to recite you exact income needs for the next five years.

Leaving the military with a sense of meaning and purpose–and few regrets–is what we want for all of you.  So if you have made the transition, what kind of advice would you give to couples who are considering whether this is a time to leave the service?

Read more: http://spousebuzz.com/blog/2013/03/how-can-we-leave-the-military-without-regret.html#ixzz2O5P916bh

SPCA Helps MilFams Keep Their Pets

J.D. Winston

The military pays for many moving costs, but it doesn't pay to move your pets. The cost for pet transportation can be hundreds or even thousands of dollars, depending on how far the transport is and the size of the animal. Consequently, animal shelters near military bases throughout the country report high surrender rates when military families can’t afford to relocate their dog or cat.   

Losing a pet this way can tear a military family apart. That is why SPCA International started Operation Military Pets. It provides financial assistance for pet relocation costs so military families can stay together. All branches of the military can qualify for these grants, whether being relocated within the United States or anywhere in the world.

Military families are already taking advantage of the program. Karen, an Army defense logistics coordinator in Iraq, was faced with leaving behind her cat, Zeke. Her long deployment had kept her away from her husband and daughter in Spotsylvania, Va. Zeke the cat kept her company and made her feel loved in the harsh environment of Baghdad.  

Karen wanted to send Zeke home to her daughter so that she and her family could give Zeke a safe, long life. Karen also wanted her daughter to have a piece of her to hug until she returned to the United States. SPCA International stepped in and flew Zeke to Virginia in 2012, and now all the members of this family are reunited. 

When a military family stationed in South Korea got word they were being sent back to the United States, their first reaction was pure joy. However, when the family started to look into the cost of flying their two dogs, Dash and Link, back with them, the excitement quickly faded. 

The cost to ship the dogs was more than they could afford. They learned the military provided no financial assistance for relocating beloved pets belonging to active service members. The family turned to SPCA International and asked if there was anything we could do to help.   

Knowing how important these dogs were to the family, SPCA International was able to take immediate action. Today, Dash and Link are where they belong -- with their family in Texas.

For all of us, a pet is not just an animal; they are a part of our family. They are great companions during the best times and the most difficult times. Children often turn to their dog or cat to laugh at their antics for comfort when they are sad, to snuggle up with on a cold night or as just a playmate.     

For U.S. military families this bond is just as strong -- especially with the demands serving in our armed forces often requires. The unconditional love of a dog or cat becomes even more important as our military families make these sacrifices to ensure our freedom.

You can see SPCA International’s new video highlighting the new program at www.spcai.org/militarypets. To read more heartwarming stories, learn more about Operation Military Pets, or apply for financial aid, please visit spcai.org.

-- J.D. Winston is the executive director of SPCA International.

Finding Jobs for Wounded Vets

We all know about the challenges facing veterans looking for jobs: an unemployment higher than the national average, and that's not even taking into account the challenges faced by wounded veterans who are in the civilian job market. One of the initiatives that aims to help wounded vets is the Network of Champions, a project formed in 2008 by defense contractor Northrop Grumman to help wounded soldiers return to civilian life.

More than 70 employers, including Capital One, Northrop Grumman and General Motors, are part of the network, which is dedicated to hiring vets suffering from injuries or illnesses incurred while deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom. Essentially, if you apply for a job with any company in this network, if the company does not have a job that fits your skills, they will circulate your resume (with your permission) to other companies within the network.

The companies that belong to the Network of Champions include:

• Able Forces
Aerotek, Inc
Bank of America
Best Buy
Boeing
Capital One Bank
• Colonial Circuits
Cubic
Deloitte & Touche
• Federal Staffing Resources
General Electric
General Motors
Helmets to Hardhats
Homeland Security Careers
Homeland Security Management Institute, Long Island University
HRworks
Kelly Connect
Lockheed Martin Corporation
National Glass Association
NAVAIR
NAVSEA
Nielsen Associates
Pinkerton Government Services
PINNACLE Network Solutions
• Quantum Executive Group
Raytheon
Silverstar Consulting Inc
Smart Solutions
SunTrust Bank
TASC
• Team River Runners
TELEDYNE
The Sierra Group
Travelers Insurance Company
US Naval Sailing Association (USNSA)
• US Naval Sailing Foundation (USNSF)

For more information on the Network of Champions, see the Northrop Grumman website.

Texas Medical Center Recruits Veterans

stephen-bajza

One year ago, Dr. John Holcomb and Dr. Red Duke approached the Texas Medical Center of Houston about reaching out to veterans for employment, and now their efforts have reached fruition with the Hiring: Red,White, and You! program. The Houston Chronicle reports that dozens of institutions have joined the initiative and over one thousand veterans have been hired into the TMC health-care community. Dr. Holcomb said that many veterans ”find it hard to assimilate into the civilian job market. What makes a great employee is embodied in our returning vets – understanding being punctual, getting the job done, performance under fire and working in a system.”

If the numbers don’t speak for themselves, most professionals within the TMC community have glowing things to say about veterans returning to the civilian workplace. Rob Kitto, system director of talent acquisition for Memorial Hermann Healthcare System and U.S. Air Force veteran said, “”These are people who have given so much to their country and community. It’s the least we can do – help them transition into the workplace.” Brian Wilson, veteran recruiter and EEO specialist for The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston said, “Most military personnel have been to college, with six to eight years of experience,” Wilson said. “You are getting a mature candidate with leadership experience and training. Compared to a recent graduate, the military vet does stand out.”

The Texas Medical Center consistently has about 1,000 jobs to fill at any given time, so there’s plenty of opportunity for veterans to snap up a position. Although working in the health-care industry may seem limiting, there are a wide range of positions available: physicians, researchers, logistics specialists, food service, technicians, blood banks, and more. If you’d like to search for jobs in the health-care industry, check out Military.com’s job search engine.

Read more: http://jobsforveterans.military.com/1729/houston-texas-medical-veterans-job/#ixzz2O5QaKHuG 

Cutting TA Will Hurt Recruiting

Military leaders testified at a hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee that cutting the military's tuitions assistance program will hurt recruitment and retention rates if allowed to continue through 2014 and beyond. The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard have already announced the suspension of new enrollments for tuition assistance and advised those currently enrolled that they will have to find other sources of funding for future courses.

PepsiCo Is Hiring Veterans

PepsiCo has a long legacy of military hiring and remains committed to veteran hiring across all lines of business and roles. The company believes in providing opportunity for military hires, not just in the name of service, but because they help the business win.

 AUSA Family Programs Sequestration Message

You might have enjoyed playing limbo when you were younger, but as an adult, limbo is a whole different game and is nowhere near as fun. Before sequestration took effect there was lots of talk of the coulds: what could happen, or what could be cut, what could change. But what does sequestration really mean for your everyday life? We have heard your questions and concerns regarding the budget restrictions that may apply to Army Family programs, but much is still uncertain. The waiting game is definitely frustrating, and the absence of concrete answers often fuels rumors, so we are committed to separating myth from fact as the news continues to unfold.

 Army leaders are making tough decisions to sustain the delicate balance of readiness, building resilience, and caring for families.  Rest assured that there are no plans to eliminate any family programs.  Changes are expected to occur due to sequestration as the Army reevaluates how some programs can run more efficiently without losing the quality of service.  These decisions to adjust programs are made strategically, and will ensure a balanced range of services that are both fiscally sustainable and promote Soldier and Family readiness and resiliency for the long term.

The Army remains committed to providing Soldiers and Families a quality of life that matches the sacrifice and demands of your service.  AUSA is working in conjunction with Army leaders and other military advocacy organizations to safeguard Family programs to the greatest extent possible.

Our focal point remains that of lessening the impacts on our communities. 

Stay informed! We have an incredible community of military family support and are working to bring you important updates and information as soon as possible. Be sure to follow AUSA Family Programs online through Facebook and Twitter for up-to-the-minute information as the real effects of sequestration take shape.

Tuition Assistance Program Cut for the Army

The Army and Marine Corps have shut down their popular tuition assistance (TA) programs, leaving many service members to wonder what to do next to continue pursuing their education goals. Those currently enrolled in tuition-assistance-funded courses of study, may complete those courses, but no new funding for future classes will be given. This suspension affects more than 200,000 soldiers, and Army leaders hope to reassess the suspension should budgetary issues improve. Understandably, this news has left many concerned, but there are still ways to secure funding to complete your education. A few of the tips outlined by the Army Times include:

•Talk with an Education Service Officer, as they know the options and programs available at or around installations, and can provide the best guidance on how to maintain progress on an educational path without TA.

•Seek private scholarships. Several nonprofit organizations have set up scholarships specifically for service members. There is no cost to apply, and service members could end up with the funding they need for school.

•Be cautious about using your GI Bill benefits instead of TA; Find out if the Army has other programs near your installation that could help pay for school in alternative ways.

Read more tips, articles, feedback, and updates in the Army Times “What are your options without tuition assistance” information cluster here.

Army Launches Campaign to Enhance Unit Readiness and Resilience

The Army recently launched its Ready and Resilient campaign, designed to build physical, emotional, and psychological resilience in soldiers, their families and civilians, and directly enhance personal and unit readiness. The campaign will review programs, processes and policies to ensure effectiveness and reduce redundancies, improve methods for commanders to understand high risk behaviors and intervene early, and continue improvements to the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. Most critically, this campaign will work to lessen the stigma behind mental health issues and encourage help-seeking behavior, promoting healthy lifestyles based on physical fitness, nutrition, and sleep. 

 “Soldiers are, and will always be, the centerpiece of our Army.  The readiness and resiliency of our soldiers, civilians and family members is dependent on their physical, mental, and emotional fitness.  To ensure the health and well-being of the entire team, our goal is to invest in and improve the performance of every individual on the team.  Our success requires engaged leadership at all levels, a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach, and effective prioritization of resources,” said Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno. Read the full report here.  

Sequestration's Effect on Health Care System

Information is rolling in on how sequestration will have an effect on the military health care system. Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, told the House Armed Services Committee that quality patient care will continue to be the highest priority, but maintaining this quality in the midst of sequestration cuts means that other aspects of medical care could suffer. By directing all possible resources to providing patient care under sequestration, the department will have less funding to address military medical facility maintenance and the needed restoration and modernization projects.

 “This will negatively affect the health care environment and potentially drive substantial bills for facility maintenance in the future,” Woodson told the House panel. “While we will continue to fund projects that directly affect patient safety or that affect emergent care, we could see a degradation in the aesthetic quality and functionality of our medical facilities,” he said. The health affairs official noted the potential impact to the morale of both medical staff and patients, and possible degradation of the patient’s experience of health care within the military health system. In addition, 40% of military medical centers are staffed by civilians, so furloughs could directly impact operations in terms of hours and accessibility. Learn more here

Military OneSource Lunch and Learn

Many probably wish that there was a PCS “guidebook” that was issued as you entered the military. Whether it is time for a permanent change of station or other move, relocating can impact the entire family. The summer PCS season will be here before we know it, so it’s time to get informed! Join Military OneSource as they share resources that can ease the transition to your next location. Guest speakers will share great information and resources, in addition to an information swap. Learn about the latest and greatest tools in our community that can help with the process. Military OneSource can help take some of the stress out of relocation and give the resources to make your next move go as smoothly as possible. 

 Title:   Lunch and Learn: PCSing in the Military

Date:   Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Time:  11:30 AM - 12:30 PM CDT

 

The webinar is open to Mac and PC users, and will also be available on Apple and Android mobile devices. Space is limited, so click here to RSVP today!

House and Senate Both Release Proposed Budgets, White House Set To Release Its Proposal on April 8

It is believed that negotiations on the FY2014 have at last begun. On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc), Chairman of the House Budget Committee released his Committee’s proposed budget. It is very similar to the last 2 House budgets- repealing Medicare, major changes in Medicare and Medicaid etc. One big change- it is designed to be balanced in 10 years.

For the first time in 4 years, the Senate Budget Committees, newly chaired by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) released a proposed budget. This budget included tax increases and increased spending of approximately $750 billion.
Obviously both proposals as written are totally unacceptable to the other side.

In the meantime, President Obama is expected to release his FY2014 proposed budget on April 8 (after the Easter recess.) Since 1991 the Administration’s budget was required to be submitted on the first Monday in February. But of course, there is no enforcement mechanism. Jeffrey D. Zients, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, has blamed the delay on numerous fiscal uncertainties, including last year’s fiscal cliff negotiations.

However it is important to remember that these are just broad brushed plans and wishes. The real plans/laws that determine actually federal spending is done in the appropriation bills. These bills for FY2013 are being worked on in the Senate at the exact same time as the budget bills. Please see below.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds fly the six-ship Delta formation over the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to begin the start of the NASCAR Kobalt Tools 400 Race, Las Vegas, Nev., March 4, 2013. ( It has been announced that the Thunderbirds are going to be grounded in April in response to the sequestration.)

While the Senate Works on CR

The budget is a general blueprint but as we said above federal money is spent through appropriation bills (and continuing resolutions (CR)) Since October 1, 2012 the government has been funded through a continuing resolutions. The present CR is set to expire on March 27. If this fiscal cliff is not solved there could be a government shutdown. So last week we wrote that the House had passed its version of a CR that would fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2013) and would give more flexibility to DoD and the VA by including the DoD and the Military Construction-VA Appropriations Acts in the CR (H.R. 933)

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman, Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Ranking Member Senator Richard Shelby (R-ALA) immediately started to work on the House bill and has now proposed a substitution amendment for the CR that includes 3 more appropriation acts: Agriculture, Commerce-Justice-Science and Homeland Security appropriations bills.

When proposing their Amendment the Committee’s leadership said:

Chairwoman Mikulski “We must prevent a government shutdown. My Vice Chairman, Senator Shelby, and I worked together on this bipartisan agreement that avoids a shutdown, complies with the Budget Control Act, improves the House CR for many critical priorities, and lets us wrap up fiscal year 2013 so we can get to next year’s budget and find a balanced solution to sequester.”

Vice Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) issued the following statement:

“Chairwoman Mikulski and I began this process with three shared goals: first, to prevent a government shutdown; second, to provide as much flexibility as possible for the remainder of this fiscal year; and third, to produce a bill that both parties in both houses can support,” said Vice Chairman Shelby. “I believe that we have achieved all three goals. At a time when many doubt whether Congress can accomplish anything at all, this agreement is a very clear demonstration of our commitment to work together.”

In both the House and Senate versions of H.R. 933 the sequestration cuts are still in place. So the $1.043 trillion in non-emergency discretionary spending would become $984 billion after the sequestration rules are applied +$87 billion in emergency war spending and $11 billion for the State Department programs.

There is still hope that the Senate version may be voted on today; and if passed sent back to the House to be worked on next week.

Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military

On Wednesday, March 13, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Personnel subcommittee, chaired by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), held a hearing on the topic of sexual assault in the military.

The subject of sexual assault in the military was a hot topic on Capitol Hill even before Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a review of an Air Force general’s decision to reverse a guilty verdict in a sexual assault case. Lawmakers were furious this week over Lieutenant General Craig Franklin’s decision to overturn a sexual assault conviction against Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson.

That action by General Franklin has led to calls for legislation that would prevent commanding officers from overturning rulings made by judges and juries at court-martials. Currently military law allows a commander who convenes a court-martial the prerogative to reduce or set aside guilty verdicts and sentences or to reverse a jury’s verdict.

The military’s handling of sexual assault cases has been under review for some time now. A former Army sergeant testified that she was raped by another service member while serving in Afghanistan. She described suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and how her case was eventually closed after senior commanders decided not to pursue charges.

According to Senator Gillibrand, approximately 2,500 sexual violence cases in the military services were reported in 2011, but only 240 were taken to trial.

Lt. Colonel Wilkerson was convicted by a jury of military officers on charges of abusive sexual contact, aggravated sexual assault and three instances of conduct unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman. Wilkerson was sentenced to a year in prison and discharged from the service.

According to a letter that Hagel sent to Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), General Franklin exercised his discretion as the convening authority after reviewing the case over a three-week period. General Franklin said “that the entire body of evidence was insufficient to meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” according to Talking Points Memo.

Hagel told Boxer neither he nor the Air Force secretary is empowered to overrule General Franklin under military law.

In the wake of Franklin’s decision, Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, and Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., introduced legislation Tuesday in the House of Representatives that would strip military commanders of the power to overturn legal decisions or lessen sentences. Their bill would amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to take away the power of a convening authority to dismiss, commute, lessen, or order a rehearing after a panel or judge has found the accused guilty and rendered a punishment.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, plans to introduce legislation soon that would change the Uniform Code of Military Justice by preventing a convening authority from overturning a decision reached by a jury. The legislation also would require the convening authority to issue a written justification for any action.

House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Examines Guard-Reserve Employment Issues

Yesterday the Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity of the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to explore ways to put Guard and Reserve Veterans back to work. TREA Legislative Director Larry Madison represented TREA at the hearing.

There were a variety of witnesses who appeared before the committee and what became apparent is that a great deal more study needs to be done about the scope of the problem. Several anecdotal stories were given of Reserve Component (RC) members who lost their jobs as a result of being RC members who were called up to active duty.

Statistics were also cited that seemed to indicate that unemployment among RC members who return from Iraq or Afghanistan is higher not only than the general public, but also than active component veterans. The reason given for this was that employers cannot afford to lose employees for long periods of time when they are called to active duty and therefore they either don’t hire individuals who they know are RC members, or they find ways to fire employees who are RC members.

Unfortunately, most of the evidence is anecdotal and a serious, unbiased study needs to be undertaken by the Department of Defense or Department of Labor to try and find out the problem really is as widespread as some believe or, although a major problem for some, not as widespread as some believe.
One positive aspect of this issue was presented by the CEO of Panther Racing, an Indy Car racing company in Indianapolis, Indiana. Panther Racing has a major program devoted to employing and promoting employment of RC members and TREA commends Panther Racing for its efforts.

Senate VA Committee Holds Hearing on VA Claims Backlog

On Wednesday the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on “VA Claims Process: Review of VA’s Transformation Efforts.” Among the witnesses was Allison Hickey, VA Undersecretary for Benefits. During her testimony Secretary Hickey told the committee that the VA was still on target to eliminate the claims backlog, which is now about 600,000 claims, by 2015. However, when committee Ranking Member (top committee Republican) Richard Burr of North Carolina told Hickey that the monthly reports the VA provides to the committee are not sufficient to provide information and that it was not clear to him the VA is making progress at all, Hickey only would respond that the VA would continue to provide information to the committee.

Eventually a frustrated Burr stated that he would do all he could to block funding for the VA headquarters in Washington if the department didn’t begin providing the data to the committee that he believes will show if the VA is, in fact, dealing effectively with the backlog. Whether or not such action would result in Burr getting the information he wants or would, instead, actually result in hurting services to veterans – or if Burr could even accomplish such a move as a member of the minority party in the Senate -- remains to be seen.

The claims backlog is a continuing problem that goes back for years and never seems to be solved no matter who is in the White House. Nonetheless, TREA is committed to fighting to reduce the backlog for as long as it takes.

TRICARE Will Cover Smoking Cessation Programs

On March 29 the new TRICARE smoking cessation program will go into effect for TRICARE beneficiaries who are not qualified for Medicare Part B (read TFL.) For the first time TRICARE will cover prescription medications and counseling. There will also be a toll free 24/7 Quit line with licensed counselors (which may very well be delayed) and information on the web and in print.

This “smoking cessation program” will be available to all TRICARE beneficiaries who reside in one of the 50 United States or the District of Columbia Again, who are not eligible for Medicare benefits authorized under Title XVIII of the Social Security Act.) It will not be available to TRICARE beneficiaries who reside overseas except for service members and active duty dependents residing overseas including the U.S. territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands who are enrolled in TRICARE Prime at a military treatment facility may have access to those services that the Health Affairs (HA) “has determined may be reasonably provided overseas.”

This program was first required in the 2009 Duncan Hunter NDAA. The prescriptions will only be available at MTFs and by mail order. BUT there will be no co-payment.

This has been a long time in coming- which was surprising since DoD repeatedly emphasizes that smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness in the United States.

Prior to this program there was a much smaller TRICARE smoking cessation counseling program that did not cover Medicare eligibles because Medicare Part B already had such a program. But the TRICARE program did not include prescription medications and over the counter products.. This one does.

The type of smoking cessation medications available, which may include over-the-counter medications, will be determined by the TRICARE Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee “based on clinical and cost effectiveness considerations.”

TREA checked with TRICARE Management Activity and was told that TFL beneficiaries will not be able to get the approved medications through their TRICARE Pharmacy program.

This is very unusual- something is in the TRICARE formulary but will not be issues to certain beneficiaries.

But before we start pushing to have this changed TREA would like to hear from our members who might be affected.

  • If you are a TRICARE for Life beneficiary would you please write and tell us if this program would be important or helpful to you.
  •  Are you a smoker?
  • Do you want to quit?
  • Do you think medications could help you?
  • And please tell us any part of your story that you think might be useful to know when dealing with this issue

Please e-mail us at dholleman@treadc.org with your thoughts and information. Thank you

New Veterans Legislation

S.492: A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to require States to recognize the military experience of veterans when issuing licenses and credentials to veterans, and for other purposes. This bill would require the Director of Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to coordinate with federal agencies and departments to hire 10,000 veterans to fill existing vacancies, utilizing the Veterans Recruitment Appointment (VRA) authority over the next five years.
Sponsor: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)

S.495: Careers for Veterans Act of 2013 - A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to require Federal agencies to hire veterans, to require States to recognize the military experience of veterans when issuing licenses and credentials to veterans, and for other purposes
Sponsor: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)

S.522: Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act - A bill that would fund grants for universities to develop masters programs in orthotics and prosthetics.
Sponsor: Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL)

S.515: A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the Yellow Ribbon G.I. Education Enhancement Program to cover recipients of Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry scholarship, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

S.514: A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to provide additional educational assistance under Post-9/11 Educational Assistance to veterans pursuing a degree in science, technology, engineering, math, or an area that leads to employment in a high-demand occupation, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

S.543: A bill to require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to reorganize the Veterans Integrated Service Networks of the Veterans Health Administration, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Senator Richard Burr (R-NC)

H.R.1134: To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to carry out a grant program and pilot program designed to improve the delivery of health care to veterans residing in rural areas, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Representative Pete Gallego (D-TX)

H.R.1132: To direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense to jointly ensure that the Vet Centers of the Department of Veterans Affairs have access to the Defense Personnel Record Image Retrieval system and the Veterans Affairs/Department of Defense Identity Repository system.
Sponsor: Representative Jeff Denham (R-CA)

H.R.1171: To amend title 40, United States Code, to improve veterans service organizations access to Federal surplus personal property.
Sponsor: Representative Dan J. Benishek (R-MI)

H.R.975: To amend title 10, United States Code, to extend the duration of the Physical Disability Board of Review and to the expand the authority of such Board to review of the separation of members of the Armed Forces on the basis of a mental condition not amounting to disability, including separation on the basis of a personality or adjustment disorder.
Sponsor: Representative Tim Walz (D-MN)

MyCAA Announces New Course for Active Duty Spouses

The MyCAA (Military Spouses Career Advancement Account referred to informally as Spouse tuition program) just issued the following notice. This is a good time to remember that there are numerous programs that certain spouses of active duty service members or activated reserves in pay grades E1-E5, W1-W2, O1-O2 (The Coast Guard is not included) can use to get up to $4,000 in paid tuition.

“To encourage spouses of military personnel to pursue education, the Military Spouses Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program prepares military spouses for employment in Health Career Fields.
With up to $4,000 of Financial Assistance from the Department of Defense, now is the time to train for the careers that are in the highest demand.
Learn more at: http://www.mycareerskill.org/MyCAA-Approved-Programs
MyCareerSkill.org is a Distance Learning Initiative from Florida Gulf Coast University in partnership with MedCerts, offering MyCAA approved, fully funded Health Care Career Training. If you are a military spouse and qualify for MyCAA funding, your tuition could be 100% covered!
Here are just a few of the careers for which our courses and programs can prepare you:

- Pharmacy Technician
- Electronic Health Records Specialist
- Medical Office Management & Administration
- Billing & Coding Reimbursement Specialist
- Health Care Administration
Each of our health care career training programs is a complete package for career success and includes:

- Expert-Led Online Video Lectures
- On Demand Online Mentoring
- Student Workbooks and Reference Material
- Certification of Completion
- Payment for Certification Exams Registration

Note: An eligible MyCAA candidate is the spouse of an active duty Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine service member, or activated Reserve member in pay grades E1-E5, W1-W2, O1-O2. If you are the spouse of National Guard and/or AGR member, the sponsor must be on federal Title 10 active duty orders as reported in DEERS. Spouses of Guard/Reserve members in an Alert, Transition Assistance, or Post Deployment status are not eligible.
To learn more about our programs, MyCAA qualifications or to request more information, click the link below:

http://www.mycareerskill.org/MyCAA-Approved-Programs

Chairman of SASC Says He Will Not Run for Reelection

Last week Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan) announced that he will not run for reelection in 2014.The 78 year old Senator said that in the next 2 years he would focus onHe is in his 6th Senate term.He said he planned to focus on:

  • Cracking down on tax avoidance plans.
  • Work to boost Michigan’s manufacturing sector
  • Investigate “the role of secret money in elections and
  • Work to “alleviate fiscal pressures on our military readiness. 

In a released statement the Senator also said” “As our troops come home, we must do a better                            job  of caring for those who bear both the visible and invisible wounds of war.”

Military Moves to Cut Tuition Assistance

The Army, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard have announced they are suspending future tuition assistance program enrollments. To date, the Navy has not made an official announcement on the subject, but many expect that announcement soon. According to reports, Congress is planning to introduce legislation that would effectively block the services from suspending tuition assistance. The legislation may be introduced sometime this week.

VA Bill Introduced in Congress

Representative Jeff Miller (FL-01), Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, and Ranking Member Mike Michaud (Maine-02) recently introduced the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013. The bill would require Congress to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs' discretionary budget a year ahead of schedule, ensuring that all VA services will have timely, predictable funding in an era where continuing resolutions and threats of government shutdowns are all too frequent. Currently, Congress funds the medical care portion at the beginning of each fiscal year. Providing the remainder of the discretionary budget -- roughly $8 billion -- up front would make it easier for VA to plan for key investments and give Congress a greater level of oversight on multi-year funding proposals. The text of the House bill is available online.

Sequestration Affects DoD Schools, Commissaries

Civilian personnel at Department of Defense Education Activity (DODEA) schools and the Defense Commissary Agency will be affected by sequestration. Teachers and support personnel at DODEA schools will be subject to the furlough. DoD civilian personnel will be furloughed one day a week from April through the end of September, unless Congress intervenes. Also, 247 commissaries worldwide will be forced to close one additional day each week, and commissary workers will also be furloughed. The furloughs will probably begin at the end of April. For more information on furloughs, visit the OPM website, the Military.com website, the DODEA website, and the Commissaries.com website.

AAFES March Madness Sweepstakes

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service is teaming with Unilever/NCAA to offer Exchange shoppers a jump on the big tournament with a new 60" LG TV in the "March Madness Sweepstakes." Exchange shoppers worldwide have the opportunity to enter the drawing between March 8 and April 8, 2013. No purchase is necessary. Participants can visit a local Exchange store to fill out one entry form per person per visit. Entrants must be 18 years or older with a valid ID and need not be present to win. All authorized Exchange shoppers are eligible to participate. Store hours and locations are listed on the ShopMyExchange.com website at www.shopmyexchange.com.