Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 23 April 2013 

4/23/2013 

AUSA ON THE HILL

Along with other representatives from various military and veteran service organizations, AUSA Vice President for Education Lt. Gen. Guy Swan attended a roundtable discussion hosted by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla. 

The discussion covered such topics as access to mental health care providers and the VA’s benefits claims backlog.  Specifically, how the claims process has been slowed by the addition of Agent Orange claims and the fact that first-time claims errors added to the process time.  

Rep. Paul Ryan, Chairman of the Budget Committee, offered an in-depth explanation of the House budget as it relates to veterans.  He noted that the budget includes no cuts for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
 
In fact, the recently-released President’s Budget has proposed a $152.7 billion budget for the VA, a 10.2 percent increase over fiscal 2013.  The budget includes $66.5 billion in discretionary spending, largely for healthcare, and $86.1 billion for mandatory programs – mostly disability compensation and pensions for veterans.
 
Chairman Miller said after the conclusion of the roundtable that, “Today’s event was a great opportunity to have a candid discussion about what our committee has been doing to improve the lives of veterans, our priorities for the 113th Congress as well as those of the VSO community.  The input and support of America’s VSOs has been invaluable to our work at the committee over the past two years, and I look forward to strengthening our partnership as we work to ensure our veterans receive the care and benefits they deserve.”

 SOLUTION TO THE VA CLAIMS BACKLOG?

Speaking of the VA and the claims backlog, the VA announced  that they are implementing an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer.  Effective April 19, the VA will begin to make provisional decisions on the oldest claims in inventory, which will allow veterans to begin collecting compensation benefits more quickly, if eligible.  This initiative provides a one-year safety net to submit further evidence should it become available and protects the veteran’s right to appeal the decision. 

--For the oldest claims, VA will make a provisional rating based on all current evidence associated with the claim.

            * When benefits are awarded in the provisional decision, the veteran will begin receiving compensation immediately.

            * These will be decisions based on all evidence VA has received to date and during the time the claim has been pending.

            * Provisional rating notices will note the evidence on which the decision was based and list any documentation that has not been provided or VA has been unable to obtain.

            * Exams will be provided by VHA in an expedited manner if they are required for a rating

--The veteran has a safety net – up to one year to submit additional evidence or request VA obtain additional evidence to change the provisional decision.

            * Any awarded benefits will be retroactive to the original date the claim was submitted.

            * If no additional evidence is obtained, the provisional decision will become final after one year (or earlier if the veteran requests), at which time a final decision and appeal rights will go into effect.

            * These veterans then will have the standard year to appeal the decision, effectively extending the current appeal window, while also providing them with near-term decisions and benefits, if eligible, based on the evidence in the claims file.

            * As a result of this initiative, metrics used to track benefits claims will experience significant fluctuations.  Average Days to Complete (ADC) – the average amount of time it takes VA to process a claim – will rise significantly in the near term as the oldest claims are completed.

            * Average Days Pending (ADP) – the average age of a claim in the inventory – will decrease since the oldest claims will no longer be part of the inventory.

--The most vulnerable veterans will continue to be fast tracked.

            * Wounded, ill and injured veterans from the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan will continue to have priority through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System.

            * VA will continue to prioritize veterans who are homeless, terminally ill, former Prisoners of War, and Medal of Honor recipients, those facing financial hardship and our most seriously injured.

            * Fully Developed Claims will continue to receive priority processing

Veterans can learn more about disability benefits on the joint Department of Defense—VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov.  

SENATORS HEAR THE MILITARY COALITION'S MESSAGE

Members of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee heard directly from representatives of The Military Coalition (TMC) on why the Defense Department’s latest proposal to increase/enact fees for military retiree health care is just plain wrong.  AUSA is a member of the TMC.

This is the TMC message that was presented to the lawmakers:

 For decades, critics have claimed military personnel costs are “rising out of control” and, if left unchecked, would consume future defense budgets.  But those charges have proved unfounded.

            * Defense spending as a percentage of GDP during wartime is much lower than during past conflicts

            * Personnel and healthcare costs today are the same share of the defense budget today (less than one-third) that they’ve been for more than 30 years

            * Personnel/health costs are a lower share of the budget for DoD than for many most-similar corporations (61% for UPS, 43% for FedEx, and 31+% for Southwest Airlines) 

            * At 10% of the defense budget, DoD healthcare costs are a bargain compared to the health cost share of the federal budget (23%), the average state budget (22%), household discretionary spending (16%) and GDP (16%)

            * Far from “exploding out of control,” Pentagon documents show military healthcare account surpluses have been raided to fund other programs ($708 million diverted in FY12 and total of nearly $2.5 billion over last three years)

            * Reprogramming document acknowledged retiree health costs went down 2.5% for FY12

            * DoD projections of future defense health care costs have declined steadily for the last three years, and will decline further based on recent law/policy changes

            * Claims of “cost growth since 2001” overemphasize 10-year-old data.  Growth peaked in 2002-03 with the enactment of TRICARE For Life, and has been declining fairly steadily ever since.  It was less than 1% for FY12, and will decline further in the future based on administrative and statutory changes taking effect in FY13

            * Rather than seeking to raise beneficiary costs, defense leaders should be held accountable for improving efficiency and consolidating redundant, counterproductive health systems. Options to reduce costs include:

                        o Establish a single authority over the three separate military systems and multiple contractors that now compete counterproductively for budget share 

                        o Stop ignoring multiple studies urging consolidation of healthcare budget and             delivery 

                        o Revamp an archaic healthcare contracting system that doesn’t obtain the best value

                        o Restructure accounting and record systems that cannot be validated

                        o Optimize use of military treatment facilities (25% cheaper but 27% underused)

                        o Eliminate pre-authorization requirement that incentivizes emergency room visits over far-less-costly urgent care                    clinics

                        o Establish coordinated care programs for all beneficiaries with chronic conditions

            * Decades of dire predictions about “unaffordable” personnel costs have proved consistently wrong 

            * The only times the all-volunteer force has been jeopardized have been due to budget-driven benefit cuts failed to offset the extraordinary demands and sacrifices of a service career 

            * Congress has consistently recognized the cost of sustaining the current military career incentive package is far more acceptable and affordable than the alternative 

 THE BOTTOM LINE: TMC does not support the additional array of proposed TRICARE fee increases proposed in the FY2014 defense budget.  In view of fee increases and statutory and policy benefit limitations already imposed in 2011 and 2012, TMC believes it is time to hold Defense officials accountable to implement efficiencies that don’t affect fees or care.

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER?

The President’s fiscal 2014 was released two months late and landed with a thud on the desk of those on the Hill and those of us at the Association.  In fact, unlike past years, we found very little to celebrate and a lot that we intend to fight.

The budget request provides $526.6 billion in discretionary funding for the DoD base budget, $3.9 billion below the 2012 enacted level.  However, it exceeds spending caps by approximately $52 billion.  If the Administration and Congressional leaders fail to agree on a plan to reduce the deficit, then either $52 billion will have to be cut from the budget proposal or DoD will face another round of sequestration to get the budget below the spending caps.  Neither scenario is promising.  

Of the $526.6 billion, the Army’s share is $129.7 billion for the base budget.  About 44 percent or $56.6 billion is for military personnel; about 18 percent or $23.9 billion is for procurement research, development, testing and engineering; and about 35 percent or $45.5 billion is for operations and maintenance. 

The request does not include funding for overseas contingency operations (OCO).  OCO, separate from the base budget request, supports the warfighting effort overseas and is usually presented at the same time as the regular budget.  However, Army budget officials said that it has not been completed and that it would be submitted later in the year. 

Here is a breakdown of the low lights and our take: 

§  One Percent Pay Raise for Military Personnel  

According to the Army Times, the proposed 1% pay raise is the smallest since 1958 and the first time since 1999 that it did not meet or exceed average private sector wage growth.  Congress has worked diligently for the past 12 years to fix the 13.5% pay gap (and resulting retention problems) caused by repeatedly capping military raises below private sector growth in the 80s and 90s.   

AUSA will not back off in its quest to maintain pay parity between the private sector and the military!!  In response to the budget request, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., said that it is important that "soldiers, NCOs, warrant officers and commissioned officers are paid for the level of responsibility" they have while serving their country.  "What they are doing is not without a lot of sacrifice," Sullivan said. 

§  Chained-CPI 

Get used to hearing this term because it is not going away any time soon.  Chained-CPI is a proposed change in how annual cost of living adjustments are calculated and would result in annual increases that are 0.3 percent less than the current formula. It would affect military retirees and disabled veterans. 

 

The 0.3 percent doesn’t sound like much?  Here are some sobering facts.  Information provided by the Defense Department’s Office of the Actuary shows that the average enlisted retiree would see a lifetime reduction in retired pay of 8.5% or almost $171,000.  For the average officer, the reduction would be 7.2%, less than enlisted retirees, but higher in dollars - $246,000 – because the average officer’s pay starts out at a higher level.   

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the change a “technical adjustment”.  We strongly disagree.   

AUSA Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper attended a press conference hosted by the Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who pledged to do “everything possible” to block the change.  In a statement issued after the President’ budget request was released, Sanders’ said, “At a time when millions of working families are struggling economically, I am deeply disappointed that the president’s budget includes a chained consumer price index which would mean significant cuts for Social Security and veterans.”   

The Association also joined with other military service and veteran groups and sent a letter to the President outlining the reasons we oppose chained-CPI.  

We will say it once again:  Trying to balance the budget and reduce the deficit on the backs of military retirees, disabled veterans and the other most-vulnerable members of our society is wrong on many levels.  We support Chairman Sanders in his efforts.   

§  Military Healthcare Program.   

It’s like a broken record, except that each year it breaks a little more.  The budget proposes to: 

* Increase TRICARE Prime enrollment fees, based on a percentage of retired pay.  Working-age retired flag and general officers would pay more than others.   

* Impose new enrollment fees and higher annual deductibles for TRICARE Standard and Extra.  These fees would be increased by percentage amounts over five years while subsequent increases would be indexed to growth in annual COLA adjustments. 

* Raise TRICARE Prime office visit co-pays to $16 from the current $12 for appointments not related to mental health. 

* Impose new enrollment fees for TRICARE For Life beneficiaries also based on a percentage of retired pay.  Fees will be phased in over five years then indexed to the COLA.  All retirees already using TRICARE FOR Life at the time of the change would be exempt from the new fees.   

* Increase co-pays for generic prescription drugs purchased through retail pharmacies and brand-name drugs purchased through retail and mail order.   

* Impose a new $9 co-pay for generic drugs purchased through mail order; currently those drugs have no co-pay. 

* Raise the “catastrophic cap” - the maximum TRICARE cost that an individual or family has to pay in any one fiscal year.  The cap, $3000 per year, would be indexed to the annual retiree COLA. 

Once again the Department is warning that health care costs are “exploding”.  However, their own documents and actions show that they are not exploding.  In fact, between fiscal years 2010 and 2012, they diverted $2.5 billion in surplus funds to other “higher priority” items! 

AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition strongly believe that Defense Department leaders should be held accountable to fix program inefficiencies.  Studies show that consolidation of budget oversight would save billions vs. having three separate service programs and multiple contractors.   

AUSA and The Military Coalition will continue to fight to maintain this earned benefit and not allow it to be eroded. 

It’s important to remember that the budget request is just that – a request.  It’s also important that the Congress and the President hear from those who are affected by their actions at the “grassroots” level – the people whose lives are dramatically affected by changes that to some seem reasonable, but which are, in reality, simply an easy target on a constituency that is trained to serve and sacrifice rather than complain. 

Now is the time to complain and to do so loudly.  Please go to our website and find the prepared letters on the issue of retiree health care and retirement benefits and send them to your members of Congress and the President.  You are not confined to what we have said in the letters, you may add your personal comments, and we urge you to do so.  Let those who have the power to reduce your benefits know how such action would affect you.  After all, Soldiers are the essence of the Army. 

As Gen. Sullivan has said time and again, “Military personnel are not a faceless group – they are the one percent of this nation’s population that are willing to carry our colors into battle and to offer up their life in the process.  When they retire from the front line, they should be given the respect and dignity of a reliable benefits package that will not be changed.”  

(To send a letter, go to www.ausa.org, click on “Legislative Action Center” at the bottom of the page, then click on the “Contact Congress” button.  Put your zip code in the box titled “Elected Officials” and then click on the prepared letters concerning health care and retirement benefits.)  

We, here at AUSA Headquarters will also do our part.  Not only will we let Congress know where we stand on the budget request, we will join forces with our partners in The Military Coalition, who collectively represent more than 5.5 million members of the uniformed services.   

AUSA Family Programs Interstate Compact Survey Results

AUSA Family Programs recently held a survey to gauge the familiarity with and effectiveness of the Interstate Compact on Educational Opportunity for Military Children amongst military families. Forty-five states have now signed the Compact, which is designed to provide military students with support and consistency when transferring to new schools. The responses  of our survey help to shape the information we’ll present to the military community, and also gives administrators and groups that work on the Compact a glimpse of how the Compact is or isn’t being used or implemented at the local level. There were eight questions and 76 survey respondents.  More than 95% of military students are covered by the Compact, but half of the military parents surveyed were unfamiliar with the Compact, and even fewer respondents felt that administrators or school officials were familiar enough with the Compact to implement it effectively. The survey summary was well received from both the Office of the Secretary of Defense and DoDEA. Read the full brief summary here.

GI Bill Policy Update to Transferability Rules

Soldiers who opt to transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to a family member will now be required to serve an extra four years in the Army, regardless of the amount of time they've already been in the service. The policy change, announced in an April 15 memo to military personnel, starts Aug. 1. The new rule will affect mainly retirement-eligible senior officers and enlisted soldiers. The current policy allows retirement-eligible members to transfer their GI benefits to a family member with anywhere from zero to three extra years' service depending on the length of time the applicant has been in the military. Non-retirement- eligible soldiers who wish to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a family member were already required to have six years of active duty and then re-up for another four years. The new policy makes the additional four-years a requirement for anyone wanting to transfer their benefits.

Defense Center of Excellence Participates in Arts and Health in the Military Summit

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) hosted the second “National Summit: Arts, Health and Wellbeing across the Military Continuum.” The summit falls under the National Initiative for Arts and Health in the Military, which strives to advance the benefits of the arts in health, healing and health care for service members, veterans, families and caregivers. Speakers, panelists and attendees focused on arts exposure, active art-making, and research, policy and practice in arts and health across the military continuum, from pre-deployment to reintegration. Of the conference objectives, National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chairman Joan Shigekawa said, “The arts have a role in healing.  (With this conference), I’m proud we have been able to build on our initial programs.” Considerable research has been done on the positive effect the arts can have when implemented as a therapy component for service members and their families. Read more about his event here.

Tips for a Successful PCS

Relocation is “part of the job” for military families, but it doesn’t ever really get “easy” for most. With the arrival of spring also came the beginning of PCS season, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the resources and information available to you. Make an effort to avoid a few headaches by planning as far ahead as your orders allow. Take a look at this extensive moving checklist to help you stay organized and make sure you have all of your boxes checked throughout the PCS process.  Also, read through this list of common PCS mistakes to avoid this time around.

Ways to Stretch Your Tax Refund

With tax-filing deadlines now a thing of the past, you can breathe a sigh of relief. But how can you use your tax refund to your family’s full benefit? Should you finally take that vacation you’ve been dreaming about? Should you invest it or put it into savings? USAA put together a few ideas for smartly spending your tax return once you’ve taken care of the big ticket items you’re responsible for.

Teaching Military Children Financial Management

In addition to being the Month of the Military Child, April is also financial literacy month. Combining those ideas, Barbara Thompson, Director of Family Policy/Children and Youth, is encouraging military children to learn about financial management. "These are life skills that you don't want to learn when you're in trouble as an adult,” Thompson said. “We think financial readiness is one of those life skills that, the sooner you start, the more prepared you are as you enter adulthood.” She said statistics on retirement preparation are startling, noting, “People have not been saving at all.” The idea of saving money as a child might seem far-fetched, but habits instilled at a young age can lead to easily-achieved future security. Watch the video clip here.

Operation Homefront Military Child of the Year Winners Announced

Operation Homefront recently announced the five recipients of the 2013 Military Child of the Year® Award. Each year the organization gives the award to an outstanding military child from each branch of service – Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard. From a pool of more than 1,000 nominees, each award recipient was chosen by a committee including active duty military personnel, Family Readiness Support Assistants, teachers, military mothers, and community members. The five awardees received $5,000 each and were flown to Washington, D.C. for a special recognition last week. The keynote speaker at the gala was Mary Jean Eisenhower, granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Dempsey honored the awardees, saying “These are incredible young men and women who not only do their parents proud, but do their schools proud, their friends proud, their communities proud, and ultimately the nation proud.” The award recipients hail from all over the country, with Nicole Marie Daly, 16, of Fort Lee, VA representing the Army. Read more about the winners here.

Kansas State University's first Educate the Educators Event Held

AUSA Family Programs was happy to donate copies of Debbie Fink’s “The Little Champs” that were used at a recent “Educate the Educators” event at Fort Riley, KS.  Six soldiers from the school’s partner unit came to read the book in three 3rd grade classrooms, along with facilitating a discussion by the teacher and service members. They brought their unit flags to tie into a lesson on Service flags and the teachers connected the flag virtues to their school/class’ character. After the reading and discussions, service members showed students their dog tags and the kids made two each, one with their own name and one with the name of someone they know in the military or the names of one of the soldiers in the room. Donated books were distributed to participating classrooms, the library, and the school counselors. KSU will extend the program to eight other schools in coming months, working to train facilitators to properly engage students with the text.

Proposed 2014 Budget Calls for Health Care Fee Increase

The recently-released 2014 budget calls for creating new enrollment fees for Tricare for Life, Tricare Standard and Tricare Extra health programs, and increasing deductibles and co-pays for prescription drugs, with the changes falling most heavily on working-age retirees under 65 and their families.

However, survivors of service members who die on active-duty and medically retired veterans would be exempt from the fee hikes. Defense Secretary Hagel defended the proposed fee increases, saying the changes were among the most carefully considered and painful choices. He added, “Suggestions were made in recognition that in order to sustain these benefits over the long term without dramatically reducing the size or readiness of the force, these rising costs need to be brought under control.” Hagel believes that even with the fee increase, the TRICARE program will remain a substantial benefit for service members and their families. Read more here.

How Family Programs will be Affected by Proposed Budget

Though the proposed 2014 budget allotment for military family programs has held steady at 8.5 billion, there are reductions in how the money would be dispersed. Child care and youth programs would be reduced from 1.3 billion to 1.2 billion, and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation would see a similar .1 billion dollar reduction to 1.3 billion. Spouse employment programs would also face minor cuts. However, there are also increases. The war fighter and family services category shows a $100 million increase, to $1.7 billion. Department of Defense schools would get a boost of $200 million, for a total request of $2.8 billion. Read more about the proposed changes, which also include funds for construction projects for several installation schools.

Military Spouse Job Continuity Act to be Reintroduced

Senator Casey (D-PA) will re-introduce the Military Spouse Job Continuity Act of 2013 on 18 April, with Representative Cartwright (D-PA) presenting companion legislation in the House. The bill amends the Internal Revenue Code to allow a military spouse who moves with service member spouse to another state under a permanent change of station order a tax credit for up to $500 incurred in qualified relicensing costs. "Qualified relicensing costs" are defined as costs for a state license or certification necessary to engage in the profession that a military spouse worked in while residing in the former state. By allowing a $500 credit against income tax for amounts paid by military spouses for new state licenses, this bill alleviates some of the financial burden military families face from frequent moves from duty station to duty station in different states.

Military Youth Invited to Attend a Fun, Educational Journalism And Film August 1-3 2013

Cantigny Park and the First Division Museum, Wheaton Illinois will be the location of a Citizen Journalist’ Workshop for Military Youth ages 12-17. This workshop will take place on August 1- 3, 2013 with the support of a grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, committed to fostering communities of educated, informed and engaged citizens.

“A Backpack Journalist workshops are fun, educational and bring in a real world experience for all the youth who attend.  Often, we hear from the youth – ‘WOW, this is not like school – this is better!’ We look forward to learning more about The First Division Museum, Robert R. McCormick and sharing what we learn via a film,” said Linda Dennis, Program Manager. For three days rotations of writing, photography and film making will be taught by the qualified staff of A Backpack Journalist teachers for military youth from Illinois and the surrounding states.  During the workshop the teachers and military youth will also be interviewing Veterans and building a documentary on Cantigny Park, First Division Museum and Robert R. McCormick.  Each youth will be participating in each element:  interviewing, reporting to directing and then the final film.

AUSA Family Programs plans to premiere the documentary during the 2013 Annual Meeting Family Forums. For more information, please contact Cantigny@abackpackjournalist.com or visit A Backpack Journalist’s event page.

VA's Proposed 2014 Budget

The President has proposed a $152.7 billion budget, a 10.2 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2013, that will support the Department of Veterans' Affairs' (VA's) goals to expand access to health care and other benefits, eliminate the disability claims backlog, and end homelessness among Veterans. The budget includes $66.5 billion in discretionary spending, largely for healthcare, and $86.1 billion for mandatory programs -- mostly disability compensation and pensions for Veterans. Highlights from the President's 2014 budget request for VA are available on the VA website.

National Vet Employment Summit Results

Monster.com, the worldwide leader in successfully connecting people to job opportunities, and Military.com, the nation's largest military and veteran membership organization, today released a report summarizing the top-line recommendations and discussions following the first National Veteran Employment Summit held in December 2012. The Summit brought together senior human resource professionals, military and government officials, academic leaders and military veterans to address the best practices for preparing, supporting, and connecting veterans to the organizations that want to hire them. The report highlights that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for every organization looking to implement a veteran hiring program. The report is available online.

President’s Budget Calls for More Base Closures -- Makes Dramatic Changes in TRICARECosts

Military personnel would be targeted again, and we were right. The President released his FY2014 budget proposals this week and there is much to be very concerned about.

For the active duty he calls for a 1 percent pay increase, a 4.2 percent increase in the Basic Allowance for Housing, and a 3.4 percent increase in Basic Allowance for Subsistence. But he also calls for a new round of base closures -- BRAC – that would start in 2015. Part of the rationale for the BRAC is that the Army and Marine Corps are scheduled to have 100,000 fewer troops by 2017.

But it only gets worse.

The budget proposal contains huge increases in TRICARE fees, with retirees under age 65 taking the worst hit. For those individuals, the proposal would phase in new TRICARE Prime enrollment fees over a four year period, based on a percentage of retired pay.

Unless you’re a flag or general officer, in which case you’d pay more, the minimum annual enrollment fee for TRICARE Prime family coverage would be $548 in 2014, rising to $594 in 2018.

In addition to those increases, TRICARE Prime co-pays for retirees and their beneficiaries would increase to $16 per medical visit not related to mental health. Mental health visits would increase by $4.

TRICARE Standard and Extra would, for the first time, have enrollment fees for retirees under age 65. They would start at $70 for individuals and $140 for families in 2014 and rise to $125 for individuals and $250 for families by 2018. In 2019 and beyond the fees would increase each year by the same percentage as the annual cost-of-living adjustment in military pay.

Annual health care deductibles for retirees under age 65 would increase each year for five years. In 2014 they would be $160 for individuals and $320 for families, and then rise to $200 for individuals and $400 for families in 2015. For the years 2016 through 2018 the fees would increase by $30 each year for individuals and $60 each year for families. After 2018 they would increase each year by the amount of the retiree COLA.

For TRICARE for Life beneficiaries there would be an annual enrollment fee based on a percentage of retired pay. In 2014 the fee would be no more than $150 for family coverage for retirees under the rank of 0-7. In the following years there could be increases of up to as much as $150 per year for those under 0-7. The only good news in this is that retirees who are already 65 at the time of the change would be exempt from the new fees.

The budget proposal also calls for increases in pharmacy co-pays, with smaller increases for generic drugs and large increases for brand name drugs, whether purchased at a retail store or through mail order. There is also a proposal to begin charging $9 co-pay for generic drugs purchased through the TRICARE mail order program starting in 2018, something for which there is currently no charge.

We believe there will be a real battle in Congress over these proposals because of the fight to reduce the federal deficit. The Military Coalition and its allies have been successful in stopping proposals like these in the past and we will go all-out to fight them again.

The Administration’s VA Budget

The Department of Veterans Affairs is in the enviable position of having the President propose an increase in funding for FY2014. In these times that is a very unusual position to be in. (Just look at the preceding story) The plan has 3 top priorities

  • Expand Access to Benefits and Services
  • Eliminate the Claims Backlog in 2015
  • End Veterans Homelessness; also in 2015

The total budget request is $152.7 billion for FY2014. That is $86.1 billion in mandatory spending and $66.5 billion in discretionary spending (including collections.) The mandatory spending covers primarily disability benefit compensation and education benefits. Discretionary spending is primarily health care spending ($54.6 billion). Proposed discretionary spending is up 4.3% above last year’s discretionary budget.

The proposal also includes a request for Advanced Appropriations adding $1.1 billion to the requested FY2014 $54.6 billion.

At the briefing the greatest focus was, not surprisingly, on ending the backlog. With HVAC Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) calling for the removal of VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey and some VSOs calling for the resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki this is the subject most on the mind of the VA leadership. The latest call for the Secretary’s resignation was included in a Washington Post op-ed piece written by Re. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Pete Hugest chief executive of Concerned Veterans of America. It is getting to be a more and more contentious issue here in DC. They say that with improvements and increases in personnel, and the implementation of the Veterans Benefits Management Systems and Veteran Claims Intake Program that the end of the backlog goal will be reached in 2015. (There will be much more analysis of this in the future. TREA will keep you informed about all new information.

The expansion of access to benefits and services is focused primarily on increasing funding for technology improvements including programs in home telehome, veterans relationship management (VRM), virtual lifetime electronic record, improvements in eBenefits and VONAPP, increases in women-specific medical care, mental health care, OEF/OIF/OND veterans healthcare and increases in financing non-VA healthcare for rural areas

Secretary Shinseki has called for the end of veteran homelessness by 2015 as his own goal. The budget calls for spending $1.4 billion on homelessness programs in FY2014. That is a 3% increase over last year.

This is a very fast overview of the Administration’s proposals. TREA will be studying them and will have more to tell you soon.

New Military/ Veterans Legislation

H.R.1412: To improve and increase the availability of on-job training and apprenticeship programs carried out by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO-06)

H.R.1438: To amend title 38, United States Code, to exempt reimbursements of certain medical expenses and other payments related to accident, theft, loss, or casualty loss from determinations of annual income with respect to pensions for veterans and surviving spouses and children of veterans, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL-20)

H.R.1490: To amend title 38, United States Code, to prohibit the recording of a patient in a facility of the Department of Veterans Affairs without the informed consent of the patient.
Sponsor: Rep. Jeff B. Miller (R-FL-01)

H.R.1492: To establish the Commission on America and its Veterans.
Sponsor: Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA-07)

H.R.1494: To direct the Secretary of Defense to review the operation of certain ships during the Vietnam Era, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Chris P. Gibson (R-NY-19)

S.616: A bill to provide incentives to physicians to practice in rural and medically underserved communities and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)

S.625: A bill to provide for a biennial appropriations process with the exception of defense spending and to enhance oversight and the performance of the Federal Government.
Sponsor: Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-WY)

S.628: A bill 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 mental condition not amounting to disability, including separation on the basis of a personality or adjustment disorder.
Sponsor: Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT)

S.674 A bill to require prompt responses from the heads of covered Federal agencies when the Secretary of Veterans Affairs requests information necessary to adjudicate claims for benefits under laws administered by the Secretary, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

S.690 A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to deem certain service in the organized military forces of the Government of the Commonwealth of the Philippines and the Philippine Scouts to have been active service for purposes of benefits under programs administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Sponsor: Sen. Brian E. Schatz (D-HI)

S.695: A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to extend the authorization of appropriations for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to pay a monthly assistance allowance to disabled veterans training or competing for the Paralympic Team and the authorization of appropriations for the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide assistance to United States Paralympics, Inc., and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. John N. Boozman (R-AR)

S.700: A bill to ensure that the education and training provided members of the Armed Forces and veterans better assists members and veterans in obtaining civilian certifications and licenses, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Timothy M. Kaine (D-VA)

Report Says Billions in Federal Spending Wasted

The Government Accountability Office (GAO), an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress and investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, released a report this week that says unnecessary government programs are wasting tens of billions of dollars annually. The report took three years to complete and found 31 areas of duplicate or wasteful spending.

Among the areas it found wasteful spending in was an estimated $82 million in unnecessary expenses for military uniforms, which comes as no surprise to anyone who’s ever been in the military.

TMC has maintained for a long time that before Congress ever considers letting the Pentagon slash military benefits it needs to look seriously at wasteful government spending and get rid of it. That’s especially true in the Department of Defense, whose books are so bad that it cannot be audited. It is shameful to target personnel benefits for cuts without making sure all wasteful spending has ended. TMC will continue to urge Congress to force DoD to audit its books and stop the proposed cuts to military personnel benefits.

Service Members Awarded $39 Million for Violations of SCRA

From a Department of Justice Press Release:
The Department of Justice announced last week that under its 2011 settlements with BAC Home Loans Servicing LP, a subsidiary of Bank of America Corporation, and Saxon Mortgage Servicing Inc., a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley, 316 service members whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed upon between 2006 and 2010 are due to receive over $39 million in monetary relief for alleged violations of the Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

Under the first settlement, Bank of America is required to pay over $36.8 million to service members whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed upon between 2006 and 2010. Each service member will receive a minimum of $116,785, plus compensation for any equity lost with interest. Bank of America has already begun compensating 142 service members whose homes were illegally foreclosed on between 2006 and the middle of 2009. Under the same agreement, Bank of America agreed to provide information about its foreclosures from mid-2009 through the end of 2010. As a result of that review, Bank of America will now pay 155 service members upon whose homes it illegally foreclosed. Borrowers receiving payment under this settlement may receive an additional payment under a settlement between Bank of America and federal banking regulators -- the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System -- if the foreclosure occurred in 2009 or 2010. Payments provided under the federal banking regulators’ settlement will bring the total amount received by eligible borrowers to $125,000 plus equity where applicable.

Under the second settlement, Saxon Mortgage Services Inc. is in the process of paying out over $2.5 million to 19 service members whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed upon between 2006 and 2010. Each service member will receive a minimum of $130,555.56, plus compensation for any equity lost with interest.

Bank of America is one of five mortgage servicers that entered into a settlement, known as the National Mortgage Settlement, with the Justice Department in 2012 regarding its foreclosure practices. Pursuant to the National Mortgage Settlement, the Justice Department is overseeing ongoing audits of the five largest mortgage servicers in the country (Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank, JP Morgan Chase and Ally) to identify violations of the SCRA’s foreclosure provisions between Jan. 1, 2006 and April 4, 2012 and its 6 percent interest rate cap provision between Jan. 1, 2008 and April 4, 2012. The $36.8 million currently being paid by Bank of America to 297 service members is pursuant to the 2011 consent decree (which predated the National Mortgage Settlement), and represents only the non-judicial foreclosures conducted by Bank of America. As the National Mortgage Settlement audits progress, the Justice Department will be requiring payments by Bank of America for judicial foreclosure and interest rate violations, and by the other four servicers for judicial and non-judicial foreclosure and interest rate violations. Under the National Mortgage Settlement most service members wrongly foreclosed on will receive $125,000 plus any lost equity. For the foreclosure violations that took place in 2009 and 2010, the Justice Department is coordinating closely with the Office of the Comptroller and the Federal Reserve Board, which are conducting separate reviews of 12 mortgage servicers under the Independent Foreclosure Review process.

Hagel Repeals Drone Service Medal

Apr 15, 2013

Military.com| by Brendan McGarry

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has repealed a medal created just two months ago to recognize the achievements of drone pilots and cyber specialists, ordering that a separate "distinguishing device" be used instead.

Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Feb. 13 announced the Distinguished Warfare Medal for pilots of unmanned aircraft and cybersecurity operators who had "an extraordinary impact on combat operations" even though they did not serve on the battlefield.

Veterans groups complained that the medal would unfairly be ranked above the Bronze Star with Combat "V" and the Purple Heart, two medals designed to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of troops who served in combat. 

Hagel halted the production of the medal on March 12 and ordered a review of the medal after initially supporting the creation of it. A review led by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and service secretaries recommended the creation of a distinguishing device that can be affixed to existing medals. The same group had supported the creation of the medal when Panetta first announced it.

"I agree with the Joint Chiefs’ findings, and have directed the creation of a distinguishing device instead of a separate medal," Hagel said in a statement released Monday.

The military leaders found the debate about the precedence of the award "distracting" from the award's purpose, according to the Hagel's statement. He ordered the award criteria and other details to be presented to him for final approval within 90 days.

Groups such as The American Legion and VFW welcomed the decision.

"Cyber and drone warfare have become part of the equation for 21st-century combat, and those who fight such battles with distinction certainly deserve to be recognized," James Koutz, national commander of the American Legion, said in a statement. "But The American Legion still believes there’s a fundamental difference between those who fight remotely, or via computer, and those fighting against an enemy who is trying to kill them."

His group had protested the proposed medal's ranking in the order of precedence, a hierarchical structure of military awards topped by the Medal of Honor, the highest medal for valor. Koutz, a Vietnam veteran, previously said placing the medal above those given for valor and courage under fire was "wholly inappropriate."

John Hamilton, national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, agreed.

"This decision will clearly keep medals that can only be earned in combat in their high order of precedence, while providing proper recognition to all who support our war fighters regardless of their distance from the fight," he said in a statement.

Members of Congress stepped forward to voice their concern with the medal’s order of precedence. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said veterans in his state contacted his office with concern over the medal.

"Pennsylvania's veterans and others have told me of their concerns with ranking the new medal above some combat valor medals, such as the Bronze Star Medal with valor device," Toomey said.

Hagel’s decision to repeal the medal is a reversal to his initial reaction. On March 8, Hagel wrote a letter to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in which he said he was satisfied with the ranking of the new medal.

Doug Sterner, the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, an online database of military awards, said he's "very pleased" with Hagel's decision to rescind the medal.

"I referred to it jokingly as the Nintendo Medal or the Redundant Medal because it was totally unnecessary," he said. "We have a range of existing medals that can accomplish what they want to do," including the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Legion of Merit, he said.

With the decision, the Pentagon leadership seems to be more willing to listen to outside advice and criticism, Sterner said.

"I like to think it might be because they got a former enlisted man at the helm," he said, referring to Hagel, who received two Purple Hearts as an infantry squad leader in Vietnam before becoming a U.S. senator from Nebraska.

Obama Budget: Increase TRICARE Fees and Cap Pay

Apr 11, 2013

Tom Philpott

Trying once more to get military compensation costs "under control," the Obama administration has asked Congress to cap annual active duty and reserve component pay raises, and to phase in over four years a complex formula for raising TRICARE fees on retirees of all ages and their families.

The five-year budget plan unveiled Wednesday proposes that annual pay raises be held at one percent from 2014 through 2016 and be raised to 1.5 percent in 2017 and to 2.5 percent in 2018, said Robert Hale, the Department of Defense's under secretary and comptroller.

The first year's pay cap alone, which would trim just eight-tenths of a percentage point off a scheduled 1.8 percent increase to match of private sector wage growth, would save $540 million in 2014 and $3.5 billion through 2018, officials said.  

As in years past, the administration seeks to cut health costs by having retirees and families pay more under all three options of TRICARE.

Here are details of these proposals:

TRICARE Prime – The current family enrollment fee of $539 for working-age retirees (under age 65) would increase next year to equal 2.95 percent of the individual's gross retired pay.  But for 2014 the fee would be subject to an annual minimum, or floor, of $548 and a ceiling of $750 ($900 for flag officers).  The fee would be raised to 3.3 percent of gross retired pay in 2015 with a floor of $558 and ceiling of $900 ($1200 for flag); 3.65 percent in 2016 with floor of $569 and ceiling of $1050 ($1500 for flag); and so on until reaching 4 percent of gross retired pay in 2018 with a floor of $594 and ceiling of $1226 ($1840 for flag).

Fees for single coverage would be half these amounts.

TRICARE Standard/Extra – For the first time, users of these options would face an annual enrollment fee, starting at $70 for single coverage or $140 for family, and rising each year until reaching $125 (individual) and $250 (family) in 2018.  Also, the current annual deductible of $150 (individual) and $300 (family) would gradually increase, starting in 2014 and until it reached $290 (individual) and $580 (family) in 2018. 

Adjustments – After 2018, all TRICARE enrollment fees, floors and ceilings, and deductibles for retirees would climb yearly by the same percentage increase of cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) for military retired pay to keep pace with inflation.

TRICARE for Life – Beneficiaries 65 and older can use TRICARE for Life as a golden supplement to Medicare. Officials said a comparable individual policy in 2009 would cost $2100 in the private sector.  So, they reason, military elderly should at least pay a small enrollment fee.

The fee would equal one half of one percentage point of gross retired pay in 2014; one percent in 2015; 1.5 percent in 2016, and two percent in 2017 and in 2018.  But the fees would have ceilings: no more $150 a year in 2014; no more than $300 in 2015, $450 in 2016, $600 in 2017 and no more than $618 in 2018.  Flag officers would face higher ceilings though not substantial. After 2017, these fees would be adjusted by the percentage of retiree COLAs.

Pharmacy Fees – The administration wants to follow last year's increases in pharmacy co-pays with additional increases phased in to encourage greater use of mail order and generic drugs.

Catastrophic Cap – The current cap on total out-of-pocket costs TRICARE costs of $3000 a year would be raised for retirees in two ways: by excluding any TRICARE enrollment fees from counting toward the cap; and by raising the cap annually by the percentage of retiree COLA.

Officials hope tying the size of fees to level of retired pay will soften resistance in Congress.  Also, this year's plan would exempt from any fee increases the survivors of members who die on active duty and persons medically retired from service.  And the department no longer is asking that TRICARE fees be adjusted annually based on medical inflation.

That concession to use retiree COLAs instead might be less than it appears.  The Obama budget proposes, as part of a larger debt-reduction deal, that all federal COLAs, including for social security, veteran benefits and retirement plans, switch to a "chain" Consumer Price Index to measure inflation.  This CPI would save the billions of dollars annually by shaving every COLA by a fraction of a percentage point.

Obama's support for it is conditional; Republicans must agree to close some corporate tax loopholes and to raise taxes on the wealthy.  Still, Obama support of chain CPI has drawn fire from some Democrats and liberals in Congress.  Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont who chairs the veterans affairs committee, added language to the Senate's non-binding budget resolution to oppose if.  If the chain CPI is adopted, said Sanders, "veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 [a year by] age 45."  

In unveiling the 2014 defense budget request, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the smaller pay raises and TRICARE changes would save $1.4 billion next year and $12.8 billion over just five years.  The TRICARE changes, he said, would "bring the beneficiary's cost-share closer to the levels envisioned when the program was first implemented."

In 1996, officials said, retirees covered 27 percent of total TRICARE costs with enrollment fees, deductibles or co-payments.  Today, their out-of-pocket costs cover only 11 percent.

Asked to recall how hard it was to vote for higher TRICARE fees when he was a senator, Hagel said times are different now.  When he left Congress in 2009 the global financial crisis was just beginning.  Today, the Department of Defense is struggling with $41 billion in automatic cuts this year from budget sequestration.  It faces $500 billion in more cuts over the next decade if the administration and Congress can't partner on a solution.

The $527 billion defense budget for 2014 assumes that a large debt-reduction deal is reached and sequestration ends.  The defense share of the deal would be $150 billion in cuts over the decade versus $500 billion under sequestration.  If slowing compensation growth isn't as part of that $150 billion cut, Defense officials said, deeper force cuts are inevitable.

Let your elected officials know how you feel about these proposed TRICARE fee increase

Army, Air Force, and Marines Reinstate Tuition Assistance

April 10, 2013 | Terry Howell

Army officials announced the reinstatement of the Tuition Assistance program today. The program will pick up were it left off, meaning that eligibility rules have not changed and tuition coverage will remain  at 100% for the remainder of the fiscal year.

According  to the Air Force Times, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, James Cody, said that the Air Force will reinstate tuition assistance around mid-April. Like the Army, the Air Force will fully reinstate the program with no new limitations or restrictions.

The Marine Corps announced that they will also reinstate tuition assistance on Thursday April 11, but with some new limits. The new policy will effectively reduce the funding. In addition, the reinstatement is not retroactive, meaning that Marines who enrolled prior to reinstatement of the TA program will not be eligible to receive TA reimbursement. The Marine Corps will issue details in a soon to be released MARADMIN message.

The Navy was the only service not to suspend tuition assistance and the Coast Guard has yet to issue any statement regarding the restart their tuition assistance  programs.

Soldier Sentenced to 16 Years in Spy Case

Apr 16, 2013

Associated Press| by Mark Thiessen

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - An Alaska-based military policeman will serve 16 years in prison and will be dishonorably discharged for selling secrets to an FBI undercover agent who he believed was a Russian spy, a panel of eight military members has decided.

Spec. William Colton Millay of Owensboro, Ky., pleaded guilty last month to attempted espionage and other counts. He was sentenced Monday.

Military prosecutors painted him as a white supremacist who was fed up with the Army and the United States, and was willing to sell secrets to an enemy agent, even if that would cost fellow soldiers their lives.

Defense attorneys said Millay was emotionally stunted, was only seeking attention and was a candidate for rehabilitation.

Monday's proceedings were like a mini-trial conducted in front of the sentencing panel, with both sides calling two witnesses.

FBI Special Agent Derrick Chriswell said Millay came to their attention in the summer of 2011 through an anonymous tip after Millay sent an email to a Russian publication seeking information about the military and made several calls to the Russian embassy.

"That's a concern for national security," Chriswell said.

The FBI, working with military intelligence agencies, conducted the investigation. On Sept. 13, 2011, an FBI undercover agent called Millay and set up a meeting the next day at an Anchorage hotel-restaurant.

Chriswell testified that during the first meeting with the agent, Millay "expressed his disgust with the U.S. military." They then moved to the agent's hotel room, where audio and video recording devices were in place.

Millay, 24, said he'd work for the Russian government, and if they made it worth his while, he'd re-enlist for a second five-year stint. He also said he had confidential information on the Warlock Duke jamming system the U.S. military uses to sweep roadside bombs.

Two days after that meeting, Millay reported to his commander that he had been contacted by a Russian agent. He was later interrogated by military intelligence officers and the FBI, but prosecutors say Millay was merely trying to throw off suspicion.

Chriswell said Millay, during the interrogation, withheld information that officials already knew from the recordings. That included a claim that he didn't know why a Russian agent would contact him, his claim to the agent that he had access to Social Security numbers of people on base because of his police job and that he had sent her an earlier text claiming he had more information on the jamming system.

Later, after he came off a monthlong leave, he told the agent he was willing to sell information using a confidential drop at a park.

On Oct. 21, 2011, he dropped off a white envelope with information about the F-22s and the jamming system in a garbage can. That envelope was later collected by the FBI.

Millay was told to drive to a hotel, where he collected $3,000 and a disposable cellphone from a pickup.

Afterward, the agent contacted Millay to complain her superiors wanted information that wasn't on the Internet. Millay assured her that the information on the jamming system - about a paragraph's worth - wasn't available. That was later confirmed by military personnel.

He was arrested Oct. 28. A search of his barracks found two handguns, detailed instructions on how to use a Russian Internet phone service and literature from the white supremacist organization, the National Socialists Movement.

Chriswell also testified that Millay has two Nazi SS thunderbolt tattoos under his biceps and spider web tattoos, which he said was common among racists in prison.

"He branded himself in their symbols of hate," military prosecutor Capt. Stewart Hyderkhan said in his closing statement, arguing for at least 25 years in prison. "He had hate for the Army. He had hate for the United States."

Millay's attorney, Seattle-based Charles Swift, argued that the Nazi movement and Russia don't exactly have a lot in common, and that Millay had once been married to Filipino.

Defense witness Dr. Veronica Harris, a psychiatrist, testified Millay had the emotional capability of a 5-year-old and suffers from low self-esteem, mild depression, alcoholism and narcissism.

"I know I've made a terrible mistake," Millay said in court Monday. "I'm a U.S. soldier, and that piece of me, I'm proud of."

Hyderkhan said jailhouse recordings show Millay threatens to continue to divulge secrets.

Swift, in his closing statement, argued that eight years was punitive enough and would provide time for rehabilitation.

The panel recommended a 19-year sentence, but that was dropped to 16 years because of a pretrial agreement. Millay will receive credit for the 535 days he's been jailed since his arrest. The panel also reduced him in rank to private and he will forfeit all pay and allowances.

Swift said he accepts the sentence but will seek further clemency.

General Defends Dismissal of Sex Assault Verdict

Apr 12, 2013

Military.com| by Brendan McGarry

The Air Force general who chose to overturn an officer's sexual assault conviction said accusations that his motivation was to protect a fellow fighter pilot are "preposterous."

The February decision ignited a firestorm on Capitol Hill and drew scrutiny to the separate set of laws governing military members, known as the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Following his review of the case, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel this week proposed removing the convening authority from commanders in major cases.

Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, commander of the 3rd Air Force at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, who isn't a judge or an attorney, defended his decision in a six-page letter he submitted to the service in response to the uproar.

Accusations that he doesn't understand sexual assault or take the crime seriously "are complete and utter nonsense," he wrote. Allegations that his decision was influenced by his previous role commanding a unit the pilot later served in "are equally preposterous," he wrote.

Franklin took a rare step in explaining his decision, which isn't required under the military code. His letter, dated March 12, and other documents and videos from the case were recently posted online in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

In the letter, Franklin, who didn't attend the trial, says he struggled with the decision. However, after he reviewed the evidence, he found the defendant, Lt. Col. James Wilkerson III, and his wife, Beth, more credible than the alleged victim, Kimberly Hanks, who has since come forward publicly to discuss the matter.

Approving the jury's finding of guilt "would have been an act of cowardice," Franklin wrote. "I hold a genuine and reasonable doubt that Lt. Col. Wilkerson committed the crime," he wrote. "My court-martial action to disapprove findings and to dismiss the charges was the right, the just, and the only thing to do."

Wilkerson, then the inspector general at Aviano Air Base in Italy and a former F-16 pilot, was found guilty of multiple charges to include aggravated assault. He was sentenced to a year in prison and dismissal from the service before Franklin overturned the conviction.

Hanks accused him of fondling her breasts and genitalia as she slept in his guest bedroom, according to court documents. The two met at a club with groups of friends after a rock concert that was held on base, organized by the USO and featuring the alternative rock band, Seether, according to her testimony.

Hanks, a divorcee who worked as a civilian contractor in the medical clinic on base, didn't previously know Wilkerson but wound up at his home in Roverado, according to her testimony. Hanks said she awoke in a bedroom with Wilkerson when his wife entered the room, turned on the lights and said: "What the hell is going on?"

Hanks testified that the woman then ordered her to, "Get the hell out of my house."

In his letter, Franklin said he was persuaded in part by the many letters of clemency from family, friends and colleagues of the Wilkersons that "painted a consistent picture of a person who adored his wife and 9-year-old son, as well as a picture of a long-serving professional Air Force officer."

Franklin even makes a point to cast doubt on Wilkerson's failed polygraph test.

"A polygraph is only an investigative tool to assist in the potential focus of the investigation and/or to attempt to elicit admissions of guilt," he wrote. "It is not a ‘lie-detector test,' nor is it ‘pass' or ‘fail.' Because of the inherent unreliability of polygraphs, they are entirely inadmissible in a court-martial."

Lawmakers and supporters of sexual-assault victims were shocked by Franklin's letter.

"This explanation crystalizes exactly why the convening authority should not have the unilateral ability to overturn a jury verdict -- and why we need legislation that restricts their ability to do so," Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said in a statement. "This letter is filled with selective reasoning and assumptions from someone with no legal training, and it's appalling that the reasoning spelled out in the letter served as the basis to overturn a jury verdict in this case."

In light of the case, McCaskill introduced legislation that would curtail the authority of military commanders to dismiss jury convictions against sex offenders.

Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit based in Burlingame, Calif., called for Franklin to be dismissed from the military. "Lt. Gen. Franklin made a deeply flawed and inappropriate decision," the group's president, Nancy Parrish, said in a statement. "Rather than rely on the credibility determinations of the senior members of the jury he selected, Franklin chose to accept the word of Wilkerson's supporters."

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on April 8 said he would ask Congress to pass legislation that would prevent commanders from overturning convictions without explanation.

In 2011, less than half of the reported 3,200 sexual assaults in the military resulted in disciplinary action, according to the Defense Department. The number of actual sexual assaults each year is probably closer to 19,000, based on anonymous surveys of active-duty service members.

Wilkerson will remain on active duty and is being transferred to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he will become chief of flight safety for the 12th Air Force (Air Forces Southern), according to Master Sgt. Kelly Ogden, a spokeswoman for the unit. He is expected to arrive later this month or in early May.

Building the Bridge to Civilian Employment

Military.com| by Norina L. Columbaro

he Role of Professional Associations in Providing Continuing Education, Credentialing, Networking, and Mentoring

The Conversations in 2011 – Falling into the Gap between Military to Civilian Employment

A few years ago, NPR featured a story in which retired Army medic vet, Nick Cogin, was interviewed by John Donvan on Talk of the Nation. When asked about major challenges veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars faced upon return to civilian life, he expressed his frustration over gaining employment. One area Colgin identified as a key deterrent to employment was the lack of formal credentials, certificates or certifications. Here is an excerpt of that interview:

COLGIN: I went out into the job market, and I'm trying to convey to them that, hey, I'm really good at what I do. I'm the tip of the spear at medical care. And they didn't realize that because I lacked the certifications. I could be a medic in the Army, when I get out, it doesn't transfer out. And also, a lot of civilian employers don't understand what it means to be a medic overseas or be a truck driver overseas. They don't realize the qualifications that come along with that.

DONVAN: So why were they telling you that they were not hiring you?

COLGIN: They told me they were not hiring me because just the lack of certification.

DONVAN: You needed your paperwork and some sort of...

COLGIN: You needed the paperwork. You get trained to a high level within your field while in the military, but certifications don't come along with that training.

DONVAN: So all of the work that you did over there, and also here in the States, there's no piece of paper you can come out with and prove in the same way you have a discharge paper, you can't say I'm a trained medic and I can walk into this job?

COLGIN: It depends. Most people come out, you have very basic certifications. Like I had a nationally certified EMTB, which is the most basic-level medical certification you can get coming out. And it's just a small step over a CPR certification to most people.

DONVAN: So where did this leave you at that point?

COLGIN: This left me receiving an unemployment check. It left me - I was trying to - I was injured overseas as well, so I was trying to navigate the VA health care system. It left me severely depressed and unable to care not only for myself but for my wife as well.

-- Excerpt from Donvan, J. (October 10, 2011 1:00 PM). "Soldiers Say It's Hard To Return To Civilian Life," Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio.

This is a typical concern voiced by veterans returning from tour and seeking employment in civilian life. The Pew Research group released a report in October 2011 that focused on the unique challenges returning service people face as they strive to readapt to civilian life and employment. While 98% of active military in the 2011 study had a high school degree (which is higher than compared to the general population), only 17% had an advanced degree. Cuts in the GI Bill funding as well as the time involved makes it often difficult for a returning service person to earn a degree. This poses very real challenges to veterans who wish to seek employment in jobs that are accompanied with compensation that commiserates with their experience." Bottom line – that "piece of paper" and opportunities to gain additional education, training and connections to the civilian workforce do make a difference.

Answering the Call in 2012: The Department of Defense Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force

A task force was initiated by the Obama Administration in late 2012 to review the role of credentialing, certifications and certificate programs for military to civilian employment, find ways to expedite credentialing based on life experience, and explore best practices. One key finding that emerged from the task force is that, "despite having valuable military experience, veterans frequently find it difficult to obtain formal private sector recognition of their military training, experiences, and skill sets through civilian certification and licensure" (OOP, February 2013). Employers not only value the experiences and skills candidates bring to the organization, but also that they demonstrate their understanding of theory and processes through documented credentials and completion of coursework.

For example, if Sergeant Wilson has experience with corrosion while serving as an aircraft technical inspector and wants to explore a career as a corrosion technician – she may benefit from completing coursework and achieve credentialing through National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE International) and ASM International to achieve a formal record of training and credentials in her back pocket when she seeks civilian employment. Therefore, quality professionally-endorsed certificate, certification, licensing and continuing education programs are effective ways to provide evidence of attaining the theoretical knowledge to reinforce military experience.

Opportunities in Materials Science, Technology, and Manufacturing for Returning Servicepeople

According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, nearly 1 million veterans are either unemployed or still seeking employment. On the other hand, employees continue to lament the lack of skilled workers to draw from the pool. The renaissance of manufacturing and emerging technologies in the U.S. holds promise for service people and their employment outlooks (National Governors Association Academy Policy Report, 2013). However, the key is to match employers with potential employees and communicate a common view about the value of education and credentials for top jobs.

The Skills Translator, available through Military.com, allows service people to help match experience with jobs. In addition, a few of the top jobs in manufacturing and materials science and technology that require a skilled workforce are:

•Heat Treat Operator
•Quality Engineer
•Materials Technician/Engineer
•Metallographic Technician
•Thermal Spray Operators/Industrial Coaters
•Corrosion Technician
•Metallurgic Engineer
•Fabricator/Welder

Professional Associations as sources for Education, Training, Certificate, Certification and Licensing Programs

Beside colleges and universities, there are several resources professional organizations offer for returning service people to reinforce their military experience with formal continuing education, certificate, certification, and licensing programs:

ASM International (www.asminternational.org): Along with its four affiliate societies (Thermal Spray Society, Electronic Device Failure Analysis, Heat Treating Society, International Metallographic Society), ASM international provides education and certificate programs in heat treating, failure analysis, corrosion, metallography, thermal spray. The three-tiered certificate program in metallography provides the student an in-depth course of study in metallographic specimen preparation, microstructural interpretation, and analytical techniques. The Heat Treating Certificate Program has been endorsed by the International Heat Treating Society. In addition, ASM offers one-on-one coaching on metallographic techniques which helps integrate experience from your military career to civilian lab and protocol. For example, ASM International and its affiliates have over 200 chapters worldwide that offer education, networking, and foster fellowship to members that are invaluable to career development. Expos, conferences, and annual meetings allow a forum for individuals to share their experiences and integrate them into current industry developments and research.

National Association of Corrosion Engineers (NACE International, www.nace.org): Offers veterans scholarships and provides certifications and education (see complete listing at http://www.nace.org/Certification-Listing/). NACE International, The Corrosion Society, serves nearly 30,000 members in 116 countries and is recognized globally as the premier authority for corrosion control solutions. The organization offers technical training and certification programs, conferences, industry standards, reports, publications, technical journals, government relations activities and more.

Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME, www.sme.org): The SME website states, "SME offers advanced manufacturing certifications as well as a Lean certification similar to the American Society for Quality's Lean Six Sigma and Green/Black Belt certifications. Warrant Officer Advanced Course students at the Army's Engineer School at Ft. Leonard Wood are eligible for the SME Certified Manufacturing Technologist program. The Engineer School credentialing program is currently in development and the first class of participants will take their SME test in 2013".

American Welding Society (AWS, www.aws.org/w/a/): Certified Welder and Certified Welding Inspector are the credentials offered by the AWS. As a result of AWS's partnership with the Army's Ordnance Center and School, the approximately 540 Soldiers and 140 Marines who graduate each year from the Allied Trades Specialist Advanced Individual Training course will earn the Basic Welder certification upon course completion. The first class to participate in this program began their training on December 1, 2012.

And there's more: Professional Associations provide networking and mentoring opportunities through events, chapters, and membership

Research in adult learning and development increasingly emphasizes that education and training doesn't just happen in the classroom (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). It is through those unplanned conversations during a professional association chapter meeting that often galvanize learning and experiences from the military. Military personnel may want to consider proposing a "military" track for conferences to encourage dialogue around the unique issues returning service people face in integrating their experience into civilian situations in labs and workplaces.

In addition, several professional associations lay the foundation for informal mentoring and or provide formal mentoring programs that could potentially provide a returning service person and opportunity to build strong relationships with civilian employers and professionals. These relationships, if cultivated and supported, can lead to better satisfaction, easier transition to the civilian workplace and life, and pave the way for potential employment opportunities.

Keeping the Conversation Going – Into the Future

While there is much work that needs to be done to elevate the urgency of supporting our service people as they return to civilian life and employment, there have been significant strides forward in policy and services. In addition to the efforts from government task forces, higher education, technical/trade schools, and local and state workforce development hubs, professional associations are dedicated to help build that bridge so that our brave men and women who return from their tours are supported with opportunities to help realize their American dreams.