Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 26 September 2013 

9/26/2013 

 

EIGHT DAYS IN SEPTEMBER

The train of irresponsibility is speeding down the track. 

Eight days until the federal government shuts down unless Congress reaches a deal on a measure that would keep it funded until mid-December (then we will do it all again).

The House passed a continuing resolution (CR) on Friday that doesn’t stand a chance of passing in the Senate because of a provision they added that defunds the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).  After a lot of wrangling, the Senate will probably strip the provision, pass the bill and send it back to the House.  What action they House takes then will decide whether or not the government shuts down at midnight on Sept. 30.  If the House decides to pass the measure, minus the defunding of the health care law, then the lights stay on.  If not…well, you know the rest of the story.

Following closely on the heels of the CR battle will be debate and passage of a measure that raises the debt ceiling.  The government runs out money in mid-October.  The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations.  Both sides of the aisle are digging in their heels on this one also.

Folks, Congress can’t even pass these short-term spending measures much less routine spending bills without engaging in a game of fiscal chicken.  Meanwhile the monster also known as sequestration continues.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno joined the other service chiefs at a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee last week.  He was asked if sequestration continues, could the services meet the requirements necessary to comply with the minimal defense strategic guidance of 2012. 

Gen. Odierno said, “I believe at full sequestration we cannot meet the defense strategic guidance.  In fact, it's my opinion that we would struggle to even meet one major contingency operation.  It depends on assumptions.  And I believe some of the assumptions that were made were not good assumptions.  They are very unrealistic and very positive assumptions.  And for that, they would all have to come true for us to even come close to being able to meet that guidance.”

That’s the bottom line.

As long as Congress remains mired in this game of partisan posturing, the Defense Department will continue to deal with the budget uncertainty and unrealistic spending cuts.  Further, this continued dysfunction keeps us from advocating for those issues important to us and our members such as full concurrent receipt, the end of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP)/Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset and the Doc Fix. 

In a meeting at the Pentagon last week, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., was told bluntly by top Defense leadership that the only way to get the message to Congress that they MUST fix this mess is for their constituents, in large numbers, contact them and demand that they do so.

We, at AUSA, can only provide the message and ask for your help.  It is up to you to heed the call.  Visit the Legislative Agenda page on AUSA’s website www.ausa.org.  Click on the “Contact Congress” link and then on the prepared letter “Stop Sequestration Now” to let your representatives and senators know that it is time to act.

INSTRUCTIONS ISSUED TO RETIREMENT COMMISSION

“As in the past, it had been argued, and people believed it, as many do now, that there was no further danger of war.  Pacifism was predominant.  As the national debt had grown, partly as a result of pensions, retrenchment had been the political cry of both parties, and appropriations for defense had been constantly reduced.  The people throughout the country were almost exclusively occupied with their own personal affairs to the neglect of such considerations.  Nobody listened to those who realized the wisdom of maintaining an adequate army and advocated it.” 

GEN John J. Pershing wrote these words about the state of the nation in 1898!  Doesn’t this scenario sound similar to the one we are currently facing? 

In the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress established the Military Retirement and Compensation Modernization Commission, a task force that will examine and finds ways to overhaul the current military pay and benefits structure. 

The commission will examine a myriad of programs that impact currently serving members, retirees, spouses, children and survivors.  It will also review DoD-specific programs such as pay and retirement, MWR, commissaries, exchanges, housing, dependent schools; DoD and VA programs such as health care, disability, survivor, education, dependent support; Department of Education Impact Aid; and support/funding to states, territories, colleges and universities.

With respect to military retirement, Obama said that all current troops should be grandfathered under the current retirement plan if they choose. 

The law directs Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to give the department’s recommendations to the panel no later than Nov. 1, 2013.  The commission is supposed to submit its recommendations to President Obama no later than May 1, 2014.  Obama must then send his final proposals to Congress for consideration.

As the commission starts the review, AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition will provide our steadfast position on the importance of maintaining the military’s earned benefits.  We will keep our readers informed of developments as they occur. 

THE NUMBER ONE ITEM ON CONGRESS’ TO DO LIST

Pass legislation to keep the government running past 30 September.

Unbelievably, we are again talking about the possibility of a government shutdown.  It’s bad enough that Congress can’t seem to pass routine spending bills in a timely manner, they can’t even pass stop-gap spending measures without engaging in partisan battles they know the other side will reject!

A continuing resolution offered by House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers’ that would do little more than extend fiscal 2013 funding through Dec. 15, was withdrawn from consideration last week after protests from some in the Republican party.

Those members want to vote to defund implementation of "Obamacare" as part of the stopgap spending bill that has to be enacted by Oct. 1.  Conservatives are said to favor a bill that would pair a full-year continuing resolution for most federal agencies with language blocking implementation of the health care law. 

If this strategy is adopted, this approach would likely lead to a Senate rejection of the spending measure, which would then force the House to either reverse itself or shut the government down. 

We do not have a position on whether or not to defund the health care law.  We do have a position on the havoc the continued fiscal uncertainty is having on the Defense Department.  The department is trying to deal with the UNFAIR hand that it has been dealt with respect to sequestration; it does not need a government shutdown added to it. 

This is the message that AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., will take to the Hill leadership this week. 

THEY’RE BACK!

Congress will return to Washington after a five-week recess to an immediate agenda that is radically different from the one they expected.

Rather than jumping into the budget battle, they will instead focus on whether or not to authorize a military strike on Syria.

The House will probably take up a short-term, stopgap funding measure this week that would avert a government shutdown at the end of the month.  Instead of using the continuing resolution (CR) to wage partisan fights over a range of spending issues such as raising the debt ceiling, sequestration and defunding the president’s health care plan, it is expected that the CR will not contain any controversial provisions and is not expected to last more than two to three months.  This will give Congress the opportunity to fully focus on the Syria debate. 

The Syria debate also gives some members a renewed platform to speak out against sequestration.  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said in interviews over the weekend that, "We cannot keep asking the military to perform mission after mission with sequestration... hanging over their heads.  The world has not gotten safer and yet we are cutting a trillion dollars out of our military- asking them to do more with less.  That has to come to a stop.”  McKeon also said he thought he had enough leverage on the resolution vote to get the president to do something about sequester, although he cautioned that “sometimes you think you might be in a position to do something and someone pops your balloon.”

Sen. James Inhofe, ranking member Armed Services Committee, “would want an exemption for the Defense Department from sequestration and a reversal of the president’s $500 billion in defense cuts.”  House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle have said they oppose the president’s desire to use force in Syria because they believe spending cuts imposed by sequestration have done harm to military readiness.

Speaking of harm to the military, what really has us steamed is a letter from the president to House Speaker John Boehner in which he announces his decision to issue an executive order that would allow him to order an “alternative” military pay raise in times of national emergency or “severe economic conditions.”

In the letter, Obama cites the economy as the reason. “I am strongly committed to supporting our uniformed service members, who have made such great contributions to our nation over the past decade of war.  As our country continues to recover from serious economic conditions affecting the general welfare, however, we must maintain efforts to keep our nation on a sustainable fiscal course.  This effort requires tough choices, especially in light of budget constraints faced by federal agencies.”

The 1 percent pay raise is not a done deal.  In their fiscal 2014 defense authorization and appropriations bills, the House approved the 1.8 percent increase, while the Senate versions of those bills side with the White House and Pentagon on 1 percent increase.

We must ensure that the House-passed pay raise is the final word.  Please add your voice to ours and send a message to your elected members.  Visit the Legislative Agenda page on AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org.  Click on the “Contact Congress” link and then on the prepared letter “Don’t Cut the Troop’s Pay Raise.”  There is another letter on the site “Stop Sequestration Now” that you can send to let your representatives and senators know that the time to act to stop sequestration is now.

Hearing Aids For Military Retirees

Advances in technology now make hearing aids into high-tech medical devices. The best hearing aids ever made are now in production.

Military retirees from active duty, Guard, and Reserve units who have hearing loss and/or tinnitus are eligible to participate in this program. Retired Commissioned Officers of the US Public Health Service are also eligible for this program at military treatment facilities, under certain conditions.

The DoD sponsored Retiree-At-Cost Hearing Aid Program ( RACHAP) is designed to help retirees purchase hearing aids through the Audiology Clinic at a special government negotiated cost. The hearing aids available through this program are the same state-of-the art technologies available to active duty service members.  The program is open to all military retirees who have hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).  Dependents of military retirees are not eligible for this program.

Retirees can buy hearing aids at a significant savings by using the program.  For example, a set of hearing aids (one of the best available) that retails for about $5000.00 costs a retiree as little as $755.00 or about 15% of the retail costs.  Services for the hearing evaluation, hearing aid fitting and follow up hearing aid checks are part of the retiree benefits and are available at no costs to you.

Not every medical facility is able to provide this program. Your closest clinic could be located hundreds of miles away from your home. The costs to travel for this program need to be considered versus the availability of an audiologist in your local community to assist you with repairs, warranty repairs, re-programming, etc. Generally, at least 2 visits are required for you to get hearing aids; one for your hearing evaluation and one for your hearing aid fitting.  It is recommended that you contact the appropriate military facility before incurring significant travel expenses. Travel and overnight expenses are not covered.  Facilities may discontinue this program for any reason without notice to us. Care of active duty members takes precedent at all MTFs. You need to compare your travel costs and purchase savings to the costs of purchasing hearing aids privately in your local community.  Retirees can use any military treatment facility which will accept them; you don’t need to return to your service affiliation to participate in this program.

For the most current listing of participating providers check

http://militaryaudiology.org/site/rachaprhapp-locations/

This program is not a TRICARE benefit.

Also, retirees may be eligible for hearing aids from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and receive hearing aids from the VA free of charge – in most cases there is no costs to the patient.  The Audiology Department can provide you with more information about VA services or you may contact the VA directly at 1-877-222-8387 or 1-800-827-1000.

Dependents of retirees are not eligible for hearing aid services from military treatment facilities (including RACHAP) or from TRICARE.  The family member is eligible for hearing evaluations and the audiologist can provide them with more information about hearing aids or local providers.

First of 9 'Intrepid Spirit' Centers Opens at Fort Belvoir

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks 12 years ago, more than 2.5 million U.S. troops have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and over that same period, more than 260,000 service members have been diagnosed with the invisible wounds of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress as a result of combat-related injuries and accidents. To treat and care for those service members suffering from the most severe forms of traumatic brain injury, known as TBI, and post-traumatic stress, or PTS, the first of nine Intrepid Spirit Centers planned nationwide officially opened its doors here yesterday in a dedication ceremony sponsored by the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a $100-million campaign funded entirely with donations from public and private sources. Plans are in the works to build satellite centers at Fort Bragg; Fort Hood; Fort Carson; and Fort Bliss; as well as at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. All Intrepid Spirit centers will be located at military bases and medical centers around the country to provide medical care for service members meaning they will not have to leave their units and families for extended treatment. Read the full report of the opening and plans for the center here.

 Army Youth Wins First Boys and Girls Clubs Youth of Year Honors

The Boys and Girls Clubs of America named the son of a Fort Knox soldier as the organization’s first Military Youth of the Year during ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery today. Next week, RaShaan Allen, son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Crystal Singer, will represent all 1.9 million military children when he meets with President Barack Obama and attends a congressional breakfast, during which the National Boys and Girls Club of America Youth of the Year will be announced. “I’m lost for words,” Allen said after Charles E. Milam, the Defense Department’s principal director for military community and family policy, announced his selection by a panel of industry leaders. “This is just amazing.”

Allen credited the Devers Youth Center at Fort Knox, Ky., with helping him discover that winning path as he slowly healed from the loss of his home, neighborhood, school and best friend during Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. He served as co-president of the Youth Council and led the group to a national Boys and Girls Clubs of America award. He was an Army Family Action Plan delegate, sharing with Fort Knox leaders his insights about issues that affect teens. Meanwhile, he played eight varsity sports, captained six of those teams, and competed on the math and history bowl teams. But Allen said he has found his calling in politics, and served as president of his high school freshman and senior classes. He’s now at Western Kennedy University, with plans to major in political science and eventually seek political office.  

MOAA Military Spouse Employment Survey

Military spouses face many challenges to both employment and career advancement as a result of the military lifestyle. This imperative study will look at the employment pattern of all military spouses, especially related to a spouse’s long-term career trajectory. By adding YOUR voice, we can build a stronger foundation for military spouses’ professional needs, identify any barriers to career development and share YOUR stories with government officials, state, and federal policy makers in order to overcome obstacles and improve the quality of life for our service members and families. MOAA has compiled a survey to gage the issues and concerns that matter most to military spouses concerning employment. Military spouses of all ranks and components and duty status (active duty, National Guard, Reserve, retiree, survivor, and veteran) encouraged to take the completely anonymous survey, which will take 30 minutes to complete. Take it here.

2013 AUSA Annual Meeting and Military Family Forum Registration Open

Registration is now open for the 2013 AUSA Annual Meeting, October 21-23, along with the Military Family Forums. These forums within the Annual Meeting are designed to engage and inform both the military community and the greater civilian community around them. We are excited to connect with military families, share resources, and gain insight from our scheduled speakers and panelists. Here is a brief overview of our forums:

Forum I - October 21, 1300-1600

Our Senior Leader’s Town Hall is split in two panels that will answer questions from both the in-house and virtual participants in the style of a town hall meeting. In addition to our senior leader panelists, we’re excited to have each of their spouses add perspective by joining them for this well-rounded discussion about military family

support. Panel One will consist of LTG and Mrs Ferriter (INCOM/ACSIM), LTG and Mrs. Ingram (National Guard), LTG and Mrs. Talley (US Army Reserve), and Panel Two will feature The Honorable John McHugh (Secretary of the Army), General and Mrs. Ray Odierno, and SMA and Mrs. Raymond Chandler. NO topic is off limits, so this will be the time to get your most pressing questions answered! We’re taking questions live, but we also welcome you to send your queries in advance to familyprograms@ausa.org with the subject line “Family Forum I Question.” Be sure to tell us if the question is for someone specific or for the panel as a whole.

Forum II - October 22, 0900-12PM

Following the principle of “like attracts like,” if you take care of yourself, the people around you are more likely to take the steps to follow your lead. Family Forum II, The Performance Triad: a Holistic Approach to Self-Care looks into this idea further with a panel of subject matter experts sharing their personal and professional experiences that emphasize the importance of taking care of oneself in order to better care for your family. Our panel will feature representatives from the DCoE Real Warriors Campaign, the Center for Mind Body Medicine, Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness (CSF2), and a celebrated author and military spouse. The panel will be moderated by Anthony Stamilio, the Army’s Deputy Assistant Secretary, Civilian Personnel & Quality of Life.

Forum participants are in for a special treat, as Surgeon General and Commanding General of the US Army Medical Command, LTG Patricia Horoho, will give a keynote presentation outlining the Army’s Performance Triad model.

Forum III - October 22, 1400-1700

With 70% of military families living off base, it’s important for them to know about the resources available right in their communities. The great news is, there’s a lot out there for you and your family, you just have to know where to look! Our third Military Family Forum, Community Resources: “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood,” will bring you face to face with organizations working to bridge the military-civilian divide, and people whose “make-do” attitude not only helped them find resources for their military life, but also led them create resources and organizations to benefit others in the community.

Our speaker for this forum is Colonel David Sutherland of the Dixon Center, which works to create synergies and a multiplying effect that enhances real access to services and advocacy benefiting military service members and veterans, their families and the families of the fallen. Our panel moderator is Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Installations, Energy and Environment), and joining the panel discussion are Angela Caban, National Guard New Jersey Military Spouse of the Year; Tara Crooks, Army Spouse of the Year and co-founder of Army Wife Network; Lori Volkman of Military Spouse JD Network; Sandy Risberg of the KSU/Fort Riley Partnership, and Jim Knotts of Operation Homefront.

Forum IV- Wednesday, October 23, 0900-1200

In a world with an app or a program to meet each and every niche in the community, it can be easy for military families to feel swamped with information or miss out on great resources. What’s out there? Where do you start? What personal information should you share? Our 4th and final Family Forum, Expanding our Reach: Our Neighborhood Knows no Boundaries, cracks open the military virtual community and illustrates the trends and best practices for staying connected online. Our featured speakers and panel moderators are the co-founders of the Army Wife Network, Star Henderson and Tara Crooks, who will discuss statistics of the use of virtual tools by today’s military spouse, the Army Wife Network creation story, and much more. Our panelists are community members and organizations taking an innovative approach to online communication in the military community, and the panel discussion will be shaped like an episode of the Army Wife Network radio show. We’re excited to hear from the National Military Family Association, Blue Star Families, Military Family Learning Network, Army Social Media Center, and get the grassroots perspective from an FRG leader. Register today! 

Not able to attend in person? Don't worry, you can still be part of the action virtually. We will live stream each of our forums, and will also have several ways for you to interact with fellow virtual participants and our forum speakers and panelists. Be sure to stay tuned for more information on how to view and participate in our forums virtually.

Obama Outlines Mil Pay and Retirement Guidelines

President Obama on Thursday sent his principles for modernizing and restructuring military compensation and retirement benefits to Congress, and a commission has stood up to direct the task.

Chief among these, according to the three-page document, is that the commission does nothing to alter the current retirement system for those already serving, retired or in the process of retiring.

“While we have successfully transitioned from a conscripted force to an all-volunteer force, sustaining this force requires responsive and prudent management, especially given the fiscal challenges we face as a nation,” he wrote.

The president also informed the nine-member Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that, along with a review of compensation, it should also look at the “interrelationship of the military’s current promotion system … as well as associated force shaping tools.”

Joe Davis, spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the commission’s charter “is to save the government money, but I hope they fully consider all the downsides to each recommendation, because a professionally-led, all-volunteer military must first have commanders and senior enlisted advisors who are selected for being the best qualified, not the last ones standing."

Now, he said, the Defense Department offers “only two carrots” to get and keep people for 20 years or more: the immediate receipt of retirement pay and low Tricare premiums for the member and spouse.

“Any major adjustment to either, coupled with a resurging economy that offers more attractive alternatives, could mean this commission’s recommendations could go by the wayside just like the High-3 and REDUX plans of the recent past,” he said.

The country’s 1.9 million military retirees and 22 million veterans made large, upfront investments to earn their retirements and healthcare, he said, and they know that lessening these will directly impact retention.

“The troops are watching, too, because once the economy rebounds, picking stability over unpredictability, or a business suit instead of body armor, are not very difficult choices to make,” Davis said.

The commission was established by Congress as part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. Under the act, Obama appointed one member, with the majority and ranking members of the Democrat and Republican parties in the Senate and House appointing two each.

The law stipulated that the president spell out guidance for the commission and send a copy to Congress.

The guidance comes even as the Pentagon has let it be known it wants to trim back in some areas of compensation. With the Defense Department looking at nearly $500 billion in cuts over the next 10 years under the Budget Control Act, and another $500 billion in sequester cuts still possible, it is looking for places to save money.

In the letter he sent out, Obama says the commission must review “the full breadth of the . . . systems,” including healthcare, military family support, and any federal government programs that could influence current or future servicemember to stay in uniform or leave.

The letter details a number of areas for the commission to study and upon which to make recommendations, including manpower and compensation interrelationship; living standards; pay; effectiveness; flexibility; what motivates people to advance.

On the first item, Obama said compensation and retirement systems should consider differences between service in the military and other uniformed services, differences between regular and reserve military service, and “facilitate, as appropriate, the use of the reserve … to support regular military service.”

Also, he said, “while military compensation and retirement systems should prove a reasonable standard of living, they should be fiscally sustainable and impose the least burden on the American taxpayer.”

Compensation, meanwhile, to the extent possible should be comparable to pay in the American economy. It should be competitive externally with private-sector pay and internally to incentivize servicemembers to continue to acquire skills and accept challenging assignments, to recognize hardships and danger. It should also facilitate the distribution and separation of servicemembers when appropriate, he wrote.

To be effective in both war and peace, he said, the systems have to be robust and enable the services to expand or contract as needed. Any changes also have to be flexible enough to adjust to changes in the U.S. economy, and be able to motivate and encourage meritorious performance and the desire to seek positions of greater responsibility, he said.

They would also have to be fiscally sustainable to ensure long-term certainty for servicemembers and retirees.

VA Increases Breast Screenings After Initiative

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - The U.S. health system that cares for the nation's veterans increased services to screen for and treat breast cancer over the past five years, but at one hospital the time it took women with the disease to be treated also increased, says a new study.

Researchers from the Baltimore Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center found the facility performed many more mammograms after 2007, when breast cancer screening and treatment was made a top priority for the agency. However, it took women - on average - an extra 18 days to get treatment once they were diagnosed.

"The population of female veterans is increasing rapidly and the VA has prioritized implementation of screening services - especially for breast cancer… and has been very successful in doing so," Dr. Ajay Jain, the study's lead author, said.

Between 2003 and 2009, the number of women using outpatient services at VA medical centers increased by 47 percent, Jain and his colleagues wrote in JAMA Surgery.

During that time, the VA prioritized mammogram screenings and breast cancer services to accommodate the growing number of female veterans turning to it for healthcare.

The researchers' goal was to see whether increasing the number of women receiving those services affected the average lengths of time between being screened for cancer and getting a positive diagnosis, and between diagnosis and treatment.

Between 2000 and 2012, the Baltimore VA Medical Center performed 7,355 mammograms. Over 90 percent of those were done after the breast cancer initiative was put in place in 2007.

The average time between an irregular mammogram and a diagnosis of breast cancer held steady during the study period, at 34 days.

Before the initiative, however, the average length of time between diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer - typically surgery - was about 33 days. After the initiative, that increased to 51 days.

The researchers wrote that the difference may be due to more VA patients needing a second mammogram or undergoing diagnostic tests at non-VA hospitals. The delays could also reflect higher numbers of women being screened overall, including those referred to the Baltimore VA from rural medical centers, they added.

They also said that although no clear guidelines exist, the increased time to treatment still falls below a 90-day threshold, after which treatment delays have been associated with cancer progression and worse outcomes.

To try to decrease the length of time between diagnosis of breast cancer and treatment, Jain told Reuters Health the Baltimore VA Medical Center is acquiring more resources to care for women so they don't have to go to another non-VA center.

"The take home message in my opinion is the recognition of the fact that a significant demographic shift is occurring in the military," Jain said. "As these females return from Afghanistan and Iraq from deployment, we're seeing an increase in enrollment."

He added that it's also important for female veterans to know these resources are available at the VA.

"I think that women should realize the VA is doing this and the VA has prioritized this," he said.

POW/MIA National Recognition Day Ceremony
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, The Pentagon, Friday, September 20, 2013

Distinguished guests, General Dempsey, veterans, family members, representatives from veteran’s service organizations and the national POW/MIA community: it is an honor and a privilege to join all of you for this important observance

Earlier this year we marked the 40th anniversary of Operation Homecoming, when hundreds of American prisoners of war were brought out of Vietnam to freedom. Many were aviators whose planes had been downed over North Vietnam, aviators such as Rear Admiral Bob Shumaker, who is with us here today.

He, along with hundreds of other service members and civilians, endured unspeakable cruelty, attempts at political exploitation, and years of confinement. But through courage, resilience, and determination, they survived to return home to a grateful nation.

Each POW/MIA Recognition Day, we reaffirm America's gratitude to all service members throughout our history. These service members who experienced the horror of wartime captivity, and we stand with the families of all who remain missing in action.

We honor patriots like my friend Navy Commander Everett Alvarez, Jr., who was also on the airlift of prisoners out of Hanoi during Operation Homecoming. Commander Alvarez had been shot down while flying a mission after the Gulf of Tonkin Incident, and endured more than eight terrible years as a prisoner of war – virtually the entire length of the Vietnam conflict.

Like many of his fellow POWs, Commander Alvarez continued serving his nation after his return. As a Naval officer, Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, and Deputy Administrator of the Veterans Administration, he sustained his commitment to America's service members, our country, veterans, their families, and all that he has held dear in his life.
Over the years I have had the privilege of building friendships with many Vietnam War POWs like Ev Alvarez, Senator John McCain, and some of his cellmates in the Hanoi Hilton – including Orson Swindle, who later served as a Commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission, and the late Air Force Colonel Bud Day.

I have always admired the tremendous inner strength that enabled these men to survive harsh physical and mental abuse. As Ev Alvarez once said, "you have nothing to fight back with except your will."

Americans in uniform today are inspired by the fierce resolve of generations of American POWs. We also draw inspiration from the bonds of camaraderie, compassion, and love that prompted our POWs to care for each other, and sustain each other, through these terrible, terrible months and years of hardship.

These bonds are fundamental to the strength of the American military. They're fundamental to the strengths of the American character. They underpin who we are and everything we do, and everything we believe. We protect each other. And we vow to never leave a fellow service member behind.

That commitment extends to Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by enemy forces in Afghanistan more than four years ago. Our hearts today are with the Bergdahl family. Using our military, intelligence, and diplomatic tools, the United States is continuing its strong efforts to secure Sergeant Bergdahl's safe release.

Our commitment to leave no service member behind also extends to the more than 80,000 fallen Americans who still remain missing in action.

Over the years, the Department has made progress in fulfilling this responsibility, as we methodically and painstakingly recover the remains of the fallen, and bring them back to their families.

Every day, hundreds of DoD personnel all over the world, including forensic anthropologists, underwater archeologists, and many other experts, continue to scour the globe in laboratories and elsewhere in order to identify the missing.

Since this time last year we have been able to account for 61 service members from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.

Each case represents years of effort – meticulous work piecing together evidence and clues from across many continents.

Yesterday at Arlington Cemetery, two airmen from World War II, who were for decades listed as missing in action, were finally given the full honors they so richly deserve after their remains were recovered in the rugged mountains of Papua New Guinea by DoD personnel.

I am deeply aware that for every family that has received the news of a successful mission, there are thousands still waiting for a breakthrough. That includes many of the families here today.

Words and promises cannot make the lingering uncertainty, the headache, and the heartache go away. But I hope it provides comfort to know that as long as members of our Armed Forces remain unaccounted for, the Department of Defense will do everything--whatever we can to find them and bring them home.

There's much more hard work to be done, but we will not rest until we fulfill this pledge – no matter how long it takes. For despite the passage of time, the memories of those missing in action still burn bright and their stories still inspire new generations of Americans.

One of those stories goes back sixty years, to the days after the Korean War armistice was signed, when a group of American POWs made the long journey on foot from North to South Korea. They had survived years of torture and starvation, and they carried with them a hand-carved crucifix, nearly four feet long.

When they finally made it across the no-man's land that separated North and South, they told anyone who would listen to them– from Army officials to war correspondents – the story behind that crucifix. It was the story of an Army Chaplain from a little town in Kansas who had saved their lives, and hundreds of other lives, in that communist prison camp.

They spoke of how this chaplain would steal food from prison guards to feed starving GIs, and taught them to boil water so they could fend off dysentery. As prisoners began freezing to death in the cold winter nights, he would offer his own clothes to keep them warm.

In one of the darkest places on earth, this man Father Emil Kapaun had given the gift of faith and more to his fellow prisoners. And those prisoners clung to that faith even after Father Kapaun was murdered by his captors, and buried in an unmarked grave.

Father Kapaun's remains were never recovered, but his story was never forgotten. For years, his fellow POWs made it their cause to convince the nation's leaders to award Father Kapaun the Medal of Honor. As they aged, new generations took on the mission. And earlier this year, they finally succeeded when Father Kapaun was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Obama.

In that dream fulfilled, we all can find hope, comfort, and faith restored. Today, as the POW/MIA flag is raised in communities across America, we pledge to live by its creed, "You are Not Forgotten." We are committed to our former POWs, our missing, and their families, just as we are committed to those who wear the uniform today.

May God bless and watch over all of them, and this great nation.
Thank you.

Crucial Information for Those Who Lived at Fort Lejeune from the 1950s – 1980s

The following information regarding individuals who may have been affected by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune has been put out by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This document can be viewed on line at
http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/camp-lejeune/index.asp

Camp Lejeune Water Supply
From the 1950s through the 1980s, people living or working at the U.S. Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were potentially exposed to drinking water contaminated with industrial solvents, benzene, and other chemicals.
Health benefits
Veterans and family members who served on active duty or resided at Camp Lejeune for 30 days or more between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987, may be eligible for medical care for 15 health conditions:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Renal toxicity
  • Female infertility
  • Scleroderma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Hepatic steatosis
  • Miscarriage
  • Neurobehavioral effects

Read the law signed Aug. 6, 2012. (216 KB, PDF)
VA published a proposed regulation Sept. 11, 2013, which discusses how we will improve health care to eligible Veterans. You may comment on the proposal by Oct. 11, 2013. Read the
Federal Register notice to learn more and how to comment.

We are working on regulations for family member care and will publish these separately.

Veteran health care
You can receive care now if you’re eligible. You don’t need to wait for the proposed regulation to become final.

If you’re already enrolled in VA health care, contact your local VA health care facility to receive care.

Not yet enrolled? Apply online or call 1-877-222-8387 for help.

Family member health care reimbursement
VA will be able to reimburse you for eligible out-of-pocket expenses for the 15 covered conditions after we publish regulations. We can only pay for claims after you have received payment from all your other health plans.
You will be able to continue to receive health care from your providers. VA won’t be providing you direct health care.

What you can do now if you have one of the covered conditions:

  • Call 1–877–222–8387 and ask to be added to VA’s Camp Lejeune database. We will contact you when regulations are published.
  • Gather documents showing:
    • Your relationship to a Veteran who served at Camp Lejeune, such as marriage license or birth certificate
    • You lived on the base for 30 days or more between Jan. 1, 1957, and Dec. 31, 1987, such as copies of orders or base housing records
  • Keep receipts for health care expenses you paid for a covered condition on or after March 26, 2013. This is the date when Congress began to fund this program.
  •  

Hold on to your documents and receipts. We’ll let you know when to submit these after regulations are published.

Don’t cancel your health insurance. This program only covers the 15 health conditions listed above. It doesn’t meet the minimum standard for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Compensation benefits
The Aug. 6, 2012, law applies to health care, not disability compensation. At this time, there is insufficient scientific and clinical evidence to establish a presumptive association between service at Camp Lejeune during the period of water contamination and the development of certain diseases.

VA is closely monitoring new research. VA representatives regularly attend the quarterly Community Action Panel meetings hosted by The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).

Veterans may file a claim for disability compensation for health problems they believe are related to exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune. VA decides these claims on a case-by-case basis

TRICARE Home Delivery Gets High Marks

A recent study by the Defense Department inspector general's office has determined that the TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery program is a cost-efficient way for beneficiaries to get their prescription medications. The complete report is available on the Defense Department Office of Inspector General website. When TRICARE beneficiaries use the Home Delivery pharmacy to fill maintenance medication prescriptions, they receive a 90-day supply through the mail and have no copayment for generic formulary medications and a $13 copay for brand-name formulary medications. TRICARE beneficiaries can sign up for Home Delivery online, by mail or by phone. For more information, visit the TRICARE Home Delivery webpage.

State Veterans Benefits

Many states offer veterans benefits. These benefits may include educational grants and scholarships, special exemptions or discounts on fees and taxes, home loans, veteran's homes, free hunting and fishing privileges, and more.

Each state manages its own benefit programs. Visit Military.com to see a list of links to the websites for each of the individual states that offer veterans benefits.

Your VA Loan Benefit is worth $417,000 and can be used to buy a home with $0 down or to streamline refinance. Search for lenders who can help you use your benefit.

Visit the Military.com Benefits Channel to get straight forward info on Military Pay, TRICARE, GI Bill, VA Loans, BAH, Survivor Benefits, Veteran Health Care and More

AAFES Fall Catalog

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service is offering the latest fall fashions, appliances, home accessories and tech toys in its new Autumn 2013 catalog. The new 36-page catalog is available now at Exchange stores and at ShopMyExchange.com at www.shopmyexchange.com. As in Exchange stores, online orders are always tax-free. In addition, any order of $49 or more qualifies for free standard shipping, as do orders placed using a Military Star TM Card. Prices in this all-services catalog are valid through Oct. 15, 2013, for any authorized exchange customer. Orders can be placed by mail, fax or phone. Toll-free orders can be placed from the United States, Puerto Rico or Guam at 800-527-2345

AAFES Comic Book Offer

Iron Man, the world-famous Armored Avenger, joins the U.S. Military to defend America from the dastardly dragon Fin Fang Foom in Marvel Comics' fifteenth free, military-exclusive comic book, available only at Army & Air Force Exchange Service locations worldwide. In the all-new 36-page comic, a creature makes its way to Seattle to wreak havoc on the citizenry. It is up to Iron Man and others to save the day. Who will win the Battle for Seattle? Stop into your local Exchange and find out!

Space-A Saves Cash

A "Space-A" seat aboard a military aircraft might be just your ticket to save you money when traveling. Military-owned or -contracted aircraft fly to more places than many people realize, even to areas without U.S. military installations. When all mission-related passengers and cargo are accommodated, empty seats are offered up to eligible passengers on a space-available (Space-A) basis. Passengers can sign up for Space-A travel at the terminal they plan to fly from in person, online or by email or phone and stay on the roster for up to 60 days or, if applicable, until their military leave expires. Seats are offered on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information, including a downloadable Space-A handbook, visit the Air Mobility Command website at www.amc.af.mil/amctravel/

Chamberlain's Lost Medal of Honor Found in Book

The long-lost Medal of Honor belonging to the "Lion of Little Round Top" has been found.

The Medal awarded to then-Colonel (and later Maj. Gen.) Joshua L. Chamberlain for his "distinguished gallantry" in leading the 20th Maine volunteers on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg came by mail to the Pejepscot Historical Society in Maine in July from a donor who wished to remain anonymous.

Historians from the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress and the U.S. Army have since verified the authenticity of the medal.

"Though it seems almost too good to be true, we are confident that we are now in possession of Joshua Chamberlain's original Medal of Honor," said Pejepscot Historical Society Director Jennifer Blanchard.

"All of the experts we've consulted believe it to be authentic, and we are tremendously honored to return the medal to Chamberlain's home" in Brunswick, Maine, which is now a museum open to the public, Blanchard said in a statement.

After Chamberlain's death in 1914, the medal came into the possession of his last living descendant, granddaughter Rosamond Allen, the Times Record of Maine reported.

When she died in 2000, the contents of her estate were donated to the First Parish Church of Duxbury, Mass., and the anonymous donor found the medal in the back pages of a book he had purchased from the church, the newspaper said. The donor said the medal was given to the historical society "to honor all veterans."

Chamberlain, who served four terms as Maine governor after the war and was president of Bowdoin College, was called "one of the knightliest generals in the Federal Army" by an adversary -- Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon.

The "Fighting Professor" who taught languages and rhetoric had several horses shot out from under him through 24 battles, in which he was wounded six times, from Antietam to Appomattox.

It was on July 2, 1863, that he passed into legend on the second day at Gettysburg in command of the 20th Maine, which held the far left flank of the Union Army on Little Round Top.

Confederate Gen. James Longstreet sent wave after wave of infantry against Chamberlain's position. The Maine volunteers held, but barely.

Longstreet sent his Alabamians up the hill in one last push. Chamberlain later wrote that his troops were nearly out of ammunition. "At the crisis, I ordered the bayonet," he wrote.

In the desperate melee, a rebel officer aimed his handgun at Chamberlain at point-blank range and fired.

"In the excitement, his aim was poor and, strange to say, I was not hit," Chamberlain wrote. "I struck the weapon from his hand with my saber."

The stunned Alabamians fell back or surrendered under the weight of the charge by the 20th Maine. The flank had not been turned; the line had held. The next day, the charge by massed Confederate troops under Maj. Gen. George Pickett would be thrown back by the federals and the Union would be saved.

Chamberlain's feats at Gettysburg were dramatized in the best-selling novel "The Killer Angels," by Michael Shaara, and the Chamberlain character was played by actor Jeff Daniels in the movie "Gettysburg."

"It's a tremendous privilege to join with the Pejepscot Historical Society, and indeed, the people of Maine, in welcoming home General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain's Medal of Honor," said Sen. Angus King, I-Maine., in a statement.

"This special moment undoubtedly captures the hearts and minds of all Mainers, as we continue to proudly recognize the legacy of General Chamberlain's leadership and heroism," King said.

Chamberlain continued to serve his state and nation long after the war. At age 70, he volunteered to fight in the Spanish-American War and later wrote that he was "greatly distressed" at being turned down.

Exchanges Offer PCS Resources

The Exchange's "PCS Headquarters" website, located at ShopMyExchange.com at www.shopmyexchange.com, features several resources to help Soldiers and Airmen make a move as stress-free as possible. The website's Get Connected function gives families a preview of local TV, Internet and telephone services available at their new installations. PCS Headquarters also connects families with Military OneSource at www.militaryonesource.mil. Also, Military Homefront's "Plan My Move" at www.militaryonesource.mil/moving provides families with information on entitlements and benefits, checklists and planning tools. PCS Headquarters at www.shopmyexchange.com also offers downloadable, region-specific coupon books including discounts.

New 2013-14 Montgomery GI Bill Rates

Each year in October, the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) payment rates increase to meet the growing cost of education. In October, 2013, the Montgomery GI Bill full-time payment rate will increase to $1,648 for the 2014 fiscal year. Eligible veterans and servicemembers could receive more than $59,000 in total benefits over 36 months.

VIew the latest monthly payment rates for the Montgomery GI Bill - Selective Reserve.

Montgomery GI Bill Monthly Rates

The following MGIB payment rates effective from Oct. 1, 2013 through Sept. 30, 2014:

Monthly MGIB Rate for Institutional Training

Training Time

Monthly Rate

Full time

$1,684

¾ time

$1,236

½ time

$824

less than ½ time more than ¼ time

$824

¼ time or less

$412

Individuals pursuing a program of education consisting exclusively of flight training will be paid 60% of the approved charges.

** Tuition and Fees ONLY. Payment cannot exceed the listed amount.

Monthly MGIB Rate for Apprenticeship and On-The-Job Training
(Effective October 1, 2013)

Training Period

Monthly rate

First six months of training

$1,338.75

Second six months of training

$962.78

Remaining pursuit of training

$588.70

 

 The following rates apply to those completing an enlistment of less than three years.

Institutional Training

Training Time

Monthly rate

Full time

$1,339

¾ time

$1,004.25

½ time

$635

Less than ½ time more than ¼ time

$669.50**

¼ time or less

$334.75**

 

Apprenticeship and On-The-Job Training for those with less than 3 years service
(Effective October 1, 2013)

Training Period

Monthly rate

First six months of training

$1,004.25

Second six months of training

$736.45

Remaining pursuit of training

$468.65

Individuals pursuing a program of education consisting exclusively of flight training will be paid 60% of the approved charges.

See the VA GI Bill website MGIB Rates for persons with remaining entitlement under Chapter 34 of Title 38, U.S.C. Chapter 30 Category II rates effective Oct. 1, 2012.

Source: Department of Veteran Affairs

Commissaries Offer Specials

Commissaries continue to offer special savings such as sidewalk events and "door buster" sales with discounts up to 50 percent on certain items to help fill the void from cancelled case lot sales. One event in particular is the second in a series of DeCA Door Buster sales available Sept. 16-18 for commissaries in the continental United States, which will offer discounts ranging from 40 to 50 percent off on several popular products. Look for the third and final Door Buster event Sept. 23-25. Contact your local commissary to find out about special events scheduled at your store. To find out what promotional savings are available at your store, click on the "Shopping" tab on the Commissaries.com website at www.commissaries.com , then click on the "Savings Aisle" link.

VA’s Reputation Takes a Beating at Hearing

A week ago the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing in Pittsburg, Penn., to hear testimony about problems that exist with VA health care. It was not a pleasant hearing. According to an article in the Washington Post, “The Department of Veterans’ Affairs reputation for providing good health care can’t stand may more thrashings like the one it took at a congressional hearing this week.”

The article goes on to describe the testimony of an individual who had sought medical and mental health treatment from the VA but became so frustrated with the way he was treated that he committed suicide.

You can read the entire article here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/federal_government/vas-reputation-for-health-care-takes-a-thrashing/2013/09/12/dcff3180-1bbc-11e3-8685-5021e0c41964_print.html

While we believe these kinds of incidents are horrible and should never happen, we want to remind you that there has been no allegation that this kind of thing happens system-wide within the VA. Obviously, tragic things like this happen in civilian health care systems, also. We believe that VA health care has improved dramatically and offers some of the finest treatment available anywhere for veterans. We encourage all veterans to be aware of what VA benefits they are eligible for and those who are eligible for treatment at the VA to seek care there. Should you ever have a problem getting the care you think you are eligible for we urge you to contact your Congressman’s office for help or a local VSO.

Building of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial’s Construction Begins

After years of fund raising and then site preparation the construction of the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial has finally begun. It is expected to take a year to complete and is expected to be dedicated sometime in the fall of 2014. TREA has supported the idea for years.

The site on Capitol Hill is Washington Avenue & Second Street SW, next to the Botanic Gardens and the beautiful Barthodli Park, between the Health & Human Services and Rayburn House Office Buildings. It will be seen by numerous visitors, however, it’s on top of the I-395 tunnels so it is a complicated complex construction job.” For the past three years, DDOT (District of Columbia Dept. of Transportation), has been managing a number of site-infrastructure projects to prepare the site for Memorial construction, including relocation of communication lines serving the Capitol complex, relocation of high-voltage, data communications facilities, water and sewer lines, permanent closure of C Street (between Second Street & Washington Avenue), realignment of Second Street and a variety of other area improvements.“

On August 10th President Obama spoke about the memorial saying:

“That memorial will honor your courage in war. But it will also pay tribute to your bravery in the other battle you have fought – the fight to recover from the wounds of war. And this may be your greatest triumph of all. Because rather than being defined by what you lost, by what you can’t do, you’ve inspired America with what you can do.

Maybe you lost your sight, but you can still see the truth that our disabled veterans make extraordinary contributions to our country every single day. Maybe you lost an arm, but you still have the strength to pick up a friend or neighbor in need. Maybe you lost a leg, but you still stand tall for the values and freedoms that make America the greatest nation on Earth.

I think of the wounded warrior who spoke for so many of you when he said, “Your life will never be the same, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go on to do amazing things with the second chance you were given’. I think of wounded warriors across America and how they’ve used that second chance – volunteering in communities, building homes, being a mentor to local kids, showing up after tornadoes, after Hurricane Sandy to help folks rebuild. I think of the wounded warriors who reached out to the survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing with the example of their own recovery and a simple message – ‘We stand with you’.”

 To learn more about the memorial go to their website: www.avdlm.org