Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 5 March 2013 

3/5/2013 

SEQUESTRATION KICKS IN

Sequestration formally arrived late Friday night and is probably here to stay.  Whether or not it remains in its current form remains to be seen.  

Despite weeks of dire warnings and a classic case of Washington finger-pointing, it appears that Congress and the White House have already moved on to the next fiscal crisis which is the continuing resolution that expires March 27.  

The House is scheduled to vote Thursday on a straightforward continuing resolution that would set federal spending through the rest of the current fiscal year without addressing the sequester cuts and other potentially contentious questions.

The measure will pair a continuing resolution for most of government with newly written Defense and Military Construction-VA spending bills.  While providing no additional funds to the Pentagon or the VA, the new spending bills would allow them to better manage the effects of the sequester.  

The president had already indicated his willingness to work together to avoid a government shutdown.  

Regardless, as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pointed out in hearings last week, granting greater flexibility for the sequestration cuts might bring better policy results but would not significantly affect the impact of the sudden reduction in federal spending.

Here is what we do know so far:

* For the remaining seven months of the fiscal year, the defense budget will shrink by $42.7 billion while non-defense programs will take a $28.7 billion hit

* Most of the reductions will come from discretionary spending 

* If federal employees are furloughed, it would not begin until April at the earliest

* Military personnel pay and allowances will not be impacted by the sequester nor will military personnel face furloughs

* Termination of base support contracts as well as military community and base activities would not be felt until early April

* Civilian furloughs could affect military hospitals and clinics because civilians make up 40 percent of the workforce.  Patients who currently receive care at military treatment facilities may be forced to seek case in the private sector at an increased cost to the Defense Department and the taxpayer 

* Commissaries may have to close one day a week

* Child care services, base schools, teen programs and family services may also be impacted as funding tightens

As we have said on many occasions, this is no way to do business.  We agree with the Army’s Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno who said that what the Army needs most is some budget predictability through several years so that endstrength, modernization and readiness can be carefully balanced and a hollow force avoided. 

AUSA ON THE HILL

Last week, AUSA President Gen. Gordon Sullivan, USA, Ret., and Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper met with Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas. Rep. O’Rourke’s district includes Ft. Bliss.

Sullivan and O’Rourke discussed the Army 2020 and its proposed force structure realignment.  Impact on Ft. Bliss ranges from a loss of 8000 troops to a gain of 3000 troops depending on the options chosen as Army 2020 goes forward.  

Gen. Sullivan also expressed his concern about the impact of sequestration and the continuing resolution on Army readiness and left Rep. O’Rourke copies of letters that he has sent to the Hill as well as other publications explaining the negative impact of such cuts on the Army.

NEW LEGISLATION SPOTLIGHT

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Ranking Member Mike Michaud, D-Maine have introduced the Putting Veterans Funding First Act of 2013.  The bill would require Congress to fully fund the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ discretionary budget a year ahead of schedule, ensuring that all VA services will have timely, predictable funding in an era where continuing resolutions and threats of government shutdowns are all too frequent.

A press release from the Committee said that currently, Congress funds the medical care portion – roughly 86 percent of VA’s discretionary budget – at the beginning of each fiscal year.  Providing the remainder of the discretionary budget – roughly $8 billion – up front would make it easier for VA to plan for key investments in information technology, claims processing and construction projects.  It would also give Congress a greater level of oversight on multi-year funding proposals, with one year building off of the next.   

AUSA supports this bill. 

Sequestration Resources

With so much information about sequestration floating around and so many important decisions still up in the air, it could be easy for the average person to feel a bit overwhelmed. Even worse, as negotiations go on, the uncertainty leaves people guessing or making assumptions about what’s happening.  It becomes difficult to distinguish fact from rumor. The DoD has put together a sequestration “guide” that provides 40 definitive facts about the Department of Defense and looming cuts. 

Army Family Programs to Face Cuts under Sequestration

Military family programs are critical to successful operations, but with sequestration cuts coming in the very near future, many of these programs could be cut.  Maintaining the most critical of these services remains a top priority, and the news of cuts doesn’t mean that every program will cease to exist immediately. The word to focus on is change. Critical programs, particularly those involving behavioral health or child care, are not at risk of going under, but they will be changing. With furloughs being implemented, and many family programs being run by civilian employees, these programs could see changes in the form of reduced hours or longer wait times for services because of reduced staff.  Changes to the accessibility and quality of care are upsetting, but the military is being left with no choice.

General Odierno and other service chiefs testified before Congress this week, saying, “We don't want to reduce these, but we have no choice…if sequestration is implemented, we'll be forced to reduce funding for our schools, our daycare centers, family assistance and community service programs, family and substance-abuse counselors and tuition assistance for our Soldiers."

Read more about this briefing here.

Uncertainty Grows Over How Furloughs Might Affect DoD Schools

It might be surprising to learn that the outcome of sequestration could affect the operations of DoD school systems all over the world. With furloughs being put into effect, uncertainty is rising over how a reduction of staff could change the course of the rest of the school year. If some teachers went to reduced schedules of four days a week, classes could be combined or instructors could be asked to absorb some of their fellow teachers’ workloads.  Since warning earlier this month that educators could be among more than 800,000 Defense Department civilians asked to take as many as 22 days of furlough before Sept. 30 if the cuts occur, the Department of Defense Education Activity has remained silent on how changes would be implemented.

Michael Priser, director of the Federal Education Association, the union representing DODDS teachers, said DODEA officials told him they are considering cutting 10 to 12 days from the current school year and the remaining days from the school year beginning next fall. Read more about how spending cuts could affect educators at military-funded schools around the world and the 84,000 children they teach.

First Lady Presses Governors on Veteran Employment Opportunities

As governors gathered in Washington, D.C. for their annual meeting, Michelle Obama asked them to make it easier for service members to transfer their military skill set into the civilian work force. Veterans often have a difficult time getting through the job application process, as many organizations ask for specific credentials for certain positions. The time it takes to take courses and receive credentials for skills they’ve already acquired in the military is taxing and lengthens the employment process. By 2015, Mrs. Obama would like for states to pass legislation allowing veterans to receive professional credentials or licenses based on their experiences in the military. With more than one million service members returning to the work force in the next few years, the first lady emphasized the importance of having jobs available in the civilian work force. The focus on veteran employment is part of her Joining Forces Initiative, and she is hopeful that this would help decrease veteran unemployment. Read more here.

DoD Makes Progress in Integrating Health Records

President Obama directed the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments to create a seamless system of integration for medical records so that when a member of the armed forces separates from the military, their electronic records, medical, personnel and benefits will transition and remain with them forever. The scope of the project is huge, with records needing to be combined or regenerated for 9.6 million service members and their beneficiaries and 6.3 million veterans. Progress has been made by both departments, but will take time, as they will have to streamline their record process and modernize the legacy systems that hold health care information. In another effort to create efficiency between the two systems, all VA data centers will have to move to the Defense Information System Agency. Creating integrated records will also mean creating a joint health data dictionary, ensuring the two departments use the same precise language to describe health data elements and fields in the combined health record system. Read the full report on the project’s progress here.

 Military Saves Week: February 25-March 2

Did you know that 68% of military families say they feel stress about their family’s current financial condition? There might not be an immediate solution to their problems, but they could start to relieve some stress just by thinking ahead. Military Saves is a partner in the Department of Defense Financial Readiness Campaign and conducts an annual savings campaign to encourage service members and their families to make a commitment to begin the journey toward financial freedom.  This year’s theme is “Set a Goal. Make a Plan. Save Automatically.”  Military Saves week urges Military families to save automatically through direct deposit toward saving for an emergency fund, a goal like purchasing a home, or saving toward retirement. 310,000 people have pledged to save through the Military Saves pledge—join them! Or, if you’ve already taken the pledge, recommit to your savings goal by re-signing pledge.  Like Military Saves on Facebook or follow them on twitter at @MilitarySaves for more information and savings tips.  

Also in financial news, this USA Today article highlights and profiles the financial planning highs and lows some of our service members face.

Army Lays Out State by State Sequestration Cuts

With sequestration all but imminent, many programs and organizations are releasing specific plans and outlines of how cuts will affect their daily operations. This week, the Army laid out a state-by-state list of what cuts would mean for each of their installations. The army estimates that spending cuts will have a $15 billion economic impact and affect more than 300,000 jobs nationwide. Cuts will have the most affect in states with the largest installations or military populations, such as Texas, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Texas alone has almost 105,000 active-duty soldiers at major installations like Fort Hood and Fort Bliss, almost 34,000 National Guard and Army Reserve soldiers, and 61,400 full-time Army civilians. For the state-by-state outline of potential cuts, read the full report here.

 Potential Furloughs Could Dramatically Affect Guard Members

Sequestration is set to go into effect this week, and with the budget cuts, we can also expect furloughs on civilians and National Guard members. Furloughs (temporary unpaid leave) would likely run from the end of April through September, and could affect more than half of the National Guard’s full-time members. This could mean maintenance backlogs for all states and curtailment of critical training, especially aviation crew training. Readiness of nearly 13,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen who mitigate the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear terrorist attacks or industrial accidents in the United States would see exercises and training either delayed or canceled by reductions in operations and maintenance funding. Short term direct effects of the furloughs could include reduced preparation for the upcoming hurricane season, and long term effects could include  declining retention rates because of decreased training and deployment opportunities, declining equipment, and little or no opportunity for career progression. Read the rest of the article here.

TRICARE Provides Options for National Guard and Reserve Members and their Families

Though they don’t always wear the uniform, or live on military installations, National Guard and Reserve members and their families are part of the military community, and as such, should have benefits available to them. TRICARE provides health care options for National Guard and Reserve components, with coverage depending on uniformed service status: not activated, activated, deactivated, or retired. While activated for a period of 30 or more consecutive, Guard and Reserve members are covered as active duty service members. But active duty families are not the only ones eligible to receive health care benefits. Once registered in DEERS, service members and their families become eligible to receive medical and dental care in plans specific to their service status. Look over this fact sheet for the full guidelines and eligibility, along with detailed tables of several different benefit plans.

 PTSD Treatment Strategy Changed

The experience of war is extremely difficult, and for many, these difficulties continue long after a service member returns from combat. In a culture whose members pride themselves on strength and a “can do” attitude, there is a stigma behind asking for help in the military community.  The Defense Department seeks to create a more welcoming environment for those seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. In the latest behavioral health guidelines, the Pentagon issued several new changes to the treatment approach, including lessening the reliance on drugs to treat PTSD and increasing traditional therapy techniques. The new guidelines de-emphasize one of the two main criteria doctors use to diagnose PTSD – that patients feel a sense of overwhelming “fear, helplessness or horror” during a traumatic event.  Research has found that service members are not likely to admit to some of these specific emotions, and as such, many walk away with a misdiagnosis. Read more about the new behavioral health guidelines here.

 Bill Extends CHAMPVA to Adult Children

With young adults staying in school longer or finding that not all employment opportunities have health care benefits, some extra time for coverage under a parent’s plan is often needed. Recently, a bill was proposed that would extend the age of health care coverage for the dependents of veterans to the age of 26. Currently under CHAMPVA, the health insurance program for eligible dependents and survivors of veterans, provides insurance until the age of 18, 23 if they are enrolled as full-time students. These changes are similar to those recently afforded to TRICARE beneficiaries, and has been met with widespread support from veteran’s advocacy groups. A full outline of the proposed bill can be found here

Budget Factors to Directly Affect Defense Strategy

With budget discussions ongoing and the threat of sequestration still looming, the nation remains in a grey area of uncertainty. But the decisions made will have a very real effect for the military and defense communities. AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., emphasized the importance of supporting the defense community, saying, “The fiscal process must be put back in order so that our defense forces can maintain readiness and their ability to defend this nation. Add your voice to ours and urge Congress to ACT NOW – our national security hangs in the balance." Protect our Army—contact Congress.  Visit the new Sequestration section of DoD’s website to read more viewpoints from senior leadership and for the latest updates. 

Caregiver Support Provided at Week-Long Training

The Recovery Coordination Program, run through the DoD’s Office of Warrior Care Policy, recently held training for Recovery Care Coordinators (RCCs) that provide non-medical support to wounded, ill, and injured service members. During the week-long event, attendees learned about the roles and responsibilities of RCCs and other non-medical case managers in supporting wounded, ill and injured Service members throughout the phases of recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration, and received briefings from agencies, organizations and programs that can assist them in providing resources to the Service members and families they support.

Click here to learn more. 

Benefits Granted to Same-Sex Partners

The Pentagon recently made 24 more benefits and services available to same-sex partners of military service members. Under the new rules that must go into effect no later than October 1, same-sex partners that officially declare domestic partnerships can now be granted military ID cards, access to commissaries and family programs, and other privileges previously only afforded to military spouses. Still not included in this round of additions were health care benefits or on-base family housing, as these benefits are strictly outlined for “spouses” under the Defense of Marriage Act. New benefits include: 

• Joint-duty assignments for same-sex couples who are both in the military

• On-base child care for children of same-sex couples

• Access to youth programs and family center programs

• Access to MWR programs

• Emergency leave of absence

Click here to learn more. 

DeCA Scholarships for Military Children Program Application Period Ends February 22

As military parents of college-aged kids know all too well, the costs of sending children off to school are rising every day. With tuition, room and board, meal plans, and that “little bit extra” to maintain a social life, the toll can add up quickly. To help lighten the load, the Defense Commissary Agency’s  (DeCA) Scholarships for Military Children  offers at least one $1,500 scholarship per commissary branch worldwide to qualified military students 21 years old or younger (23 years old if enrolled as a full time student). Students must submit applications at their closest commissary store. The application period closes February 22, so be sure to get in your application on time! 

Keep Your DFAS Information Up-to-Date

Defense Finance and Accounting Services reminds you to keep your retirement pay account information current in order to avoid any setbacks or mishaps. Watch this video to learn just how easy it is to update the system with any recent changes to your critical information.

DoD Says Military Pay is Safe

According to The Pentagon Channel, DoD officials have made it clear that military pay and "monetary" benefits will continue despite sequestration. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that servicemembers are not subject to the unpaid furloughs that will affect that majority of the Defense Department's civilian work force as a result of sequestration. According to Defense Secretary Panetta in a recently released memo "the president has used his legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions. DoD's civilian employees' unpaid furloughs may begin in late April. The furloughs will effectively cut civilian pay by 20%. DoD did not make clear how sequestration will affect non-monetary benefits, like tuition assistance, MWR, and childcare services.

TRICARE West Region Transition

TRICARE West Region beneficiaries should keep their eyes on their mailboxes. UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans, the incoming West Region health care support contractor, is sending out welcome packages in late February and early March. TRICARE beneficiaries should read their packets carefully to see if they have to take any actions to prepare for the April 1, 2013 transition to UnitedHealthcare. One important date highlighted in the package is March 11, 2013 when beneficiaries must switch their automatic payment authorizations to UnitedHealthcare to maintain uninterrupted coverage. West Region beneficiaries can access additional information about the transition by visiting the UnitedHealthcare website at www.uhcmilitarywest.com or reach UnitedHealthcare customer service at 1-877-988- 9378. They may also visit the TRICARE website at www.tricare.mil/westtransition.

General Dynamics Is Hiring Veterans

Your Next Mission Starts Here. We scour the country in search for the best veteran talent to help us deliver innovative technology solutions for our nation's highest-priority defense and homeland security initiatives. Learn how your skills can translate into a civilian career in mission-critical programs.

Fed Speeds up Health Record Integration

The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have announced that they will speed implementation of the Integrated Electronic Health Record program allowing servicemembers and veterans better access and, more importantly, better medical care. The system is now expected to be deployed by the end of 2014. The goal is to provide one set of electronic records from entry into the military through veteran status. The program is designed to allow servicemembers or veterans to download information and present it to doctors or other health care providers without delays. Previously, servicemembers had to hand carry paper files from DoD facilities to Veterans Affairs. DoD and VA begin conducting a pilot program this summer.

Applications for Scholarships, Grants Sought

Applications are currently being sought for scholarships and community grants from the Army Officers Wives Club of the Greater Washington Area (AOWCGWA) are currently being accepted. Scholarships are awarded three types of recipients--high school student, college student and spouse--based on merit. Applications must be completed and postmarked by March 30, 2013. The AOWCGWA also provides community grants to individuals and organizations that provide services and/or support for the military community. Grant requests must be received no later than April 17, 2013. To apply for a scholarship or grant, visit the AOWCGWA website at www.aowcgwa.org and click on the scholarships and grants tab to obtain application information and forms, as well as contact information for any questions.

Paper Checks Ended March 1

New rules from the Treasury Department require recipients of payments from Defense Finance and Accounting Service, the Veterans Administration and other federal pay and benefit agencies, to use electronic fund transfer methods to receive funds rather than mailed checks. The Treasury Department has estimated that eliminating hardcopy check payments would save the federal government about $20 million each year. According to DFAS more than 23,000 military retirees, annuitants and former spouses have yet to switch from monthly hardcopy checks to EFT. DFAS estimates that the federal government could save $265,000 per year if the remaining 23,000 join the more than 99 percent of DFAS customers that are already receiving electronic payments. The Treasury's rules call for issuing debit cards to payees without a bank account or who fail to register their account for direct deposit by the March 1, 2013 deadline.

TRICARE for Life

TRICARE for Life (TFL) is TRICARE's Medicare-wraparound coverage available to all Medicare-eligible TRICARE beneficiaries, regardless of age or place of residence, provided they have Medicare Part A and Part B. With TFL, Medicare becomes the primary insurance, and TRICARE acts as a secondary payer. There is no paperwork associated with TFL--beneficiaries automatically gain coverage when they meet the requirements. To learn more about TFL, a fact sheet is available online.

Updating DEERS Information In-Person

Servicemembers and beneficiaries can visit the RAPIDS Site Locator to locate the nearest personnel office or Personnel Support Detachment (PSD), where they can update DEERS information in person, request a military or dependent ID card, update their Record of Emergency Data (Page 2), Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) or Family SGLI and death gratuity benefits, or make corrections to their pay. Failure to keep one's personal information up-to-date could result in breaks in certain benefits or eligibility for a Sailor and their family. For a complete description of all Navy human resource records or detailed instructions on how to update service records, visit the Navy Personnel Command Records Management and Policy webpage.

Hagel Sworn In as New Secretary of Defense

After what became a surprisingly ugly and personal confirmation process, the Senate confirmed former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defense on Tuesday of this week by a 58-41 vote. During the confirmation hearing Hagel was attacked by his former Republican colleagues in the Senate and many seemed to some to be very personal, with some even impugning his patriotism. In the end, he received the votes of all Democrats in the Senate who were present during the vote and four Republican Senators.

While the Hagel confirmation was high drama in Washington, it was mostly an “inside the beltway” drama. Nonetheless, it was an important event that deserves our attention.

For TREA members it is a significant development because Hagel is the first Secretary of Defense to have been an enlisted combat veteran. In fact, the first person he wanted to see after he watched the Senate vote on C-SPAN in his transition office in the Pentagon was the Sergeant Major of the Army, CSM Ray Chandler. According to “The Situation Report” from ForeignPolicy.com, it was an impromptu move on Hagel’s part and no arrangements had been made in advance, so when he got to Chander’s office Chandler was unfortunately not there.

After being sworn in as the new Secretary of Defense on Wednesday at the Pentagon, Hagel addressed an assembly of several hundred Pentagon workers and told them, “I’ll be honest, I’ll be direct, I’ll expect the same from you. I’ll never ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Secretary Hagel’s entire address to the Pentagon employees can be read here: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=119392

Hagel was introduced to the group by a fellow Nebraskan and another enlisted man, SFC John Wirth, an 11-year Army veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. Wirth is from Gordon, Neb.

Hagel and his brother served together in the Army in Vietnam and both nearly lost their lives in action. Hagel still carries around shrapnel in his chest and his experiences in Vietnam in his heart.

In January CNN.com published an article about Hagel that said in part:
Badly burned after his armored personnel carrier hit a land mine in Vietnam, Chuck Hagel sat in a medical evacuation helicopter thinking of the horrors he had experienced during combat.

"If I ever get out, if I ever can influence anything, I will do all I can to prevent war," he would later tell his biographer, Charlyne Berens.

Should he be nominated to replace current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Hagel would bring to the Pentagon a distinct bias against armed conflict forged during the Vietnam War.

Hegal volunteered to join the Army and ended up serving a yearlong tour in 1968 during the Tet Offensive, considered the most violent period in that war. Because of a clerical error, he served side by side with his younger brother.

He earned two Purple Hearts, one of which was for saving his brother's life. The second Purple Heart was for shrapnel he took in the chest while on patrol with his brother; his brother saved his life by patching up the wound.

After coming home, Hagel worked briefly as a newscaster, then had a career in business, before entering public service as a Republican senator from Nebraska. He served in that role from 1997 to 2009.

Hagel's time in Vietnam forged his thoughts about combat for the rest of his life, earning him a reputation on Capitol Hill as someone with an independent streak that meant he was sometimes at odds with his Republican colleagues.

In a February 12 article in the NY Times by Joseph Lelyveld, Hagel is quoted as telling the author, “I don't have to be president; I don't have to be a senator. I have to live with myself.” More striking than the words was the urgency with which he spoke them. He seemed to be speaking more to himself than his companions, as if repeating a vow.

As Secretary of Defense Hagel faces enormous issues, starting with the $46 billion cuts in the Defense budget now in effect as a result of the “sequester.” He also faces furloughs for more than 800,000 defense civilian employees, and cuts to maintenance, training, and operations across the department. That’s on top of the fact that the funding for DoD and the entire federal government runs out on March 17 unless Congress passes legislation to fund it for the rest of the 2013 fiscal year and then how much they choose to spend.

So what kind of Defense Secretary will Hagel be, especially when it comes to issues that are of greatest concern to TREA members? It’s hard to say, although it is clear his experiences as an enlisted man in Vietnam continue to influence him. Nonetheless, he will be forced to make cuts in the defense budget, and since the time of the Bush Administration to the present Pentagon officials have wanted to cut retiree benefits. We hope Secretary Hagel will balk at these proposals, but as we’ve seen with Senator McCain, wartime experience does not necessarily translate into support for military retirees.

New Bill Aims To Reduce Rank of Drone Medal 

A group of Republican lawmakers has introduced a bill to prevent the Defense Department from establishing the Distinguished Warfare Medal for drone operators as an award that ranks higher than the Bronze Star or Purple Heart.

H.R. 833 tells the Defense Department how to set the precedence of medals. According to the Marine Corps Times, there is a strong chance the legislation will end up as an amendment to the 2014 defense authorization bill. The bill was co-sponsored by Congressmen Duncan Hunter (R-CA), Ken Calvert (R-CA), Michael G. Grimm (R-NY), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), Steven M. Palazzo (R-MS), C.W. Bill Young (R-FL), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Joe Heck (R-NV), Tim Murphy (R-PA), and Thomas J. Rooney (R-FL).

Congressman Hunter, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, told the Marine Corps Times that there is a difference between direct combat and flying a drone from a safe location. “Those engaged in direct combat put their lives on the line, accepting extraordinary personal risk,” Hunter said. “There is nothing wrong with having a military award that recognizes commendable actions off the battlefield, but it’s absolutely necessary to ensure that combat valor awards are not diminished in any way.”

DoD Plans to Ask for More BRAC

According to Politico, The Department of Defense is planning to ask Congress for two new rounds of military base closures in its upcoming budget request.

DOD made the same request last year, but neither party was in the mood to listen to the idea largely because of the election last year.

Apparently, DoD officials said they planned to seek authorization for a round of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process first in 2015, followed by a second round in 2017.

A June report from the Government Accountability Office said that while costs of the 2005 BRAC round grew by 67 percent, the Pentagon will still reap savings in the long run, according to Politico.

Interesting New Proposed Legislation

H.R.821 – A bill to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide surviving spouses with certain protections relating to mortgages and mortgage foreclosures, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL)

S. 430- A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to enhance treatment of certain small business concerns for purposes of Department of Veterans Affairs contracting goals and preferences, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV)

S.422- A bill to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001 and title 38, United States Code, to require the provision of chiropractic care and services to veterans at all Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and to expand access to such care and services, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)

H.R.921- A bill to amend the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Care Programs Enhancement Act of 2001 and title 38, United States Code, to require the provision of chiropractic care and services to veterans at all Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers and to expand access to such care and services.
Sponsor: Rep. Michael H. Michaud (D-ME-02)

H.R.894- A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the supervision of fiduciaries of veterans under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Sponsor: Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH-06)

H.R. 883- A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to permit certain veterans who were discharged or released from the Armed Forces by reason of service-connected disability to transfer benefits under the Post-9/11 Educational Assistance Program, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-03)

H.R.897- A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
Sponsor: Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA-44)

More on Sequestration

It is getting to be crunch time for sequestration and as we are sure you have all heard there are reports that there will be 2 hour security lines at the airports and fewer air traffic controllers in the towers. There may be fewer teachers, and firemen and policemen in your towns and cities. All of this may happen if the across-the-board cuts do go into effect. But they are broad, generalized predictions

A detailed plan/prediction released this week was that as many of 800,000 civilian DoD employees may be furloughed. The DoD plan is to require workers to take 1 unpaid off day per week. That would mean 22 unpaid days if the sequestration ran through the full FY2013 fiscal year. That would, of course, mean a 20% cut in pay. If this happens it would start in April since the law requires that a formal notice be sent to each affected employee at least 30 days before the furloughs occur.

Since many of you or your friends are now DoD civilian employees this could be hugely important to you.

SecDef Leon Panetta said about the plan:”We are doing everything possible to limit the worst effects on DoD personnel — but I regret that our flexibility within the law is extremely limited. The president has used his legal authority to exempt military personnel funding from sequestration, but we have no legal authority to exempt civilian personnel funding from reductions.”

It may also dramatically affect you if you are a defense company employee. And even if you are not in either group, the sequestration, if it runs throughout the fiscal year, it may very well affect the military healthcare including the speed of paying TRICARE bills, and numerous family programs throughout DoD. So we will keep you informed about of the negotiations. 

Sequestration to Ground the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds?

“The Air Force and the Navy will likely ground their demonstration squadrons, but each service has to agree before either can do it. Times are tough, and as the Pentagon looks to trim costs, the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds are seen as low-hanging fruit. The Navy had floated the idea recently, and now the Air Force has agreed that it, too, will likely ground its demo squadron this year. An Air Force official told Situation Report that if sequestration hits, the Air Force would ground the Thunderbirds, based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. It is also looking at canceling “aerial support” at air shows, patriotic holiday events, and local and national sporting events, which could top 1,000 events across the country. “It is likely the Thunderbirds...will not conduct their season this year,” Wendy Varhegyi, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, told Situation Report. And for the Navy, it’s simple math: grounding the squadron for a year is worth about $20 million, which equates to normal maintenance for five small warships, Situation Report is told. While no one in the Navy wants to cancel “the Blues,” as a Navy official said, it would be hard not to when the service is looking for trims that will affect shipbuilding and maintenance and operations. “For us, it would be difficult for us to justify not doing shipbuilding and maintenance when we’re still flying air shows.” The demonstration squadrons are used by both services as a recruiting and “community relations” tool. But with the budgetary axe swinging, they easily fall off the Pentagon’s must-have list. The Air Force did not have a dollar amount of what it would save by grounding the Thunderbirds.

Navy and Air Force budget officials have agreed to agree. Under the deal, if one service has to ground its demo squadron, so does the other. The agreement stems from the shared recognition that both services face the same challenge so if one cancels its program, the other one should cancel its program, too. “If one of us has to cancel the flight programs, then the other one has to,” a Navy official told Situation Report. “We’ve agreed we’re going to make this decision jointly, we’re not going to make it independently from one another.”

Commissaries and Exchanges (and Yes, Sequestration)

We still don’t have a budget from the Administrationbut when we get one we are expecting an attack on our Commissary and Exchange benefit. This has been a target of cutting for the last 20 years. Again and again we have needed to convince Washington leaders that this is a benefit that the total military family cares about. That is why last year we joined we a Coalition to “Save Our Benefit” Below id a press release from the Coalition announcing that next week is “Military Saves Week.” We are urging you to shop in the Commissaries and Exchanges this coming week both: to save money and to show Congress and the President that this is an extremely important benefit for you and your family.

Now if sequestration goes into effect DeCA (the Commissaries) will have to cut 9.2% of its operating and surcharge accounts amounting to $130 million. They are planning to close commissaries on Wednesdays from the end of April through September 21st. DeCA’s National Headquarters will also close every Wednesday. So, this means that all DeCA employees will face the 20% pay reduction.

So this is the time to go to your Commissaries and Exchanges-to demonstrate your support and to get bargains while it is still easy to do so.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Media Contact
Candace Wheeler
media@saveourbenefit.org
(202) 386-7319

Military Saves Week: Savings You Can Count On

Washington, D.C. (February 21, 2013) – Military communities across our country and overseas are gearing up for Military Saves Week (25 February – 2 March), the national campaign to motivate military families to save every month. Save Our Benefit encourages all military families to “Take the Military Saves Pledge” by visiting www.militarysaves.org, and reminds service members and their families that one of the best ways to save money is by shopping regularly at your commissary and exchange.

Military families save an average of 31% by shopping in the commissary and over 20% by using the exchange. Combined, these savings add up to nearly $7,000 a year for a family of four. If you are not already using your benefits, just think what you could do with that kind of savings! You could pay off your bills or college loans, build up your savings account, invest in your retirement, save for your children’s education or your own, or help take care of aging parents. The options are limitless but it must start with a plan to pay yourself first. By consistently shopping at your commissary and exchange, and keeping track of your overall savings, you will be able to put that money to work for you on a monthly basis. Now that is savings you can count on!

Millions of military families already count on commissaries and exchanges to help stretch their household budgets, deliver much needed supplies, and provide a “touch of home” wherever the military sends them. In remote and overseas locations, they are often the only affordable shopping opportunity available. In metropolitan areas, where prices are consistently higher, commissaries and exchanges help keep prices affordable. For some junior enlisted military families and fixed income retirees, savings are the difference between making ends meet and filing for public assistance. No wonder military families rank commissaries and exchanges as one of their most important non-pay benefits.

Commissaries and exchanges save military patrons $4.5 billion annually. They also contribute billions more to Moral, Welfare, and Recreation programs, which save you and your family additional money each month. Commissaries and exchanges are also the largest employers of military families in the world and the leading employer of veterans in the nation. So, by shopping at your commissary and exchange you are helping other military families to make ends meet or save for tomorrow. Now that is savings our military community can count on!

Military families can increase their savings by visiting the Save Our Benefit Patrons Savings Portal http://www.saveourbenefit.org/for_military_patrons.html. This one-stop location is designed to keep you current on the latest sales, deals, discounts, coupons, and promotions taking place at your local exchange and commissary. Our Coalition partners also offer you further discounts through coupons, contests, promotions, and giveaways. We encourage you to visit our website weekly to take advantage of these additional savings.

By shopping regularly at your local commissary and exchange, you and your family will not only save money but help protect your earned benefits from budget cutters in and outside of Congress who want to take your benefits away. It is important for you to know that the commissary and exchange systems actually save the government money the more often patrons use their benefits. So, the more you shop at your commissary and exchange the greater the savings for you and the nation. Now that is savings we can all count on!

To learn more about Save Our Benefit or to join our efforts, please visit www.saveourbenefit.org

Navy Veteran Wins Lawsuit Against Virginia University Over In-State Tuition

This week a George Mason University student and Navy veteran named Stephanie Kermgard won a lawsuit she filed in Virginia state court over the school’s decision not to grant her in-state student status, according to the Washington Post.

The case has been appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, where it could establish a favorable precedent regarding in-state tuition for military service members. Upholding this decision would smooth the way for veterans to pay a lower rate to attend college in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Here are the facts involved in Mrs. Kermgard’s case, according to the Post: she moved to Charlottesville in 2004 to live with her mother. The following year she enlisted in the Navy and was stationed in Norfolk, VA. In 2006 she married another sailor, in Norfolk, and they had a baby, in Portsmouth, VA. The Navy transferred them to Washington state in 2007, and when their service was completed in 2011, they returned to Virginia, in Fairfax. Mrs. Kermgard is now 29 years old.

Virginia, which has taken several important steps to position itself as a military friendly state in recent years, has state education guidelines that allow military members to retain their Virginia domicile (residency) if they are transferred out of state by the military. At Northern Virginia Community College, Stephanie Kermgard’s husband, John, was granted in-state tuition without any delay.

But George Mason University said no to Mrs. Kermgard three separate times (when she first applied and then on two separate appeals). She then filed a lawsuit in Fairfax County Circuit Court where Judge Robert J. Smith said Kermgard’s veteran status “changes everything. She left Virginia clearly because of military orders, and she has established domicile before.” He ordered GMU to classify Kermgard as an in-state student, which would require them to refund $20,000 or more, Kermgard said.

George Mason University’s lawyer Thomas Moncure has said that he would appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, which will cost Kermgard thousands more in costs and fees.

According to the Post, the fight is wearing out the Kermgards: “We’re not rich people,” she said. “We’ve living off the G.I. Bill. We’re spending out of pocket money, our savings, Christmas money, most of our tax refund is spent, we’ve exhausted everything.” They estimate their legal bill will come to about $10,000.

When Mrs. Kermgard was stationed on the West Coast, she got a Washington state driver’s license, as she was required to by law there, and in doing so checked off a box saying she wanted to register to vote there. She never voted in Washington state. George Mason used those actions as evidence that she had ‘abandoned’ her Virginia residency while she continued to pay Virginia income taxes.

Virginia has passed laws that make it absolutely clear that receiving military orders to leave Virginia does not cause a person to lose Virginia residency, and to allow veterans to get in-state tuition immediately. It is absolutely clear what the public policy is in Virginia towards granting veterans in-state tuition, and George Mason University is clearly on the wrong side of this issue.