Retiree & Veteran News 2 January 2013 

1/2/2013 

 

CONGRESS' TO DO LIST

With only two weeks before the end of the year, Congress’ To Do list is not getting any shorter. Here is what we think lawmakers need to accomplish before midnight, 31 December.

* Pass the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill

The outlook on the bill’s passage is good. Conferees could file the conference report as early as tomorrow. Once filed, both chambers will need to vote on the final bill, possibly by Friday.

Unfortunately, we have no idea what the conferees have decided on one of our main items – increases to co-pays for the military pharmacy program. If you recall, AUSA urged that conferees adopt the House version which would increase pharmacy co-pays, but not as drastically as the Defense Department’s plan.

We also urged that they discard a provision in the Senate’s plan that would establish a BRAC-like commission to examine ways to “modernize” the military’s compensation and retirement systems. The commission’s final plan would require an up-or-down vote by Congress, without any amendments and would significantly restrict oversight and debate by the Armed Services Committees and subcommittees. AUSA adamantly opposes this commission and urged that the Senate’s plan not be adopted in the final version of the bill.

In a letter to House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that if the final authorization bill does not include the modifications the Pentagon requested, he would recommend that the President veto the bill.

With regards to the Army, Panetta said that he strongly objects to a provision contained in the House bill that would limit active duty end strength reductions to 15,000 for the Army in fiscal years 2014-2017. As expected, he also reiterated his strong support for the Department’s TRICARE fee initiatives.

* “Fix” the huge reduction to Medicare physician reimbursement rates

For years, Congress has staved off the scheduled cuts to the payment doctors receive for treating Medicare and TRICARE beneficiaries by implementing a “fix”. However, each deferral just increases the size – and price tag – of the fix needed the next time. Finding a permanent solution to the annual cuts in reimbursement rates has proven to be next to impossible.

On Jan. 1, physicians will face a nearly 27 percent drop in reimbursement rates. Since it is estimated that it would cost about $300 billion to replace the current formula, Congress has not be able to find a permanent solution. In any event, with time running short, Congress needs to slap another patch on the problem while they try to solve the problem once and for all next year.

* Stop Sequestration

Although the President and Congressional leaders are talking about how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” which includes sequestration, extending Bush-era tax-cuts, raising the debt ceiling, extending the alternative minimum tax, unemployment insurance and extending the cut to the payroll tax, no deal has been reached.

With the effective date looming, the Office of Management and Budget has issued guidance to the Defense Department and they are now planning for sequestration.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey have repeatedly warned Congress that sequestration, which would cut the DOD budget by $500 billion on top of the $487 billion in cuts already planned, would be a disaster for national security.

Gen. Dempsey reiterated that warning last week. He said that the decision to exempt military personnel from the cuts will increase the impact sequestration has on operations, maintenance, training and infrastructure.

“It'll be a significant degradation. It will have an effect, and I think it'll be an effect felt for two or three years.”

Dempsey added that non-manpower areas of the Pentagon’s budget would face 10 percent cuts from sequestration, rather than 8 percent, because of the manpower exception. “There could be some civilian employees placed on unpaid furloughs. So it's really serious.”

Leaders in both chambers have suggested that lawmakers will have to work through the Christmas holiday.

Whatever it takes…

LETTER URGES LEADERS TO INCLUDE DEFENSE CUTS AS PART OF FISCAL CLIFF DEAL

While they have “serious concerns about the careless and arbitrary way that sequestration reduces defense spending” a group of bipartisan lawmakers informed the President and House and Senate leaders that they support its general intent as a way to improve the nation’s fiscal condition.

The letter, signed by 22 lawmakers, went on to say that “The Pentagon’s budget has increased dramatically over the last decade, due in large part to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As we transition from wartime to peacetime, and as we confront our nation’s fiscal challenges, future defense budgets should reflect the conclusion of these wars and acknowledge that our modem military is able to approach conflicts utilizing fewer but more advanced resources. Congress must consider these changes, not past spending or percentages of GDP, and move toward defense budgeting that focuses on meeting specific military requirements.”

AUSA is concerned because the Defense Department is already taking a huge hit to its budget. We will continue to watch developments closely and take action, if needed.

AUSA Names Retired Lt. Gen. Swan as New Vice President

The president of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA), Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., recently announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., as the Association’s vice president for education effective 10 December. Swan, who served more than 35 years in the Army and retired last year as the commanding general, U.S. Army North and Fifth Army, will lead AUSA’s educational mission by overseeing the Institute of Land Warfare (ILW), ARMY Magazine, and AUSA NEWS. In this position, Swan will succeed Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, USA, Ret., who is retiring from AUSA on 31 December after 16 years of dedicated service.

Congratulations to the Army's Newest Selection of Brigadier Generals

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta announced on December 13, 2012 that the President has made the following nominations: http://www.defense.gov/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=15739

First Lady Assists Marines at Toys for Tots Event

Along with First Lady Michelle Obama, the Marine Corps ramped up their efforts nationwide in support of its Toys for Tots campaign. Obama joined several Marines inside JBAB's Naval Marine Corps Reserve Center where they listened to Christmas music, shared some laughs and volunteered to sort toys and clothes into boxes for those less fortunate. The gifts will be handed out to underprivileged children living in the Washington, D.C., area. Pete Osman, president and CEO of the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation and a retired Marine Corps lieutenant general, thanked everyone in the community for their generosity, particularly in a difficult economy and those who are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. Read more at: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118772

DeCA Scholarships for Military Children

Applications for the 2013 Scholarships for Military Children Program are now available at commissaries worldwide and also online at the Commissaries.com website at www.commissaries.com and the MilitaryScholar.org website at www.militaryscholar.org. The scholarship program awards at least $1,500 at each commissary. To apply for a scholarship, the student must be a dependent, unmarried child, younger than 21 -- or 23, if enrolled as a full-time student at a college or university -- of a Servicemember on active duty, reservist, guardsman, retiree or survivor of a military member who died while on active duty or survivor of a retiree. Students with questions about the scholarship program application can call Scholarship Managers at 856-616-9311.

Employment Website Teams With Joining Forces

Acting Commerce Department Secretary Rebecca M. Blank announced that employment website Monster.com is collaborating with the White House’s Joining Forces campaign and will contribute to the initiative’s goal of hiring or training an additional 250,000 veterans and military spouses by the end of 2014 Learn more: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118788

Freedom Award Recognizes Guard, Reserve Supporters

Reserve component members still have time to nominate their civilian employers for the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Nominations for the award are due by 21 January 2013. The award is the highest honor the Defense Department (DoD) grants to civilian employers. Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve’s (ESGR) central mission is to encourage employment of Guardsmen and reservists, who bring integrity, global perspective and proven leadership to the civilian workforce. The award recognizes employers that go to extraordinary lengths to support their employees' service in the reserve components and enables Guardsmen and reservists to show their appreciation for their employers' support. For details, please see: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118761

Pentagon Begins Planning Massive Budget Cuts

The Defense Department has begun planning for the roughly $500 billion in personnel and program cuts over a decade that will be needed if Congress and the White House fail to reach a deal that would avoid the double hit of tax hikes and automatic spending reductions dubbed the "fiscal cliff." http://news.yahoo.com/pentagon-begins-planning-massive-budget-cuts-204532808--finance.htm

New Army Online Training Resource

The Army Training Network (ATN) recently added a web page to bring Soldiers the most current information about Training Aids, Devices, Simulators and Simulations (TADSS). ATN is the one-stop shop for Army training tools and resources. Its TADSS resources page offers information about the location, purpose and best practices for using TADSS. The new ATN TADSS page offers information about the TADSS to support training the unit's key collective tasks (KCT) and how to obtain TADSS. For more on TADSS, visit the TADSS page on the Army Training Network website at: https://atn.army.mil/

Thrift Savings Plan Increases Limits

The elective deferral limit for regular Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) contributions will increase from $17,000 to $17,500 for 2013. The TSP catch-up plan contribution limit will remain at $5,500. Military members can contribute any whole percentage up to 92 percent of basic pay, as long as the annual total does not exceed $17,500 for 2013. Those serving in tax-free combat zones may contribute up to $51,000 in annual contributions for 2013. There are monthly contribution limits, however. Military members can call TSP officials at 877-968-3778 for more information. Military members can visit the TSP website at www.tsp.gov and use their personal identification number and password to access their TSP account. Contribution allocations can also be made via the Thrift Line (877-968-3778). For general TSP questions, Airmen can call the Total Force Service Center at 800-525-0102 (press 1 and then press 6).

New Process Improves Household Goods Shipments

A system being implemented at U.S. Transportation Command is making permanent-change-of-station moves more convenient, while reducing lost and damaged shipments and saving the government money. The Defense Personal Property System (DPS), introduced in 2009 as a pilot program at 17 installations, now supports 90 percent of all military moves. The Web-based system automates many of the steps involved in military moves: pre-move counseling, scheduling g, tracking, invoicing and claims filing for household goods shipments. DPS also gives customers the opportunity to track their shipments online. If their shipment is lost or damaged, they can file a claim online and settle directly with the moving company. To read this article in full, click here: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118750

Military Crisis Line: Support Whenever You Need It

During the holiday season if you or someone you know is struggling with a relationship, anxiety or other personal issues help is available. Servicemembers, along with their loved ones can go to the Military Crisis Line for free, confidential support 24/7. The Military Crisis Line is staffed by caring, qualified responders from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), many who have served in the Military themselves. They understand what Servicemembers have been through and the challenges members of the Military and their loved ones face. The Military Crisis Line, online chat, and text are free to all Service members, including members of the National Guard and Reserves, and Veterans, even if you are not registered with VA or enrolled in VA health care. For more information about the crisis support, go to: http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/ActiveDuty.aspx.

Operation Rising Star

Operation Rising Star is an Army Entertainment Production. This show is an annual singing contest for U.S. military personnel and Family members. It just completed its eighth season and was aired via the Pentagon Channel on 9, 11, 13, 15, and 16 December at 2000 hours, eastern standard time. This year’s special guest star is country singer Bo Bice as well as others. The competition provides Soldiers and their Families the opportunity of reaching their dreams of becoming a recording artist. To watch this competition online, please click: http://www.pentagonchannel.mil/?pid=KUDgvkXnsBw8nZZPdb_Xdk3fGfVh3iAf&player=GovDelivery

Report Reveals Further Reduction in Veterans Homelessness

The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently announced that a new national report showed that homelessness among Veterans has been reduced by approximately 7 percent between January 2011 and January 2012. VA has made ending Veteran homelessness by the end of 2015 a top priority and While the number of homeless people in the U.S. dropped by less than 1 percent, according to the 2012 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), Veteran homelessness has shown a more robust decline. VA also announced the availability of $300 million in grants for community organizations to aid in the homelessness situation. The deadline for applying to the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program, a homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing program, is 1 February 2013. SSVF grants promote housing stability among homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families. To register or learn more, see: www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp

Report: 6 in 10 VA Claim Denials are in Error

A new report on an old problem contains some sad statistics about veterans’ benefits claims such as: thirty-one percent of claims filed with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) are likely to be denied, and 60 percent of those denials will be erroneous; sixty percent of claims will take longer than 125 days to be processed, more than 7 percent of claims will be misplaced, and 4 percent will be completely lost; and a veteran calling VA’s benefits hotline has just a 49 percent chance of being connected to someone and receiving a correct answer. According to the report, basically the federal government, in general, does a poor job of administering disability benefits and services. Read the full article at: http://www.armytimes.com/news/2012/12/military-veterans-disability-claims-121312w/

Trucking Companies Recruit Veterans

Despite the fact that millions of Americans are looking for work, ninety percent of trucking companies say they can't find enough drivers. Long hours and many nights spent away from home make the driver's seat difficult to fill, so trucking companies are targeting a group they believe has the skill-set to handle a tough job--veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Like other large trucking companies, Schneider National has ramped-up its efforts to recruit veterans since 2001. Close to 15 percent of the company's approximately 13,000 drivers are veterans, and the wants more. To learn more about career opportunities available at Schneider National or to apply, visit www.schneiderjobs.com or call 1-800-44-PRIDE (1-800-447-7433).

GM: Veteran Hiring Programs

GM is grateful for our nation's support through the years, and we're dedicated to designing, building and selling the world's best vehicles. General Motors is the largest commercial provider of military vehicles in history and we remain dedicated to supporting America's heroes. In addition to our signature national programs, we encourage our employees to support the military on a local basis and in ways meaningful to them. In many instances, our employees have a family member, relative, friend in the military

Army Sleep Study

Researchers from academia and the private sector are teaming up to study and improve the sleep quality of Soldiers through an online survey. The survey is now available online to active and reserve-component Soldiers, other servicemembers, as well as veterans. Soldiers take the 10-minute survey to describe their own sleep patterns and habits, which will help researchers which kinds of sleep aids and coaching might be most useful to Soldiers. The focus is not just on sleep, but also on other health problems that poor sleep might be signaling. There are more than 100 types of sleep disorders and some of these are linked to serious health issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. For more information, visit the National Sleep Foundation website at www.sleepfoundation.org.

Exchanges Offer MILITARY STAR(R) Card

One way shoppers can help reduce costs and strengthen their Exchange benefit is by using the MILITARY STAR(R) Card. Unlike bank cards, swiping a MILITARY STAR(R) Card produces no fees as the card is administered by the Exchange and revenue generated is shared with military communities through contributions to quality-of-life programs. The card also benefits the cardholder through gas savings during the year as well as ten percent savings on food purchases at Exchange restaurants. The card is accepted at all Army and Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard Exchange activities, as well as the Exchange Online store at www.shopmyexchange.com. Authorized exchange shoppers can learn more about the MILITARY STAR(R) Card by visiting www.shopmyexchange.com and clicking "Credit Services."

AAFES Open Doors to Vendors

While the economy may have forced some retailers to scale back on merchandise or services, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service is actively seeking the assistance of local businesses to increase the product selection troops and their families find at their Exchange. The addition of local, small, minority, women- and veteran-owned businesses can help provide the diversity, value and innovation that enhances the shopping experience. Partner businesses, called concessions, also operate in Exchange-provided space, primarily in the retail mall area. For more information on how to partner with the Exchange as a concessionaire, visit the ShopMyExchange.com website at www.shopmyexchange.com/DoingBusiness/index.htm.

Scholarships for Military Families

Army Emergency Relief offers two scholarship programs, the Spouse Education Assistance Program and the Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program. Applications will be available Jan. 1, but the packets for both programs do not have to be completed and returned until May 1. The 2013 Scholarships for Military Children is also now open for students at commissaries around the world. Applications must be turned in to a commissary by Feb. 22. For more information on the Scholarships for Military Children, visit the Commissaries.com website at www.commissaries.com and or the Scholarships for Military Children website at www.militaryscholar.org.

Two Vet Bills Await Final Approval

The VFW’s fall campaign, “Finish Strong for Veterans,” appears to have paid off. Last week the Senate passed two bills that we hope will be quickly approved by the House and sent to the President for his signature. H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency in Education for Veterans Act, will improve consumer awareness and provide improved fraud protection for veterans as they choose where to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill. The second bill, S. 3303, contains several provisions, to include funding for the improvement and transfer of Clark Cemetery in the Philippines to the American Battle Monuments Commission, a Burn Pit registry, and a pilot program for off-base Transition Assistance Program briefings. VFW National Legislative Service will keep you informed as these bills and others move forward in the remaining days of the 112th Congress.

Red Tape Cut for Veterans and Survivors

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced it is eliminating the need for an annual Eligibility Verification Report. Eliminating the annual report reduces a burden on veterans, their families and survivors, who previously had to return the routine reports to avoid a suspension of benefits. Under the new initiative, VA will work with the IRS and Social Security Administration to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits. The new initiative also allows VA to redirect more than 100 employees to work on eliminating the claims backlog. Read more at http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2414.

HVAC Leadership Announced

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) has made his recommendations for his four subcommittees when the 113th Congress convenes in January. Returning as chairman of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee will be Rep. Jon Runyan (R-N.J.). The three new subcommittee chairmen will be Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas) for Economic Opportunity; Rep. Dan Benishek (R-Mich.) for Health; and Rep Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) for Oversight & Investigations. The VFW encourages its national and department legislative committee members to use this opportunity to congratulate their respective subcommittee chairmen, and to continue to advocate for good legislation, per our 2013 Priority Goals, a copy of which can be downloaded at http://www.vfw.org/uploadedFiles/VFW.org/VFW_in_DC/2013%20Priority%20Goals.pdf.

Don’t Cheat the VA

Ordered to pay $457,986 in restitution and sentenced to 30 months in federal prison this month was Charles C. Kaczmarczyk, 59, of Knoxville, Tenn., for fraudulently obtaining disability payments from the VA and Social Security Administration. Kaczmarczyk obtained disability payments based on a false claim of combat-related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, and supported his PTSD claim with counterfeit Air Force records that reflected the award of two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars, plus repeatedly lied to government investigators. Awaiting sentencing is David A. Bevilacqua, 65, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., who pleaded guilty this month to theft of government property. Bevilacqua applied for VA medical benefits by falsely claiming to have been honorably discharged when he was actually dishonorably discharged for going AWOL. He also falsely claimed to have received numerous medals, to include the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, and claimed to have been in Force Recon and Special Forces in order to obtain increased benefits.

Korean War MIA Identified

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Sgt. 1st Class Harold M. Brown, 20, of Winston-Salem, N.C. In late November 1950, Brown and elements of the 31st Regimental Combat Team, known as “Task Force Faith,” were advancing along the eastern banks of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea when they were attacked and forced into a fighting withdrawal. Brown would be reported missing in action on Dec. 12, 1950. Read more at http://www.dtic.mil/dpmo/news/news_releases/.

Attention Maryland Veterans

Effective January 1, 2013, you will be able to have a veteran designation placed on your driver's license. This was authorized by a bill passed by the Maryland General Assembly, and signed into law by Governor O'Malley in May, 2012.

If you would like to have the veteran designation placed on your driver's license, you have two options:

  1. Request it the next time your license is up for renewal (no cost to you), or:
  2. Request it before your license is up for renewal ($20 fee)

Instructions

Bring one of the following documents to your local Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) Branch Office:

  • DD214
  • Honorable Discharge Certificate
  • Letter from the Personnel Center in St. Louis confirming veteran status

If you do not have any one of these documents and you are a veteran with a discharge that is other than dishonorable, you will need to visit your nearest Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA) Service Office to obtain a letter verifying your status as a veteran. To find the location of the MDVA Service Office closest to you, you can call 1-800-446-4926 ext. 6450 or visit the website at http://mdva.state.md.us/about/serviceProgram.html

Once you obtain this letter, you can then bring it to your local MVA Branch Office to request the veteran designation on your driver's license.

Questions: Contact Jerry Boden, MDVA, at 410.260.3841

TRICARE Fee Hike Planned for Feb. 1

House-Senate conferees have agreed to raising drug co-payments on military family members and retirees who fill prescriptions at TRICARE retail outlets or through mail order. The fee increases are scheduled to take effect Feb. 1. The fee hike is only one of several provisions of the 2013 defense authorization act that will impact the military community next year.

GI Bill Stipend to Increase

Veterans and eligible family members using the Post-9/11 GI Bill will see an average increase in their housing stipend. The stipend is based on the BAH rate for an E-5 with dependents. However, unlike the active duty BAH payment, which will go into effect at the first of the year, the GI Bill housing stipend will not go into effect until the start of the 2013-2014 academic year on August 1, 2013. Read more about the 2013-2014 GI Bill Stipend Rates.

TRICARE Prime Overview

According to TRICARE all active duty servicemembers are eligible in TRICARE Prime. However they must fill out an enrollment form and submit it to the regional contractor by either filling out the enrollment form. In addition servicemembers receive most of their care from military medical personnel. For active duty families, there is no enrollment fee for TRICARE Prime, however they must complete an enrollment form to select Prime as their coverage plan.

Military Skills Translator: Civilian Jobs You Qualify For

Translate your military skills, experience and training to find career opportunities that best align with your capabilities. Enter in your MOS, MOSC, Rating, or Designator and we'll give you a list of civilian skills and equivalent job openings. Translate Your Skills and Apply for Jobs Now.

AAFES Named Top Employer

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service has announced that it has been designated a 2013 Military Friendly Employer(R) by Victory Media, publisher of G.I. Jobs. The Exchange, along with other designated Military Friendly Employers(R), will be showcased in the January edition of G.I. Jobs magazine. The Exchange's company profile, including open positions that are a fit for military personnel, can be found on MilitaryFriendly.com. Using the priority data engine on MilitaryFriendly.com, job seekers are able to design their own custom lists of employers according to their preferences. Custom, user-directed lists can then be saved and shared socially, allowing each job seeker to find their unique #1 Military Friendly Employer(R).

New Report Supports Commissary Benefits

Recent attacks on the commissary and exchange benefit have been challenged by a recently released report by commissary and exchange advocates. The Military Resale and MWR Center for Research, established by the American Logistics Association, released a major economic review of the military resale system documenting these benefits for the military community and the nation. The report found that the CBO recommendations would actually cost DoD $40 billion instead of saving the government money and that the impact to the National economy was even greater -- placed at $80 billion.

WWI Memorial Act Passes

Stars and Stripes reports that the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the Frank Buckles World War I Memorial Act, which will establish a World War I memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Before becoming law, the bill must be passed in the U.S. Senate. Mr. Buckles was known as the "last of the doughboys," the final survivor of American troops who served in World War I when he died on Feb. 27, 2011, at age 110. The bill also establishes a commission to prepare a centennial observance for the war. More information about Mr. Buckles can be found at the Frank Buckles website at www.frankbuckles.org.

TSP Hardship Rules Relaxed

The Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board announced it has made temporary changes to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) hardship withdrawal rules to help victims of Hurricane Sandy pursuant to the guidance recently issued by the Internal Revenue Service. The TSP will treat any Financial Hardship In-Service Withdrawal Request (Form TSP-76) received until Jan. 25, 2013 as qualifying for a hardship withdrawal, if the participant follows the following instructions: The participant should write "Hurricane Sandy" at the top of the form and check the "personal casualty" box on the TSP-76. These temporary changes will not be effective retroactively. The distributions must occur before Feb. 1, 2013. For more information, visit the TSP website.

The Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits Compass Without a Bearing

I always enjoy the Times editorials for their thought provoking approach to issues. I never find them too far from the heartbeat of current discussions and for the most part guided by a compass honed by accurate information…until your recent editorial, “Excess commissaries in the market for a cut” and I realize that your usually reliable compass has for once steered you badly off course.

First, if you are going to use historical facts to form the foundation of an argument, you should do a better job of researching the issue in order to get them right. Your premise is that “the commissary system was created in the 19th century to serve troops at remote outposts with no nearby commercial stores.” There is a published and easily accessible reference document on the subject “The Illustrated History of the American Military Commissaries.” The commissary benefit is not a recent innovation. The modern era of sales commissaries actually began in 1867, when enlisted men received the same at-cost purchasing privileges officers had already enjoyed for four decades. No geographic restrictions were placed upon these sales; the commissary warehouse at every Army post could become a sales location, whether they were located on the frontier or near a large city.

Second, there are no excess commissaries. Excess commissaries have been closed. In fact, 170 have been closed since 1991 leaving 248 stores to serve these patrons.

Of course we are not saying that commissaries shouldn’t tighten their belts just like everyone else in DoD must do these days. They have. Annual costs have been reduced by $700 million from where they would have been without store closures and efficiencies. This does not include $500 million that was saved when inventory was outsourced in 1996.

What about the fact that commissary shoppers have contributed nearly $6 billion over the past 20 years to their own facilities? Not only did shoppers build the stores, they lost this investment as a result of strategic decisions such as the drawdown in Europe. Then, they paid again when they had to pay to build stores stateside to accommodate the troops coming home.

Let’s take a look at the shopper demographics. Yes, 51 percent of commissary users are retired. Most retirees are married and live on fixed incomes. Many retirees located near military bases because of commissary and exchange benefits, benefits they earned through their 20 plus years of service. Your echoing the Congressional Budget Office concept to disenfranchise entire groups of beneficiaries is a dangerous path to embark upon. The retirees were once the active force, they are a critical part of the makeup of the military community. The active force watches very closely how their retired brethren are treated when they make their decisions to stay or leave the service.

Using the survey information to make your case on the percentages of shoppers that use the commissary benefit is not a complete picture. The store survey consists of 25,000 respondents. It would have been better to go to the source data repository for authorized benefits and use the Defense Data Manpower Center (DMDC) which provides independent assessments through their surveys of active duty, reserve, and retired personnel. As an example, DMDC's Active Duty Survey indicates that 90 percent of active duty or family members have used the commissary in the past 12 months, and 82 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with their commissary.

Authorized commissary shoppers total, 12,278,534. Active duty and family members make up 3,574,165 or 29%. Retirees and family members are 5,068729 or 41%. National Guard and Reserve and their family members are 2,885,833 or 23%. Other authorized commissary shoppers include disabled veterans, surviving spouses, Medal of Honor recipients, and civilians overseas to the tune of 749,141 or 6%...the remaining 1% is in rounding. So, if it seems strange that there is a higher number of retirees shopping than active duty, it is a math issue not an authorized shopper issue.

Then there’s the reality of the supply chain economics. Big stores support small stores and stores in high-density metropolitan areas support small stores and overseas. It’s just simple economics -volume creates economies of scale. It would also be naïve to think that commercial grocers wouldn’t cherry pick the plums and leave the marginal operations to fend for themselves.

Also, I call your attention to an article in your own newspaper that shows that redemption of food stamps in the military has tripled since 2007. Joyce Raezer, Executive Director of the National Military Family Association said that National Guard and Reserve members returning from mobilization may find their jobs gone, or retirees may have trouble finding jobs after leaving the service. You conveniently left these populations out of your equation.

You suggest we should use the “food desert” criteria of the Agriculture Department to decide where to put commissaries. USDA study uses census tracts as its geographic units. It defines a food desert as “a low-income census tract where a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store.” Does this really fit the United States Military?

Finally, the commissary benefit should remain intact based on the fact that our military service members have earned it. It provides a valuable form of non-pay compensation. We should not cut benefits for our military service members and their families, especially after more than a decade of war. Unfortunately, some have chosen to ignore these reasons for this benefit and instead focus on what it costs. Indeed, dollars and cents are the only arguments that resonate in some sectors. That’s why we were compelled to produce an exhaustive economic analysis of commissary and exchange benefits. Take a look at some impactful numbers from the recently released study, “The Costs and Benefits of the Defense Retail System.” The report is available in its entirety at www.resaleresearch.org.

The modern commissary system reflects exactly the purpose for which it was intended. It is a model of efficiency and return on investment to the taxpayer. It represents the model of fiscal responsibility that is sought after by the Department of Defense but not yet attained. It is part of a military resale system that is a powerful economic engine for the nation, and one that must be preserved. If your readers want to know more about their benefits and see the entire economic analysis, I invite them to visit www.saveourbenefit.org.

Sincerely,

Candace Wheeler
Vice President of Strategic Communications & Marketing
The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits

The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits Valued Associates
American Logistics Association (ALA)
Armed Forces Marketing Council (AFMC)
National Industries For The Blind (NIB)
Fleet Reserve Association (FRA)
National Military Family Association (NMFA)
Military Officers Association of America (MOAA)
The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA)
Association of the US Army (AUSA)

House Majority Veterans’ Committee Leadership Announced

Below please find a press Release announcing the new HVAC

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, issued the following statement recommending the Committee Subcommittee Chairs for the 113th Congress:

“The selections I am recommending for the Committee’s Subcommittee Chairmanships represent a diverse group who has served, who are doctors, and who has advocated for veterans throughout their careers. I am confident these Members will work with the Committee to improve the lives of America’s veterans, their families, and survivors, as well as to continue the Committee’s work in the previous Congress to provide oversight of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I am also delighted to announce my colleague and friend, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, will continue to serve as Vice Chairman of the Committee. His dedication has been unparalleled, and I look forward to his continued leadership.”

  • Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Rep. Jon Runyan (New Jersey)
  • Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Rep. Bill Flores (Texas)
  • Subcommittee on Health: Rep. Dan Benishek, M.D. (Michigan)
  • Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations: Rep. Mike Coffman (Colorado)

Senate Passes Clark Veterans Cemetery Legislation

While trying to get ready to leave town the Senate approved Senator Kelly Ayotte’s (R-NH) S2320 legislation that would restore the Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Philippians and transfer its operation and maintenance to the American Battle Monuments Commission. The original co-sponsor was Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) The cemetery is the final resting place for over 8,300 American servicemembers and their families. Clark Air Force Base was abandoned after 1991 when a volcanic explosion covered the base with ash. Since 1994 volunteers have tried to maintain the cemetery without help from the U.S. government. Senator Ayotte said:

“The U.S. government has a moral responsibility to care for veterans cemeteries that honor those who have bravely served our country. The American veterans buried in Clark Veterans Cemetery deserve a dignified and well-maintained final resting place, and it’s time for the U.S. to again fulfill its responsibility to care for this sacred ground.”

Legislation to Ensure Veterans Receive Proper Burial Passes Senate

Press Release from Senator Portman’s Office:

The Veterans Missing in America Act, legislation led by U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Mark Begich (D-AK) that would enable the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to work with veterans groups to help determine whether unidentified or abandoned remains are those of veterans eligible for burial at a National Cemetery, passed the U.S. Senate last night as part of the Dignified Burial and Other Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act (S. 3202).

Portman and Begich introduced the Veterans Missing in America Act in March, and Congressmen Pat Tiberi (R-OH-12) and Steve Stivers (R-OH-15) have introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives. Following Senate passage, S.3202 has been sent to the House and the bill sponsors are pressing to get it passed through that body before the end of the year.

The Veterans Missing in America Act directs the VA to work with veteran service organizations (VSOs) and other groups, like the Missing in America Project, in assisting entities in possession of unidentified or abandoned remains to determine if the remains are that of a veteran eligible for burial at a National Cemetery. The VA will cover the burial cost if the remains are determined to be that of an eligible veteran who doesn’t have a next of kin.

To read more about the Veterans Missing in America Project, go here: (http://www.miap.us/).

VA Announces Elimination of Yearly Eligibility Verification Report

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 20, 2012

VA, SSA and IRS Cut Red Tape for Veterans and Survivors
New Policy Eliminates Paperwork, Allows More VA Staff to Focus on Eliminating Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today it is cutting red tape for Veterans by eliminating the need for them to complete an annual Eligibility Verification Report (EVR). VA will implement a new process for confirming eligibility for benefits, and staff that had been responsible for processing the old form will instead focus on eliminating the compensation claims backlog.

Historically, beneficiaries have been required to complete an EVR each year to ensure their pension benefits continued. Under the new initiative, VA will work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits.

“By working together, we have cut red tape for Veterans and will help ensure these brave men and women get the benefits they have earned and deserve,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

VA estimates it would have sent nearly 150,000 EVRs to beneficiaries in January 2013. Eliminating these annual reports reduces the burden on Veterans, their families, and survivors because they will not have to return these routine reports to VA each year in order to avoid suspension of benefits. It also allows VA to redirect more than 100 employees that usually process EVRs to work on eliminating the claims backlog.

"Having already instituted an expedited process that enables wounded warriors to quickly access Social Security disability benefits, we are proud to work with our federal partners on an automated process that will make it much easier for qualified Veterans to maintain their VA benefits from year to year," said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security.

"The IRS is taking new steps to provide critical data to help speed the benefits process for the nation's veterans and Veterans Affairs," said Beth Tucker, IRS Deputy Commissioner for Operations Support. "The IRS is pleased to be part of a partnership with VA and SSA that will provide needed data quickly and effectively to move this effort forward."

All beneficiaries currently receiving VA pension benefits will receive a letter from VA explaining these changes and providing instructions on how to continue to submit their unreimbursed medical expenses.

More information about VA pension benefits is available at http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension and other VA benefit programs on the joint Department of Defense—VA web portal eBenefits at www.ebenefits.va.gov.

Employer Support Award Nominees Wanted

Reserve component members still have time to nominate their civilian employers for the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The award recognizes employers that go to extraordinary lengths to support their employees' service in the reserve components and enables Guardsmen and reservists to show their appreciation for their employers' support. Nominations are due by Jan. 21, 2013. Family members can submit nominations on behalf of a Guardsman or reservist. Employers of every size and industry are eligible. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense (DoD) agency, is accepting nominations online at The Freedom Award website at www.FreedomAward.mil.

Keep Your Vaccinations Current

Adults should to check with their physician to make sure they are up to date on important vaccinations they may have received as a child, but not as an adult. One vaccination many adults do not receive is the Tdap shot, which protects against tetanus and diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough). Each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) publish a recommended adult immunization schedule at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules. The CDC recommends adults receive the seasonal influenza, or flu shot, every year; Tdap every 10 years; shingles for those adults 60 years and older; pneumococcal for adults 65 years and older (a one-time shot); and hepatitis B (three-shot series) for adults who have diabetes or are at risk for hepatitis B. For more information, visit the CDC's Vaccines and Immunizations webpage at www.cdc.gov/vaccines.

Protect Your Identity

Here are some tips to protect your personal and financial data during and after the holidays: (1) maintaining physical control of your debit cards, credit cards, checkbook and identifying information (such as Social Security number and date of birth); (2) know where these items are at all times; (3) only carry the cards you plan to use; (4) know with whom you are doing business--this is especially important when doing business online or over the phone; (5) review all statements upon receipt to verify that all the transactions are accurate; and (6) immediately report any "missing" cards or unrecognized transactions." Be proactive. Waiting to report a loss or unauthorized use will not make it easier, and the sooner you can minimize damage, the better. For more tips and information, visit the IDTheftInfo.org website at www.idtheftinfo.org.