Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 4 February 2014 

2/4/2014 

 

Message from the PresidentAUSA, GEN Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Retired

This week, I testified before the Senate on the under-62 military retiree COLA cut, explaining the breach of faith with those who have served their nation with honor. I was encouraged by remarks from both sides of the aisle, as well as the DoD witnesses. I am hopeful that Congress will fix this as soon as possible.

AUSA ON THE HILL

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., testified this week before the full Senate Armed Services Committee on the under-62 military retiree Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) cut and on military retirement compensation in general.

In his statement to the committee, Sullivan expressed his appreciation that Congress removed much of the burden of sequestration from the Department of Defense with the passage of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.  However, he stated his displeasure with the late addition of the COLA cap in the budget agreement, especially since he and this Association had been repeatedly assured by the Administration, Congress and the Department of Defense that any changes to the military pay and compensation system would be carefully considered and would not include the current force or current retirees.

Sullivan said that the COLA cut “breaks faith with those who have served their nation for 20 years and with those who will retire in the future, who until now had the expectation that their retirement would keep pace with current economic conditions.”

He also urged that the congressionally-created Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), tasked with reviewing potential changes to the military retirement system, be allowed to do its job and not be preempted by legislation that affects the current force and current retirees.

We were encouraged by remarks made by members of the committee and the witnesses testifying on behalf of the Defense Department.  Christine Fox, Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense and Admiral James Winnefeld, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff told the committee members that the Department was not consulted before the provision was added to the budget bill and that they would like to see it fixed as soon as possible.  The committee agreed.

Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., kicked off the hearing by saying that he was against the cut.  However, he also said that the differences over finding an offset to pay for the repeal “highlight the challenges and opportunities” in repealing the provision.

Nonetheless, Levin said he believes “we must find a way to repeal it, and I predict that we will.”  He stressed that he believes Congress must repeal the provision sooner rather than later to “clear the air” on the issue.

Gen. Sullivan’s bottom line to the Committee regarding the COLA cut and ALL other proposals being thrown out:  “I am troubled when I hear arguments that "we are paying the troops too much" and that this is the reason we have to cut back on the training, readiness, and modernization of the force.  At the end of the day "the force" IS people - high quality, dedicated, and smart people.  They are not the problem, but the message they hear is that they are somehow contributing to unreadiness just by their mere presence.  We must change this narrative.

“America can afford the defense it needs; it is simply a question of priorities.  Shifting the burden of the nation’s fiscal troubles onto the backs those sworn to defend all of us - and their families - is unnecessary and, in my opinion, wrong.”

CHIEF OF STAFF:  ARMY IS NOT STANDING STILL

Along with top Army leaders and members of the defense industry, key congressional staff members heard “A State of the Army” message from the Chief of Staff at AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare Breakfast last week. 

Gen. Raymond Odierno’s message was clear - The Army "is not standing still ... the Army is doing many, many, many things in order to shape the future environment and prevent conflicts around the world.  He said that contrary to what many people may think, the Army has been doing anything but slowing down and becoming stagnant, despite cash flow and end-strength issues.

"We have forces that are tailored and scaled, that are conducting operations, training, building partner capacity in many parts of the world and that's what we'll continue to do ... and, oh, by the way, we still have about 30,000 Soldiers in Afghanistan; we still have another 20,000 in other places in the Middle East; and, we have Soldiers in Turkey," Odierno said. "And, we've deployed our air defense capability to Guam in response to North Korea, and what a lot of people don't know is I have a battalion commander and about 50 Soldiers at the embassy in South Sudan, and they've been there now for several weeks."

Odierno said his number-one priority and something the Army had to stay out in front of was leader development because information travels so quickly that it gets pushed down to lower and lower levels.

The chief also said a globally responsive Army of the future must be leaner, smaller, tailorable, scalable and gets back to the expeditionary mindset -- "our command and control systems are too heavy today."

"We have to be able to deploy very quickly, get there in small packages and then potentially build on them, and we have to get there with the least amount of support necessary," he said. "We have to be able to go to remote areas anywhere in the world while building on our advantage of tactical operations strategic ability."

With regards to the Army’s modernization strategy, Odierno said, “Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, "our modernization strategy is going to be a bit delayed.  "We're not going to be able to do everything we wanted to do, but what we do must be affordable, versatile and tailorable."

MASSIVE SPENDING PACKAGE ADVANCES

If the 2014 Omnibus spending measure clears Congress by the end of the week as expected, AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition will have won half a battle.  

Why half a battle?  Because the legislation would amend the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 to exempt medically retired personnel (Chapter 61 retirees) and survivor benefit plan annuitants from the under-62 COLA cut, but does not include all under-62 military retirees. 

While we certainly appreciate Congress’ swift action on repealing part of the misguided provision, we remain incensed that they are still targeting a subset of retirees. 

A big AUSA salute to those of you who have already contacted your elected officials.  It is imperative that they hear from their constituents.  Please visit our website, www.ausa.org, click on the Contact Congress link, enter your zip code, and send the AUSA-suggested letter titled Repeal the Military Retiree COLA Cut.  

Instead of passing 12 separate bills to fund the federal government, House and Senate appropriators bundled them together into one massive ($1.1 trillion) package.  Included in the package are appropriations for the Department of Defense ($486.9 billion), Military Construction/Department of Veterans’ Affairs ($158 billion) and ongoing military operations in Afghanistan $85.2 billion).  The House passed the bill on Jan. 15 and Senate action is expected soon thereafter.

The Defense Department would receive: 

§  $128.8 billion to pay for 1,361,400 active-duty troops and 833,700 members of the Reserve Component.

§  $32.7 billion for Defense health and military family programs including increases of $256 million for cancer research, $125 million for traumatic brain injury and psychological health research, and $20 million for suicide prevention outreach programs.

§  $160 billion for operations and maintenance –$13.6 billion below the fiscal year 2013 enacted level.  Within this amount, priority is placed on funding for key areas such as essential readiness programs to prepare troops for combat and peacetime missions, flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations.

§  $157 million for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs and an additional $25 million to expand the Sexual Assault Victims’ Counsel program to all the military services.

§  $63.0 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation of new defense technologies.

§  $92.9 billion for equipment and upgrades.

§  $2.8 billion for Defense Department dependent schools.

§  $45 million in unrequested funds for impact aid

Also included is funding for a one percent pay raise for military personnel and a rejection of the administration’s proposal to raise/create TRICARE fees.  The bill provides $218 million in additional funding to ensure that servicemembers are not paying higher out-of-pocket costs for their health care.

Military Construction accounts would receive a net total of $9.8 billion for fiscal 2014.  Of that, the Army will get $1.1 billion, $578 million less (34%) than the 2013 level and $15 million (1%) less than the request.  The Army National Guard would receive $315 million while the Army Reserve’s share would be $157 million.

The Army’s share of the $1.5 billion appropriated for housing will be $27 million for housing construction and $513 million for operations and maintenance.

The measure appropriates a total of $451 million for continued activities under the 1990 and 2005 base realignment and closure (BRAC) rounds.  

Veteran’s programs would be provided $147.9 billion for both discretionary and mandatory accounts. This is $14 billion (10%) more than the fiscal 2013 level and $15 billion (10%) more than the president's request.  In addition, the measure provides the requested $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal 2015 for VA's medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities accounts. 

A continuing concern for appropriators is the backlog of veteran’s compensation claims for service-related disabilities.  To address this issue, the measure incorporates the Senate-proposed 10-point action plan to give the VA additional tools to address the backlog.  The plan includes $20 million more than the budget request to upgrade computer hardware; the requested $90 million for overtime claims processors; $10 million more than the request for training claims processors; and $12 million more than requested to support additional personnel to address the backlog at the Board of Veterans Appeals.

AUSA ON THE HILL

AUSA Government Affairs Director William Loper joined his partners in The Military Coalition at a meeting with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee yesterday to discuss support for legislation Sanders plans to introduce. 

The Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act of 2013 (S.944) contains provisions that would achieve many AUSA goals related to veterans. 

Included in the bill are provisions that would:

·         restore full the COLA to all military retirees.

·         provide advanced appropriations for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

·         authorize the VA to renter into 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico.  This would give veterans convenient access to health care services.

·         expand benefits for surviving spouses by providing additional dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses with children.  It would also expand the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to include surviving spouses of servicemembers who die in the line of duty.

·         improve services for victims of military sexual assault.

·         improve and expand dental care.

·         expand eligibility to enroll in VA health care.

AUSA and The Military Coalition look forward to seeing the final legislation and seeing exactly how it will be funded. 

Dempsey: No Plans to Close Military Commissaries

Uncertainty and instability are words familiar to the military community when it comes to relocation and even employment, but recently the words have been used in the least expected of discussions: cuts to benefits. A recent proposal for the 2015 budget would reduce DeCA's annual budget from $1.4 billion annually to $400 million by 2017, forcing the agency to make major changes -- including possible widespread store closures." Because commissaries provide employment opportunities and savings across the military community, the effect of these measures would be deeply felt. Contrary to these news reports, however, General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says that though this budget environment has made the Department need to look for savings everywhere possible, there are no plans to close military commissaries. Read more here.

 #KeepYourPromise Conversation Continues

 "I am troubled when I hear arguments that "we are paying the troops too much" and that this is the reason we have to cut back on the training, readiness, and modernization of the force. At the end of the day "the force" IS people - high quality, dedicated, and smart people. They are not the problem, but the message they hear is that they are somehow contributing to unreadiness just by their mere presence. We must change this narrative." AUSA president, General Gordon Sullivan, testified before the full Senate Armed Services Committee concerning the proposed under-62 COLA cuts, and his words reflected the sentiment of the other organizations partnered in the #KeepYourPromise Alliance, along with the members of Congress in the room. Although Congress has approved the caps, no lawmakers at the Tuesday hearing voiced support for the plan. “I believe that the COLA reduction is wrong because it targets a single group — military retirees — to help address the budget problems of the federal government as a whole,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the armed services committee. A number of legislative actions have been proposed to offset the estimated $6 billion in savings expected from the COLA caps, but few of the proposals have bipartisan appeal, an indication that overturning the caps may be difficult. But senators appeared united on the issue and agreed with Fox that change was necessary. “We need to repeal the unfair cuts to military retired pay,” said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. “We need to let the commission finish its work so that we can craft a thoughtful and comprehensive plan that protects the earned benefits of our military retirees and ensures the long-term sustainability of the system.” With more than 44 million Twitter timeline views during the virtual town hall earlier this month, #KeepYourPromise Alliance continues to effectively use social media outreach to raise awareness. AUSA Family Readiness remains committed to ensuring that military benefits are protected, and will bring any and all updates on this issue as they arise. Read more here.

 Networking for Military Spouses:

 Find Connections Unless you are in the business of the military or government contracting, meeting anyone on a military base can be difficult. Actually networking in your field is next to impossible. There’s no how-to book for that. Military brat and better business guru Lauren Fritsch knows the unique challenge facing military spouses. Lauren provides the brains behind The Magnetisim Factor, where she helps everyone from small business owners to political powerhouses and world leaders build their best professional selves. Fritsch knows that even if no one you know works in your field, building out your professional network while at a military installation is possible. You’ll be able to network in your field – and network your way right into a job. To build and maintain a network in the military, start small- share your goals and have conversations with those closest to you in your community, as word of mouth has longer legs than you might think. Further shape your network by thinking of important people or leaders from your past, taking some chances off the beaten path, and sitting down to form a more formal list of people now in your personal/professional network. Read the full list of tips and ideas here.

Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness Launches New Army-Wide Social Media Platform

The Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program (CSF2) launched a new social media platform yesterday, called ArmyFit, for Soldiers, their families and Army civilians. ArmyFit is designed to offer members of the Total Army with tools and resources that will help them be more self-aware, and therefore have the ability to begin the process of self-development and self-improvement.

"Being Army fit is a state of mind in addition to having a strong physical capability," said CSF2 Director Col. Kenneth Riddle. The ArmyFit online platform is designed to build one's comprehensive fitness across all areas of strength: social, emotional, spiritual, family and physical. ArmyFit will help our Army family be Army Strong both physically and psychologically. "In addition to online tools and resources, ArmyFit also provides an opportunity for our Soldiers and their families to connect virtually," said Riddle. "With constant moves and deployments, it's often hard to connect with others that understand what you may be going through. Being able to share improvements in the various areas of fitness, compete against each other in friendly competitions, and be part of this community, will help our Soldiers and their families feel connected. Read more here.

Writing a Résumé When You're a Military Spouse

One of the most difficult challenges you'll face as a military spouse is finding a new job each time you move. By creating an effective résumé that highlights your skills, you can get started with your job search before the moving truck arrives. A well-designed résumé will help you communicate your skills in terms an employer can recognize and appreciate. Think of your résumé as a marketing tool — it should tempt the reader to learn more about you. The first step is assessing your skills- learning how to separate your skill set into work skills (typing or customer service experience) and intangible skills or “life skills” that come with the territory of military spouse-dom, but that might not be directly applicable to a professional setting (adapting to change quickly or multi-tasking). These are the skills that make you unique, and in some cases, could set you apart from other job candidates, so it’s important to showcase your skill set on a resume as clearly and robustly as possible. Your resume acts as a picture of you before employers can actually see you, so take the time to make that picture as colorful and rich as possible. This resource outlines the different types and parts of a resume, tips for customizing your resume for particular positions, and advice on drafting successful cover letters. 

Military OneSource Offers Free Tax Services

Preparations for the upcoming tax season have already begun, and military families are being offered no-cost to customer service to ensure they can meet that deadline from anywhere they may be stationed around the world. Military OneSource, partnering with H&R Block, is offering all active duty, Guard and reserve forces help in preparing their taxes and in filing their federal and state returns, in addition to the variety of other financial planning services it already provides free of charge. “No matter where you are, when you call 800-342-9647 or go to [the Military OneSource website], you can access the programs and services,” Tony Jackson, a military community and family policy analyst for the service told American Forces Press Service.

The program is designed to address the unique tax requirements and issues affecting military personnel and their families, Jackson said. With many still likely dealing with holiday credit card bills, the April tax deadline may seem far off. But with many military families having to file multiple state tax returns in addition to federal taxes, beginning the work now on gathering tax-related documents can prevent headaches later. Read more here.

MOAA Military Spouse Symposia Will Be In San Antonio, Texas on Feb.12th!

Military spouses are invited to attend the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Military Spouse Networking Event sponsored by La Quinta Inns & Suites from 6 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 11, at the La Quinta Inns & Suites, 303 Blum Street, San Antonio, Texas 78205 and the MOAA Military Spouse Symposium “Keeping a Career on the Move®,” sponsored by JP Morgan Chase & Co. from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12, at the Pearl, 303 Pearl Parkway, San Antonio, Texas 78215. Check in will open at 8:15 a.m. Both events are free and open to all active duty, reserve, National Guard, Retiree, veteran, and surviving military spouses, servicemembers, and veterans. Complimentary parking, food, beverages and giveaways are included at both events. Business attire is highly recommended.

The Military Spouse Networking Event will give military spouses the opportunity to expand your network and create new business opportunities by interacting with local and national employers, higher education institutions, and more. MOAA Spouse Programs suggests to bring your business cards, copies of your resume, and to get ready for an exciting networking event created just for military spouses.

The MOAA Military Spouse Symposium “Keeping a Career on the Move®,” will open the event with the presentation of the inaugural Military Spouse Employment Survey results by Syracuse University’s Institute of Veterans and Military Families (IVMF). Quickly followed by a panel of representatives from the U.S. Army Installation Management Command Employment Readiness Program, Military Officers Association of America, Syracuse University Institute of Veterans and Military Families, the Chamber of Commerce Hiring our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Program, Texas A&M University San Antonio, and the Department of Defense State Liaison Office focusing on state policies and national programs that assist military spouses and their career opportunities. Following, the Mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro, will address the audience.

Concurrent workshops include (but not limited to): • Resume Writing and LinkedIn Strategies for Military Spouses • Education Options - for the Mobile Military Spouse • Your 30 Second Commercial • Networking – Tips and Strategies to Stand out in the Crowd • Dress for Success

During lunch, representatives from local and national companies and a representative from the Directorate of Airman and Family Care will lead the “Five Things Employers Want You to Know” discussion. Attendees will learn useful information on landing a job as a military spouse and the panelists will answer questions about résumés and the interview process. In addition, Jessica Herrin, CEO and Founder of Stella& Dot, will join MOAA as the Key Note Speaker to discuss life as an entrepreneur and working mother. Five-minute resume critiques and Professional LinkedIn photographs will be available throughout the day. You can access information and register for the Military Spouse Networking Event and MOAA Military Spouse Symposium “Keeping a Career on the Move®” here: www.moaa.org/spousesymposium. Please share these great events with other military spouses in your community and follow #MilSpouseJobs on Twitter as MOAA visits San Antonio, Texas! MCEC's The Call for the Arts Accepting Artwork Submissions from Military Children

Do you have a budding painter in your house? Do you know of a great military kid using the arts to express their experience as members of the military community? Military Child Education Coalition would love to see their work! Through its Call for the Arts program, now in its 12th year, military-connected students can send in drawings, poetry, photography, and other artistic interpretations of what it means to be a military kid. Artwork will be featured at special events, conferences, and programs. Suggested topics for artwork include: the military lifestyle, cultures experienced, parents/family, and more. Visit the program page for guidelines and to download the submission form. All works must be postmarked no later than January 31st.

DeCA Scholarships for Military Children

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 Program offers at least one $2,000 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 28, so be sure to get in your application on time! Learn more here. Commit to Reducing Debt and Rebuilding Wealth with Military Saves

Tax season will be here soon, so take a few moments to learn about refund saving strategies for you and the entire family (including tips for teens) at www.militarysaves.org, and take the pledge today to commit or recommit to reducing debt and rebuilding wealth over time. During Military Saves Week, held during February each year, military families are urged to save automatically through direct deposit toward saving for an emergency fund, a goal like purchasing a home, or saving toward retirement. Last year, 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. Learn more here.

Ayotte Files Bill to Kill Retirement COLA Cut

Jan 28, 2014 | by Bryant Jordan

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., announced on Tuesday she will file legislation to repeal the controversial law trimming military retirement pay starting in December 2015 and make up for the $6 billion in revenue it would have gained by ending an outstanding tax scam.

Ayotte announced plans to file the bill following a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing into the provision in the 2014 budget to reduce the cost-of-living-adjustment for retirees, which Congress passed in December. The provision will limit future COLA increases for working-age military retirees to 1 percentage point below the rate of inflation.

Under the law, the retirees would have their pensions adjusted at age 62, to bring them up to the amount they would have gotten if they had not incurred the cuts during the intervening years.

Still, the provision has been attacked by veterans groups and military associations as a betrayal of American servicemembers and veterans, especially since other federal employees will continue to get the full COLA each year.

During the hearing on Tuesday, no lawmaker defended the COLA provision and all who spoke agreed it should be repealed.

The only disagreement appeared to be when the law should be repealed. Veterans groups want it gone immediately, even though it does not take effect until fiscal year 2016.

"Take this [issue] off the table now," retired Army Gen. Gordon Sullivan told the panel. Sullivan, the president and chief executive officer of the Association of the U.S. Army, said troops currently serving in Afghanistan should not have to be thinking about cuts to future retirement benefits in addition to everything else.

The Pentagon has indicated it can leave the COLA law as is, but would prefer that it be "grandfathered" so that no one currently serving would be affected.

But because the provision does not begin until the end of December 2015, "Congress could wait to modify or repeal it until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission presents its final report in February 2015," Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox told the lawmakers.

But Senators appeared in agreement that it is best to axe the provision as soon as possible.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said waiting until the commission finished its work resembled too much like the wait and see attitude the Congress had when it passed the sequester legislation, all the time hearing witnesses say the sequester cuts would never happen.

Ayotte said her legislation will save the government far more than will the $6 billion COLA law.

She said her bill to require parents to include a social security number for children they are listing on their taxes to claim the Additional Child Tax Credit will bring in about $20 billion. That credit enables an individual to reduce their tax liability by as much as $1,000 per child, she said.

In 2011, according to Ayotte, the Treasury Department reported that individuals not authorized to work in the U.S. were doing so and claiming as much as $4.2 billion annually by claiming the credit.

The children in these cases either did not exist at all or were living outside the United States, Ayotte said, making her bill as much about ending tax fraud as restoring full COLA increases to military retirees.

The savings from this legislation, she said, would more than offset the loss of the COLA provision, and even allow for some discussion of extending unemployment benefits for three months, she said.

Ayotte's co-sponsors include Wicker and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-SC, though she expects broad and bipartisan support.

She said she will be including her bill as an amendment to every piece of legislation coming up in the Senate.

Since Congress passed the budget in December, veterans and military advocates have repeatedly slammed the so-called COLA-minus-1 percent provision as a breach of faith or trust with servicemembers.

During the hearing on Tuesday, a senior Pentagon official said permitting personnel costs to increase at the expense of equipment and training needed by troops is itself a betrayal.

Veterans groups and military advocates say the breach is with Congress passing legislation last month that will reduce by 1 percent below the inflation-adjusted cost of living increases on retirees age 62 and younger. But the Pentagon says the breach comes from continuing to saddle the armed forces with increasing personnel costs, including retirement, forcing them to reduce elsewhere, such as overall end strength.

"Our men and women recognize that if they are well paid, the [DoD] does not have money to maintain their equipment, or supply them with the technology, or send them to get the training they need, then we have not done them a service, but rather a disservice," Fox said. "And when we send them into harm's way, this disservice can quickly transition into a breach of trust."

Veterans’ Unemployment Rate Drops Again; Lowest in 5 Years

While the December 2013 unemployment report was in most ways very disappointing there was one very bright spot. Veterans’ unemployment rates were dramatically down!

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the unemployment rate for all veterans was 5.5% in December. In November the rate was 6.7% The December rate was also over 1% the 6.7% December national unemployment rate. This is the lowest veterans unemployment rate in the past 5 years.

For post 9/11 veterans the rate dropped from 9.9% in November to 7.3% in December. (In December 2012 their rate was 10.8 %.) This is very good news. Hopefully it may help solve the worrisome facts in the following article.

New Veteran Suicide Rate Is 3 Times That of Active Duty

A new report released by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has revealed that young veterans are committing suicide at a rate that is nearly three times the rate that active duty Army troops have been committing suicide in recent years.

The report studied veterans who had recently transitioned out of the service who were also receiving health care from the VA.

According to USA TODAY, VA officials said the data show that severe personal issues driving self-destructive tendencies for those in uniform follow them when they leave the military. Veterans aged 18-24 who were enrolled in the VA's healthcare program killed themselves at a rate of 46 per 100,000 in 2009 and nearly 80 per 100,000 in 2011, the latest year of data available, according to the figures.

Non-veterans of the same age had a suicide rate of about 20 per 100,000 during 2009 and 2010, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thirty-six young veterans receiving some form of VA health care committed suicide in 2009 and 65 died by their own hand two years later. Among those aged 18-29, the suicide numbers rose from 88 in 2009 to 152 in 2011.
The overall suicide rate for active-duty personnel in the Army hovered at 22 per 100,000 during 2009-11, according to military figures.

The number of soldier suicides peaked at 185 in 2012 and a record rate for the Army that year of 30 per 100,000.

A VA official told USA Today that most of them were not receiving mental health therapy but had been treated for other health issues by the VA.

According to VA epidemiologist Robert Bossarte, a similar pattern was found among veterans in the past. "There were several studies after Vietnam that showed increases in suicide and other forms of injury/mortality for about the first five years following return from service," Bossarte said. "Those rates (eventually) came down to be about the same as the rest of the population."
Suicide rates for male veterans of all ages who are treated for mental health problems by the VA have fallen steadily from 2001-2011. However, female veteran suicide rates have not improved and remain higher than women who are not veterans, according to the VA data.

Online chat connections with veterans through the VA's suicide prevention office (hotline number is 1-800-273-8255 or go to
http://www.veteranscrisisline.net) have increased from several hundred in 2009 to nearly 55,000 last year, VA data show. 

Army, Veterans Groups Focus on Reintegration For Soldiers

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 28, 2014) -- As the Army draws down in Afghanistan and reduces its overall force strength, Army leaders and veterans groups remain focused on ensuring Soldiers have the support to be successful in the civilian world.

Budget issues, challenges of transition, the Army's future, and the health and wellness of the force were among the topics of discussion at the Pentagon, Jan. 24, as the Army hosted a quarterly meeting with members of veterans' service organizations and military service organizations.

Army leaders who addressed the forum included Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno; Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho, Army surgeon general and commander, U.S. Army Medical Command; Maj. Gen. Karen Dyson, director of the Army Budget office; and Col. Adam Rocke, director of the Soldier for Life Program.

Successful reintegration was a key point stressed by the Soldier for Life Program. The program, which was founded 18 months ago, supports Soldiers in finding and taking advantage of all the resources available to them, such as education, training and other opportunities, to facilitate a strong return to civilian life, said Rocke.

The meeting at the Pentagon was a unique opportunity for the Army to hear from service organization leaders and exchange ideas on how to best support veterans, he said.

"These connections are paramount because at the end of the day, it's not about any one individual, it's about the collective group -- the service members and their families as a whole," said Rocke.

Working together with the service organizations and building synergy will make a lot of progress in helping the nation's veterans, he said.

The Army hosted more than 40 service organization members representing a wide swath of the veterans' community, including officers, enlisted members, wounded warriors, women, veterans of foreign wars, reservists, and students.

Odierno's son, retired Capt. Anthony Odierno, was among the service representatives.

The younger Odierno, who lost his left arm in a rocket-propelled grenade attack while on patrol in Iraq in 2004, is the vice president of military and veterans affairs at JP Morgan Chase.

"Today is very important, because to really make a difference, military, government, non-profits and the private sector all have to work together to make sure that our transitioning service members and their families are successful," he said.

Veterans who are entering the civilian workforce face unique challenges, he said.

"In some cases, you've been in the military for 10, 15, 20 years, and then all of a sudden you get out and you have to figure out what you're going to do next," he said. "That can often be difficult to translate what you did in the military into a civilian job."

Retired Col. James Hutton, the chief communications officer with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, or TAPS, said the meeting is a "very valuable event" for all involved.

"What this allows us to do is hear firsthand what the Army leadership is thinking about the Soldiers for today and for the veterans of tomorrow," said Hutton, who noted the discussion allowed the unique opportunity of getting immediate feedback from the chief of staff of the Army.

"We also hear from the other organizations that are like us and we are able to better understand the concerns that a lot of their constituents are having," said Hutton.

Genevieve Chase, an Army Reservist who is the founder of American Women Veterans, said more and more veterans are looking for civilian employment and opportunities, as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan and service members transition out of the military.

"We're already starting to see the impact of that on the veterans' community," she said.

The Pentagon meeting is a "significant and important acknowledgment" by the active component of the importance of veterans' issues, she said. It reinforces the Soldier for Life mindset, she said.

"When leadership comes in to talk to the veterans' service community, it demonstrates to veterans that they are interested in the Soldiers after they get out of the service," said Chase.

Karen Montagne, the project director with the Business and Professional Women's Foundation, said the Pentagon meeting was a great opportunity for service groups to not only interact with top Army leadership, but also with each other.

"We get so caught up in our own work that we're doing that we forget there are a lot of other resources we can leverage to serve our communities," she said.

The meeting, she said, provided an opportunity for groups to report back to their members about Army developments and policy, as well as on the services and resources offered by the other groups.

"That's an opportunity that's invaluable," she said.

Seth Waugh, director of government affairs at the Enlisted Association of the National Guard of the U.S., came to the Pentagon to hear about Army policy, budget issues, force structure changes and other issues that impact the National Guard.

"Everyone understands that we are in some pretty dire financial straits. We understand that there are going to be cuts," he said.

Members of the National Guard, whether in the Army National Guard or Air National Guard, are proud to serve the nation on state or federal missions and it's important to make sure the Guard is properly represented in the budget, he said.

John Trujillo, founder of Warrior Transition, counsels veterans on how to use the skills they gained in the military to become entrepreneurs.

"We started looking at how we can empower them to start their own business and control their own future," he said.

With their own business, he said, the veterans are not dependent on waiting for someone to hire them.

"They start it and they move forward," he said.

Commissary Scholarship Applications for the 2014 for Military Children now available

Don't forget that applications for the 2014 Scholarships for Military Children Program became available Dec. 3 at commissaries worldwide or on the Internet at www.militaryscholar.org. Applications must be turned in to a commissary by close of business Feb. 28. Packages must be hand-delivered or shipped via U.S. Postal Service or other delivery methods, not emailed or faxed. This year's award amount has risen to $2,000, and the program awards at least one scholarship at each commissary with qualified applicants. Applicants should ensure that they and their sponsor are enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System database and have a military ID card. For more information, students or sponsors should call Scholarship Managers at 856-616-9311 or email them at militaryscholar@scholarshipmanagers.com.

Commissary - New price study validates 30% savings

Commissary savings are now being measured against a wider range of retailers that sell groceries, and the comparison confirms the value of the benefit, according to the Defense Commissary Agency's 2013 price comparison study.

For the first time, the expanded comparison survey allowed DeCA to look beyond traditional grocery stores to include price comparisons with club stores, drug stores, dollar stores and the discount department stores. This comparison validates the current 30.5 percent savings military members and their families enjoy when they shop their commissary, said DeCA Director and CEO Joseph H. Jeu.

"It's not enough for us to say that the commissary is worth the trip and a significant part of the military's total compensation package," Jeu said. "This study proves our overall savings hold up across a much wider retail landscape."

Commissary savings percentages are calculated based on an annual market basket study. Procedures differ somewhat depending on geographic location.

In the continental United States, DeCA employs a comparison study, over a 26-week period that ended June 22, which uses Nielsen's database of commissary and industry front end sales volume on 37,000 grocery items with a Universal Product Code. Pricing comparisons for meat and produce items in the continental United States are accomplished through in-store audits at 30 randomly selected commissaries to compare them with commercial retail stores within commuting distance.

Outside the continental United States (Alaska, Hawaii, the Far East, Europe, Guam and Puerto Rico), DeCA conducts additional in-store audits, using a broad sample of grocery, meat and produce items. Savings percentages compare commissary prices, which include DeCA's 5-percent surcharge, to commercial prices with any applicable sales taxes included.

Last year, with a price survey that focused on traditional grocery retailers, commissary savings were at 31.2 percent. This year's 30.5 percent savings figure comes from DeCA's ability now to access Nielsen's "all outlets combined" database, which allows the agency to compare its prices to more retailers - discount department stores, club stores, drug stores and dollar stores - that also sell grocery items.

"In a sense, now we are tougher on ourselves when it comes to measuring commissary patron savings," Jeu said. "That's a good thing, because it raises credibility."

DeCA significantly increased confidence in its saving survey in the 1990s, when the commissary began to compare pricing on thousands of items, not just a literal market basket of a dozen or two-dozen items. The scope of retailers in the comparison was limited to traditional supermarkets. Later DeCA made an approximated pricing adjustment in the savings calculation, because more types of retailers expanded into the grocery business, but their full pricing data wasn't always available. With "all outlets" retail data available today, DeCA increased the savings survey's accuracy by using actual pricing of the grocery newcomers.

The value of the benefit moved front and center for DeCA's patrons in 2013 as commissary shoppers were impacted by the six days commissaries closed due to sequestration, July 8 - Aug. 18, and again when all but remote stateside stores were closed Oct. 2-6 for the government shutdown.

"Our patrons have been quite passionate about being able to access their commissary benefit," Jeu said. "When word got out on Sept. 30 that we were closing because of the government shutdown, our customers flocked to their stores Oct. 1, making it our largest sales day - $30.6 million, more than double our normal daily sales volume - of the 21st century. Those numbers underscore the fact that our patrons understand and value the savings they get from their commissary benefit."

Fast facts about commissary savings include the following:

·         At 30.5 percent savings when compared to commercial stores, military commissaries saved their customers more than $2.6 billion.

·         For every dollar of taxpayer funds invested in the commissary benefit, authorized shoppers received $2.08 in savings.

·         Commissaries redeemed nearly 100 million coupons in fiscal 2013 for a customer savings of about $91 million. DeCA ranked sixth among U.S. retailers in coupon redemptions in fiscal 2012

Commissary – Freguqently Asked Question:

Do commissaries ever have "double coupon" or "triple coupon" promotions like those offered by commercial stores?

Answer: No. The "double" or "triple" coupon promotions offered by commercial stores involve doubling, tripling (or otherwise increasing) the face value of a coupon. Commercial stores who offer these types of promotions get paid by the coupon issuer only for the face value of a coupon, and have to absorb the costs of "doubling" or "tripling" coupon face value in their pricing and profit structure.

Because commissaries are required by law to sell goods at prices set only high enough to cover the cost of those goods, commissaries make no profit from which to pay the costs associated with "double" coupon promotions.

Additionally, DeCA cannot use funds provided for the operation of commissaries to support such promotions, because law strictly prescribes the uses of these funds, and "promotional support" is not among the allowable uses of these funds.

Commissaries do occasionally offer a different type of "double coupon" promotion than described above. For these promotions, manufacturers or other coupon issuers agree that commissaries may accept more than one coupon on the purchase of an item, and usually supply large numbers of coupons to patrons in the commissary in support of such promotions. These "double coupon" promotions involve doubling the number of coupons accepted on the purchase of an item, but DO NOT involve doubling (or otherwise increasing) the face value of a coupon.

For answers to more of your commissary questions, please visit www.commissaries.com/faq.

If you have questions regarding commissary issues that haven't been resolved by your store's management, we encourage you to contact DeCA's Your Action Line program at any time using our online customer comments form at http://www.commissaries.com/YAL/customer_comments.cfm.

Commissary Rewards Card

Using and redeeming coupons are officially hassle-free with the Commissary Rewards Card, which is available at all commissaries worldwide.

With your Commissary Rewards Card, you can redeem coupons electronically at the commissary checkout. After you pick up your card at your local commissary, just register it online and log in to your account to load coupons on the card before you shop. New digital coupons are posted two to three times weekly.

Along with specially-selected coupons, we are continuing to work with our industry partners to identify additional rewards that could be offered through the card, such as targeted savings, promotion alerts and loyalty incentives.

 

A mobile application is available from the app store for customers who use the iPhone or iPad. The app allows you to access your account, select coupons and review clipped, redeemed and expired coupons - making it even easier to put your coupons to work for you. An Android version of the app will be available in the future.

Patrons can also download digital coupons to the Commissary Rewards Card from Smart Source "direct to card".

Retired E-10’s Oppose COLA Cuts

In an article that appeared in Military Times.com this week, six former Senior Enlisted Leaders from the Air Force, Marine Corps, Navy, Army and Coast Guard publicly expressed their opposition to the COLA cut for under age 62 military retirees that was enacted by Congress in December of last year.

According to the article, “The six senior enlisted leaders said they decided to speak out after four retired generals and flag officers issued a statement Jan. 13 voicing support for the cuts.

The senior enlisteds said the “pending changes are an assault on what they consider a benefit they’ve already earned — the promise of retirement pay that will keep up with inflation.

It is well known that military personnel serving in the Pentagon must go along with policies that are handed down from the Secretary of Defense, even if they personally disagree with the policy. In this case, the Pentagon has decided to state its opposition to the COLA cut although it does not support immediate repeal.

However, the six former top enlisted leaders spoke out publicly against the COLA cut before the Pentagon had announced its position, so their public comments are not just a matter of going along with whatever the Pentagon put out.

 The statement of opposition by the retired senior enlisteds came at the same time as the testimony of TREA National President Rick Delaney this week before the Senate Armed Services Committee, also opposing the COLA cut.

Click here to read the entire article about the senior enlisteds: http://www.militarytimes.com/article/20140127/BENEFITS02/301270026/Top-enlisted-retirees-push-back-COLA-cuts

 …And Still More on the COLA Cut and Other Possible Military Retirement Changes
Dempsey Comments

After the SASC hearing concerning the COLA cut for military retirees under the age of 62 Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey went to his FACEBOOK page to comment. On Tuesday evening he wrote:” “The Joint Chiefs, our senior enlisted leaders and I support grandfathering any changes to military retirement. This includes the reduction of the cost of living adjustment. We need to slow the growth of compensation to ensure the all-volunteer force remains sustainable, and we'll remain in touch with you throughout this process.” Clearly more proposals are on the way and we will be here to tell you about them and to fight to protect your earned benefits.

Veterans Omnibus bill S. 1950 Moving Forward in the Senate - Your help is needed NOW

The Senate will vote within a few days on S.1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Pay Restoration Act of 2014. It is urgent that you send an email to your Senators and ask them to support S. 1950. This bill will repeal the COLA cut that working age military retirees now face. It will also fix many of the problems that veterans face every day. It contains many provisions that have been supported by both political parties and is one of the most significant and comprehensive pieces of legislation that has been introduced in Congress in many years.

Again it is urgent that you send this email today. You can click on this link that will take you to the letter you can send on Capwiz: http://www.capwiz.com/trea/home/

PLEASE NOTE: Last week’s Update wrote about several important provisions in this bill. Another provision in the bill that is very important to many of our members is the enlargement of the Caretaker Support Program to cover veterans of all wars not simply the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars.

DoD Asks DeCA for Plans to Reform Commissaries

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey is denying reports that the Pentagon has plans to close all state-side commissaries.

According to the American Forces Press Service, senior military officials said that the Joint Staff did not ask the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) to come up with a contingency plan to close 100 percent of U.S. commissaries.

Officials did, however, ask DeCA for a range of options, including how the system would operate with reduced or no taxpayer subsidies, the chairman said, noting that military exchanges work on this system and that the same potential exists with commissaries.

Military.com reported recently that the Department of Defense has discussed trimming more than 70 percent, or $1 billion, from the DeCA budget. The proposal would lead to the number of commissaries being reduced from about 250 to 24, with the only remaining locations being overseas and in rural areas.

After healthcare and retirement benefits, commissaries are often cited as the most important benefit to military families. Further, the commissaries and exchanges are large employers of military dependents and often accommodate dependents who are often forced to move because of the realities of military life. It is for these reasons that TREA: The Enlisted Association will continue to lead the fight against cuts to the commissary budget or reductions in the benefit.

DoD considered a proposal to close down every domestic commissary four years ago for an estimated of roughly $1 billion annually, but former defense secretary Robert Gates shot down the idea after a flood of complaints from veterans and industry groups.

 The Impact of IRR on SGLI—Know the Facts

Are you a service member who has been recently assigned to the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR)? Then there’s important insurance information you need to know. Your Service members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage will end 120 days after the date you were assigned to the IRR.

The good news is you can get similar coverage through Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI). But you must apply within 1 year and 120 days from the date you were assigned to the Individual Ready Reserves (IRR). If you apply for VGLI within the first 240 days of your assignment to the IRR, then you can get VGLI without providing proof of good health—even if you have a serious injury or medical condition. To apply for VGLI, visit http://www.benefits.va.gov/INSURANCE/apply-for-VGLI.asp.

Feds Launch New System to Gather Complaints from Veterans, Service Members Regarding Higher Education
From FTC Press Release
The Federal Trade Commission, in partnership with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs and several other federal agencies, announced a new complaint process to gather input from veterans, service members, and their families pursuing higher education through Post 9/11 GI Bill and other military education benefits.

The FTC, Defense Department and VA have created customized online reporting forms in collaboration with the Department of Justice and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that veterans and service members can use to file consumer complaints about education institutions. Students can file complaints with the VA and DoD directly about the cost of attendance, marketing, graduation rates, program quality, employment prospects, and course credit. The Department of Education will take email complaints on these topics.

Complaints will be forwarded from the VA, DoD, and DoE to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network database beginning next month. Sentinel is accessible to over 2,000 law enforcement agencies nationwide. These complaints will help the government identify and address fraudulent and deceptive practices targeted toward service members, veterans and dependents that use military education benefits.

The FTC recently announced new tips to help service members, veterans, and their families choose a higher education institution that complements their education goals. The guidance and new student complaint process are part of the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012. This act requires the FTC and other agencies to partner with the VA to improve outreach and transparency regarding the quality of instruction, recruiting practices, and post-graduate employment by institutes of higher learning.

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.

GI Bill users can report any problems at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/feedback.asp, and DOD tuition assistance users can report any problems at http://www.militaryonesource.mil/voluntary-education?content_id=274604

SBP officials offer same-sex coverage guidance  

By Tammy Cournoyer Air Force Retiree Services

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas – Survivor Benefit Plan program enrollment is now available for eligible retirees in same-sex marriages.

The program provides a monthly income to survivors of retired Airmen upon the retiree's death when retired pay stops. Survivors of Airmen recalled to active duty from retirement who die while on active duty, may also be protected by the SBP.

Since the recent Supreme Court decision declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Department of Defense officials have been working to ensure SBP coverage is offered to eligible same-sex married couples.

Eligibility -- The Department of Defense issued guidance stating, effective June 26, 2013, a person who became eligible to participate in the SBP program and is married to a same-sex spouse will have the program applied as with any other retiree married couple, including the requirement for spousal consent for less than full annuity coverage of the spouse.

Enrollment eligibility began June 26, 2013, for same-sex couples who were legally married on or after that date. No SBP premiums for coverage will be charged before June 26, 2013, nor will any annuity payments be paid for deaths before that date.

Enrollment for retired service members married to a same sex partner on or before June 26, 2013 -- Retirees married to a same sex partner on June 26, 2013, must apply for SBP coverage by June 25, 2014. To make an election, retirees complete the DD Form 2656, Data for Payment of Retired Personnel. Spousal concurrence is required on the DD Form 2656 if the retiree elects to participate at less than maximum (full) coverage. Failure to make an SBP election by June 25, 2014, will result in the Defense Finance and Accounting Service establishing automatic full SBP coverage.

If a retiree originally elected child coverage at the time of retirement, a same sex spouse may be added at the same level of coverage. To add a spouse, complete a DD Form 2656-6, Survivor Benefit Plan Election Change Certificate, and send it with a copy of the marriage

certificate to DFAS before June 25, 2014.

If a retiree originally elected SBP coverage at retirement for an insurable interest person, he or she may terminate this coverage and elect spouse coverage. If the retiree desires full spouse coverage, they complete a DD Form 2656-6, Survivor Benefit Plan Election Change Certificate, and send it with a copy of the marriage certificate to DFAS by June 25, 2014. If the retiree elects a reduced level of coverage, spousal concurrence is required. In these instances, the retiree completes the DD Form 2656, Data for Payment of Retired Personnel, and sends it with a copy of the marriage certificate to DFAS by June 25, 2014.

Enrollment for retired service members married after June 26, 2013 -- Retirees who become married to a same sex partner on any date after June 26, 2013 must apply for SBP coverage before the first anniversary date. To apply for SBP, the retiree completes a DD Form 2656-6, Survivor Benefit Plan Election Change Certificate, and sends it with a copy of the marriage certificate to DFAS. If an election is not made within the first year of marriage, the retiree forfeits their opportunity to participate in the plan.

Terminate suspended spouse coverage upon remarriage -- Generally, a retiree who participated in the plan and has suspended spouse coverage may elect not to provide coverage for a new spouse in the event of a remarriage.

If the remarriage occurred before June 26, 2013, the participant has one year from June 26, 2013, to elect out of SBP. If an election is not made, spouse coverage will resume effective June 25, 2014.

Retirees who enter into a same-sex marriage after June 26, 2013, must submit a DD Form 2656-6, Survivor Benefit Election Change Certificate, within one year of the remarriage. If the retiree does not notify DFAS of the remarriage, spouse coverage will resume effective the first anniversary of the marriage.

 Assistance is available and encouraged -- Retirees should seek the assistance of a SBP counselor when making an election

DFAS officials advise reviewing pay account annually

One way to ensure retirees and annuitants are receiving the pay they are entitled to receive is by keeping their pay account up to date. Officials at the Defense Finance and Account Service advise people check the following items at least once a year:

 ·         Update your address. From an audit of your account to the mailing of important correspondence to returned payments, DFAS officials need to be able to reach retirees and annuitants at all time.

·         Update your email address. Email is the easiest and fastest way for DFAS to communicate with its members. At the bottom of each myPay account menu is an “Email Address” option to view the email addresses currently on file with DFAS. People can indicate the primary email address they want DFAS to use, and delete any old email addresses no longer in use.

·         Check state and federal income tax withholding. If income has changed or there has been a move to another state, review any federal or state income tax withholding information. DFAS officials suggest not waiting until April 15 to discover any tax withholding discrepancies. People can verify and update tax withholding information themselves in myPay.

·         Review allotments. Check each allotment and allotment amounts. People can stop, start, or change an allotment, using myPay. Keep in mind that not all allotments are listed in myPay. Some common allotments that are not shown on myPay include Delta Dental and TRICARE. These are listed on the Retiree Account Statement.

·         Have there been family changes? When people get married, lose a spouse or have children, the change can affect a DFAS pay account. From federal income tax withholding to Survivor Benefit Plan costs, the amount of monthly pay can change. If there have been any family changes, send DFAS a copy of the official documentation (marriage license, divorce decree, death certificate or birth certificate), as well as a request for any necessary updates. Always notify DFAS as soon as possible about a major life change. Fax documents to 800-469-6559, or mail them to DFAS, PO Box 7130, London, KY 40742-7130. Make sure the Social Security number is clearly visible on documents.  

·         Check beneficiary designation. Ensure the arrears-of-pay designation and his or her contact information is current. This information can be reviewed and updated using myPay.

DFAS officials advise picking a date -- retirement date, birthday, or the first of the year -- to review your account.

To establish a myPay account online, visit http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary.html. (Courtesy of DFAS)

Discussing SBP now prevents worry, stress upon retiree’s death

The following is a message to all retirees from officials at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service:

It is a difficult topic to bring up, but knowing your loved ones are provided for and prepared for your death can be a good feeling. If you’ve elected Survivor Benefit Plan coverage as a way to provide for your spouse after you’ve died, there are a number of topics your spouse should know before it’s too late. Taking the time now will prevent confusion and worry at what will inevitably be a time of stress and grief.

 What will my spouse have to do to initiate payment on his or her annuity?

First, your spouse must notify the DFAS Retired and Annuitant Pay section of your death and provide a copy of your death certificate. Complete instructions for who to contact, what forms to file and how to file them can be found at http://www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary/survivors/Retiree-death.html.

When DFAS learns of your death, we will also send necessary forms to initiate payment. Included in that packet is the application, tax withholding form and direct deposit sign-up instructions. Annuity payments are deposited monthly.

Please keep in mind that tax forms are not automatically issued for deceased members. A certificate of death must be on file, and you must request that a 1099R be issued.

 How much will my spouse get?

The amount of the annuity depends on the level of coverage you chose. Full coverage uses your gross retired pay as the annuity base amount; reduced coverage uses a lesser amount that you selected at retirement. Annuity payments are calculated at 55 percent of the base amount. The annuity base amount increases over time with cost-of-living adjustments.

You can see exactly how much your spouse would receive by viewing your Retiree Account Statement. The section titled Survivor Benefit Plan coverage shows your level of coverage, your annuitant’s information and the current annuity payable.

What can affect my spouse’s annuity amount?

Entitlement to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation can reduce how much SBP your spouse will receive. DIC can be awarded by Veterans Affairs if your death is related to a disease or injury you incurred while in the line of duty.

If your spouse remarries after your death it can change the way the DIC offset is applied, or it can also stop the entitlement to SBP completely, depending on the spouse’s age at the time of remarriage.

If your spouse remarries before age 55, entitlement to SBP stops; however, if your spouse remarries between the ages of 55 to 57, they will continue to be entitled to SBP, and any DIC awarded to them would offset the annuity amount. Lastly, remarriage after age 57 allows the spouse to continue receiving SBP without any DIC reduction.

Receiving Social Security does not affect the SBP annuity regardless of your spouse’s age or marital status. (Courtesy of DFAS)

SVAC rolls out Omnibus Veterans Bill

SVAC Chairman Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has rolled out a massive 352 page bill, S1950 Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act that includes over 40 pending veterans bills as well as several new proposals. It includes several of TREA’s most important initiatives including restoring the cost-of-living adjustment reduction for military retirees set by the Bipartisan Budget Act.(please see above) It would also improve veterans healthcare, education and employment benefits while also granting veterans status to NG & R longevity retirees.
Concerning the COLA provision Senator Sanders said: “These service members have paid a very, very high price for their service ... it’s my belief as chairman of the [Senate] Veterans Committee, we have to do everything possible to give back to them and their families.”

Additionally the bill would:
■ Extend the access for service members who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan to get
health care at VA from five years to 10;

■ Improve care and benefits for veterans who were victims of sexual assault while they served in the military, to include easing the claims process for affected veterans;

■ Expand alternative medical programs and chiropractic care and fund complementary medicine research at the Veterans Health Administration;

■ Seek to eliminate the Veterans Affairs claims backlog by 2015 by requiring VA to provide quarterly reports on its progress to Congress;

■ Backdate eligibility for veterans who need medical care for exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, N.C. to Aug. 1, 1953, complying with a recommendation by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and;

■ Expand dental programs and services.
The bill also presses for widening of reproductive services and fertility treatments and providing adoption assistance for spouses or surrogates of severely wounded or ill troops whose infertility problems are related to activity in the line of duty.
And there is even more in this terrific but expensive bill. It is a wonderful bill that TREA strongly supports. So, as always, the question is: How will it be paid for? Senator Sanders proposes that the money comes from the overseas contingency operations (OCO funds) which we know many Senators on both sides of the aisle as well as the Department of Defense will deeply oppose.

Other bills that would repeal the COLA reductions pay for the costs through proposals to ending Saturday postal service, eliminating tax loopholes for companies that keep offshore accounts and preventing illegal immigrants from claiming child tax credits. Many members object to some or all of these proposals. So we must continue to look for a winning offset while urging the passage of this bill which would greatly improve the lives of those who have protected this nation and are continuing to protect America now.

Software Glitch in E-Benefits Exposed Vet Info

The Washington Post reported last week that a software glitch in the Department of Veterans Affairs’ E-Benefits portal allowed users to access one another’s private information.

The E-Benefits portal is a joint VA-Defense Department site that allows veterans and their dependents to access medical records, educational benefits, disability claims, bank information and military personnel records, among other things.
More than 5,300 users may have been affected by the glitch, according to initial VA estimates.

VA shut down the E-Benefits system on January 15th and brought it back online Sunday, January 19th.

VA released a statement the Tuesday after it came back online that it “conducted a full review of the software issue and reinforced its security posture, after determining that the defect had been remedied and the portal was functioning properly. We offer our sincere apologies to any service member, veteran or family member impacted by the software defect and the downtime.”

The Post reported that an internal VA memo says about 20 veterans contacted the agency on Jan. 15 to report that they could see the accounts of other users when they logged on.

The incident has led to some very sobering realizations, mainly that VA’s efforts to move all veterans over the E-Benefits system can lead to breaches of very personal data, particularly since they have been attempting to penalize veterans who don’t use the system and stick to paper-based claims.

In a statement Wednesday, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, called on the VA to offer credit-monitoring services to every veteran and dependent in its database. He also said that VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki must hold the agency’s leadership accountable for the “ongoing failures and unreasonable risks in IT security.”

VA has said it is reviewing the mishap and will determine an exact number of users affected by the glitch. The agency also said it will provide free credit monitoring for any affected individuals. TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you informed of these very important details.

At a minimum, if you have an E-Benefits account, you should go online to check and make sure all of your information is still correct.

CFPH rolls out new 2014 consumer protection rules; explains on their Blog

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) rolled out the following article to the military family about new mortgage protections that have gone into effect in 2014. Below you will find Holly Petraeus on the Bureaus Blog. Their Blog has many interesting and helpful articles that you can find by going to their Blog at:  http://www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/

If you are having credit problems or just have questions they can be very helpful.

Service members, you have new mortgage protections in 2014
By
Holly Petraeus
It’s no secret that the housing crisis in recent years was particularly hard on military families. Service members and their spouses at installations around the country, and even abroad, cited problems with mortgages as some of their most serious financial challenges. But now, the CFPB has written new mortgage rules that can help
.
More than a third of the consumer complaints we’ve received from the military are mortgage-related. And at listening sessions around the country, concerned military families have told me about the painful consequences of poor mortgage servicing, sloppy lender recordkeeping, and inconsistent foreclosure practices. Obviously, service members aren’t the only homeowners who have run into trouble with mortgage servicers or faced financial hurdles. But the demands of military service sometimes increase the severity of the problems or limit the solutions available to address them.

So, I’m happy to report that we’ve written new rules that address some of the worst problems in the mortgage servicing industry and bring new rights and protections to borrowers, including service members. For military families, this means that when they seek help for a troubled mortgage or have to move because of Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders, they will get fewer nasty surprises and face less risk of losing their home.

Here are some changes that should help service members:

  • Restrictions on dual tracking. In the past, service members dealing with mortgage troubles sometimes found that their mortgage servicer had moved forward to foreclose on their home at the very same time it was working with the service member on a potential loan modification. That’s called “dual tracking” and our new rules set up clear guidelines that restrict this practice.
  • More help for troubled borrowers. Too often service members have had to apply over and over again for programs that might help them keep their homes, being asked to send in the same paperwork repeatedly. Our new rules require mortgage servicers to evaluate a borrower who files a complete application for help for all the options that are available to that borrower. That means no more multiple rounds of applications and wasting of precious time and resources for the homeowner seeking help!
  • No more runarounds and missing documents. Our rules require mortgage servicers to train their people to answer your questions and, if you do run into trouble, the servicer has to assign people to help you. The servicer also has to have policies in place to make sure they don’t lose your paperwork.

Those are some of the new rules. In addition, service members should know that we issued guidance in June 2012, along with other regulators, saying that mortgage servicers should have processes in place to handle requests for assistance from service members with PCS orders, and that they should clearly communicate their policies.

In 2011, two important players in the mortgage market —Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac —updated their policies to say that a PCS move is considered a “qualifying hardship” for mortgage assistance options for service members. In other words, service members do not have to be behind on their mortgage payments before they can ask for help. It was also announced that a homeowner with a Fannie or Freddie loan and PCS orders will automatically be eligible for a short sale.

Also, those service members who do short sales (selling their home for less than they owe on the mortgage) will not have to pay the difference between the original loan amount and the proceeds from the sale if the property is their primary residence and it was purchased on or before June 30, 2012.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also has provisions for a short sale called a “
compromise sale.” Service members should contact their lender or the VA for more information on this program. We work closely with the military community to get the word out about any policy changes that affect service members. We encourage service members and their spouses to talk to their JAGs or military Personal Financial Managers (PFM) about these issues, too.

You can find out about options for helping service members with a troubled mortgage by watching our Military Educator Forum on the subject, finding a HUD-approved housing counselor , or calling 888-995-HOPE (4673). You can also Ask CFPB for answers to your mortgage related questions.

We hope our new mortgage rules will allow service members to spend more time on their important mission and less time worrying about their mortgages. Learn more about
our work on mortgages.

Department of Defense announces loosening of rules  to allow wearing clothes, jewelry and facial hair to comply with religious practice

Last week DoD said that they will allow the wearing of jewelry, apparel, hair grooming and tattoos to comply with a service member’s religious requirements. The service member will still need to ask for an exemption from uniform rules from their commanders but it is likely to be granted. The exemptions likely will also include beards, head scarves, turbans and body piercing if religious in nature.  The exemptions can be denied if it would harm “unit coercion” or if the item would cause a safety hazard or danger or would cause a safety hazard or interferes with protective equipment, like a flak jacket, flight suit or camouflage uniforms.

According to the Pentagon the directive grew out of request from Sikhs’ requests to wear turbans, beards and not cut their hair as required to their religion. The exemptions for the Sikhs’ request have been being granted and this directive is broadening who may be included.

To read the full directive you can go to:
http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/130017p.pdf

VA buys Land for a New National Cemetery in Colorado Springs

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced last week that they had purchased land to construct a National Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

It consists of 374 acres of land on January 21, 2014, from CS 2005 Investments LLC. The property, known as the Rolling Hills Ranch, is located east of Marksheffel Road between Bradley and Drennan Roads.

The plan is to construct the cemetery in the southeast portion of Colorado Springs. When completed it is expected to provide approximately 10 years of burial capacity with gravesites, cremation sites and columbarium niches. The facility will serve approximately 95,000 Veterans and family members who are not within 75 miles of an open national, state or tribal Veterans cemetery. The closest national cemetery is Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver, about 85 miles away.

This will be the third VA national cemetery in Colorado. The other two are Fort Logan National Cemetery in Denver and Fort Lyon National Cemetery in Las Animas. There are also 2 state run veterans’ cemeteries in Colorado. They are the Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado in Grand Junction which was funded by a VA construction grant, and the Colorado State Veterans Center at Homelake in Monte Vista.