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TRICARE increases top retiree council’s list

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Possible increases in TRICARE premiums and changes to military retired pay were the Army Chief of Staff’s Retiree Council’s top two concerns when the council co-chairmen, Lt. Gen. Frederick E. Vollrath, USA, Ret., and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, USA, Ret., briefed the chief of staff, Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, at the conclusion of the council’s annual meeting held at the Pentagon from April 23 to 27.

The 14 members of the council represent over one million retirees and surviving spouses worldwide.

Council members are retired from the active Army, the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard.

The 2012 council includes seven noncommissioned officers, ranging from sergeant first class to sergeant major of the Army, and seven officers, ranging from chief warrant officer five to lieutenant general.

The council strongly recommended that future increases in TRICARE not be tied to the medical inflation rate, and TRICARE premiums should not be "means tested" (based on level of income).

Congress has been considering these two proposals.

While the council agreed that future increases in TRICARE premiums were inevitable, members stressed that increases should not be more than the increases in retired pay (COLA).

The council members also voiced strong opposition to possible changes in retired pay, citing the adverse impact the REDUX retirement plan had on recruiting and retention in the late 1980s.

For the same reason, they were equally opposed to attempts to replace the current defined benefit retired pay plan with a civilian 401K-like plan that ties retired pay to stock market performance.

Also of importance to the council were efforts to involve retirees more deeply in telling Americans the Army story.

Noting that only 1 percent of Americans serve in the military in these post-draft days, the council recognized retirees’ responsibility and unique ability to explain what the Army does to those in America’s towns and cities.

Members asked Odierno to likewise educate soldiers, especially senior Army leaders, about retirees’ value and contributions to the Army, emphasizing that retirees "are not a corporate resource, but an integral part of the [Army’s] institutional fabric."

Members focused and paid particular attention to "Echoes," the Army’s official newsletter for retirees and surviving spouses.

The council recommended to Odierno that the Army continue publishing "Echoes" in hard copy for all retirees, but especially for the 33 percent of retirees who don’t own computers and cannot receive "e-Echoes," the electronic edition.

Odierno supported this recommendation, saying he recognized "Echoes" importance by writing to retirees on the front page of each edition.

The council recognized the need to conserve funds by transitioning more retirees to "e-Echoes" and asked for the resources to expand and maintain electronic delivery methods.

Other concerns that the co-chairmen reviewed with the chief of staff included: supporting legislation to authorize pretax payment of TRICARE enrollment fees and premiums; saving money by increasing marketing of TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery and making this use mandatory for chronic care prescriptions.

Also the chairman discussed increasing soldiers’ understanding of entitlements, benefits, and transitions throughout their careers by adding instruction to resident and nonresident courses; maintaining funding for post-transition services, such as retiree councils, retiree appreciation day events, and retiree newsletters; determining if retirement services at non-Army led joint bases have declined; and including retirees’ contributions to the Army in senior leader talking points and the Army Family Covenant.

Completing the establishment of retirement services offices at major Army Reserve and Army National Guard commands; maintaining funding for the Army Retiring Soldier Commendation Program package that soldiers receive as they retire; issuing retirees’ spouses an indefinite ID card at age 65 instead of 75; permitting the children of soldiers being medically retired to use on- post child care services for up to six months after the soldiers’ retirements; and working with DoD to authorize space available air travel for surviving spouses, was addressed with Odierno.