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Wrong: Increase fees for military retiree health care

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Military Coalition strikes back! Members of the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee heard directly from a co-chairman of The Military Coalition on why the Defense Department’s proposal to increase/enact fees for military retiree health care is just plain wrong.

The Military Coalition is a group of 34 military-related associations that meet monthly to craft joint legislative strategy pertaining to issues that are important to their constituencies.

AUSA is a member.

Coalition Co-chairman Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF, Ret., challenged the Defense Department witnesses on their position that raising TRICARE fees does not "break the faith" with the force.

"If keeping faith means no changes for today’s troops on retirement, then it’s breaking faith to raise their [health] fees by [up to] $2,000. That’s no different from a $2,000 retired pay cut," Strobridge said.

Strobridge added, "For generations, the government has induced millions to serve their country in uniform with promises that for rendering that sacrifice, they’d earn the current retirement and health care package. In other words, their extended service and sacrifice constituted their prepaid premium."

Strobridge also took issue with the premise that military retirees pay far less for health care than federal civilians.

He testified, "Whenever somebody gives me that argument I ask: If the military deal was so great, are you willing to pay what they did to earn it? Would you sign up to spend the next 20 to 30 years being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or any other garden spot the government wants to send you to? Military people pay far steeper premiums for health coverage than any civilian ever has or ever will."

Several panel members seemed to agree with the coalition’s position.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., said the DoD’s proposals "simply shift the cost burden through TRICARE fee and cost share increases to not only our working age retirees, but for the first time to our most senior military retirees."

Wilson called the plan "wrong-headed" and said, "The subcommittee has a number of concerns about the department's initiatives."

Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., suggested Congress look at the $200 billion to $300 billion of redundant and duplicative government programs identified in a February 2011 GAO report "before we start penalizing the people that have given a lifetime of service to this country."

He concluded his remarks by telling the DoD witnesses to let Defense Secretary Leon Panetta know that the TRICARE fee plan "is ‘FUBAR.’"

What we cannot stress enough is how important it is that you let your elected representatives in Congress know how you feel about the Defense Department’s plan.

It doesn’t matter how you contact them, just contact them.

AUSA has several letters that you can use on our website.

Go to www.ausa.org, click on "Legislative Agenda" and then "Contact Congress." A minute or two of your time will greatly strengthen our hand on Capitol Hill.

 

More help for military homeowners. The Obama administration recently announced steps it is taking to help service members and veterans who are facing foreclosure or who have been foreclosed upon.

The nation’s largest lenders (Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Ally, Citi or Wells Fargo) will conduct a review – overseen by the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division – of the files of every service member foreclosed upon since 2006 to determine whether any were foreclosed on in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).

The lenders will conduct a review – also overseen by DoJ’s Civil Rights Division – of the files of their service member clients dating back to 2008 to determine whether they charged any an interest rate in excess of 6 percent on their mortgage after a valid request to lower the rate, in violation of the SCRA.

Lenders will be required to provide any service member who was wrongfully charged interest in excess of 6 percent with a payment equal to at least four times the amount wrongfully charged.

Under the Department of Defense’s Homeowners Assistance Program (HAP), some service members who are forced to sell their home at a loss due to a permanent change in station (PCS) may be compensated for the loss in their home’s value.

Under this settlement, lenders will provide short sale agreements and deficiency waivers to those service members who were forced to sell their home for less than they owe on their mortgage due to a PCS, but who are not eligible for HAP.

This means the benefits of that program will finally be extended to service members who bought their homes between July 1, 2006, and Dec. 31, 2008, or who received a PCS after Oct. 1, 2010.

Under the settlement, lenders will pay $10 million into the Veteran’s Housing Benefit Program Fund, through which the Department of Veteran's Affairs guarantees loans provided on favorable terms to eligible veterans.

The SCRA prohibits lenders from foreclosing on active duty service members without first securing a court order, but only if their loan was secured when they were not on active duty.

The settlement extends this protection to all service members, regardless of when their mortgage was secured, who within nine months of the foreclosure received Hostile Fire/Imminent Danger Pay and were stationed away from their home.

Any service member who believes his or her rights were violated by Bank of America, J.P. Morgan Chase, Ally, Citi, or Wells Fargo can contact the Justice Department directly at 1-(800) 896-7743.

The department will have access to information to determine whether or not service members are victims.

Senate veteran’s jobs caucus formed. AUSA’s Vice President for Education Lt. Gen. Ted Stroup, USA. Ret., and Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper joined Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and other members of the Senate Veterans Jobs Caucus at a ceremony to kick off their "I Hire Veterans" initiative that encourages members of the Senate and the public to show their commitment to hiring veterans.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis and officials from the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs joined the members of the caucus for the kickoff.

Solis expressed her support for the caucus’s efforts to put returning service members back to work.

"Sometime the simplest ideas are the most effective and I think the Senate Veterans Job Caucus has hit on a brilliant idea with the ‘I Hire Veterans’ initiative," Solis said.

Adding, "When Americans see local businesses doing right by our vets, they’ll do their patriotic duty and support those companies."