Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 16 April 2015

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, April 16, 2015


Message from the AUSA President

At Fort Drum, N.Y., Defense Secretary Ash Carter told soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division last week the nation faces many challenges, and “we cannot meet them in garrison. We have to be out there.” His words serve as a reminder to us all that the Army will remain globally engaged, and will need the best people with the best skills on hand to deploy to dangerous places and do dangerous things. There may be smarter weapons and innovative tactics and new ways of doing things down the road, but the Army’s relevance and duty lies in sacrifices made by its soldiers who are ready to put boots on the ground anywhere and anytime they are called upon.

THE HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE will mark-up the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill Wednesday, April 29, with subcommittee markups to occur April 22 and 23. 

Even after holding several hearings related to the recommendations put forth by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, it is still unclear if the committee will adopt any of them.

SMA Kenneth Preston, USA Ret., AUSA’s Director of Noncommissioned Officer & Soldier Programs and the 13th Sergeant Major of the Army along with other retired senior enlisted officers penned a commentary that appeared in this week’s Army Times.  In it, Preston and the other leaders urged caution on acting on the commission’s proposals. 

Here is the commentary:

“We have had the opportunity to read the final report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that was recently published.  While wearing the uniform, our role as senior enlisted leaders was to “speak truth to power” to the leadership of our respective military services, provide a deck plate on-the-ground perspective, and represent the military members and their families of all services to the senior levels of our military organizations and, when asked, to our elected representatives.

“From time to time, even from retirement, we feel that it’s important to speak out on matters significant to the soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guardsmen who we remain committed to serving.

“We have no reason to question the findings in the commission’s proposal.  The commission’s report is complex and far-reaching.  We applaud the efforts of the commission members to find ways to reward military members who have not served an entire retirement-eligible career with credit prior to the 20-year mark.

“However, taken as a whole there may be well-meaning, but unintended consequences embedded in many of the commission’s recommendations and urge caution as Congress considers the Commission’s proposals.  Nearly all literature written by the commission or proponents of the recommendations so far presents an extremely optimistic view of everything that is proposed.  As stated above, we do not want to be seen as being critical, but we would like to offer an additional perspective on these recommendations, which if enacted fully could have major impacts on military members and their families far into the future.

“Recommendation 1:  Help more service members save for retirement earlier in their careers, leverage the retention power of traditional uniformed services retirement, and give the services greater flexibility to retain quality people in demanding career fields by implementing a modernized retirement system.

“Recommendation 1 is a worthy goal.  However, the specific changes recommended would be a major departure from the military’s longstanding defined benefit retirement system and any implementation of the proposal should be approached with caution.

“While the recommendation retains the 20-year cliff-vesting in our current system, it also presents elements that could be described as “giving a little” to service members early in their career in exchange for what could be a large decrease in benefits later.

“In order to achieve the projected benefit totals in the commission’s report, a service member would have to make exactly the right decision at several career decision gates.  As retired career military members, we know from experience that decisions regarding retirement planning are not usually a priority for most active duty members.  Our junior service members are often faced with family needs, challenges and emergencies that could make the decision to use their continuation pay on something other than investment very appealing.

“In the same way, the option to contribute the maximum to the Thrift Savings Plan could be unheeded by service members stressed for resources to run their households and focused on the mission rather than their own and their family’s future.  During the last 14 years, service members have been subjected to extremely long, arduous, almost back-to-back deployments.  There is no real reason to believe that such deployments will stop anytime soon.  Service members working in these conditions must focus completely on the mission.  Anything else, including retirement planning, is a distraction from meeting their mission requirements.

“The commission’s recommendations only become beneficial if multiple factors line up perfectly.  For example, the right funds need to be chosen, and these funds need to remain untouched by service members until retirement age, regardless of major life events that might demand instant access to funds earmarked for retirement.  This brings us to our second major topic.

“Recommendation 3:  Promote service members’ financial literacy by implementing a more robust financial and health benefit training program.

“Judging by the past, financial literacy has often been an afterthought in most of our military’s training programs, or as a counseling tool after uninformed financial decisions are made that affect good order and discipline.

“If the recommendations regarding the retirement system are implemented, Recommendation 3 becomes extremely critical.  Shifting the burden of the retirement system into a program that requires service members to make certain choices in order to achieve a positive outcome requires training, education and planning.  We strongly advise that any retirement system changes be accompanied by a standard, effective training program.

“Any initiative should be constructed with a platform to facilitate knowledge, education and communication and should include: 

1) Spousal financial education through literature, online or formal education.

2) Professional financial counseling and planning.

“The program should amplify financial management to service members throughout the military life cycle model and should be mandatory and available at multiple gates in a member’s career.  Financial education can be considered many ways.  A class as simple as balancing a checkbook could qualify, but because that wouldn’t offer sufficient financial training required to manage funds intended for a post-military career or retirement, we recommend that this subject be evaluated fully and the stipulations of these classes be outlined and held inclusively across the services.

“We strongly believe that America’s all-volunteer military is the greatest military force in the world today.  This greatness has been achieved through the focused efforts and sacrifices of all military members and their families.  Our current retirement plan does not require military members to worry about this part of their future.  If retirement system changes are made, steps must be taken to ensure that our military members are not shortchanged at the end of their careers.”

- See more at: http://www.ausa.org/legislation/newsletter/Pages/8April2015LegislativeNewsUpdate.aspx#sthash.haxPDVH8.dpuf

ACQUISITION REFORM PROPOSAL RELEASED   House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry and Ranking Member Adam Smith have introduced a bill that would reform the Department of Defense’s acquisition system. 

fact sheet released by Thornberry and Smith said that the Agile Acquisition to Retain Technological Edge Act (H.R. 1597),   is “focused on, but not limited to, reform of the acquisition system.” 

“More than being monetarily wasteful, dysfunction in the acquisition process is sapping America’s technological edge and robbing our military of agility in the face of multiplying threats. The acquisition system is slow and cumbersome, delivering vital equipment years late that underperforms and is difficult and costly to maintain. Chairman Thornberry recognizes the urgent need to address reform and this bill places a mandate to begin the dynamic process of reform on all stakeholders. The legislation is built upon the notion that a successful acquisition system is proactive, agile, transparent, and innovative.”

Thornberry and Smith intend for the measure to be considered for inclusion in the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act.  That bill will be marked up on April 29.

DOC FIX FIXED (ALMOST)   Before they departed on a two-week recess, the House overwhelmingly passed legislation that would end the “sustainable growth rate” used to calculate doctor’s payments for Medicare. As readers know, this also affects TRICARE beneficiaries because TRICARE reimbursement rates are tied to Medicare’s.  The final vote was 392-37. 

After extending the program 17 times with only partial offsets, the House sent a bill to the Senate that would eliminate the need for patches and would pay for at least some of it by changing how much wealthy seniors pay for their Medicare prescriptions and doctors’ visits, and by instituting a $147 deductible for supplemental Medicare coverage (Medigap).  

Unfortunately, the Senate left town without passing the bill.  However, due to an administrative lag time between when Medicare receives claims and when it actually makes payments, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services said if Congress acts soon after returning from recess, the government will be able to make payments to providers without imposing the pay cuts. A 21 percent cut in physician pay for treating Medicare/TRICARE patients took effect on April 1.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that the measure will be considered after the two-week break, and he expects it to pass the Senate with overwhelming support.

MUSIC TO OUR EARS   Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee Michael B. Enzi said that Republicans will look at changing the 2011 Budget Control Act that implemented sequestration as soon as the recently-passed budget resolution has been conferenced. “One of the things the Republicans on the Budget Committee have suggested was that as soon as we finish the budget, which we hope to finish by April 15, that we could begin a look at the Budget Control Act itself,” said Enzi, R-Wyo.

Both sides of the aisle have expressed their desire to end sequestration; however, saying it and doing it are usually two different things.  During the recent debate and vote of the budget resolution, Senators rejected an amendment offered by Patty Murray, D-Wash., which would have boosted defense and non-defense spending levels equally and would have paid for the increase over 10 years by closing tax loopholes.

- See more at: http://www.ausa.org/legislation/newsletter/Pages/1April2015LegislativeNewsUpdate.aspx#sthash.QTqQpRTX.dpuf


 VA Extends Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury Contracts Awarded to Assisted Living Providers

WASHINGTON  – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced the award of 20 contracts for the Assisted Living Pilot Program for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury (AL-TBI). Originally slated to end in 2014, the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (“VACAA”) extended this program through October 2017. “We are pleased to extend this valuable program and provide specialized assisted living services to eligible Veterans with traumatic brain injury that will enhance their rehabilitation, quality of life and community integration,” said Dr. Carolyn Clancy, VA’s Interim Under Secretary for Health, “TBI is one of the prevalent wounds of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and VA remains committed to taking care of those Veterans suffering from TBI.” Under the AL-TBI program, Veterans meeting the eligibility criteria are placed in private sector TBI residential care facilities specializing in neurobehavioral rehabilitation. The program offers team-based care and assistance in areas such as speech, memory and mobility. Approximately 202 Veterans participated in the AL-TBI Pilot Program in 47 facilities located in 22 states. Currently, 101 Veterans participate in the pilot as VA continues to accept new eligible patients into the program. In October, VA issued a request for proposal (RFP) for vendors wishing to participate in the program. In accordance with the RFP, VA has awarded 20 contracts to facilities located in 27 states. The contracts went into effect on April 1, 2015. The program is currently effective through October 2017, in accordance with VACAA. For more information about the TBI program, visit www.polytrauma.va.gov. For information about VA’s work to implement the Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, see http://www.va.gov/opa/choiceact/documents/FactSheets/Progress-Report-March-2015-Fact-Sheet.pdf

Job Incentive for Disabled Vets

Veterans with service-connected disabilities rated at 30 percent or greater who work for the federal government would be eligible for 104 hours of additional annual sick leave, under a proposal working its way through the Senate. The bill, S 242, would only apply to people hired one year after the measure becomes law.

What to watch: Limiting coverage to future employees – a move done to limit the cost – could result in opposition to the measure. The Congressional Budget Office estimates 8,000 to 9,000 disabled veterans are hired each year by the federal government, and 60 percent of the additional leave days would be used by the veterans for medical appointments.

Can You See Me Now?

Vision disorders are more prevalent in the Army than in the other services, according to medical research that looked at 15 years of records about refraction and accommodation disorders. Out of 100 people, 19.9 percent of soldiers, 16.4 percent of airmen, 15.3 percent of Marines and 15.2 percent of sailors have eye disorders, according to research published in the March issue of the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center's monthly report.

What to watch: The vision disorders are common, and increase with age in the military just as they do for people not in uniform. However, the report finds military women are more likely than men to have vision disorders, enlisted members are more likely than officers and the military occupations with the highest rate of vision problems are in the health care area.

Review of OIF, OND Chemical Warfare Exposure

The Army is leading an effort to identify and evaluate service members and veterans who were potentially exposed to chemical weapons during their post-9/11 service in Iraq. The Army will review operational reports, medical records and other data to identify service members and veterans who were potentially exposed, and will contact them for telephone interviews. Veterans who believe they were exposed to chemical weapons during Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation New Dawn, but have not been contacted by the Army, can call 800-497-6261. Learn more.

Fort Hood Purple Hearts

Forty-four Purple Hearts and Defense of Freedom Medals were presented to victims and families at a ceremony today at Fort Hood, Texas. The medals recognize the sacrifice of the 13 killed and 31 who were wounded on Nov. 5, 2009, by former Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan, who was convicted and sentenced to death. Initially classified as workplace violence, Congress changed the law to expand Purple Heart eligibility to those wounded or killed in attacks motivated by foreign terrorist organizations. The change required the secretary of the Army to review the circumstances of the attacks that occurred at Fort Hood and outside a military recruiting station in Arkansas on June 1, 2009. The Army has yet to make a determination on the Little Rock shooting, where convicted assailant Abdulhakim Muhammad, formerly named Carlos Bledsoe, killed one soldier and wounded another. The Defense of Freedom Medal was established soon after 9/11 to recognize DOD civilian employees killed or wounded in the line of duty. Read more.

V-E Day 70th Anniversary

A ceremony to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day will be held at the National World War II Memorial in Washington on May 8 at 10:30 a.m. All WWII veterans are invited to attend and be recognized for their service and sacrifice. Representatives from the U.S. and allied nations will be laying wreaths, followed by a multi-aircraft flyover of vintage warbirds. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking will be extremely limited since it’s the tourist season and May 8 is a workday. Taxis to the memorial are plentiful and recommended, and the two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. RSVP your attendance to the ceremony.

DNA Samples Needed for MIA Identifications

There are 83,000 missing and unaccounted for Americans from World War II forward, yet many families of the missing have yet to provide a family reference sample to assist in DNA identifications. Currently, 89 percent of Korean War families have provided samples, as well as 83 percent of Cold War families and 81 percent of Vietnam War families, but only 4 percent of WWII families have. The government last year identified 107 MIAs, but more could have been identified—and faster—if more family reference samples were on file. Please forward the following service casualty office contact information to MIA families in your hometown, as well as to local newspapers:
Army: 800-892-2490
Marine Corps: 800-847-1597
Navy: 800-443-9298
Air Force: 800-531-5501
State Department: 202-485-6106

How Occupational Therapy Works for You

By Karen Duddy
Occupational Therapy Supervisor
VA Long Beach Healthcare System

Thursday, April 9, 2015

When we are healthy, it is easier to accomplish what we set out to do, such as going to work, traveling, meeting up with friends, and taking care of our personal needs. Having chronic health conditions makes it more difficult to manage needs due to fatigue and illness. Often people with these conditions end up giving up on socializing and other enjoyable activities. This is problematic because giving up activities results in poorer health, and quality of life.

Occupational therapy has joined with primary care to help Veterans improve their health and well-being by being able to do what they need and want to do in their everyday lives. Occupational therapy can assist Veterans in continuing to take care of their health needs while still doing the activities they enjoy, simply by adapting or doing things differently. Occupational therapy helps Veterans prevent health declines by managing their daily health needs and showing them how to continue to participate in activities that are important to them.

“Occupation” refers to everything that people do during the course of everyday. We work with people throughout their lives to maintain their current level of activities (prevention) or restore function after an injury or illness (rehabilitation). The focus of our work with primary care is to help Veterans who are at risk for declines in health to stay active and take care of their everyday needs.

Improving the Quality of Life

Taking care of ourselves and being able to do what we enjoy keeps us healthier and improves the quality of our lives. Occupational therapy does this by helping Veterans discover solutions to their identified issues.

For example, occupational therapy can help prevent falls at night by recommending better lighting, or identifying trip hazards or where grab bars can be useful. When a Veteran has to give up driving, occupational therapy can help the Veteran use other modes of transportation so they can get to the store and see friends.

Occupational therapy also helps Veterans in their homes after being in the hospital by making sure they can take care of themselves, get groceries, cook meals, take care of their pets, and manage their VA appointments. During a primary care visit, the provider can have an occupational therapist join the visit and problem-solve together when there are concerns about the Veteran’s self-care or safety.

April is Occupational Therapy Month.

Recently a primary care provider called us to talk with a Veteran about self-care for diabetes. The Veteran had just lost his wife, and he needed help to live a healthier lifestyle. He was more concerned about how to be an example for his 10-year-old daughter so she wouldn’t end up unhealthy like him.

We worked together with him and his daughter to develop a plan that made sense for them as a family so they could take walks, shop, prepare food and eat together. This also helped them during this time of sadness over the loss of a mother and wife.

Occupational therapy helps people figure out what is important to them and discover their interests and capabilities. This includes helping Veterans develop plans and take steps to reach their goals. Some Veterans want to organize their lives and take care of personal business, while others want to get back into a more healthy routine. Some Veterans want to feel useful again and give back to their community or fellow Veterans. Then together we explore volunteer opportunities.

Helping Veterans Do What is Important to Them

Occupational therapy and primary care are about health promotion and disease prevention by enabling Veterans do what is important to them, regardless of their limitations, throughout their lives.

The intent is to enable the Veteran to engage in his or her usual occupations, because occupation influences health. If you want to change the human being, you have to change the human doing.

 Occupational therapists Thomas Tousignant and Dorene Doi consult with Veteran Ralph Guillen (right) to create timelines for a healthy future.

Optimizing the Quality of Life for Veterans

Karen Duddy is supervisor of the occupational therapy department at VA Long Beach. She is currently pursuing a doctor of occupational therapy degree from Boston University.

Duddy developed an “Everyday Matters” workshop, a 6-week health promotion program for patients at risk for lifestyle-related declines in health and function resulting from chronic conditions.

Emphasis of the “Everyday Matters” program is on clarifying the health, wellness and performance goals of the individual, and identifying and resolving barriers to everyday activities. Veterans begin to understand ways they can adapt so they can fully participate in those things that are most meaningful to them. Seeing oneself as a resource or expert in their own lives helps the Veteran to self-advocate and participate in care decisions with their provider.

VA Long Beach occupational therapists Thomas Tousignant and Dorene Doi participate in primary care visits directly with providers, perform evaluations of how Veterans function in their homes, complete telehealth and in-person visits, and participate in inter-professional group education through the primary care program.

Tousignant and Doi participated in the design of the program and successfully implemented the workshop to a pilot group. They are currently in the process of submitting a proposal for outcomes research with Dr. Anthony Vo, Chief of Primary Care, as principal investigator.

The goal is to obtain outcomes and disseminate the “Everyday Matters” program throughout VA and continue developing innovative ways occupational therapy and primary care can partner to optimize function and quality of life for various at-risk Veteran populations.


Permanent “Doc Fix” Seems Closer Than Ever

Before leaving for their Spring/Easter/Passover break the House of Representatives did a truly remarkable thing. They passed with an overwhelming bipartisan vote (392-37) a new formula for determining what doctors will be paid for care under Medicare. The so called “Doc Fix” the legislation also extended the CHIPS healthcare insurance program for children.

The legislation was crafted by Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-OH) and Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).

The bill end the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) which was adopted in 1997 to ensure that the yearly increase in the expense per Medicare beneficiary did not exceed the growth in the increase in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But in that goal it was a resounding failure. Since 2003 Congress has passed 17 short term fixes stopping the cuts in Medicare payments that the SGH would have required. Doctors would have faced 20% rate cuts. And it was widely believed that numerous doctors would have stopped taking Medicare patients.

Additionally since TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries must have Medicare and the rates paid in TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Standard are all sll based on Medicare rates such cuts would also have crippled the TRICARE acceptance rates. Thus the yearly “Dox Fix” was of enormous concern of TREA’s Washington staff and members.

The new method intends to pay physicians based on their performance, rewarding them for higher-quality work rather than for how many patients they see. We hope it will work.

 At first it looked like there was going to be a fight about some of its provisions in the Senate (specifically how long the CHIPS program was going to be extended and the Hyde Amendment language that is in the public health funding) but after President Obama publically announced that he supported the House bill and was looking forward to signing it opposition melted away. It is now expected that the Senate will Take up and pass the bill shortly after returning to the Capitol next week.  

New Standard Online VA Application Forms Rolled Out 
Online Tools, Standardized Forms, and More

Click here: VA’s new and simplified application forms:

Effective March 24th, 2015, VA is implementing improvements to make it easier for you to apply for benefits.

Online application tools, standardized forms, and a new intent to file process will create faster and more accurate decisions on your claims and appeals.

What does it all mean?
As part of the VA’s full-scale transformation in 2015, these new changes will:

Streamline the benefits process, making it faster and easier
Use standardized forms to file disability claims and compensation appeals
Establish a new intent to file a claim process

New Study Says Cutting Commissary Benefit Has Negative Affects

Last week the Rand National Defense Research Institute released a study on the affects that cutting the subsidy the federal government gives to the commissary system would have. The cuts have been proposed by the Department of Defense.

According to the study, cutting the subsidy would result in higher prices, which would negatively affect retirees and servicemembers who shop in commissaries, resulting in a loss of customers both to commissaries and exchanges. The reduction in customers would more than offset the increase in revenues that higher prices would bring, although that might not hold true for overseas commissaries or those in remote areas.

 “… when there are available substitutes, the increase in revenue due to an increase in price levels will be offset more than proportionally by the negative effect of a decrease in” the number of customers choosing to shop at commissaries, according to the study. But beyond that, it could negatively affect recruiting and retention; it would reduce contributions to MWR programs, and change the calculation used for determining cost-of-living adjustments.

The Department of Defense has proposed cutting $1billion in the subsidy given to commissaries in fiscal year 2017. It would cut $322 in fiscal year 2016 which would achieved by cutting back operating days and hours and increasing prices.

TREA opposes cutting the commissary subsidy. We believe the commissary benefit is an important part of the package of benefits promised to military men and women and we are fighting to stop the cuts.

VA Eliminates Net Worth Requirement For Some Health Care Program

The VA announced that starting this year they will not use new worth as a cut off for healthcare programs and co-pay requirements. The VA explained that “Instead of combining the sum of Veterans’ income with their assets to determine eligibility for medical care and copayment obligations, VA will now only consider a Veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year. Elimination of the consideration of net worth for VA health care enrollment means that certain lower-income, non-service-connected Veterans will have less out-of- pocket costs. Over a 5-year period, it is estimated that 190,000 Veterans will become eligible for reduced costs of their health care services.”

This change is intended to make it easier for veterans to apply for and obtain needed benefits It is part of the new MyVA initiative. VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald explained:” Everything that we do and every decision we make has to be focused on the Veterans we serve. We are working every day to earn their trust. Changing the way we determine eligibility to make the process easier for Veterans is part of our promise to our Veterans.”

Army Relaxes Tattoo Policy

Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said last week that the Army has revised its policy on tattoos.

No longer will there be a limit on the number and size of soldiers’ tattoos. The formal policy will be announced shortly.

Soldiers are still banned from having tattoos on their necks, and the ban will remain on tattoos that are extremist, racist or sexist.

The move came as many soldiers have told Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey that they want fewer restrictions on tattoos, and Army leadership seems to have taken the message to heart.

“Society is changing its view of tattoos and we have to change along with that,” Odierno said. “It makes sense. Soldiers have grown up in an era when tattoos are much more acceptable and we have to change along with that.”

The Army had restricted its tattoo policy at the beginning of last year.

Job Market Improves for Post-9/11 Veterans

The job market seems to be improving for the nation's 3.2 million veterans of the post-9/11-era, according to the U.S. Labor Department. For men, the unemployment rate fell from 8.8 percent in 2013 to 6.9 percent in 2014, the Labor Department reports. For women, the unemployment rate was 9.6 percent in 2013 and 8.5 percent in 2014.

What to watch: Fourteen percent of post-9/11 veterans work for the federal government, compared with 2 percent of nonveterans, the result of veterans' hiring preferences.

New Caucus for Post-9/11 Veterans

Army combat veterans Reps. Scott Perry, R-Penn., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, are co-chairs of the Congressional Post-9/22 Veterans Caucus, a bipartisan group of members of the House of Representatives with recent military service. "Taking care of our brothers and sisters in uniform who have selflessly served our country must be a priority for Congress," said Gabbard, an Iraq veteran and Army National Guard captain. 

What to watch: Perry, an Army National Guard colonel and also an Iraq veteran, said the caucus will work on issues such as mental health, employment and other issues related to helping soldiers transition to civilian life. 

Exchanges Score Highest-Ever Satisfaction Rate

Army and Air Force Exchange Services achieved a customer satisfaction score of 80 – an all-time high – in a survey of 43,000 customers conducted by CFI Group, a company that measures customer attitudes. AAFES improved in problem resolution, merchandise selection, employees and checkout on the survey.

What to watch: AAFES has designated 2015 as the Year of the Customer, with Thomas Shull, the AAFES director and CEO, pushing for further improvements in expanding national brands in main stores, food operations and online shopping, and showing first-run movies in theaters.

New Members Appointed to VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans

New Members Appointed to VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans Committee Makes Recommendation to VA Secretary WASHINGTON – Four new members have been appointed to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, an expert panel that advises the Secretary on issues and programs affecting women Veterans. Established in 1983, the Committee makes recommendations to the Secretary for administrative and legislative changes. “Women have made significant contributions to the safety and security of our great Nation. As we seek to enhance services for women Veterans, VA values the Committee’s guidance,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “The Committee’s recommendations help VA to identify and address gaps in service to better meet the needs of women Veterans today and in the future. VA welcomes the newest members of this important Committee.” Of the approximately 22 million living Veterans, about 2 million are women Veterans. They comprise 9.2 percent of the total Veteran population. VA estimates that by 2040, women Veterans will comprise approximately 16 percent of the total Veteran population. “VA is committed to offering a full continuum of benefits and health care services and is transforming itself to meet the evolving needs of our women Veterans,” said Elisa Basnight, Director of VA’s Center for Women Veterans, who echoed Secretary McDonald’s sentiments. “This advisory committee plays an integral role in our progress.” New members of the Committee: Ms. Octavia Harris, El Cajon, California, a retired Command Master Chief, U.S. Navy; currently serves as a program manager of the Comprehensive Advanced Restorative Effort at the San Diego Naval Medical Center; Ms. Louisa Long Jaffe, Alexandria, Virginia, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army; currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Technical and Project Engineering, LLC; Dr. Joyce Johnson, Chevy Chase, Maryland, a retired Rear Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service; currently practices medicine in the specialty of public health/preventive medicine, and serves as a global health/public health and management consultant; and Ms. Shannon McLaughlin, Sharon, Massachusetts, a Major serving full time in the Massachusetts National Guard, with combat service in Afghanistan. The new Committee members, who are appointed to two-year terms, join Committee members Dr. Shirley Quarles of Atlanta, Georgia; Ms. Felipe Torres, Helotes, Texas; and Ms. Mary Westmoreland, Bronxville, New York, who were also reappointed for another term. For more information about women Veterans, visit www.va.gov/womenvet, or contact the Women Veterans Call Center at 1-855-829-6636. The call center is available to address concerns of women Veterans, their families and caregivers Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., ET, and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., ET.

Hearing on Medication Management

On Monday, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a joint hearing regarding the Tomah VA Medical Center’s use of high dose opioids to manage pain, and VA’s subsequent lack of oversight and accountability of these practices. The hearing included emotional testimony from surviving family members of veterans who received care at the Tomah VA Medical Center and former medical center employees. VA and the VA inspector general testified on the results of their respective investigations and what VA is doing to address medication management issues at the Tomah VA Medical Center and throughout the VA health care system. Watch the hearing.

New Army National Guard Director Confirmed

Last week, the Senate confirmed the former adjutant general of the Nebraska National Guard to be the next director of the Army National Guard. In his new position, Maj. Gen. Timothy Kadavy will be responsible for formulating, developing and coordinating all programs, policies and plans affecting the Army National Guard and its more than 350,000 Citizen-Soldiers. Kadavy will succeed Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons on a date yet to be announced. He was commissioned in 1984, and his overseas deployment history includes Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Afghanistan. Read his bio.

Two Vietnam MIAs Identified

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of two soldiers who had been missing in action since the Vietnam War. Army Staff Sgt. Bunyan D. Price Jr., 20, of Monroe, N.C., and Sgt. Rodney L. Griffin, 21, of Mexico, Mo., assigned to 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, were passengers aboard a UH-1H helicopter that was forced to make an emergency landing in Cambodia after coming under heavy enemy ground fire. The Huey’s four crewmen and four passengers survived the landing. One crewman was able to evade capture and return to friendly lines. Three crewmen and one passenger were captured. Two of the captured crewmen were released by the Vietnamese in 1973, and the remains of the other two were returned to the U.S. in the 1980s. Price and Griffin died onsite during a fire fight with enemy forces. Their remains were not recovered at the time of loss. Both will be buried with full military honors: Price on April 11, in Belmont, N.C., and Griffin on April 25, in Mexico, Mo. Read more.

VA Announces New Grants to Help End Veteran Homelessness

Initiative Targets 45,000 Homeless and At-Risk Vets and Families in High Need Communities


WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald today announced the award of nearly $93 million in Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) 3-year grants that will help approximately 45,000 homeless and at-risk Veterans and their families. The grants will be distributed to 24 non-profit agencies in 15 communities, with $30 million in awards being distributed to the Los Angeles area.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is committed to using evidence-based approaches such as SSVF to prevent homelessness and produce successful outcomes for Veterans and their families,” said Secretary McDonald. “This is a program that works, because it allows VA staff and local homeless service providers to work together to effectively address the unique challenges that make it difficult for some Veterans and their families to remain stably housed.”

 Under the SSVF program, VA is awarding grants to private, non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives that provide services to very low-income Veteran families living in – or transitioning to – permanent housing.  The grants announced today will provide additional resources to the fourth year operations of the SSVF program.

 “With the addition of these crucial resources, communities across the country continue an historic drive to prevent and end homelessness among Veterans,” said Matthew Doherty, Acting Executive Director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness.  “The SSVF program gives Veterans and their families the rapid assistance they need to remain in permanent housing or get back into permanent housing as quickly as possible.”

Through the homeless Veterans initiative, VA committed more than $1 billion in FY 2014 to strengthen programs that prevent and end homelessness among Veterans. VA provides a range of services to homeless Veterans, including health care, housing, job training and education.

More information about VA’s homeless programs is available at www.va.gov/homeless.  Details about the SSVF program are online at www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.