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Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 29 January 2015

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, January 29, 2015

1/29/2015 

 

AUSA: Seeking Stability (& Sanity) In 2015

 

The regular Army and the National Guard are increasingly at loggerheads — not because they don’t respect each other, but because both want to protect their funding, their mission, and their people from zero-sum budget cuts. We asked the chiefs of the two leading advocacy groups involved to present their very different views for the way ahead.

In this op-ed, we hear from the president of the Association of the United States Army(AUSA) and former Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, who calls for calm and a big-picture perspective. Click here to read the counterpart piece by Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, head of the National Guard Association of the United States. We’ll let you judge for yourself who’s right about what. — The Editors.

The New Year begins with the Army focused on where it’s headed in 2025 and beyond, but another generational transformation of the force cannot succeed if some bubbling turmoil isn’t resolved. Without solid ground to stand on, and without teamwork between the active, reserve and civilian workforces, the Army could have trouble seeing and planning for the future.

Here are some of the things that need fixing:

Stabilize the Budget

We need to drive a stake through the heart ofsequestration so there is stability and certainty in the budget process. The Army already was hurt by this budget-forcing gimmick that was supposed to be so terrible to contemplate that Washington’s political class was supposed to do everything to avoid it.

It is already clear to everyone that sequestration, just by being on the books, is disruptive to defense planning. Senior Army leaders have warned it is almost impossible to make any major strategic decision when the amount of money available remains unknown and warned that sequestration in 2016 would almost guarantee that active-duty strength would drop to420,000 soldiers. The Army Guard and Army Reserve wouldn’t be spared, with their own personnel cuts expected.

Despite these warnings, the only respite from sequestration was a deal struck by politicians to put off the issue until after the 2014 mid-term elections, with renewed promises after the November elections to work out some new budget arrangement.

Repealing sequestration needs to be a top priority. We should not have to wait for a year of debate to let the Defense Department and Army off the hook.

 

Time for a True Total Force Discussion

 

Unhealthy and unnecessary friction in the Total Force is a consequence of the larger budget pressures facing the Army. We need to make certain the suboptimal decisions foisted on the Army’s leaders don’t damage the overall cohesiveness of what is shaping up to be a much smaller active, Guard and Reserve force.

There is a serious risk that gains in cooperation made over the last decade of war could go for naught, which would be a severe blow at a time when the Army will have less that 1 million soldiers and when capabilities of all elements of the Army must be maximized.

We will need a mature, unemotional dialogue within the Total Force, which will then enable Army leaders to articulate with one voice the needs and requirements of an Army with critical missions at home and abroad. Healing the rift between the Regular Army and Army National Guard needs to be a priority. Hurt feelings will just get in the way.

 

 

Stop Scaring People

Soldiers and their families are being worn down by constant discussion about cutting pay and benefits, to the point where the conversation might be more damaging than the outcome. The Commission on Military Compensation and Retirement Modernizationis expected to issue its final report and recommendations in February. That seems likely to launch another round of heated debate about the pay, bonuses, retirement and health care for the active, reserve component and retiree force.

Soldiers and their families already have endured years of discussion about how rising personnel costs are hurting national security, and listened to proposals to cap pay raises, increase out-of-pocket expenses for housing and health care, and reform military retirement. The 1 percent basic pay raise received by soldiers the last two years has already caused concern.

A speedy and clear response to recommendations from the commission to indicate whether any reforms will be endorsed the Defense Department and Army leadership would go a long way toward reducing anxiety.

 

Every Theater is Important

The newest Army Operating Concept, calledWin in a Complex World, focuses on the capabilities and forces needed on a global basis against increasingly capable and unpredictable foes. These are worldwide needs, not just based in a particular theater.

Phrases like “Pacific Pivot” and “Shift to Asia” tend to obscure the facts.  First, the Army never left the Pacific and never took its eyes off of the threat of places like North Korea.  Second, we should never give an appearance that one theater is more important to us than another. Instability is a global issue and the Army is a global force capable of decisive action everywhere.

 

 

Avoid Permanent Harm

With ongoing budget cuts in all categories, at some point the nation needs to accept the reality that our most precious, capable, and flexible weapon system is people. Training and professional development of Army leaders at all levels might well be the secret sauce which assures success on future battlefields. Indeed, technology enables our warriors, but skilled and confident leaders will be needed to carry the day.

 

Gordon Sullivan, former Army Chief of Staff, is president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army. Sullivan retired in 1995.

·         Topics: armyArmy National GuardAssociation of the US ArmyAUSAbudgetcommentary,Commission on Military Compensation and Retirement ModernizationGen. Gordon Sullivanmilitary personnelnational guardNGAUS and AUSA op-edsop-edPacific pivotsequestration

 THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMM

 “We all know there needs to be reform…,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the newly installed chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee who was talking about the forthcoming report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. 

McCain said that he and other committee members are working on their plan of action when the report is released and upcoming hearings on the commission’s findings.  They are also discussing how they will handle potential pay and benefit reforms while seeking to undo mandatory sequestration spending cuts. 

Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the committee’s personnel subcommittee said that he expects debate on the report to the “contentious.”  He added, “It’s going to take Republicans and Democrats looking over the commission report and finding common ground.”

For the record – AUSA strongly supports any attempt to end sequestration.  However, we are not in favor of wholesale changes to the current military retirement and compensation system.  Having said that, we will hold our fire until we have thoroughly examined the commission’s report.

 

HMMM PART 2.  

 

Apparently reform is also the buzz word over on the other side of the Capitol.  The new chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas., said that the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill will address several of his legislative priorities, including acquisition reform. 

“It'll have a variety of things in it, but a priority for me is and will always be reforms, and not just acquisition reform, although I think that's essential,” he said. “Congress created the Department of Defense, so it has a unique responsibility to shape it in a way that's in the national interests.  We have to prod and if necessary dictate reforms so that the Department of Defense meets the needs of today's world.

Both McCain and Thornberry said that they would be more inclined to support benefit changes if the current force was exempt. 

 

BASE REALIGNMENT AND CLOSURE WILL NOT BE A BUZZ WORD

 

if Thornberry has his way.  He said that he will oppose any efforts to authorize another round of base closures and realignments until there is a clearer picture of the military’s roles and missions in the future.

“We are still having a discussion in this country about what the role of the United States is in the world and about what sort of military capabilities we need to fulfill that role.  Once you give up a base or a training range, it’s gone forever.  And, personally, I’m not comfortable yet saying we will never need this base or this training range until we sort our way through this bigger question of what kind of military capabilities are we going to need to fulfill the role that we intend to play in the world,” Thornberry said.

 

VETERANS 

 

got a boost this week when the House unanimously passed The Hire More Heroes Act, offered by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. 

The bill encourages small businesses to hire veterans covered by the Veterans’ Administration or military health insurance.  It exempts those veterans from being counted against the 50-employee threshold that requires employers to provide health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

In an interview after the vote, Davis said that passage of the bill “is an example of bipartisanship and what the American people want us to do, which is to get things done.” A similar measure has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

 

A LETTER FROM THE GOP DOCTORS CAUCUS 

 

sent to the House Republican leadership urges them to prioritize a permanent "doc fix" before the end of the year.

In 1997, Congress created the Sustainable Growth Rate or SGR, in order to control Medicare spending by tying it to the rest of the economy’s growth.  It worked fine until health care costs started outpacing the economy.  The “doc fix” (although it never actually gets fixed), refers to short-term patches Congress passes to keep the amount paid to physicians who treat Medicare beneficiaries stable.  Because payment rates in the TRICARE program are tied to Medicare rates, this affects many military beneficiaries. "We appreciate the tremendous effort that Republican leadership and committees have put into [sustainable growth rate] reform this year — but our work is not done," the members wrote in a letter.  "We have a unique opportunity to bring much-needed stability to the Medicare program that will benefit seniors and physicians alike."

The latest one-year patch will expire at the end of March 2015.

 

AN AUSA SALUTE 

 

to Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for reintroducing The Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act (H.R.333). Bishop’s legislation would permit retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability rated less than 50 percent to receive full concurrent receipt of both retired pay and veterans' disability compensation, including Chapter 61 disability retirees with less than 20 years of service.

Full concurrent receipt has been a long-term resolution of AUSA’s.  We appreciate Rep. Bishop’s dedication to this goal and will work with him to get it passed. 

- See more at: http://www.ausa.org/legislation/newsletter/Pages/15January2015.aspx#sthash.yqi9eImS.dpuf

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 28, 2015 Department of Veterans Affairs Reaches Historic Breakthrough Agreement In the Next Step to End Homelessness Among Los Angeles Veterans

VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald to Lead the Launch of a New Master Plan for West Los Angeles VA Campus Los Angeles — U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert A. McDonald and attorneys representing homeless veterans in Los Angeles announced an agreement that dedicates the West Los Angeles VA campus to serving veterans in need, and commits the department to design a plan to help end homelessness among veterans in Los Angeles County. The agreement is an important step forward in carrying out President Obama’s commitment that no veteran should live on the streets, or forego necessary medical and psychological services. “This agreement offers VA a historic opportunity to build new community relationships in Los Angeles and continue the work needed to end veteran homelessness here,” said Secretary McDonald. “VA is proud of the progress we’ve made in ending veteran homelessness—down 33 percent since 2010—but we won’t be satisfied until every veteran has a home.” Under the agreement, Secretary McDonald and plaintiffs’ representatives will develop by February 13, 2015 a written plan to help end veteran homeless in Greater Los Angeles. The plan will focus on serving veterans, particularly homeless veterans, women veterans, aging veterans and veterans that are severely disabled. Secretary McDonald will appoint a Special Assistant, who will report directly to him, to oversee the plan’s implementation with the necessary resources and support. “This historic agreement, forged through the leadership of Secretary McDonald, creates a partnership that will be invaluable to help end veteran homelessness in Los Angeles, provide needed medical care and services, and make concrete our commitment to those who served our nation’s highest calling,” said Ron Olson, one of the counsels for the organizations bringing the lawsuit. Under the agreement, Secretary McDonald will also launch an accelerated process to develop a new long-term Master Plan for the future use of the West Los Angeles campus. This Master Plan, which is targeted to be completed by October 16, 2015, will prioritize the provision of bridge housing and permanent supportive housing. It will also describe an exit strategy for third-party land use agreements that do not comply with applicable laws, and do not fit within the Master Plan. Representatives from the veterans’ community will be actively involved in providing input to the Master Plan, along with other stakeholders, including the local community. Attorneys for homeless veterans agreed to pursue a dismissal of the lawsuit Valentini v. McDonald, which was filed in 2011. Plaintiffs are represented by the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Public Counsel, and Inner City Law Center, with the pro bono support of Arnold & Porter LLP, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, and Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe. The landmark case was a major impetus behind realizing the vision of eliminating homelessness in Los Angeles among veterans who entered the military to serve the nation. “The Department of Justice is pleased to have come to a positive resolution in this nearly four year litigation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Joyce R. Branda for the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “Ending this litigation will facilitate the continuing partnership between the Department of Veterans Affairs and key stakeholders to end veteran homelessness in greater Los Angeles in 2015 and beyond.” The 387-acre West Los Angeles VA campus was deeded to the United States in 1888 to serve as a home for disabled veterans. Today, Los Angeles has the nation’s largest population of homeless and veterans with disabilities.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 26, 2015 VA Announces Single Regional Framework under MyVA Initiative Internal Organizations to Realign Their Existing Structures Washington

– The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced that it is taking the first steps under the MyVA initiative to realign its many organizational maps into one map with five regions to better serve Veterans. The new regions under the MyVA alignment will allow VA to begin the process of integrating disparate organizational boundaries into a single regional framework to enhance internal coordination. “We want every Veteran to have a seamless, integrated, and responsive VA customer service experience every time. This regional alignment is the first step in empowering Veterans to interact with one VA – MyVA,” said Secretary Robert McDonald. “Ultimately, this reform will improve the Veteran experience by enabling Veterans to more easily navigate VA and access their earned care and benefits.” VA’s new regional design utilizes state boundaries to divide the country into five regions. Each organization within VA will begin work to ensure their structures are aligned within this framework by the end of June 2015. Veterans are already seeing the impacts of changes made through the MyVA initiative. For example, at the suggestion of VA employees, the Department has made improvements to VA call center operations, to allow call center agents to suspend or resume certain benefit payments at the request of the Veteran, which eliminates additional steps typically required of Veterans. Also at the suggestion of employees, VA is working towards piloting improved signage in certain facilities, to make sure Veterans know where they are going and that directions are easy to follow. Additional VA efforts are currently underway to define the next steps to transform the Department into one that is more centered on the Veteran. Background on MyVA Launched on September 2, 2014, MyVA is an initiative which will reorient VA around Veteran needs and empower employees to assist them in delivering excellent customer service to improve the Veteran experience. It is the largest department-wide transformation in VA’s history and will be a product of ideas and insights shared by Veterans, employees, members of Congress, VSOs, and other stakeholders. The first phase of MyVA has included creating the task force and building the team to support the mission and an organizational change of this breadth. MyVA is focused on five areas of improvement: 1) Improving the Veteran experience 2) Improving the employee experience so they can better serve Veterans 3) Improving internal support services 4) Establishing a culture of continuous improvement, and 5) Enhancing strategic partnerships. [ The Regional Map can be seen at: http://www.va.gov/opa/publications/docs/myva-5-regions-map.pdf ]

A New and Improved VA Prescription Label

VA has changed the format of your VA prescription label to make the most important information more visible. VA asked hundreds of Veterans to tell us what they liked and didn’t like about the labels on their prescriptions. We heard you. The results led to this new patient-centric prescription label. We’ve cleaned up the look and made the following changes:

·         Your name has been moved to the top of the label.

·         Directions on how to take your medication are now larger and bolded.

·         The date the prescription can no longer be refilled is clearly stated.

The new design makes it easier to identify important drug and safety information.

4.8 Million Veterans Benefit from New Labels

VA has now adopted this patient-centric prescription label as the standard format for all VA pharmacies. The 4.8 million Veterans receiving VA prescription benefits now receive prescription labels with standardized information.

What about Sequestration?

It surprised many of us in Washington that President Obama did not even mention the question of sequestration in his State of the Union Address. Of course the speech focused on domestic affairs and did not say a great deal on either the military or foreign affairs. But sequestration affects domestic as well as military programs. And in a fact sheet that the White House released to the public along with the President’s speech the Administration said: “The president’s budget will outline how to end sequester and pay for these investments by cutting ineffective spending and closing tax loopholes.”

What does that exactly mean? Who knows? But perhaps we may assume that the President’s budget will not keep to the Sequester caps. Perhaps it will set spending above the caps in both DoD and the domestic programs to push the Congress into negotiations to end the sequestration caps.

It is clear that many Republicans in Congress are anxious to break the caps when dealing with the Pentagon (While other members strongly wish the caps to remain in place. After the State of the Union Address Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in a joint statement criticized the President for not mentioning sequestration and the damage it had already done to our military capabilities and readiness and the dangerous vulnerabilities" the cuts will create if not rolled back."

The automatic cuts are putting great financial pressure on the Pentagon and are seen as one of the reasons they are proposing again and again cuts in retirement programs and benefits.

 Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to Release Report

This Thursday, January 29th the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) are set to release a much-anticipated report detailing its recommendations on the future of military compensation. The report is set to make suggestions regarding active duty pay, health care, the commissary system, retirement and compensation.

AUSA's Legislative Affairs office will attend a meeting with the MCRMC on the 29th to receive a briefing and hard copies of the report.

We will then begin work immediately on dissecting the plan to figure out which suggestions are acceptable and those that we cannot accept. We will then work with the rest of The Military Coalition and the National Military and Veterans Alliance to begin formulating our counterproposals. The race is then on to convince Congress to accept our recommendations, instead of the ones that are favored by the Pentagon. It will be a long, arduous process but TREA is on the front lines defending your earned benefits on Capitol Hill.

TRICARE and the Affordable Care Act (Obama care) Part 2

Last week we wrote our first article on TRICARE and the ACA –Affordable Care Act (Obama care.) This week we have the second. Below is an interesting press release put out by TRICARE.

With the implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, TRICARE beneficiaries may have questions about how it would affect them. The ACA and TRICARE are very different, governed by two different pieces of legislation so changes in one have no effect on the other.

The intent of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was to provide affordable health insurance options to everyone. This is the first major difference between TRICARE and the ACA. TRICARE is not health insurance; it is a federal health care entitlement program only for eligible uniformed service members, retirees and their families.

The ACA required a set of minimum essential benefits for commercial health insurance. Before the passage of the ACA, TRICARE had already provided most of these benefits such as cost-free screenings, vaccinations and counseling. One ACA provision not previously addressed by TRICARE was to allow children to remain on their parent’s health insurance up to age 26. The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act created the authority to implement the TRICARE Young Adult (TYA) program. TYA is a premium based program that restores TRICARE coverage to adult children up to the age of 26 after they lose their TRICARE coverage due to age.

TRICARE is a benefit established under law as the health care program for the uniformed services, retirees and their families. The ACA did affect change in health care coverage for many Americans, but the legislation did not apply directly to TRICARE. For more information, visit the TRICARE website.

New VA Accountability Bill Proposed by Chairman Miller

Last Thursday, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) issued the following press release.
Miller Proposes Major VA Accountability Reforms
Bill Would Give VA Secretary Authority to Reduce Corrupt Execs’ Pensions

Today Chairman Miller introduced the Increasing VA Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015. The bill would give the Department of Veterans Affairs secretary more authority to hold corrupt executives accountable, limit the amount of time VA senior executive service (SES) employees can spend on paid administrative leave and reform certain aspects of the department’s performance appraisal system for its senior executives.

Specifically, the bill would:

  • Increase accountability by allowing the VA secretary to reduce an SES employee’s retirement pension upon conviction of a crime that influenced their work performance by reducing the years of service creditable to the employee’s pension
  • Reduce waste by limiting the amount of time VA senior executives could spend on paid administrative leave to 14 days unless the secretary can show good cause for an extension
  • Help end VA’s sordid bonus culture by reforming VA’s SES performance appraisal system so only 30 percent of senior executives could receive top performance ratings and qualify for bonuses
  • Require additional transparency regarding SES performance outcomes and require that all SES employees change jobs within the department at least once every five years

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, which was signed into law Aug. 7, 2014, contained significant civil service reforms that gave the VA secretary complete authority to fire corrupt or incompetent senior executives. In remarks before signing the act, President Obama said, “If you engage in an unethical practice, if you cover up a serious problem, you should be fired. Period. It shouldn’t be that difficult.” Despite this fact, accountability remains extremely scarce at the department. In fact, in the wake of the biggest scandal in VA history, which centered on appointment wait time manipulation, not a single VA senior executive has been fired for wait time manipulation. Meanwhile, VA employees at the heart of the scandal have been placed on paid administrative leave for months on end.

Hagel Instructs Services to Embrace VSO/MSO Support

At the urging of the AUSA and others , Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has signed two policy memorandums that direct the military services to allow veteran and military service organizations greater and more standardized access to installations and their troops and families. AUSA worked with Defense Department staff to shape the new policy in two ways: to increase national service officer presence on installations, and to create greater troop and military family awareness of support programs

New Study on Veteran Suicide and Update on SAV Act

A recent study of Iraq and Afghanistan era veterans finds that recently discharged veterans are up to 61 percent more likely to commit suicide compared to the United States general population. The study found that more than 9,300 recently discharged veterans committed suicide between 2001 and 2007. The study found that suicide risk was higher among recently discharged veterans who are younger, male, white, unmarried, enlisted and Army/Marine veterans. The VFW has made a concerted effort to address this important issue by helping to shape, and advocating for the passage of, H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act. This important bill was passed unanimously in the House last week and cleared an important procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday. The VFW is hopeful that the Senate will pass the SAV Act soon and send it to the President for his signature. Read about the suicide study. Watch the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ markup of the SAV Act.

Devil's Brigade to Receive Congressional Gold Medal

Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that the U.S.-Canadian 1st Special Service Force, known as the "Devil's Brigade," will be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal in a Feb. 3 ceremony inside the U.S. Capitol. According to press reports, the Devil’s Brigade was similar to today’s Green Berets. They operated primarily in Italy and southern France, and were responsible for 12,000 German casualties and capturing 7,000 prisoners. The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation's highest award for distinguished achievement. Recent military recipients have included the Tuskegee Airmen, Native American Code Talkers, Women Air Service Pilots, the Japanese-American WWII units 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service, Montford Point Marines, the 65th Infantry Regiment “Borinqueneers” and the Doolittle Raiders.

VA Kicks Off Its Yearly Art Competition

Every year, VA hosts a National Veterans Creative Arts Competition to harness the therapeutic powers of art and competition. This year’s competition began on January 1, 2015, with a local phase at nearly every VA facility. Veterans interested in participating can submit their art, music, dance or creative writing entries to their local VA facility’s recreation/creative arts therapy department. Learn more about VA’s National Veterans Creative Arts Competition.

Vietnam War MIA Recovered

The Defense POW/MIA Office announced the identification of remains belonging to Air Force Capt. Richard D. Chorlins, 24, of University City, Mo., who was piloting an A-1 Skyraider aircraft on a night strike mission over the Mu Gia Pass in Laos when his aircraft was shot down by enemy ground fire on Jan. 11, 1970. He was assigned to the 602nd Special Operations Squadron, 34th Tactical Group. He will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.

Vets' Groups Send Wish List to Hill

Four of the nation's largest veterans' service organizations presented its annual
independent budget for the 114th Congress, calling for increased attention to health
care, infrastructure, education, employment, training, and memorial affairs. The four
groups – American Veterans (AMVETS), Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) called upon Congress and the White House to address:

Timely access to health care at the Department of Veterans Affairs, with enough funding
to enable VA to solve its information-technology, scheduling, and wait-time issues, among
others. The organizations believe last year's funding levels fell $2 billion short for
fiscal year 2015, which began Oct. 1, and will fall another $500 billion short for fiscal
year 2016.

Resolving the claims processing and appeals quagmire. The groups state that the target
established five years ago, to resolve claims with 98-percent accuracy within 125 days
y the end of 2015, is unrealistic. More training at VA, greater deference to private
evidence that supports a veteran's claim, and strengthening of the decision-review
officer program are necessary, the groups said.

More oversight and income credits, and other improvements, for VA in-home caregivers.
More attention to the needs of female veterans. The VA needs to enhance gender-specific
rograms, take steps to ensure timely and quality access to care, and join with the
Defense Department to eliminate sex-related crimes from their respective cultures.

TRICARE Patients Must Attest to Health Care Coverage

 WASHINGTON, Jan. 15, 2015 – As tax season begins, Defense Department officials want to remind TRICARE beneficiaries of changes in the tax laws, which require all Americans to have health care insurance or potentially pay a tax penalty.

For the first time since the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, all U.S. citizens, including service members, military retirees and their family members, must report health care coverage on their 2014 taxes, said Mark Ellis, a Defense Health Agency health care operations program analyst. For this year only, taxpayers will “self-attest” on their 2014 tax forms to each month in which they had health care coverage, he said.

 

Meets Minimal Essential Coverage

The act mandates that health care must meet minimum essential coverage, and TRICARE coverage meets that criteria for the majority of service members and their families, Ellis said.

TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Standard, TRICARE for Life, TRICARE Overseas, TRICARE Remote and the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan meet the minimum essential coverage, he added. When purchased, premium-based plan such as TRICARE Reserve Select or TRICARE Retired Reserve also fulfill the act’s requirements.

Uniformed service members who have questions about TRICARE, the act and the individual coverage mandate can visit the TRICARE website to download a fact sheet on TRICARE and the act, with TRICARE plans compared to minimum essential coverage, Ellis said.

Military beneficiaries that are solely eligible for care in military hospitals and clinics, for example, parents and parents-in-law, have an automatic exemption from the tax penalty for tax year 2014 only.

(NOTE: The TRICARE and ACA fact sheet is available at http://www.tricare.mil/~/media/Files/TRICARE/Publications/FactSheets/ACA...)

The site also has suggestions for those who need to purchase coverage to meet the act’s minimum requirements, he noted. That could include retired reservists, Selected Reserve members, young adults up to age 26 and those who leave military service but need transitional coverage, Ellis said.

TRICARE beneficiaries with tax questions should contact the Internal Revenue Service or their tax advisers, he emphasized.

“The experts there can help them,” Ellis said.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story stated that TRICARE would send tax forms to its customers in January 2015. That was incorrect. TRICARE customers, like all filers, will self-attest on their 2014 tax returns, no health care coverage forms will be mailed.

 COLA Count Starts Out Underwater

Through three months of the counting period toward the January 2016 federal retiree COLA, the count stands at -1.8 percent, following drops in each of the three months in the inflation index used to set the COLA, including a 0.7 point drop in December. If the count finishes in negative territory—as it did in several recent years—benefits would be frozen but not reduced. The issuance of the December figure finalizes at 0.3 percent the next adjustment to be paid to beneficiaries under the FECA injury compensation program. Their COLAs, which are effective annually in March and paid in April, are based on a calendar year count while federal retirement COLAs are based on a fiscal year count.

VA Issues Statement on Denver VA Replacement Medical Center

 The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to work to complete the Denver replacement VA Medical Center project without further delay while delivering the best value to taxpayers under current circumstances. The situation in Denver is unacceptable to Veterans, taxpayers and Department leadership.

Our obligation is to ensure VA doesn’t allow such an outcome to occur again by learning all we can from past mistakes and put in place corrective actions to improve future performance. Veterans and taxpayers also expect a thorough review be completed and those responsible are held accountable. With these objectives in mind, the following actions are being taken:

 As previously announced, VA is partnering with the Army Corps of Engineers to advise on the current construction and on the overall management of this project as part of the transition to negotiate a long-term contract and manage the project until completion.

Today, we are announcing that VA has requested that the Corps complete a detailed examination of the VA major construction program to improve management processes, structures, and controls ‎in project oversight and delivery.

The Department is also convening an Administrative Investigation Board to review all aspects of the Denver project to determine the facts that led to the current situation and gather evidence of any misconduct or mismanagement that contributed to this unacceptable outcome.

Effective immediately, the Department’s Construction and Facility Management organization will report to the Deputy Secretary through the Office of Management.

 VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson was onsite at the Denver replacement project today and will continue regular visits to the site. VA senior leadership is actively engaged on the project, and the facility construction continues to progress. We are continuing to work with our partners to ensure timely completion of the project for the Veterans of the Colorado area.

The Independent Budget Policy Book Released

On Thursday, January 15, the Independent Budget, a partnership between AMVETS, Disabled American Veterans, Paralyzed Veterans of America and the VFW, released its 114th Congress Policy Recommendations Book. Inside you will find recommendations for improving access and quality of health care, timely and accurate disability claims processing, employment and education benefits, construction issues, and burial benefits. To see these recommendations click here.

SAV Act Receives Unanimous Support in the House and Consideration in the Senate

H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, a bill that the VFW helped shape and strongly supports, passed unanimously in the House this week with a vote of 403 to 0. This critical legislation would begin to address the crisis of veterans’ suicide by allowing the VA to hire more psychiatrists, collaborate with local non-profit mental health organizations, and expand its successful peer support networks. The SAV Act passed the House last Congress, but was stalled in the Senate due to procedural difficulties, despite broad bipartisan support. The VFW continues to work closely with the bill’s Senate sponsors, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) along with Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) to ensure its swift passage in the Senate. Check back for updates and be on the lookout for Action Alerts as the SAV Act moves through the legislative process. SVAC is scheduled to hold a markup on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, to consider Committee action on this important bill. The Committee’s markup will be streamed live.

TRICARE Will No Longer Provide Certificates of Coverage

Due to changes made by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), insurers cannot deny coverage based on preexisting conditions. Thus, veterans who lose TRICARE coverage will no longer be required to prove they were covered for their existing malaises when applying for health insurance coverage after leaving TRICARE coverage. Beneficiaries will continue to receive notice that their TRICARE coverage is ending. Read more.

VA Publishes GI Bill Feedback System Report

Last year, the GI Bill Feedback System was launched to help the VA and its agency partners weed out fraud and abuse within educational institutions that serve student veterans. The VFW was a strong proponent of the system, which allows veterans, service members and eligible dependents who use GI Bill benefits, military Tuition Assistance, or other federal aid, the ability to report fraud, waste and abuse securely online. A recently published report showed that the system received 2,254 complaints between January 30, 2014, and November 4, 2014, of which 1,434 were considered “Principles of Excellence” complaints relating to serious violations such as failure to disclose important information and deceptive recruiting practices. The most serious complaints prompted VA to investigate 42 educational programs, and it has withdrawn approval for two programs so far. Read the report and find out which programs received complaints. Student veterans who wish to file complaints through the system can find information here.

POW/MIA Mission Merger Moves Forward

The Pentagon announced interim leadership to guide the reorganization of the three largest military organizations involved in the POW/MIA accounting mission. Navy Rear Adm. Michael Franken will be the agency’s interim director. Air Force Maj. Gen. Kelly McKeague, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command's current commander, will serve as deputy director, and Army Lt. Gen. Michael Linnington, the military deputy to the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, will be the agency’s senior DOD adviser. The decision to merge was made last year by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after the accounting community came under intense congressional scrutiny. Being merged are the Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, and the Air Force Life Science Equipment Laboratory. The consolidation encompasses all field and headquarters-related activities, to include policy guidance, archival research and analysis, worldwide investigations and recovery operations, among others. “Mission accomplishment is what’s important to the VFW,” said VFW National Commander John Stroud, “and we look forward to working with the new leadership to help keep America’s promise to our military and all their families that we will not leave a fallen comrade on the battlefield.”

MIAs From Three Wars Identified

The Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office announced the identification of remains belonging to one Marine and two soldiers who had been missing in action from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Identified are:

  • Marine Corps Pvt. Jack M. Redman, 20, from Watseka, Ill., was lost on Nov. 20, 1943, during the Battle of Tarawa. He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. He will be buried with full military honors on a date/location yet to be announced.
  • Army Sgt. Joseph M. Snock Jr., 21, from Westmoreland, Pa., was lost on Nov. 30, 1950, in North Korea, where it would be learned he died as a prisoner of war. He was assigned to Heavy Mortar Company, 31st Infantry Regiment. He will be buried with full military honors on a date/location yet to be announced. 
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class James W. Holt, 26, of Hot Springs, Ark., was lost Feb. 7, 1968, in Vietnam. He was assigned to Company C, 5th Special Forces Group. He will be buried with full military honors on a date/location yet to be announced.