Retiree & Veteran Affairs Newsletter 2 November 2015
The Affordable Care Act, your taxes and you
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all Americans including all military members (active duty, retired, Selected Reserve, or Retired Reserve) and their eligible family members must have health care coverage that meets a minimum standard called minimum essential coverage or pay a fee. Your TRICARE coverage meets the minimum essential coverage requirement under the ACA.
"The term "active duty" means full-time duty in the active service of a uniformed service for more than 30 consecutive days".
Beginning in January 2016, DFAS will be providing IRS Form 1095-C to all U.S. military members, and IRS Form 1095-B to all Retirees, Annuitants, former spouses and all other individuals having TRICARE coverage during all or any portion of tax year 2015. An IRS Form 1095 documents you (and your family members, if applicable) have the minimum essential coverage. More information will be forthcoming about the delivery method of these forms.
These forms will document the information that DFAS will provide to the IRS on yourself and your authorized family members. The forms will be required to be reported with your 2015 federal tax return. DFAS will provide you with IRS Form 1095 series forms no later than Jan. 31, 2016
You can act now to make sure your forms remain secure once they are available using myPay. Just look for the link to "Turn On/Off Hard Coy of IRS Form 1095" in your account and select Electronic Delivery Only. Your information will remain safe until you need it.
Partial Base Closing
Faced with 18 percent excess infrastructure but no chance of Congress approving another round of base closing anytime soon, the Army has authorized post commanders to move soldiers and civilian workers out of aging, low-efficiency buildings into new spaces. The older buildings will be mothballed and ultimately demolished.
What to watch: There could be savings on maintenance and utility costs by moving out of old buildings and into newer ones. Demolition of the empty buildings would require congressional approval to pay for the cost of tearing them down.
Joint Hearing on DOD/VA Interoperability
On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology (IT) and the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a joint hearing on the interoperability of DOD and VA electronic health care records. During the hearing, the DOD and the VA assured committee members that they would meet interoperability goals for 2015. The Government Accountability Office testified that fully interoperable health care systems are still years away. Committee members discussed the need for a more seamless transfer of health care data between the departments and private sector health care providers. To view a video of the hearing and read the testimony, click here.
Senate Holds Hearing on Mental Health
On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing titled, “VA Mental Health: Ensuring Access to Care.” The hearing followed the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that clearer guidance on mental health access policies and wait time data is needed at the VA. A representative from the GAO testified on the report, stating that the VA’s policy of calculating wait times from the “preferred date,” a date determined by the VA scheduler when the appointment is made, often does not accurately reflect the wait time perceived by the veteran. This corroborates a concern that the VFW has consistently expressed that the wait times reported by the VA do not match those actually experienced by veterans. The GAO recommended that the VA reevaluate the way it calculat es wait times. The VFW believes that it is critically important that the VA accurately report wait times to ensure that veterans are receiving timely care. Another topic included in the hearing was the VA’s inability to hire providers quickly due to cumbersome federal hiring regulations. Watch a webcast of the hearing.
Bipartisan Budget Deal Clears Congress
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a newly announced two-year budget deal with a vote of 392 to 37. The Senate followed suit early Friday morning with a 64-35 vote. The deal was the result of negotiations between congressional leadership and the White House. It would increase the Budget Control Act budget caps that were established in 2011 by providing an $80 billion budget increase divided equally among defense and domestic accounts over the next two years. Although the deal fails to permanently repeal sequestration, it does provide the DOD and the VA two years of budget predictability near the president’s requested levels, which would improve the administration’s ability to carry out a strong national defense strategy and fully support service members, veterans and their families. The deal would also fix the Social Security disability insurance shortfall, reduce the Medicare Part B premium increase for this year for those expecting an increase, and raise the debt limit. The bill now heads to the president for his signature. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates on this important bill.
Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act Passes Congress
On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, legislation was strongly supported. Having already passed the House, the bill now heads to the president’s desk for his signature. Once it becomes law, it will provide federally employed disabled veterans with 104 hours of “Wounded Warrior leave” during their first year of employment that may be used to seek care for their service-connected disabilities. Thanks goes to Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), as well as Representative Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), for their leadership on this issue and their bipartisan effort in securing the passage of this important bill.
TRICARE Young Adult Premiums Going Up
This week, the DOD announced significant premium increases for the TRICARE Young Adult program. Under the new rates, effective January 1, 2016, TRICARE Young Adult Prime will increase from $208 to $306 per month and TRICARE Young Adult Standard will increase from $181 to $228. The program, which began in 2011, allows adult children of TRICARE beneficiaries to receive coverage until age 26. One of the statutory requirements when the program was created was that it remain cost-free to taxpayers. The rise in premiums represents a higher-than-expected usage rate of the program. These increases do not affect other TRICARE beneficiaries. Find out more.
Pay & Benefits Uncertainty Tops New Family Survey
Military pay and retirement benefits changes are the top two concerns of the just released Blue Star Families’ 2015 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. The uncertainty in budget and continued opportunity to serve in uniform has created a theme of “eyes on the exits,” said Cristin Orr Shiffer, the nonprofit group’s deputy director of research and policy, in a Military Times article. The VFW-supported survey, now in its sixth edition, surveyed almost 6,300 military service members, spouses and veterans. Regarding obstacles to financial readiness, respondents cited uncertainty in military life, spouse employment, and benefits uncertainty and changes as their top three concerns. 75 percent of spouses reported that being a military spouse negatively impacted their ability to pursue a career. On the upside, 87 percent of respondents reported the military did prepare them to be a leader in the civilian workplace and community, and 97 percent felt pride in their accomplishments during their service. Downloadthe survey.
Gulf War Illness Research Update
The Department of Veterans Affairs War Related Illness and Injury Study Center currently has several research studies at their East Orange, N.J., medical campus that may be of interest to Operation Desert Shield/Storm veterans and non-deployed Gulf War Era veterans. If you are a veteran from the 1990-91 era, or if you have Gulf War Illness or would like to know more about the research, please call 1-800-225-5170 or visit their Gulf War Research page.
Monuments Men Receive Congressional Gold Medal
On Oct. 22, four of six surviving members of the Monuments Men were present in the U.S. Capitol to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for their World War II service to find and secure priceless pieces of art that at the time were being plundered by Nazi Germany. Once 350-men strong from 14 allied countries, the Monuments Men were a little-known band of art curators, scholars and architects, until a movie by the same name was released last year. The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor. Read more about the presentation.
New Initiatives Aid Job-Seeking Spouses
In the four years since the Department of Defense (DoD) launched Military Spouse Employment Partnership, the program has helped over 70,000 military spouses find jobs with its corporate partners and worked to break down barriers that prevented employers from hiring them. It’s a remarkable success story, with more chapters being written as the partnership continues to look for ways to assist every military spouse who would like to find meaningful employment.
To help achieve that ambitious goal, C. Eddy Mentzer, an associate director in DoD’s Office of Family Readiness Policy, Military Community and Family Policy overseeing the partnership, announced several new initiatives: §
- The Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) is welcoming 35 to 40 new partners at the program’s annual induction ceremony on Wednesday, Oct. 28. “These new partners cover multiple sectors and industries and include nationally known companies, bringing new employment opportunities from great entry level positions to work-at-home options,” Mentzer said. He noted that these are well-known companies offering jobs at every level in the government space, hospitability and food service, the financial industry, recreation and travel, training and education companies, business and retail. “Our goal is to continue to find partners offering national and regional employment opportunities so that when spouses relocate, they can transfer within the company,” Mentzer said. §
- Spouses can gain access to MSEP partners through weekly LinkedIn group discussions. Every Thursday at noon these discussions feature a different corporate partner each week, allowing military spouses to directly question MSEP partners about a variety of employment issues. Spouses who can’t participate in real time are able to log in, listen to the session, and post questions for the partners to answer as soon as possible, Mentzer said. §
- Intro to Spouse Education and Career Opportunities (SECO) webinars will be held at noon on the first Tuesday of every month. These online discussions are designed to help military spouses navigate all the programs offered by SECO and MSEP and kick-start the employment search from the comfort of home. To participate in the webinars, Mentzer suggests military spouses register for an account through the MySECO website. By creating an account, spouses will gain access to exclusive content and receive personal invitations to future webinars. “Because webinars are limited in size, we utilize this invitation/RSVP system to ensure we are able to accommodate all interested spouses,” Mentzer said. §
- For budding entrepreneurs, DoD is partnering with the Small Business Administration (SBA) for a special webinar series starting in January. Held at noon on the first Wednesday of each month, the webinars will feature a different topic each session on starting a business. SBA experts will be on hand to answer questions, offer advice, and provide useful information. Follow the MSEP Facebook page for more information once released. §
- A counseling service is available on MilitaryOneSource. “These are master-level, certified professionals whose only job is helping military spouses find employment or build a career,” Mentzer said, adding that these aren’t one-time information dumps. Counselors can connect spouses to specific resources they may not be aware of, and will check back to see if the recommended resources actually helped, and if any additional assistance is needed.
Alice has been married to Brigadier General (retired) Robin P. Swan for 32 years. They have three children: Robin, Mary and Hannah. As a member of AUSA's spouse advisory group and blogger for dcmilitaryfamlife.com, Alice enjoys sharing news about important programs and issues that affect service members and their families in the Military District of Washington and around the world. If in some small way the information in her stories helps at least one military family, she’ll consider it a job well done.
Feedback Helps Shape Army Transition Programs
Many young soldiers getting out of the Army have unrealistic expectations about how much they can make in the private sector, and most don’t want to work in a civilian job using military-learned skills, a top Army official told Congress.
Brig. Gen. James T. Iacocca, the Army’s Adjutant General, told a House Armed Services Committee panel that the feedback received from soldiers who have taken part in the Soldier for Life transition assistance programs and workshops is helping shape the assistance.
In the past five years, transition assistance has grown as the Army is getting smaller, Iacocca said. There were 54 transition assistance centers five years ago, but 75 today, he said, with additional mobile transition teams helping Army Guard and Army Reserve units and assigned to demobilization stations. The number of staff and counselors has grown to 700 people, a more than 200 percent increase.
About 117,000 soldiers are expected to receive help from the program in fiscal year 2016, a 6 percent increase over 2015, he said.
Soldier for Life’s transition assistance provides counseling and workshops on finding jobs or using veterans’ education benefits. Part of the program is to provide guidance on career tracks, and ways to put a military-learned skill to use in the private sector.
“The Army continues to invest a tremendous amount of resources and deliberate planning to preserve the all-volunteer force,” Iacocca said. “We are committed to ensuring the soldiers who have sacrificed so much in service to America’s defense are taken care of as they begin the next chapter of their lives.”
Post-military assessments of transition help have been positive, said Susan Kelly, director of the Defense Department’s Transition to Veterans Program Office. The most recent survey found 83 percent believed they “gained valuable information and skills” from the counseling and workshops, 82 percent said the training “enhanced their confidence” and 83 percent said “they intended to use what they learned.”
Kelly said there also are increasing signs that service members are thinking and planning for post-service life long before attending transition assistance, although only 49 percent of service members said in a 2014 survey that they felt their commanders and senior leaders supported their planning for a post-military career.
Kelly said the Defense Department is not just helping service members prepare for the transition, but also is trying to prepare businesses to hire veterans. “We are working hard to increase the awareness of the valuable skill sets the service members can bring to every industry,” she said.
Military Retirees, Annuitants and Former Spouses -
The October 2015 Retiree Newsletter is ready for your review. It contains important information about when your 1099R will become available, how to access your 1099R, updating your email addresses, and educating your loved ones and beneficiaries.
To access the newsletter, please copy and paste the link below to your internet browser. You will find a list of topics in the newsletter with a brief description of each article.
After copying and pasting the link to your internet browser, click on the link for the article you want to read, and the full text will appear.
Obama vetoes National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)
To the surprise of few but the dismay of many last Thursday President Obama vetoed the NDAA which authorized the spending of $612 billion for the military in FY2016. To emphasis his disapproval President Obama vetoes the legislation in front of reporters.
The Administration’s main objection is that Congress increased defense spending by increasing the Overseas Contingency Operations Account while refusing to bust the Domestic Sequestration funding caps. (The NDAA authorized $89.2 billion in supplemental war funding, of which $38.3 billion would be for operation and maintenance at bases.)
The President said: “I’m going to be sending it back to Congress, and my message to them is very simple: Let’s do this right. We’re in the midst of budget discussions. Let’s have a budget that properly funds our national security as well as economic security.”
Not surprisingly the Republican response was fast and angry: “It’s sad to see our commander in chief embrace such a reckless political strategy,” said Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said was “bragging about using his veto pen” and that “this is the worst possible time for an American president to veto the national defense bill,” given the current deployment of U.S. troops overseas. Meanwhile the Chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) issued a joint statement saying that the veto is “not only unprecedented, but it is reckless, cynical, and downright dangerous….Never before has an American president used the bill that provides pay and support to our troops and their families as political leverage for his domestic agenda. At a time when crises around the world have never been greater, and when U.S. global leadership has never been weaker, this veto will only intensify the challenges we face while putting vital missions in danger.”
The NDAA included hundreds of provisions including the new “Blended” military retirement system that the Administration has fought to be adopted for years. It also included a dramatic overhaul of DoD’s acquisition process and would allow the Pentagon “to purchase commercial items (say, laptops) from nondefense contractors like Apple, and encourage Silicon Valley to do more to meet U.S. defense needs.”
Although the NDAA was passed with wide bi-partisan support to did not pass the House with over 2/3s of the vote (what is needed to override a veto so today it looks like the veto will not be overridden. (Although surely the Republicans will try.) With Speaker Boehner (R-OH) scheduled to leave at the end of this month and no new Speaker voted in it is very hard to predict what is going to happen.
In the short run the Department of Defense (like the rest of the federal government) is being funded by a CR that runs until December 11th. Of course we assume that budgetary talks between Congress and the White House are going on. But it is certainly possible that for the first time in 54 years.
HVAC Subpoenas VA Execs After No-Shows at Hearing
Five senior executives from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will now be compelled to testify before the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs (HVAC) after failing to show up at a recent hearing.
HVAC, chaired by Congressman Jeff Miller (R-FL), held a hearing last week to find out more about the VA's Inspector General report on accusations that VA executives Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves abused their positions in the department for personal gain by gaming system rules to obtain lower-responsibility positions while keeping higher salaries.
Rubens, Graves and other executives, including Danny Pummill, principal deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, were no-shows for the committee hearing, prompting a bipartisan, unanimous vote to subpoena the group for a Nov. 2 hearing.
Miller said that this was the first time that the committee has subpoenaed individuals to appear and provide testimony to the committee.
The controversy surrounds a Sept. 28 report from the VA inspector general that alleged Ruben and Graves created director vacancies in Philadelphia and St. Paul by pressuring directors there to take transfers.
The pair then resigned their higher positions to fill the vacancies, which had less responsibility but, through federal benefits rules, allowed them to keep their original salaries.
The VA also paid for the pair to relocate, with two extensions of benefits for Rubens’ move approved by Graves, her then subordinate.
Veterans Affairs Department Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey was called to testify before the committee on October 1. Hickey resigned her position on Oct. 16.
The requested witnesses are now subpoenaed to appear before the committee at a Nov. 2 hearing. Failure to appear would then put them in contempt of Congress and subject to arrest.
Military Health Care Fight is Taking Shape and the Issues Become a Little Clearer
Last week we participated in a teleconference meeting with members of the staff of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The MCRMC is a commission that was appointed by Congress to study current military pay and other compensation as well as the military retirement system.
The commission issued its final report earlier this year and it was the basis for the new military retirement system that Congress passed this year, although as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, it was vetoed last week by President Obama. However, since the President vetoed the bill because of how the measure is funded and not because of the change in the retirement system, if Congress and the President can eventually agree on a new defense policy bill it will most likely contain the new retirement system.
The reliance of Congress on the report of the MCRMC is important because the commission also included in its report recommendations on changing the current military health care system. In the teleconference last week, we learned that DoD is not supportive of the MCRMC recommendations. However, Congressional staff members are currently working on legislation for next year that will revamp the military health care system. We won’t know what those proposals will be until the President releases his FY2017 budget, which will be sometime next spring, probably in February or March.
But we did learn information which helped to understand what some of the issues are regarding military health care and we thought you might find the information both helpful and interesting.
To start with, health care providers receive the most money from patients with commercial health insurance that many or most employers provide for their employees. They receive about 20% less from Medicare and 20% less than that from TRICARE. So to begin with, many health care providers are not favorably disposed toward TRICARE.
On top of that, the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) has enrolled millions of new people into the health care system at the Medicare reimbursement rate. This means that the health care given to those new individuals who are now covered by the ACA will provide more income to health care providers than TRICARE patients will. Thus, there is even less incentive for health care providers to see TRICARE patients.
The MCRMC staff said there are only two options for dealing with this problem. The first is to increase the Tricare reimbursement rate. But the problem there is that the DoD budget is shrinking and DoD’s position is that it does not have more money to put into the TRICARE system if it is to maintain readiness. So the only other way to do that is to make beneficiaries pay more.
The second option, according to the MCRMC staff, is to completely transform the design of the military health care benefit. They insist that it can be done so that beneficiaries can receive the same or better health care without having to pay more, while also costing DoD less money for health care.
We are not going to go into the MCRMC recommendations here since Congress is now working on how to change military health care and they may, or may not adopt some or all of the MCRMC recommendations. Once we get reliable information about what Congress is proposing to do we will advise you. However, that is likely to be three or four months from now. We do know that DoD has complained about the cost of health care for retirees and has wanted to make retirees pay more. But it is not clear if such proposal will gain traction in Congress.
Whether it is called TRICARE or something else, we are committed to fighting to make sure you are not forced to pay more for your health care and that you keep the benefits you now have. That is how we will judge whatever new proposals come out of Congress.
“Pension Poaching” is a Growing National Problem
“Pension poaching,” a practice that is also known as a “pension advance,” is starting to grab the attention of regulators in Washington, DC.
Companies are buying the rights, for upfront cash, to collect military retirement checks or veterans' disability checks. While federal law already prohibits federal and military retirees from assigning their pensions to a third party, these companies skirt state and federal laws by requiring the retiree to deposit his or her pension in a separate bank account controlled by the firm.
While the companies market their services as a “pension advance,” the terms of the contract reveal that in reality the transaction is a loan. These “advances” require borrowers to sign over all or part of their monthly pension checks and carry interest rates that are often many times higher than those on credit cards.
These companies use deceptive marketing practices, and combined with the fact that in order to qualify for some of the loans borrowers are sometimes required to take out a life insurance policy that names the lender as the sole beneficiary, it is clear that this business practice offends one's sense of decency.
Recently we endorsed this year's version of the ASSURE Act, which seeks to rein in the worst of these abuses. It is sponsored by Representative Matt Cartwright (D-PA).
The ASSURE (Annuity Safety and Security Under Reasonable Enforcement) Act protects retirees by expanding Truth in Lending Act disclosure provisions to any situation where a federal or military pension is used as consideration for an “advance.” The bill also caps the interest rate on such an “advance” at prime plus six percent. Currently, there is no private right of action in many of the applicable federal statutes that prohibit pension assignments. This means that private individuals may not sue to enforce laws that are already on the books, instead it is up to governmental authorities to take action. The ASSURE Act also creates a private right of action allowing for the recovery of treble damages, court costs, and attorneys’ fees
Holly Petraeus, Assistant Director, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Office of Servicemember Affairs has been very forceful in speaking out about this issue; for more, go to:http://www.bankrate.com/financing/senior-living/cfpb-warns-of-pension-advances/)
This July the GAO released the details of its months-long undercover investigation into these companies ( available here:http://blog.gao.gov/2014/07/10/questionable-business-practices-and-pension-advances/).
These schemes are another variation on the predatory practices of payday lenders, whereby they prey on people who have a need for upfront cash in the near term and sucker them in to accepting onerous terms that they never would have agreed to had they been fully aware of them. It is a shame that certain individuals would target disabled vets or military retirees who have fallen on hard times. The more we can do to shine a light on their business practices and to hold them accountable, the better.
If you or anyone you know has fallen prey to one of these schemes, please send an email to [email protected] or call 703-684-1981.
Specialty Care Referrals for TRICARE Prime Subscribers
Many TRICARE Prime beneficiaries receive primary care from providers in military hospitals and clinics. Occasionally, they may need to receive specialty care. When this happens, they must receive a referral from their primary care manager (PCM).
Getting a referral makes sure your regional or overseas contractor authorizes the care before you make an appointment. TRICARE rules require that if the care you need is available at a military hospital or clinic near you, and there is space available, you will be referred there first. Military hospitals and clinics have 90 minutes to accept urgent referrals and two business days to accept referrals for routine care. If your local military hospital or clinic does not accept the referral within that time, you will be referred to a network provider near you.
Your regional contractor will send a letter with the name and location of your specialty provider. The letter will also tell you what care is authorized, the length of time you are authorized to receive that care, and the type and number of visits you are allowed before you need another referral.
Before making an appointment with the specialty care provider, call your regional contractor 3-5 days after the PCM enters the referral to check the status. Try to take copies of your medical records, x-rays and lab results with you to see the specialist.
If you are overseas and are referred to a host nation provider, be sure to coordinate your care through your overseas contractor.
USO Volunteers Offer Hope to Service Membe
The USO volunteer force brings hope to service members in every corner of the planet, Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva said last week at the 2015 annual USO Gala and awards ceremony held in Washington, D.C.
Selva was the keynote speaker at the formal event where an estimated 1,000 dignitaries, military leaders, Congressional members and USO board of governors and sponsors gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
“It is an absolute privilege to stand before you this evening and say the two words in the English language that are wholly inadequate to this evening’s event: ‘Thank you,’” Selva told the USO volunteers. “Thank you for what you do every day for the soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guardsmen and National Guardsmen who defend freedom and liberty for this nation every day.”
The sun was just casting its morning shadows in the mountains of Afghanistan and dawn had yet to break in Baghdad, the vice chairman said, “But somewhere out there tonight, a soldier, sailor, airman, Marine, Coast Guardsman or a member of our National Guard is defending the freedoms and liberty that you and I hold dear. And we all owe you a debt of gratitude because standing next to that young man or woman is the spirit of the [USO].”
USO Volunteers are Special
USO volunteers touch 75,000 lives every day, Selva said. The vice chairman said he and his wife recently visited USO volunteers working in mortuary affairs at Dover Air Force Base, where they “provided loving embraces to families who had lost loved ones.” It takes a special kind of person to open his or her heart to families who are grieving, Selva noted.
“I’m humbled tonight,” he said. “I’m not here as a senior military leader or as an officer in the United States Air Force, but as a citizen of the United States, a member of the greatest nation in the world that is defended by some of the greatest young men and women humanity has to offer.”
Selva thanked the USO for “not for standing in our shadow, but for standing by our side and taking care of us and our families when it’s most important. When we need a little touch of home, we know you will always be by our side.”
Secretary of the Army McHugh retires
Below is an article from the Army News Service covering Secretary McHugh’s retirement ceremony.
Army Secretary John M. McHugh reviews an Army honor guard formation during a farewell ceremony in his honor on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., Oct. 23, 2015. DoD photo by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
WASHINGTON, October 24, 2015 — Army Secretary John M. McHugh exemplifies leadership through heart and mind, through logic and strength and civility, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday at McHugh’s farewell tribute.
“Throughout a consequential career, he's earned a reputation for examining problems -- and devising solutions -- in innovative ways, and in doing so, has broadened our national security perspective, and helped to get our Army to the right place," Carter said during the ceremony at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall.
A former U.S. Congressman from New York, McHugh assumed the mantle of 21st secretary of the Army in September 2009, and is the second-longest serving Army secretary.
As secretary, McHugh was responsible for all matters related to the Army, including manpower, personnel, reserve affairs, installations, environmental issues, weapons systems and equipment acquisition, communications, and financial management. The Army's peak budget during his tenure sat at $243 billion. Army manpower now includes more than 1.1 million soldiers across all three components, and more than 221,000 Army civilians.
A Steward and a Reformer
"As secretary, John offered the Army a steady hand, providing constancy through four secretaries of defense and four Army chiefs," Carter said. "Among many other challenges, John managed the drawdown of our ground forces from two all-in fights, where they performed magnificently.
“He did so in a way that honored the service and sacrifice they had made, and preserved the strength and readiness of the force. Among the many tough responsibilities of the secretary of the Army, maintaining accountability and integrity is paramount. Over six years, John McHugh has been an exemplary steward," the defense secretary said.
He also cited McHugh's efforts as secretary to improve conditions at Arlington National Cemetery following concerns about quality of care for the veterans that are buried there.
"John led sweeping reforms, ensuring that the final resting place for our nation's fallen heroes remains hallowed ground to honor and remember," Carter said. "It goes to show that in everything he did, John has always been, above all else, motivated by the people of our total Army."
The defense secretary noted that McHugh served during a time of great transition for the Army, including extensive budget cuts. He said McHugh led the Army though those transitions and has helped prepare it for an uncertain future.
"John has reset and recalibrated our force, and forged a strong foundation on which to build even greater excellence," Carter said. "In doing so, he will leave behind an Army that is better, stronger, and more prepared to succeed.
"Thank you for raising your right hand to serve," he said. "Thank you for your civility, your devotion to our people, and for making the most professional land force on Earth even stronger, and from me, for our lifelong friendship."
‘You Have Never Failed Us’
Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said that while he has only served alongside McHugh for about two months, the two first met much earlier in their careers, when he was himself a major, serving in the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, and McHugh had just become a U.S. congressman from New York's 24th District.
"He fought hard then for the U.S. Army and specifically the 10th Mountain and for all of the soldiers and their families who inhabited the north country," Milley said.
"He took that fight to here in D.C., and he has done that same fight for over six and a half years. As his fourth chief of staff in little over half a decade, I can tell you that it was John McHugh, perhaps more than any individual, who has brought stability to our Army, in so many ways and in so many difficult times," the general said.
"From private to general, you have never failed us," Milley told McHugh. "You fought hard for America's Army ... you have led us through a number of very significant transitions over time. You guided us through an Army in transformation, downsizing us by over 100,000 troops, most importantly, with compassion and genuine care."
Milley credited McHugh with leading the Army though declining budgets; increasing Army efficiency, competence, and adaptability; and realigning Army force structure. His leadership has assured the Army that it remains ready and the most capable army in the world, Milley said.
"Most movingly for all of us, I think, is your genuine and deep concern for our troops and their families. It was our guiding light as you visited our wounded and buried our dead. John McHugh has set and lived the example of a true professional, with incredible integrity and incredible civility, and through it all ... you never failed to champion the soldiers, the civilians, the families and the veterans of the U.S. Army. You have been a class act in every sense of the word."
Directing comments initially to Carter, McHugh thanked the secretary for his longtime friendship, and for being there in the Pentagon in various capacities for the duration of his own tenure as secretary of the Army.
"Every day has been a learning experience and I hope I've learned by your example and grown through your knowledge," McHugh said.
To Milley, he expressed confidence in the general's ability to lead the Army alongside the nominee for the secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning. Fanning now serves as acting undersecretary of the Army.
The secretary said that with Milley and Fanning at the helm, the Army has "the right leadership to take on the evolving challenges we see appearing before us. Thank you for being here today, but more importantly, for your decades of service. I look forward to watching you lead with your usual skill, determination, and success."
When he was sworn in as secretary of the Army in 2009, McHugh said, the Army was confronting a dangerous world and was engaged in two theaters of war at the same time -- but that there existed a "certain sense of stability." He said that at the time, the Army, for the most part, knew who its enemy was. "Beyond those two very dangerous conflicts, few new challenges, at least in the near term, were thought to be on the horizon," he said.
But no more, the secretary said. In the past 20 months, "that stability has largely evaporated -- dispersed by new threats and past adversaries."
What has also changed, McHugh said, are the resources the Army has to challenge the new uncertainty it faces. In 2009, the Army's base and overseas contingency operations budget amounted to about $235 billion, he said. Today, it’s about $150 billion. Coupled with that is a reduction in force. The active duty Army went from about 553,000 soldiers in 2009 to about 491,000 today -- with more cuts on the way, he said.
"There's less money, fewer soldiers, and more threats," the secretary said. “That's a posture largely unknown in our nation's history, and one that -- unless something somehow changes -- places this Army and indeed the very interests of this nation in a dark and dangerous place,” he said.
‘We All Must Find a Way to Do Better’
“This Army and America were born together forged from the fires of revolution and steeled through some 240 years of conflict and challenge. Through those times, no matter what this nation has asked, this Army has answered. No matter how steep the climb or how deep the valley, your Army made every necessary effort -- always reaching the top, always securing the objective," McHugh said.
He called on Congress, the administration, Pentagon leadership, and all American's to ensure that America's Army can continue to do the jobs they ask it to do.
"The people of this nation at large, we all must find a way to do better, because we know should we do even half as well by them -- the men, women, families and civilians of this Army and indeed all of our nation's services -- as they have done for us, America can, American will enjoy another 240 years of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness," the secretary said.
With the nearest grave in Arlington National Cemetery located about 1,000 feet from the podium, McHugh gestured toward the 250,000 graves, calling the audience's attention to "the lives, sacrifices and the incredible -- and too often, overlooked -- courage of American heroes and American veterans," he said. "From battles long past to those still before us, those markers serve as a constant reminder that we owe them so much.”
"In my now more than six years as secretary, since coming to the Pentagon, I have attended the memorial services at Arlington for dozens of such heroes," he said. "I take no joy in knowing that in the tomorrows that lie ahead, that number will rise. [Of those] so-called ordinary people leaving their so-called ordinary lives, in pursuit of extraordinary purpose, I cannot, indeed I did not improve or add the smallest measure to what they have done.
Rather, what I did try to do, what I hope that despite my many failings I did do to some degree, is focus my every effort to ensure that this nation stands by them as they have sacrificed for us. God bless them, America's heroes, God bless America, and God bless this great and glorious Army that keeps us free."
The secretary concluded with a simple "Good-bye," and then returned to his seat on the podium.
He, Carter and Milley finished the afternoon and McHugh's tenure as secretary, by observing a pass and review by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment; the United States Army Band, "Pershing's Own;" and the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
VA Primary Care Oversight Hearing
On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found VA lacks reliable data to properly determine the size and need of primary care panels. The GAO also found that VA lacks the proper quality assurance mechanisms to ensure the accuracy of self-reported data. Committee members discussed how VA can increase efficiency and access to primary care. VA described how its unique patient-centric medical home model of primary care delivery has improved the primary care it provides veterans. To view a video of the hearing, visit: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/evaluating-va-primary-care-delivery-workload-and-cost.
Veterans Education Oversight Hearing
Yesterday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing on VA’s Vet Success on Campus (VSOC) initiative. The program, which stations VA counselors at 94 schools across the country, is aimed at providing on-campus benefits assistance and career guidance to GI Bill beneficiaries. The VFW supported the establishment of VSOC. Although the subcommittee largely praised the program, they also uncovered significant opportunities for improvement, such as keeping VSOC counselors at the same schools longer for continuity purposes and ensuring that VSOC counselors are not tasked with additional duties by VA Regional Offices. To watch a video of the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/a-review-of-va-s-vetsuccess-on-campus-program.
House Holds OIG Report Hearing
On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “An Examination of the VA Office of Inspector General’s Final Report on the Inappropriate Use of Position and the Misuse of the Relocation Program and Incentives.” To watch the full hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/an-examination-of-the-va-office-of-inspector-general-s-final-report-on-the-inappropriate-use.
Two MIAs Recovered
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of two soldiers who had been missing in action since World War II and Korea. Being returned home for burial with full military honors are:
-- Army Pvt. John H. Klopp, 25, from New Orleans, La., was declared missing while fighting on Papua New Guinea on Dec. 5, 1942. He was assigned to the 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division.
-- Army Sgt. 1st Class Dean D. Chaney, from Ohio, was declared missing while fighting in North Korea on Nov. 28, 1950. It would be later learned he had been captured, but died in a POW camp. He was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division.
Retired Army Capt. Florent A. Groberg of Bethesda, Md., will receive the Medal of Honor for heroism he demonstrated during combat operations in Afghanistan in August 2012. President Obama will present the award to Groberg during a Nov. 12 White House ceremony. According to official records, Groberg was leading five soldiers on a security detail for senior leaders to meet with the provincial governor of Asadabad. Some 28 other coalition and Afghan security troops accompanied them. A man carrying a bomb emerged from a building, walking backwards, arousing suspicion from Groberg and Sgt. Andrew J. Mahoney, his radio operator. Groberg and Mahoney jumped on the would-be attacker and pushed him to the ground. Then Groberg pulled the trigger to detonate the bomb, killing the attacker. A second suicide bomber then managed to detonate his bomb, killing five persons on the mission, including fellow service members and a volunteer. Groberg was severely wounded, and medically retired from the Army as a result. He has since undergone 33 surgeries to keep from losing his leg. Mahoney earned a Silver Star for his role in the operation.
FIVE TIPS FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION: HOW TO PREPARE FOR YOUR SECOND CAREER
October 19th, 2015 12:16 PM
Stories by Ferdinand H. Thomas II, Senior Staff Writer
In recent years, more than 65,000 active-duty soldiers have separated from the Army annually, according to Department of the Army statistics. In fiscal year 2014, for example, more than 20,000 retired, while the remaining 45,000 separated either by choice or requirement.
No matter why they leave, most soldiers are seeking second careers. Many military occupational specialties mirror career opportunities in the civilian and federal sectors including logistics, intelligence and law enforcement. According to G.I. Jobs’ Top 20 Hot Jobs for Veterans 2015, operations management, information technology and engineering are some of the best careers for former soldiers to transition into because of the salaries, needs of the market and job security.
While some experts said combat arms is one of the more difficult military occupations to transition out of, others said all military skills are valuable on the outside. They just need to be articulated effectively on the resume.
1st Cavalry Division soldiers establish a defensive perimeter and set up communications in Baghdad.
(Credit: Ferdinand H. Thomas II)
Here’s some advice from experts and former soldiers about making a successful transition:
1. Get a Head Start
“Start early. [Almost] everyone, at some point, will transition from the Army into the civilian workforce,” said retired Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, who spent 36 years in uniform before retiring in 2011. He is now the Association of the U.S. Army’s director of NCO and soldier programs.
“If you have an end date for your term of service or a potential date when you will retire [or separate], backward plan to ensure you have everything in place for a smooth transition,” Preston said.
DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) ensures that soldiers start planning their transition from the military no later than 12 months prior to separation. Carlos Rodriguez, transition service manager for Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., said retiring soldiers should start preparing 24 months before leaving the military; separating soldiers should begin 18 months ahead of time. He adds that soldiers can utilize TAP services at any time, even if they haven’t yet made concrete plans about getting out.
The only soldiers who may receive less than 12 months’ time to complete our programs are those who are involuntarily separated on short notice. We still make sure those soldiers receive as much help from TAP as possible.
“The only soldiers who may receive less than 12 months’ time to complete our programs are those who are involuntarily separated on short notice,” Rodriguez said. “We still make sure those soldiers receive as much help from TAP as possible.”
Every soldier has specific benchmarks to reach during the TAP process. They include creating an individual transition plan, and learning how military skills translate to civilian occupations. Troops also complete a Department of Labor workshop that includes help with writing a resume.
Shortly after marking her sixth year of service, former Spc. Jessica Randon separated from the Army after failing to meet physical fitness standards. She received a little over a month’s notice that the Army was processing her out. Quickly separating from the Army can be challenging, she said, but “as soon as I had an idea that I was finished, I started preparing. I didn’t wait.” She now works for TRICARE doing clinical work for inpatient services.
“Start early—earlier than you think you need to,” said Randy Noller, an intergovernmental affairs representative with the VA. “And be honest with yourself regarding your skills. One might even say humble yourself just enough to be realistic.”
2. Advance Your Education
Soldiers who achieve more education make themselves more valuable both in and out of uniform, Preston said. The skills gained through education become a force multiplier—that is, something that dramatically increases the effectiveness of a mission.
Preston said envisioning the inevitable and embracing the changes to come helped him strategize for the future. That led to him earn his MBA during his years on active duty.
“Education, both formal and job experience, serves as credentials in the civilian workforce,” Preston said. “To be competitive in today’s workforce, you need a college degree.”
A soldier and state university system representative confer during a Soldier for Life Transition Summit at Fort Benning, Ga.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Noelle Wiehe)Spc. Joshua Robinson, Third Squadron, 108th Cavalry Regiment, Georgia Army National Guard in Kosovo, consults a “Military to Civilian Thesaurus” as he builds his resume during a workshop.
(Credit: Vermont Army National Guard/Spc. Joshua Barnett)
Noller advised soldiers who “don’t have a degree in the field you want to work in” to “start using the education benefits and go to school full-time now.”
According to VA researchers, from 2000 to 2009 about 15 percent of veterans achieved their bachelor’s degree while still in uniform. Almost 10 percent earned an advanced degree while serving.
Opening the doors of increased responsibility in the civilian workforce requires undergraduate and graduate-level education. So backward plan from your exit date, and set goals to increase your civilian education throughout your Army career.
—Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston, USA Ret.
“Opening the doors of increased responsibility in the civilian workforce requires undergraduate and graduate-level education,” Preston said. “So backward plan from your exit date, and set goals to increase your civilian education throughout your Army career.”
3. Find a Mentor
“Get a mentor,” said U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Jhamon Grant, 321st Sustainment Brigade materiel maintenance NCO. He believes it’s hard to go wrong when you take advice from someone who’s already walked the path you’re about to take.
Get a mentor. Some of the most successful people in history achieved their goals because they received guidance from those before them.
—Army Reserve Sgt. Jhamon Grant
Grant is currently between civilian jobs but is actively looking for work. He said his mentors are helping guide him through the process: “Some of the most successful people in history achieved their goals because they received guidance from those before them.”
Grant said he has multiple senior NCOs as mentors in the 321st. Those mentors are helping him make the right decisions for the future in his quest to find the ideal job.
4. Believe in Yourself
Misha King served about a decade in uniform before separating as a sergeant. Now a congressional affairs specialist with Defense Contract Management Agency, she said being persistent pays off. After all, she said, no one will work as hard for you as you will work for yourself.
Don’t be afraid to call and bug folks for information. Put together a plan of action based on your findings, and execute. I started applying on USAJobs.gov at least six months prior to separating. I was lucky and was able to separate and start my new job one week later.
“Don’t be afraid to call and bug folks for information,” she said. “Put together a plan of action based on your findings, and execute. I started applying on USAJobs.gov at least six months prior to separating. I was lucky and was able to separate and start my new job one week later,” she said.
Soldiers meet with civilian recruiters during a job fair at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.
(Credit: U.S. Army/Rob Martinez)
She added that having a positive attitude and keeping your goals in mind are paramount. Securing a job in the civilian sector may stretch out for weeks or even months. The positive attitude can help during the wait; having specific goals will help you hone in on career opportunities.
“Never believe that skills acquired in uniform do not translate into value” in the private sector, said retired Col. James P. Hogan, president of the Association of the U.S. Army’s Audie Murphy (North Texas) chapter. “Connect to services that can assist you in translating military skill sets into civilian language.” After Hogan retired, he worked as a consultant in the automotive industry and branched into entrepreneurship. He is partnered with iMatter, LLC, a coaching company that helps entrepreneurs achieve their career and life goals.
Ted Daywalt is chief executive officer of VetJobs.com, an online website geared to help veterans transition into civilian careers. He said growing a network of friends in the civilian workforce prior to transitioning is a good thing. After all, sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know.
“Network, network, network,” he said. “The opportunities to network outside of the military are more available for active-duty troops than ever before. The Internet serves as that game-changer. Resources like LinkedIn and other social media outlets for professional growth give troops a way to communicate with potential employers long before leaving the military.”
Daywalt, a retired Navy officer, said he founded VetJobs.com because he noticed veterans having issues finding civilian jobs after successful military careers. He wanted to make a difference assisting the nation’s heroes.
The opportunities to network outside of the military are more available for active-duty troops than ever before. The Internet serves as that game-changer.
Daywalt said two of the most important points of networking are keeping a great attitude, and following up with contacts. After all, approaching the civilian job market is a game of strategy. Every move counts.
No COLA for 2016
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced last Thursday that Federal and military retirees, as well as disabled veterans will not receive a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2016.. Therewill be no benefit increase largely due to low gas prices.
The COLA, which is determined by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), measures price changes in food, housing, gas and other goods and services. This is only the third time in 40 years that there hasn’t been a COLA.
Many federal retirees will feel the pinch of no COLA because of a jump in Medicare Part B premiums, which are estimated to increase by more than 50 percent next year.
Since there is not a COLA increase, a “hold harmless” provision, originally passed in 1988, takes effect. This provision prohibits premium increases higher than the COLA increase to Social Security payments, so as to not erode the value of Social Security.
According to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, “approximately 70 percent of beneficiaries are expected not to see a premium increase in 2016.”
However, because of a glitch in the law, 30 percent of beneficiaries are not protected by the hold harmless provision and would see a steep Part B premium increase. This group includes those who enter the Medicare system next year; those who pay their Medicare premiums directly instead of having them deducted through Social Security; or those who are making at least $85,000 for an individual and $170,000 for a married couple.
Federal retirees who retired under the older Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) are a large portion of those who may be affected. Under CSRS, there is no Social Security benefit and Medicare premiums are paid directly. Although many federal retirees are now under the newer Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), most federal workers who began civil service prior to Jan. 1, 1987, fall under CSRS.
A similar scenario took place in 2010 and 2011, which was the last time COLA did not increase. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have recently introduced legislation to make the hold harmless provision applicable to all Medicare beneficiaries.
November Paychecks for Some Could be Delayed if Debt Ceiling Increase is NotApproved
We have learned that if an increase in the federal debt ceiling is not approved, some workers could have their paychecks delayed. Just last week the Secretary of the Treasury moved up the date at which the federal government will no longer be able to borrow money to November 3 – two days earlier than previously estimated. If the government cannot borrow money, it could default on its loans.
This has become a very hot political issue in Washington and it may be used by Congressional Republicans to try and force some concessions on other issues from the White House.
However, if no agreement can be reached in time, forcing the government to default on loans is a very risky proposition.
According to the information we have, retirees, military officers and federal workers are the ones who could have their paychecks delayed. We are going to check and try to find out more information and make sure it is only military officers and not enlisted personnel who would be affected. We also want to make sure that the retirees being referred to are federal civilian retirees and not military. We hope to have further information for you in next week’s update.
Women to be Subject to Draft Registration Says Secretary of the Army
Secretary of the Army John McHugh recently stated that with the opening of almost all military occupations to women, he believes women will become subject to draft registration. According to McHugh, "If your objective is true and pure equality then you have to look at all aspects" of the roles of women in the military, and registration for the draft "will be one of those things.That will have to be considered."
He also said that is not something that can be decided by the Army or by the Department of Defense, but Congress has to make that decision. But he believes that debate will be coming. His remarks come on the heels of others made this summer at a meeting of the Aspen Institute.
During a panel discussion there, retired Navy Adm. Eric Olson, former commander of
the SEALs and the Special Operations Command, said that women should have to register for the draft if they also can serve in combat. On a separate panel, Air Force Secretary Deborah James said that she would have no problem with women registering for the draft.
Since we now have an all volunteer military, many people don’t realize that draft registration is still a legal requirement for all males when they reach age 18. There have been discussions of abolishing the Selective Service System but so far no such legislation has made it through Congress.
What the reaction of the American public would actually be if the draft were reinstated and young women actually were drafted is an interesting subject for discussion.
University of Phoenix Kicked Off of DOD Facilities
The University of Phoenix, a for-profit school that is the largest in the country, was suspended from recruiting on military bases and from receiving Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding by the Department of Defense (DOD).
There have been allegations that the University of Phoenix used job fairs as de facto recruiting events, which constitute a violation of an executive order preventing for-profit colleges from gaining preferential access to the military.
No new or transfer students will be permitted to receive DOD tuition assistance at the
University of Phoenix. The institution will not be authorized access to DoD installations for the purposes of participating in any recruitment-type activities, including but not limited to job training, and career events and fairs, according to a press release issued by DOD.
Members of the military who are currently enrolled at the university can continue to receive funding from the department’s TAP program to pay for school. No word yet on how long the university will be kept on probation as a review of the school’s actions is still under way. Nearly 10,000 service members attended the University of Phoenix last year with the help of the Defense Department’s tuition program.
The University of Phoenix is the largest recipient of federal student aid for veterans, taking in nearly $1.2 billion in Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits since 2009. DOD's action has no bearing on whether the school can receive Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, which are allocated through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
According to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has been fighting for years to rein in some of the worst abuses of the for-profit college industry, the University of Phoenix has “below-average graduation rates and a student loan default rate almost 40 percent higher than the national average.”
Durbin, along with Sens. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CN), introduced legislation in June to close a loophole in the so-called 90/10 rule, which prohibits for-profit colleges from getting more than 90 percent of their operating revenue from federal student aid funding. Money from the G.I. Bill and the TAP program does not count toward that threshold despite being federal aid.
Army Family Programs On the Chopping Block
If the forced cuts in spending continue, the Army has drawn up a list of family support programs that could be down-sized or totally cut. They came up with three lists. One is programs that are mandated by law and therefore have to be continued. They call these the “High Priority” list. The second is a list of programs, called “Moderate Priority,” that could be reduced or totally done away with and would have only a moderate impact on soldiers and their families. The third list is the “Low Priority” list, which includes programs that would have the least impact on soldiers and families if they were reduced or eliminated. This list includes things like Army golf courses, bowling alleys, arts and crafts programs and local installation support of the spouse scholarship program.
For right now, these lists provide guidance to local Army installation commanders in dealing with the situation at the local level but they could be used to make sweeping cuts nation-wide if the major cuts in funding that are scheduled to take place in the coming years are not stopped by Congress.
A spokeswoman said the Army will soon go back and review the lists to make sure they are accurate.
The Top Ten Congressional Districts With the Largest Numbers of Veterans
A new list has come out with the top ten Congressional districts in the country that have the largest veterans populations. There are veterans in every Congressional district but they tend to be clustered around active duty installations. In the list below, the district with the largest number of veterans, Virginia’s 2nd District, has Norfolk Naval Base in it. The number 2 district, Colorado’s 5th, has the Air Force Academy and also has Ft. Carson nearby.
The entire list is below. The names in the list are the members of Congress who represent the districts. The percentages are the percentage of all the veterans in the country that live in that district.
1. Scott Rigell, Virginia’s 2nd: 18.1 percent
2. Doug Lamborn, Colorado’s 5th: 17.2 percent
3. Jeff Miller, Florida’s 1st: 17.1 percent
4. Denny Heck, Washington’s 10th: 15.5 percent
5. Derek Kilmer, Washington’s 6th: 15.1 percent
6. Richard Nugent, Florida’s 11th: 14.9 percent
7. Rob Wittman, Virginia’s 1st: 14.8 percent
8. Paul Gosar, Arizona’s 4th: 14.4 percent
9. Bill Posey, Florida’s 8th: 14.2 percent
10. John Carter, Texas’s 31st: 13.4 percent
The Census Bureau defines a civilian veteran as a person who has served but isn’t currently on active duty in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or the Coast Guard, or who served in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II. The survey counts those who served in the National Guard or military reserves only if they were ever called or ordered to active duty.
New Medal of Honor Recipient Announced
The White House announced this week that President Obama will present the Medal of Honor on Nov. 12 to retired Army Capt. Florent A. “Flo” Groberg for tackling a suicide bomber in Afghanistan’s Kunar province three years ago. He was serving at the time as a personal security detachment commander for Task Force Mountain Warrior, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. According to an Army Times article, the bomber’s explosive vest detonated, as did one worn by a second suicide bomber, killing four Americans and wounding several others. But, had it not been for Groberg’s quick recognition and reaction to a threat, the planned simultaneous detonations could have caus ed far more casualties. Groberg, 32, is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in France who had spent the past three years recovering from his wounds at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. He was medically retired in July. He becomes the 10th living and 17th overall recipient of the nation’s highest award for valor for actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. Read more.
Grants Awarded to Train Veterans as Commercial Drivers
The Department of Transportation recently announced that it has awarded $2.3 million in grants to 13 technical and community colleges around the country to train veterans and their families to get jobs in the high-demand field of commercial truck driving. The recipients of the largest grants were given to the North Carolina Department of Transportation and to the Central Technical Center in Drumright, Oklahoma. The total grant amount of $2.3 million is double that of 2014. For more information including a complete list of grant awardees, click here.
The VA Launches Mobile App to Answer General Benefits Questions
The VA has launched “311 Vet,” which allows veterans to ask questions regarding VA benefits through a mobile app or text messages. If a veteran’s question is in the VA’s database, the answer will appear instantly. Questions not in the VA’s database are routed to benefits specialists, who the VA says will respond within minutes. Learn more.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced burial dates for four Korean War soldiers whose remains had been previously identified and returned to their families. To be buried with full military honors are:
- Army Cpl. Grant H. Ewing, 28, will be buried Oct. 19 in his hometown of Fort Lupton, Colo. Ewing was assigned to Battery C, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was deployed north and east of the town of Kunu-ri, North Korea. On Nov. 25, 1950, his division was attacked by Chinese forces, which forced them to withdraw south through a series of Chinese roadblocks known as “the Gauntlet.” Ewing was reported missing in action. It would be later learned he was captured by Chinese forces, but died in a POW camp in February 1951. Read more.
- Army Cpl. George H. Mason, 19, will be buried Oct. 20 in his hometown of Byhalia, Miss. Mason was assigned to 2nd Reconnaissance Company, 2nd Infantry Division, which was deployed near Chuam-ni, South Korea, when their defensive line was attacked by Chinese forces and forced to withdraw south to a more defensible position. Mason was reported as missing in action on Feb. 14, 1951. Read more.
- Army Cpl. Robert V. Witt, 20, of Bellflower, Calif., will be buried Oct. 24 in Whittier, Calif. Witt was assigned to 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 31st Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division. The 31st RCT, historically known as Task Force Faith, was deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea when it was attacked by overwhelming numbers of Chinese forces. Witt was reported as missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950. It was later learned he had been captured, but died in a North Korean prisoner of war camp on Jan. 31, 1951.
- Army Cpl. Robert E. Meyers, 21, of Greencastle, Pa., will be buried Oct. 26 in Arlington National Cemetery. Meyers, who was assigned to Company A, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, was declared missing on Dec. 1, 1950, after his unit was involved in combat operations in the vicinity of Sonchu, North Korea. His remains were among those returned after the war, but unidentifiable at the time, and subsequently buried as an “unknown” in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii, also known as the “Punchbowl.” Read more.
Senate Holds Legislative Hearing
On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss pending health and benefits legislation. The VFW submitted testimony for the record supporting several of the bills, including measures that would expand the number of judges on the Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims, amend the definition of a homeless veteran, and increase the pension amount for Medal of Honor recipients. The VFW also offered suggestions to improve bills that would provide training to non-VA doctors and improve access for rural veterans. National Legislative Committee Member and California native, David Norris, testified in support of a bill that would allow the West Los Angeles VA medical center to lease portions of their unused property for the purposes of supportive housing, vocational training, and other services that principally benefit veterans and their families. The committee was very appreciative to hear his views on this new policy which would impact Los Angeles area veterans. To watch his testimon y and read the full VFW statement, click here.
House Hearing on Independent Assessment of VHA
On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss an independent assessment of the Veterans Health Administration. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald testified that the $68 million assessment provided insightful and detailed information regarding the challenges the department faces, and assured the committee he is aware of the problems it highlighted and is in the process of addressing them. Committee members discussed the assessment’s recommendation for a VA defense base closure and realignment commission or BRAC, the private sector’s role in providing care to veterans and aligning resources with veterans' demand for health care.
WWII Marine Identified
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains belonging to Marine Corps Cpl. Roger K. Nielson, from Adams, Colo., who was killed in action while fighting on the Pacific island of Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943. He was assigned to Company E, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. He will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.
Legislation to Increase Physician Assistants in the VA
This week Senator John Tester (D- Mont.) sent a press release regarding new legislation he has introduced that would increase the capability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide quality health care by increasing the number of physician assistants in the VA
Tester introduces legislation to train more Physician Assistants, reduce wait times at the Department of Veterans Affairs Bipartisan bill will create a pathway for service members to launch careers as a PA at the VA.
(U.S. Senate)—In an effort to decrease wait times at the VA, Senator Jon Tester today introduced his latest bill to increase the number of health professionals serving veterans at the VA.
Tester’s bill will provide veterans who served as medics in the armed forces with the opportunity to attain the education and training needed to become a Physician Assistant.
“The lack of Physician Assistants at the VA is contributing to longer wait times for veterans who deserve timely care,” said Tester, Montana’s only member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This bill provides support to former servicemembers so they can launch their career as a Physician Assistant, help reduce wait times at the VA, and address the crisis level shortage of medical professionals at rural medical centers across the country.”
Currently, veterans who served as medics have the opportunity to work at the VA through the Intermediate Care Technicians (ICT) Pilot Program, but they do not receive the additional training they need to advance their careers at the VA.
Tester’s bill will authorize the Grow Our Own Directive (GOOD) Pilot Program for five years to advance training and education opportunities for participants of the ICT program, individuals who agree to work in VA facilities in underserved states, and former service members with military health experience. Once these veterans are certified as Physician Assistants, they will be required to work at the VA for at least three years. Additionally, this bill will require the VA to establish competitive pay for physician assistants employed by the Department.
Physician Assistants are one of the most in-demand positions at the VA. In September, USA Today reported that there is a 23 percent vacancy rate at the VA for physician assistants.
According to the Veterans Affairs Physicians Assistants Association, there are an estimated 30,000 open Physician Assistant positions in the U.S., making it difficult for the VA to recruit and retain physician assistants.
This bill is endorsed by The Retired Enlisted Association (TREA), the Veteran Affairs Physician Assistant Association, the American Academy of Physician Assistants, the Blinded Veterans Association, Vietnam Veterans of America, the American Federation of Government Employees, and the National Guard Association of the United States (NGAUS).
“As someone who has had care from physician assistants, I can say from first hand experience that physician assistants are valuable members of the medical caregiver community,” said Larry Madison, Legislative Director for TREA. “They work in close cooperation with medical doctors, and enable the MD’s to see more patients and give them the quality medical care they need. I have had wonderful care from physician assistants and I believe Senator Tester’s bill would be a great step in the right direction of providing more quality care for veterans,” he concluded.
“This bill provides support for returning combat medics and corpsmen, including scholarships for them to become the next generation of veteran physician assistant providers like the returning Vietnam veterans generation did in the 1960’s and 1970’s who provided decades of health care to fellow veterans in the VA system,” said Tom Zampieri, Chairman of the Blinded Veterans Association. “The VA currently lacks a national strategic plan to address this need with the PA workforce to meet the current demand for health care access, and Senator Tester’s legislation addresses these and many other key issues for PA’s.”
“Ready access to quality patient care is among the most critical issues facing our nation’s veterans at VA healthcare facilities. We are thrilled that Senators Tester and Moran have sponsored legislation to increase the PA workforce, while creating a pathway for veterans to be educated in this critical healthcare profession. This creative model, along with needed policy improvements, holds great promise for the recruitment and retention of PAs at the VA,” said Jennifer L. Dorn CEO of the American Academy of Physician Assistants.
“NGAUS greatly appreciates Senator Tester’s continuing support for the National Guard,” said retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, NGAUS President. “His current legislation regarding physician assistants will help not only our retiring medical Guard personnel with future employment opportunities, it will provide a standard of experienced physician assistant service for all our nation’s veterans.”
“Physicians Assistants provide high quality and cost effective medical care," said Rubina DaSilva, President of the Veteran Affairs Physician Assistant Association."Providing educational assistance, establishing pay grades, including PAs in the locality pay act, and establishing standards to improve and provide accountability of the VA's use of educational funds will immediately address the issues of retention and recruitment problems with Physician Assistants in the VA."
In June, Tester introduced his DOCS for Veterans Act to recruit and retain more doctors at the VA while building a stronger pipeline of doctors and mental health professionals to rural and underserved areas.
Tester’s bipartisan bill is cosponsored by Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).
Undersecretary for Veterans' Benefits Under Fire
A Department of Veterans' Affairs Inspector General (VA IG) report was released several weeks ago that determined that the directors of the VA Regional Offices (VAR)) in Philadelphia and St. Paul, Minnesota used their prior positions to coerce the previous directors to accept reassignment and create openings that they themselves would fill, while retaining their higher salaries for their new lower-level positions.
Moreover, Philadelphia VARO Director Diana Rubens and St. Paul VARO Director Kimberly Graves collected more than $274,000 and $129,000 respectively in relocation costs. According to the IG, when Rubens informed Hickey that she wanted “to take advantage of the Philly Director opening,” Hickey responded that she would “be all in to help and make it happen.”
It is unclear at this time whether any laws were violated, but if further investigation reveals that the law was broken TREA: The Enlisted Association believes that all involved should be punished to the fullest possible extent. Is is particularly hard to come to that conclusion considering the good work that Secretary Hickey has done at the Veterans' Benefits Administration combating the claims backlog, and knowing full well the hard task that lies ahead in combating the appeals backlog.
It is believed that Rubens and Graves misused the interoffice move programs to bump up their pay while reducing their job responsibilities. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee Investigators have forwarded details of their findings on both women to the U.S. Attorney’s office for possible criminal penalties.
In other cases, senior executives used relocation incentives and moving expenses to get around moratoriums on pay raises, shifting between equal or lesser jobs and racking up questionable costs for the department.
“While we do not question the need to reassign some staff to manage a national network of (regional offices), we concluded that VBA inappropriately utilized VA’s (relocation) program for the benefit of its SES workforce,” the report said.
VA creates On-Line Self- Help Site
The Department of Veterans Affairs just stood up its new Online Self-Help Interactive site. Below is their explanation of the program and all their links. Interactive Online Resources for Veterans Looking for Tips on Parenting, Stress Management and More!
Are you a Servicemember or Veteran who sometimes finds yourself angry, stressed out or in need of parenting advice? The Online Self-Help Resource Center was developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically for Servicemembers and Veterans to help you handle stress, make better decisions, deal with parenting issues unique to the military lifestyle and manage anger effectively.
Available completely online with no sign-up or registration required, the Online Self-Help Resource Center does not collect personal information. It can be used by anyone, anywhere and there is no cost. You can work through the modules at the time, pace and place of your choosing.
Developed with extensive input from male and female Veterans of all eras, the Online Self-Help Resource Center provides tools to manage the challenges of being a military parent, the transition to life after the military as well as everyday stressful problems and situations. You learn life skills through an interactive online environment featuring videos, exercises and stories from real Veterans.
The Online Self-Help Resource Center consists of three different self-help services:
Parenting for Servicemembers and Veterans: Designed to help manage everyday parenting challenges as well as those specific to military and Veteran families. It provides practical information on ways to communicate with children, how to discuss deployments and methods to positively discipline children. It even explains how to interpret specific emotions and behaviors that children may show at a variety of ages ranging from age 0 to 18.
Moving Forward: Overcoming Life’s Challenges: Provides tools and skills to effectively solve problems, overcome obstacles and achieve your goals. It is especially helpful if you are facing life changes and stressful situations such as transitioning out of the military, moving, financial difficulties or relationship problems. It offers practical tools like developing an action plan to follow when you are feeling overwhelmed to help you reduce stress and negative emotions, increase optimism and find creative solutions.
Anger and Irritability Management Skills (AIMS): Teaches you ways to help manage your temper and respond more positively and effectively to difficult people and events. The online therapy can help you reduce or prevent angry reactions, teach you to identify your personal anger triggers and warning signs and help to plan and prepare for instances when you do become angry or stressed. By the end of the course, you will have developed a personalized anger management plan that applies what you have learned to real-life situations.
For more information and to take the courses, visit www.VeteranTraining.va.gov.
Courses were developed by Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Web Services in collaboration with Department of Defense National Center for Telehealth and Technology.
VA expands its Veterans Economic Communities Initiative (VECI)
Last week the VA announced an additional 25 American communities had joined its Veterans Economic Communities Initiatives (VECI.) The program was started in May of this year with the goal of increasing veterans education and employment by coordinating available services of local and national groups.
At a 2 day “VECI Policy Academy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald said: “History has shown that when you give Veterans an opportunity to succeed, they go above and beyond. And we as a nation owe them those opportunities to succeed.. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill from the American people towards Veterans; they want to help. Through public-private partnerships like those formed and harnessed by VA’s Economic Communities Initiative, we will now be able to provide better networks and tools to Veterans in 50 communities nationwide.”
As part of this program each participating community will have a VA “economic liaison” to coordinate recourses available for a Veterans education and employment.
“Campaign partners include the Departments of Defense and Labor, the Small Business Administration, and regional and national nonprofits, businesses and educators. All VECI communities were selected based on the size of transitioning Servicemember and Post-9/11 Veteran populations; unemployment, employment opportunity and job growth; and education spending. “
The full list of VECI communities is provided below. New communities being launched in early 2016 are denoted with an asterisk, and do not yet have an economic liaison assigned to their location:
El Paso, TX
Las Vegas, NV
Los Angeles, CA
Oklahoma City, OK*
San Antonio, TX
Colorado Springs, CO
Fort Walton Beach, FL
San Diego, CA
San Francisco, CA*
St. Louis, MO
Kansas City, MO
New York, NY
Under the Veterans Economic Communities Initiative, communities will develop scalable, sustainable models in the next two years that will include:
- Developing ongoing public-private partnerships focused on employment and economic opportunities;
- Fostering employer networking and encouraging hiring commitments on the Veterans Employment Center™ (www.ebenefits.va.gov/jobs);
- Supporting events such as career fairs, job and employment summits, and roundtables to boost economic competitiveness for Veterans;
- Sharing best practices and training and supporting employers who are considering hiring Veterans; and
- Facilitating the development of learning or resource hubs to help connect Veterans to economic opportunities including entrepreneurship, credentialing and skills building.
Crisis Line Specialist Helps Fellow Veterans
A moving story from DoD News Features, Defense Media Activity
For one combat veteran, his job can be as simple as listening to a service member or veteran who needs someone to talk to. But sometimes, his job is to assist somebody who may be suicidal.
Jeffrey Swafford, a former Air Force staff sergeant, is a health science specialist with the Veterans Crisis Line here. He said active-duty service members, National Guardsmen, reservists, veterans and their family members and friends can call, text or chat online with him or any of his co-workers confidentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just to talk or if they need more serious help, such as suicide prevention.
“We’re here to help,” Swafford said. “Even if you want to call, and it’s 10 to 15 minutes of it being nothing but you talking and me just sitting there listening, that’s one of the things we’re here for, too. We’re always here. You can always call us. It doesn’t matter if it’s 2 a.m. We’re here to talk. We’re here to help.”
“Whether you’re an Iraqi veteran or a Korean War veteran or a Vietnam veteran, we will help you,” he said. “We can help you get connected with the resources that you’re looking for and that you need. You’re not going through this alone. You’ve always got somebody here who you can talk to.”
Wanting to Help
Swafford said he left the Air Force after serving for eight years as a security forces specialist with multiple deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan. He knew he still wanted to help service members and veterans, he added, so he began his work at the Veterans Crisis Line.
“I really felt as if it was something I would be able to help with and I would be able to give back to in some way,” he said. “I really enjoy helping and giving back, helping service members and veterans.”
Swafford said callers often ask to speak with veterans because of the instant connection service members have with one another. Because of his own post-traumatic stress from operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, his work can be challenging, he acknowledged. But he puts the callers’ concerns first, he said, and he shares with them some of his coping techniques.
“I tell them, ‘You need to find something that’s yours and yours only,’” he said. “It could be ‘Every evening, I need to go by myself and walk for an hour or go play golf, work out, [go] fishing, hunting or camping, just something that doesn’t have to be with anybody else,’” he said. “You can go do it by yourself, or if it makes you feel more comfortable to be with somebody, do that as well, but you need to find what’s yours, what your comfort place is that will allow you the ability to cope and to relax and to get yourself back in a right frame of mind.”
He said his own stress occasionally gets triggered, but helping others is more important. “A lot of the callers are mentioning the exact same bases I was at when I was in,” he said. “When they talk about mortars and explosions going off, it makes me think, ‘I went through some of those, too,’ so some of the stories will trigger some things at times. But after the call, I’ll just take an extra three or four minutes and get up and clear my head, because when the phone rings, I’ve got to be ready to go right back at it. I’ve got to be in the right frame of mind that I can take that call with no problem.”
Why it Matters
On many of his calls, Swafford said, he could almost see “that little light bulb go off in their head, and you just hear that breaking point where they’re finally just like taking a deep calming breath and saying, ‘OK, I can do this,’” he said. “First, it’s taken so much out of them just to reach out and admit they need help, because they’re worried it will make them look weak, which isn’t the case.”
Sometimes, Swafford said, people will call back in gratitude and to say they’ve made appointments to get help. “Those are the times where it really feels like we’re really making a difference,” he said.
Swafford said the specialists learn how to direct calls and how to keep the conversations flowing. He said they spend an extended period of time with seasoned responders before they start taking calls themselves and will not start on their own until they feel ready to do so.
“No two calls you get are going to be exactly the same, so you’ve really got to be prepared for anything when that phone rings,” the Etowah, Tennessee, native said. “It can be anything from somebody just wanting to talk to somebody who is suicidal [and] may have already attempted. It could be a number of things. Worst-case scenario, a veteran could call in and state they have a gun, they’re ready to use it, they have nothing to live for and you try talking to them and you hear them chamber a round. What can I say to bring them to a safe place?
“I let them dictate the way the conversation goes, find that common bond, let them know they’re OK, that everything’s fine, that I’m there to help them, and that I’m there for that support,” he continued. “I listen in on key things they may like to do and focus in on that. A lot of times, that helps out tremendously.”
Swafford said the Veterans Crisis Line specialists will provide callers with resources in their area, whether it is on installations for service members or at Veterans Affairs Department facilities for veterans.
“For many active-duty service members who call in, they worry about losing their security clearances or jobs for just calling in,” he said. “You’re not going to. We provide you with the help and the resources available on your installation. You aren’t going to lose your security clearance or your job. You aren’t going to get discharged for reaching out for help, because that’s not the case at all. We can provide those things for you, and that’s what we’re here to do.”
Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 1.86 million calls and made more than 50,000 lifesaving rescues. In 2009, the Veterans Crisis Line added an anonymous online chat service and has engaged in more than 240,000 chats. In November 2011, the Veterans Crisis Line introduced a text-messaging service to provide another way for veterans to connect with confidential, around-the-clock support, and since then has responded to more than 39,000 texts.
When people call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, they can speak to a confidential peer responder specifically trained to deal with any crisis or stresses the service member, veteran or family member may be facing.
People can also reach the crisis line via an online chat or text message to 838255 or online at http://www.militarycrisisline.net. The crisis line is free and confidential, and trained professionals are there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Civilian employees can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Health Care After Discharge
Useful Information from the TRICARE website:
What do you do for health insurance when you lose TRICARE?
You can lose your TRICARE eligibility for a number of reasons. If you separate voluntarily, you and your family are not eligible to use military treatment facilities or TRICARE, if you are discharged for a medical condition you may be eligible for medical care from the VA, but your family will not. What can you do to make sure you and your family have health care benefits after getting out of the military?
Thankfully there are several options for you including:
- The TRICARE Assisted Management Program (TAMP)
- The Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP)
- The Health Insurance Marketplace
- Insurance through you or your spouse's employer
TRICARE Assisted Management Program (TAMP)
Sponsors and eligible family members may be covered by the Transitional Assistance Management Program after losing TRICARE eligibility. This program extends TRICARE eligibility for specific beneficiaries. It provides 180 days of premium-free transitional health care benefits after regular TRICARE benefits end. Active duty service members with certain service-related conditions are eligible for coverage beyond the 180 days covered by TAMP.
Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP)
Once TAMP eligibility expires and you are no longer eligible for any other TRICARE health plan, you can enroll in the Continued Health Care Benefit Program. This program is purchased coverage that acts as a bridge between TRICARE coverage and your new health coverage. It is typically limited to 36 months.
The Health Insurance Marketplace
Another option for health care coverage is the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires most Americans have minimum essential health care coverage, or pay a tax penalty for each month that you and the other individuals listed on your tax form do not have coverage.