Archive for October, 2011

DoD Benefit Cuts

Posted: October 31, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing in SEP to consider the nomination of Ashton B. Carter as Deputy Defense Secretary, the number 2 civilian at the Pentagon. During the hearing, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC.), an Air Force reservist, piped in to encourage the nominee to urge the Pentagon to reform military retirement and to increase TRICARE fees and copays. "When you want to reform retirement, count me in," the South Carolina Republican said. "When you want to change TRICARE premiums for people like myself, who are going to be retired colonels one day, count me in.‖ Graham added, ―We're not going to ask more from the retired force than they can give, but change has to come." [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 16 Sep 2011 ++]

 

 

Acknowledging that changes are needed to deal with unsustainable personnel costs, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff emphasized on 21 SEP that the United States can't break faith with military members and their families. President Barack Obama recommended this week that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction form a commission to come up with a plan for a new, future retirement system, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen told midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy. That commission is expected to make recommendations as part of a plan to address the national debt that Mullen called the No. 1 threat to our national security. "We as a country have got to get a grip on that," he said, recognizing that the Pentagon, too, must do its part. That will require some difficult and well-thought out decisions that shape what kind of military the United States will have in the future, he said, and how large the force will be and what capabilities it will have. A big part of that equation involves people — and how they will be compensated.
Mullen emphasized that there are no immediate plans to change the military retirement plan. Even if a change was to be made, he said, officials would press to have it ‗grandfathered,‘ so people already serving continue to be covered by the current system. And, if the choice came down to prioritizing between retirees and those currently in uniform, Mullen said, ‗my priority is for those who are serving.‘"That doesn't mean that we do one and don't do the other," he told the midshipmen. "But that is my focus." The United States has a "very well-compensated force," Mullen said, telling the future naval officers it's well deserved. "We are in two wars. We are dying for our country and we need to be well compensated," he said. "But it isn't infinite." Personnel costs have soared 80 percent over the past 10 years, Mullen said. In addition, health-care costs skyrocketed from $19 billion in 2001 to $51 billion this year and are projected to reach $65 billion within four years. "That is not sustainable," he said. The full compensation package needs to be examined, Mullen said, including retirement pay, housing allowances, bonuses, health care and other benefits. "There are going to have to be some changes," the chairman said. The challenge is "to do it in a balanced … and fair way." [Source: AFPS Donna Miles article 21 Sep 2011 ++]

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SCAADL

Posted: October 30, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Some service members who are catastrophically wounded, injured or ill are now eligible for compensation designed to offset the economic burden primary caregivers incur when assisting them. The Special Compensation for Assistance with Activities of Daily Living (SCAADL) is designed to mitigate this financial hardship. The following is germane to the program:
 All service members who have a catastrophic injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty are eligible to apply for SCAADL
 SCAADL is not automatic. the service member or guardian must apply and a DoD or VA physician certifies eligibility. A service member should contact a member of his or her recovery team (to include the Primary Care Manager, Nurse Case Manager, Recovery Care Coordinator, Non-Medical Case Manager, or unit leadership) for the SCAADL application form and guidance.
 Applications for SCAADL require DD Form 2948 which must be completed by a licensed DoD or VA physician.
 If denied, appeals must be submitted to the Commanding Officer, Wounded Warrior Regiment. All medical reviews and opinions must be included.
 Service members who have been authorized an Non Medical Attendant (NMA) should not assume entitlement to SCAADL. NMAs are authorized by physicians and designated by the service member. However, there is no stringent clinical review applied to this designation as there is with SCAADL.
 As long as the service member is in outpatient status for the majority of the month (more than 15 days) he / she will still be eligible for SCAADL.
 Monthly payment amounts are based upon the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics wage rate for home health aides and are adjusted by several factors.
 Amounts are based on geographic location and care needs. Amounts may change if the service member moves or his/her care needs change. Also, SCAADL requires recertification every 180 days (or when medical or geographic conditions change) to ensure payment accuracy.
 SCAADL is paid directly to the service member, not the service member‘s designated caregiver. It is up to the service member to ensure the compensation flows accordingly.
 SCAADL is taxable compensation.
 A military member cannot be designated as a primary caregiver for purposes of SCAADL.
 While SCAADL is intended for service members, you may receive it up to 90 days after separation from the service.
 For more information, refer to the Wounded Warrior Regiment fact sheet at http://www.woundedwarriorregiment.org/documents/pao/SCAADL_Slick_Sheet.pdf.
[Source: NAUS Weekly Update 16 Sep 2011 ++]

VA Project ARCH

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Uncategorized
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Project Arch is a program that has been a long time coming. The statute authorizing the demonstration was passed in 2008 but this is the first year where money was provided for the test. Project Arch, which just started 29 AUG is a three year pilot to provide healthcare for veterans in rural areas far from present VA facilities. It brings vet healthcare closer to their homes. Humana is managing 4 of the project‘s 5 sites: Farmville, Virginia, Pratt Kansas, Flagstaff Arizona, and Billings Montana. The 5th site is Aroostook County Caribou Maine will have healthcare provided by Cary Medical Center.
 The Virginia project will cover Primary Care, including routine preventive care, diagnostic imaging, and laboratory services.
 The Kansas project will cover ―primary care, including routine preventive care, diagnostic imaging, laboratory services as well as behavioral health screening and assessment.‖
 The Arizona contract will cover: ―Acute inpatient medical and surgical care, including related consultations and ancillaries as well as outpatient specialty consultations including related diagnostic imaging and laboratory services.‖
 The Montana project will cover ―acute inpatient medical and surgical care, including related consultations and ancillaries…Outpatient specialty consultation, including related diagnostic imaging and laboratory services. ―
 The Maine project will cover ―Acute inpatient medical and surgical care, including related consultations and ancillaries ―as well as ―outpatient specialty consultation, including related diagnostic imaging and laboratory services.‖
What all this ultimately means is if you live in rural areas around these VISNs (Veterans Integrated Service Networks) you will be able to choose to get health care without travelling long distances to a VA hospital or clinic. If you are interested in participating you should speak to your VA Care Coordinator. You can qualify for this program if you have the following travel times:
 Live more than 60 minutes driving time from the nearest VA health care facility providing primary care services, or
 Live more than 120 minutes time distance from the nearest VA health care facility providing acute hospital care, or

 Live more than 240 minutes driving time from the nearest VA health care facility providing tertiary care.
For additional info on Project ARCH refer tohttp://www.ruralhealth.va.gov/arch/index.asp. [Source: TREA News for the Enlisted 16 Sep 2011 ++]

GI Bill Update

Posted: October 28, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The Department of Veterans Affairs has eliminated the backlog of claims for the Post-9/11 GI Bill that plagued the program when it launched two years ago, officials said Thursday. At the time, the delay meant VA had to issue emergency checks to thousands of student veterans to cover tuition, books and housing. Allison Hickey, VA undersecretary for benefits, compared the process of implementing the new GI Bill to flying a plane while building it. "Now it's built, and we're flying it, and it's flying very well," Hickey said. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the government pays a veteran's tuition and fees directly to the school. The veteran also receives a stipend for books and a housing allowance. To date, VA has issued $12.98 billion in Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit payments to more than 596,000 veterans and their educational institutions. The backlog peaked in fall 2009, when VA had 65,000 pending GI Bill claims with an average processing time of 60 days. Today, there are about 23,000 pending claims with an average processing time of 10 days.
VA Education Services Director Keith Wilson attributed the improved turnaround time to additional staff, streamlining, and an electronic system that has replaced manual paperwork. VA now processes about 10,000 Post-9/11 GI Bill enrollments every day. "Remember when we started this, we did not have a process at all," Hickey said. "It was a cold start." VA finally appears to have worked out the kinks, said Navy veteran Dan Erklauer, who attends University of Houston on the Post-9/11 GI Bill. "This semester everything's been done correctly, and we got paid on time," said Erklauer, 27. Erklauer also credited UH for working through the new GI Bill's growing pains. "It took a little while and a lot of people got frustrated, but I'm confidant they have it figured out," he said. "I have no complaints, only good things to say about it now."
VA's initial fumbling of the new GI Bill had threatened to ruin the agency's reputation among America's newest generation of veterans. "The first year was an unmitigated disaster," said Tom Tarantino, senior legislative associate with the nonprofit group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The VA had to basically give advances to people. Then the next year was better, but it was still very problematic." Recent changes to the program made claims easier to process, Tarantino said. The changes simplified tuition and fee payments for veterans attending public schools, and established nationwide maximum payments for those enrolled in private or foreign schools. Tarantino said he's cautiously optimistic. "If the VA's truly gotten rid of their backlog, it's going to allow veterans to continue their college education unencumbered by administrative problems and stress and that's exactly what the GI Bill is designed to do," he said. [Source: Houston chronicle Lindsay Wise article 15 Sep 2011 ++]

 

Eight for-profit colleges, led by the online University of Phoenix (owned by Apollo Group Inc. (APOL)), collected roughly $1 billion in Tuition Assistance Program and VA educational benefit money during the most recent academic year, according to a report by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), chaired by Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). The report was released at a press conference this past Thursday, at which TREA was represented by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders. Those colleges got about a quarter of all of the Post 9/11 GI Bill money spent during the 2010-2011, according to Senator Harkin. The University of Phoenix alone received $210 million, almost three times as much as a year earlier, he said. There is a so-called ―90/10 rule‖ that limits the amount of federal money going to these schools to no more than 90 percent of their revenue. Veterans‘ and military tuition programs are excluded from the cap, and as a result the colleges have aggressively recruited beneficiaries, according to the HELP committee report. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) suggested at the press conference 22 SEP that the cap might be expanded to include those programs.
According to for-profit college spokespeople, limiting veteran tuition funds that can go to for-profit colleges would hurt students. Staff Sergeant Jon Elliot (USA-Ret), who received the Bronze Star for service in Operation Iraqi Freedom, said he signed up for auto mechanics classes at ATI Career Training Center, based in North Richland Hills, Texas, after a recruiter told him Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits would cover the costs. Months later, Elliot discovered the program in Garland, Texas, wasn‘t approved for the benefits, and the school sent him a bill for $9,600, he said at the news conference. According to SSG Elliot, he got a telephone call the night before the press conference from the school, saying his tuition bill had been forgiven. ―Maybe it‘s just coincidence,‖ he said. ―I don‘t want to speculate.‖ Additionally, the Department of Education issued ―gainful employment‖ regulations this year that would cut off federal student aid to for-profit colleges whose students struggle the most to repay government loans. Many of these schools have dropout rates that sometimes exceed 50% or even 60%, while the average is much lower for more traditional schools, often around 10-15%. For-profit schools, and their lobbyists, oppose those rules and have filed a lawsuit against them. [Source: TREA News for the Enlisted 23 Sep 2011 ++]

Women in Combat

Posted: October 27, 2011 in Uncategorized
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The Defense Department will send to the Armed Services panels in October a review of the roles women should play in the military, and of the existing combat exclusion, according to a senior Pentagon leader. There are indications the report could call for lifting some, if not all, combat exclusions, according to senior congressional aides and military officials. The review was ordered in the fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill (PL 111-383) and follows a 2011 Military Leadership Diversity Commission report that recommended lifting all combat restrictions on women. The diversity commission was created as part of the fiscal 2009 defense authorization law (PL 110-417). The review was due in April, but the Defense Department at the time told Congress that it was conducting a deep review of all policies affecting women in the military and required more time, which created an expectation that significant changes may be proposed, senior congressional aides said. ―It certainly has raised expectations,‖ one aide said.
Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon‘s top acquisitions official who has been nominated to become deputy Defense secretary, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that ―as the nature of the combat environment has evolved, the roles of women in the military have expanded, and will continue to do so.‖ In written response to questions posed by the panel, Carter said the Pentagon ―believes it has sufficient flexibility under current law to make appropriate assignment policy for women. The department will continue to monitor combat needs, and if the services recommend expanding combat roles for woman, the department will notify Congress accordingly as required by statute.‖ Further raising expectations was the recently confirmed next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, who told the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, ―the nature of current conflict is there‘s no front line and back line. And so some of the rules we have in place on co-location, for example, are simply outdated and need to be revised.‖ Dempsey added, ―The DoD task force is looking . . . also at the issue of changing access to particular military occupational specialties. . . . I think we‘ll learn that there are additional opportunities to be made available.‖
A senior congressional aide who specializes in military women issues noted that should the Pentagon make policy changes, Congress would have about 30 days to stop the action. But to date, when the military has opened certain positions to women, Congress has not intervened. The Navy, for example, opened service on submarines to women, and the Marine Corps recently expanded service opportunities for women in intelligence specialties. ―Any decision regarding opening additional specialties for service by women should be based on our obligation to maintain a high state of mission readiness of our all-volunteer force,‖ Carter wrote.
The Pentagon review is being conducted by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and is looking at the direct combat assignment policy in coordination with the military departments and the Joint Staff. ―If confirmed, I would examine proposed policy changes as a result of this review and work with the Congress to implement them,‖ Carter said. A senior congressional aide said that if changes were proposed they would have to be based on specific standards. Female candidates for combat roles probably would be required to meet all the performance requirements that men are required to meet. If changes are coming, the aide said, they probably would be phased in, keeping in mind that training would be required to sensitize the existing combat force to the coming changes. The phasing would ease concerns related to a combat force engaged in significant combat operations. There also would be a host of administrative changes in policy that could take some time to implement.
Restrictions on women in combat, called the Ground Combat Exclusion Policy, were put in place in 1994 by Defense Secretary Les Aspin. But both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the proliferation of women in combat support roles exposed women to significant combat, whether they were performing military policing or convoy protection in a battle zone with no clear battle lines, which effectively has changed perceptions of women in warfare. The Diversity Commission noted in its report, ―While we find the promotion policies and practices of the Department of Defense and the services to be fair, we find also that there are some barriers to improving demographic representation among military leaders.‖ As a result, a key recommendation of the report is that ―DoD and the services should eliminate the combat exclusion policy for women, including the removal of barriers and inconsistencies, to create a level playing field for all qualified servicemembers.‖ The commission recommended a time-phased approach for opening all units to women, and to take deliberate steps to open additional career fields and units involved in direct combat to ―qualified women.‖
The commission found that women were underrepresented across the services. Restrictions on women were greater in the Army and Marine Corps, with 91 percent of career fields in the Army and 94 percent of the Marine Corps open to women compared with 99 percent of the Air Force and 94 percent of the Navy.  The Navy percentage is actually higher today since the opening of the submarine field to women. In both the Army and Marines the restricted areas all involve combat roles. But the commission did not advocate for a lowering of standards, saying that qualifications for combat roles should remain in place. The commission brushed aside arguments that the presence of women would somehow affect morale and unit cohesion in combat units. The panel noted how in other areas where women have been integrated, the same concerns were raised ahead of time, but did not materialize. Studies conducted regarding women serving in combat situations in Iraq and Afghanistan found that ―a majority of focus group participants felt that women serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan have had a positive effect on mission accomplishment.‖ In the end, the commission found that current combat exclusions no longer fit the modern, more fluid operational combat environment where there are no clear front lines. [Source: CQ Today Online News Frank Oliveri 16 Sep 2011 ++]

National Personnel Records center new address is:
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St Louis, MO 63138-1002 USA
The majority of staff have moved to the new location and the military personnel records are in the process of moving. The entire move should be completed by Summer 2012. The new address for the US Air Forces Air Reserve Personnel Center is:
Air Reserve Personnel Center
18420 E Silver Creek Ave Bldg 390 MS 68
Buckley AFB, CO 80011 USA
As a reminder, ALL retiree and Honorably Discharged veterans should ensure that their family knows the location of their military Separation Document (DD Form 214 from 1950 to present and WD (War Department) Form 53-55 and other variations prior to 1950). Note that registering a copy at the county court house may make that document a public record. Separation Documents issued after 1969 may contain a Social security Number which could be used for identity theft. Storing the Separation Document in a safe deposit box may make it difficult to retrieve immediately upon the death of the retiree or honorably discharged veteran. The better storage locations are:
1. Fire safe in a secure location of the house (not in the bedroom as this is where most thieves search first).
2. In a watertight food container (Glad, Tupperware. etc.) in the refrigerator. Most refrigerators are fire resistant. Additionally, a refrigerator is heavy enough to fall through the floor of a building into the cooler part of the fire in the basement and better survive. Finally, a refrigerator is large enough to be easily located in the ash and ruble of a fire or other serious incident. (As a bonus, everyone has a refrigerator, not every one has a fire resistant storage box). Be sure to inform your spouse and relatives where to locate your Separation Document – and any other important papers.
[Source: NPRC message 19 Sep 2011 ++]

Included in the president‘s deficit reduction plan unveiled Monday are plans to re-examine the military retirement system, calling the current 20-year requirement ―out of line with most other government or private retirement plans.‖ The document calls for the creation of a commission similar to the controversial 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission to look at broad reforms to the retirement system. In particular, it takes aim at the idea that troops must remain in the military for 20 years to receive any retirement benefits, giving ―generous benefits to the relatively few members who stay.‖ The move comes just weeks after officials from the Defense Business Board outlined similar plans to changing how military retirees are paid, abandoning the 20-year service target. In that proposal, the board recommended a 401(k) style plan which would allow partial payout for troops who served as little as 10 years. Officials said the move was designed both to provide a more equitable distribution of retirement funds and save money long term. But veterans groups blasted the proposal, in part because they believe changes would reduce the benefits for those currently on track to retire after 20 years or more.

The new White House plan notes that ―any major military retirement reforms should include grandfathering provisions that ensure that the country does not break faith with military personnel now serving, including those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.‖ No action was taken on the Defense Business Board plan, and the new White House idea must be adopted by Congress before work would begin. Under the rules laid out by President Barack Obama on Monday, both the White House and Congress would have to approve the commission‘s final report without changes before it could become law. The White House did not specify how much changes in the military retirement system could save long term. Obama‘s deficit reduction plan also included $1 trillion in savings from troop withdrawals in Iraq and Afghanistan, and another $580 billion in cuts and fees in mandatory benefit programs. That included almost $7 billion raised through a new $200 annual fee for veterans enrolled in the Tricare for Life program (but no new charge for active-duty troops) and more than $20 billion in new co-payment fees in prescription drug coverage for military families and retirees. To send a preformatted editable message to you elected officials noting your displeasure with the plan go to http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/alert/?alertid=53748506&PROCESS=Take+Action. [Source: Stars & Stripes Leo Shanks article 19 Sep 2011 ++]