*Legislative Update 22 May 2015: COLA Continues to Climb

We have 6 Action Items today, at Issue 2 and 3 below 

 

 

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see COLA CONTINUES SLOW CLIMB The Consumer Price Index continues its climb in April, to 1.2% below the 2014 baseline. (See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)

 

At Issue 2. we see MOAA TESTIFIES ON VETERANS ISSUES  MOAA outlines veterans’ health care and benefits priorities. MOAA testified before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Veterans’ Affairs committees. (See Issue 2 below for the details and send messages to your Legislators GF)

At Issue 3. we see KEY VET BILLSSend your legislators letters of support. Congress is working on a number of bills that are important to veterans. (See Issue 3 below for the details. and send messages to your Legislators GF)

At Issue 4. we see VIRGINIA COUNCIL HOSTS LAWMAKERSElected officials joined more than 125 MOAA members. MOAA’s Virginia Council of Chapters hosted its congressional delegation luncheon. (See Issue 4 below for the detailsGF)

At Issue 5. we see ANNUAL LETTER SURVEY REMINDER <(Click on ANNUAL LETTER SURVEY REMINDER to participate in the survey. GF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference

 

FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources

 

ISSUES

Issue 1COLA CONTINUES SLOW CLIMB

May 22, 2015

 

The Consumer Price Index continues its climb in April

(To follow the trends on MOAA’s COLA Watch, click on COLA CONTINUES SLOW CLIMB here or above to see the details. GF)

 

 

 

Issue 2. MOAA TESTIFIES ON VETERANS HEALTH CARE AND BENEFITS 

May 22, 2015

On May 20, Col. Bob Norton, USA (Ret.), deputy director of MOAA’s Government Relations Department, testified at a joint hearing before the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committees.

Norton outlined MOAA’s key concerns and recommendations to improve veterans’ access to VA health services, upgrade existing benefits, and extend special services to disabled servicemembers’ full-time caregivers.

Norton also presented MOAA’s recommendations on assuring aggressive implementation of the Choice Card for veterans stuck on waiting lists for VA care, and those who live at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or clinic.

MOAA was joined by the national commanders or representatives from the Paralyzed Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, and partners from The Military Coalition: AMVETS, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and the Non-Commissioned Officers Association of America.

Norton described outsourced care as “a wobbly, three-layered cake: the first layer is local purchased care contracts, the second layer is the VA national patient-centered care contracts (PC-3), which got some primary care icing added on to the specialty care contract, and the third layer is the Choice Card program for rural veterans and veterans stuck on long waiting lists.”

Because purchased care complements VA’s direct care system, MOAA recommends Congress engage the Commission on VA Care to map out a long-term strategy to integrate all aspects of VA managed care. Given the importance and scope of designing VA care for the 21st century, the Commission on Care should be given a year to develop a plan.

MOAA also urged Congress to support other changes to the way VA does business, including:

  • – Building up the capacity to deliver VA care more efficiently in its facilities by hiring and training more providers, fixing the scheduling system, and reengineering clinical space along the lines of leading civilian health care entities;
  • – Recruiting more mental health providers and training them on the unique needs of veterans;
  • – Extending the time surviving spouses have to use new GI Bill “Fry Scholarships”;
  • – Authorizing VA benefits to Vietnam War “blue water” Navy veterans exposed to Agent Orange;
  • – Providing veterans status to career National Guard and Reserve members eligible for non-regular retired pay who are entitled to certain veterans’ benefits, but do not have active duty service under Title 10 orders; and
  • – Extending special services and support to the full-time caregivers of severely disabled veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001.

Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.), chair of the House panel that oversees veterans’ disability assistance, questioned what could be done to make further progress on the claims backlog. Norton said that new legislation, S. 1203 , offers “practical, low-cost measures” aimed at further improving the claims system. Norton added that MOAA is working with the DAV and other groups to streamline procedures governing appealed claims, which currently take about three-years on average to resolve.

Norton described the plight of Coast Guard veteran Alexis Courneen who suffered a severe brain injury in service in 1999. Her husband Jason is her full-time caregiver, but the couple is ineligible for respite care, CHAMPVA, training, and a stipend under the Caregivers Act. Under current law, those benefits are only available to catastrophically disabled veterans who served after Sept. 10, 2001.

In response to Norton’s testimony that, “there’s no policy reason to exclude Alexis and Jason from Caregivers Act benefits,” Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said that the committees were taking up the issue soon.

Send your senators a  MOAA-suggested message  to support S. 1203, the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery

(Click on MOAA-suggested message here or above or go to Here is the Process: at the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

Issue 3. KEY VET BILLS

May 22, 2015

Several important veterans’ bills have been introduced in the 114th Congress. Click on the bill numbers below to send your legislators a MOAA-suggested message in support.

(Click on the respective underlined bill numbers below or go to Here is the Process: at the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators – don’t miss S. 602. GF)

S.1085 : Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act. This bill allows veterans of all eras eligible for the full range of caregiver support services through the VA.

H.R. 1141 and S. 602 : GI Bill Fairness Act. This bill allows members of the National Guard and Reserves to count time spent receiving care in a DoD facility for a line-of-duty illness, injury, or wound incurred during a call-up to count as active duty for purposes of eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.

H.R. 1607 : Ruth Moore Act. This bill upgrades disability compensation procedures for veterans with mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma.

H.R. 456 : Reducing Barriers for Veterans Education Act. This bill allows veterans to apply a small portion of one-month’s Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for college applications.

Disregard S.1203 below  if you sent the message at Issue 2 above

  1. 120321st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act.This bill helps simplify and expedite the VA claims system.

Issue 4. VIRGINIA COUNCIL HOSTS LAWMAKERS

May 22, 2015

MOAA’s Virginia Council of Chapters (VCOC) hosted its congressional delegation for a lunch discussion on Capitol Hill on May 21.

Seven legislators spoke to more than 125 MOAA members at the event, where the Council thanked them for their support to date and urged them to do more for the military and veterans’ community.

VCOC’s annual congressional luncheon – now in its 30th year – is a great way for MOAA members to meet face-to-face with their legislators and push both state and national level issues.

A common theme among the legislators’ remarks was concern over the balancing the budget in a responsible way that doesn’t put a disproportionate share of the burden on servicemembers and retirees.

Col. Barry Wright, USA (Ret), MOAA’s Director of Chapter and Council Affairs, received the Minuteman award for his leadership. The Minuteman award is given to a MOAA member providing outstanding support and loyal service to the VCOC. Wright expressed his appreciation for the support of the legislators in attendance and thanked members for staying active with MOAA’s grassroots advocacy.

The VCOC recognized Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) with its annual legislative award for his support of many of MOAA’s top priorities and nearly fifteen years of service in Congress. Because of his dedication to the military community, Forbes received the award for the second time in three years.

The VCOC’s luncheon is a great example of how you can become involved legislatively through MOAA’s state chapters. Click here to find a chapter in your area.

 

 

 

Here is the Process:  If the steps below are new to some, I recommend that you review all of the steps and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here onhttp://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/bills/   or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll down under “Current Legislation” to “Veterans and Other Issues”and click on 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act next to S. 1203 the first time through this process. Repeat this process for S.1085, S.602, H.R. 1607, H.R.1141 and H.R. 456 the next five times through this process.
  3. At the next screen enter your Zip code if requested and/orhit “Go!” and/or scroll down to “Take Action”  and at “Compose Message” leave ‘Email‘ checked or check ‘Printed Letter‘  to send  Printed Letters instead of sending Emails if desired.
  4. If an  “Issue Area:”line appears just before the Editable Text: and doesn’t have an issue shown, click on the down arrow and select an issue; e. g., Military, Veterans Affairs, etc. (usually required on messages to our Senators)
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired.
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION. The “Phone”number is now required by some Legislators (it’s required if your Senator is from Arizona) .  Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone number if you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  7. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  8. Check ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘ as to whether you want to have a copy of your letter sent to your Email Address (suggested at least for you initial efforts, and to see how your personal data is included in the message).
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 3 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  11. For Arizona residentsbecause of some current problems with contacting Sen Flake by Email,you will, see after hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above, that “Printed Letter” is the only option  for getting your message to him. Step 10 above tells you how to do that for the Senate Bills.
  12. After going through this process the first time, repeat the process 5 more times for the following Bills all under “Veterans and Other Issues”:S.1085, S.602, H.R. 1607, H.R.1141 and H.R. 456 

.

 

 

 

That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!

*Legislative Update 15 May 2015: Support Troops in Defense Bill

We have 1 Action Item today, at Issue 1 below 

 

 

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see TELL CONGRESS TO SUPPORT TROOPSSenate bill slashes military compensation and benefit. Tell your elected officials to not to break faith with those who have served. (See Issue 1 below for the details and send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

At Issue 2. we see. RETAIL PHARMACY MAKING A COMEBACK? New proposal may give TRICARE beneficiaries more choice. A new pilot program creates a “preferred retail pharmacy.”(See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 3. we see IS CONGRESS LOOKING FOR FAST-TRACK AUTHORITY ON MILITARY RETIREMENT? Congress looks to make dramatic changes to your retirement benefit. In his May edition of the “The Bottom Line,” MOAA Director of Government Relations Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret) asks why Congress is trying to railroad retirement reform. (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 4. we see LOOMING CRISIS THREATENS VETS’ ACCESS TO CARE. Lawmakers demand VA fix barriers to health care under new program

When demand outpaces supply, officials struggle to pay for medical care. (See Issue 4 below for the detailsGF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference

 

FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources

 

ISSUES

Issue 1TELL CONGRESS TO SUPPORT TROOPS

 

May 15, 2015

Senate lawmakers completed their draft of the FY16 defense bill; unfortunately, several administration-proposed cuts to military compensation and benefits are included.

The draft includes the administration’s proposal to cap the active duty pay raise at 1.3 percent, below the 2.3 percent raise mandated by law. The cap would be the third straight year of pay caps below private sector wage growth.

The bill also includes increases in TRICARE pharmacy fees as well as reductions to housing allowances.

The bill follows the House’s lead of moving forward with a blended retirement plan. Unlike the House proposal, the Senate bill stops government contributions to 401(k) accounts after 20 years of service.

Both bills reject proposals to consolidate TRICARE and institute new fees for TRICARE For Life beneficiaries.

Neither the House nor Senate bill addresses sequestration, which sets unrealistic budget caps on defense planners. To circumvent the arbitrary budget ceilings, both chambers use DoD’s emergency war accounts to fund baseline operations.

Emergency war accounts are not subject to sequestration’s budget rules, but funding fluctuates drastically every year. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said using the accounts to fund the Pentagon’s base budget is “undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning.”

The budgetary shell game has led to a veto threat from the president. In a rare move, the ranking democrats from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) voted against their own bills.

The top democrats cast their votes to push lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution to sequestration. “On both sides of the aisle, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is ‘we should get rid of the sequester,'” said Reed.

In a press release after the bill was voted on, Reed said, “I am for a strong military and good government, and the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”

“Cuts to pay and benefits are being driven because of one thing: sequestration,” said MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret).

Act now to tell your elected officials to reject the Senate’s attempt to balance the Relations, Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret).Act now to tell your elected officials to reject the Senate’s attempt to balance the budget on the backs of troops and their families.

Click on Act now here or above or go to Here is the Process: at the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

Issue 2. RETAIL PHARMACY MAKING A COMEBACK?

May 8, 2015

Lawmakers included a provision in the defense bill giving TRICARE beneficiaries more choice in their pharmacy options. The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the FY16 defense bill contains language giving military beneficiaries the option of using a designated “preferred retail pharmacy” to obtain medications.

The pilot will include maintenance medications, which after last year’s policy change, are currently only available at a military treatment facility (MTF) or by the home delivery program. The assumption is that by giving participating pharmacies the ability to buy medications at rates available to the federal government, retailers will pass the savings on to beneficiaries.

DoD will be responsible for identifying the regional area where the pilot will be conducted, as well as determining the participating pharmacy retailers. In order for selected pharmacies to receive federal pricing on medications purchased for beneficiaries, retailers will need to comply with DoD distribution and compliance requirements.

The pilot will be evaluated for government cost-savings, just as the home delivery program has provided. Skeptics are concerned that the distribution and compliance requirements may be costly for the pharmacies, and drive up the costs of prescriptions.

Enhancing health care convenience and access has long been a goal of MOAA.  “We are in favor of giving TRICARE beneficiaries more choices within their health care pharmacy options,” said MOAA’s Government Relations Deputy Director Capt. Kathy Beasley, USN (Ret.), “and we are hopeful that this pilot will demonstrate that retail pharmacies can be cost effective.”

If enacted, the pilot will run from May 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2018.

Issue 3. IS CONGRESS LOOKING FOR FAST-TRACK AUTHORITY ON MILITARY RETIREMENT?

May 15, 2015

By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)

After the House finished its work on the FY16 defense bill, you have to wonder why Congress is so intent on fast-tracking changes to the retirement system.

By now, you’ve heard the proposal: take the current 20-year, cliff-vested retirement benefit and convert it to a blended retirement system. Troops serving a full career get government contributions to a 401k in exchange for a reduced retirement pension. Troops who stay less than 20 years will have a portable benefit when leaving the service.

The proposal is an offshoot of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) recommendation to revamp military retirement. The change is prospective for future entrants.

What’s troubling about this is that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are moving forward with these drastic changes without first getting input from the Pentagon. The day after the HASC approved changes to the military retirement system, the Pentagon asked for more time to review the proposal. Defense leaders won’t finish their review until the end of July.

In a letter to Congress, the White House also asked for more time to vet the change. “Given their complexity and our solemn responsibility …, we will continue working with the Commission to understand how the [blended retirement system] would affect the All-Volunteer Force.”

MOAA has been saying the exact same thing since the MCRMC released its report in January.

So why the rush? Some folks on the Hill think if Congress fails to put something on the books now before next year’s election, no one will support changing career military benefits.

But the last time Congress fast-tracked a change to the military retirement system, they didn’t heed the warnings of the Pentagon. The last major adjustment to the military retirement system was in the mid-80s when Congress passed REDUX.

Then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger adamantly opposed the change, warning Congress the new system would inevitably undermine readiness and retention and provide more of an incentive to leave.

A decade later, that prediction proved true. Congress had to repeal REDUX in 1999 because the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress the program was damaging morale and badly hurting retention of the mid-career non-commissioned officer and officer corps.

The biggest problem with fast-tracking changes to the military system is that any future corrections Congress will need to make will be subject to strict budget rules. Accountants consider reduced payments to retirement accounts as “savings.” If Congress has to revert to the current system (or some other change), bean counters will see the change as an increase on their books.

Let me be clear. MOAA supports a blended retirement system that can provide a portable benefit to those who leave voluntarily with less than 20 years of service. However, any change to the retirement system cannot put at risk retention of the highly experienced, mid-grade NCO or officer the services need to keep.

The bottom line : Change of this magnitude requires further study. Before fast-tracking changes to military retirement, Congress needs to hear what White House and Pentagon leaders have to say about the proposal. It’s mission critical we get this right from the start. Failure to do so could take years to correct and end up costing Americans more than just higher taxes.

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Click on Sign in here or above to comment on this article. GF)

 

Issue 4. LOOMING CRISIS THREATENS VETS’ ACCESS TO CARE

May 15, 2015

At separate hearings this week, House and Senate lawmakers made no bones about their frustrations with VA officials’ implementation of a new program to provide veterans’ health care.

“There is no excuse for the plethora of problems the VA was having, and the transition [to the Veterans Choice Program] should have been much better, but it wasn’t,” said Chairman Johnny Isakson, (R-Ga.) of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Choice Program, the result of last year’s shocking report of lengthy wait times at VA centers, allows some veterans to receive care outside of VA facilities.

At the urging of MOAA and several partners in The Military Coalition, last month the VA changed eligibility criteria for the Choice Program. Veterans who live more than 40 miles away from the closest VA health care facility and have wait times of more than 30 days to see a VA physician are eligible. Previously, the VA used a straight-line determination to measure distance from a veteran’s home of record to the closest VA facility. Now the VA uses a more appropriate factor of driving distance. The change allows twice as many veterans to become eligible for the program.

The change underscores problems the VA has had with implementation of Choice Program.

Growing Pains

A unique mixture of demographic factors is leading to increased demand for VA services. Aging Vietnam veterans are using more services at increased costs. Successful marketing of the Choice Program has led to veterans who may have previously decided not to use the VA to seek care. The conclusion of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is bringing in a new generation of Post-9/11 veterans to system. A growing number of women veterans, now 10 percent of the military, are seeking VA treatment.

Despite the growing pains, Deputy Secretary of the VA Sloan Gibson told lawmakers that the department has seen a 44 percent increase in authorizations for care since the Choice Program began in November.

Adding stress to the system is a 25 percent increase in non-VA care costs, like the Choice Program. According to Gibson, estimates for the total cost of the Choice Program now range between $4 billion and $34 billion a year.

As of April 30, the VA has spent just over $500 million of the $10 billion authorized for the Choice Act – a scant 5 percent. Of that, a little over $200 million has gone to pay for medical services for veterans.

Gibson insists the agency needs greater flexibility in contracting with community providers to address the expanded Choice Program and its associated costs.

Despite the frustrations with implementation of the Choice Act, most members of Congress and those testifying agreed that there has been significant progress in a relatively short period.

“We thank the Congress, the VA, and the HealthNet and TriWest contractors for their unrelenting commitment to making the program a success,” said Cdr. René Campos, MOAA’s deputy director of Government Relations.

Among the many provisions in the Choice Act, the law calls for a commission to study how to improve access and delivery of veterans’ health care for the 21 st century. MOAA joined other organizations to ask Congress to appoint members to the commission and give them sufficient time to do their work and present their findings.

The last commission on care was almost a generation ago. That commission created quality and performance benchmarks, and transformed the VA health system for veterans to receive routine primary care needs and specialized care for wartime disabilities.

The VA health care system is the largest integrated system in the country, with nearly 10 million veterans enrolled.

 

 

   

Here is the Process:  If the steps below are new to some, I recommend that you review all of the steps and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here onhttp://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/  or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll down under “Current Action Alerts” and click onAct Now on TRICARE, Pay, and Housing.
  3. At the next screen enter your Zip code if requested and/orhit “Go!” and/or scroll down to “Take Action”  and at “Compose Message” leave ‘Email‘ checked or check ‘Printed Letter‘  to send  Printed Letters instead of sending Emails if desired.
  4. If an  “Issue Area:”line appears just before the Editable Text: and doesn’t have an issue shown, click on the down arrow and select an issue; e. g., Military, Veterans Affairs, etc.(usually required on messages to our Senators)
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired.
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION. The “Phone”number is now required by some Legislators (it’s required if your Senator is from Arizona) .  Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone number if you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  7. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  8. Check ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘ as to whether you want to have a copy of your letter sent to your Email Address (suggested at least for you initial efforts, and to see how your personal data is included in the message).
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 3 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  11. For Arizona residentsbecause of some current problems with contacting Sen Flake by Email,you will, see after hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above, that “Printed Letter” is the only option  for getting your message to him. Step 10 above tells you how to do that.

 

   

 

   

That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!

Legislative Update 8 May 2015: House Amendment Would have Spiked Rx Fees

We have 4 Action Items today, one each at Issues 2 and 3, and two at Issue 4 below 

 

 

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see DEFENSE BILL AMENDMENT COULD COST YOU BIG BUCKS. An amendment introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act would impose drastic pharmacy fee increases on servicemembers and retirees. Pharmacy fees will increase 66 to 75 percent. (See Issue 1 below for the brief detail. GF)

 

At Issue 2. we see CONGRESS PASSES BUDGET RESOLUTION . Blueprint balances budget in ten years This week, the Senate passed a budget resolution for the first time in six years.  .(See Issue 2 below for the details and send messages to your Legislators. GF)

At Issue 3. we see SENATE UP NEXT TO TACKLE DEFENSEStarting Monday, the Senate begins debate on the FY16 defense bill. What changes are on the horizon? Read More > (See Issue 3 below for the details and send messages to your Legislators. GF)

At Issue 4. we see WHITE HOUSE BACKS CHANGES TO SURVIVOR BENEFITS New proposal creates two tiers of coverage. The White House has come out in support of a proposal to change benefits for military survivors. How will military families be affected? (See Issue 4 below for the details and send messages to your Legislators. GF)

At Issue 5. we see NEW JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN AND VICE CHAIRMAN NOMINATEDPOTUS taps new leadership. Both men’s nominations have been well received on Capitol Hill. (See Issue 5 below for the details. GF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference

 

FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources

 

ISSUES

Issue 1. DEFENSE BILL AMENDMENT COULD COT YOU BIG BUCKS.

 

An amendment introduced to the National Defense Authorization Act would imposes drastic pharmacy fee increases on servicemembers and retirees. Pharmacy fees would increase 66 to 75 percent. This is not right.

However, the House Armed Services Committee wisely rejected proposals to implement additional fee hikes in its mark of the defense bill.  We will watch this one carefully.

 

Issue 2. CONGRESS PASSES BUDGET RESOLUTION

May 8, 2015

For the first time in six years, Congress passed a budget resolution. The Senate voted 51-48 along party lines to adopt the budget plan. The House passed its version of the budget submission in late March.

Only two senators broke ranks from their party: Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rand Paul (R-Kent.).

The budget submission increases defense spending above the sequester limits. To avoid triggering the automatic cuts, however, the proposal shifts money to the Pentagon’s war accounts, which are not subject to sequester caps.

The non-binding resolution does not need to go to the White House for signature. It serves more as a blueprint for congressional leaders. The ten-year plan seeks to balance the budget by aggressively cutting government spending and dismantling the president’s signature health care reform.

While MOAA is pleased that the proposed budget provides defense planners some relief from sequestration, we remain concerned about using contingency accounts for normal DoD functions.

DoD agrees. In late March, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that these kinds of budget gimmicks are “undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning.”

It’s unlikely that some of the central pillars of the budget resolution are politically feasible. “What we want to see is Congress come to a common sense solution to provide permanent sequestration relief,” said MOAA’s Director of Government Relations, Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret). “If sequestration remains in place, the services will be on the hook for cutting a quarter trillion dollars in just five years.”

Although debt reduction is a national priority, military personnel and their families should not have to shoulder a disproportional share of the rebalancing. They have sacrificed more than any other segment of the American population.

Act now to send your legislators a   MOAA-suggested message  asking them to eliminate sequestration.

Click on MOAA-suggested message   here or above or go to Here is the Process: at the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

Issue 3. SENATE UP NEXT TO TACKLE DEFENSE

May 8, 2015

The Senate Armed Services Committee begins work on its version of the FY16 defense bill May 11. Working on an ambitious timeline, the committee hopes to complete the bill by the end of the week.

Although work at the subcommittee level will be done in several open sessions, final negotiations will be held behind closed doors.

What is known is that the committee intends to move forward with controversial changes to military retirement. SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said that the committee has been working closely with House colleagues on retirement modification and expects some type of reform this year.

With support for changes to military retirement in both chambers, it is likely that some version of retirement reform will be sent to the president this fall.

What’s yet to be seen is if the SASC will support the White House’s proposed defense budget – calling for a third year of active duty pay caps, increased costs and reduced choices for military health care, and cuts to housing allowances and commissary benefits – or if it will resemble the defense mark passed last week by the House Armed Services Committee .

Thankfully, the House version of the defense bill rejected many of the proposals from the White House, but with stricter budget rules in the Senate, anything is possible. Without finding ways to pay for the measures supported by the House, the Senate may be forced to accept the administration’s budget-driven proposals.

These measures will continue to erode the very pay and benefits needed to sustain the all-volunteer force.

Please send a   MOAA-suggested message  telling your senators to act now on TRICARE, pay and housing.

Click on  MOAA-suggested message   here or above or go to Here is the Process: at the end of this Email to send messages to your Senators. GF)

 

Issue 4. WHITE HOUSE BACKS CHANGES TO SURVIVOR BENEFITS 

May 8, 2015

The White House supports proposals to change benefits for military survivors.

Support comes after a report made by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), a task force charged with recommending changes to military pay and benefits.

Under the MCRMC proposal, the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), a voluntary contribution program providing protection for military retirees’ survivors, would split into two tiers. The first tier continues the program under existing rules. A second, more expensive tier charges higher premiums and eliminates an unfair penalty that forces thousands of military survivors to forfeit their earned benefits. Retirees would have a one-year open season to make a decision on which tier to enroll.

How SBP Works

Military retirement pay ends when the servicemember dies. A large majority of military retirees are survived by their spouses, and SBP provides a way to pass on a portion of military retirement pay to survivors.

Under current law, however, military survivors forfeit part or all of their entire military SBP annuity when receiving Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The two programs are paid for very different purposes: SBP is a program administered by DoD that allows uniformed service retirees to elect coverage to provide continuing financial support for an eligible survivor. DIC is paid to survivors of servicemembers who die while on active duty, or to survivors of retirees who die of a service-connected illness.

In many cases, the offset virtually wipes out any SBP payment, leaving survivors with only DIC, a modest payment of about $15,000 a year.

When military service causes a servicemember’s death, indemnity compensation from the VA should be paid in addition to SBP coverage, not subtracted from it.

Proposed Changes

Under the current system, military retirees contribute up to 6.5 percent of retired pay to ensure their survivors receive up to 55 percent of the sponsor’s retired pay. Premiums continue until the sponsor makes 360 payments and reaches age 70. Automatic coverage is extended to survivors of servicemembers who die on duty.

The new tier increases the premium to 11.25 percent – a 73 percent increase. Survivors of retirees choosing the higher tier option will not be subjected to the SBP-DIC offset.

The change could have a significant impact on the amount of money servicemembers contribute to the program:

 

“The problem with this proposal is that it asks the folks who will most likely be affected by the offset, those who have significant service-connected health issues, to pay even more in premiums to take care of their loved ones,” said MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Phil Odom, USAF (Ret). “These individuals are likely to have serious issues finding gainful employment after military service. We shouldn’t be asking them to pay even more money for SBP.”

MOAA is also concerned that the new premium is likely to be seen as too expensive for servicemembers, and they may decline SBP coverage altogether. DoD and Congress have worked hard at improving SBP programs over the past 25 years. Participation is currently at record levels and no private insurance on the market can offer equal protection.

The 60,000 Survivor Question

Unfortunately, the proposed changes fail to provide relief for the 60,000 military survivors currently affected by the SBP-DIC offset. These survivors will continue to be penalized by an antiquated Civil War-era law.

“Before we move forward with changes in survivors benefits, it’s imperative that we help the most disadvantaged beneficiaries first,” said Odom.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) have introduced legislation to eliminate the SBP-DIC offset.

Take action: please send a MOAA-suggested message asking your legislators to support H.R. 1594  and S. 979  today.

Click on  H.R. 1594   and then on S. 979   here or above or go to Here is the Process: to send messages respectively to your Representative and your Senators. GF)

 

 

 

 

Issue 5. NEW JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN AND VICE CHAIRMAN NOMINATED

May 8, 2015

On May 5, President Obama announced new leadership for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The president nominated Gen. Joseph Dunford, USMC, to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Gen. Paul Selva, USAF, to be the next Vice Chairman.

The nominations are two of the president’s most important national security advisors. They represent the top two senior ranking officers in the military and serve as senior military advisors to the president, the secretary of defense, and the National Security Council.

Dunford currently serves as the Commandant of the Marine Corps. In announcing Dunford’s nomination, Obama said “I know Joe. I trust him. Joe is a proven leader of our joint force … [h]e is one of our military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers.”

Selva also brings considerable experience to the table, currently serving as the commander of U.S. Transportation Command. Previously, Selva served as the top military advisor to then Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. The president said Selva “understands our military, as powerful as it is, is one tool that must be used in concert with all other elements of national power.”

Although the Senate must still confirm the two, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), offered both men praise, indicating in a written statement that their confirmation should not be contentious.

With their confirmations expected in the next few months, Dunford and Selva will be taking the reins in an austere budget environment. With the Pentagon continuing to push cuts to pay and benefits, and Congress moving ahead with overhauling the military retirement system, MOAA hopes both men continue to look out for the best interest of the troops.

“It is important that these men stand up for the troops during the pressures of budget cuts,” said Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret), deputy director for MOAA’s Government Relations Department.

MOAA looks forward to working with Generals Dunford and Selva in the future, and thanks them for the tremendous work they have done for our military.

 

 

Here is the Process:  If the steps below are new to some, I recommend that you review all of the steps and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here on http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen. Scroll down under “Current Action Alerts” and click on Ask Congress To End Sequestration Now the first time through this process for Issue 1.  The second time through the process for Issue 3, click on Act Now on TRICARE, Pay, and Housing.
  2. For Issue 4click here on http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/bills/ or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” Scroll down under “Survivor Issues” and click on the titleMilitary Surviving Spouses Equity Act next to HB 1594 the third time through this process. Then come back here and repeat the process and click on the titleEliminate the SBP-DIC Offset next to S. 979 the fourth time through this process.
  3. At the next screen enter your Zip code if requested and/orhit “Go!” and/or scroll down to “Take Action”  and at “Compose Message” leave ‘Email‘ checked or check ‘Printed Letter‘  to send  Printed Letters instead of sending Emails if desired.
  4. If an  “Issue Area:”line appears just before the Editable Text: and doesn’t have an issue shown, click on the down arrow and select an issue; e. g., Military, Veterans Affairs, etc.(usually required on messages to our Senators)
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired.
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION. The “Phone”number is now required by some Legislators (it’s required if your Senator is from Arizona) .  Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone number if you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  7. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  8. Check ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘ as to whether you want to have a copy of your letter sent to your Email Address (suggested at least for you initial efforts, and to see how your personal data is included in the message).
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 3 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  11. After hitting “Send Message”at Step 9 above the first time through the process for issue 2, go back to Step 1 and repeat the process for Issue 3After hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above the second and third time through the process, go back to Step 2 to repeat the process twice for issue 4. 

12 For Arizona residentsbecause of some current problems with contacting Sen Flake by Email, you will, see after hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above for each issue, that “Printed Letter” is the only option  for getting your message to him. Step 10 above tells you how to do that.

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!

Veterans Day Appreciation Offers

Below are listed some of the restaurants and companies that offer Veteran’s Day discounts, deals, and free meals as a “Thank You” to our veterans and active-duty military for their service to our nation. Special thanks go to Dave Libby and Lew Patton for making this list available.
Check out http://www.lewpblog.com/2012/10/22/veterans-day-appreciation-offer/ for updates to this list.
Restaurants with Veterans Day Free Meals

Applebees Free Meal: Applebees is offering a free signature entree on Sunday November 11th, 2012, at participating locations. Choose a 7-oz House Sirloin, Fiesta Lime Chicken, or a Bacon Cheeseburger. Beverages and gratuity are not included. Must present valid veteran’s form of identification.

Denny’s All You Can Eat Pancakes: Get all-you-can-eat pancakes for all active-duty military and veterans with a valid ID on Monday, November 12, 2012.

Golden Corral Free Meal: A Veterans Day free meal is offered to any veteran who has served in the United States military or is a current active duty service member. All Golden Corral locations will be participating on Monday, November 12, 2012, from 4 PM to 9 PM. No identification is required to get your free Veterans Day meal.
Chili’s: Choose from Margarita Grilled Chicken, Chicken Club Tacos, Santa Fe Wrap, Old-time w/Cheese, Cobb Salad, and more. Beverages and gratuity are not included.

Olive Garden: Choose from Seafood Alfredo; Chicken Parmigiana; Braised Beef & Tortellini; Cheese Ravioli; or Spaghetti & Meatballs.

Texas Roadhouse: Choose from Country Fried Chicken, Country Fried Sirloin, Cheeseburger, BBQ, Grilled Chicken Salad, and more. Dine in only.
Outback Steakhouse: Get a free Bloomin’ Onion and beverage (non-alcoholic drinks only).

Hooters: Get 10 free boneless or traditional style wings. Drink purchase required.

Retail Stores with Veterans Day Discounts

Home Depot Veterans Day Discount: Every year on Veteran’s Day, the Home Depot offers a 10% discount to veterans. Must present a valid military ID. Home Depot also offers this discount to Veterans on Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day.

Lowe’s Veterans Day Discount: All Veterans receive a 10% discount on Veteran’s Day up to $5,000 on in-stock and special-order purchases. The offer can’t be used online, on previous sales, or on sales of services or gift cards. Must present a valid Veteran Identification Card (VIC); valid Form DD214; or other proof of service. Lowes also offers this Veteran’s discount on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Other Discounts and Veterans Day Deals
National Parks Free Veterans Day Admission: Everybody gets free entrance to our National Parks Veterans Day weekend. Dates this year include November 10 – 12, 2012.

VA Mobile Apps for PTSD

VA mobile applications (apps) provide self-help, education and support. They also have treatment companion apps, for use with a health care provider, to make treatment easier. There are apps for iOS and Android devices.

PTSD is a serious mental health condition that often needs professional evaluation and treatment. These apps are not intended to replace needed professional care.

http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/fslist_mobile_apps.asp

Cellular discounts

In the last Retired Military Newsletter, they mentioned discounts veterans are due for cell phone service. They explained it was a requirement included in the Federal Telecommunications Act 1996 Discount to Federal Employees Past and Present. They listed the companies and phone numbers:

Cingular (19% discount) 800-319-6393
T-Mobile (22% discount) 866-646-4688
Sprint (15% discount) 888-788-4727
Nextel (18% discount) 800-639-6111
Verizon (23% discount) 800-922-0204

The simplest way was to go to the local office and show them your ID (or DD Form 214). It is quick & easy.