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Washington Update for October 24th, 2017


The Voice of the Enlisted


Even with Congress out of town on the campaign trail there is a lot of news that is important to military people.  TREA was there for a lot of it, representing you during this time of major change in the benefits received by Active Duty, Retirees, Veterans, and Guard and Reserve personnel.


Please check out the articles below:


Government Announces Amount of COLA Increase

TREA: The Enlisted Association Meets with VA’s Office of Suicide Prevention

Arlington Cemetery Faces Reality of Lack of Space for Burials

TRICARE Expands Coverage for Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure

TRICARE to Expand Preventive Service Coverage

TREA Speaks with CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman

Fertility Treatments and Adoption Costs to be Covered by VA




Government Announces Amount of COLA Increase

Last week the government announced that the COLA for 2017 will be 0.3 percent.  This is the same for military retirement pay as well as for Social Security recipients.  Obviously, it’s not much of an increase.


To make matters worse, since military retirees have to enroll in Medicare Part B in order to have Tricare For Life, some will face an increase in their Medicare Part B premium next year.

According to a report in Federal News, “Unfortunately for some seniors, even the small increase will probably be wiped out by an expected increase in Medicare Part B premiums, which are usually deducted from Social Security payments.

“By law, rising premiums for most Medicare recipients cannot exceed their Social Security cost-of-living increase. That’s known as the “hold harmless” provision. However, new enrollees and high-income retirees are not covered by that provision, so they could face higher Medicare premiums, which will be announced later this year.”


The cost-of-living adjustment is based on a broad measure of prices generated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It measures price changes for food, housing, clothing, transportation, energy, medical care, recreation and education.  Low fuel prices are the major reason the inflation rate is so low this year.


The increase will become effective as of December 30 of this year.


TREA: The Enlisted Association Meets with VA’s Office of Suicide Prevention


Last week TREA’s Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders met with Dr. Caitlin Thompson, Executive Director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ Office of Suicide Prevention (OSP) and her staff to discuss that ways that VA has attempted to tackle the issue of veteran suicide.


The meeting was prompted by the release of VA’s report on veteran suicide earlier this year. The report found that approximately 20 veterans kill themselves every day (compared to the 22 a day that a previous study had found), and of those 14 are NOT enrolled in the VA. This means that 70% of veteran suicides take place among veterans who are unknown to the VA system, making it even more important that VA conducts effective outreach to populations that either don’t have access to the VA or don’t want to reach out to the VA for help.


The most important take-away from the meeting was that suicide is not just a veteran problem – it is an American problem. 65% of all suicides in America occur among people over the age of 50. This tracks with what the most recent study of veteran suicide found, meaning that what is happening to the veteran population is mirroring what is going on in American society as a whole.


The rate of suicide among civilian adults has increased 23% between 2001-2014; among all veterans it has increased 32.2% over the same time period. For female veterans the rate has increased 85.2% from 2001-2014. Overall, 67% of all veteran suicides involve the use of a firearm; it is extremely likely that this is because veterans have all received firearms training while they were in the service.


It was a very productive meeting, and we will keep you informed of any new programs that OSP rolls out in the coming months.


If you or anyone you know is going through a crisis, please call the Veterans’ Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.



Arlington Cemetery Faces Reality of Lack of Space for Burials

On Wednesday of last week TREA’s legislative director Larry Madison attended a meeting with Congressional staff members from the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and officials from Arlington National Cemetery.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the fact that Arlington National Cemetery is running out of space.


The lack of space is not immediate, but when using projections about the number of burials Arlington is likely to have in the coming years, decisions about how to deal with the problem have to be made fairly soon.  Officials are in the process of acquiring new land but Arlington is surrounded by highways so the opportunities to increase the size of the cemetery are very limited. 



The two main options are to changes the eligibility for burial in Arlington, or to acquire additional land elsewhere that is separate from the current property.



TREA will continue to be involved in meetings with Arlington officials in the coming months and we will be sending out a survey to TREA members in the near future to ask those who desire to be buried in Arlington their opinions about what direction to go.


TRICARE Expands Coverage for Treatment of Congestive Heart Failure


 Congestive Heart Failure is now a covered diagnosis under the TRICARE cardiac rehabilitation benefit. 

Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. This may happen when the heart muscle itself is weaker than normal or when there is a defect in the heart that prevents blood from getting out into the circulation. The American Heart Association lists several signs of heart failure:


  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic coughing or wheezing
  • Build-up of fluid
  • Fatigue or feeling light headed
  • Nausea or lack of appetite
  • Confusion 
  • High heart rate

If you are experiencing these symptoms, talk to your health care provider. If you have been diagnosed with heart failure, it's important for you to manage and keep track of symptoms and report any sudden changes to your healthcare team. 

Providers of cardiac rehabilitation services must be TRICARE-authorized hospitals or freestanding cardiac rehabilitation facilities. All cardiac rehabilitation services must be ordered by a physician.


TRICARE to Expand Preventive Service Coverage

 TRICARE is adding new services and screenings to ensure their preventive services are aligned with recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), and the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) guidelines. 

Effective Jan.1, 2017, TRICARE will cover annual preventive office visits for all Prime beneficiaries 6 years of age and older. Children under 6 are already covered by existing well-child coverage. This will ensure children in developing stages receive observation, physical examination, screening, immunizations, and various counseling services. TRICARE Standard beneficiaries can receive preventive services with no cost-share or copayment through Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HP&DP) examinations (i.e. in connection with a covered immunization or cancer screening). 

Additionally, the annual well-woman exam will continue to be covered for all Prime and Standard beneficiaries under age 65 with no cost-share or copayment. The new covered services include free genetic counseling by a TRICARE-authorized provider. 


An authorized provider is any individual, institution/organization, or supplier that is licensed by a state, accredited by national organization, or meets other standards of the medical community, and is certified to provide benefits under TRICARE. There are two types of TRICARE-authorized providers: Network and Non-Network. 


TRICARE will also cover stool DNA testing once every 3 years starting at age 50 for those who have an average risk of colon cancer.  The effective date of the coverage is June 21, 2016.  

If you have recently received any of these services, please be sure to save your receipts and file a claim.  The regional contractors will be ready to process claims for the new preventive benefits on Nov. 14, 2016, the implementation date of this change.  The implementation date is the date the contractor must be ready to communicate and process claims for this benefit. 


TREA Speaks with CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman

Last week TREA: The Enlisted Association, represented by Deputy Legislative Director Mike Saunders, met with the Student Loan Ombudsman for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Seth Frotman about the fact that service members are still being failed by the student loan system.


According to an article in Politico last week, student loan servicing breakdowns and antiquated policies create ongoing challenges for military members with student loans.

Nearly 6,000 service members suffer "direct economic harm" because they aren't being given an automatic waiver that would allow them to be recertified to participate in income-driven student loan plans, as the law allows.



CFPB has received more than 1,600 complaints from military members, veterans and their families related to student loan servicing issues. Among those complaining are military borrowers with a permanent disability who face obstacles when seeking a loan discharge.

One huge obstacle to disabled military personnel who are seeking a discharge of their student loan obligations is the tax burden that comes with having a loan forgiven. TREA: The Enlisted Association has supported several efforts in recent years to rectify this problem, particularly for the estates of service members that are killed in action.


There have been positive developments, such as the Education Department's effort to find military members overcharged on student loan interest - going back to 2008 - and give them a credit for the amount. Senators expressed outrage at the time after the department's Inspector General found the agency had badly mishandled a review of whether loan servicers were following the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The law spells out financial protections for deployed troops, including caps on the interest rates on certain loans at 6 percent.

The CFPB estimated last year that military borrowers have paid more than $100 million in unnecessary interest charges.


Here is the recap of the rest of the meeting:


Got Loans?  Help is available!

You can get your federal student loans forgiven (and even get reimbursed for loans you already paid) if your school:

  • Took out loans in your name without your permission or signed your name without your knowledge;
  • Defrauded or deceived you;
  • Closed (and you were enrolled within 120 days of its closure); or
  • Wrongly enrolled you in a program you couldn’t benefit from (such as if you lacked a GED)

You can also get your loans forgiven or reduced if you are:




Fertility Treatments and Adoption Costs to be Covered by VA

Recently President Obama signed legislation that will allow the VA to pay the costs for fertility treatments and adoptions for the next two years for veterans whose combat wounds have made them infertile.  The VA will seek legislation to make such payments permanent.

















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