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Washington Update for Monday, October 31st, 2016

 

PHOTO:  Aviano Sky -An F-16 Fighting Falcon flies over Aviano Air Base, Italy, Oct. 20, 2016. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Krystal Ardrey

 

TREA Washington Update for Monday, October 31st 2016

 

!!!!!!HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!!!!

If it is scary where you are with ghosts and goblins and surprises jumping at you…Just imagine Washington DC. It is a week before the election and no one knows what is going to happen. No one is even claiming that they know what is going to happen. So time will tell- One more week. .

We are also preparing for Veterans Day. While the National Observation is at Arlington National Cemetery here in the DC area there are events going on all across the country. To find one near you just go to: http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/

 

Sec Def Announces Halt to Collection of Improperly-Paid National Guard Reenlistment Bonuses

 

Paying Back the Money When the Government Overpays

 

Changes Coming to Commissaries

 

Veterans Day discounts and deals

 

Department of Education Puts Out Final Regs on Student Borrowers

 

New Information on Risk of Suicides Among Veterans

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Sec Def Announces Halt to Collection of Improperly-Paid National Guard Reenlistment Bonuses

 

Statement from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter:

There is no more important responsibility for the Department of Defense than keeping faith with our people. That means treating them fairly and equitably, honoring their service and sacrifice, and keeping our word. Today, in keeping with that obligation, I am ordering a series of steps to ensure fair treatment for thousands of California National Guard soldiers who may have received incentive bonuses and tuition assistance improperly as a result of errors and in some cases criminal behavior by members of the California National Guard.

 While some soldiers knew or should have known they were ineligible for benefits they were claiming, many others did not. About 2,000 have been asked, in keeping with the law, to repay erroneous payments. There is an established process in place by which service members can seek relief from such obligations. Hundreds of affected guard members in California have sought and been granted relief. But that process has simply moved too slowly and in some cases imposed unreasonable burdens on service members. That is unacceptable. So today, on the recommendation of Deputy Secretary Work, I am ordering measures to make sure we provide affected service members the support they need and deserve.

 First, I have ordered the Defense Finance and Accounting Service to suspend all efforts to collect reimbursement from affected California National Guard members, effective as soon as is practical. This suspension will continue until I am satisfied that our process is working effectively. Second, I have ordered a team of senior department officials, led by the senior personnel official in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Peter Levine, to assess the situation and establish no later than Jan. 1, 2017 a streamlined, centralized process that ensures the fair and equitable treatment of our service members and the rapid resolution of these cases. The objective will be to complete the decision-making process on all cases as soon as possible - and no later than July 1, 2017.

 Ultimately, we will provide for a process that puts as little burden as possible on any soldier who received an improper payment through no fault of his or her own. At the same time, it will respect our important obligation to the taxpayer.

 I want to be clear: this process has dragged on too long, for too many service members. Too many cases have languished without action. That's unfair to service members and to taxpayers. The steps I've outlined are designed to meet our obligations to both, and to do so quickly.

Note from TREA: The Enlisted Association’s Legislative Affairs Office – Secretary Carter’s statement does not address the existence of the underlying debts, which technically still exists and can affect current and former servicemembers’ credit ratings and security clearances. We will insist that Congress act quickly to fix the remaining problems as soon as they return after the November 8th election.

 

 

Paying Back the Money When the Government Overpays

The case of the overpayment of enlistment/re-enlistment bonuses to members of the California National Guard who subsequently deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan ten years ago made major headlines last week.  In some cases, Guardmen/women owed the government thousands of dollars, which included interest on the bonuses they had received.          

The whole situation created a national uproar with politicians, who happen to also be up for re-election, expressing outrage and vowing to pass legislation to deal with the issue.

It also has many Americans questioning the fairness of the situation and wondering what the solution should be.

Here is an article from Federal News Radio.com explaining how these situations are normally handled by the  government when these things happen and what the law is that must be followed unless and until it is changed.

http://federalnewsradio.com/commentary/2016/10/what-happens-if-youre-accidentally-overpaid/

As it says in the article, this situation could and should have been handled differently.  We’ll let you decide for yourself.

 

 

Changes Coming to Commissaries

 

We have been telling you for a while that the Commissary system is considering changes in the way it does business as a result of the pressure put on it by Congress.  Many in Congress want to totally end the taxpayer subsidy to commissaries as a way to try and cut the defense budget.  But commissary officials have studied the situation and have told Congress there is no way they can to that and keep the benefit to military personnel.

 

TREA has been actively involved with this issue and we have participated in numerous phone calls with commissary officials as they’ve discussed what options they are considering.

 

Below is an article put out by the commissary system describing a new program they are instituting.  It will mean variable pricing in different areas of the country.  The article says commissaries are “improving the way patron savings are calculated.”  We think it’s more accurate to say they are “changing” the way savings are calculated.  Only time will tell whether it’s an improvement.

 

TREA believes there are potential problems with this new plan.  We appreciate the commitment of commissary officials to try and maintain the current savings enjoyed by commissary shoppers but we are not certain this is the solution.

 

TREA will continue to stay in close contact with commissary officials and we’ll keep you posted as we learn new information.  In the meantime, we thought you should be aware of the coming changes.

 

 

Commissaries to Publish Regional Savings

DoD News, Defense Media Activity

 

WASHINGTON, Oct. 27, 2016 — The Defense Commissary Agency is improving the way patron savings are calculated by comparing commissary prices on the items that patrons purchase most frequently to better reflect shoppers’ experiences.

 

“These price comparisons will now be made at the regional and national level, to better account for price differences across geographic areas,” saidJoseph H. Jeu, DecA’s director and CEO.

“Grocery costs outside the gate vary widely by region, so we’re enhancing our savings calculations to reflect what our service members and their families experience in and out of the commissary,” he added. “Finally, price comparisons will be monitored more frequently to ensure the best savings for patrons.” 

Regional Savings Levels

Price comparisons on specific items will be rolled up into regional savings levels. This change, which does not affect patrons’ out-of-pocket expense, will allow the agency to set a better baseline of savings on the products shoppers tend to buy most, Jeu said.

To calculate regional savings, DeCA is comparing prices on a selection of more than 1,000 representative items in each commissary with the actual prices for those same items in a variety of grocery stores in each region, including three commercial retailers in the area of each commissary. This representative market basket is standard across all regions, DeCA officials said, and includes items from many areas of the store, including grocery, meat and produce.

The commissary agency also uses standard industry data to compare average prices at national level on all 38,000 items carried in its stores. This is done to ensure the savings methodology reflects the entire assortment, as well as representative regional savings, officials explained.

DeCA will complete the price comparison on more than 1,000 items in the market basket at the regional level on a rotating quarterly basis and will monitor national average prices each month. With this frequency, officials said, the agency can closely monitor continuity of the savings benefit throughout the year. DeCA will publish updated savings levels annually, they added.

 

Overseas Commissaries

The regional approach will be adjusted slightly to calculate savings for the agency’s overseas locations. Because grocery stores overseas don’t carry the same assortment of products as the commissaries, officials explained, DeCA will use a cost-of-living index to estimate market prices of groceries in the area around each overseas location. 

“The update of our savings measurement does not change the dollars our patrons spend or the savings we offer – this is only an enhancement of how the savings level is calculated,” Jeu said.

 

 

Veterans Day discounts and deals

Every year more and more businesses are giving discounts or gift to veterans and their families for Veterans Day. Below is a list of restaurants and stores that are advertising deals. Many of the businesses are offering specials for the full month of November. You should call your local business or go on their website to make sure they are giving the special. (There will be more examples in next week’s Update.) We will start with Meals:

Applebee’s

Arby’s

BJ’s Restaurant

Black Angus Steakhouse

Bob Evans

Bonefish Grill

California Pizza Kitchen

California Tortilla

Carrabba

Chili’s

Chuck E. Cheese

Centraarchy Restaurants

 (this chain includes  California Dreaming, New York Prime, Chophouse ’47, The Tavern at Phipps, Carolina Roadhouse, Joey D’s Oak Room, Burro Loco, Gulfstream Cafe, Chophouse New Orleans.)

Charlie Brown’s Steakhouse

Chevys Fresh Mex

Chicken Salad Chick

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store

Denny’s

Don Pablo’s

Friendly’s (Free Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner)

Golden Corral

The Green Turtle

Hickory Tavern

Hooters

Hurricane Grill and Wings

Hy-Vee

IHOP

Krispy Kreme

Little Caesars

Logan’s Roadhouse

Longhorn Steakhouse

McCormick and Schmick

Mission BBQ

O’Charley’s

Olive Garden

Outback Steakhouse

Panera Bread

Petro Shopping Centers

Red, Hot and Blue

Red Lobster

Red Robin

Rib Crib

Rock & Brews

Shoney’s

Spaghetti Warehouse

Twin Peaks

Wienerschnitzel

Yard House

 

 

 

Department of Education Puts Out Final Regs on Student Borrowers

 

From Department of Education Press Release:

 

Last week the U.S. Department of Education announced final regulations to protect student borrowers against misleading and predatory practices by postsecondary institutions and to clarify a process for loan forgiveness in cases of institutional misconduct.

The Department began the negotiated rulemaking process after it received an unprecedented influx of borrower defense claims following the closure of Corinthian Colleges. The then-current regulation, promulgated in 1995, provided little detail on how borrowers could submit claims, and how the Department would adjudicate those claims. The final regulations include key provisions from the proposed regulations that will protect the rights of borrowers and hold institutions accountable by:

  • Giving borrowers      access to consistent, clear, fair, and transparent processes to file      claims;
  • Empowering the Secretary to provide debt relief to borrowers without requiring individual   applications in instances of widespread misrepresentations;
  • Protecting taxpayers by ensuring that financially troubled institutions provide the      government with protection against the risks they create and that institutions whose actions lead to discharges of Federal student loans are held responsible;
  • Helping students make more informed decisions by requiring proprietary schools with poor loan repayment outcomes to include a plain-language warning in their      advertising and promotional materials;
  • Ensuring affected borrowers have information about loan discharge when schools      close and access to an automated process; and
  • Banning schools from inducing students to sign pre-dispute arbitration agreements that waive their rights to go to court and bring class action lawsuits based on borrower defense claims.

The final regulations strengthen several provisions in response to public comment on the proposed regulations, including:

  • Early Implementation of Automatic      Closed School Discharge: The      final regulations provide for the automatic discharge of the loans of      borrowers whose school closed on or after Nov. 1, 2013 and have not      re-enrolled in another Title IV participating institution within three      years. The Department intends to designate this provision for early      implementation as soon as operationally possible before July 1, 2017,      which will allow eligible Corinthian borrowers to benefit from this      streamlined process sooner.
  • UNFORTUNATELY, THE DISCHARGE OF      STUDENT LOANS IS STILL CONSIDERED INCOME FOR THE PURPOSES OF THE IRS;      TREA: THE ENLISTED ASSOCIATION IS STILL WORKING TO CHANGE THIS.
  • Banning All Pre-dispute      Arbitration Agreements: The      final regulations strengthen the limitations on pre-dispute arbitration      agreements that prevent students from taking institutions to court by      permanently banning any pre-dispute arbitration agreements for all Direct      Loan borrowers for disputes related to the educational services provided      or the making of Direct Loans, regardless of whether such clauses are a      condition of enrollment. These provisions not only allow students to      choose where to pursue claims against an institution after claims arise,      but also prohibit institutions from banning class action lawsuits by      students.
  • Determining Borrower Defense Loan      Relief: The final      regulations make clear that the Department will determine in a reasonable      and practicable way the appropriate relief for a borrower defense claim,      taking into account any educational benefit received.

The Department received over 10,000 comments on the proposed regulations published in the Federal Register on June 16. All provisions of the regulations, with the exception of those the Department intends to designate for early implementation, will take effect on July 1, 2017.

For a summary of the final regulations, go here.

 

New Information on Risk of Suicides Among Veterans

 

TREA has long paid attention to the issue of suicide among military personnel and veterans and we have written about it often in our Washington Update.  Last week an article from Reuters News Agency reported about the results of a new study that we want to pass along to you.

Since many TREA members have family members who either have served or are currently serving, we believe this is important information for you to have.

According to the article, “Veterans may be more likely to commit suicide during the first year after they leave the military than after more time passes… .”

The article continued, “Compared with people still on active duty in the military, veterans out of the service for up to three months were 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide, the study found. Veterans who had left the service from three to 12 months earlier had almost triple the suicide odds of current members of the military.”

“The strongest predictors of suicide were current or past diagnoses of self-inflicted injuries, major depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or other mental health conditions,” according to information in the report.

The report says that it turns out that some veterans may need psychological counseling long after they return home if they exhibit any of the behaviors that are indicators of possible suicide.

You can read the entire article here:  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-veterans-suicide-idUSKCN12R2MT?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=DFN%20EBB%2010.28.16&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief

We also want to remind you once again that if you or a loved one have thoughts of suicide one immediate resource that is available 24/7 is the national suicide prevention lifeline at  1-800-273-8255.

 

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