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Washington Update for week of May 1st, 2017

TREA Washington Update for Monday, May 1st 2017

 

HAPPY MAY DAY

 

This is the day to informally celebrate summer in the U.S. and formally celebrate left wing politics throughout the world. We should also note that Congress is passing a Continuing Resolution (CR) that will keep the Federal Government  open and running through the end of Fiscal Year 2017 (ending September 30th 2017.)  

 

Proposal to Tax Post 9/11 GI Bill Runs into Headwinds

 

DOD Inspecting Groundwater at 400 US Installations

 

Military Exchanges to Expand Shopping Privileges

 

COLAs vs. Pay Raises

 

President Trump Signs VA Accountability Executive Order, Secretary Shulkin Makes New Key Announcements

 

United Concordia takes over managing the TRICARE Dental Program today

 

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Proposal to Tax Post 9/11 GI Bill Runs into Headwinds

 

In the last few weeks several veteran service organizations have begun quietly pushing for a “GI Bill 3.0,” which would expand some educational benefits for those that use the Post 9/11 GI Bill. However, the $3 billion in new spending planned over the next decade would be paid for by servicemembers themselves, with $100 a month taken out of their paychecks for the first 24 months of service. While $100 a month might not be much if you’re a brand-new lieutenant, it can be a huge burden for junior enlisted servicemembers (E-1s to E-4s). 

Starting at the end of this year new servicemembers will have to contribute money towards their own retirements. Additionally, there are annual threats to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and the commissary, not to mention efforts last year to make active duty families pay for access to the TRICARE system. TREA: The Enlisted Association is skeptical of any rush to placed additional financial burdens on those who have committed to defend us.

While it is clear that the current Post 9/11 GI Bill contains loopholes and antiquated practices that need to be fixed (the fact that the Montgomery GI Bill program exists at all is a problem), last year TREA: The Enlisted Association rejected any attempt to force veterans to “rob Peter to pay Paul.” We do not support reductions to certain veterans’ programs, or increased costs to servicemembers, their families, veterans or survivors in order to fund new programs, no matter how important they are. If Congress deems them important enough, they will find the money somewhere else.

A hearing on this legislation, scheduled for April 26, was postponed.

Here are some of the loopholes that the bill attempts to fix and which, taken individually, TREA supports:

removing the 15-year “use it or lose it” time limit on benefits to make them redeemable over a lifetime;

offering benefits to vets with other-than-honorable and general discharges;

expanding support for vets in science, technology, and engineering programs that take longer than four years to earn a degree;

restoring assistance to students who were enrolled in ITT, Corinthian, or other discontinued educational programs;

greater access for rural and nontraditional students;

the option to use benefits on “microdegree” or non-degree certification programs in tech;

opening full benefits to all combat vets, closing loopholes that omit some reservists and Purple Heart recipients;

and increased IT support.

 

DOD Inspecting Groundwater at 400 US Installations

 

Late last month news broke that nearly 400 military bases in the continental US are being tested for drinking water contamination.

A nationwide review of water on or around bases has begun, especially targeted towards bases that used a firefighting foam containing toxic chemicals. DOD has confirmed water contamination at or near more than three dozen.

Click here for a map of the locations where contamination has been found.

 

While this process plays out, the chemicals in soil or groundwater could continue to leach into drinking water, experts say, meaning the problem could grow.

 

The chemicals causing the contamination are PFOA and PFOS, known collectively as perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). They are unregulated and little understood. Used in manufacturing and in military firefighting foam, they have been linked to health problems including testicular and kidney cancers, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol. Research on other potential health effects is ongoing, and some experts contend even water below the EPA’s health advisory level is unsafe. The chemicals are commonly found around military air bases, civilian airports, manufacturing plants and fire stations.

Local and state officials around the country are pressing the Department of Defense to step up and pay for clean up efforts wherever contamination linked to military activity is found. TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you updated as more information becomes available.

 

Military Exchanges to Expand Shopping Privileges

 

Starting this coming November the military exchanges are set to allow all honorably discharged veterans to shop online at the exchanges.  TREA has known about this change for a couple of years and it is being implemented in order to try and increase sales at the exchanges.

Now, a further expansion of shopping eligibility is also under consideration.  DoD is looking at a proposal to allow DoD civilians to shop at the exchanges.

Once again, the rationale is to increase sales.  Profits from the exchanges partially fund MWR programs, as well as pay for building and renovating the exchanges.

Officials have learned that the volume of sales at exchanges is related to the volume of sales at commissaries because patrons tend to go to both stores during a shopping outing.  The volume of sales at commissaries has declined each year since 2012, with a corresponding decline in exchange sales.

With major changes coming to the commissaries in an effort to decrease the amount of taxpayer subsidies, it is not surprising that the exchanges are seeking ways to increase their sales.   Obviously, the more the exchanges can support MWR programs, the less need there is for taxpayer support if the services wish to maintain the MWR programs.

What we worry about, however, is the effect of continuing to reduce or take away the benefits that used to solely be given to military retirees.  The purpose of that, of course, was to maintain a trained, experienced force that could train new recruits in the event of a national emergency. 

Obviously, it’s unlikely someone would make a decision about making the military a career because civilians could shop at the exchanges, but it’s a continuation of a reduction in benefits for careerists.  Military health care benefits have been cut back for years and continue to this day because defense officials and some politicians complain that the military health care program is too expensive and can’t be maintained.  Starting next year the military retirement system will be changed and individual military personnel will be forced to put some of their own money into the retirement program if they expect to receive the same benefit they would have under the old system.

How will it all work?  Will there still be enough incentives for people to stay in the military for a career?  We’ll find the answer to that a few years down the road.

If you’d like to give  us your opinion on whether it’s a good idea to give exchange privileges to DoD civilians, send us an email at info@treadc.org and let us know.

 

 

COLAs vs. Pay Raises

 

It’s still far too early to know what the COLA will be next year, or even if there will be one.  For the curious, if a COLA were given today, it would be 1.1 percent.

However, it’s important to remember that a COLA is not the same as a pay raise.  The COLA, or Cost of Living Adjustment, is just that.  It’s an adjustment in the amount of retired pay to compensate for the effects of inflation that eat away at retirement pay.  Without a COLA retirement pay would end up impoverishing many retirees because it becomes worth less and less as the years go by.

Since 1975, Social Security general benefit increases have been cost-of-living adjustments or COLAs.  Prior to 1975, Social Security benefit increases were set by legislation.

A complicated formula is used in determining what the COLA will be and many argue it’s not fair to seniors because the current formula does not take into consideration the kinds of increases in costs that seniors experience, as opposed to younger workers.

Pay raises; on the other hand, must be given each year by Congress, if there is to be one.  That’s why there is usually a difference between the amount of a pay raise and the amount of a COLA.  In addition, Congress can decide to give workers a pay raise even if retirees don’t get a COLA.

 

President Trump Signs VA Accountability Executive Order, Secretary Shulkin Makes New Key Announcements

 

Last week President Trump signed an Executive Order entitled, “Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” and VA Secretary Shulkin made three new key announcements at the VA’s Central Office.

The Executive Order is focused on improving “accountability and whistleblower protection” at the VA by creating an office dedicated to that purpose and the position of Special Assistant to the Secretary who will report directly to the Secretary and serve as executive director of the office.

The new executive director “will report directly to me as Secretary so that we can identify barriers that are preventing us from removing employees and people that we have identified that should no longer be working at VA,” said Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  “We want make sure that we have employees who work hard and are committed to the mission of serving our Veterans.”

The VA will establish the office and appoint the executive director within 45 days of the signing of the Executive Order. 

The executive director will advise and assist the Secretary in using all available authorities to discipline or terminate any VA manager or employee who has violated the public’s trust and failed to carry out his or her duties on behalf of Veterans.  The executive director will also assist the Secretary in recruiting, rewarding, and retaining high-performing employees.

At the signing ceremony for the Executive Order, Secretary Shulkin also announced three new key initiatives at the Department.

 

VA Partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services

The VA has entered a partnership agreement with the Department of Health and Human Services that will allow the assignment of medical professionals from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to provide direct patient care to Veterans in VA hospitals and clinics in underserved communities.

“My priority has been to improve access to care for our nation’s heroes,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs. “By partnering with our colleagues at HHS, we will enhance the availability of clinical care in those areas most in need.”

The initial agreement enables up to 20 officers from the Commissioned Corps to treat Veterans in VA facilities that are most in need of staffing support.  The agreement also allows up to 10 more officers to help support coordination for veterans receiving non-VA community care.

 

New Fraud, Waste and Abuse Taskforce

The Secretary announced a major new initiative to detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse in the Department of Veterans Affairs. This initiative has the potential to save tens of millions of taxpayer dollars currently at risk, for fraud, waste and abuse that can be redirected to better serve Veterans.

The initiative will include bringing in the leading thinkers from the private sector and other government organizations in an advisory committee to identify and leverage cutting-edge fraud detection tools and; and coordinate all fraud, waste and abuse detection and reporting activities across the Department through a single office.
 

The Department has identified potential savings in the area of improper payments to health care providers, major contracts, contracts for pharmaceuticals, and the delivery of benefits to Veterans.
 

“Restoring the trust of Veterans and improving system-wide accountability are among my top priorities. It's essential to ensure that all our employees and the companies that we do business with are being good stewards of the resources available to care for our Veterans," said Dr. Shulkin.

 

Removing Red Tape at State-owned Veteran Nursing Homes

Finally, the VA is amending guidelines to allow state-owned Veteran nursing homes to follow state guidelines in the construction design of their facilities - removing red tape, while increasing access to services for Veterans. 

Up to now, to qualify for federal grant funding for Veteran nursing homes in their state, Governors and state officials have had to follow federal construction design guidelines.  With today’s announcement by the Secretary, that is no longer the case, and Governors are freed up to follow their own state guidelines in the construction design of these facilities while still qualifying for the same level of federal grant funding as before.

In announcing the move, Secretary Shulkin noted that State design guidelines already are sufficient to the task of providing safe conditions for our Veterans and the Department recognizes the need to move quickly to reduce unnecessary barriers to providing much needed services to our Veterans.

 

 

United Concordia takes over managing the TRICARE Dental Program today

 

Today, May 1st 20117, United Concordia assumes the TRICARE Dental Program which had been with Met Life. Present beneficiaries do not need to do anything. However, if you have any questions click on to the following link:

 

https://tricare.mil/CoveredServices/BenefitUpdates/Archives/04_05_17_ImprovementstotheTRICAREDentalprogram

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