AFSA HQ Newsletter – September 23

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS

Continuing Resolution

The clock is ticking for lawmakers to pass legislation that will keep the government running beyond September 30.  Congress failed to pass any of the required 12 annual funding bills making the action necessary before the start of the new fiscal year that begins October 1.

On Wednesday evening, the House rejected a stopgap measure that would have kept federal agencies running through November 18 by a vote of 195 to 230.   Disagreement over discretionary spending levels and the amount of disaster aid relief contributed to the defeat.  House appropriators have no choice now but to redraft another bill that addresses these concerns.

The House was already on a collision course with the Senate over funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).   The bill rejected on Wednesday would have provided $3.65 billion for FEMA and the Senate is adamant they want $6.9 billion for the agency—a level they approved nearly a week ago.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) made it clear on Tuesday he would move to amend the House bill if it did not include the higher figure.

Both chambers were scheduled to be in recess next week but last night’s House action jeopardizes the planned break.  As of press time, there was no word when a new bill might be considered.

Higher TRICARE Fees and Changes in Retirement Benefits

As AFSA reported earlier this week, the deficit reduction plan presented to Congress by President Obama on Monday targets healthcare for older military retirees and raises pharmacy copays for most beneficiaries.  It also calls for a review of the military retirement system.
A new $200 annual fee for TRICARE for Life (TFL) users being proposed by the President would begin in FY 2013 and indexed to a yet-to-be medical inflation factor, meaning it would rise every year thereafter.  Pharmacy costs would be raised to levels similar to those required by other federal employees, and apply to all active duty dependants, retirees and their family members, but not active duty service members.

The President proposes to set up a commission to develop recommendations for reforming the current military retirement system.  Like the 2005 BRAC process, DoD would make a proposal to the commission which could alter it before sending it to the President.  The President cannot revise the commission’s proposal, but he must decide whether or not to send it to Congress.  If he does, lawmakers would then have to approve or disapprove it without modifications.

The document says “The Administration believes that any major military retirement reforms should include grandfathering provisions that ensure that the country does not break faith with military personnel now serving”  Whether that statement will offer any consolation to military members already worried over the erosion of earned benefits remains to be seen.  Recently-approved changes in TRICARE fees (by Congress) coupled with talk of reducing military retirement from multiple sources has already had a negative impact on morale.

As indicated in a recent survey by The Military Times, an overwhelming majority of the current force, nearly 88 percent, dislike changing the existing retirement system.  Following through with reduced retirement benefits and higher TRICARE fees could prove to be disastrous for DoD and severely impair the military’s recruiting and retention efforts.

In Tuesdays Alert, we encouraged readers to voice their concerns with these proposed changes to the President and their elected representatives in Congress.  For your convenience, we repeated their contact information below.   We also added contact information for the House and Senate Armed Services Committees because members serving on these two panels will ultimately decide what, if any, changes are made.

We would like to hear from you as well, and invite you to provide your comments and concerns via the link at the end of this newsletter.

The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
White House Comment Line: (202) 456-1111

Electronic Message:  http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact.

Capitol Hill Operator: (202) 224-3121 or (202) 224-3125

House Armed Services Committee

2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 225-4151

Senate Armed Services Committee

SR-228, Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Phone: (202) 224-3871

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Airman to be Awarded Air Force Cross

The Air Force Cross is the highest decoration the Air Force can present to an airman. It is second only to the Medal of Honor, which is awarded by Congress.

On Tuesday the Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz, announced that Staff Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr., a joint terminal attack controller now assigned to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations School in Hurlburt Field, Florida, will receive this award.  Gutierrez is being recognized for his actions on October 5, 2009, when he and a team of 7th Special Forces Group soldiers were pinned inside a building by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan’s Herat province.  Despite a collapsed lung caused by a gunshot wound to the chest, Gutierrez continued to call in and direct air support for himself and the team.  He is credited with saving the lives of 12 of his fellow soldiers.

A senior leader from his former unit said, “Sergeant Gutierrez’s actions that day epitomized the ethos of special tactics. He willingly risked his life to save a teammate. He maintained his composure in the darkest of circumstances and aggressively pursued the enemy using every asset at his disposal.   Sergeant Gutierrez is a warrior in every sense of the word.”

The Air Force Cross will be formally presented to Airman Gutierrez this fall, and AFSA salutes him for this much-deserved recognition.

VETERANS NEWS 

According to a recent press release, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is extending retroactive traumatic injury benefits to Servicemembers who suffered qualifying injuries during the period October 7, 2001 to November 30, 2005, regardless of the geographic location where the injuries occurred.

“Now all of our nation’s Servicemembers who suffered severe traumatic injuries while serving their country can receive the same traumatic injury benefits, regardless of where their injury occurred,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.   “We at VA appreciate the efforts of Congress and the President to improve benefits for our troops.”

Effective October 1, the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Traumatic Injury Protection benefit, known as TSGLI, will be payable for all qualifying injuries incurred during this period.  This retroactive benefit is payable whether or not the Servicemember had SGLI coverage at the time of the injury.

The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2010, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in October of 2010, removes the requirement that injuries during this period be incurred in Operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF).   This is welcome news for the many Servicemembers who suffered serious traumatic injuries while serving stateside or in other areas outside of OEF/OIF during this time period, but until now have not been eligible for TSGLI.

TSGLI provides a payment ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 to Servicemembers sustaining certain severe traumatic injuries resulting in a range of losses, including amputations; limb salvage; paralysis; burns; loss of sight, hearing or speech; facial reconstruction; 15-day continuous hospitalization; coma; and loss of activities of daily living due to traumatic brain injury or other traumatic injuries.

National Guard and Reserve members who were injured during the retroactive period and suffered a qualifying loss are also eligible for a TSGLI payment, even if the cause was not related to military service, such as a civilian automobile accident or severe injury which occurred while working around their home.

National Guard and Reserve members make up more than 40 percent of the total force which has been deployed since 9-11.  Those who are no longer in the National Guard or Reserves can also apply as long as their injury occurred while they were in service.

“I am extremely pleased that these total force warriors who defend our freedoms are getting the recognition and benefits they have rightfully earned in service to our nation,” added Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.

VA is working with the Department of Defense to publicize this change in the TSGLI law.   Additionally, all of the branches of service are identifying any claims previously denied because the injury was not incurred in OEF/OIF and reaching out to those individuals.

Although applications are currently being accepted by branch of service TSGLI offices, benefits will not be paid until October 1, 2011, the effective date of the law.

For more information or to apply for a TSGLI payment, click HERE.

HEALTH CARE

TRICARE Young Adult Retroactive Coverage Deadline Approaching

As a reminder, the opportunity to purchase retroactive TRICARE Young Adult (TYA) coverage expires on September 30.  Retroactive TYA provides coverage for young adults back to January 1, or the day they became eligible if that was after January 1.  Click here to learn more.

Home Health Care Services Covered by TRICARE

Home health care services covered by TRICARE are the same as those covered by Medicare.  All care must be provided by a participating home health agency.  Learn more about this benefit by visiting the TRICARE website.  (http://tricare.mil/mybenefit/jsp/Medical/IsItCovered.do?kw=Home+Health+Care)

TRICARE Promises Continued Access to Prescription Meds

Readers of On Call may be aware of an ongoing contractual dispute between Walgreens and Express Scripts, the contractor for TRICARE’s retail pharmacy and pharmacy home delivery programs.  In July of this year, Walgreens signaled its intent to pull out of the Retail Network if a new agreement could not be reached.  This is a private business matter between the two companies.

Last week, AFSA representatives participated in a conference call with Navy Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, deputy director of the TRICARE Management Activity, who assured us that beneficiaries still will have plenty of other options for getting their prescriptions filled in the event contract renewal negotiations fall through and Walgreens drops out of TRICARE’s retail pharmacy network on January 1.  TMA also published a news release on the matter which you can read by clicking HERE.

AROUND THE AIR FORCE

Tops in Blue Seeks the “Best of the Best” for 2012 Team

The Air Force Worldwide Talent Search takes place at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, January 9-16, 2012.  Airmen who believe they have the skills to sing, dance, act, or play musical instruments are now being encouraged to apply.  After an in-depth review of applications, the top 80-100 Airmen are invited to participate in this prestigious competition.

Besides performers, Tops in Blue is looking for technicians in the performing arts, such as audio, lighting, staging and videography.  Big rig truck and bus drivers are also needed, and Airmen in these categories are encouraged to submit non-performer applications.

Interested applicants may apply online at www.topsinblue.com or mail an application and video to the Air Force Entertainment office by November 15.  Completed applications/video should be sent to:  Air Force Entertainment, 10100 Reunion Place, Suite 404, San Antonio, Texas, 78216-4138.

AFSA MEMBER BENEFITS

AFSA USAA Rewards World Master Card

Get this card and you will be supporting AFSA’s mission to advocate improved quality of life and economic fairness for Air Force enlisted members and their families.  For more information, please visit the AFSA web site and look under Resources >> Member Only Benefits

DELL COMPUTERS

Exclusive discounts and promotions for AFSA Members on Dell notebooks, mini laptops, work stations and much more. Check by logging on HERE.

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