AFSA HQ Newsletter – October 14th

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS

Deadline for Retroactive Stop Loss Payments is Near

We begin with a reminder that the deadline for Retroactive Stop Loss Payments (RSLP) is one week away. All service members, veterans, and beneficiaries of service members whose service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between September 11, 2001, and September 30, 2009 must submit a claim by October 21, 2011, to receive these payments. Visit AFPC’s Retroactive Stop Loss Payments webpage for information on how to apply.

Defense Secretary Speaks on Defense Cuts

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta gave notice on Tuesday that the U.S. military should expect cuts to personnel, benefits and equipment as the department makes “difficult choices” to reduce spending by more than $450 billion as required by the debt ceiling agreement reached by Congress in August. Speaking atWoodrowWilsonInternationalCenterfor Scholars, the Secretary told his audience that navigating the department through these cuts is the “defining challenge” he faces.

According to Panetta, DoD will follow a different course in implementing these spending reductions– one driven by strategy rather than expediency, and he is looking at all areas to achieve savings. This includes looking at the growth in personnel costs, which he says are “simply put, on an unsustainable course.” He noted costs for military compensation and health care have risen by about 80 percent since 2001 while military end strength has increased less than 5 percent. He refrained from citing specific benefit cuts but did note the government as a whole, instituted a two-year freeze on civilian employee pay and made other proposals. “We must, at the same time, look at what reforms we can make in military pay as well,” Panetta said. This pairing of the two pay systems suggests a similar pay freeze might be in store for currently serving personnel somewhere down the road.

Since taking over the helm of DoD, Secretary Panetta has made a concerted effort to reassure service members that he will protect their retirement benefits and any changes would be grandfathered in. His speech on Tuesday continued with that trend. “We need to make sure our men and women in uniform are fairly compensated, that they get the benefits they have earned, but at the same time we must recognize that the growth in personnel costs must be addressed, Panetta said. If we fail to address it, then we won’t be able to afford the training and equipment our troops need in order to succeed on the battlefield. There’s a tradeoff here. My approach will be to try to grandfather benefits when I can in order to try to implement future reforms in these areas.” While the Secretary’s efforts in this area are certainly welcome, we remind our readers that the final authority for any provision that grandfathers in promised military benefits rests with Congress and the President.

Contact the “Super Committee”

The Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, better known as the “Supercommittee,” has created a page so Americans can provide their inputs on deficit reduction. Here is your chance to tell them how you feel about potential cuts in defense spending and other federal programs. The input page is located here

COLA

This past week AFSA Headquarters received many calls from members wanting to know if there will be a Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) increase next year and if so, how much would it be. A final figure hasn’t been announced yet and that action is a few days away–but it appears we are on track for a COLA increase in the neighborhood of 3.5 percent. The agency responsible for calculating the annual COLA, the Bureau of Labor Statistics is scheduled to release the final figure Wednesday morning (October 19).

House Approves Veterans-Related Legislation

Three pieces of AFSA-endorsed legislation cleared the House this week. On Tuesday, House lawmakers approved H.R. 1025 which extends “Veteran status” to members of the Reserve components lacking title 10 service; H.R. 1263, to provide surviving spouses with mortgage protections through the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act; and H.R. 2074, the “Veterans Sexual Assault Prevention Act” which includes a provision that increases VA flexibility in establishing rates for reimbursement of care provided to veterans in State Veterans Homes.

All three bills were approved by voice vote and now await Senate action. A Senate version of the veteran status bill, S. 491, is stalled in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and additional pressure may be needed to move that legislation forward. The status of Senate legislation addressing the state veteran home reimbursement issue (S. 914) is unclear. The most expedient method for passage would be for the Senate to accept the House bills as written. Unfortunately as of press time, that did not appear to be the route the upper chamber plans to take.

House Bill Reigns in VA Spending on Conferences

Another bill the House passed on Tuesday requires VA to deliver quarterly reports to Congress identifying the cost of conferences that occurred during that quarter and provide an estimate expenses for conferences for the next quarter. Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN), Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity, authored H.R. 2302 after learning of excessive costs involving a taxpayer-funded VA conference last February.

According to a press release by Rep. Stutzman on the matter, during the 11-day conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, VA incurred a total cost of $221,500, including $97,000 in consulting services. The conference ran for 11 days but meetings were not held on weekends. “Each cent counts because each cent belongs to the taxpayers” said Rep. Stutzman. “We pay the VA to care for our nation’s veterans, not to take vacations… No one would argue that it isn’t important for the VA to develop and plan. I’m arguing that, as long as they’re spending tax dollars, they need to be open and accountable.”

New Veterans in Congress to Join Committee

The House Veterans Affairs Committee recently announced that Representatives Mark Amodei (R-NV) and Bob Turner (R-NY) were joining the committee. Rep. Amodei was a prosecutor for the Judge Advocate General Corps in the Army; handling criminal matters from 1984-1987. Rep. Turner was a Specialist in the Army from 1962-1965 and was stationed atFort Polk,Louisiana. Amodei and Turner officially joined the Committee on Wednesday, and AFSA looks forward to working with them on veterans-related issues in the future.

VETERANS NEWS

Wreaths Across America Day: Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wreaths Across America (WAA) is a national non-profit organization (501(c)3) with over 500+ participating locations nationwide—that carries out its mission to Remember, Honor, and Teach—in part by placing wreaths on veteran’s graves during the holiday season. This year’s event will be held on Saturday, December 10 so save the date! We encourage AFSA members to participate in this extremely worthwhile endeavor. Learn more about the event by visiting the WAA website.

DFAS Begins Monthly Electronic Account Statements for Military Retirees

This week, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) announced that effective November 1, every military retiree can receive a monthly electronic statement known as eRAS by using myPay. The eRAS provides a complete summary of a military retiree’s pay, deductions and benefits. It also includes information about allotments, income tax withholdings, direct deposit information and a Survivor Benefit Plan counter that shows plan members how much longer they have to pay premiums.

Previously, DFAS issued an annual RAS each December or when a retiree’s pay, benefits or other account information changed. The new eRAS was created in response to customer requests for more frequent communication about their accounts. Military retirees can view their eRAS by logging into myPay at https://mypay.dfas.mil. Retirees who do not have current user IDs or passwords for myPay can find instructions on how to get them at www.dfas.mil/retiredmilitary. Links to the instructions are located in the upper right hand corner of the Retired Military and Annuitants section under the “myPay Login Instructions” heading.

Retirees who choose to register their email addresses with myPay will receive an email notification every month when their eRAS are available. The myPay website is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week from anywhere in the world, and changes retirees make, using myPay ,take effect in just three to five business days.

VA to Build Polytrauma-Blind Rehabilitation Center in Palo Alto

On Tuesday the VA announced a new start-of-the-artPolytrauma-BlindRehabilitationCenterwill open on the VA Palo Alto campus in 2014. The $98 million facility will be over 170,000 square feet and include over 50 beds for the polytrauma and blind rehabilitation programs. The center will also have an outpatient physical and occupational therapy clinic—including programs for OEF and OIF Vets.

HEALTH CARE

October is Women’s Health Month

October is Women’s Health Month and TRICARE encourages female beneficiaries to take full advantage of the preventive screenings and tests covered by TRICARE to protect their health. Ms. Kathie McCracken, Health Affairs program director for Patient Advocacy, Medical Ethics and Women’s Health Issues discusses some of the types of preventative care and services available to female beneficiaries in this entry on the departments official blog; DoD Live.

Social Security Numbers Being Removed from Beneficiary ID Cards

DoD is in the process of removing Social Security account numbers (SSANs) from uniformed services identification (ID) cards in an effort to protect the privacy and security of TRICARE’s 9.6 million beneficiaries. DoD began replacing SSANs with a DoD Benefits Number in June 2011 and the process will continue for the next several years, until all current uniformed services ID cards are replaced as they come up for renewal.

Note that you do not need to make a special trip to have your ID card updated until it expires. Your health care providers and pharmacists can access your benefits using either number. The new 11-digit DoD Benefits Number can be found above the bar code on the back of your ID card. This number is a unique number, like your SSAN, and it will ensure that your records are clearly aligned with you and your treatments. If you want to learn more or have additional questions, please visit the TRICARE website.

AFSA MEMBER BENEFITS

INSURANCE: PROPERTY & CASUALTY

Protect what’s important to you with affordable insurance from USAA. USAA offers top-rated coverage at low rates. Combine that with award-winning service — in fact, USAA was ranked one of Business Week’s top two “Customer Service Champs” the last four years in a row. To make it easy for you, you can do it all online — quote, buy, print ID cards, and much more. Call USAA at (800) 531-8722 or go online HERE.

FREE SAT & ACT TEST PREP SOFTWARE!

eKnowledge Donates $200 SAT and ACT Test Prep to Military Service Members and their families.

In alliance with the DoD and supported by patriotic NFL and MLB players, eKnowledge is donating $200 SAT and ACT PowerPrep™ Programs to military service members and their extended families. To order the free software, visit www.eknowledge.com/AFSA. There is a nominal charge of $13.94 for the cost of materials, processing, distribution and customer service.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

“To try to break the back of the recession on the backs of the military means, who will have our back the next time we’re attacked?”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon

We want to hear your thoughts and opinions. Complete the sentence below! What’s your top 10 list for AFSA? Go ahead. Don’t be bashful. Send it.

“I THINK AFSA SHOULD __________.”

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