AFSA HQ Newsletter – December 14th

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS

Winding Down on NDAA

H.R. 1540, the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is poised for passage; lawmakers reached an agreement on this important bill Monday evening. 

According to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, the conference report provides $530 billion for the defense department’s base budget, $115.5 billion for overseas contingency operations, and $11.1 billion is set for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration.  Other provisions in the final bill: 

  • Provide a 1.6 percent increase in military pay and extend many special pays and bonuses
  • Require hostile fire and imminent danger pay be prorated according to the number of days spent in a qualifying area rather than be paid on a monthly basis
  • Make the mandatory high-deployment allowance permissive
  • Add the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and provide a Vice Chief of Staff in the leadership of the Bureau
  • Allow the Secretary of Defense to order members of the Army Reserve, Navy Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, and Air Force Reserve to active duty for up to 120 days in response to a Governor’s request for assistance in responding to a major disaster or emergency
  • Modify the timeframe during which pre-separation counseling must be provided to a reserve component member being demobilized to less than 90 days of projected discharge when operational requirements warrant
  • Extend DoD’s authority to provide voluntary separation pay and benefits to eligible members of the armed forces who are voluntarily separated from active duty
  • Prohibit the denial of reenlistment of a service member who has been determined by a Physical Evaluation Board (PEB) to be fit for duty but who is subsequently determined to be unsuitable for continued military service for conditions considered by the PEB
  • Make necessary changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice in matters related to rape and sexual assault, while retaining the prohibition on sodomy
  • Provide legal counsel for sexual assault victims and ensuring requests for transfer by said victims are considered by their commander within 72 hours.
  • Authorize $45 million in Impact Aid to help local educational agencies heavily impacted by military dependents, base closures, and military unit realignments
  • Authorize mental health assessments for the reserve components during unit training
  • Create the statutory framework for the management, administration, and oversight ofArlingtonNationalCemetery
  • Expand number of individuals authorized to direct the disposition of remains of a deceased service member and include the individual identified by the decedent on the record of emergency data
  • Limit future TRICARE fee increases to the rate of annual COLA 
  • Require enrollees in the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan after September 30, 2012, to transition to TRICARE for Life once they become Medicare-eligible due to age
  • Extend the time limit for submittal of TRICARE claims for care provided outside theUnited Statesfrom 1 to 5 years
  • Authorize service members who incur an injury or illness on or after September 11, 2001, in designated combat operation or zones to accept certain gifts
  • Allow the Secretary of the Air Force to allow seriously wounded, ill, or injured former or retired enlisted service members to continue their participation in associate degree programs of the Community College of the Air Force in order to complete a degree program interrupted by separation or retirement
  • Direct DoD to carry out a pilot program to assess the feasibility and advisability of permitting enlisted service members to obtain civilian credentialing or licensing for skills required for military occupational specialties or qualification for duty specialty codes
  • Require a study and report on DoD’s “Space A” travel program, including a review of the cost and capacity of the system, a discussion of logistical and management issues, and an assessment of the effect on the cost and capacity of the program if the program were extended to un-remarried widows of active and reserve component members, and expanded for gray area retirees to include overseas travel
  • Provide $67.7 million for the Armed Forces Retirement Home

Noticeably absent from the bill is a Senate-approved provision repealing the SBP/DIC offset.  This provision was not retained in the conference report, and we are greatly disappointed with that decision.  Nor does it appear to include previously agreed to House language allowing modest increases and extending the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA).  Apparently that language was dropped as well. 

The bill may still face a veto threat from the President over language granting military custody of terrorist suspects.  This issue has been a major impediment to the bill’s passage for months and lawmakers reworded the provision many times in an effort to gain the presidents approval.  If everything goes according to plan, the House is expected to take a vote on the bill on tomorrow and the Senate later in the week. 

Congress Sprinting to the Finish Line

Lawmakers will make a full-court press this week to complete the annual funding bills and legislation addressing other important issues.  Yesterday, House and Senate appropriators announced they reached a deal on a $900 billion FY 2012 spending plan that funds the bulk of federal agencies through September 30, 2012.  H.R. 2055, the FY 2012 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act will be used as the vehicle to advance this legislation, and we anticipate that package will be filed sometime today.  Congress must approve it quickly however; the current continuing resolution funding the government expires on Friday, December 16. 

Additionally, Congress still needs to come to an agreement on a package of extenders for the payroll-tax cut which expires at year’s end, unemployment insurance, and the physician reimbursement rate issue better known as the “Doc Fix.”  The latter issue concerns us greatly because unless lawmakers step in, doctors treating Medicare and TRICARE patients will see a 27 percent cut in reimbursements January 1.  This could create serious access problems for beneficiaries; since doctors would likely limit the number of patients they see who use these two programs.  Healthcare benefits only have value if you can find a doctor that accepts TRICARE or Medicare—a point we have driven home with Members of Congress all year long.  Senior congressional leaders expressed confidence that an agreement is in sight, and we continue to watch the development of that legislation closely.

At the start of the year, lawmakers projected they would complete all necessary actions by December 9 and adjourn for the year on that date.  As it stands right now, Congress will remain in session through this week and probably will continue to do so into early next week.

National Guard Turns 375 Today

Congratulations to the National Guard which turns 375 today!  The National Guard came into existence on December 13, 1636, when the Massachusetts General Court in Salem directed that all able-bodied men between the ages of 16 and 60 be required to join the militia.  Since that time, the National Guard and its citizen-soldiers/Airmen have participated in all major American conflicts, most recently in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation New Dawn.  The National Guard is “Always Ready, Always There” and we encourage readers to take time today and watch this video outlining the 375 years of value and vigilance provided by the members of our military’s oldest component.

VETERANS NEWS

Information on VA health-related Topics 

The A to Z Index provides Veterans and their caregivers with need to know information on a variety of health topics.   VA captured the most popular topics—from how to obtain benefits to specific conditions and compiled them in one place to help you quickly retrieve information.

HEALTHCARE 

TRICARE Standard

The TRICARE Standard Handbook is an 80-page guide for beneficiaries using TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Extra.   It also provides information about qualifying for and purchasing TRICARE Reserve Select, TRICARE Retired Reserve and TRICARE Young Adult Standard.   The handbook also discusses regional contractors; eligibility; providers; accessing routine, urgent, and emergency care; referral and prior authorization requirements; covered health, pharmacy, and dental benefits; claims; coordinating with other health insurance; life events; appeals and grievances; and reporting fraud and abuse.   Stateside and overseas contact information is included as well. 

Some TRICARE Notices Are Now Sent by E-mail

Under the milConnect portal, certain kinds of mailed correspondence are being replaced with e-mail notifications and online correspondence for ADSMs. E-mail notifications will be sent to ADSMs for the following products: 

  • TRICARE Enrollment Cards and Welcome Letter
  • Change of Primary Care Manager Letter
  • Child Turning 21 Letter
  • Child Turning 23 Letter 

E-mail notifications will only be sent to the work e-mail assigned to the ADSM’s CAC. If there is no CAC e-mail or the CAC e-mail is invalid, the letters will be mailed via the U.S. Postal Service. 

AFSA MEMBER BENEFITS 

Discount Prescription Card

AFSA members & dependents have a Prescription Discount Benefit.   Cut your prescription costs up to twenty percent on brand-name drugs and save as much as fifty percent on generic medicines with the RxAmerica program.   To print your prescription card click here, select “wellness”, then choose “RX AmericaPrescription Plan”. 

AROUND THE AIR FORCE

Officials Announce Absentee Voting Guidelines

Last week, the Federal Voting Assistance Program and the Military Postal Service Agency announced absentee ballot mailing date guidelines that apply to various overseas locations.  Military members serving overseas and other U.S. citizens living abroad must consider mail transit times when submitting their absentee ballots to vote in upcoming presidential, Senate, House, gubernatorial, state legislature, local and other elections. 

The 2012 General Election, for example, will be held November 6, 2012.  Officials recommend that absentee voters sending ballots from the following countries mail them out no later than: 

  • Iraq: 22 days before the election;
  • Afghanistan(excluding air stop locations),Egypt,Kyrgyzstan,OmanandTurkmenistan: 17 days before the election;
  • Germany: 11 days before the election;
  • Afghanistan air stop locations, Bahrain, Cuba, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates: 10 days before the election; and
  • Japan,Koreaand thePhilippines: seven days before the election. 

For a full list of absentee ballot mailing dates for overseas locations, visit the Federal Voting Assistance Program Website.

Military members serving overseas may express mail their absentee ballots free of charge from any APO/FPO/DPO or American embassy and consulate (ask to use the Express Mail Label 11-DoD).  This label allows voters to track their ballots through the US Postal Office

The federal write-in absentee ballot can be used as a backup ballot.  Thirty days prior to an election, if voters believe they’ll not receive their state ballot in time to vote and return it, they can vote using the FWAB.  This ballot is accepted by all states from any overseas or military voter who has registered and requested a ballot for 2012. 

End-of-Year Membership Drive

Don’t forget the2011 End-of-Year Membership Drivewhich runs through the end of December!   We have authorized a special membership rate; 5-years for $100.00! 

Applications must be mailed to the HQ NLT December 31, 2011 to qualify.  HQ will also accept applications via the phone at (800) 638-0594, Ext 288.

WORTH REPEATING

“God grants liberty only to those who love it, and are always ready to guard and defend it.” 

Daniel Webster 

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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