AFSA HQ Newsletter – January 12th

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES AND NEWS

New National Defense Strategy Announced

Last Thursday the President laid out plans for a leanerU.S.military during a Pentagon press conference.   The Administration’s new strategy moves away from the two-war standard that has been in place since the end of the Cold War, greatly reduces military personnel levels and reorients the military toward the Asia-pacific Theater of operations.

The underlying goal of the new strategy is to reduce overall defense expenditures.   The eight page report, entitled, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for the 21st Century is driven by the need to cut nearly $490 billion from defense spending through 2021, including about $261 billion through 2017.  It does not provide specifics on exactly how DoD intends to carry out these cuts; that part of the plan should become clearer when the President releases his budget proposal to Congress in early February. 

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey accompanied the President when he made his announcement.  According to Secretary Panetta, four overarching principles guided their deliberations in preparing the report: To maintain the world’s finest military, one that supports and sustains the unique global leadership role of the United States; to avoid hollowing out the force– a smaller, ready, and well-equipped military is preferable to a larger, ill-prepared force that has been arbitrarily cut across-the- board; that savings must be achieved in a balanced manner with everything on the table, including politically sensitive areas that will likely provoke opposition from parts of Congress, industry, and advocacy groups; and to preserve the quality of the All-Volunteer Force and not break faith with our men and women in uniform or their families.  In a prepared statement, Secretary Panetta said “There is no question that we have to make some tradeoffs, and that we will be taking on some level of additional but acceptable risk in the budget plan we release next month. These were not easy choices.” 

Later in his statement, Panetta addressed the men and women in uniform and the civilian employees who support them.  You have done everything the country has asked you to do, and more.  “You have put your lives on the line, and fought to make our country safer and stronger. I believe this strategic guidance honors your sacrifices and strengthens the country by building a force equipped for the future.  I have no higher responsibility than fighting to protect you and your families, just as you have fought and bled to protect our country.”

One thing is clear however, with the release of Thursday’s report: major changes in DoD are coming.  Comments within like “reducing the cost of doing business” and “reducing manpower costs” can safely be translated to mean changes in military compensation and higher healthcare costs will be part of future DoD budget proposals. 

All totaled, the military faces $1 trillion in cuts over the next decade to satisfy congressional mandates if the sequestration feature of the budget accord passed in August 2011 is allowed to go forward.  AFSA shares the concerns of many— that deep reductions in defense spending greatly reduce our military capability and could result in a hollow force.  As stated before, we have serious reservations with any proposal that begins with the premise of saving money, rather than a careful assessment of our national security needs and then properly applies the funding to meet that need.  Overall the Nation would be better served if the Administration focused its efforts on eliminating redundant programs or the hundreds of billions of dollars of fraud, waste and abuse that occurs in federal programs, instead of trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who have sacrificed so much. 

Again, we have to wait until the FY 2013 budget request is released before we will know what programs may be at risk.  By law (Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974), the President is required to present a budget proposal for the coming Fiscal Year to Congress by the first Monday in February.  We are told his FY 2013 proposal will be submitted by February 6 as the law requires.  AFSA will make a careful assessment of his proposal at that time and alert members to any threats it may contain affecting Air Force enlisted members or their families.

Congress

Congress remains in a period of legislative inactivity.  For the past few weeks the House and Senate have been meeting in pro forma sessions where no legislative business is conducted.  The House session on Tuesday lasted two minutes and the Senate’s, a mere 28 seconds.

New Law Eases Airport Screening for Troops, Families

Last week President Barack Obama signed H.R. 1801, The Risk-based Security Screening for Members of the Armed Forces Act which streamlines airport screening procedures for service members and their families traveling on official orders.

The Act gives the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) six months to develop and implement a plan to expedite screening services for service members on orders and in uniform and, “to the extent possible, any accompanying family member.”  It calls for the agency to establish standard guidelines for the screening of military uniform items, such as combat boots.  According to a DoD press release, TSA officials said they’re in the process of reviewing options for these new procedures in consultation with the Defense Department.  Programs such as this one strengthen security, officials said, explaining that separating out low-risk people, such as members of the armed forces, allows the agency to focus its resources on travelers who present a higher risk. 

VETERANS NEWS 

With the tax filing season upon us, VA is warning veterans of a number of scams that impersonate the IRS.   Some of them appear with great frequency, particularly during and right after filing season.  They are: 

  • Refund Scam — This is the most frequent IRS-impersonation scam seen by the IRS. In this phishing scam, a bogus e-mail claiming to come from the IRS tells the consumer that he or she is eligible to receive a tax refund for a specified amount. It may use the phrase “last annual calculations of your fiscal activity.”   To claim the tax refund, the consumer must open an attachment or click on a link contained in the e-mail to access and complete a claim form.   The form requires the entry of personal and financial information.   Several variations on the refund scam have claimed to come from the Exempt Organizations area of the IRS or the name and signature of a genuine or made-up IRS executive. In reality, taxpayers do not complete a special form to obtain their federal tax refund — refunds are triggered by the tax return they submitted to the IRS. 
  • Lottery winnings or cash consignment — These advance fee scam e-mails claim to come from the Treasury Department to notify recipients that they’ll receive millions of dollars in recovered funds or lottery winnings or cash consignment if they provide certain personal information, including phone numbers, via return e-mail.   The e-mail may be just the first step in a multi-step scheme, in which the victim is later contacted by telephone or further e-mail and instructed to deposit taxes on the funds or winnings before they can receive any of it. Alternatively, they may be sent a phony check of the funds or winnings and told to deposit it but pay 10 percent in taxes or fees.   Thinking that the check must have cleared the bank and is genuine, some people comply.   However, the scammers, not the Treasury Department, will get the taxes or fees. In reality, the Treasury Department does not become involved in notification of inheritances or lottery or other winnings. 
  • Beneficial Owner Form — This fax-based phishing scam, which generally targets foreign nationals, recurs periodically.   It’s based on a genuine IRS form, the W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding.   The scammer, though, invents his or her own number and name for the form.   The scammer modifies the form to request passport numbers, information that is often used for account security purposes (such as mother’s maiden name) and similar detailed personal and financial information, and states that the recipient may have to pay additional tax if he or she fails to immediately fax back the completed form. In reality, the real W-8BEN is completed by banks, not individuals. 

This Year, Stick with Your Resolutions

VA is available to help you keep your resolutions, maintain your motivation and avoid common pitfalls.  Make this the year you make good on your New Year’s resolutions and get on the path to good health in 2012.  Read the full story…  (http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20111229a.asp

Homelessness among Veterans Declining

VA and Housing and Urban Development recently released a national report that shows Veteran homelessness fell nearly 12 percent between January 2010 and January 2011.  The 12-percent decline keeps VA on track to meet the goal of ending Veteran homelessness in 2015.    “This new report is good news for the tens of thousands of Veterans we have helped find a home.   Our progress in the fight against homelessness has been significant, but our work is not complete until no Veteran has to sleep on the street,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.   “We have been successful in achieving this milestone due to strong leadership from the President and hard work by countless community organizations and our federal, state, and local partners who are committed to helping Veterans and their families get back on their feet.”   According to the 2011 supplement to the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) released, 67,495 Veterans were homeless in the United States on a single night in January 2011 — a significant reduction from last year’s single night count of 76,329.   For more information on Veterans homeless issues, click here

HEALTHCARE 

Prior Authorizations

Do you know what medical services require prior authorization under TRICARE?  Click here to find out and remember you can call your regional contractor to find out if an authorization has been approved. 

Counseling for Military Families

Military OneSource offers military families several counseling options to support emotional well-being.  See what’s available here 

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

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”. 

THINKING AFSA 

Last Call! AFSA Seeks Input for 2012-2013 Legislative Platform

This is the last call for proposals for possible inclusion in AFSA’s 2012-2013 Legislative Platform.  Recommendations should be written in point paper format and submitted through the local chapter to the Division President for coordination. Division Presidents will compile issues received from their chapters and forward them to the Directorate of Military and Government Relations (M&G) for further evaluation. 

Proposals must be received by Military and Government Relations and (cc:)Trustee Nelson (Legislative Committee Chairman) NLT January 15, 2012, to ensure there is sufficient time to research each issue.  Items received by this time will be considered by the AFSA Legislative Committee in the spring of 2012 when it meets to prepare a new draft platform for the AFSA International Executive Committee. 

WORTH REPEATING 

“Quality is not an act. It’s a habit.”

– Aristotle 

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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