AFSA HQ Newsletter – October 19th

This newsletter is produced and released on a weekly basis by AFSA HQ. To read the full newsletter, as well as archived entries, visit the AFSA On Call Newsletter section of www.hqafsa.org.

Yes! There Will Be a Cost-of-Living Allowance (COLA)

We begin this edition of Legislative and Other News with a bit of good news; yes, there will be a COLA in 2013! The Consumer Price Index (CPI), a metric used by the government to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment, rose by 1.7 percent during 2012. As a result, Social Security recipients and most military and federal retirees will see their checks increased by that amount in January 2013. 

An important note related to the annual COLA, by the time of this writing Congress has not approved legislation to establish a similar increase for veterans disability compensation or Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Lawmakers are expected to pass legislation in time for VA-related payments to increase on the first of the year as well. To expound a bit further, the House in July passed H.R. 4114 which guaranteed a cost-of-living adjustment in veteran’s disability and survivor benefits that matches the increase provided to Social Security beneficiaries. The Senate did NOT approve H.R. 4114 or pass a similar measure of its own prior to departing town for the election recess. At one point a secret “hold” had been placed on the House bill which has since been lifted. We will continue to monitor this legislation among the first items the Senate approves when it returns on November 13. 

How is the COLAs Calculated?

Invariably the question is asked, “How are COLAs calculated?” The Social Security Act provides the formula that determines the annual Cost-of-Living Allowance. COLAs are based on increases in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W). 

CPI-Ws are calculated on a monthly basis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If there is an increase, it must be rounded to the nearest tenth of one percent. If there is no increase, or if the rounded increase is zero, there is no COLA. Some readers may recall this happening in 2009 & 2010. 

The base average is 223.233, as shown in the table below. Also shown in the table below, the average CPI-W for the third quarter of 2012 is 226.936. Because this average exceeds 223.233 by 1.7 percent, the COLA effective for December 2012 is 1.7 percent. The COLA calculation, with the result rounded to the nearest one-tenth of one percent, is: (226.936 – 223.233) / 223.233 x 100 = 1.7 percent.

CPI-W for:  2011 2012
July 222.686 225.568
August 223.326 227.056
September 223.688 228.184
Third quarter total 669.700 680.808
Average (rounded to the nearest 0.001) 223.233       226.936

America Funded Through Most of March

October 1st marked the beginning of Fiscal Year 2013 but, as previously reported by AFSA, Congress did not approve any of the 12 annual funding bills prior to the start of the New Year. For that reason, the government is now running on a temporary funding measure known as a continuing resolution (CR). 

First introduced in the House on September 10th, on September 13th the CR passed by a vote of 329-91. The Senate approved it by a vote of 62-30 on September 22nd and by the 25th it was on the president’s desk awaiting his signature. He signed it into law 3 days later. On the surface it looks as though a significant piece of budgetary legislation was passed in rapid fashion (18 days from introduction to signature). In reality this legislation had been talked about in great detail behind the scenes for months. Aside from the politics that went into its eventual passage, the CR prevented a government shutdown which is important to most, if not all, of our readers. 

Many federal offices will continue to run on last year’s budget levels until the CR’s expiration date of March 27, 2013. Some agencies like DoD were fortunate to receive an increase in funding. The base defense budget rose by $3.1 billion under the CR but when compared to the department’s $516.8 billion base budget in FY 2012, the increase is minuscule. And while the gain is appreciated, it could also be short-lived if sequestration is implemented in January. Likewise, we are mindful that the CR only funds DoD through March 27, 2013. When lawmakers begin work on legislation that funds the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year, they could lower defense funding, resulting in no net gain for the department. 

The “If” Factor and a Full Plate Awaits Congress

“If” is often the defining word between action and inaction. In late September, “if” was a “buzz word” on the Hill as it came up often in conversations with congressional staff members. We heard it used by the hopeful handful who told us Congress can stave off the disastrous effects of sequestration IF lawmakers reach a deal that postpones the precipitous cuts slated to start on January 2nd. We also heard it used by the less confident who aren’t even sure that lawmakers would return to the Hill IF a deal hasn’t been reached by then. And we heard it used in conversations about the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act by staffers who are confident that the two chambers can formulate a deal of this key piece of legislation but unsure IF the bill would reach the floor by year’s end. 

Time will tell IF lawmakers can set aside their political differences to provide meaningful action in November. They have truly have boxed themselves into a corner and its getting crowded. This “crowded corner” which, in addition to staving off sequestration and approving the NDAA, includes the federal budget, billions in tax increases, a “Doc Fix,” and other efforts to avoid the “fiscal cliff” looming December 31. The Lame Duck session promises to be interesting and your AFSA advocates will be there to ensure your best interests in most of these matters are well represented. 

CMSAF #16 to Retire

In late September, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh announced that the 16th CMSAF will be retiring on January 31, 2013. Chief Jim Roy has served as the USAF’s top enlisted member since July of 2009. 

Update on Stolen Valor Act

A lot of interest has been expressed with regard to Stolen Valor legislation, especially since the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) in June ruled that a previous effort was unconstitutional. As difficult as it may be to accept that telling a lie is a form of speech, that is what the Court determined which subsequently forced Congress to author a better piece of legislation. 

H.R. 1775, known as the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, was introduced by Representative Joseph Heck (R-NV) on May 5, 2011. Its overall purpose was to establish a criminal offense relating to fraudulent claims about military service. The difference between Heck’s bill and the law that SCOTUS struck down in June might seem like trivial semantics, but it speaks to much bigger constitutional concerns. Language in the original law focused on making it illegal to say you were a decorated veteran, whereas H.R. 1775 would make it illegal to profit from such claims. In marketing, an advertiser can’t push their product without actually backing it up. They advertise a product or service, you give up something (usually money) to get it, and they deliver the goods. If they can’t deliver, they get sued for false advertising. Likewise, if you advertise that you’re a decorated veteran and somebody gives up something because of those claims (paycheck, veteran preference points, etc, Representative Heck’s legislation would hold you accountable for similar false advertising. 

The House approved H.R. 1775 by a vote of 410 to 3 in mid-September and now awaits action in the Senate. The need to protect the honor, service, and sacrifice of our veterans and military personnel is as strong today as it has ever been, so AFSA is urging a prompt response by the upper chamber on this important legislation. 

AFSA at the Table

In mid-September, your AFSA HQ was invited to a “military roundtable” at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. Chaired by Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), 12 members of the House of Representatives engaged in detailed and lengthy conversation with AFSA and many of our other TMC (The Military Coalition) partners. Topics covered were issues relevant to Active, Guard, Reserve, veterans/retired, families and survivors from all branches of service. 

AFSA’s CEO “Doc” McCauslin passionately addressed the military roundtable leadership on the Survivor Benefit Plan and its relationship to the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation, commonly known as the SBP-DIC offset. Doc’s comments were accurate, heart felt by all present and immediately drew praise from Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) as well as members of the Gold Star Wives. While legislation already exists to address the SBP-DIC offset and discussion was not considered “official” testimony, members here are two important points from this Congressional event: 

First, AFSA was invited as a key Military Association to attend the meeting and second, the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, asked AFSA, in particular CEO Doc McCauslin by-name to address the SBP-DIC issue. 

Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act

The Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) was passed in Public Law 97-252. Provisions of this law state that anyone who was ever married to a military member during the active years of their military career has a legal claim to part of that member’s eventual military retirement pay. Also of note, there is no language that speaks to length of marriage with regard to eligibility. 

While this law was passed with good intentions in the mid-1980s, demographics of military service and military families have drastically changed. Single parenting, for one example, is far more common today for both mothers and fathers than it was over 25 years ago. 

One of the chief complaints with USFSPA is that garnishment of military retirement pay does not terminate if the former spouse remarries. It is clearly inequitable for military members and they are the only US citizens who have a separate divorce law which specifically targets them. AFSA’s position on the USFSPA remains unchanged; we support its repeal and continue to address this injustice with members of Congress. Those affected by this law should continue to communicate with their elected officials as well. 

A couple points of order for all AFSA members to know: 

First, please help debunk the “urban myth” going around your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years for this law to apply. This is not true. The “10 year rule” simply allows the former spouse eligible to receive direct payments from a member’s retired pay. 

Second, while we are in favor of repealing this inequitable law, if you are in fact impacted by the USFSPA, having payments to your former spouse taken directly out of your retired pay is worth considering. It prevents the possibility of a “contempt of court” for late payments due to the check getting lost in the mail and it allows members to query DFAS for a historical record of payments which may prove beneficial if further legal matters arise. Also, it can eliminate the payment of Federal and possibly State income tax on the ex-spouse portion of the former spouse payment; an “up front” cost savings measure to you. 

LOC Outgrowing Thomas

The Library of Congress recently unveiled a new Web search tool for bills and other congressional records that eventually will replace the 17-year-old Thomas.gov website. Congress.gov, which was launched in a beta form, will automatically adapt to fit computer, smartphone and tablet screens and will include live video streams from the House and Senate floors. According to tweets from the Library of Congress, the new site will make it easier to search across different categories of congressional information and to narrow a search, according to the agency. It will also link to floor debates and other video related to a particular bill. 

VA Claims Backlog: How bad is it?

Roger Baker, the Veterans Affairs Department chief information officer, recently promised that the department will have a paperless claims processing system installed in all its regional offices next year. The news comes none too soon for Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) employees in North Carolina whose safety is threatened by mountains of paper files. In October the VA Inspector General reported that the VBA office in Winston-Salem has so many backlogged claims that employees have stacked 37,000 paper files on top of file cabinets in mounds two feet high. Files also were stored on the floor and stacked in boxes along the walls, the IG said. These foothills of files have “the potential to compromise the structural integrity of the sixth floor of the facility. We noticed floors bowing under the excess weight to the extent that the tops of file cabinets were noticeably unlevel throughout the storage area,” the IG said. What’s more, onsite safety managers reported “concerns with boxes of files blocking exits, files stacked too close to overhead sprinklers, and files falling from the tops of file cabinets onto employees. In 2011, one employee experienced a minor shoulder injury when claims folders fell on him from the top of a filing cabinet.” The IG report says what AFSA already knew—that veterans are not the only ones who might benefit from a more streamlined, electronic claims process. 

Guard and Reserve take note; TRS and TRR Is Going Electronic

Reserve component members who pay monthly premiums by check for TRICARE Reserve Select or TRICARE Retired Reserve are required to set up electronic payment by January 1, 2013. Current TRS and TRR beneficiaries should already have received notice of the requirement. New enrollees will be notified as part of their welcome package. Failure to pay premiums by the due date may result in termination of coverage. For more information about TRS or TRR, visit the TRICARE Webpage. 


Click HERE to receive this newsletter            Click HERE to access AFSA CAPWIZ

This newsletter is produced and released on a weekly basis by AFSA HQ. To read the full newsletter, as well as archived entries, visit the AFSA On Call Newsletter section of www.hqafsa.org.

Ready to join?

AFSA Legislative Action Center

Legislative Action Center
Follow the issues and write letters to your Congressman!

Take Action!

Find and contact your Senator and Representatives!

Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.