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Feb 12

FRA Newbytes – February 12, 2016

FRA Newsbytes  02/12/16

FRA Newsbytes 02/12/16

In this issue:
Administration’s FY 2017 Defense Budget Includes TRICARE Fee Increases
Agent Orange
VA Budget Roll Out
TRICARE Dental Contract Awarded to United Concordia
FRA NHQ Closed for Presidents’ Day


Administration’s FY 2017 Defense Budget Includes TRICARE Fee Increases
The Department of Defense (DoD) released its FY 2017 budget request ($582.7 billion), which is only $2.5 billion more than the current year’s spending plan. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mac Thornberry (Texas) has already requested that the House Budget Committee provide an additional $15 billion over the request. This will be the first budget since FY 2013 that is not limited to sequestration spending caps. There is also a $221 million cut in the Commissary budget. The request provides a 1.6 percent pay increase in active duty pay. Navy gets a $7 billion cut and reduced end strength from 327,300 down to 322,900 sailors. Marine Corps end strength has shrunk nearly 20,000 since 2009. As in past budget requests, the president has asked Congress to authorize another round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) which Congress has in past years rejected out-of- hand.

The Pentagon is again proposing to increase fees and co-pays for TRICARE. The TRICARE proposal includes:

  • Creating a TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) annual fee of $150 for new beneficiaries;
  • Replacing TRICARE “Prime” and “Standard” with new programs TRICARE “Choice” and “Select”;
  • Requiring all retirees under age 65 to pay larger enrollment fees;
  • Increasing pharmacy co-pays; and
  • Increasing deductibles for the new TRICARE Choice and Select programs.

Specific details on some of the increases were not available at press time. Shipmates are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to oppose these TRICARE fee, co-pay, and deductible increases.
Agent Orange
FRA is disappointed, but not surprised, that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued a “clarified” definition of inland waterways for purposes of determining presumption for coverage of ailments associated with the Agent Orange herbicide that still excludes the so-called “Blue Water” Vietnam veterans. A federal court had ordered the VA to reevaluate its policy of denying Agent Orange benefits to Navy sailors who served in the Vietnam War, on the ships off the coast of Vietnam. NED Thomas Snee said “To state with such confidence that the toxin, Agent Orange, could not cross from inland water ways or harbors into open seas is a rejection of the laws of nature: As if some imaginary line drawn across the mouth of a river or bay had the ability to stop ocean currents from flowing.” The Association will continue to seek a legislative remedy to reverse current policy that discriminates against Blue Water veterans who have health problems commonly associated with herbicide exposure and make them eligible for service-related VA medical and disability benefits. Many want to forget about the Vietnam War, but we should never forget those who served during the Vietnam War. Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (H.R. 969/S. 681).
VA Budget Roll Out
The 2017 federal budget requests $182.3 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – $78.7 billion in discretionary funding and $103.6 billion in mandatory funding for veterans benefit programs. The discretionary request is a 4.9 percent increase over the 2016 budget.

The current disability appeals process is complicated and ineffectual, resulting in veterans waiting, on average, almost 5 years for a final decision on an appeal that reaches the Board of Veterans Appeals. The budget provides funding for creating a more streamlined appeals process. The budget request provides 12.2 billion for community care, as compared to $10.5 billion in FY 2016. Over the past decade, the VA has seen a significant increase in veteran claims. The VA has taken numerous steps to manage the increase in claims, improve quality of care, and to streamline the delivery of that care. However, there have been scandals, budget shortfalls, disciplinary issues and a lingering backlog. The budget request also includes 70 billion in advance funding for FY 2018. FRA National President Virgil Courneya is scheduled to testify on the VA budget and other veterans’ issues before a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday, March 16, 2016.
TRICARE Dental Contract Awarded to United Concordia
The Defense Department (DoD) recently announced that the TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) contract was awarded to United Concordia Companies, Inc. (UCCI), of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The TDP provides comprehensive dental care services worldwide to eligible TRICARE beneficiaries. This is a one-year base transition-in period contract with five 12-month option periods and a 12-month phase-out period. The geographic area of coverage is worldwide. The base transition-in period of performance will be completed on January 31, 2017. The TDP contract also offers support to family members of active duty personnel and members of the Selected Reserve and Individual Ready Reserve. This contract was a competitive acquisition with four offers received and considered.
FRA NHQ Closed for Presidents’ Day
The FRA NHQ office will be closed on Monday, February 15, for the Presidents’ Day holiday. We will reopen at 0800 on Tuesday, February 16.