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Feb 26

FRA Newsbytes – February 26, 2016

FRA Newsbytes  02/26/16

FRA Newsbytes 02/26/16

In this issue:
Subcommittees Hold Hearings on Military Health Care Reform
Quicker Veterans Benefits Introduced
More Retirement Changes Proposed by Pentagon
Vietnam Wall “In Memory” Program
Passing of Former MCPON
State of the Coast Guard
Happy 75th Birthday for U.S. Coast Guard Reserve


Subcommittees Hold Hearings on Military Health Care Reform
The House Armed Services, Military Personnel Subcommittee (HASC-MP) and the Senate Armed Services, Personnel Subcommittee (SASC-P) held hearings this week on TRICARE and military health care reform. FRA provided a statement for the record (available on the FRA website, www.fra.org) at both hearings that welcomes the review and reform, but states that we are not convinced that TRICARE cannot be fixed, as stated by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission final report. In FRA’s current online survey (January/February 2016), respondents were asked, “It has been asserted in Congress that TRICARE is irrevocably broken. Would you support replacing TRICARE with a program that costs more but offers a selection of benefits?” Nearly 90 percent (89.94%) responded “No.” The FRA statement also includes parameters for health care reform such as:

  • The premium for retiree health care has, at least in part, been paid for with 20 or more years of arduous military service;
  • The current level of coverage for all beneficiaries contained in the existing TRICARE benefit should be considered the “floor” for any new health care reform;
  • Quality care, regardless of beneficiary location, should be improved through reform, including advanced technologies such as DoD’s new electronic health record (EHR) and telehealth capabilities; and
  • The Defense Department must sufficiently investigate and implement other options to make TRICARE more cost-efficient as alternatives to shifting costs to TRICARE beneficiaries.

In related news, FRA staff (DLP John Davis, ADVP Brian Condon, and Kerry Sprouffske) met with HASC-MP Chairman Joe Heck (Nev.) to discuss health care reform, TRICARE fee increases, concurrent receipt reform, SBP/DIC offset repeal, and USFSPA reform.

Members can use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to oppose TRICARE fee increases and tell their legislators to amend my TRICARE but don’t end it.
Quicker Veterans Benefits Introduced
The “Quicker Veterans Benefits Delivery Act” (H.R. 1331/S. 666) has been introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.) and Senator Al Franken (Minn.) in the House and the Senate, respectively. The bill requires (current law allows) the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to accept, for purposes of establishing a claim for veterans disability benefits, a report of a medical examination administered by a private physician without requiring confirmation by a Veterans Health Administration (VHA) physician if the report is sufficiently complete.

“After these brave men and women put their life on the line for us, the least we can do is ensure they are getting the benefits they have earned in a timely manner,” said Rep. Walz. “I recognize this problem was not created, nor will it be solved, overnight, but we can and must do better. Our bipartisan legislation will enhance the VA’s current efforts to break the backlog by helping them become more efficient, allowing them to hand down quicker and more accurate decisions to help end the backlog and get veterans the benefits they have earned.”

FRA strongly supports this common-sense legislation and urges members to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support this legislation.
More Retirement Changes Proposed by Pentagon
Last year, Congress enacted and the president signed into law major changes to the military retirement system that replaced the current defined benefit with a “blended” retirement system for those joining the military after January 1, 2018 and provides the option of participating in the new system for those who joined the military on or after January 2006 but before January 1, 2018. The “blended” system reduced the defined benefit program from 50 percent to 40 percent of salary for those who serve 20 or more years and provides a defined contribution plan, known as a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), with a one percent employer contribution and matching employer contribution up to 4 percent of the employee’s contribution starting after the third year of service. Matching contributions would end after 26 years of service. The new system provided a bonus at 12 years of service if the service member signed up for four more years of service. The bonus would be at least equal to 3 months’ pay.

The Pentagon has proposed a number of changes that Congress may consider this year. These changes include:

  • Matching TSP contribution would start at the fifth (currently third) year of service (FRA opposes);
  • Matching employer contributions extended beyond current 26 years until retirement (FRA supports);
  • Increase maximum employer contribution from five percent of pay to six percent (FRA supports); and
  • Removing the mandate for a 12 year career bonus (FRA opposes).

These provisions amending the new “blended” retirement system will only impact future service members who join the military after January 1, 2018. Current service members who joined after January 1, 2006 and before January 1, 2018 may opt to join the new “blended” retirement system. FRA’s position on these provisions is provided above.
Vietnam Wall “In Memory” Program
More than 58,000 names meet the Defense Department’s criteria to be etched into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but those who survived the war—and who later died as a result of their service—are not. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund acknowledges their service and sacrifice through an online “In Memory” Honor Roll. Causes of death that fit the criteria for inclusion in the program include exposure to Agent Orange, PTSD-related illnesses/events, cancer, diabetes, heart attacks, etc. The program is free and the application process is simple. To honor a loved one, you only need to submit the veteran’s DD214 to show their proof of service in the Vietnam War, a copy of his or her death certificate, and a photograph. The application deadline for inclusion in the 2016 ceremony is March 4, 2016. For information or to submit applications, go to: www.vvmf.org/InMemoryProgram. Read more at: www.texvet.com/postings/vietnam-wall-memory-program#sthash.a2k8Aapv.dpuf.
State of the Coast Guard
FRA National Executive Director Thomas Snee attended the State of the Coast Guard speech by Commandant Paul Zukunft. In his speech, the Commandant indicated that the Coast Guard FY 2017 budget acquisition budget is the largest in Coast Guard history, and that there is bi-partisan support for investing in heavy ice breakers. Admiral Paul Zukunft assumed the duties of the 25th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard on May 30, 2014. FRA closely monitors the Coast Guard budget to ensure funding parity with DoD in terms of pay, benefits and housing for Coast Guard personnel plus adequate resources for these programs within the U.S. Coast Guard budget.
Passing of Former MCPON
It is with sadness that FRA has learned of the passing of MCPON Robert James Walker, Sr., USN (Ret), on 15 February 2016. Master Chief Walker was the third Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON).
Happy 75th Birthday for U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve celebrated its 75th birthday. The U.S. Coast Guard Reserve began with the passage of the Coast Guard Reserve and Auxiliary Act of 19 February 1941. The Coast Guard Reserve has been a flexible, responsive and cost-effective workforce that has maintained its primary purpose of providing surge capacity when needed for Coast Guard missions.