February 1, 2007
Family Programs Update
Volume 7, Number 2
This newsletter is published bi-monthly by the AUSA Family Programs Directorate. If you would like to receive the Family Programs Update by e-mail, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “subscribe” in the subject line.
In this issue:
- AUSA Family Programs Partners With SaferKidz
- New 2007 Tax Rules for Charitable Donations
- Military OneSource Offers TaxCut Basic Online by H&R Block
- Special Extra Earnings for Military Service
- Investing Guidance for Military Families
- DoD Plans Support for Military Families Affected by New Deployments
- Bill Introduced to Block TRICARE Fee Increases
- New Web Sites for TSGLI and CRSC Launched
- Some See Housing Allowance Decrease at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base
- Increase in Cost of Living Benefit for Veterans and Eligible Family Members
- DODEA Seeking More Input on Survey About Schools
- “Shaq” Joins Kids Serve Too to Thank Military Children
- TRICARE Tests Paying Doctors More in Alaska
- TRICARE Support for Beneficiaries with Medicare Part D Prescription
- Provide Your Input on the TRICARE Pharmacy Formulary
- DoD Mental Health Assessment Program
- Honorable Mention (AUSA Chapters)
- Resources: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
AUSA Family Programs Partners With SaferKidz
AUSA Family Programs is pleased to announce that it has recently partnered with SaferKidz, LLC to enhance child safety for military families. SaferKidz utilizes the latest technologies to provide parents with a secure on-line site to store images and biographic data about their children. In the event a child goes missing or is abducted, the SaferKidz system allows the rapid dissemination of the child’s visual and descriptive information to law enforcement agencies, local media, retail locations and the concerned public. Parents control access to their child’s profile which they can update 24/7 from any browser using their login and password. By visiting the SaferKidz website (http://www.saferkidz.net) and clicking on the AUSA Family Programs logo, military parents may use the special promotional code AUSAPROMO to receive a 25% discount when they enroll their children in the SaferKidz system.
New 2007 Tax Rules for Charitable Donations
A provision of the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which became public law earlier this year, became effective on January 1, 2007. The law states that individuals who want a tax deduction for cash contributions they make to tax-exempt organizations must prove their donation. Therefore, the organization that received the donation must provide a receipt for all cash donations regardless of the amount. Cash contributions include dollars, checks, and credit card donations. Furthermore, taxpayers who previously claimed a charitable deduction for estimated cash offerings to churches throughout the year will no longer be able to deduct their estimates. Starting in 2007, they must maintain a record of receipts, canceled checks, or credit card statements. While they do not have to mail these with their tax returns, they must have them readily available in case of an audit. For detailed information on this and other provisions included in the new law, as well as other tips on year-end donations, go to the IRS website.
Military OneSource Offers TaxCut Basic Online by H&R Block
TaxCut Basic Online allows users to complete a federal and state tax return, using a simple interview process to quickly walk through the return process, electronically file a tax return, print and file a tax return, check e-file status, rest easy knowing H&R Block is by your side in the rare event of an audit, and experience 100 percent accurate calculations or H&R Block pays penalties and interest. The following are eligible:
• Active duty, Guard and Reserve (regardless of activation status)
• Spouses and dependent children (authorized in DEERS)
• A family member who is taking care of the affairs of a service member when the service member is deployed
• A Severely Injured service member or a family member of a Severely Injured member who is incapable of handling his or her own affairs
Military One OneSource tax consultants are available 24/7 by phone at 1-800-730-3802 and by e-mail at TaxCut@militaryonesource.com to help military personnel and their families with personal tax-related questions and financial planning.
Special Extra Earnings for Military Service
Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for military service from 1940 through 2001 can be credited to an individual’s Social Security record. The extra earnings may then qualify a person for Social Security or increase the amount of the Social Security benefit. Special extra earnings are granted for periods of active duty or active duty for training only. Special extra earnings are not granted for inactive duty training. The benefits will not be added to your record until you file for Social Security benefits and you will need to provide the form DD-214, Certificate of Release of Discharge from Active Duty. The Social Security web site offers more information on this topic.
Investing Guidance for Military Families
In a recent Military.com article, Jane Bryant Quinn, a nationally recognized expert in personal finance, provided tips to help military families make good investment choices. Quinn notes that military personnel and their families are often too busy to pay attention to personal finance but that there are some straightforward investment strategies that can improve financial status in the long term. Quinn suggests investing in U.S. Savings Bonds, paying off credit card debt, and investing in education by taking advantage of programs offered through the military such as the GI Bill. Quinn also considers the Federal Thrift Savings Plan to be a great deal for military personnel looking for low-cost mutual funds with long-term, tax-deferred growth.
DoD Plans Support for Military Families Affected by New Deployments
Following President Bush’s announcement that troop levels in Iraq will be increased the Department of Defense is making an additional effort to ensure that military families affected by longer and multiple deployments will continue to be supported. At a recent meeting at the Pentagon on January 11, DoD family readiness officials and representatives from a number of organizations, including the Association of the United States Army, met to discuss ways to reach out to these families. Since the beginning of the war, a number of nonprofit organizations have implemented programs to help relieve the stress of separation for military families. From offering services such as house and garden maintenance and car care to providing funds for and coordinating holiday parties and reunion celebrations, people across America have demonstrated their support for military personnel and their families. AUSA’s chapters have also been active participants in this network of community support for military families. DoD officials stressed the importance of these programs and encouraged meeting attendees to maintain their organizations’ efforts to help military families face the challenge of deployment. DoD will advertise these programs and services through the Military OneSource web site under a special section entitled Surge Support for Families. Family members in need of support can also call 1-800-342-9647 to speak to a consultant. To find out what your local AUSA chapter is doing to support military families, please visit our regional activities web page to locate your nearest chapter.
Bill Introduced to Block TRICARE Fee Increases
AUSA strongly supported a bill (H.R. 4949) introduced in the 109th Congress by Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Chet Edwards, D-Texas that blocked the Pentagon’s ability to drastically increase TRICARE fees. Reps. Jones and Edwards have reintroduced the Military Retirees’ Health Care Protection Act (H.R. 579), which rests on the principle that it is the responsibility of Congress, not the Pentagon, to establish when and by how much military health fees will be increased. The bill would block the Pentagon from raising health care fees on military retirees by removing the Secretary of Defense’s current authority to make virtually unlimited increases in four specific areas:
· Enrollment fees for retired members and survivors in TRICARE Prime, the military-managed health plan.
· Pharmacy co-payments.
· Enrollment fees for the new TRICARE Reserve Select program that was implemented last year to maintain health coverage continuity for Guard and Reserve families.
· Retiree and survivor co-payments for inpatient care.
AUSA strongly endorses this legislation and appreciates the continued support Reps. Jones and Edwards have provided on this important issue. Please add your voice to ours and go to the AUSA Government Affairs page, click on “Contact Congress” then after “Elected Officials” type your zip code and scroll down to “Stop Erosion of Military Health Care Benefits”.
New Web Sites for TSGLI and CRSC Launched
The U.S. Army’s Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) and Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) programs have extensively redesigned their web sites to make them more informative, dynamic and user friendly. New features include more program information about eligibility and claim processes, easier navigation, information tailored to specific audiences and online discussion forums.
Some See Housing Allowance Decrease at Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base
The recent increase in housing benefits, which took effect across the Department of Defense on New Year’s Day, averaged 3.5 per cent. In some cases, however, housing adjustments significantly lagged behind the national average for housing costs and there were even decreases in BAH for some ranks. Service members already stationed at Fort Lewis or Fort McChord are protected from the decreases but those arriving at these installations after the first of the year will receive the reduced rate.
Increase in Cost of Living Benefit for Veterans and Eligible Family Members
Millions of veterans and eligible family members will see their disability compensation, pension, and survivors' benefits increased as the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides an annual cost-of-living increase for key benefits. A recent law signed by President Bush provides a 3.3 percent increase in disability compensation and survivors' benefits. Eligible veterans and family members will see this increase starting in their January 2007 checks. Payments under this program are based on household income. This increase also applies to survivors of veterans who died in service or from a service-connected disability and receive Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Under each benefit program, additional allowances may be payable for helpless, minor or school age children. To learn more about veterans’ and survivors’ benefits please visit the web site of the Veterans’ Affairs Administration at http://www.va.gov.
DODEA Seeking More Input on Survey About Schools
Officials from the Department of Defense Education Activity would like to see more parents, teachers, and students participate in this year’s customer survey. The online survey for parents, teachers and students, which began in November and runs through February, is normally offered every two years and helps educators gauge the effectiveness of a school’s curriculum. A high response rate provides schools with more and valuable information about their programs and is part of a continual effort to improve the quality of education provided to DoD dependents. The Customer Satisfaction Survey is available at http://www.dodea.edu for parents, teachers and students in fourth grade or older.
“Shaq” Joins Kids Serve Too to Thank Military Children
NBA Basketball player Shaquille O’Neal is joining the “A Thousand Thanks to Military Children” project to send thank you letters to children of deployed military. The project is part of Kids Serve Too (KS2), a program created by military families to provide resources that support military children. KS2 will send a thank you letter with Shaq’s photo and signature to military children at the request of a deployed service member, or a loved one on the home front. For more information, visit the Salute our Services web site.
TRICARE Tests Paying Doctors More in Alaska
TRICARE Management Activity is beginning a three-year pilot program to improve health care for beneficiaries in Alaska. Beginning February 1, 2007, physicians and other non-institutional individual professional providers in Alaska will receive payment at a rate higher than the Medicare rate. Access to health care services in Alaska is often severely limited by the overall scarcity of providers, their reluctance to accept TRICARE payment rates, transportation issues, and other factors.
TRICARE Support for Beneficiaries with Medicare Part D Prescription Plan
In 2006, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) started automatically enrolling some TRICARE beneficiaries in a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. This has come as a surprise to some beneficiaries who have been denied coverage due to Medicare Part D enrollment. According to federal law, the TRICARE pharmacy benefit is considered a secondary payer to a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan. In response to this problem, the Department of Defense has established a place for beneficiaries in this position to get their questions answered. If a TRICARE beneficiary is denied prescription coverage due to Medicare Part D enrollment, and believes that he or she is not enrolled in Medicare Part D, or have disenrolled from Medicare Part D, the beneficiary should contact a customer representative at Express Scripts at 1-866-363-8779. To view current Medicare Part D enrollment status on the Medicare Web site, beneficiaries can go to http://www.medicare.gov select the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder option, "Check Current Enrollment" option, then select View Your Current Plan" and follow the instructions.
Provide Your Input on the TRICARE Pharmacy Formulary
When Congress directed the Department of Defense to institute the 3-tier formulary, it also established the Uniform Formulary Beneficiary Advisory Panel (BAP) to review and comment on the recommendations of the DoD Pharmacy and Therapeutic (P&T) Committee. Members of the BAP include active duty family members, retirees and retiree family members, two clinical experts outside of DoD, a pharmacist from the Uniformed Services Family Health Plan and physicians or pharmacists from the TRICARE regional contractors and the pharmacy contractor. The P&T Committee forwards recommendations, along with the comments from the BAP, to the director, TRICARE Management Activity for consideration prior to a final decision. The military health system encourages TRICARE beneficiaries to be part of the process by communicating their concerns to the BAP. Announcements of the public BAP meeting and its agenda are posted on the BAP web site several weeks in advance of the meeting. The site also provides information on how beneficiaries should submit comments or concerns.
DoD Mental Health Assessment Program
Tens of thousands of military families have taken advantage of the Mental Health Self-Assessment Program (MHSAP), a Department of Defense program to improve awareness of mental health for military personnel and their families, to identify possible concerns about mental health, and to facilitate referrals to service providers and counselors. New enhancements to the program include Spanish language services, tools for parents, and customizable referrals. For more information call 781-239-0071, email Military@MentalHealthScreening.org or visit http://www.MentalHealthScreening.org/Military.