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Gates Calls For End to Stop Loss
The Army Times reports that the new Defense Secretary Robert Gates is opposed to the use of “stop loss” measures to meet the demand for increased troop levels in Iraq and elsewhere. The stop loss policy, which allows the Services to extend people on active-duty by delaying planned separations, retirements and demobilization, has proven highly unpopular. Gates announced that it is time for the DoD to find other ways to meet its manpower demands to minimize the use of stop loss for both active and Reserve component forces.
Fort Drum Families Face Deployment Extension
The Pentagon announced Wednesday that it was extending combat duty for approximately 3,500 soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division as part of a push to quell the growing violence in Afghanistan. News of the extension was announced to families at an emotional town hall meeting. Concerns ran the gamut from general questions about the soldiers’ safety and how long they would have to stay to more specific problems about child care, transportation, family finances, school vacations, summer plans and other topics, he said. The Army has dispatched a special team of experts to Fort Drum to help families adjust to the extension.
Pay Raises Proposed in 2008 Budget
According to the Army Times the Pentagon is seeking a 3 percent pay raise for Army personnel in the 2008 budget and a second round of targeted raises for enlisted personnel in pay grades E-5 to E-7 and most warrant officers. The proposed budget requests also include more money to fund base realignment and closure and construction. The amount requested for Army family housing is somewhat less: $1.2 billion compared to this year’s $1.3 billion.
20 New Fisher Houses Planned
The Fisher House Foundation hopes to build at least five houses a year for the next four years to meet the needs of injured troops and their families. There are already 35 Fisher Houses, with two currently under construction. The foundation, established in 1990, provides free short-term housing to families tending to recovering military or veteran patients. Each home costs about $4 million to build and furnish, and the affiliated hospitals agree to handle all maintenance costs. Houses are already located in 15 states, as well as in Washington and at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. For more information on the Fisher House Foundation, visit http://www.fisherhouse.org.
New Law Puts More Pressure on VA to Protect Against ID Theft
President Bush has signed into law the Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2006. In addition to expanding healthcare benefits and setting aside money for new facilities, the bill is an attempt to better secure the personal data of millions of veterans. The bill will require the VA to encrypt all data and to centralize its management of information technology and security systems. It also specifies procedures to follow in the event of a theft of personal data.
Connect and Join is on the Road
Connect and Join, an online service providing secure communications and activities to families separated by deployment, recently attended Craft and Hobby's World Fair in Anaheim, California where the opening ceremony featured a scrapbook created by the schoolchildren across America in support of the military. The scrapbook project, which was founded by Connect And Join as part of the DoD’s America Supports You campaign, has a goal of reaching 120,000 pages -- approximately one for every deployed member of our military who is serving in theatre. To learn more about Connect and Join visit http://www.connectandjoin.com.
Grassroots Organizations Support Military Families Across America
Military families have experienced an unprecedented level of support from community based organizations since the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. American Military Family, Inc. (AMF), a Colorado based non-profit, and the American Legion’s Family Support Network both have a nation-wide network of volunteers who can help ease the burden of deployment separation by offering assistance with household and garden maintenance, car care, groceries, school supplies and family emergencies. AMF can also provide financial aid to help offset the cost of relocation and household and family emergencies. Recently, AMF helped pass legislation for specialty "Support the Troops" license plates to benefit Colorado's military personnel, veterans, and family members. The Veterans of Foreign Wars, in partnership with Vermont American, also offers small grants to military families through its Unmet Needs program. Additionally, the VFW runs a Military Assistance Program to help fund farewell and welcome home gatherings for military units worldwide and Operation Uplink, a project to provide pre-paid phone cards to service members. Learn more at http://www.vfw.org.
Servicemember Eviction Protection Expanded
The Defense Department announced that effective Jan. 1, 2007 the eviction prohibition clause of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) applies to any dwelling with a monthly rent of up to $2720.95. Under the law a Servicemember or a Servicemember's family living in housing with monthly rent which falls under that amount cannot be evicted unless ordered by a court. The cap increases every year to match inflation. It was previously set at $2400. Congress is planning a review of the financial and legal protections provided by SCRA to include a review of eviction protections to ensure that that new cap covers military families in high cost–of-living areas.
Confusion over Virginia’s Education Aid for Military Survivors
Some Virginia college students eligible for higher education benefits because a parent or spouse was killed or disabled in combat are being told they might have to pay for room and board that they thought would be free. The problems stem from differing interpretations of the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, formerly called the Virginia War Orphan Education Program. Many state-funded colleges and universities are interpreting the law as requiring payment of tuition only. The State Council for Higher Education is in the process of clarifying the law.
Quilters Show their Gratitude to Injured Troops
Quilters across the United States have sent hundreds of quilts to military medical facilities to bring comfort to Servicemembers recovering from injuries sustained in combat. Almost 8,000 quilts have been donated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center though the Quilts of Valor Foundation. For more information about how quilters are supporting America’s military please view the full Washington Post story here.
Panel Visits Fort Carson for Mental Health Study
Army medical officers acknowledge that Soldiers are often reluctant to seek mental health services to treat problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder because of a perceived stigma. The DoD, however, is committed to improving medical and mental health care for Soldiers and families and to encouraging troops to seek support. A congressionally mandated task force, co-chaired by Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Kevin Kiley, recently visited Fort Carson, CO to hear from mental health practitioners, soldiers and their family members. The task force will visit 30 installations before submitting a report to the Secretary of Defense.
REMINDER: Commissary Scholarships for Military Children Deadline is FEB 21, 2007
Applications for the Scholarships for Military Children program must be turned in at a commissary by close of business Feb. 21, 2007. Scholarship applications are available at 263 commissaries worldwide or can be downloaded through the commissary web site at http://www.commissaries.com.
Nominations Invited for 2007 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Awards
The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), in conjunction with the Secretary of Defense, is accepting nominations for the 2007 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Awards. The nomination process opened on January 8, 2007 and will conclude on February 28, 2007. To nominate their employers, National Guardsmen, Reservists, or their family members should visit the ESGR website at http://www.esgr.mil and complete the 2007 Freedom Award nomination form. The award publicly recognizes employers nominated by their employees, who voluntarily serve in the National Guard and Reserve, for exceptional support above the requirements of the USERRA Law.
TRICARE Explores New Benchmark for Prescription Drug
The cost of prescription drugs is one of the fastest growing segments of health care expenditures for all health benefit carriers and TRICARE is no exception, spending nearly $4 billion on reimbursements to retail prescription drug providers in Fiscal Year 2006. TRICARE recently met one-on-one with pharmaceutical and health benefit providers to obtain feedback how best to determine prescription drug reimbursement rates to retail pharmacies. To view the full news release, please visit the TRICARE web site.
DoD to Talk to Families About Housing Needs
Department of Defense will be visiting military installations to interview families to analyze the requirements for military-owned and privatized housing. Approximately 87 percent of military families receive Basic Allowance for Housing, which can be used for privatized military housing or to buy or rent houses in the civilian community. Officials will examine housing options, whether privatized post housing or off-post housing, to determine if they are meeting the needs of military families.
DoD and VA Announce Plans for Joint Inpatient Electronic Record System
The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced plans for the joint acquisition and use of a new common inpatient electronic health record system. The two departments now have separate systems that require upgrade. Despite obvious differences in mission, such as DoD's requirements to support its combat theaters, pediatric and obstetrical patients and VA's requirements to support domiciliary care, both agencies believe that the similarities in clinical and business processes may make the adoption of a common inpatient EHR a viable option. Adopting a joint electronic solution for the documentation of in-patient health information will facilitate the seamless transition of active duty service members to veteran status.
AAFES Overseas Pump Prices to Better Reflect Current U.S. Market Conditions
Beginning Feb. 1, 2007, all Army & Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) OCONUS gas stations will adjust pump prices week-to-week based on the current week’s U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) average price. The change is being made in response to concerns from military families who wanted to see the price at the pump updated more often than once a month. According to AAFES’ Chief of Communications Lt. Col. Dean Thurmond, “Changing pump and coupon prices every seven days should provide prices that are more closely aligned to those in the states and help reduce the issues monthly pricing tended to create.” The first week-to-week adjustment to pump prices at AAFES-operated stations in Germany, Turkey, Korea, Okinawa, Japan, Guam as well as the United Kingdom, Azores and Netherlands will be made on Feb. 1. Thereafter, AAFES will begin modifying OCONUS fuel prices every Saturday morning at 12:00AM local time.
AAFES Delivers Pizza, a Movie and Magazine to Students Who “Make the Grade”
Reading, writing and arithmetic are taking a back seat to electronics, clothes and toys at the PX/BX as students cash in on the Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s (AAFES’) “You Made the Grade” program. Initiated in February 2000, AAFES’ education rewards effort is designed to recognize above-average academic achievement. Qualifying students receive a coupon booklet that includes free admission to an AAFES Reel Time Theater, a complimentary slice of Anthony’s pizza with drink and a free magazine, as well as other coupons. Each “You Made the Grade” booklet also contains an entry form for a quarterly savings bond drawing in which three winners are randomly awarded savings bonds of $2,000, $3,000 or $5,000. To receive the booklet, students simply present a valid military ID card and proof of an overall “B” or better average to their local PX/BX.