MAY 15, 2007
Family Programs Update
Volume 6, Number 28
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 and type "subscribe" in the subject line.
In this issue:
- FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill Would Improve Pay and Benefits
- Army Details Changes to Wounded Warrior Care at Walter Reed
- DoD Mental Health Advisory Team Survey Results Released
- Landmark 21-Year Study to Track Long-Term Health of US Servicemembers
- New Software Synchronizes Battlefield and Home Front Medical Care
- TRICARE Uniform Formulary Update Announced
- TRICARE Supports Beneficiaries Participating in Medicare’s Renal Disease Demonstrations
- Virtual Family Readiness Group Website Improved
- RE/MAX Helps Military Spouses Become Real Estate Agents
- Interagency Task Force Makes Recommendations to Improve Services for Veterans
- Syracuse University Launches Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Disabled Veterans
- Online Assistance Now Available from Employer Support of the Reserve and Guard Ombudsman
- Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee Gains New Chief
- Two Army Volunteer Efforts Receive National Recognition for Make a Difference Day
- Quilts Comfort Children with Deployed Parents
- New Online Tools to Help Military Families on the Move
- Shades of Green AFRC Salutes Veterans
- DeCA Announces Best Commissary Winners
- Great American Country TV Pays Tribute to Armed Services on Memorial Day
- GI Film Festival to be Held in Washington, DC
FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill Would Improve Pay and Benefits
The House Armed Services Committee approved the FY 2008 Defense Authorization Bill on May 10, 2007. The bill (HR 1585) alters a number of funding priorities for defense systems. As part of the bill, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel proposed an across the board pay raise of 3.5% for Servicemembers. In addition, the personnel section of the bill would prevent administration plans to raise TRICARE enrollment fees, deductibles, and pharmacy co-pays. Both of these measures are part of AUSA’s legislative platform. The bill would also increase the end strength of the Army to 525,000, a figure above the President’s request but somewhat less than AUSA’s desired goal of 650,000.
The Committee also proposed an expansion of eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC) to include Chapter 61 retirees forced to leave the Armed Forces because of disability. The law, if passed, would expand the benefit to retirees who have between fifteen and twenty years of service. Another provision of the bill would help increase Reserve Montgomery GI Bill benefits to keep them in step with Active Duty GI Bill benefits.
The bill would allocate a special $40 monthly payment, known as the “military survivor indemnity allowance,” to military survivors beginning October 1, 2008. The bill does not outright eliminate the offset which reduces survivor benefit annuities by the amount received through Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the VA but the new allowance should be taken as a good sign that Congress is addressing the issue. AUSA will continue to press for the law to be changed to allow survivors to receive benefits in full.
The Senate is scheduled to mark up its own version of the Authorization Bill later this month and then the bill will pass to a House-Senate conference to resolve differences in the two versions. As a result, proposals in the House bill may be amended.
Army Details Changes to Wounded Warrior Care at Walter Reed
At a press conference held at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on April 26, General Richard Cody, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, announced that many of the problems in the treatment of wounded troops have been resolved. However, he also noted that there are still some problems that cannot be fixed quickly because they need to be tackled above the Army level.
Gen. Cody released some preliminary findings from the Army’s review team, which began investigating the conditions at Walter Reed in March. Overall, the team found that the medical and physical board process has too many forms and is too bureaucratic. Gen. Cody also noted that the outpatient care system lacked quality control. The team recommended better and standardized training for liaison officers and case managers and a restructuring of the Army's medical hold and medical holdover companies.
Since March, several improvements have been made to Wounded Warrior care, including the establishment of a Solider and Family assistance center and the implementation of an ombudsman program at all medical treatment facilities at the patient representative office. In addition, all Wounded Warriors who were housed in Building 18, a substandard temporary lodging facility, have been moved.
To ensure continued oversight of Wounded Warrior care, Gen. Cody said he will launch an Army inspector general review of the medical system every six months and meet with hospital commanders every four to six weeks. Feedback from Soldiers and Families will also be collected. Learn more at http://www.army.mil/-news/2007/04/26/2868-army-moves-out-to-fix-wounded-warrior-care-across-service/
DoD Mental Health Advisory Team Survey Results Released
The Department of Defense recently released key findings from the latest Mental Health Advisory Team (MHAT-IV) survey which is designed to assess the mental health and well-being of the deployed forces serving in Iraq. The survey, conducted in August and October of last year, assessed more than 1,300 soldiers and nearly 450 Marines. The commanding general of Multinational Force, Iraq, also requested a first-ever study of battlefield ethics with the participation of Soldiers and Marines currently involved in combat operations. The survey specifically targeted troops who had experienced the highest levels of combat exposure so the survey results should not be considered representative of the total deployed force.
The survey results found that Soldiers who deployed longer (greater than six months) or had deployed multiple times were more likely to screen positive for a mental health issue. Deployment length was also directly linked to morale problems in the Army. The battlefield ethics study revealed that approximately 10 percent of soldiers reported mistreating non-combatants or damaging their property when it was not necessary. Less than half of soldiers and Marines would report a team member for unethical behavior.
The Army has already begun to address the MHAT-IV findings with the implementation of scenario-based battlefield ethics training. It has also revised its suicide prevention training and developed a behavioral health awareness training program for junior leaders. The Army is also continuing to adapt and revise its BATTLEMIND program for Soldiers, veterans, and spouses to integrate mental health training into the deployment process. More information about BATTLEMIND is available at http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil. Learn more about the MHAT-IV survey at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=10824.
Interagency Task Force Makes Recommendations to Improve Services to Veterans
The Interagency Task Force on Returning Global War on Terror Heroes, established by President Bush in March, submitted its report to the White House on April 19. The purpose of the Task Force was to improve the delivery of federal services and benefits to Servicemembers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Its members included representatives from several federal agencies. The Task Force received over 2,400 comments from Servicemembers, veterans and family members which were then used to help identify gaps in federal services.
The final report includes 25 recommendations to improve services to returning veterans in areas such as employment, housing and education assistance, disability benefits and veterans healthcare. The full report can be viewed at http://www1.va.gov/taskforce/. Additionally, the Task Force worked with the General Services Administration to improve the USA.gov website to include a special section with information about federal services and benefits for Servicemembers, veterans and their family members. Visit http://www.usa.gov and click on the “Military and Veterans” link to learn more.
Syracuse University Launches Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Disabled Veterans
Syracuse University has announced a new initiative offered through the Whitman School of Management to help Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with disabilities become entrepreneurs and small business owners. Faculty at the Whitman school and distinguished entrepreneurs will take participants through a series of modules to help them create and sustain a profitable business venture. The application deadline for 'The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities' (EBV) is June 5, 2007. More information about this program, eligibility requirements, and application procedures can be found at http://www.whitman.syr.edu/eee/veterans.
Online Assistance Now Available from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Ombudsmen
Guardsmen and Reservists who have believe that their job protections under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) have been violated may now submit complaints online at the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) website: http://www.esgr.mil. Servicemembers will be asked to provide contact information for him or herself and his or her employer, as well as a brief explanation of the issue. The information is stored on a secure server and ESGR assigns the request to one of its 900 volunteer ombudsmen for informal mediation. An ESGR ombudsman will then contact the Servicemember within 48 hours. If the ESGR ombudsman is unable to resolve the issue through informal mediation within 14 days, the Guardsman or Reservist is referred to the U.S. Department of Labor, the federal agency with statutory authority for enforcing USERRA. Guard and Reserve personnel may still use ESGR’s customer service center at 1-800-336-4590 to initiate a request.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee Gains New Chief
Gordon Sumner, Jr., a retired Army lieutenant colonel, has been appointed as the executive director for the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. Created in 1972, the Committee is a Defense Department agency that provides information and education for employers of members of the Reserve Component. In addition, the agency can mediate potential disputes between employers and their employees in the Guard or Reserves. An interview with Mr. Sumner can be found at http://www.army.mil/-news/2007/05/07/3014-guard-reserve-employer-support-agency-gains-new-chief/
Landmark 21-Year Study to Track Long-Term Health of US Servicemembers
Starting in May, the Department of Defense will launch the third and final recruitment phase of the largest prospective health project in military history - the Millennium Cohort Study. The study will evaluate the long-term health effects of military service of more than 140,000 service members from active, Reserve, and Guard duty status until well into their civilian careers or retirement. The study is now in its sixth year and has already provided important data to the medical community about deployment-related exposures, long-term mental health challenges, and other service-related health issues affecting military personnel. To view the full news release, please visit:
New Software Synchronizes Battlefield and Home Front Medical Care
The military services have received an upgrade to their inpatient documentation software which allows them to send medical information from the battlefield directly to a worldwide database. This software, named Theater Medical Information Program Composite Health Care System Caché or TC2, will make all new medical data collected on the battlefield accessible to military providers anytime, anywhere, worldwide. No matter where a military member is sent for treatment, his or her inpatient medical information will be available to healthcare providers. To read the full press release, go to http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=279.
TRICARE Uniform Formulary Update Announced
TRICARE has released an update to its Uniform Formulary. The update explains which medications will continue on the TRICARE Uniform Formulary and lists 10 others which have been designated as nonformulary (or third tier) effective August 1, 2007. The updated chart is available at http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=282. Beneficiaries may find more information on the TRICARE Retail Pharmacy and locations, and the TRICARE Mail Order Pharmacy at http://www..express-scripts.com/TRICARE. They may also call 866-363-8779 for the retail pharmacy or 866-363-8667 for the mail order pharmacy.
TRICARE Supports Beneficiaries Participating in Medicare’s Renal Disease Demonstrations
The TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) is coordinating benefits with Medicare to make it easier for beneficiaries with end-stage renal disease to participate in three Medicare demonstrations. Demonstrations are taking place in Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Texas. The demonstrations will test the effectiveness of disease management models to increase quality of care for these patients while ensuring they receive care more effectively and efficiently. At the same time, Medicare will assess alternatives for paying for services these beneficiaries receive. Beneficiaries who would like to participate in a demonstration for end-stage renal disease should speak with a representative at their dialysis center to learn if one is available in their area. The full press release is available at http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=278.
Virtual Family Readiness Group Website Improved
The Virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG) web system provides FRG leaders with an easy tool to set up their own FRG websites and is especially valuable for geographically dispersed units and families. Recent updates to the vFRG website have streamlined access to information. Enhancements make it easier to create a virtual FRG and for family members to locate an FRG by geographic location or Unit Identification Code. The website is available at http://www.armyfrg.org.
RE/MAX Helps Military Spouses Become Real Estate Agents
America Supports You, a Department of Defense program, recently recognized the real estate agency RE/MAX for its efforts to train military spouses to become real estate agents. Operation RE/MAX was launched in August and now nearly 1,000 RE/MAX offices participate in the program by offering coaching, training, and mentorship to military spouses. Real estate is a flexible career option and especially suitable for military spouses who often have to relocate. For details, write to email@example.com or visit the military.com Military Spouse Career Center at http://www.military.com/spouse/ and click on RE/MAX.
Two Army Volunteer Efforts Receive National Recognition for Make a Difference Day
Make a Difference Day is a national day to celebrate community volunteers created by USA WEEKEND Magazine. This year, Make a Difference Day is October 27. Two of the ten volunteer efforts recognized this year are from the Army. One is a group serving in Baghdad, which organized a street clean up with 50 military volunteers. The other is a group based at the Presidio of Monterary, CA, which organized yard clean-ups for military families. The groups will receive the prestigious National Make a Difference Day Award during National Volunteer Week in April. To read more about the recipients visit the Make a Difference Day website at: http://www.usaweekend.com/diffday/aboutmadd.html
Quilts Comfort Children with Deployed Parents
Children of deployed military personnel are taking comfort in quilts that have been made by the Armed Services YMCA's Operation Kid Comfort Program. ASYMCA volunteers collect photographs from military families to make “photo-transfer” quilts that bear the images of the deployed family member, alone or interacting with the family. The quilts go to children under five years old while older children receive a small pillow. The program currently exists at Fort Bragg, NC, Fort Belvoir, VA, Fort Riley, KS, Fort Drum, NY, and at the Armed Services YMCAs in San Diego and Alaska, and will be introduced at Fort Stewart, GA and Fort Carson, CO by fall. Learn more at http://www.asymca.org/c4-2.html.
New Online Tools to Help Military Families on the Move
The Department of Defense has launched two new web tools to help military families relocate. The tools are available at http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil. The Military Installations site allows families to search for information on over 250 military installations and communities worldwide. Plan My Move provides information about entitlements and benefits, points of contact, checklists, planning tools, and information on education and employment. In addition, http://www.militaryonesource.com has articles about how to manage moving stress and relocating overseas. Click on “Smooth Moves” to learn more.
Shades of Green AFRC Salutes Veterans
Shades of Green, the Armed Forces Recreation Center in Florida, recently announced its “Salute to Veterans Program.” This program will allow Honorable Discharged Veterans the opportunity to stay at the Shades of Green Resort during the months of September 2007 and January 2008. Veterans will need to show a valid DD214 indicating Honorable Discharge. Shades of Green, located on Walt Disney World Resort, is one of five Armed Forces Recreation Centers in the world. The AFRC’s are self-supporting, and provide luxury accommodations at a fraction of the cost of similar facilities. Room rates are on a sliding scale based on rank or grade, and reservations are normally restricted to active-duty or retired DoD employees. For more information or to make room reservations, call Shades of Green at 1-407-827-8387 or go online at www.shadesofgreenvets.org.
DeCA Announces Best Commissary Winners
The Defense Commissary Agency recently announced the winners of its awards for Best Commissaries and Merchandising. Five commissaries were honored as DeCA’s best during the Defense Commissary Agency’s 2007 Conference and Training Event in Richmond, Va. on April 24. The awards recognize overall excellence in commissary operations and service. Learn more at http://www.commissaries.com/news/news_2007/DeCA_36_07.cfm. In the Creative Merchandising Category, six stores emerged as this year’s best in the Defense Commissary Agency’s 12th Annual Merchandising Contest. The contest takes place over five weeks and rewards commissaries for their originality and creativity. The complete list is available at http://www.commissaries.com/news/news_2007/DeCA_38_07.cfm
Great American Country TV Pays Tribute to Armed Services on Memorial Day
The Great American Country television channel will pay tribute to the American Armed Forces this Memorial Day weekend with its annual Great American Dedications video marathon. Throughout the day Saturday, May 26 and Sunday, May 27 and all day on Monday, May 28, GAC will air music videos dedicated by Soldiers to their loved ones and to members of the military by family and friends. Learn more at http://www.gactv.com.
GI Film Festival to Be Held in Washington, DC
A three day film festival will be held on May 26-28, Memorial Day Weekend, at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, DC to honor the stories of the American Armed Forces. The GI Film Festival (GIFF) is the first film festival in the nation to celebrate exclusively the successes and sacrifices of the American military through the medium of film. More information is available at http://www.gifilmfestival.com.