June 15, 2007
Family Programs Update
Volume 6 Number 32
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:
- Task Force on Military Healthcare Issues Interim Report; Higher TRICARE Fees Endorsed
- Home Care for Veterans Proposed Under New Bill
- Education Benefits Improve for Minnesota Veterans
- Senators Urge Secretary Gates to Improve Mental Healthcare for Troops
- Congressman Calls for Investigation into Combat Zone Pay
- Law Changes Increase Benefits for Families of Fallen Soldiers
- DoD Guide Helps Military Survivors
- Military Spouses Benefit from New Career Coaching Program
- Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve gets New Chairman
- DoD Program Launched to Improve Communication with Reserve Component Employers
- DMDC Launches Reserve Component Survey
- Army to Join Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS)
- Organizations Across America Provide Support & Travel Assistance for Wounded Servicemembers
- Charities Support Servicemembers with Care Packages
- Retiree Appreciation Days (RADS) -- Designed with You in Mind
- Retired Soldiers Bring New Recruits
- VA to Hold Mental Health Summit in July
- Free College Guides Available to Military Families
- DeCA pulls Complete MoisturePlus Contact Lens Solutons
Task Force on Military Healthcare Issues Interim Report; Higher TRICARE Fees Endorsed
The Department of Defense Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare sent an interim report to Congress on May 31 which endorsed higher TRICARE fees, deductibles, and co-payments for retires under 65 and their families. The Task Force, which was appointed by the Secretary of Defense in December 2006, was created to examine ways to streamline military healthcare and reduce costs. The Task Force’s current recommendations would phase in fee increases over three to five years. The report’s findings also include a recommendation that would raise co-payments on prescriptions filled in the TRICARE retail pharmacy network and establishes a new tiered TRICARE fee structure which would set fees according to the amount of retirees’ annuity payments.
A previous effort by the Department of Defense to raise TRICARE fees was defeated by Congress last year after concerns were raised by AUSA and other military service organizations that the fees would create financial hardship for retirees on fixed incomes. AUSA will continue to press Congress to protect the medical benefits of military retirees. More information about the Task Force on the Future of Military Healthcare is available at http://www.dodfuturehealthcare.net/index.html.
Home Care for Veterans Proposed Under New Bill
In late May, Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) introduced the State Veterans Home Modernization Act (S. 1441) to allow more veterans to have long term care provided at home rather than in state homes. Currently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) may provide US states with a portion of the funding for construction or renovations of state nursing homes that serve veterans. The new bill will allow the VA more flexibility to provide home or community based care though the expansion of non-institutional care programs and facilities. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Education Benefits Improve for Minnesota Veterans
Minnesota’s state legislature recently passed into law an act that would supplement federal GI bill benefits. The Minnesota GI Bill provides funds of up to $1,000 per academic term to veterans and family members of deceased and disabled veterans who have served on active duty since September 11, 2001. Those eligible for the assistance must be enrolled in one of Minnesota’s colleges, universities, or technical schools. To learn more about Minnesota’s services for veterans please visit http://www.mdva.state.mn.us/index.htm
Senators Urge Secretary Gates to Improve Mental Healthcare for Troops
A bipartisan panel of six US Senators recently wrote to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to urge the Department of Defense to do more to help troops dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The letter was the result of a meeting between Senators Barbara Boxer, Barack Obama, Christopher Bond, Joe Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry and Soldiers and commanders at Fort Carson, Colorado. Fort Carson has been in the spotlight because several Soldiers have made complaints about the inadequate mental health care they received after returning from combat. Although the Senators acknowledged that Fort Carson had addressed some of the problems in mental health diagnosis and treatment they made several further recommendations to improve care at the post and across the Army. The Senators noted that the stigma attached to mental health problems is still preventing Soldiers from seeking help and the Senators urged Gates to ensure commanders had better training and education regarding mental health issues so that they were better prepared to assist Soldiers with PTSD. The Senators’ letter is available at http://bond.senate.gov/press_section/record.cfm?id=274870.
Congressman Calls for Investigation into Combat Zone Pay
The Air Force Times reports that Representative Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) has called for a congressional investigation into imminent danger pay. The Congressman is concerned that some individuals are being paid combat pay – a $225 a month benefit – for short trips to the combat zone. The House version of the 2008 defense authorization bill would require the Defense Department to restructure imminent danger pay to ensure that those making short trips into a combat zone do not receive the full month of imminent danger pay. To read the full story please visit http://www.airforcetimes.com/news/2007/05/military_dangerpay_fraud_070523w/.
Law Changes Increase Benefits for Families of Fallen Soldiers
Because of recent law changes, families of Soldiers who die on active duty are receiving greater Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) benefits. Before Sep. 10, 2001, SBP was not payable unless the fallen Soldier was retirement-eligible. In cases where there was time before the Soldier died, death-imminent retirement processing was conducted so that the Soldier could be retired and SBP could be elected. Public Law (PL) 107-107, passed Dec. 28, 2001, extended SBP benefits to eligible survivors of all Soldiers who die on active duty in the line of duty, retroactive to Sep. 11, 2001.
Two laws made significant changes benefiting families. Spouses of Soldiers who die in the line of duty receive VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). A Spouse SBP benefit is reduced, dollar-for-dollar, by DIC. However, a Child Only SBP benefit is not offset by DIC. PL 108-136, passed Nov. 24, 2003, made it possible for surviving spouses of Soldiers who died on active duty on or after that date to request Child Only SBP, effective the date of the Soldier’s death, so that the fallen Soldier’s Family could receive both DIC and SBP (as long as the youngest child remains eligible, usually age 18 or 22). PL 109-364, passed Oct. 17, 2006, extended the eligibility to request a change from Spouse to Child Only SBP to the surviving spouses of Soldiers who died on active duty from Oct. 8, 2001 to Nov. 23, 2003. Note: The Child Only elections made under the provisions of the 2006 law are not effective until the first of the month following HQDA approval.
DIC payments are usually increased annually; however, at the current rate of $1,067 a month, a Child Only election could bring more than $280,000 to the fallen Soldier’s family over the next 22 years. This law change has brought increased benefits to 1,706 children who are part of 920 families. If you feel that you or someone you know may be eligible for this benefit, contact your RSO (http://www.armyg1.army.mil/rso/rso.asp)
DoD Guide Helps Military Survivors
A Survivors Guide to Benefits is a Department of Defense publication designed to help spouses of deceased active-duty Servicemembers understand their rights and benefits as military survivors. The guide explains the casualty assistance process and the role of the casualty assistance officer as well as the financial and medical benefits to which survivors are entitled. In addition, the Guide provides spouses with service specific resources and information about organizations that can provide spouses with further assistance. The Guide is updated regularly and may be downloaded in a PDF version from the TAPS website at http://www.taps.org/download/DODSurvivorsGuide.pdf. TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, is a non-profit organization made up of people who have lost loved ones serving in the Armed Forces. They offer a variety of services, including counseling referral services, crisis information, caseworker assistance, and online resources. Learn more at http://www.taps.org.
Military Spouses Benefit from New Career Coaching Program
Spouse Employment Assessment, Career Coaching and Assistance is a new initiative of the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Career Center designed to help military family members seeking work. Professional, certified career coaches will be able free of charge to help military spouses set career goals, write resumes and cover letters, and search for jobs. Learn more by calling 1-800-768-3480 or by visiting http://www.military.com/spouse.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve gets New Chairman
Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates appointed James G. Rebholz, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, as the National Chairman of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. Mr. Rebholz has been an independent insurance agent for over 41 years. Complementing his role as a business leader, Mr. Rebholz retired from the United States Air Force Reserve, with the rank of Colonel, in 1998 after 31 years of service. ESGR is a Department of Defense agency whose mission is to gain and maintain employer support from all public and private employers for the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve. For more information about ESGR Employer Outreach Programs visit the website at http://www.wsgr.mil.
DoD Program Launched to Improve Communication with Reserve Component Employers
The Department of Defense has established a Civilian Employment Information (CEI) program which requires reservists to provide information about their civilian employment. The DoD will use the information to communicate with employers about their rights and responsibilities as employers of Reserve Component personnel and to explain the rights and responsibilities of their reservist-employees under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). More information is available through the Guard and Reserve web portal: https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/esgr/privacyAction.do
DMDC Launches Reserve Component Survey
The Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC) is preparing to field its first test of a new QuickCompass poll to Reservists. The web-based poll is designed to provide Defense leaders with a quick means to assess attitudes and opinions within the DoD. Participants are selected at random and will be contacted by the DMDC beginning in June though e-mail notification.
Army to Join Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS)
The Army is transforming the way it manages human resources with the new Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System, which will go live in early 2008. DIMHRS is a secure, self-service web system that will give Soldiers 24/7 access to personnel data and the ability to update and review key personnel and family information without seeing a personnel specialist. DIMHRS will enable Soldiers to initiate requests for assignments, training, retirement, record updates, awards, family-member travel, transition from the Reserve to Regular Commission, enlistment extensions, various waivers and enlisted commissioning programs. For more information, visit the Army DIMHRS Program Office's website at http:www.armydimhrs.army.mil.
Organizations across America Provide Support & Travel Assistance for Wounded Servicemembers
The number of Servicemembers experiencing severe injuries as a result of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan has inspired people across the United States to reach out to support the nation’s wounded warriors.
One of the ways people can support wounded Servicemembers and their families is by donating unused frequent flyer miles to Operation Hero Miles which then provides free plane tickets to family members so that they can visit injured loved ones recovering at military hospitals. The program is operated by the Fisher House Foundation. More information is available at http://www.heromiles.org/. Jets for Vets, a program offered by the Freedom Is Not Free Foundation, also provides injured military personnel with travel though donations of unused seats from private aircraft owners. The Foundation encourages donors to make seats available to “non-conforming” relatives such as siblings, grandparents, or even family friends who might not otherwise qualify for DoD travel benefits. For more information or to request a flight through the Jets for Vets program, visit http://www.freedomisnotfree.com/Partnerships.aspx.
Wounded Servicemembers often face a long road to recovery and many individuals have stepped forward to provide long term assistance to veterans. Mike Conklin of Danville, California established the Sentinels of Freedom Scholarship Foundation after his son was wounded in Iraq in 2003. The Foundation provides support to qualified members of the US Armed Forces severely injured in the line of duty on or after Sept. 11, 2001 through four –year “life scholarships.” These are not academic scholarships but volunteer led efforts to help injured Servicemembers transition back into their communities. The Foundation can offer rent-free housing (adapted for physical needs), new furniture and other household supplies, career-placement assistance and training, and vehicles adapted for disabled users. To learn more about the Foundation visit the website at http://www.sentinelsoffreedom.org. ABC newsman Bob Woodruff, who suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) while reporting from Iraq, established the Bob Woodruff Family Fund for Traumatic Brain Injury to help increase awareness of TBI and to raise funds for organizations conducting research into the impact and treatment of TBI. More information about Woodruff’s struggle to recover from TBI and to help injured Servicemembers can be found at http://www.bobwoodrufffamilyfund.org.
Charities Support Servicemembers with Care Packages
Several charities exist to help people show their support of troops stationed overseas. Charities such as Operation Gratitude (http://www.opgratitude.com) accept donations which are then used to put together care packages. The organization recently launched its fourth patriotic drive to collect donations of DVDs, CDs, beanie babies, and other items to send to troops. Other charities connect Americans with Servicemembers or even whole units. The California based Operation Care and Comfort (http://www.operationcareandcomfort.org) has shipped more than 25,000 pounds of care packages to its “adopted” units as well as providing free tickets to sports events in the San Francisco Bay area for troops and families. People looking to “adopt” a Servicemember should also visit the website of A Soldier’s Wish List (http://www.asoldierswishlist.org) where they can register online to support a troop. Servicemembers stationed overseas can also sign up to receive letters and packages.
Retiree Appreciation Days (RADS) – Designed with You in Mind
Retiree Appreciation Days (RADs) are gatherings, held at major Army installations and other sites, to give Retired Soldiers and families up-to-date information. Many RADs include “county fairs” with representatives from numerous organizations. Some feature events such as a retiree dinner or golf tournament. The Exchange and Commissary often conduct retiree-related events. Since each RAD is different, you should contact the RAD host for details. You can find a list of RADS and contact information at http://www.armyg1.army.mil/rso/rads.pdf
Retired Soldiers Bring New Recruits
Since Retired Soldiers became eligible to earn the recruiting referral bonus in June 2006, they have brought more than 600 potential Soldiers to the Army. Retired Soldiers can receive a bonus for referring someone with no prior military experience to the Referral Bonus Pilot Program. The bonus is not paid to those referring immediate family members, including spouses, children, parents, stepparents and siblings. The bonus increased to $2,000, effective Nov. 13, 2006. Those who made referrals before that date are eligible for only the $1,000 bonus. The bonus is paid in two lump sums. The first half is paid when the Soldier begins basic training and the second half is paid after the Soldier graduates from One-Station Unit Training or Advanced Individual Training. As we went to press, seven Retired Soldiers had earned the bonus. Retired Soldiers can make referrals online or on the phone. You can call the Army Referral System – Sergeant Major of the Army Recruiting Team (ARS SMART) at 1-800-223-3735, ext. 6-0473, or make a referral at https://smart.goarmy.com/dana-na/auth/url_6/welcome.cgi
VA to Hold Mental Health Summit in July
The Department of Veterans Affairs continues to examine ways to improve access to benefits and resources for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In July, the VA will hold a four day summit in Washington, DC to draw on the expertise of mental health clinicians and researchers from across the country. The meeting will cover a wide range of issues, from integrating mental health services with primary care, to combat trauma, suicide prevention and the special needs of the newest generation of combat veterans. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Jim Nicholson, also announced that the VA will hire hundreds of new employees to serve veterans in community based veterans centers, to assist wounded Servicemembers in medical centers, and to conduct outreach to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA press release is available at http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1336
Free College Guides Available to Military Families
College Circle is an educational website designed to provide college bound students and their parents with information about planning for and financing a college education. Students and parents can also find a selection of free booklets to help students pick the right college, find scholarships and financial aid, choose a major, and cope with the stresses of college life. Visit http://www.collegecircle.com to learn more.
DeCA Pulls Complete MoisturePlus Contact Lens Solutions
Commissaries worldwide have been directed to remove from their shelves Complete MoisturePlus contact lens solutions manufactured by Advanced Medical Optics of Santa Ana, CA. The manufacturer announced the voluntary recall after an investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a connection between the solution and a rare, but serious, eye infection, acanthamoeba keratitis, caused by a parasite. Anyone who wears soft contact lenses should stop using this solution. This recall applies only to Complete MoisturePlus contact lens solutions. The following items are known to be in the DeCA stock assortment:
- UPC No. 8-27444-00001 Lens Care Solution Multi-Purpose
- UPC No. 8-27444-00004 Lens Care MoisturePlus Dual
Commissary patrons who have this product at home should return it to the store from which they purchased it for a full refund. Patrons should dispose of any unused portions of the product. For more information on the recall please visit http://commissaries.com/news/news_2007/DeCA_49_07.cfm