July 1, 2007
Family Programs Update
Volume 6 Number 33
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:
- DoD Plans Expansion of Military Family Life Consultants Program
- Wounded Warrior Bill Passes Senate Committee
- Congress Addresses Military Spouse Employment
- Legislation Offers Tax Relief to Servicemembers and Families
- Colorado and New York Signal Support of Military Families
- Military Retirement Pay Cap is Lifted
- GAO Report Highlights Problems in DoD’s Electronic Absentee Voting Initiative
- TRICARE Beneficiary Website has a New Look
- TriWest Resource Center Provides Online Support to Guard and Reserve
- TRICARE Launches Survey of Post-Deployment Health
- Behavioral Health Clinic Opens for Servicemembers' Families of Fort Drum, NY
- AMEDD Announces New Policy to Speed Treatment for Warriors in Transition
- Army Plans to Hire More Mental Health Professionals
- Medical Evaluation Board Information Now Available Online
- Commission Finds VA Disability Pay Set too Low for Many War Wounded
- Journal Studies Links Between PTSD and Chronic Pain
- Nonprofit Provides Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgery to Wounded Troops
- DoD Bone Marrow Donor Program
- MyArmyLifeToo.com Enhancements Planned
- Helping Children Cope with Deployment
- Armed Services YMCA is Awarded Funds to Support Military Children
- Protecting Against Identity Theft
- Three New Scholarships Available to Military Community
- Donate DVDs to Troops Stationed Overseas through AMVETS
- DeCA Product Recalls Keep Food Supply Safe
DoD Plans Expansion of Military Family Life Consultants Program
Sylvia Kidd, Director of AUSA Family Programs, recently attended a briefing concerning expansion of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Military Family Life Consultants Program. The program recruits qualified counselors and social workers to provide short term, non-medical counseling services to military families though all phases of deployment and military life. Since the launch of the pilot program in 2004 over 100,000 military personnel and their families have benefited from its counseling services. As a result of the pilot’s success, the DoD has decided to extend the program for another five years.
In addition to providing private family counseling, consultants may also attend pre-deployment and re-deployment events, FRG meetings, and drill weekends to provide families with presentations on a variety of topics focused on deployment, reintegration, communication, and bereavement. New topics will include counseling for young couples and financial readiness. Military and Family Life Consultants currently service more than 40 locations inside and outside the Untied States and the program has recently been extended to Korea. To reach a consultant, family members should contact their closest family center.
Wounded Warrior Bill Passes Senate Committee
On June 14, the Senate House Services Committee approved the “Dignified Treatment of Wounded Warriors Act” (S 1606). The bill is specifically designed to address shortfalls in the care and treatment of injured Servicemembers which were identified in a series of Washington Post articles in February 2007.
One of the bill’s primary goals is to ease the bureaucratic hurdles that injured troops face when transitioning from the Department of Defense to Veterans Affairs by establishing an interagency electronic health record. The bill also requires DoD medical agencies to use VA standards when rating disabilities and to establish an independent board to review and, if necessary, adjust low DoD disability ratings awarded since 2001.
The bill would also require the DoD to presume that a Servicemember was in sound physical and mental condition when joining the service (unless evidence is provided to the contrary) when determining whether a disability is service related. Another provision seeks to implement uniform standards of care across the DoD by requiring compliance with Federal standards for hospital facilities and operations.
Other measures include funds for the treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries, an increase in severance pay, a provision to permit medically retired Servicemembers to receive the active-duty medical benefit for three years after leaving active duty, and authorization allowing family members caring for wounded warriors to receive medical care and employment counseling from the DoD and VA.
The House passed its version of the measure (HR 1538) in late March and then attached it to the 2008 defense authorization bill. At present, it is not clear if the Senate will also attach their version of the bill to the defense authorization bill or if it will be kept as a separate measure.
Congress Addresses Military Spouse Employment
Congress is acting to improve employment opportunities for military spouses. On June 12, Congressman John Carter of Texas introduced the Military Spouses Employment Act (HR 2682) which would make employers of spouses of military personnel eligible for the Workforce Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC). The bill encourages employers to hire military spouses by offering an income tax credit of 40 percent for the first $6,000 in wages for spouses employed for at least 400 hours, and a tax credit of 25 percent for spouses employed between 120 to 399 hours. A previous version of the bill did not pass last year but Rep. Carter is hopeful that the number of cosponsors for the reintroduced bill will help ensure its passage. Rep. Carter also encouraged military personnel and their families to contact their congressional representatives to add support to the bill.
Legislation Offers Tax Relief to Servicemembers and Families
A bill introduced into Congress on June 12 would offer tax relief to members of the Armed Forces, their families and employers of the Guard and Reserve. Provisions of the Defenders of Freedom Tax Relief Act (S 1593) would ensure continuation of several tax relief programs in effect for military personnel. Several new proposals would provide incentives to assist employers of Reserve Component troops and tax benefits for military survivors. More detail bill can be found on AUSA’s Government Affairs website: http://www.ausa.org/webpub/DeptGovAffairs.nsf/byid/JRAY-74AR84
Colorado and New York Signal Support of Military Families
Military personnel and their families living in the states of New York and Colorado are getting a boost from state leaders. In May, New York’s governor, Elliot Spitzer, announced several new measures to help military families, including a program to provide veterans with low-interest mortgages and tax incentives for the construction of 200 housing units in the Fort Drum/Watertown area to meet the needs of moderate to low-income families. State agencies have also been provided funds to develop a variety of counseling programs to assist military families during and after deployment.
Colorado is also expanding the range of counseling services offered to military families. A three-year pilot project in the Pikes Peak region will provide low-cost mental health services for family members of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. Another bill addresses the impact of base realignment and closure actions by providing assistance to school districts affected by the growth of Fort Carson.
Colorado’s laws have also been changed to ease eligibility rules so that families can more easily qualify for the state’s Military Family Relief Program. The program allows state taxpayers to designate a portion of their tax refund to help support National Guard and Reserve families. Several states now have similar military family relief programs which provide small grants to military families facing hardship because of activation or deployment.
Military Retirement Pay Cap is Lifted
As a result of changes to the law made by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 military personnel retiring due to service of thirty years or more no longer have their retirement pay capped at 75% of base pay. For example, a member who served 32 years will receive 80 percent of their retired pay base and a member who has served 42 years will receive 105 percent of their retired pay base. The law took effect January 1, 2007. More detail about the new retirement pay schedule is available from the Defense Finance and Accounting Service: http://www.dfas.mil/retiredpay/retiredpaycap.html
GAO Report Highlights Problems in DoD’s Electronic Absentee Voting Initiative
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has identified several weaknesses in the Department of Defense’s internet based absentee voting initiatives. Congress mandated that the DoD begin developing an online voting program in 2004 because mailed ballots often arrived too late to be counted towards an election. The GAO’s report noted several technological problems with the electronic voting systems, including a lack of security features to protect personal information, and found that instructions on how to use the system were inadequate. The report may be downloaded in PDF format from the GAO’s website: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d07774.pdf
TRICARE Beneficiary Website has a New Look
The TRICARE Management Authority has made several improvements to its website to make it easier for beneficiaries to find the information they need. A new My Benefits portal will allow beneficiaries to compare plans, get detailed information on services covered by TRICARE, and to create their own personalized TRICARE handbook (or E-book). An online demo of the new portal is available at http://www.tricare.mil/overview. [Source: http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=288]
TriWest Resource Center Provides Online Support to Guard and Reserve
The TriWest Healthcare Alliance has announced the launch of an online Guard and Reserve resource center. The site is specifically designed to provide support to National Guard and Reserve members and their families who do not have easy access to installation facilities. The resource center offers Guard and Reserve-specific news and updates, including TRICARE On Point, a quarterly e-newsletter, and post-deployment support and behavioral health resources for the entire family. The resource center is available at http://www.triwest.com.
TRICARE Launches Survey of Post-Deployment Health
The TRICARE Management Activity, at the request of Defense Secretary Gates, is conducting a survey of ill or injured Servicemembers to examine post-deployment health care experiences. All responses will be kept confidential. For more information, Servicemembers may call the Deployment Health Hotline at (800) 497-6261 between 7:30 am and 5 pm, Eastern Standard Time, Mon - Fri. The survey is also available on-line at http://fhp.osd.mil/healthSurvey.jsp
Behavioral Health Clinic Opens for Servicemembers' Families of Fort Drum, NY
The Mountain Community TRICARE Behavioral Health Clinic opened recently at Fort Drum, NY, in response to the increased deployment demands facing the Fort Drum community. Fort Drum is home to the 10th Mountain Division and reserve units, and mobilizes and trains nearly 80,000 troops on an annual basis. The clinic offers behavioral health care services addressing stress, anxiety, grief, and marital issues, as well as other services that will enable family members of active duty Servicemembers to cope with the challenges that come along with serving our nation. Active duty Servicemembers will be directed to seek care from the Fort Drum MEDDAC (US Army Medical Department Activity) Behavioral Health Services but may receive care at the new clinic with the appropriate authorization from their primary care manager and healthcare providers. [Source: http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=290]
AMEDD Announces New Policy to Speed Treatment for Warriors in Transition
A new policy issued by the Army Medical Command (AMEDD) requires that Army hospitals provide routine tests and treatment more rapidly for Warriors in Transition and Soldiers within 90 days of deploying or within 180 days of return from deployment. The new policy shortens the access to care standards for routine primary care from seven days to three working days, and for specialty care from 28 days to seven working days (three working days in some cases of initial specialty care). It also establishes standards of seven days for diagnostic tests and 14 days for medically indicated non-emergency surgeries required to reach optimum medical benefit or fitness for duty status. The access to care standard for urgent care remains 24 hours. Warriors in Transition are defined as Soldiers who meet the qualifications for medical hold, medical holdover or active duty medical extension; and Active Component Soldiers who require a medical evaluation board or have complex medical needs requiring more than six months of treatment. The changes should be in effect by the end of July.
Army Plans to Hire More Mental Health Professionals
The Army is planning to hire 200 psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers to meet the increased need for mental health services among Soldiers returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. In an interview with the Associated Press on June 15, Army psychiatrist Col. Elspeth Ritchie explained that lengthy and multiple deployments have greatly increased the mental strain on troops and that the proposal is part of the ongoing effort to improve care for wounded and ill troops. The full article is available at http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/M/MILITARY_MENTAL_HEALTH?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT
Medical Evaluation Board Information Now Available Online
Injured Soldiers can now track the progress of their Medical Evaluation Boards through the MyMEB page on Army Knowledge Online (AKO). Medical Evaluation Boards (MEB) are conducted at medical treatment facilities to determine if injured Soldiers meet medical retention standards set in Army Regulation 40-501. MEBs differ from Physical Evaluation Boards (PEB), which are conducted for the Army by Human Resources Command to determine if Soldiers can continue to serve and, if they cannot; to what disability benefits the Soldiers are entitled. Track your progress at MyMEB which can be reached online at https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/417118 using a Soldier’s AKO user identity and password. Individual board information will be available only with matching social security number.
Commission Finds VA Disability Pay Set too Low for Many War Wounded
The draft of a recent study commissioned by the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission concluded that disability compensation for veterans with severe injuries is set too low. The study, which surveyed 20,000 veterans, suggested that the problem may be particularly acute for the youngest severely injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who will face a lifetime earnings gap when compared with their non-disabled peers. The same report also concluded that disability compensation may be too high for veterans who begin drawing payments after age 65 and who already have retirement income from second careers. Commissioners appeared divided on how to address the issue, however.
The Veterans Disability Benefits Commission was established as a result of a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2004 to study veterans and survivors’ benefits. The Commission holds regular public meetings at which members of the public may present oral testimony or submit written statements. To find out more about the commission please visit http://www.vetscommission.org. Analysis of the Commission’s study is available at http://www.military.com/features/0,15240,139156,00.html.
Journal Studies Links Between PTSD and Chronic Pain
The Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development’s most recent issue (Volume 44, Number 2) detailed several new findings related to the long term management of pain in veterans. One researcher has found a possible link between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain problems. Sixty-six percent of veterans who were being treated for PTSD reported experiencing chronic pain. Treatment for PTSD lessened pain symptoms. Although these findings are only preliminary they suggest that more research is needed on the link between PTSD and chronic pain. Another article explored new approaches to the treatment of trauma related pain in troops injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both articles can be downloaded in full from the journal’s website: http://www.rehab.research.va.gov/jour/jourindx.html.
Nonprofit Provides Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgery to Wounded Troops
IraqStar, a nonprofit organization based in California, is doing its part to help troops wounded in Iraq by offering free cosmetic surgery from some of the Los Angeles area’s top plastic surgeons. The surgeons specialize in treating shrapnel scars, burns and other disfiguring injuries sustained in combat. The organization’s founder, Maggie Lockridge, is a former Air Force nurse who now specializes in cosmetic surgery and aftercare. To learn more please visit http://www.iraqstar.org.
DoD Bone Marrow Donor Program
The Department of Defense Bone Marrow Donor Center was established to recruit volunteer marrow donors from active duty military, their immediate family members, civil service employees, Coast Guard, National Guard and Reservists. Anyone who would like to hold a bone marrow drive can contact the DoD Bone Marrow Donor Center at 1-800-MARROW-3. For more information, including a schedule of upcoming bone marrow drives, visit http://www.dodmarrow.com/index.htm
MyArmyLifeToo.com Enhancements Planned
The US Army Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command is planning an upgrade of its My Army Life Too website in response to increased usage. The Command has already enhanced its Virtual Family Readiness Group (vFRG) website to improve navigation and access to information. The upgrade is also being done in preparation for the launch of the new Multi-Component Family Support Network. The network is designed to integrate military and civilian agency resources to provide a comprehensive multi-agency approach for community support and services to meet the diverse needs of Active, mobilized Guard and Reserve Servicemembers and their families. Visit the My Army Life Too website at http://www.myarmylifetoo.com.
Helping Children Cope with Deployment
Parents and caregivers looking for a way to help children cope with the impact of having a parent deployed may find three videos especially helpful. “Talk, Listen and Connect: Helping Families Cope with Military Deployment” is produced by the Sesame Workshop especially for preschool children and follows the story of Sesame Street’s Elmo when his father goes away. The DVD comes in both Spanish and English and may be requested free of charge through Military OneSource (http://www.militaryonesource.com).
Older children may benefit from “Military Youth Coping with Separation: When Family Members Deploy.” This short video includes interviews with teenagers who describe their experiences when a parent deployed. To view the video go to the Army’s behavioral health web site and click on the “Children” link: http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil. A new cartoon feature, “Mr. Poe and Friends Discuss Family Reunion after Deployment”, aimed at 6 to 11 year olds, will be available for download in July 2007.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also has information and resources to help children cope with deployment: http://www.aap.org/sections/unifserv/deployment/ysp-resources.htm.
Armed Services YMCA is Awarded Funds to Support Military Children
The Armed Services YMCA (ASYMCA) has been awarded $1.9 million by the Iraq-Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund to provide programs and services for children of junior enlisted military personnel who are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan including, scholarships to summer camp, tutoring and mentoring services for young children, and safe and reliable transportation to and from support programs. The grant money will also be used to expand “Operation Hero,” a successful tutoring and mentoring program that has helped more than 5,000 children ages 6-12 who are experiencing difficulty in school due to a parent’s deployment. For more information on the ASYMCA, an affiliate of the YMCA of the USA, please visit http://www.asymca.org
Protecting Against Identity Theft
A recent story published in USA Today highlighted the increased risk of identity theft for military personnel because of the common practice of using social security numbers on ID cards and other personal documents. It was noted that although the Department of Defense is taking steps to eliminate the use of SSNs as a means of tracking Servicemembers it may take some time before the process is complete.
The problem of identity theft may be compounded for military personnel because of deployment and the general mobility of military life which creates greater dependence on remote-access banking and thus more opportunities for ID thieves to intercept personal information. There are steps that military personnel and their families can take to protect themselves from ID theft, however.
Members of the military who are deployed or activated may place an active duty alert on their credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft. Alerts stay in effect for one year but can be extended if a deployment lasts longer. The alert also removes a Servicemember’s name from the credit reporting companies' marketing list for pre-screened credit card offers. More information on active duty alerts, preventing ID theft, and what to do if your personal information has been lost or stolen is available on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt04.shtm.
In addition, all consumers are entitled to receive one free copy of their credit report from each of the major credit reporting agencies every year. More information is available at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. To read the USA Today article please visit http://www.usatoday.com/tech/news/computersecurity/infotheft/2007-06-14-military-id-thefts_N.htm?csp=34
Three New Scholarships Available to Military Community
The non-profit Hire-A-Hero program has announced three new scholarships to assist active and transitioning military personnel, veterans, National Guard Members, Reservists and their spouses. In partnership with Lincoln Educational Services Corporation, Hire-A-Hero will offer degree and diploma programs will be available in automotive technology, health sciences, skilled trades, business, information technology and hospitality services. Eight scholarships are available to United States personnel serving overseas in support of the Global War on Terror. United States National Guard Members or Spouses of National Guard members may apply for 54 scholarships with up to $10,000 given to each recipient to help cover tuition fees. A further 60 scholarships will be awarded to United States Military, honorably discharged veterans and their spouses. The application process involves registering on the Hire-A-Hero website for free at http://www.hireahero.com and uploading a written essay or short video. All applications are due on or before August 17th.
Donate DVDs to Troops Stationed Overseas through AMVETS
American Veterans (AMVETS) is collecting new and used DVDs to distribute to military personnel stationed overseas. Children’s videos will also be collected to be given to the children of deployed Servicemembers. If you have DVDs to donate, or want to make a donation for postage, write to AMVETS, Operation DVD, 1395 E Dublin-Granville #222, Columbus, OH 43229, or visit Operation DVD website: http://www.operationdvd.us/amvets
DeCA Product Recalls Keep Food Supply Safe
The Defense Commissary Agency understands customers’ concerns regarding food safety and is committed to providing a safe and secure shopping environment for its patrons. DeCA has a stringent, multitiered system to ensure quick and complete removal of suspect items from store shelves throughout the world whenever a food or product recall is issued. The recall process begins when an item is suspected of being contaminated or otherwise unfit for consumption or use. When a lot number matches the item being recalled, the matching lot numbers are immediately removed from the shelves and placed on hold. For information about recalls and other items of interest at your local commissary, log onto http://www.commissaries.com