Family Programs Update
Volume 6, Number 34
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:
- Spanish Language Version of “Your Soldier, Your Army: A Parents’ Guide” Now Available
- Senate Focuses on Family Support and Child Custody Issues Affecting Deployed Servicemembers
- Congress Addresses Shortfalls in Benefits and Services to Veterans
- SCRA Protections May be Expanded under New Laws
- Bill Proposes Change to DIC Law Governing Age Threshold for Remarriage
- Congressional Budget Office Releases Report on Military-Civilian Pay Gap
- Illinois Introduces Mental Health Screening for All Returning National Guard Troops
- Horatio Alger Military Veterans Scholarship Accepting Applications
- College Scholarships Available for Children of Military Heroes
- Army Establishes Free Respite Care for Children Enrolled in EFMP
- DoD Mental Health Self-Assessment (MHSA) Program Expands Its Services
- TRICARE Medical Benefit Enhanced to Assist Dental Patients with Special Needs
- TRICARE Pilot Allows Beneficiaries to Substitute OTC Medications for No Copay
- New Online Resources for Reserve Component Families
- Department of Labor Provides Grants to Veterans for Job Training
- Small Business Administration Launches Patriot Express Loan Initiative
- VA Plans Suicide Prevention Hotline for Veterans
- Military Families May Owe Money for Unpaid FSGLI Premiums
- Bugles Across America Honors Veterans
- Registration Open for 'Great Getaways Sweepstakes'
- Missouri Signals Support for Troops through AAFES Program
Spanish Language Version of “Your Soldier, Your Army: A Parents’ Guide” Now Available
AUSA Family Programs is pleased to announce that “Su Soldado, Su Ejército Estadounidense: Guía Para Los Padres” is now available. The guide is designed to help parents of Soldiers understand how the Army works and provides information about deployment, family readiness programs and advice on how to cope with having a child deployed. In writing the book, Mrs. Cody drew on her own experience as an Army wife of thirty years and the mother of two sons, both of whom joined Army and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Since it was first published in 2005 the book has proven to be a tremendous success and many thousands of copies have now made their way to the parents and grandparents of Soldiers. Both the English and Spanish language versions of “Your Soldier, Your Army” are available free of charge although quantities may be limited. To obtain a copy, please contact AUSA Family Programs at 1-800-336-4570, ext. 151 or email@example.com.
Senate Focuses on Family Support and Child Custody Issues Affecting Deployed Servicemembers
The Senate introduced a number of new bills in late June to enhance the level of support afforded to military families. Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) introduced the Military Family Support Act (S 1649) to establish two pilot programs authorizing the use of leave by caregivers of military family members when the military member is deployed. The first program would authorize federal employees who have been designated as “caregivers” to use annual or sick leave, banked leave or donated leave time to perform child care duties. The second program would require the Department of Labor to establish a voluntary program under which private sector companies would be encouraged to create similar opportunities for their employees. All private-sector participation in the programs would be voluntary.
Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) introduced a measure (S 1659) to limit the simultaneous deployment of dual-military couples who have minor children. In cases where one parent is already deployed to a combat zone, the bill would allow the second parent to defer deployment until the other parent returns. Senator Gregg also proposed legislation (S 1660) requiring the Secretary of Defense to implement a study of support services available to National Guard and Reserve families. A third piece of legislation introduced by Gregg would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide protection for child custody arrangements for military parents deployed in support of a contingency operation. The bill (S1658) has been passed to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The proposed child custody legislation is similar in intent to an amendment to the House version of the fiscal year 2008 defense authorization bill (HR 1585) to prevent courts from changing the custody status of the child of a Servicemember who has been activated or deployed. Both initiatives come in response to several highly publicized instances where military duty has interfered with a parent’s ability to attend court hearings involving child custody or even resulted in a Servicemember returning from deployment to find that a judge had transferred custody of a child to an ex-spouse in their absence. Some state lawmakers have already acted to prevent military personnel losing custody of their children during deployment. California, Michigan, and Kentucky each have laws barring permanent changes to a custody agreement if a parent is absent due to military duties. Arizona, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, and North Carolina may follow suit.
Congress Addresses Shortfalls in Benefits and Services to Veterans
Recently both the House and the Senate have considered and approved broad measures to ensure that the new generation of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are provided with adequate medical care, transition services, housing and education and employment benefits. On July 11, the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee approved a measure (HR 2874) to enhance support for Servicemembers as they readjust to civilian life. The Veterans Health Care Improvement Act would provide $2 million a year between fiscal 2008 and 2011 in the form of grants to non-profits who provide therapeutic readjustment counseling to veterans of conflicts after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Other portions of the bill would improve access to dental and medical care for homeless veterans and provide grants to organizations that help homeless veterans. Other provisions include financial assistance for veterans whose household incomes are less than 50 percent of the median income for their geographical area and a transportation grants to assist veterans who live in remote areas. The bill now passes to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
A further four bills were approved by the House Veterans Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee in late June, and will be considered by the full committee in July. One measure (HR 1315) would provide funds provide adaptive housing to disabled veterans who are staying in a family member’s house. Discharged Servicemembers would have increased protection from mortgage foreclosure through HR 1750. A third bill (HR 1240) would create a scholarship program for students seeking careers in rehabilitation of the blind and who agree to give three years of service to the VA. Last, HR 1632 would require the Departments of Labor, Defense, and Veterans Affairs to execute annual studies on the status of veterans’ re-employment rights.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Services Committees have also passed a host of legislation to help veterans. The Veterans Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Act (S 1233) would expand and enhance VA programs to identify and treat Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). It also extends the eligibility period for VA health care for all combat veterans from two to four years to five years to ensure adequate time to diagnose Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Another notable provision if this bill is one that would rescind the 2003 law prohibiting Priority 8 veterans from receiving VA medical care. Priority 8 veterans are those who have no service–connected disability and do not meet the VA’s low-income threshold.
Other legislation approved by the Committees include a bill (S 1315) to expand veterans’ life insurance and to define Filipino World War II veterans as US veterans for the purpose of receiving VA care, a bill (S 1163) to provide extra benefits to veterans with vision loss, and a measure (S 423) to adjust benefits for cost-of-living. Another action (S 479), which is similar to a House bill (HR 327) which passed in March, would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish a suicide prevention outreach program to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
SCRA Protections May be Expanded under New Laws
On June 29 the House Veterans Affairs Economic Opportunity Subcommittee approved a measure (HR 1750) to amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to extend the period during which a discharged Servicemember is protected from mortgage foreclosure from 90 days to one year. The SCRA is a federal law that protects Servicemembers who have difficulty meeting their personal financial and legal obligations because of military duty. A second bill (HR 1598) to amend the SCRA would help protect the credit of Servicemembers deployed to an overseas combat zone by requiring the Defense Department to notify credit reporting agencies when a Servicemember is deployed so that a notation may be put in their file in case of late payments. Servicemembers can learn more about their rights under the SCRA by consulting with an Army legal services officer or by visiting the Army’s legal services website at https://www.jagcnet.army.mil/legal.
Additionally, Senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-CT) recently sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense and to federal financial regulators pressing them to ensure that Servicemembers rights under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) are protected. SCRA protections include a rule that allows military personnel to request a reduction in pre-service consumer debt and mortgage interest rates to 6 per cent. According to the Hartford Courant, Dodd’s action comes after reports that some banks had ignored requests by several Servicemembers to reduce interest rates on loans incurred prior to deployment or activation. [Source: http://www.courant.com/news/local/hc-watchdog0702.artjul02,0,35938,full.column?coll=hc_home_xpromo]
Bill Proposes Change to DIC Law Governing Age Threshold for Remarriage
A new bill (HR 704) would reduce the age limit at which a military survivor can remarry and retain Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from 57 to 55. Currently, military survivors who remarry before age 57 have their Dependency and Indemnity Compensation payments suspended. Payments are restored if the marriage ends in annulment, divorce, or death. The bill would bring DIC age threshold for remarriage into line with the threshold for DoD Survivor Benefits. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, heard testimony on the bill on June 19.
Congressional Budget Office Releases Report on Military-Civilian Pay Gap
A report released recently by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) concluded that the gap in pay and benefits between military and civilian jobs has been largely erased. The report noted that compensation packages for active duty enlisted military personnel grew by 21 percent from 2000 to 2006. The CBO report noted that while military basic pay is still slightly less than civilian salaries once food and housing allowances are factored in the pay gap appears to have been eliminated. The CBO did acknowledge differences in comparing military and civilian compensation packages and that the military has a unique lifestyle which may add extra financial challenges to military families. AUSA strongly believes that because military life is so distinctly different from that of civilians, those differences must be reflected in the compensation package offered to service members. To view the CBO report in its entirety, go to http://www.cbo.gov and click on “Evaluating Military Compensation.”
Illinois Introduces Mental Health Screening for All Returning National Guard Troops
In an effort to ensure that Illinois’s National Guard receive timely diagnosis and care of Traumatic Brain Injuries and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the state is introducing a mandatory screening program aimed at all Guard personnel retuning from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Screening will be voluntary for all other troops. In addition, the state is launching a 24-hour toll-free support line for veterans suffering from PTSD. [Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=46649]
Horatio Alger Military Veterans Scholarship Accepting Applications
The Horatio Alger Association is inviting veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan or Operation Iraqi Freedom to apply for its Military Veterans Scholarship. The deadline for applications is September 28, 2007. Questions about the scholarship may be address to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about eligibility requirements and to download application forms visit https://www.horatioalger.org/scholarships_military.
College Scholarships Available for Children of Military Heroes
The Freedom Alliance is accepting applications from dependent children of U.S. military personnel who have been killed or permanently disabled (100% VA rating) in the line of duty during the War on Terror (Iraq, Afghanistan, Philippines, etc.). Students must be enrolled at an accredited college, university or vocational school. The application deadline for the 2007-2008 academic year is 31 July. For more information about the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund or to download an application, visit http://www.freedomalliance.org and click on the “Scholarship Fund” link or call (800) 475-6620. Since its inception, Freedom Alliance has provided more than $1,000,000 in college scholarships to qualified students whose parents have been killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. More recently, Freedom Alliance provided scholarship assistance to the children of military personnel who were killed in the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole and in the September 11 attack on the Pentagon.
Army Establishes Free Respite Care for Children Enrolled in EFMP
Army families with a child enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) can now take advantage of up to forty hours of respite care for each certified EFMP child. Family members should contact their Army Community Service center for more information. EFMP ensures that that the military personnel assignment process takes into consideration the housing, educational and medical needs of a special needs family member. Currently, enrollment in EFMP is limited to active duty Army families. More information about the program is available at http://myarmylifetoo.com under “Home and Family Life.”
DoD Mental Health Self-Assessment (MHSA) Program Expands Its Services
The Mental Health Self-Assessment Program (MHSAP) is a mental health and alcohol screening and referral program provided for military families and Servicemembers affected by deployment and mobilization. The program is voluntary and anonymous program and is offered online and through special events held at installations and reserve units. A pre-recorded, interactive telephone self-assessment program is now available for those military families and Servicemembers who do not have easy access to the Internet This toll-free number is (877) 877-3647. At the end of every assessment Servicemembers are provided with individualized results and information about further resources. Further enhancements to MHSA this year include a pilot Spanish language version of the program and programs to address youth depression and suicide. The MHSA Program is available at http://www.militarymentalhealth.org.
TRICARE Medical Benefit Enhanced to Assist Dental Patients with Special Needs
TRICARE will implement coverage for anesthesia services and associated costs for dental treatment for beneficiaries with developmental, mental or physical disabilities, and children age 5 or under beginning July 1, 2007. The National Defense Authorization Act of 2007 legislated the change, and TRICARE revised the regional contracts to expand coverage for the services. The services do require preauthorization through the regional TRICARE contractors.
TRICARE Pilot Allows Beneficiaries to Substitute OTC Medications for No Copay
A two-year test authorized by the 2007 National Defense Authorization Act allows TRICARE beneficiaries to substitute over-the-counter (OTC) versions of certain prescription drugs without a copayment. The drugs eligible for an OTC substitution include a class of drugs known as “proton pump inhibitors” which treat gastro-intestinal disorders. Under the test, beneficiaries receiving a prescription proton pump inhibitor are eligible to receive Prilosec OTC, the only proton pump inhibitor available over the counter. The Department of Defense Pharmacy and Therapeutic Committee found there is no significant clinical difference between Prilosec OTC and its prescription-only counterparts. Beneficiaries must have a prescription to receive the OTC medication and, at present, the test is limited to drugs ordered through the mail order pharmacy program. TRICARE encourages beneficiaries who haven’t used the mail order pharmacy in the past, but are taking medications included in the test, to get information on how to sign up at http://www.tricare.mil/pharmacy/tmop.cfm. [Source: http://www.tricare.mil/pressroom/news.aspx?fid=297]
New Online Resources for Reserve Component Families
The website of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs has some new resources to offer Reserve Component families. Visitors to the site (http://www.defenselink.mil/ra/) can download a Commander’s Toolkit, a guide to family readiness matters for commanders, as well as a Family Toolkit, which provides Reserve families with information on how to plan for deployment, financial management, legal affairs, and reintegration. Additionally, the website has new and updated versions of Guard and Reserve Benefits Guide and the Education and Retirement Guides.
Department of Labor Provides Grants to Veterans for Job Training
The Department of Labor will provide 94 grants, totaling nearly $27 million, to provide approximately 17,000 veterans with job training through the U.S. Department of Labor's Veterans' Workforce Investment Program (VWIP) and Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program (HVRP). The funds will be awarded on a competitive basis to state and local workforce investment boards, local public agencies and nonprofit organizations, including faith-based and community organizations. For more information, go to the DOL-VETS website at http://www.dol.gov/vets.
Small Business Administration Launches Patriot Express Loan Initiative
The U.S. Small Business Administration has announced the SBA’s Patriot Express Pilot Loan Initiative for veterans and members of the military community wanting to establish or expand small businesses. Eligible military community members include veterans, service-disabled veterans, Active-duty Servicemembers eligible for the military’s Transition Assistance Program, Reservists and National Guard members, current spouses of any of the above, and the widowed spouse of a Servicemember or veteran who died during service or of a service-connected disability. The pilot, which is based on the successful SBA Express Program, offers a streamlined loan process through SBA’s network of approved lenders. Loans are available up to $500,000 and have enhanced guarantees and interest rates. The SBA and its resource partners will also be offering counseling and training to augment the loan initiative. Learn more at http://www.sba.gov/patriotexpress.
VA Plans Suicide Prevention Hotline for Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will establish a 24-hour, national suicide prevention hot line to assist veterans with mental health crises..The hot line, which is scheduled to begin operations by August 31, 2007, will be based at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center in New York state. Staffed by mental health professionals, it will operate seven days a week, 24 hours a day. In addition to staffing the hot line, the suicide prevention coordinators will take part in training clinicians and non-clinicians on warning signs for suicide, guide veterans into care and work within facilities to identify veterans at risk for suicide. [Source: http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1352]
Military Families May Owe Money for Unpaid FSGLI Premiums
In 2001, the Veterans Opportunities Act established Family Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) for spouses and children of active duty Servicemembers and members of the Reserve Component. Enrollment is done automatically based upon the information provided by the Servicemember in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Coverage can only be declined or reduced by filing a SGLV Form 8286A with a personnel center. In some cases, where Servicemembers have not updated their family status in DEERS, premiums have not been paid. As a result, Servicemembers who did not know that they were enrolled or that they were liable to pay the premiums may now owe the Department of Veterans Affairs unpaid premiums backdated to November 2001 or when they first became FSGLI eligible unless they can prove that they declined the coverage. The problem may be more common among dual military couples because they are less likely to register their spouse in DEERS. The Stars and Stripes reports that although the DoD has been aware of this situation for a while it has only recently directed that the services identify Servicemembers who owe premiums in order to collect unpaid premiums. [Source: http://stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=54521&archive=true]
Bugles Across America Honors Veterans
The playing of taps is a hallmark of a military funeral but, since World War II, budget constraints have limited the number of military buglers available to attend veterans’ funerals. To make up for that shortfall, Bugles Across America recruits volunteers from high schools, colleges, honor guards and drum-and-bugle corps to be buglers. Volunteers now play taps at about 1,000 funerals a month. For more information, including to request a bugler or to volunteer to be one, visit http://xeml.buglesacrossamerica.org/index.xeml. Further information about eligibility requirements for military funerals is available from the DoD website: http://www.militaryfuneralhonors.osd.mil/eligpage.html
Registration Open for 'Great Getaways Sweepstakes'
Authorized Morale, Welfare and Recreation patrons have a chance to win an all-inclusive "Great Getaways" vacation package for two at any of the four Armed Forces Recreation Centers (AFRC). The grand prize consists of an all-inclusive vacation package for two, including a seven-night stay at the resort of the winner's choice, round-trip airfare for two, a seven-day car rental and a set of luggage. The four AFRCs are Dragon Hill Lodge in Seoul, South Korea; Edelweiss Lodge and Resort in Garmisch, Germany; Hale Koa Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii; and Shades of Green on Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. To win the Great Getaways Sweepstakes' grand prize, participants must register at http://www.afrcresorts.com/sweepstakes before Aug. 31.
Missouri Signals Support for Troops through AAFES Program
Since the beginning of the year, supporters from 45 states and the District of Columbia have purchased gift certificates through the Army & Air Force Exchange Service’s (AAFES) “Gifts From the Homefront” program. The gift certificates are then sent to troops deployed overseas who can then use them to purchase items at their closest post exchange. Missouri, home of Whiteman AFB and Fort Leonard Wood, is far and away the most generous state, sending an average of 778 military exchange gift certificates a month. “Gifts From the Homefront” can be sent to deployed troops by logging on to http://www.aafes.org or by calling 877-770-4438. Purchasers may designate a Servicemembers by name to receive a certificate or they can ask for the certificate to be distributed to “any service member.” [Source: http://www.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123058662]