January 15, 2008
Family Programs Update
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
- AUSA Chapters Support Soldiers and Families
- VA Wait Times Scrutinized by House
- Bill to Aid Wounded Veterans Becomes Law
- Senate Focuses on Vets Employment Rights
- More States Act to Support Veterans and Families
- Army Program Aims To Decrease Soldier Deaths & Injuries After Deployment
- Michigan Tech Offers Tuition Break for Military Families
- Scholarships for Military Children Application Deadline is February 20
- Childhood Vaccine Rationed
- TRICARE Behavioral Health Care Access Made Simpler for Prime Beneficiaries
- Rules Change for Combat-Related Injury Rehabilitation Pay
- VSOs Help Vets Learn About Benefits
- VA Benefits for Elderly and Disabled Veterans
- 2008 Military COLA Rates Released
- New Space-A Travel Policies Benefit Military Families
- Scams Continue to Target Troops and Families
- Partnership Program Paying off for Army, Soldiers
- New Vendors Added to Exchange Online Store
- TV Show Seeks Ex-Military Participants
AUSA Chapters Support Soldiers and Families
Many of AUSA’s Chapters were busy this holiday season providing support to Soldiers, veterans and family members. In this issue, we’d like to highlight the efforts of the General Vessey Chapter, which hosted several Christmas events for military personnel and their families located in the Minneapolis area. The Chapter hosted a Christmas Party for eighteen combat injured military personnel recovering at the Poly-Trauma unit of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. Not only are these Servicemembers recovering from injury but also they and their families are displaced and sometimes dealing with financial hardship. The Chapter distributed gifts and cards to the recovering Soldiers and Marines as well as toys for children. The Chapter also sponsored a Christmas Party for over forty children of A Company, 34th Infantry Division STB. Over 200 Soldiers and their family members attended the holiday party and the children received gifts gathered through the Chapter’s Toys4MilitaryKids program. Learn more about the General Vessey Chapter at http://www.vessey5401.org/.
While Christmas is certainly a busy time for AUSA Chapters we also know that Chapters work hard all year round to support Soldiers and families. A recent article in the Austin American Statesman showcased the work of AUSA’s Fort Hood Chapter and the Adopt-A-Unit Program. The program, coordinated through the Fort Hood Chapter, encourages businesses and individuals to “adopt” units and provide them with support, letters and care packages. Learn more about the Chapter’s work at http://www.forthoodausa.org/adopt_a_unit.shtml.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of AUSA’s Chapters for their continued support for Soldiers and families. To learn more about AUSA’s Chapters and to locate your nearest Chapter, please visit http://www.ausa.org/chapters.
VA Wait Times Scrutinized by House
A recent joint hearing of the House Health Subcommittee and the Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee focused attention on waiting times for outpatient appointments in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The hearing focused on the performance measures, scheduling procedures and reporting systems used by VHA to assess the waiting times experienced by veterans attempting to schedule appointments. Currently, the VA reports that 95 percent of outpatient appointments are scheduled within 30 days of the date requested by the patient, a metric the department established in their annual Performance and Accountability Report (PAR). The VA’s Office of Inspector General (IG), however, questioned the accuracy of the data provided by the VA. The opening statements of all the witnesses are available on the Committee website at: http://veterans.house.gov/hearings/hearing.aspx?NewsID=165.
Bill to Aid Wounded Veterans Becomes Law
The Dr. James C. Allen Veteran Vision Equity Act (H.R. 797) will aid veterans who sustained a significant loss of vision in one eye while serving their country. The law allows veterans who have a complete loss of sight in one eye due to a service-connected injury to receive increased disability compensation if they begin to lose sight in the other eye, regardless of whether that loss of sight is service-connected. A 2002 federal law corrected a similar deficiency for those who suffered service-related hearing loss.
Senate Focuses on Vets Employment Rights
On December 13, 2007, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senator Daniel K. Akaka, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, introduced legislation to strengthen the employment and reemployment rights of returning Servicemembers. The USERRA Enforcement Improvement Act is designed to strengthen federal enforcement of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects Servicemembers’ rights to return to their prior jobs with the same wages and benefits. The bill mandates that federal agencies do more to gather and report on incidents where Servicemembers lost jobs after deployment and requires that the Department of Labor respond with more speed to Servicemembers’ complaints.
More States Act to Support Veterans and Families
Illinois, Ohio and Massachusetts have all passed legislation to help veterans transition back into civilian life. Veterans in Massachusetts are entitled to bonuses through the state’s Welcome Home Program. Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan receive $1,000 while other veterans who served more than six months since Sept. 11, 2007 receive a $500 bonus. Massachusetts’s veterans should call the State Treasurer's office at 617-367-9333, ext. 859, to request bonus application materials.
In Illinois, a new tax law known as the Returning Veterans Homestead Exemption provides one-time $5,000 reduction to their home's equalized assessed value. Additionally, the Disabled Veterans Standard Homestead Exemption provides a reduction in a property's equalized assessed value for a veteran with a service-connected disability. Illinois has also introduced a Veteran's Tax Credit is a new state income tax credit available to employers for every qualified veteran they hire. More information is available from the Illinois Department of Revenue website: http://www.revenue.state.il.us.
More recently, Ohio’s governor signed a law that exempts military pensions from state income tax and also prevents discrimination against veterans. [Source: http://www.toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071213/NEWS24/712130409]
Army Program Aims To Decrease Soldier Deaths & Injuries After Deployment
The Army’s new Redeployment Family Engagement Kit is intended to raise awareness of accident prevention among Soldiers returning from deployment. In the last five years, 186 Soldiers died within a year of returning from deployments. Approximately 30 percent of the deaths occurred within the first 30 days of post-deployment and 63 percent within the first six months. Of the 186 fatalities, 145 involved privately owned vehicles during off-duty hours. In all, the kit includes six tools for post-deployment best practices. For more information about the Family Engagement Kit, visit the USACRC Web site at https://crc.army.mil/familyengagement.
Michigan Tech Offers Tuition Break for Military Families
Starting with the first summer term of 2008, Michigan Technological University will offer in-state tuition to out-of-state students who are the offspring or spouse of a person on active U.S. military duty. The innovative idea arose earlier this year, after the son of a military man stationed outside Michigan was denied in-state tuition at a public university, even though he had graduated from a Michigan high school while his father was stationed in the state. Michigan is one of only three states that don’t automatically grant in-state tuition to Michigan residents stationed elsewhere or to non-residents stationed in Michigan. Students will be eligible for a Military Family Education Award if a parent or spouse is on active military duty at the time the student applies to Michigan Tech. If a parent or spouse goes on active duty after a student is admitted, the student will be eligible for a Military Service Award at the beginning of the next semester. Military Family Education Award recipients will have to qualify for admission to the University. Once a student receives the award, he or she will continue to receive it until graduation, providing a satisfactory record is maintained, even if the family member’s military status changes. Students with a parent or spouse on full-time duty with the National Guard for more than a year also will be eligible for the Military Family Education Award.
Scholarships for Military Children Application Deadline is February 20
Applications for the 2008 Scholarships for Military Children Program must be turned in to a commissary by close of business February 20, 2007. Application forms are available in commissaries worldwide or online at http://www.militaryscholar.org. At least one scholarship worth $1,500 will be awarded at every commissary location with qualified applicants. The scholarship program is open to unmarried children under the age of 21 (23 if enrolled in school) of active-duty, Reserve, Guard and retired military personnel. Eligibility will be determined using the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System database. Applicants should ensure that they, as well as their sponsor, are currently enrolled in the DEERS database and that they have a current ID card. All applicants must be U.S. citizens. The applicant must be planning to attend, or already attending, an accredited college or university full-time in the fall term of 2008. Students at community or junior colleges must be enrolled in a program of studies designed to transfer directly into a four-year program.
Childhood Vaccine Rationed
U.S. Army health facilities in Europe have begun rationing the “Hib vaccine,” which protects children against the bacterium that can cause meningitis, pneumonia and other serious infections in babies and young children following a recall of a million doses of the vaccine. Under the rationing plan booster shots for 1 year-olds will be suspended except for children who may be more susceptible to Hib disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control this approach is unlikely to result in more cases of Hib disease because of the protection provided by the earlier shots. More information on the recall can be found on the CDC Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/recalls/hib-recall-faqs-12-12-07.htm.
TRICARE Behavioral Health Care Access Made Simpler for Prime Beneficiaries
TRICARE’s Behavioral Health Provider Locator and Appointment Assistance Service is now open for business. All active duty service members and their enrolled family members living in the U.S. who need help locating and making appointments with behavioral health care providers can now contact their Managed Care Support Contractor (MCSC) for assistance. All active duty service members must have a referral from their primary care manager for behavioral health care before calling the MCSC appointment assistance line. TRICARE Prime active duty family members can receive the first eight outpatient behavioral health care visits per fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) without a referral, but they must receive the care from TRICARE network providers to avoid point-of-service cost sharing charges. For assistance making behavioral health appointments the toll-free numbers are: West Region, 1-866-651- 4970; North Region, 1-877-747-9579; and in the South Region the number is 1-877-298-3514. Hours vary according to region. TRICARE Oversees Program beneficiaries can also use the appointment assistance line when traveling in the U.S.
Rules Change for Combat-Related Injury Rehabilitation Pay
Service Members who were medically evacuated out of a combat zone and considered “hospitalized” are entitled to CIP payments of up to $430 a month. Eligible members already receiving HFP are paid $205 a month. For the purposes of CIP entitlement, a Wounded Warrior is considered hospitalized if he/she is admitted as an inpatient or is receiving extensive rehabilitation as an outpatient while living in quarters affiliated with the military health care system. Under a new policy Servicemembers’s CIP payments begin immediately. Previously, Servicemembers had to wait 30 days to recive payments. Soldiers who believe they may be eligible to receive CIP should contact their Warrior Transition Unit chain of command, local Wounded in Action DFAS representative, or call 1-800-237-1336.
VSOs Help Vets Learn About Benefits
County veterans service officers, in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs, work to ensure that veterans receive the federal and state benefits to which they are entitled. Thirty states have county veterans service officers to provide information and help fill out applications; the rest have state or regional officers. The work of VSOs is becoming increasingly important as more and a new generations of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan return home. To learn more about the VSO program, and to locate and office, please visit the website of the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers at http://www.nacvso.org/default.asp.
VA Benefits for Elderly and Disabled Veterans
Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits are available from the VA in addition to a pension to assist veterans who need care providers to help perform daily tasks. Veterans can apply for thesee benefits by writing to the VA regional office having jurisdiction of the claim. That would be the office where a claim for pension benefits was filed. If the regional office of jurisdiction is not known, the request may be filed with any VA regional office.
2008 Military COLA Rates Released
The Department of Defense's Per Diem, Travel and Transportation Allowance Committee released the active-duty Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) rates for 2008. COLA is designed to offset the cost of living in high cost areas in the United States and overseas. Information about rates and allowances is available from http://perdiem.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/rateinfo.html
New Space-A Travel Policies Benefit Military Families
Effective December 6, 2007, family members of military personnel who have been deployed for 120 days or more will be able to travel Space-A. Previously, family members had to be accompanied by the military sponsor to use Space-A. Under the new policy family members may travel an unlimited number of times regardless of where they are stationed. However, family members must provide a verification letter from the military sponsor’s commander to confirm deployment and family members under 18 must have a parent or guardian travel with them. For more information regarding the Space-A travel program, please visit the Air Mobility Command website at http://www.amc.af.mil/
Scams Continue to Target Troops and Families
A recent Stars and Stripes story has highlighted yet another scam targeting Soldiers and their families. The grandmother of a Soldier deploying to Iraq received a call from a stranger telling her that her grandson was on his way home for the holidays but had lost his wallet. The caller then asked her to wire $800 to help her grandson get home. Fortunately, the Soldier’s grandmother was alert to the scam and contacted the authorities instead. Such scams, which target military families or which prey on the public’s goodwill and desire to support the troops are on the increase, according to the FBI. To avoid becoming a victim of a scam, avoid providing personal or financial information over the phone to strangers and never send money to a stranger on a relative’s behalf. If in doubt about the identity of an organization and call, hang up and do some independent research. If it seems suspicious then record the details of the conversation and contact law enforcement authorities.
Partnership Program Paying off for Army, Soldiers
The Army's Partnership for Youth Success program, which began in 2000, has now promised more than 53,000 Soldiers from the Army and Army Reserve a leg up on civilian employment. Recruits choose to participate in the PaYS program before their military careers even begin. After they meet with a recruiter and guidance counselor, they choose from a list of civilian employers that participate in the program. Under the PaYS program, when a Soldiers leave their active duty or Initial Entry Training for the Army Reserve, they will receive a guaranteed job interview with the civilian employer they chose as part of their enrollment in the program. Currently there are 261 companies participating in the PaYS program, including 39 Fortune 500 companies, three Fortune 1000 companies and four Global 500 companies. Depending on their preferences and qualifications, an Army or Army Reserve applicant can choose from more than 150 specific occupational skills offered by the Army that align with employment opportunities from one of the partners participating in the program.
New Vendors Added to Exchange Online Store
The Army and Air Force Exchange Service’s Online Store is poised to save military families even more in 2008 with the addition of ten new “virtual vendors.” Vendors include Office Depot, FlagHouse, Sydney’s Closet, Wine Enthusiast, TC Super Store, Hickey Freeman, Bobby Jones, Chains of Command, Moissanite and Symbols of Faith. Authorized AAFES shoppers can visit the virtual stores at http://www.aafes.com.
TV Show Seeks Ex-Military Participants
The casting directors of ABC television’s Wife Swap are looking for military families for the fourth season of their show. Wife Swap is the series where two moms switch houses for six days and live in the shoes of the other woman. All applicants must be retired or honorably discharged. The show cannot feature active duty personnel. In order to apply for the show, families must have two parents and at least one child between the ages of 6-18 still living at home. To learn more about the show please visit http://abc.go.com/primetime/wifeswap/index.html. Anyone interested in joining the show should contact Michelle Silva by emailing email@example.com or by telephone at (646) 747-7946.