February 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
- President Urges Programs to Benefit Military Families, Wounded Troops
- Stimulus Package Will Include Disabled Veterans
- Military Widows Press for End to DIC/SBP Offset
- Senate Committee Hears Testimony about VA Benefits
- Senators Call for Stronger Suicide Prevention Programs in Defense Department
- Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act Legislation Introduced
- Fiscal Year 2009 Department Of Defense Budget Released
- VA Requests $94 Billion for Veterans in FY ’09 Budget
- VA Increases Travel Reimbursement for Eligible Veterans
- Grief Professionals Turn Attention to Military Families
- Army Plans to Extend Outreach to Military Survivors
- Highlights from the 2008 Military Health System Conference
- Universities Design Programs for Veterans
- State Education Benefits for Veterans
- Veterans' Benefit Expiration Dates
- Assistance for Military Homeowners
- Tax Tips for Military Families
- Law Protects Military Families against Predatory lending
- Consumers Have Expanded Options to Protect their Credit
- COLA Drops for Troops Stationed in Europe
- US Army EFMP Respite Care Program Launches Newsletter
- Group Offers Holistic Treatments to Returning Veterans and Families
- Postal Service Makes It Easier and Cheaper to Send Care Packages
- Foundations Provide Emergency Assistance to Troops and Families
- A Cup of Comfort for Military Families
- Correction: TRICARE Retiree Dental Program
President Urges Programs to Benefit Military Families, Wounded Troops
During the State of the Union address, President Bush called on Congress to improve the benefits and services available to Servicemembers and their families by passing bills to create federal hiring preferences for military spouses and to allow Servicemembers to transfer their GI Bill benefits to spouses and children.
Currently, the Army has a pilot to allow certain enlisted members to transfer GI Bill benefits to their spouses and children. The program allows the transfer of up to 18 months of unused Montgomery GI Bill benefits to an eligible dependent. More information about the pilot program is available at http://www.gibill.va.gov/.
President Bush also made reference to the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors and stressed the need for Congress to continue to act to ensure that injured Servicemembers receive the care and benefits that they deserve.
Stimulus Package Will Include Disabled Veterans
President Bush signed the economic stimulus package on Wednesday after a short but contentious debate in the Senate over whether the bill would include a tax rebate for disabled veterans. The final version of the bill will provide disabled veterans with a payment of $300. One-time tax rebates of $600 will also be provided to individuals, $1,200 for couples and $300 for each child.
Military Widows Press for End to DIC/SBP Offset
In late January, three military widows went to federal court to press for a change to the law regarding benefits for widows. Currently, military widows who receive payments through the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) as well as Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) because their spouse died of a service-related injury or illness have their SBP payments reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of DIC.
There have been numerous attempts to eliminate the so-called SBP/DIC offset in Congress but only limited success. A December 2004 law change (PL 108-183) allows eligible survivors who remarry after age 56 to retain DIC payments in addition to SBP. At the time, members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee believed that this was the first step in ending the DIC/SBP offset. A subsequent legal review by the Department of Defense concluded that the law did not end the ban on concurrent receipt and that DIC payments should continue to be deducted from SBP annuities.
It is the continued difference in opinion over the language of PL 108-183 which serves as the basis for the case against the government. The military widows who took their case to the US Court of Federal Claims in Washington, DC on January 30 contend that the law should be interpreted to allow concurrent receipt of DIC and SBP. The judge’s decision in the case of Sharp v. The United States is pending.
The National Defense Authorization Act for 2008 failed to eliminate the DIC/SBP Offset but the final bill does include a provision that provides a "special survivor indemnity allowance" for some eligible military survivors. The payments of $50 do not begin until October 1, 2008, however, and are set to end in 2016.
Senate Committee Hears Testimony about VA Benefits
At a hearing of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on January 25, the chairman of the Veterans’ Disability Benefits Commission testified that benefits for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder were inadequate. The purpose of the Veterans' Disability Benefits Commission was to carry out a study of the benefits under the laws of the United States that are provided to compensate and assist veterans and their survivors for disabilities and deaths attributable to military service. It completed its study last year, finding that the government needs to do a better job of coordinating benefits, treatment and vocational training. More information about the Commission is available at http://www.vetscommission.org/.
Senators Call for Stronger Suicide Prevention Programs in Defense Department
On January 31, several Senators introduced legislation directing the Department of Defense to enhance its suicide prevention programs. The Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Act (S 2585) is in part a response to a steady increase in suicides among active duty troops in recent years. The bill seeks to improve outreach to Soldiers and families and mandates that the military’s suicide prevention programs be evaluated to ensure that they meet the needs of military personnel facing lengthy and repeated deployments. Details of the bill can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?c110:1:./temp/~c110WEYIGD::
Last year, the Senate passed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention bill, which sought to improve suicide prevention programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA also has a toll-free hot line number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to ensure veterans with emotional crises have round-the-clock access to trained mental health professionals.
Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act Legislation Introduced
On January 22, 2008, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), introduced legislation to change Title 38 of the U.S. Code to forgive the debt owed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of men and women who have lost their lives in combat. Current law states that if a member of our Armed Forces is killed and owes the VA any outstanding indebtedness, the Secretary of VA is required to contact the family for collection. The law allows the VA Secretary some discretion for waiving certain cases. The bill would remove that discretion and forgive all debts that fall into this category. The Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act (S. 2536) would be retroactive to September 11, 2001.
Fiscal Year 2009 Department Of Defense Budget Released
President Bush has sent his Defense budget for Fiscal Year 2009 to Congress. The budget provides $515.4 billion in discretionary authority for the Department of Defense (DoD), a $35.9 billion or 7.5 percent increase over the enacted level for Fiscal Year 2008. The budget includes a 3.4% pay increase for military personnel as well as improved benefits for Servicemembers and their families. The Fiscal Year 2009 budget is posted at http://www.budget.mil .
VA Requests $94 Billion for Veterans in FY ’09 Budget
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake recently announced that President Bush is seeking a budget of $93.7 billion in fiscal year 2009 for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), with health care and disability compensation receiving most of the funding. The budget proposal calls for $47.2 billion in discretionary funding, mostly for health care. It also would provide $46.4 billion in mandatory funding for compensation, pension, educational assistance, home loan guaranties and other benefit programs.
Under the new budget, VA will strengthen its collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) for world-class health care and benefits to veterans, Servicemembers and their families, including progress toward the development of secure electronic patient health care records that can be used by both departments. This proposed budget will also allow VA to continue implementing the recommendations of the President’s Commission on Care for America’s Returning Wounded Warriors. Highlights of the VA budget are available on the Internet at: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1448
VA Increases Travel Reimbursement for Eligible Veterans
Effective February 1, 2008, over a million eligible veterans will see their mileage reimbursement more than double for travel to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities. The 2008 appropriations act provided funding for VA to increase the beneficiary travel mileage reimbursement rate from 11 cents per mile to 28.5 cents per mile. While increasing the payment, VA, as mandated by law, also equally increased the deductible amounts applied to certain mileage reimbursements. The new deductibles are $7.77 for a one way trip, $15.54 for a round trip, with a maximum of $46.62 per calendar month. However, these deductibles can be waived if they cause a financial hardship to the veteran.
Grief Professionals Turn Attention to Military Families
Grieving military families will gain new attention and support from bereavement professionals, thanks to a new Special Interest Group focused on loss in the military, organized within the National Association for Death Education & Counseling and chaired by the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS is the national veteran’s service organization providing compassionate care for the families of America’s fallen military heroes. TAPS provides peer-based emotional support, grief and trauma resources, seminars, case work assistance, and 24/7 crisis intervention care for all who have been affected by a death in the Armed Forces. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to http://www.taps.org or call the toll-free crisis line at 800.959.TAPS.
Army Plans to Extend Outreach to Military Survivors
The Army’s Long Term Family Case Management program is planning to extend its outreach to military survivors by providing regular follow-up with the primary next of kin to ensure that issues and concerns are addressed and to obtain feedback. Army Long Term Family Case Management (ALTFCM) provides long-term support to Families of fallen Soldiers by offering assistance with any concerns or issues, and providing information on benefits, services and programs, as well as connecting families to various outreach organizations. The ALTFCM website has more information: https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/active/tagd/cmaoc/altfcm/index.htm.
Highlights from the 2008 Military Health System Conference
The 2008 Military Health System (MHS) Conference, held in January, gathered key leaders including military commanders, local and regional office staff, healthcare leaders and professionals, administrators and federal and national agency partners to discuss ongoing issues in the Military Health System and future developments.
One of the top issues at this year’s conference was care for wounded warriors. The Defense Department recently created the Defense Center of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury in its effort to step up the quality of care for wounded warriors and their families. It officially opened November 30, 2007. The center also will set standards and assess survey and validate DoD programs, and decide, in part, how resources are directed for research and other programs.
The Department of Defense has also agreed that the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund will build and equip the National Intrepid Center of Excellence for Traumatic Brain Injury in Bethesda, Md. In January 2007, the Fund completed construction of a $40 million world-class state-of-the-art physical rehabilitation center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas with funds raised entirely from private donations. The Fund’s website is http://www.fallenheroesfund.org/.
Visit the MHS Conference website to learn more: http://www.health.mil.
Universities Design Programs for Veterans
Several universities across the United States are offering special programs and scholarships geared specifically to returning veterans and their family members. The University of Idaho launched Operation Education Scholarship to help veterans severely and permanently wounded as a result of service since Sept. 11, 2001. The spouses of wounded veterans also will be eligible for the scholarship. The university provides financial support and resources – such as tuition, fees and books, on-campus housing, transportation, medical assistance, child care, adaptive equipment, tutoring and mentorship – at its main campus in Moscow, Idaho. Learn more at http://www.uihome.uidaho.edu/OperationEducation/
Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran (SERV) is a new program at Cleveland State University that is designed to assist military veterans with their transition from Soldier to civilian to student. Classes have been designed specifically for veterans to help them in that very important first year of college. The program is open to veterans only. Learn more at http://www.csuohio.edu/serv/.
Arkansas State University is home to the PRIDE Center for America's Wounded Soldiers. The Center provides education assistance in the form of GED programs, vocational and technical training, and career advising. It also offers personal rehabilitation services, mental health services, and resources and referrals for community services, veterans’ benefits, employment services, and housing assistance. The Center’s website is http://cp.astate.edu/pride/
State Education Benefits for Veterans
Many US states now offer educational assistance and benefits for veterans, their family members and for military survivors. Military.com has developed a searchable online summary of educational benefits. Learn more at http://education.military.com/money-for-school/state-veteran-benefits.
Veterans' Benefit Expiration Dates
Veterans are entitled to a number of valuable benefits but did you know that many of these benefits have expiration dates? For example, the Montgomery GI Bill for Active-Duty (MGIB) expires 10 years from date of last discharge or release from active duty. To learn more about veteran’s benefits, eligibility requirements, and expiration dates visit Military.com: http://www.military.com/benefits/veteran-benefits/veterans-benefit-expiration-dates.
Assistance for Military Homeowners
The Military Housing Assistance Fund (MHAF) helps military families to become homeowners by providing them with grants to assist them with purchasing a home. The Fund also provides financial counseling to members of the National Guard and Reserves, deployed and serving in combat zones overseas, who are having problems meeting their monthly obligations due to their deployment and activation. Learn more at http://www.militaryhousingassistancefund.org. The Fund is a project of the Financial Counselors of America (FCA), a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization founded in 1991 to help Americans manage their finances and get out of debt. Visit the FCA website at http://www.financialcounselors.org.
Tax Tips for Military Families
Members of the U.S. Armed Forces, especially those serving in combat zones, face some special tax situations and are entitled to some special tax benefits. Troops deployed to combat zones have an extended deadline to file taxes. Additionally, thanks to recent legislation, military reservists called to active duty can receive payments from their individual retirement accounts, 401(k) plans and 403(b) tax-sheltered annuities, without having to pay the early-distribution tax. The Inland Revenue Service’s website has a special section dedicated to providing the latest tax information for military personnel. Learn more at http://www.irs.gov/individuals/military/index.html. Military.com also has tax tips and news for military families at http://www.military.com/Finance/Taxes/0,13397,82,00.html
Law Protects Military Families against Predatory Lending
Military Money and H&R Block are joining forces to inform Servicemembers of new regulations that combat predatory lending practices often targeted at military families. The law, commonly known as the Military Lending Act, affects payday loans, vehicle title loans and tax refund anticipation loans, and places specific requirements and limitations on loans to “covered borrowers” – that is, Servicemembers and their family members. Visit Military Money’s website to find fact sheets, articles and more information about how the new law protects military families: http://www.militarymoney.com/lending_act/
Consumers Have Expanded Options to Protect their Credit
Consumers in all 50 states now have the option of “freezing” their credit file to block review of the information and to prevent criminals from opening fraudulent accounts in the consumer’s name. Previously, credit freezes were only available in some states. Although a credit freeze is one of the strongest measures and individual can take to protect their personal information it does have associated costs. The three credit reporting agencies – TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax – charge $10 for each freeze. Additionally, consumers will have to pay a fee to the agency to lift the freeze if they want to apply for a new loan or credit card. Consumers wishing to put a credit freeze in place should contact the credit reporting agencies: http://www.equifax.com; http://www.transunion.com/; http://www.experian.com/.
Consumers can also take a number of simple – and free – steps to protect themselves from identity theft.
• Always ensure that your Social Security Number is kept safe and do not share your SSN unless absolutely necessary.
• Review your annual Social Security Personal Earnings and Benefits Statement to ensure information is correct.
• You can also remove your name from the marketing lists of the three primary credit reporting agencies by calling 1-888-5OPT-OUT or visit https://www.optoutprescreen.com.
• Request copies of your credit report. By law you are entitled to request a free credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Learn more at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/
COLA Drops for Troops Stationed in Europe
The Cost-of-Living (COLA) allowance provided to Servicemembers stationed in Europe has dropped slightly because of currency fluctuations. Information about COLA rates is available at http://perdiem.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/ [Source: http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=59583&archive=true]
US Army EFMP Respite Care Program Launches Newsletter
Army Community Services (ACS) has launched a newsletter aimed at families enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP). EFMP is a mandatory enrollment program that works with military and civilian agencies to provide comprehensive and coordinated community support, housing, educational, medical, and personnel services to families with special needs. The newsletter has resources for families with special needs individuals as well as information about the respite care program. EFMP members may be eligible for up to 40 hours of respite care per month if the family member meets specific criteria. Families should contact their installation EFMP manager through ACS. The newsletter can be downloaded at https://www.myarmylifetoo.com/efmp_newsletter. Learn more about EFMP at http://myarmylifetoo.com under the link for “Home and Family Life.”
Group Offers Holistic Treatments to Returning Veterans and Families
Servicemembers returning from deployment and their families can find help readjusting to their lives at home through traditional and holistic therapies offered by a Colorado group. For more than 30 years, Lost and Found Inc. has specialized in providing intervention and rehabilitation treatment for families. The organization developed a program geared toward military families to address issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, grief and reintegration issues through a combination of traditional psychotherapy and “experiential” therapies. To learn more, visit http://www.lostandfoundinc.org/ and select the link for “Military Outreach.”
Postal Service Makes It Easier and Cheaper to Send Care Packages
Effective March 3, 2008, the U.S. Postal Service will offer a new, larger Priority Mail Flat-Rate Box enabling customers to ship 50 percent more than with the current box. It will be offered at a discount to overseas military addresses. There will be a special version of the box for the military, with a $2 discount, if shipped to an Army Post Office or Fleet Post Office (APO/FPO) address. The USPS website has valuable tips for sending mail to troops stationed overseas: http://www.usps.com/supportingourtroops/
Foundations Provide Emergency Assistance to Troops and Families
The American Soldier Foundation is a 501(c)(3) public non-profit organization created to assist Soldiers, their family members, and military survivors. The Foundation can provide grants or interest-free loans for food, rent or utilities, medical expenses, and other needs. Learn more at http://www.soldierfoundation.org.
The Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation is a non profit 501(c) 3 organization that provides funds and support to EOD military families caring for their loved ones at military medical facilities. The support provided can include plane fare, accommodations, food vouchers or other associated travel expenses. Eligible families can also use benefits for other necessities such as childcare, mortgage and rent relief while visiting Servicemembers. Visit the Foundation website at http://www.woundedeodwarrior.org/
A Cup of Comfort for Military Families
A Cup of Comfort is a bestselling series featuring uplifting true stories about life experiences and relationships. The publishers are currently seeking positive stories about how military life affects the personal lives of service men and women and how military life affects family members for a volume about military life. The submission deadline is March 1, 2008. Learn more at http://www.cupofcomfort.com/share.htm
Correction: TRICARE Retiree Dental Program
In our February 1st issue of the Family Programs Update, we ran a story about the Consumer Toolkit available through the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program’s website. Unfortunately, there was an error in the web address provided for the Program. The correct web address is http://www.trdp.org.