HOUSE APPROVES MILITARY TAX LEGISLATION—AGAIN
The U.S. House of Representatives passed another version of the Armed Forces Tax Fairness Act on Wednesday, 9 April 2003. Lawmakers still disagree on the details, which is preventing the measure from heading to the White House for President Bush’s signature.
If disagreements can ever be reconciled with the Senate, the bill would:
• make it easier for military homeowners to qualify for capital gains tax exemptions when they sell a home;
• allow National Guard and Reserve members to deduct expenses related to overnight travel when they attend drills; and
• make death gratuities entirely tax-free for survivors of servicemembers who die on active duty.
The two tax-writing committees in Congress—the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee—have been working since early last year on a military tax package, but have never managed to sit down to work out differences.
The latest House version, HR 1664, has three significant differences from the most recent version passed by the Senate. Two relate to actual tax breaks, but one is a more fundamental question about whether the bill should include offsets to pay for the tax reductions. The House bill contains no offsets, while the Senate would cover the costs by raising taxes on people who renounce their citizenship.
In terms of tax breaks, the House bill would cap at $1,500 a year the amount that a National Guard or Reserve member could deduct from taxes for food, transportation and lodging when attending inactive-duty training. The Senate bill has no annual cap, but like the House bill would limit deductions to instances when a reservist must travel 100 miles or more for training and must stay overnight.
Another difference applies to the $6,000 death gratuity. Under current law, half the payment is taxed. The Senate bill would make the death gratuity entirely free from taxation, regardless of the gratuity amount. The House bill would make the current $6,000 payment tax-free, but leaves open the possibility that if Congress increased the amount of the gratuity in the future, any portion above $6,000 could be taxed. (From an ArmyTimes.com article by Rick Maze)
PRESIDENT AUTHORIZES TWO NEW MEDALS
A presidential executive order signed 12 March 2003 authorizes the Department of Defense to create two new military medals for service in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT): the GWOT Expeditionary Medal and the GWOT Service Medal.
The GWOT Expeditionary Medal will recognize servicemembers who participate in an expedition to combat terrorism on or after 11 September 2001. This medal is limited to those who deploy as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The GWOT Service Medal will recognize service in military operations to combat terrorism on or after 11 September 2001. This is limited to Operation Noble Eagle and to those servicemembers who provide support to Operation Enduring Freedom from outside the area of eligibility designated for the GWOT Expeditionary Medal.
Specific eligibility for these medals will be established by the DoD award policy. The combatant commander has the authority to award the medals for approved operations to units and personnel deployed within his or her theater. Each service department will prescribe the appropriate regulations for processing and wearing of the medals. Future authorization for these medals will be considered and approved by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if the war on terrorism expands.
All members of the U.S. armed forces, including Coast Guard, Reserve and National Guard, are eligible.
It will take up to 12 months to produce and stock the medal in department supply rooms. (From DTIC.mil)
MPs MAY BE STRETCHED THIN BY OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
An MP’s job is just getting started when the shooting stops, and Military Police (MPs) everywhere have their hands full right now. In fact, Pentagon officials are concerned that there may not be enough military police to perform the missions at hand.
The need for and importance of MPs has been growing steadily since 11 September 2001. Senior Army officers have asked for a study on whether the military police force is large enough to meet the demand created by new missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and at home. The study should be completed within the next few months.
Despite the cries for more new recruits, there is little appetite in the Bush administration for increasing the size of the military. Meanwhile, military officials in the Pentagon are hesitant to reduce the size of combat forces and transfer troops to increase the size of the military police force.
Of course, the other solution to the MP shortage is to assign less specialized infantry to other less complicated missions, such as guarding U.S. bases, to free up MPs and help in a faster restoration in places like postwar Iraq.
Routinely, each U.S. combat division has one military company of about 100 to 150 MPs assigned to it. That ratio may increase drastically very soon. (From a Wall Street Journal article by Greg Jaffe)
FAMILY ASSISTANCE HOTLINE FOR OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
The U.S. Army has established a toll-free Family Assistance Hotline for Operation Iraqi Freedom at 1-800-833-6622.
The hotline was established by the U.S. Army Community and Family Support Center (USACFSC), in conjunction with the Army Family Liaison Office staff, to provide referrals and information to the families of deployed or activated soldiers.
The hotline will take calls from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST to answer family support-related questions. After a short message, the caller will be prompted to a hotline staff member who has access to extensive reference materials.
This hotline is not able to give locations or postal addresses, names of casualties, or information about injuries or servicemembers missing in action.
“The mission of our Family Assistance Hotline is to provide Army families caring support in the form of accurate information, useful resources, and helpful referrals related to family issues,” said USACFSC commander BG Robert L. Decker. “This Family Assistance Hotline is a ‘safety net’ for those who have exhausted all other resources. We will do everything we can to help each and every caller.”
Due to a high number of callers, the assistance line would also like to point out other useful sources of information. Family members can find answer to many routine questions about family readiness, Army Community Service (ACS) and deployment support resources online at the ACS website and the Army Family Liaison Office website. (From an ArmyLINK News story)
TAX RELIEF, SPECIAL PAY FOR OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM
The tax relief and special pay program for those who serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom has expanded.
On 11 April 2003, a memo from DoD certified that personnel stationed in Turkey, Israel and Mediterranean waters east of 30º east longitude are now eligible for combat zone tax relief. Those serving in that same Mediterranean zone also qualify for imminent danger pay.
The effective date is retroactive to 1 January 2003. Water-deployed Mediterranean personnel receive combat zone relief and imminent danger pay starting 11 April 2003.
Imminent danger pay has increased by $75 to $225 per month retroactive to 1 October 2002.
Enlisted members and warrant officers serving in combat zones for any part of a month may exclude that entire month’s combat pay from their gross income. Amounts excluded from gross income are not subject to federal
SENATE CONSIDERS BILLS TO PROVIDE TAX SAVINGS FOR OVERWORKED TROOPS
A key Senate Democrat has come up with two approaches to ease the burden on overworked servicemembers—one of which could provide $1,000 a month to those deployed for long periods.
Sen. E. Benjamin Nelson of Nebraska, senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, would make the $1,000 deployment pay available under different criteria to active and reserve members.
Active-duty people would qualify if deployed for more than 191 consecutive days or if deployed more than 401 days in a 730-day period. Reservists would get the $1,000 if deployed more than 191 consecutive days or if called to active duty within a year of release from active duty after their last mobilization.
Nelson also has a second bill, S 803, that would create pretax savings plans for National Guard and Reserve members so they could put money away to help cover living expenses if mobilized. This is intended to help reservists whose civilian income is greater than the pay received while on active duty.
The Mobilized Reserve Savings Account Act proposed by Nelson would allow up to $25,000 to be put into accounts, in installments of no more than $5,000 a year.
The accounts would be similar to tax-deferred 401k retirement plans widely used in the private sector, but would not, except under certain circumstances, have the 401k plans’ hefty penalties for withdrawing money before age 59½. (From an ArmyTimes.com article by Rick Maze)
WRONG ENTRY DATE MAY LEAD TO LESS RETIREMENT PAY
A soldier could be shortchanged at the time of his retirement or erroneously receive a bonus if the date he signed his military contract is wrong in his personnel records.
The Army, however, is giving soldiers a chance to make sure their date of initial entry into military service (DIEMS) is accurate. A DIEMS date is when a service-member enters into a contract with the military. It could be when an enlisted soldier signed the delayed entry contract or when an officer signed an ROTC scholarship contract.
Breaks in service do not change a DIEMS date. Service in other branches also counts toward the initial entry date. DIEMS should not be confused with the basic active service date, which is the date when a soldier enters active duty.
Soldiers will be able to check their dates in increments based on their Basic Active Service Date (BASD).
Messages explaining what DIEMS is and how soldiers can check and change their dates if necessary will be e-mailed to soldiers’ Army Knowledge Online accounts.
“Soldiers can speed up the process by checking their Leave and Earning Statements under the DIEMS block. If the information is not correct, they should start locating verification documents such as contracts or letters from . . . West Point,” said Melissa Dean, a human resource specialist at the U.S. Total Army Personnel Command.
Both enlisted soldiers and officers can check their DIEMS at: https://www.perscom.army.mil/persinsd/dqm_home.htm
ACADEMIES’ NCOES TRAINING MAY BE DELAYED
Current deployment operations may require many soldiers to have their scheduled Noncommissioned Officer Education System (NCOES) training delayed. In some cases this may require short-notice notification to the field of changes in the training schedule.
Commanders and first sergeants should encourage their training sections to closely monitor the Army Training Requirements and Resource System (ATRRS) to ensure they have the latest information. PERSCOM’s Advanced Noncommissioned Officer Course (ANCOC) and Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course (BNCOC) managers will work closely with the field to ensure only soldiers who are available and qualified to act as fillers will be selected and scheduled for NCOES. (From a PERSCOM Online newsletter)
SSCRA TO CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
To keep up with modern standards of living, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee is updating the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act (SSCRA).
Most changes are for clarification purposes or to update the existing law to better serve modern mobilized soldiers.
The new rules will better protect soldiers during mobilization against a variety of financial troubles including, but not limited to, interest rate hikes, evictions from rental housing, taxation, property zoning and license issues, etc.
With apparent bipartisan support, there is little doubt this bill will be passed.
To obtain a text version of SSCRA, visit: http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/questions/ssrelief/usc50top.html.
The Joint Services Pentagon Legal Assistance Office is also available to answer questions at 703-693-0107. (From an ArmyTimes.com article)
SERGEANTS MAJOR COURSE POSTPONED
The resident Sergeants Major Course, Class 54, slated to start in August, has been postponed to January 2004 because of current deployments.
The course will also be condensed to six months from its usual nine-month curriculum.
Prior to August 1995, the Sergeants Major Course lasted six months, but was extended to nine months after the Battle Staff Noncommissioned Officer Course was added.
The Battle Staff NCO Course is used to prepare staff sergeants through sergeants major to serve in staff positions at battalion and higher levels.
Classes start 12 January 2004 and run through 30 June. Students may report as early as 1 December 2003 and no later than 5 January. Students are authorized to move their families early to Fort Bliss. They can also request an exception to policy to retain housing at their current duty station. The losing installation commander will be the approving authority for those waivers.
Deployed soldiers scheduled to attend the 7–20 June 17-day resident phase of the Non-Resident Sergeants Major Course, will be rescheduled to attend later this year. Those not deployed are still slated to attend the June course. (Information from Lisa Hunter of NCO public affairs at the Sergeants Major Academy)
PERSCOM AND AR-PERSCOM INTEGRATE
On 9 April 2003, the Department of the Army announced it would create a single command to perform the functions of the current U.S. Total Army Personnel Command in Alexandria, VA and U.S. Army Reserve Personnel Command in St. Louis, MO The command will integrate the two existing organizations into a multicomponent field operating agency (FOA) under the Army G-1 to better meet the future needs of Army soldiers and civilians. The Civilian Personnel Operations Center Management Agency (CPOCMA) will realign into this FOA at a later date.
These decisions are the result of a recommendation of an Army-level Human Resources Integrated Process Team (HRIPT) convened last year. That task force made several recommendations affecting FOA-level operational support to HQDA that have been since approved by the Secretary of the Army.
“The organizational realignment of PERSCOM and AR-PERSCOM is a historical milestone in Army Transformation. This integration will serve as the foundation for changing the manner in which we care for the Army’s most valuable resource and foundation, its people,” said LTG John LeMoyne, the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1. “This will have long-lasting impacts on our Army’s future and our support operations. This is not an easy task.”
“We see a tremendous opportunity to improve the quality of personnel support to our soldiers, families and civilian workforce as we transform the Human Resource functions of our Army,” said LTG Roger Schultz, Director of the Army National Guard. “We believe we can team where appropriate and integrate some of the personnel systems of all Army components to improve customer service while at the same time protecting the state control of our Army National Guard as exercised by the Governors and state Adjutants General.”
PERSCOM and AR-PERSCOM will retain their respective names and unit insignia until a date to be determined. (From an ArmyLINK News story)
ARMY TIGHTENING TRAVEL CARD POLICY
The Army is increasing scrutiny and taking corrective actions to resolve misuse and delinquency in the Army Travel Card Program. Inappropriate use of cards will be met with harsher penalties and could even have an impact on the cardholder’s security clearance.
Changes in the travel card program, effective immediately:
· Using the government travel card when changing duty stations will no longer be permitted; cards are to be deactivated prior to departure from duty stations, unless there is temporary duty en route.
· Commands and activities should not use the card to pay for conference registration fees.
· Travel cards of mobilized reservists will be transferred to active-duty agencies and deactivated until use is required.
· Cardholders are not required to use their cards for travel expenses associated with mission deployments.
The Army has cancelled more than 156,000 travel card accounts since October, and currently has 280,000 open accounts. The number of accounts will fluctuate, and once current legislation is implemented, cards will not be issued to those who are not credit-worthy.
Since March, there have been more than 6,800 delinquent travel card accounts, equating to $4.2 million in delinquency. Those numbers show progress in reducing the Army’s outstanding debt to Bank of America: Accounts with due balances made up 16.25 percent of Army accounts last year, but delinquent accounts now only total 5.24 percent. (From an ArmyLINK News story by SSG Marcia Triggs)
UPDATE FOR SOLDIER USE OF COBRA
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is a law set forth to guarantee certain former employees, retirees, spouses and dependent children a temporary continuation of health benefit provisions at group rates.
A recently introduced Senate bill will allow Reservists and National Guard members called to active duty to use COBRA and retain health care coverage from their employer. The Reserve Health Insurance Coverage Bill (S 647) will close a legal loophole that potentially left Reservists and Guard members and their families without proper insurance during deployment.
Currently, National Guard and Reserve members may enroll in the TRICARE program after 30 days. Before that point, no provider in particular is clearly deemed liable for employee coverage. This bill will cover the soldiers’ COBRA premiums not covered by certain employers even if the government itself has to step in to pay the bill.
For more information on COBRA coverage, contact your current insurance provider.
CERTAIN VETERANS ELIGIBLE FOR VA COPAYMENTS REFUNDS
Veterans insured by the Hartford Life Insurance Company or the USAA Life Insurance Company may be eligible for a refund of their VA copayments.
In a recent settlement with the Department of Veterans Affairs and a coalition of insurance industry groups, Hartford and USAA paid VA approximately $11.1 million. The settlement involves payments for care provided by VA to insured veterans with Medicare or TRICARE supplemental coverage from 1 January 1995 through 31 December 2001.
“This settlement clarifies the claims reimbursement process,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. “It not only resolves the litigation but also reimburses those veterans whose copayments to VA should have been covered by their insurance.”
Veterans insured by Hartford or USAA who paid VA copayments for VA medical care they received from 1 January 1995 through 31 December 2001 may ask VA for a refund of their copayments on a first-come/first-served basis. All requests for refunds must be postmarked by 1 April 2004.
VA will notify by mail those veterans who may be eligible for refunds according to records on file. Other veterans who believe they may be eligible for a refund may obtain a claims application form by calling (toll-free) 1-866-258-2772. They may also download the application from the VA website.
(From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release)
MILITARY TEENS ON THE MOVE (MTOM)
Statistically, children whose parents are in the military move at least five times in a sponsor’s military career. Each year, 250,000 military children move. With these moves comes great anxiety caused by making new friends and becoming acquainted with a new school. DoD is hoping to reach out and help these children through a website called “Military Teens on the Move”.
Inside, the website splits into two sections: “MTOM” and “MTOM for kids.” The site is easy to navigate and gives great tips on how military children can prepare for their next big relocation. It offers useful packing tips and gives suggestions on how to say goodbye to friends and favorite places without feeling at a loss.
For teens and children who have arrived at their new home, this site provides information on their new installation and community and how to fit in with their new peers.
QUESTIONS ABOUT PAY?
Active duty, National Guard and Reserve members can now access the newly enhanced Military Pay Information Line 24 hours a day.
Members can access information about past and present net pay, direct deposit, allotments, bonds, leave balances, W2 information, audit status and tax information. Of course, the Military Pay Information Line is only supplementary to local finance offices and is not a replacement for them. For answers to your pay questions, call 1-888-pay-army (toll-free), 317-510-0665 (commercial) or 699-0655 (DSN).
Before you call, be sure to have your Social Security number and Personal Identification Number (PIN) ready.
Those without PIN numbers can provide Defense Finance and Accounting Services the following information to receive a new temporary PIN: name, Social Security number, daytime telephone number, signature and a copy of government ID. Indicate on the request “INFORMATIONAL PIN.” This information should be faxed to 216-522-5800 or mailed to DFAS Cleveland/PMCAA, Attention EMSS / “I” Pin, 1240 East 9th Street Cleveland, Ohio 44199. Temporary PINs will then be reset to the last four numbers of the Social Security number.
NEW MRE LUNCH MENU TO COME
An update to the present selection of MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat) is on the way. In response to the likes and dislikes of soldiers in the field, some MRE selections will be removed and a few new flavors will be added to the present menu.
The new MREs include Pork Rib and Sauce, Vegetable Manicotti, and Roast Beef with Vegetables.
The entrees being eliminated include Jamaican Pork Chop, Pasta Alfredo and Beef with Mushrooms. The current stock of these items will not be discarded. To avoid waste, the supply must be exhausted.
The Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) will begin production of the new entrees in June.
POCKET REFERENCE GUIDE AVAILABLE
Field Manual (FM) 7-22.7, The Army Noncommissioned Officer Guide, is now available for download on the USA Sergeants Major Academy website.
According to the guide’s preface, FM 7-22.7 provides the Army’s NCOs a guide for leading, supervising and caring for soldiers.
While the guide is neither all-inclusive nor intended as a stand-alone manual, it offers NCOs a ready reference for most situations.
For additional information or to download this manual, visit the Fort Bliss website.