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SHIPMATE FORUM



Programs, not Paper

I had to stop analyzing the FRA 3rd Quarter Membership Report. Feelings of frustration were running rampant in my head, just as when I read the January issue of FRA Today. I had been looking forward to seeing the “new recruiting tools” we were promised in response to my published letter the previous month. I read the entire magazine searching for some “out of the box” ideas that our national headquarters was going to implement, and didn’t find any. Instead, I found more brochures to hand out while trying to attract the younger people our group needs. Here’s the problem with that: We have enough literature! The younger active duty/veterans have grown up in a different age than us. They are used to information at the touch of a screen, instant gratification. If we cannot trigger their interest within the first 10 seconds of an encounter, odds are they will not join us. So how do we garner that interest? Programs, not paper.

I am proposing a few programs for consideration. First, allow active duty personnel to sign up for membership free of charge for their first year, with no voting rights as far as delegates are concerned. To keep FRA costs low they need not receive FRA Today magazine, but make enrollment in the NewsBytes system automatic for the dissemination of information on FRA activities. My suggestion would be to keep it simple; just get them onboard! We at the branch level could sign up thousands of new members every year. Once in our system, they will SEE what the FRA is about, and many would renew for full membership. Utilizing this free membership alone, we could turn the tide on membership losses.

Second, offer veterans under age 50 a one-time reduced membership rate of $15. This money would stay at our national headquarters, so the cost to the organization would be zero, just a different application form with an appropriate box to check. Again, just help us get them in the door — we branches will do the rest!

Third, reduce the rate for lifetime membership for one month each year, on the anniversary of the founding of the FRA. I hear from many members that they would become life members if it wasn’t so expensive.

I urge our leadership to examine these ideas. Look for ways to make them work instead of reasons for them not to. At our current membership loss rate, we will fall below 50,000 members in 2015. One thing is clear: to continue trying to recruit in the same ways we have been is folly. It is not yet time for drastic actions, but we’re getting closer every month.



Rick Athenour

FRA Response: Thanks, Shipmate Rick! Your points are well taken and I’m sure our leadership will seriously consider your suggestions. In the meantime, please remember that anyone can subscribe to NewsBytes, FRA’s free weekly e-mail update. You do not have to be a member of the FRA to receive it and it can absolutely be offered to any prospective shipmate. FRA Today is also available online and can be used as a sample of FRA’s member benefits. Thank you again for your passionate involvement in the FRA!

Former Chiefs Don’t Exist

The person who wrote for the FRA does not know anything about the Navy Chief. There are no former Chiefs, only active duty or retired Chiefs! Admiral Halsey did not wink at a “former” Chief; just an old one. Words can show disrespect. Former means to have had been and Chief is something once earned that is eternal.



Daniel Clark, Sr.

FRA Response: I take personal responsibility for the reference and offer my most sincere apologies. No disrespect was intended and I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

Lauren Armstrong, FRA Today Editor
Submissions Send Shipmate Forum letters to Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to fratoday@fra.org. Please include “Shipmate Forum” in the subject line. FRA reserves the right to select and edit letters for publication. Letters published in Shipmate Forum reflect the opinions and views of FRA members. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of FRA as a whole. FRA is not responsible for the accuracy of letter content.


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ON & OFF CAPITOL HILL




Defense Authorization Bills Include Many Retirement Commission Recommendations


As FRA Today goes to press, both chambers of Congress are going through the legislative process to merge their versions of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into one bill. Once the final bill has been approved by the House and Senate, it will be sent to the president to be signed into law or vetoed. This process is supposed to be completed before the start of the new fiscal year (FY 2016) on October 1, 2015. The FRA Legislative Team is closely monitoring the work of both houses to try to stop any provisions that negatively impact FRA members and their families. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) recommendations will play a major role in shaping the FY 2016 NDAA. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) bill incorporates 11 of the commission’s 15 recommendations. The HASC bill includes an FRA-opposed recommendation that reduces future military retirees’ benefits and provides a new retirement benefit for service members who serve for fewer than 20 years. (See story on page 9 for further details.) The Senate Armed Services Committee also appears to support this recommendation.

Another onerous commission recommendation (#6) will abolish TRICARE (with the exception of TRICARE for Life) and replace it with a plan similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefit Program (FEHBP), except that Military Treatment Facilities (MTF) would be included in the network. Similarly to the FEHBP, beneficiaries could choose from a selection of commercial insurance plans. The plan would be administered by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) rather than the Defense Department (DoD). The most problematic part of the plan calls for gradually shifting a larger percentage of the cost to retirees under age 65.

In testimony before the Armed Services Committees and Personnel Subcommittees, FRA expressed serious concerns about shifting costs to retirees under age 65. The Association believes that this shift devalues 20 or more years of arduous military service that earned the retiree an offset in health care premiums during retirement. FRA is thankful that the HASC-approved bill does not include this provision. The Association advocates that other options to make TRICARE more cost-efficient should be implemented first, as alternatives to shifting costs to TRICARE beneficiaries. So far, in the House, the FRA position on this recommendation has prevailed.


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Retiree Issues

Defense Authorization Markup Creates New Military Retirement System

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up and approved the House version of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA – H.R. 1735) in a 19-hour session that ended at 0430 on April 30. A special thanks goes to Representative Chris Gibson (New York) for offering a committee amendment to repeal the NDAA provision to cut retirement benefits for future retirees. The Committee amendment failed (8-55), and the Committee adopted 11 of the 15 recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). FRA opposes the first recommendation in the MCRMC final report, which was adopted by the HASC. The provision creates a “blended” military retirement system. The current defined benefit plan for 20 or more years of service would be replaced by a smaller defined benefit plan (from 40 to 50 percent of base pay). It also adds a new mandatory defined contribution plan known as a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which provides a 1 percent employer contribution, and an employee contribution, unless the service member opts out. Any employee contributions would be matched by the employer up to 5 percent of pay. The plan would also provide a bonus, determined by the military branch, at 12 years of service if the service member signs up for four more years. It has been estimated that a future E-7 retiree who serves 20 years and lives until age 85 will lose more than $260,000 in benefits compared to the same E-7 who retires today. These lost benefits would be shifted to pay for benefits for service members who leave the military before completing 20 years of service.

FRA believes that this shift will provide an incentive for service members to leave before they complete 20 years of service. For more information on the committee action, members can read the April 30, 2015 Military Update on the FRA website.

Other changes in the committee mark include:

• Rejecting the Obama administration’s proposed TRICARE fee increases and increases in pharmacy co-pays for retirees under age 65;

• Creating a unified medical command to provide health care savings by eliminating duplicate efforts by each service branch;

• Rejecting MCRMC recommendation to abolish TRICARE (except for TFL) and replacing it with multiple programs offered by commercial insurance companies, shifting costs to beneficiaries;

• Rejecting the administration’s reductions to the active duty annual pay increase (2.3 percent vs. 1.3 percent), commissary subsidies and BAH;

• Consolidating the number of Reserve Component status category authorities by which Reservists can be mobilized from 30 to six;

• Delaying a vote on an amendment to create another round of BRAC;

• Reviving active-duty financial literacy education;

• Recognizing Reserve Component members as veterans if they are entitled to retirement benefits; and

• Improving the sexual assault prevention program.

The FRA Legislative Team is still reviewing committee action and will provide additional information on any other changes that could impact FRA members.

The bill now goes to the full House for further consideration. The Senate will begin its markup process in the near future. Once both chambers approve their version of the Defense authorization bill, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two bills. The conference committee bill will be voted on by both chambers and, if approved by the Senate and the House, will then be sent to the President to sign into law or veto. Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their U.S. Representatives not to cut future military retiree benefits to pay for benefits for those who serve fewer than 20 years. If you have already sent a message, you can continue to send more.

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FRA Storms Capitol Hill

Members of FRA’s National Board of Directors (NBOD), many Regional Vice Presidents, and other Association leaders brought the enlisted perspective to Capitol Hill recently as they visited their respective elected officials in Washington, D.C. These Shipmates shared the Association’s position on priority legislative issues with their legislators, asking them to oppose the Obama administration’s call for drastically higher TRICARE Prime fees and co-pays, along with new enrollment fees for TRICARE Standard and new TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries. They urged Congress not to cut funding for military stateside commissaries and to exclude DoD from mandatory sequestration budget cuts. Additionally, FRA leaders asked lawmakers to take action to reduce the disability claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and to extend disability benefits to “Blue Water” Vietnam veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide while serving off the coast of Vietnam. These Shipmates also asked legislators to oppose the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) recommendations to drastically shift TRICARE health care costs to current retirees under age 65 and to cut retirement benefits for those future service members who serve 20 or more years. FRA wants to thank the Shipmates who sent nearly 2,500 advocacy messages to Capitol Hill in conjunction with our NBOD storming the Hill.



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Internet Explorer Must Be Updated for DFAS

The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) has announced that effective April 21, 2015, myPay users who access their accounts through the Internet Explorer web browser must have Internet Explorer version 8 or higher in order to access their accounts. Earlier versions do not have the necessary security protocols and attempts to log on with earlier versions of Internet Explorer will be denied.

For more information go to: http://paycheck-chronicles.military.com/2015/04/16/news-from-dfas/#ixzz3Xsmtdvgr.

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Active Duty/Reserve Issues

CFPB Takes Action against Military Allotment Processor’s Hidden Fees

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently announced that it took action against Fort Knox National Company and its subsidiary, Military Assistance Company (MAC), for charging service members millions of dollars in hidden fees. The military allotment processor did not clearly disclose various recurring fees, which could total $100 or more. Under a consent order entered into with the CFPB, Fort Knox National Company and Military Assistance Company will pay about $3.1 million in relief to harmed service members.

The Military Assistance Company (MAC) was one of the nation’s largest third-party processors of military allotments. The CFPB alleges that from 2010 to 2014, tens of thousands of service members had their money slowly drained from their accounts. The CFPB has the authority to take action against institutions that violate federal consumer financial laws, including engaging in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices.

A copy of the administrative consent order is available at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201504_cfpb_regulation-fort-knox-mac-settlement.pdf.



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DFAS E-mail Address Changing

From time to time, DFAS sends out e-mails that contain important information pertaining to your pay account. These are called “SmartDocs” e-mails because of the e-mail address used as the sender. The sending e-mail address is changing on May 16, 2015. If you have spam controls set up on your e-mail account, you should add the new address to your permitted list so that you don’t miss anything. The new sender e-mail address is DFAS-SmartDocs@mail.mil. This address is only used to send out bulk e-mails—please do not send anything to that address, as you will not receive a response.

Read more: http://paycheck-chronicles.military.com/2015/04/16/news-from-dfas/ #ixzz3XsngylDz.

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New DoD Allotment Rule Protects Troops From Lending Scams

The Department of Defense (DoD) recently made improvements to the allotment system to create greater protections for service members. The policy change in new paycheck allotments is intended to prevent unscrupulous commercial lenders from taking advantage of troops and their families. The change in DoD’s Financial Management Regulation will prohibit service members from allotting pay to buy, lease or rent personal property. This policy change will eliminate the aspect of the allotment system most prone to abuse by unscrupulous lenders that prey on service members. This will significantly improve protections for all service members and their families, while not significantly reducing the flexibility to use allotments for a number of legitimate purposes. Current allotments are not affected, but service members will no longer be able to make new allotments for the following types of purchases:

• Vehicles, such as automobiles, motorcycles and boats;

• Appliances or household goods, such as furniture, washers and dryers;

• Electronics, such as laptops, tablets, cell phones and televisions; and

• Other consumer items that are tangible and moveable.

Allotments still can be used for savings account deposits, investments, to support dependents, pay insurance premiums, mortgages or rents, make Combined Federal Campaign contributions, and U.S. government debt repayments. The new allotment rule applies to active-duty service members, not military retirees or DoD civilians.

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Navy RSOY Recognized

FRA participated in the 2014 Navy Reserve Sailor of the Year (RSOY) ceremony on April 16, at the United States Navy Memorial.

Construction Mechanic 1st Class (SCW/EXW) Jimie Bartholomew, assigned to Navy Mobile Construction Battalion 25, was announced as the RSOY during the ceremony by Chief of Navy Reserve Vice Adm. Robin R. Braun.

Bartholomew was selected out of five finalists including Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Steven Flemming, assigned to 1st Battalion 23rd Marines; Aviation Maintenance Administration 1st Class Ansel Glendenning, assigned to Navy Reserve Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 61; Gunner’s Mate 1st Class Jessica Harrison, assigned to Navy Operational Support Center Greenville, South Carolina; and Machinist’s Mate 1st Class Keith Wright, assigned to Surgemain Nashville.

According to Braun, all five candidates are leaders and represent the finest Sailors in the Reserves.

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FRA Honors New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte

FRA presented its prestigious annual Pinnacle Award to New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte, to honor her outstanding leadership in preserving and enhancing the quality of life of military personnel, retirees, veterans and their families. Ayotte, New Hampshire’s junior senator, was selected to receive the Association’s highest honor for her stand against the reduction in cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) of retired pay for military retirees under the age of 62 and for her opposition to TRICARE fee increases. She also strongly supports legislation to exclude the Department of Defense (DoD) budget from sequestration cuts. FRA additionally recognized Ayotte for her advocacy on behalf of all military veterans, including sponsorship of bills such as the Veterans Health Equity Act and the Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act. The award was presented in a Capitol Hill ceremony hosted by FRA.



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JrPNP Courneya Named FRA NVP

After the passing of FRA’s National Vice President (NVP) Roger Mitchell on April 7, 2015, the National Board of Directors (NBOD) was charged with appointing a successor, per direction in the Association’s Constitution and By Laws (C&BL) Section 704(c). During the April NBOD meeting at FRA National Headquarters, the Board appointed Junior Past National President Virgil Courneya to serve the remainder of Mitchell’s term as National Vice President.

Courneya, a member of FRA Branch 274 (Reno, Nev.), previously served as NVP during the 2012–2013 Association Year, followed by a term as National President in 2013 –2014. He also served as Regional President West Coast during the 2005 –2006 Association year.

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Permanent “Doc Fix” Approved

The Senate approved legislation (H.R. 2) that will make the so-called “Doc Fix” permanent, and the president signed it into law. The House had already overwhelmingly approved the bipartisan bill that replaces the current Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR) pricing methodology, which would have mandated a 22 percent cut to reimbursements to doctors who see Medicare/TRICARE patients. These reductions would have caused doctors to leave the Medicare and TRICARE programs and reduced TRICARE/Medicare beneficiaries’ access to care. FRA wants to thank the Shipmates who generated nearly 10,000 (9,985) messages this year urging Congress to make the “doc fix” permanent. Your efforts paid off.



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Veterans Issues

Appropriations Subcommittee Approves Military Construction and VA Budget

A House appropriations subcommittee (MilCon/VA) approved the Military Construction and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) spending bill that provides $77 billion in spending for military construction and the VA, the first of 12 spending bills. The still-unnumbered bill is the first spending bill to be approved by subcommittee, and increases VA spending by 6 percent over the current budget. The administration’s budget requests a 7.5 percent increase. Most of the variance between the administration’s request and the subcommittee markup comes from the subcommittee’s cuts to the VA construction budget. Subcommittee Chairman Congressman Charlie Dent (Pennsylvania) cited the Denver VA hospital construction project, which is far behind schedule and is more than $1 billion over budget. The subcommittee did approve the Obama administration’s request for hiring an additional 770 disability claims processors. The VA asserts that the disability claims backlog has shrunk from more than 600,000 disability claims pending more than 125 days to fewer than 200,000. The spending bill still has to work its way through the House and Senate in the coming months. Legislators are trying to get back to the “regular order” of approving 12 separate spending bills before the end of the fiscal year (September 30, 2015). The FRA Legislative Team will monitor the legislative process to ensure that there is adequate funding for programs that impact FRA members.



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Veterans Appeals Court Rules in Favor of “Blue Water” Claim

Navy veterans who served aboard ships in the harbors of Vietnam more than 40 years ago should not be arbitrarily excluded from Agent Orange claims, the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims ruled recently in a significant step forward for these veterans.

Former Navy seaman Robert Gray has been denied multiple disability claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), based on the fact that he was aboard a ship—not on land—during the Vietnam War, when the herbicide Agent Orange was liberally sprayed by American forces to remove foliage and eliminate enemy cover. The chemical was later found to cause a myraid of health problems for service members who were exposed, but the federal government has denied disability claims to U.S. Navy sailors under the argument that the seamen were offshore and were not directly exposed.

FRA-supported proposals (H.R. 969/S. 681), introduced in both the House and Senate, are pending in Congress that would acknowledge Navy personnel exposure to Agent Orange through ships’ water systems. Runoff containing the herbicide flowed into Da Nang Harbor and other offshore waterways, infiltrating water systems on naval vessels.

“This is an important step forward in restoring the benefits to those veterans who served offshore,” said retired Navy Commander John B. Wells, executive director of Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA), a veterans’ rights organization based in Louisiana. “When the VA stripped benefits from 174,000 Navy veterans, they left these veterans without health care and their families destitute. The VA now has a chance to restore the presumption of exposure to veterans who served aboard ships anchored in Da Nang and other harbors of Vietnam.”

The VA will probably appeal this decision, and Congress has not yet acted on Agent Orange/Blue Water legislation. In related news, FRA staff recently met with House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) staff to discuss the status of Agent Orange legislation (H.R. 969) and to request a HVAC hearing on this issue.

FRA has worked closely with MVA in the legislative arena, and members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support Agent Orange/Blue Water Navy proposals (H.R. 969/S. 681).

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Veteran Hiring with Federal Government Increases

Nearly one-third of the federal government’s new hires in fiscal 2014 were veterans—a record high, according to the Obama administration. About 33.2 percent of new agency hires were veterans, up from 31 percent in fiscal 2013 and the highest in the more than five years since the White House established the Veterans Employment Initiative. In 2011, veterans made up 27.3 percent of the federal workforce.

In November 2009, the president issued Executive Order 13518, which established the Veterans Employment Initiative, to bolster recruitment and retention of veterans in the federal workforce. This initiative has resulted in 200,000 new veteran hires and at least 25,000 new Reservists added to the federal workforce. In 2009 and 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden promoted the Joining Forces Initiative, which helped 90,000 veterans and military spouses find jobs.

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Veterans Status Bills Introduced

The “Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act” has been introduced in both chambers of Congress (H.R. 1384/S. 743), sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (Minnesota) and Sen. John Boozman (Arkansas) respectively. These bills grant full veteran status to members of the reserves and the National Guard who have served at least 20 years but have not been called up for active duty. As of now, these brave men and women cannot legally call themselves veterans. FRA supports full veteran status for Reservists with 20 years or more of service, and members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support this important legislation.



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The FRA Legislative Team is National Executive Director Tom Snee, Director of Legislative Programs John Davis, Assistant Director of Legislative Programs Stephen Tassin and National Veterans Service Officer Chris Slawinski.




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