I am borrowing this space this month in addition to my “From the Bridge” article (page 5) to announce the opening of the National Executive Director (NED) position at the end of October following the 86th National Convention in Chattanooga, Tenn. In January, NED Joe Barnes notified me by letter that he would not be seeking another three-year term. Therefore, the NED position will be open for nominations and election by delegates at the 86th FRA National Convention in accordance with the FRA Constitution & By-Laws (C&BL).
Related to this, the newly-established Future Planning Committee is in the process of writing several resolutions to change the NED position from the currently elected three-year term as it now appears in Sec. 808, FRA C&BL, to a National Board of Directors (NBOD) “interview and hire” position. This is not a new idea and this change was recommended by the National President’s Special Organizational Committee in its 2002 report to the NBOD and, since then, it has been on the “back burners.” The Committee also recommended, and delegates approved, changing the position of National Financial Secretary (NFS) from an elected, three-year term of office to our current hired Finance Officer in 2005. In addition, the Committee resolutions may also change some of the NED duties in the future.
This issue will be discussed during the upcoming NBOD mid-year meeting and how the next NED is selected will ultimately be up to the delegates in Chattanooga this fall. Either way, we have an extremely important and vital position opening up and all qualified candidates are welcome and encouraged to apply, including our Member-at-Large (MAL) Shipmates. In addition to Sec. 808, FRA C&BL, a copy of the NED job description is posted on our website in the Current News section at www.fra.org.
MALs desiring to run for the NED position would also need to affiliate first with an FRA Branch in order to be nominated by resolution to fully comply with the FRA C&BL. All candidates should also be prepared to submit a resume. Regardless of the action taken by the delegates at the 86th National Convention, the Shipmate selected as the next NED must relocate to the metropolitan D.C. area at his/her own expense, if not already residing there.
Resolutions regarding the NED position as well as all other resolutions will be promulgated to the branches in accordance with the FRA C&BL Article 6, Section 611, usually the first week in August via NED Memorandum.
For more information and/or to submit questions, please contact me at email@example.com, or questions can to be directed to NVP Courneya (firstname.lastname@example.org), NED Barnes (email@example.com), or PNP Maez (Future Planning Committee Chair) (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Shipmates, it continues to be an honor and privilege to serve as your National President. In December, I attended the 71st Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. LA FRA NP Diane Hoover and I had the rare opportunity to attend an internment onboard the USS Arizona. Seaman First Class Wallace F. Quillin was on the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941; and, his last wish was to rejoin his shipmates. Although there were no family members present, the Arizona Memorial was packed with people wishing to pay their respects including Pearl Harbor Survivor and Branch 296 Shipmate Lewis Conter, who also was aboard USS Arizona that fateful day.
In January, our Renewal Notices began being done at National Headquarters and I am hopeful that, with the personalization added to the notices, it will help to decrease the number of Non-Payment of Dues (NPD) losses we experience each month. We only need to reinstate 304 shipmates each month to show a gain. That is just over one reinstatement per branch. Surely we can do that.
This month, I will have the opportunity to present our legislative agenda on Capitol Hill to a joint hearing of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees. Communicating with our elected officials is more important than ever, due to major threats to pay, healthcare and benefits, and the fact that each succeeding Congress has fewer and fewer veterans. The 113th Congress is no exception. With the increasing national debt and rising healthcare costs, military and veteran compensation issues unfortunately are in the crosshairs for major cuts. Our voice must remain loud and strong on Capitol Hill to protect what we now have.
The FRA not only represents us, but essentially is us. We each need to take ownership of our Association. How do we do this? Simply by becoming involved on the local, regional or national level. I read in one of the many branch newsletters I receive a comment about the fact that both National Vice President Courneya and myself ran unopposed for National Office last year. The comment reflects a lack of candidates for various leadership positions in our great Association.
During the past fifteen years, there have been multiple candidates for the office of National Vice President nine times (or 60 percent of the time) to include this current year. The current National Board of Directors has two regional presidents serving either multiple or consecutive terms. Many of the branches that have surrendered their charters over the past several years cited a lack of willing shipmates to serve and fill the required minimum number of offices to function as the reason for the branch’s demise.
Now, more than ever, we need to become involved. This does not have to be all-consuming of your time. It may be just devoting one hour a month to attend a branch meeting or taking a few minutes to go to the FRA website (www.fra.org) to submit an Action Center e-mail to your senator or representative on a piece of legislation. Those on Capitol Hill who receive and review those e-mails indicate that they believe each one received is probably representative of another twenty-five constituents. Your opinion matters, but it only counts if you make it known to your elected officials.
As I am “out and about’ in the various regions, I look forward to meeting with you and hearing your concerns and suggestions. You can e-mail me at email@example.com or you can write to me in care of the National Headquarters at 125 N West St, Alexandria, VA 22314. Please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return to Table of Contents
Great going on your diabetes story. My immediate family and I have been blessed to have never had a diabetic in the clan, but I am considering donating any organs of value, upon death, for research in this “killer” field. Maybe some others would be interested in doing the same?
Divers to the Rescue
I was stationed on a submarine-rescue vessel, the USS Kittiwake (ASR-13). It seemed that over half of our ship’s complement were divers, some of whom were qualified to handle deep dives of up to 300 feet. A fellow Sailor sent me pictures of ships and conditions at Pearl Harbor after the 1941 attack. In those pictures was the diving bell on the fantail of the USS Widgeon (ASR-1). She was undamaged during the attack and berthed at the Submarine Base. I imagine the men on that ship were key personnel in the salvage and rescue efforts.
Lorence F. Brown
Fond Memories of Big E
I want to take a moment to thank FRA Today for the “Farewell to USS Enterprise” article. I got misty eyed, as it brought back fond memories of my 21-year Navy career. Seventeen of those years were served right there in the Norfolk/Hampton Roads/Newport News/Virginia Beach area. I loved it and miss it dearly.
Even though I never served aboard the Big E for duty as a crew member, I did go aboard quite a few times to carry out official errands and rate cross-training assignments. She was a huge, squared-away carrier.
Thanks again for the moment. Y’all do a 4.0 job reporting for FRA Today. Bravo Zulu! Keep up the good work and keep on keeping on.
Military, Middle Class Bear the Brunt
First I would like to thank you for all the hard work you do to keep and/or increase our benefits. I’m sure it’s like slamming your head against a brick wall. All of us veterans and active duty appreciate it.
Second I read with great interest and dismay the article about trying to cut more of our benefits and frankly am quite sick of all the hard working middle class and military people always taking the brunt of the cuts and tax increases. Why don’t we ever hear of our Senators, Congressmen and women, Capitol Hill government workers, etc., ever giving up their benefits and/or pay increases to help cut down on costs? Why don’t they, or the people, come up with a new pay and benefits package for them and term limits. If our representatives on Capitol Hill were required to take part in all the programs they vote in for the general public, they would be more likely not be so quick to vote something in or work harder at making it work for all, including them.
FRA Response: FRA strongly agrees that current and former military personnel have already paid more than their fair share to support our nation and that the federal budget shouldn’t be balanced on their backs. But to be fair, federal employees have been under a pay freeze since January of 2010. DoD is proposing a one-percent military pay increase in 2014 and there are press reports that the Administration wants to lift the freeze and provide federal employees, including members of Congress, a one-percent pay raise at that time. Submissions: Send Shipmate Forum letters to: Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to email@example.com. 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. Return to Table of Contents
On & OFF Capitol HILL
Budget Fix Still Needed
As FRA Today goes to press there is growing pessimism on Capitol Hill that sequestration (automatic budget cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act) will very likely take effect on March 1, 2013. These cuts will hit the Department of Defense (DoD) especially hard since the Act mandates that 50 percent of the cuts come from DoD — even though Defense only accounts for 17 percent of the total federal budget.
The cuts were designed to be so punitive that Congress would be forced to make a budget deal, but bitter political posturing has delayed action and prompted growing uncertainty, particularly among service members and their families. FRA is concerned that these cuts, combined with previously scheduled reductions, will negatively impact personnel, compromise readiness and create another hollow force.
In anticipation of additional budget cuts and extension of the Continuing Resolution (CR) that expires on March 27, DoD and the services have ordered hiring freezes, cancelled training and certain travel, delayed maintenance and halted other non-readiness-related programs to immediately reduce spending.
The last-minute budget deal in early January only postponed sequestration for two months and, combined with stalled FY 2013 appropriations legislation, the CR’s pending expiration and the Administration’s delayed FY 2014 budget request, the situation is becoming increasingly difficult for DoD and the services.
The House and Senate also approved legislation (H.R. 325) to extend the debt ceiling deadline until May 18, 2013, with provisions authorizing suspension of legislators’ salaries if either chamber fails to pass a FY 2014 budget by April 14th. There is bipartisan support for the measure and the President is expected to sign the bill into law.
Return to Table of Contents Military, Veteran Suicides Up in 2012
The Department of Defense (DoD) recently released alarming information on military suicides in 2012, indicating a 16-percent increase over 2011. Total active duty suicides rose from 301 in 2011 to 349 last year. The report does not explain why service members are taking their lives, and DoD and Congress are struggling to respond effectively to this problem.
The FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act (P.L. 112-239) includes provisions requiring DoD to implement a standardized and comprehensive suicide prevention program. This was in response to a RAND Corporation study indicating serious gaps and a lack of consistency in existing programs aimed at reducing the number of military suicides.
On average, 18 veterans are also committing suicide daily and a September 2012 Presidential Executive Order requires the VA and DoD to establish an inter-agency task force to coordinate suicide prevention efforts. FRA believes adequate resources and support programs, to include expanded mental health counseling, are essential in preventing suicides among service members and veterans, and continues to address the issue in testimony and meetings with legislators and their staff.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also released a comprehensive report on veterans who die by suicide. The report indicates that, while the percentage of veterans who commit suicide has decreased slightly since 1999, the estimated total number of veterans who have died by suicide has increased. In the past, data on veteran suicides was only available for those who had sought VA health care services. This new report also includes state data for vets who had not sought help from the VA, which will help VA strengthen its aggressive suicide prevention activities.
Return to Table of Contents FRA Recognized Outstanding Sailors from Naval Sea System Command (NAVSEA)
FRA hosted a briefing and reception at FRA National Headquarters for outstanding Sailors from NAVSEA. FRA salutes all the candidates, including NAVSEA’s 2012 Sailor of the Year GSM1(SW/AW) Jorge A. Garcia (left) and 2012 Reserve Sailor of the Year ET1(SW) Dwight J. Wilt (an FRA member-at-large). Bravo Zulu to these outstanding Sailors!
Return to Table of Contents State of the Union Address
In the President’s February State of the Union address, he challenged Congress to assist the American middle class squeezed by rising costs and stagnant wages. He also stated that a year from now there will be 34,000 fewer troops in Afghanistan, which is almost half of the troops currently deployed. The President vowed to “keep faith with our veterans — investing in world-class care, including mental health care for our wounded warriors; supporting our military families; and giving our veterans the benefits, education, and job opportunities they have earned.”
One of the many veterans who need our nation’s support is Marine Corps veteran Carlos Evans, one of the 24 citizens who joined First Lady Michelle Obama in her viewing box during the speech. Sergeant Evans was on his fourth overseas deployment when he sustained injuries in Afghanistan that resulted in the loss of both his legs and his left hand. Evans first met the First Lady while he was recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center and later visited the White House for a Wounded Warrior Tour. In 2012, he received a home customized to meet his physical needs from Operation Coming Home and now resides in North Carolina with his wife and two young daughters.
Return to Table of Contents
Chained CPI Coalition
FRA recently attended a press conference hosted by Senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont), chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, announcing the formation of a coalition of seniors, veterans/military associations and labor organizations opposed to using the so-called “chained CPI” formula to calculate future benefits. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (Rhode Island) and Jeff Merkley (Oregon) also participated in the event.
Discussions to reduce the federal deficit have included proposals to replace the current Consumer Price Index (CPI) formula with the chained CPI calculation that takes into account the effect of substitutions consumers make in response to changes in prices. Over time using the chained formula could significantly impact annual Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLAs) for retirees, veterans and Social Security recipients. FRA is committed to ensuring equitable COLAs for military retiree retainer pay, veteran disability compensation, and dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for surviving spouses and children.
Return to Table of Contents
New Co-Pays for TRICARE Pharmacy Customers
TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) announced new TRICARE co-payments for prescription drugs that took effect on February 1, 2013. The FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA – P.L. 112-239) authorizes higher co-pays on brand name and non-formulary medications that are not filled at military clinics or hospitals. There is no increase to co-pays for generic medications.
TRICARE Pharmacy co-pays vary based on the class of drug and where beneficiaries choose to fill their prescriptions. The co-pay for generic medications stays at $5 when a prescription is filled at a network retail pharmacy. There is no co-pay when generic prescriptions are filled through TRICARE Home Delivery. The new co-pay for a 30-day supply of a brand name medication purchased at a retail network pharmacy is now $17, up from $12. Beneficiaries using TRICARE Home Delivery pay $13 for brand name drugs, up from $9; however, the Home Delivery price is for a 90-day supply.
The greatest change in co-pays applies to non-formulary medications. The $25 co-pay for these drugs has increased to $44 at retail pharmacies and $43 through Home Delivery. The TRICARE Uniform Formulary, available online at www.tricare.mil/Prescriptions/Medications/Formulary.aspx, lists all medications covered by TRICARE.
For FY 2014 and beyond, the new law limits annual co-pay increases to the same percentage level as retiree cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs). In years when a COLA increase totals less than a dollar, it will be delayed a year and combined with the next adjustment so increases will always be $1 or more. Thanks in part to strong opposition from FRA, this plan was approved rather than much larger pharmacy co-pays proposed by the Pentagon.
Pharmacies at military hospitals and clinics continue to provide medications with no co-pays.
Visit www.tricare.com/pharmacycosts for more details.
Return to Table of Contents Concurrent Receipt Bills Introduced
Representative Sanford Bishop (Georgia) introduced the “Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act” (H.R. 333), which provides full concurrent receipt of military retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation — without offset — for all disabled retirees, including those with less 20 years of service.
Additionally, Representative Gus Bilirakis (Florida) introduced the “Retired Pay Restoration Act” (H.R. 303) that would authorize retirees with disability ratings of less than 50 percent to receive service-connected disability from VA and their full retirement pay. This measure would apply to retirees eligible for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) — a benefit currently available only for those whose disabilities are rated at 50 percent or more.
Members are urged to use the Action Center (www.fra.org) located on the FRA website to contact their U.S. Representative and ask for their support.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) eliminated the requirement that beneficiaries provide an annual Eligibility Verification Report, as of January 1, 2013. Beneficiaries no longer need to obtain the annual reports from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA), which reduces the burden on veterans, their families and survivors. Under the new initiative, VA is working with the IRS and SSA to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits. The new initiative also allows VA to redirect more than 100 employees to work on eliminating the claims backlog.
For more information go to: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2414
Return to Table of Contents VA Launches “Make the Connection”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently launched “Make the Connection” program to inform veterans, their families, friends, and members of their communities about the resources designed to help vets live well. At MakeTheConnection.net, veterans and their loved ones will find information, insight, and support for dealing with and working through a variety of common life experiences, day-to-day symptoms, as well as mental health conditions. MakeTheConnection.net is a free and confidential resource.
Make the Connection links:
Main Page: http://maketheconnection.net
Resources and Support: http://maketheconnection.net/resources
Spread the Word: http://maketheconnection.net/resources/spread-the-word
Return to Table of Contents
Former Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Mansfield Passes
Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki released the following statement on the passing of Former Acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Gordon H. Mansfield:
“Secretary Gordon H. Mansfield dedicated his life to advocating on behalf of veterans. He leaves behind a towering legacy of service to veterans, VA, and the nation.
Combat commander, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, and role model to disabled veterans young and old, especially those who served in the Republic of Vietnam, Secretary Mansfield triumphed over debilitating combat wounds to earn the respect and admiration of veterans of every generation through his years of devotion to Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Wounded Warrior Project, and to VA.
As VA’s Deputy Secretary and Chief Operating Officer from January 22, 2004 to January 20, 2009, and as Acting Secretary from October 1, 2007 to December 20, 2007, Secretary Mansfield was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Nation’s second-largest federal agency. He was instrumental in establishing VA’s nursing academy and personally oversaw the largest IT reorganization within the federal government and VA’s multi-billion-dollar construction program, including the initial planning for VA’s state-of-the art medical center in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
On behalf of America’s 22 million veterans, I salute the memory of a brave man, a great patriot, a devoted public servant, and a tireless advocate for all veterans. I extend my deepest personal condolences to the entire Mansfield family.”
Return to Table of Contents
GI Bill Improvements Proposed
Rep. Jeff Miller (Florida), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and the panel’s Ranking Member, Rep. Mike Michaud (Maine), recently introduced the “GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act” (H.R. 357). The bill requires colleges and universities eligible to accept GI Bill education benefits to authorize in-state tuition rates for veterans, even if they are not residents of the state where the school is located.
“The men and women who served this nation did not just defend the citizens of their home states, but the citizens of all 50 states. As such, the educational benefits they receive from the taxpayers should reflect that,” said Chairman Miller. “By offering in-state tuition, service members can attend an institution of higher learning that meets their specific needs without worrying about higher costs which non-residents often must pay.”
“Because of the nature of military service, veterans often have a difficult time establishing residency for purposes of obtaining in-state tuition rates,” added Ranking Member Michaud. “This bill will address this problem and ensure that veterans can access the affordable higher education options they have earned.”
Shipmates can use the Action Center (www.fra.org) to ask their Representative to support this legislation.
Return to Table of Contents Veterans Employment Nominee Approved by Senate
The Senate recently confirmed Keith Kelly to serve as the Department of Labor Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment and Training Service, a post that had been vacant since July of 2011. During confirmation hearing testimony, Kelly indicated that he will implement the re-designed Transition Assistance Programs (TAP) and vowed to improve outreach to service members and veterans to ensure they have access to this and other programs to help them find civilian jobs.
Formerly the commissioner of the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, Kelly is the recipient of the Bronze Star for valor for his Army service during the Vietnam War.
Return to Table of Contents
VA Claims Initiative Reduces Processing Time, Adds Convenience
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new initiative that could eliminate the requirement for an in-person medical examination for some veterans and shorten the time it takes to process disability compensation claims. The initiative, called Acceptable Clinical Evidence (ACE), was developed by both the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in a joint effort to provide a veteran-centric approach for disability examinations. Use of the ACE process opens the possibility of doing assessments without an in-person examination when there is sufficient information in the record.
Under ACE practices, a VA medical provider completes a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) by reviewing existing medical evidence. This evidence can be supplemented with information obtained during a telephone interview with the veteran and, if VA records already contain sufficient medical documentation for disability rating purposes, the requirement for veterans to travel to a medical facility for an examination may be eliminated.
“ACE is a process improvement that will help us meet our goal to eliminate the claims backlog and provide more timely benefits to our veterans, their families and survivors,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “The initiative also saves veterans the inconvenience and costs associated with attending a medical examination.”
Return to Table of Contents
ACTIVE DUTY ISSUES
FRA Honors Outstanding Marine Corps Recruiters
For the fifteenth consecutive year, FRA recognized outstanding Marines during two separate ceremonies at Marine Corps Base (MCB) Quantico,Va. Awards were presented to Marine Corps Staff Non-Commissioned Officers in Charge and Prior Service Staff Non-Commissioned Officers in Charge, as well as the other Marine Corps’ top recruiters, drill instructors, combat instructors, security, and career planners of the year at the Corps’ annual Combined Awards Ceremony.
Deputy Commandant, Lieutenant General Robert E. Milstead Jr., Commanding General Marine Corps Recruiting Command, spoke at both events. FRA’s Director of Legislative Programs (DLP) John Davis presented special certificates and FRA challenge coins to all awardees on behalf of FRA’s National President Mark Kilgore, and Assistant DLP Ed Dockery also attended the Combined Awards Ceremony, and an FRA-sponsored reception thereafter.
Return to Table of Contents
Stolen Valor Legislation Introduced
Rep. Joe Heck (Nev.) recently introduced the “Stolen Valor Act” (H.R. 258) that would make it a crime to knowingly benefit from making fraudulent claims about military decorations. In June of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court (United States v. Alvarez) overturned a similar law on the grounds that it infringed on constitutionally-protected free speech. FRA supported the earlier legislation and signed on to a Friend of the Court (Amicus) brief when the case was considered by the high court. The recently-introduced bill aims to protect the integrity of military awards and should withstand constitutional scrutiny because it more narrowly focuses on those who seek to benefit from misrepresentation of military service — not the lie itself.
The FRA Legislative team is Joe Barnes, National Executive Director; John Davis, Director of Legislative Programs and Branch 181 President; Bob Washington, Health Care Advisor and Outreach Manager; Chris Slawinski, National Veterans Service Officer and Ed Dockery, Assistant Director of Legislative Programs.