If you’re planning on attending a reunion this summer or fall, please consider how many prospective FRA members will also be in attendance! FRA has published a prospective member brochure with an information request form and a “thank you for your service” reference card included. These work great for one-to-one conversations with someone you know is eligible for membership (at least one day of enlisted service in the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard). You can request these brochures or other items for your reunion from Bob Washington, Outreach Manager, at 1-800-372-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Reunions are great places to recruit — if you’d like additional information or ideas for your reunion, please contact Bob!
The prospective member brochure highlights reasons to join FRA such as:
• Access to subject-matter experts for military and veterans’ issues, including DoD and VA health care concerns
• A complimentary subscription to FRA Today, so you can keep up with the latest news and events
• NewsBytes — a free, weekly legislative e-mail update to let shipmates and families know about important issues (also available by phone at 1-800-372-1924, ext 112.)
• Free guides like Your Personal Affairs to help organize personal finances and Communicate With Your Elected Officials, a guide for contacting members of Congress — available to members on request
• Scholarships offered through the FRA Education Foundation
• Discounts on auto insurance, car rentals, subscriptions to Navy and Marine Corps Times, and other valuable goods and services
• Life and health insurance programs at affordable group rates
You can easily talk through benefits of membership with the prospect using this card and offer NewsBytes or one of the FRA guides by filling out the information card. For their convenience, they can keep the list of benefits and a wallet size card thanking them for their service to the country on one side and a handy list of information sources on the other.
Congratulations Jimmy Short, FRA’s Mail Clerk, for celebrating his 40th anniversary on staff!
Eileen Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at email@example.com.
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New FRA Life Members
FRA CONGRATULATES THE FOLLOWING shipmates who have become life members in April, May and June. Our goal is 10,000 life members in 2012 — and we are well on our way! Below are the names of the shipmates and their branches (or MAL if they are a Member-at-Large). More information about becoming a life member can be found on page 2 or by calling 1-800-FRA-1924.
During the past two years the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC) has thoroughly examined military pay and benefits and the panel’s extensive study was recently released.
Before proceeding with specifics, it’s important to remind readers that this is a report with recommendations — none of which have been introduced as legislation. However, DoD leaders, members of Congress and staff personnel are reviewing the findings and proposed program changes that would require legislative authority, which may be part of future budget requests or legislative proposals. QRMC findings can also be used to justify future policy changes associated with specific programs and/or benefits.
Accompanying the 292-page report is a 934-page supporting research publication (available at http://militarypay.defense.gov/reports/QRMC/) and both examined pay incentives for critical career fields; compensation for service in combat; benefits for wounded warriors, caregivers and survivors; and Guard/Reserve pay and benefits.
A previous QRMC report focused on a 70-percent comparability target regarding military pay and associated benefits (referred to as Regular Military Compensation or RMC), compared to similar civilian compensation. The 11th QRMC notes a current 90-percent comparability rate for the enlisted force (and 83 percent for officers), and cites significant pay and benefit enhancements (associated with FRA’s advocacy work) during the past decade. These include higher BAH levels and calculating the value of tax-free allowances as part of the analysis.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to compare military service with civilian occupations. Serving in the All Volunteer Force often involves deployment to dangerous duty assignments with substantial risk of life threatening or life-altering injuries. Any analysis that seeks to equate military and civilian employment is flawed from the start; however, the QRMC does recommend changes in combat pay to ensure that those exposed to the greatest danger receive higher compensation. The report also recommends replacing the Combat Zone Tax Exclusion with a refundable Combat Tax Credit and refundable Direct Support Tax Credit.
Regarding wounded warrior care and survivor support, the QRMC found that there has been progress in replacing pre-injury compensation and benefits for wounded warriors, their caregivers and survivors. Like FRA, the study notes the importance of improving the transition between DoD and VA for care and support.
The QRMC also examined survivor benefits and discussed potential changes to the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP). Similar to insurance coverage, SBP is optional for military retirees, and participants receive reduced retired pay in order to provide up to 55 percent of their covered retired pay to a surviving spouse. Unfortunately, SBP for many beneficiaries is offset by the amount of disability and indemnity compensation (DIC) received if the retiree died of combat-related injuries. The QRMC recommends allowing these surviving spouses to receive only that portion of SBP coverage funded by retiree premiums — or about 50 percent. In addition, the SBP/DIC offset is partially addressed through a gradually adjusted Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA).
There is also a disparity for survivor benefits associated with Reserve component members who die on active duty, and personnel who die while performing inactive duty training. The QRMC recommends establishing consistent criteria for deaths associated with both types of duty.
Other QRMC Reserve Component recommendations include reducing the number of duty-associated authorities within the system from 30 to 6. The report also recommends revamping Reserve compensation and retirement programs, which are controversial. If approved, the new system would involve pay on a per-day basis, vice per four-hour weekend training periods, i.e. four days pay for two days of training. The current program is designed to incentivize service in the Reserves and compensate personnel for extra time required for training and admin work. To offset the changes, the QRMC recommends other incentives and increased allowances.
In addition, the QRMC recommends changes to Reserve retirement and authorizing receipt of retired pay at the 30th anniversary of service (assuming completion of 20 qualifying years of service). Associated with this concept is reconciling access to TRICARE coverage which is not available until Reservists reach age 60.
FRA will be tracking these and other QRMC recommendations to see which, if any, are endorsed by DoD and/or referenced by Members of Congress in future legislative proposals. As always, it’s important to remember that there’s no law protecting pay and benefits and we must be vigilant in tracking proposals that may impact these vital programs.
Joe Barnes is FRA’s National Executive Director and Chairman of the National Committee on Legislative Service and a member of the Special Committee on Future Strategic Planning. A member of Navy Department Branch 181, he is also an advisor to the National Committees on Budget and Finance and Membership and Retention.
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I’ve been a spokeswoman for the Camp Lejeune water issue for a year now and your article [June 2012, FRA Today] is by far the most factually accurate piece I’ve seen.
There were a few small, but I think important, details that I’d like to share with you [and] ask you to keep them in mind if you happen to write about this topic again.
You mention that testing showed that the contaminants entered the water in 1957. This start date is actually based off of ATSDR’s [Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry] water model for one of the drinking water systems (Tarawa Terrace). Hadnot Point water modeling has yet to be released to the public. I mention this because it was the water modeling, not testing, that gave the estimate of when the contaminants entered the system and to also alert you that the start date could potentially change when the Hadnot Point water modeling results are released by ATSDR.
The first “inklings” were actually in 1980 when unidentified solvents began to interfere with TTHM [trihalometanes] testing. I think it’s also important to note that we were testing for TTHMs well in advance of the TTHM regulations going into effect.
It was special sampling for VOCs [volatile organic compounds] that identified TCE [trichloroethylene] and PCE [perchlorethylene or tetracholroethylene] in 1982, not TTHM sampling. We were doing special sampling in order to find out what the unidentified solvents were that were interfering with the TTHM test results.
Thank you very much for including the call center information! I appreciate your assistance in reaching out to those who may have been affected [and] appreciate you adding balance to an extremely complicated and emotional issue. It is my sincere hope that your readership walks away with a better understanding of the situation after reading your article.
Captain Kendra N. Motz, USMC
Media Officer, Division of Public Affairs
WWII Navy Armed Guards
I read with interest the FRA Today article about Navy Armed Guards. Ironically, this is a concept that has been resurrected in recent years. Some merchant ships, while they are transiting waters where there is a threat of piracy, have private military contractor armed guards embarked. I am sure most of these are ex-military. This (and other tactics) seem to be working. It has been a while since I’ve seen a news report where pirates have hijacked a ship or held the crew for ransom.
I’m not equating WWII Navy Armed Guards to mercenaries. After I returned from the Navy in 1982, I did another 20 years in the Merchant Marine.
David A. Sager
Support for the Navajo Code Talkers
I am an FRA member who read the super great article about the Navajo Code Talkers and their outstanding contribution to the war effort in WWII. I also visited with some of the surviving code talkers at Gallup, New Mexico, in October 2010, where I was made aware of their desire to complete their museum. I made a donation and believe that a request for donations for the museum would be appropriate in the FRA magazine and well accepted by both active duty and retired service members. Thanks and great job with the article!!
James F. Benson
FRA Response: You said it better than we could! Those interested in contributing to the Navajo Code Talker Museum and Veterans Center can donate online at www.navajocodetalkers.org or can send a check payable to the Navajo Code Talkers Foundation to the following address: Navajo Code Talkers Foundation, ATTN: Museum Donation, P.O. Box 1266, Window Rock, AZ 86515. Please include a fax number or return address where a tax receipt can be sent. Submissions: Send Shipmate Forum letters to: Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.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. Return to Table of Contents
On & OFF Capitol HILL
Volunteer to Help Stop Benefit Cuts!
Last month marked the 39th anniversary of the all-volunteer military and, in the spirit of volunteerism, FRA is urging shipmates to voluntarily send a strong message to our elected officials: Don’t balance the budget on the backs of our military, our veterans and our retirees! During the last three weeks of August and the first week of September many of our national lawmakers will be in their home states and districts campaigning for re-election. Making a phone call to lawmakers’ local offices, scheduling an office visit with other shipmates, or attending town hall meetings are all great opportunities to let your elected officials know your concerns. Ask your representative and senators to:
Exclude the Department of Defense (DoD) from automatic budget cuts that take effect in January 2013 (Urge support for H.R 3662 and S. 2065);
Oppose enactment of a retirement commission to cut retirement benefits (Urge support for H.R. 4310);
Prevent drastic TRICARE fee increases and excessive pharmacy co-pay increases proposed by DoD that will erode retirement pay (Urge support for S. 3203);
Support making Medicare/TRICARE “Doc Fix” permanent (Urge support for H.R. 5707);
Support policy changes that will allow blue-water Vietnam veterans to file Agent Orange-related claims (Urge support for H.R. 812, H.R. 3612 and S.1629).
Prewritten messages on these and other legislative proposals are available at the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org. Those wanting to make phone calls to their elected officials can find talking points and phone numbers there.
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Legislators Respond to “Stolen Valor” Court Decision
In response to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (United States v. Alvarez), which struck down the original “Stolen Valor Act of 2005,” Senator James Webb (Virginia) has announced he will offer a Senate floor amendment to the Senate version of the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Act (S. 3254) that would bring criminal penalties to any individual for making a false claim to have served in the military or to have been awarded a military medal, decoration, or other device in order to secure a tangible benefit or a personal gain. The amendment was drafted to comply with the Supreme Court decision.
Also in response to the Court decision, Rep. Joe Heck (Nevada) is working to get consideration of his legislation (H.R. 1775), which would make it illegal for individuals to benefit from lying about their military service, record, or awards. It is believed that this more narrowly focused bill would pass constitutional review on the grounds that its impact is limited to individuals that benefit from fictional accounts of military service. Rep. Heck’s bill was introduced last year and has 52 bipartisan co-sponsors. Senator Scott Brown (Massachusetts) has introduced the Senate companion bill (S. 1728).
In related news the Defense Department has announced that it will launch a digital database of military awards and medals to make it easier to verify claims of military awards.
To contact your legislators on this issue, visit the FRA Action Center on www.fra.org.
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FRA Hosts 14th Annual Coast Guard Caucus Breakfast
FRA hosted its 14th annual Coast Guard Caucus Breakfast in July, bringing Coast Guard leaders and lawmakers together to discuss the needs of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and its personnel. FRA hosts the event to expand awareness of the service’s varied missions and tremendous service to our nation.
The Caucus is a bipartisan group of 93 lawmakers who share a common interest in the Coast Guard. Two of the Caucus co-chairs, Representatives Howard Coble (North Carolina), the only USCG veteran serving in Congress, and Rick Larsen (Washington) were in attendance and were joined by other caucus members ,Representatives John Runyan (New Jersey), Rob Wittman (Virginia) and Joe Wilson (South Carolina) in praising the versatile, multi-mission service and calling for funding to meet USCG needs.
FRA’s National President Jeffrey Gilmartin and National Executive Director Joe Barnes, Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Bob Papp, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Michael Leavitt, Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Reserve Force Mark Allen and numerous other Coast Guard leaders also attended the gathering.
Chairman Coble indicated his appreciation for FRA hosting this annual event as it provides an opportunity to have important discussions about the increasingly important mission of the United States Coast Guard.
Admiral Papp reminded lawmakers and staff members of the challenges facing the service. He thanked FRA for continuously keeping parity a priority, referencing Alexander Hamilton’s writings of 200 years ago stating that the Coast Guard should have parity with the Army for budget and personnel. Papp pointed out that the Coast Guard’s value to the nation has never been greater and therefore it is essential that it recruit and retain the best possible personnel. He added that the USCG is continuously meeting and exceeding its goals for performance, recruitment and retention, and it is important to assure it has support through adequate pay, housing, education and child care offerings.
Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard (MCPOCG) Michael Leavitt echoed Papp’s comments regarding infrastructure. “There are [also manpower] costs associated with maintaining 40-year-old ships, housing units, stations and piers. It takes time away from training and it impacts operations.”
Leavitt also spoke of the needs of Coast Guard personnel and their families, citing the concerns he hears in the fleet. “The quality of our housing, particularly in remote and high-cost areas; daycare options, spouse employment and education opportunities are all related to family resiliency and are important to our members.”
FRA’s advocacy work focuses on compensation, health care and various quality-of-life programs that affect USCG personnel and their families. Specifically, FRA works to ensure Coast Guard pay and benefits remain on par with those enjoyed by Department of Defense personnel and that adequate funding is available to support these programs. FRA is committed to educating members of Congress, their staff and the public about the Coast Guard’s critical missions as a part of the Department of Homeland Security.
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Philippines Resolution and Clark AFB Cemetery
The Senate passed a resolution by voice vote (Sen. J. Res 418), celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty and the vitality of the overall bilateral relationship. The resolution also recognizes Clark Air Force Base (AFB) Veterans Cemetery, administered by the U.S. government from 1900 to 1991, as the final resting place for thousands of Filipino and U.S. veterans. The resolution, sponsored by Senator Richard Lugar (Ind.), seeks to have an appropriate government agency assigned to maintain the cemetery.
Regarding this issue, FRA supports the “Remembering America’s Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act” (S. 2320), sponsored by Senator Kelly Ayotti (New Hampshire), that would authorize the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to operate and maintain the Clark AFB Veterans Cemetery.
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Montford Point Marines Recognized
House Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) recently bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal on 420 of the nation’s first African-American Marines. They were among almost 20,000 who completed Marine Corps recruit training at segregated faculties located at Montford Point, N.C., from 1942–1949. Montford Pointer William McDowell accepted the nation’s highest civilian award on behalf of all Montford Point Marines during the Capitol Hill ceremony. Congressional leaders attending the event included Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (California), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky), and Rep. Corrine Brown (Florida), who sponsored the legislation.
FRA recognized the Montford Point Marines in an award-winning story that appeared in the December 2010 issue of FRA Today and congratulates these Marines on the recognition they so richly deserve.
Visit www.fra.org/publications and click the link for the December 2010 issue to learn more.
FRA staff attended a recent hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) that focused on the Veterans Benefit Administration’s (VBA) transformation plan to implement the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS), a program that will digitize the disability claims process, as well as measure results of the new system to date. The Committee’s Vice Chairman, Rep. Gus Bilirakis (Florida), noted that VA has yet to completely implement a comprehensive plan to provide veterans with a paperless disability claims process. Bilirakis added that “since 2009, Secretary Shinseki has promised to break the back of the backlog. Instead, three years later, the backlog has grown by half a million claims.” Rep. Bob Filner (California), the panel’s Ranking Member, argued that the VBMS was not good enough to eliminate the backlog and that the VA has been working on transformation plans for decades with little progress.
The VA’s goal is to provide a disability rating system that will adjudicate all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy. On the day of the hearing, there were 829,028 disability claims pending with more than 55 percent pending for more than 125 days and the backlog keeps getting larger. Witnesses acknowledged some significant progress with VBMS that has been implemented for two years in the VA regional office in Providence, R.I., but there are also some significant problems with the new system, and it was suggested that a panel of Information Technology (IT) experts thoroughly review VBMS.
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is partnering with VA to provide assistance in digitizing records. NARA officials also cited the need for an estimated 4,000 additional employees to address the current backlog. Allowing veterans to have private physicians determine their disability rating was also discussed.
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House Passes MilCon/VA Spending Bill
The House recently passed the Military Construction and Department of Veterans Affairs (MilCon/VA) FY 2013 spending bill (H.R. 5854), authorizing $71.7 billion in discretionary spending, $573 million below the Administration’s request. The overall funding remains the same as the current fiscal year, but VA appropriations will increase by $2.4 billion, or by 10.8 percent. Funding for military construction projects will be reduced by that amount, for a total of $10.6 billion. The measure also includes $54.5 billion in advanced appropriations for VA health care in FY 2014.
The spending bill would withhold funding for the integration of Department of Defense (DoD) and VA health records until the two departments implement recommendations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on how to improve the program. Related to this, the VA is rapidly approaching a backlog of one million unprocessed disability claims and FRA supports use of new technology to help reform the antiquated Veterans’ Benefits Administration (VBA) paper claims system to reduce and eventually eliminate that backlog. The bill is being considered in the Senate at press time.
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VASRD Reviewed at Summit
FRA’s National Veterans Service Officer Chris Slawinski recently attended the Veterans Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD) Status Summit. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) will use input from the summit and an economic impact study from George Washington University to revise, clarify and update the Rating Schedule for determining disability ratings and associated compensation. The final changes will eventually be published in the Federal Register, providing an opportunity for organizations and individuals to make comments on the proposed changes.
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Veterans Training Program Now Available
A new Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) program provides up to 12 months of training and education for qualifying veterans to obtain meaningful employment in high-demand occupations. The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) will offer training assistance to 99,000 eligible participants who:
Are at least 35 years old, but no older than 60;
Are unemployed on the date of application;
Received an other-than-dishonorable discharge;
Are not eligible for any other VA education benefit program (e.g.: the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Assistance);
Are not in receipt of VA compensation due to being unemployed; and
Are not enrolled in a federal or state job training program.
The program is limited to 45,000 participants from July 1, 2012, through September 30, 2012, and 54,000 participants from October 1, 2012, through March 31, 2014. Assistance is equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill–Active Duty program (currently $1,473 per month).
Participants must be enrolled in a VA-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school, and the program must lead to an associate degree, non-college degree, or a certificate, and train the veteran for a high-demand occupation.
To apply or get more information go to: www.benefits.va.gov/vow/
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In Vitro Fertilization for Veterans
Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC), introduced the “Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvements Act” (S. 3313) that will end the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) ban on providing in vitro fertilization (IVF) services. The bill also seeks to improve outreach to women veterans and establish child care programs at Vet Centers for women seeking counseling.
Veterans who have severe reproductive system, urinary tract and spinal cord injuries often need specialized treatments and procedures like IVF to conceive. The Department of Defense (DoD) currently provides IVF services under the TRICARE program at no charge to service members severely wounded in combat. This bill would provide similar access to veterans.
Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org to ask their senators support this legislation.
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Active Duty Issues
Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Programs Scrutinized
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered the heads of every branch of the U.S. military to review diagnoses for psychiatric disorders going back to 2001. The review was ordered after the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) discovered that the Army had misdiagnosed hundreds of soldiers and had, in many cases, accused the soldiers of faking their symptoms. The Pentagon-wide review will be led by Erin Conaton, recently confirmed undersecretary for Personnel and Readiness.
SVAC Chairwoman Sen. Patty Murray (Washington) also demanded that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) revamp its scheduling system after an Inspector General report indicated that only 49 percent of veterans seeking help for mental health problems are receiving full evaluations for care within the required 14-day period and that, in fact, the average waiting time is 50 days. Improved access to care for all veterans, including those who bear the invisible scars of service, is a top FRA priority and was referenced in recent congressional testimony before the House and Senate VA Committees.
In a follow-on meeting of the committee, Chairwoman Murray discussed her legislation, the “Mental Health Access Act” (S. 3340) that makes sweeping changes to the VA and DoD mental health programs. She stated that “we are losing more service members to suicide than we are to combat. Every 80 minutes a veteran takes his own life. On average this year, we have lost a service member to suicide once every day.”
The legislation would require the Department of Defense (DoD) to create a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program; expand eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health services to family members; strengthen oversight of DoD mental health care and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES); and require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.
DoD and VA leaders also recently participated in the Suicide Prevention Conference in Washington, D.C., to discuss the work they are doing to provide service members and veterans with the support, treatment and care they need and deserve. The theme for conference is “Back to Basics: Enhancing the Well-Being of our Service Members, Veterans and their Families.”
FRA echoes Sen. Murray’s call for improvements and has expressed its members’ concerns in its testimony before the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees. FRA supports aggressive oversight of the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, reduced wait times for mental health services, a unified prevention program and other steps to reduce the high incidence of military suicide. The Chairwoman’s legislation (S. 3340) is listed on the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org and members are urged to contact their senators to ask them to support this important legislation.
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Relief for Military Homeowners
The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) reminds military homeowners with Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac loans that they are eligible to sell their homes in a short sale when they receive Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders, even if they are current on their mortgage. Previously, many military families’ only options when faced with a PCS move were to maintain financial obligations on two residences or to default on their mortgage. Under the new policy, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will not pursue a deficiency judgment from service members with PCS orders for any property purchased on or before June 30, 2012.
PCS orders often require quick moves and can create hardship for military homeowners who may be “underwater” on their mortgages and therefore cannot sell their home without taking a financial loss.
Service members can check Fannie Mae (http://www.fanniemae.com/loanlookup/) and Freddie Mac (http://www.freddiemac.com/avoidforeclosure/military_assistance.html) or they can call hotlines for military homeowners at 1-877-MIL-4566 or 1-800-FREDDIE for more information.
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New MCPON Appointed
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), selected Fleet Master Chief (AW/NAC) Mike Stevens to become the 13th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON). Stevens, who is currently the top sailor at Fleet Forces Command, will relieve MCPON Rick West in a ceremony slated for late September.
Stevens was raised in Montana and joined the Navy after graduating from high school in May 1983. He completed basic training in San Diego and attended Aviation Structural Mechanic “A” School in Millington, Tennessee. He was assigned to the Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 2 in Rota, Spain. He worked on fixed wing aircraft and helicopters, and attended the Senior Enlisted Academy after he was promoted to Master Chief in October 2002. He was the top enlisted sailor at Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 14 and Helicopter Sea Combat Wing, both in Norfolk, Virginia. In January 2009 he became the U.S. Second Fleet command master chief and was named Fleet Forces Command Fleet Master Chief in August 2010.
The position of MCPON was created by legislation in 1966 that was strongly supported by FRA. MCPON is the senior enlisted member of the U.S. Navy and is appointed by the CNO to serve as an advisor to the highest positions in the Navy on issues impacting enlisted personnel.
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House Panel Reviews Commissary, Exchange Benefits
The House Armed Services’ Military Personnel Subcommittee recently held an oversight hearing on the commissaries and exchanges operated by the Department of Defense (DoD). Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (South Carolina) stated, “These programs are widely acknowledged as highly valuable and appreciated benefits that support active duty retention, the well-being of the military community, and the combat readiness of the force. These services are vital for our service members, military families, and veterans worldwide.”
FRA works to ensure adequate funding for military resale programs to preserve the value of the current benefit, access for all patrons and vital support for Moral, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs. The Association joins the military services in opposing repeated calls to shutter commissaries and/or consolidate military exchanges. In addition to providing average savings of more than 20 percent over local retailers, commissaries and exchanges employ many military dependents. Further, revenue generated by exchange sales fund MWR programs.
FRA also recently joined the Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits as a valued associate organization. The group is dedicated to protecting resale benefits for military personnel and their families.
FRA is adding its support to Rep. Scott Rigell’s (Virginia) effort to provide retirement benefits for an additional 172 Sailors cut from the Navy by last year’s Enlisted Retention Boards (ERB). Nearly 3,000 Sailors have been selected for involuntary separation from the Navy, but less than 10 percent of them qualify for retirement benefits. Only those who will complete 15 years of service before September 1, 2012, will be eligible for recently authorized Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) benefits.
Rigell is a member of the House Armed Services Committee who represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressiaonal District and a sizable Navy population. He is asking the Navy to extend the TERA retirement option for an additional year to include those who will hit the 15-year mark by September 30, 2013. In a recent letter to Vice Admiral Scott Van Buskirk, Chief of Naval Personnel, Rigell asks that a one-year extension be applied, so more ERB Sailors “may be eligible to apply for TERA benefits … [and have the] opportunity to apply for the maximum benefits allowable by law.”
FRA’s National Executive Director Joe Barnes thanked Rep. Rigell for his effort to assist these additional Sailors who are in the senior enlisted grades of E-6 and E-7 and would benefit from the policy extension. “We’re getting calls asking how the Navy can break its written contract with these ERB Sailors,” said Barnes. “Given the widespread concern throughout the Fleet regarding how the ERB process was managed, anxiety about the possibility of similar actions in the near term and the number of affected personnel, FRA believes extending the involuntary separation deadline is the right thing to do.” He added, “This action would go a long way in reassuring career enlisted Sailors that the Navy understands these concerns.”
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FRA Advocates Sustained Commitment to Career Veterans
FRA spoke before the Senate Appropriations’ Defense Subcommittee recently to share its members’ concerns regarding the proposed FY 2013 Department of Defense (DoD) budget. John Davis, FRA’s Director of Legislative Programs, asked lawmakers to exclude DoD from sequestration and ensure commitments made to past and present service members are honored.
Provisions of the 2011 Budget Control Act require that half of the automatic budget cuts (sequestration) slated to take place beginning in January 2013 must come from the Defense budget. FRA agrees with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta that such a drastic reduction in DoD spending will “do catastrophic damage to our military … and [degrade our] ability to protect the country.” Davis reminded panel members that DoD expenditures account for 17 percent of the overall federal budget, but the department is being asked to shoulder 50 percent of the sequestration cuts unless Congress agrees to exclude Defense from the reduction.
Adequate funding for military healthcare programs and maintaining the current military retirement system are FRA’s top legislative priorities for the year, and both are potential targets as Congress considers budget cuts. The Administration’s FY 2013 budget request seeks significant increases in TRICARE healthcare enrollment fees for military retirees, as well as increases in pharmacy co-pays. Davis expressed FRA’s support for legislation (S. 3203) that seeks to protect TRICARE beneficiaries from excessive increases in premiums and copayments, and proposals to increase active duty pay in FYs 2013 and 2014 by the Employment Cost Index (ECI). FRA also believes the Defense budget should be at least five percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
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DFAS Warns Retirees of Scams
The Defense Accounting and Finance Service (DFAS) cautions service members and retirees about possible scams that seek to gain access to their pay accounts. Beneficiaries who receive suspicious e-mails that appear to be from DFAS should call the DFAS customer service number at 1-888-332-7411.
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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.
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MEMBERSHIP MATTERS: Community Service
Participating in community service projects is a great way for shipmates to showcase their dedication to the towns and cities where they live. Giving back generates feelings of accomplishment and camaraderie, and builds exceptional goodwill between FRA and the communities we serve. This month’s article highlights some of the ways shipmates and branches, either alone or in concert with other organizations, are making a difference in their towns and neighborhoods.
FRA Branch 289 (Imperial Beach, California) has combined community involvement with its membership recruiting efforts for a smashing success. Its “Operation Dog Tag” is an ongoing fundraiser to support the Warrior Foundation and Freedom Station, a transition house for injured service members. An imposing sculpture of an eagle, entitled “Thank You,” is clad with reproduced military dog tags and forms a living memorial for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, as well as a tribute to those who are serving or have served in the past. Branch members were invited to participate in the sculpture’s placement and dedication ceremony at the branch home, which became an opportunity to invite the public to visit the branch, add a dog tag to the sculpture and consider FRA membership. According to Shipmate Cathy Janes, who created the statue with master welder Dan Gaines, “Our event was a record breaker for the branch and [our efforts] will always be best accomplished as a team through membership participation, information availability, community involvement and staying the course.”
For the past several years, shipmates and Auxiliary members of Branch and Unit 5 (Norfolk, Virginia) demonstrate outstanding community involvement by cleaning the Homecoming and Lone Sailor statues in the city’s waterfront park. The group was instrumental in having these statues erected and their ongoing maintenance efforts have been featured in local news media. The clean-up has become an annual tradition in the community and is also a rallying event for branch and unit members.
Some branches partner with other organizations to improve their communities. Shipmate Richard Martin of Branch 294 (Crossville, Tennessee) learned that First Sergeant Milo Lemert, a World War I Medal of Honor recipient, was buried at the local cemetery. When Martin visited the gravesite, he found it in ill repair. Believing this hero deserved better, he took action to improve the site. Working with the local American Legion Post the two organizations restored the citation-engraved granite slab, headstone, flag pole and its base. Shipmates and Legion members also erected a sign on the roadway adjacent to the cemetery directing visitors to the hero’s gravesite. A moving dedication ceremony included participation by many branch and post members, members of the Tennessee National Guard, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Crossville Mayor J. H. Graham.
Individual shipmates can also show FRA’s colors when they support community service efforts. For example, RVPNE Jim Brown, president of Branch 226 (Staten Island, New York), participates in the “Hearing Our Heroes” program for students at Monsignor Farrell High School. The organization includes more than 100 students who volunteer at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bay Ridge, where they visit patients, donate books and DVDs, shovel snow for veterans and widows in the Staten Island community, and hold fundraisers and clothing drives. Hearing Our Heros was founded by Sean Egan, who lost his firefighter father in the September 11 attacks on New York City. He is also the grandson of Unit 266 President Maryann Newton and has a deep respect for U. S. veterans, particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
When shipmates and branches participate in activities that improve their towns and neighborhoods, it exemplifies FRA’s motto of Loyalty, Protection and Service. Such events and projects are tremendous opportunities to elevate FRA’s image within the community, which in turn makes FRA’s name more recognized and promotes recruiting and retention efforts.
Penny Collins is FRA’s Director of Membership Development and a member of FRA Branch 24 in Annapolis, Maryland. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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FRA provides the Action Center on www.fra.org and a pocket guide called Communicate With Your Elected Officials to make communicating with members of Congress easy and convenient. On the Action Center, you can access a list of hot issues and send pre-written messages (or write your own) to your legislators to weigh in. You can also look up your senators and representative to see how they’ve voted on issues of importance to FRA shipmates. Both the Action Center and the Communicate With Your Elected Officials guide are free benefits brought to you by FRA. If you would like a copy of Communicate With Your Elected Officials, please e-mail Eileen@fra.org and include your name and mailing address.
FRA offers Communities on www.fra.org to help shipmates keep in touch with their branch, communicate with HQ, and get information. Use the Communities and be involved! Login to www.fra.org and click Communities. You will see the communities to which you belong — each branch and MALs have individual communities. There are also communities for FRA Today and OnWatch readers, people concerned about health care, and more. This is a place to ask the experts or share your opinions or frustrations.
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FRA Affinity Partners
FRA also has partnerships with several companies for the benefit of FRA members. When you use these companies, not only do you get a discount, but FRA receives a royalty as well. It’s a win-win situation — and a fantastic way for you to help FRA while you are helping yourself!
FRA MasterCard from USAA
FRA is partnering with USAA to administer a new FRA MasterCard program. This award-winning financial services company is committed to providing outstanding customer service to our shipmates.
GEICO Car Insurance
Call 1-800-MILITARY (1-800-645-4827) and ask for the FRA member benefit discount.
FRA members and spouses are eligible for tuition discounts at Capella University, an accredited, military-friendly, online university that has built its reputation by providing high quality online degree programs for working adults. Visit www.capella.edu/FRA for more information.
Columbia Southern University
In an education alliance with FRA, Columbia Southern University offers competitive tuition rates, waives application fees for service members and offers discounts to FRA shipmates. Visit www.columbiasouthern.edu/Partners/LearningPartners/fleet for further details.
FRA Endorsed Insurance Programs
As an FRA member you can choose from high quality, competitively priced insurance plans to help protect you and your family. Each quality plan has been designed for FRA members like you. You can select insurance protection to meet your family’s insurance needs at economical group rates. Request information regarding the plans of your choice through this website: www.FRAinsure.com or call toll-free 1-800-424-1120.
Navy Times/MARINE CORPS TIMES
FRA members qualify for a special subscription rate of 52 weeks for $39.95. Call 1-800-368-5718 to start or renew your subscription. Use FRA priority member code: 1516N3.
Avis Car Rentals
When making reservations through Avis at 1-800-331-1212 or www.avis.com, be sure to use your FRA membership benefit discount: AWD#T867500.
HERTZ Car Rentals
When making reservations through Hertz at 1-800-654-3131 or www.hertz.com, be sure to use your FRA membership benefit discount: CDP#332104.