FRA was founded to ensure the enlisted voice was heard on Capitol Hill, and over the course of our distinguished 87-year history, that purpose hasn’t changed. We are committed to assuring lawmakers understand the concerns of all current and former USN, USMC and USCG enlisted personnel, their families and survivors. At the same time, we work to make sure our members understand law and policy changes that impact them.
The grassroots involvement of our members and friends has strengthened FRA’s voice in Washington and together we’ve stopped excessive health care fee hikes, helped increase military pay and significantly improved education and other quality-of-life benefits. Now, more than ever, it is important that you share your views with your elected government officials. Your opinion counts — and it’s important to be accurately informed. Make sure you utilize these important communications tools:
Members, prospective members and families are encouraged subscribe to NewsBytes (FRA’s free weekly legislative email update) to get the latest news from Capitol Hill affecting you and your future. To subscribe, just e-mail email@example.com with “Subscribe” in the subject line. Include your name and address in the body of the e-mail so we can be sure your subscription is marked in the correct database record. If you prefer, you can listen to NewsBytes by phone at 1-800-FRA-1924, ext. 112.
FRA’s Action Center:
It’s easy to share your views with your elected officials using FRA’s Action Center at www.fra.org. The website offers pre-written e-mail messages (or users can draft their own) that address specific legislative issues that can be sent to members of Congress or local media outlets with the click of a button. The Action Center also allows users to see which bills their legislators are supporting.
When you use the Action Center to weigh in on a particular issue, FRA works hard to keep you posted on the progress of that initiative. When legislative proposals threaten existing benefits, FRA sends Making Waves to those shipmates via e-mail, inviting them to reiterate their concerns to their elected officials.
This is FRA’s online newsletter for the active and reserve communities. It includes topics of relevance to these audiences and their families — such as interviews with senior enlisted leaders. Read it at www.fra.org/onwatch.
These communications are yet another way you will see the value of FRA!
Eileen Murphy is the Director of Marketing and Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The recently enacted 2011 Budget Control Act is the result of increasing pressure to reduce government spending, the need to increase the country’s debt limit and months of negotiations between the White House and Congress. Several commissions and focus groups, including the President’s 2010 Debt Commission that reported out last December and the more recent Senate “gang of six,” offered cost-cutting recommendations associated with the current situation.
The new law requires significant spending cuts in two phases with initial cuts of nearly $1 trillion across government departments and agencies — including $350 billion in defense cuts. The second part of the plan involves the establishment of a special “super committee” comprised of a dozen members of Congress — six from each party and as many from both the House and Senate. The panel must by majority vote approve recommendations to cut an additional $1.2 to $1.5 trillion by November 23, 2011, and Congress must then approve the package without amendments or filibuster by December 23, 2011 (similar to past BRAC actions). If the package isn’t passed by the deadline, automatic spending cuts (known as sequestration), to include another $500 billion in defense spending reductions plus cuts to funding for other government departments, will be triggered beginning January 1, 2013, and continuing to 2021.
Members of the new committee who serve on key oversight committees associated with FRA’s legislative agenda include Sen. Patty Murray, Chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee; Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Ranking Member of the House Budget Committee; Sen. Rob Portman, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee; and Sen. Pat Toomey, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which oversees the U.S. Coast Guard.
There are legitimate and serious concerns about the impact of the spending cuts on our national defense and on various pay, health care, benefits and quality-of-life programs.
During an August 4, 2011, press conference, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said, “The (first phase) reductions in the defense budget that were enacted as part of the debt-ceiling agreement are largely in line with what the civilian and military leaders of this department were anticipating and preparing to implement.” And regarding the automatic (second phase) “trigger” aspect of the plan, he said, “If it did happen, it would result in a further round of very dangerous cuts across the board, defense cuts that I believe would do real damage to our security, our troops and their families, and our military’s ability to protect the nation.”
The list of potential threats is growing and your Legislative Team is tracking what Navy Times recently dubbed a “Frugal Future” that may include further end-strength reductions; a pay freeze mirroring the federal civilian pay freeze; smaller retiree cost-of-living adjustments; major changes to retired pay; higher health care fees; cuts to bonuses and special pays; significant changes to military commissaries and exchanges, and higher costs for products sold in the military resale system. The list goes on and may grow.
Although significant, threats such as these are nothing new, and unlike many organizations that simply report on threats and do little to actually address these on Capitol Hill, FRA has consistently carried messages to Congress on behalf of the Sea Services enlisted communities. The Association was established to do so in 1924 and since then has built and maintained a reputation as a leader in the military/VSO community and for taking action resulting in many legislative successes.
With strong support and engagement by all of Sea Services Shipmates we’ll continue this tradition as we work hard to protect and hopefully enhance active, Reserve, retired and veterans’ pay and benefits. No law protects pay and benefits and, as always, effectively responding to these and other threats requires strong grassroots support through timely and consistent messages to members of Congress, regardless of party affiliation.
Stay informed and PLEASE be part of this effort. Renew your membership, urge other shipmates to do likewise and, if you’re not already subscribed to NewsBytes, FRA’s weekly e-mail update on pay and benefit issues, please send a request to email@example.com. Thanks.
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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In the June 2011 “NED Perspective” column, it was stated that Shift Colors has gone digital. I did receive it when it was in print, and miss it now, as I have no idea how to subscribe digitally.
I don’t like the digital distribution of pubs once on paper, as they can’t be passed on for the info of others, easily archived for dependents, or easily available for rereading.
Please let me know how I may get it again, online if necessary.
FRA Response: You can access the online version of Shift Colors at www.npc.navy.mil/ReferenceLibrary/Publications/ShiftColors/
You can also subscribe by sending your full name, e-mail address and military affiliation (retiree, surviving spouse, veteran or other) to Mill_ShiftColors@navy.mil (Please note: There is an underscore between “MILL” and “Shift Colors.”) Great Lakes Memories
Excellent article [on Naval Station Great Lakes]; I even downloaded it so I could share it with other sailors who I’ve not yet been able to ‘recruit’ to the FRA.
I did miss a mention of the Navy Reserve ‘boot camp’ that accelerated Basic Training from 11 weeks down to TWO weeks. I was there over my high school Christmas vacation (in 1960, between my junior and senior year). We still had the old barracks, which had been improved with the addition of fire resistant asbestos panels — put in to give us a chance to get out in case of a fire.
Putting the bulk of Boot Camp activities into one building is a great improvement. I remember getting up very early to beat the other groups to the single chow hall for breakfast. Standing outdoors in winter at Great Lakes isn’t the best time of the year!
Again, thanks for a great article,
Lorence F. Brown
I really enjoyed your recent article in the FRA magazine.
In 1961– 63, my dad was stationed at Great Lakes and we lived in nearby Waukegan. Three days after my high school graduation (June 1962), I entered Great Lakes RTC. I graduated from Boot Camp on 29 August, was lucky to place well on a test and was transferred from FTA School (Fire Control Technician ‘A’ School) to the Naval Academy Prep School in Bainbridge, Maryland. A year later I entered Annapolis. I still stay in touch with several of my classmates who were at Great Lakes at the time.
Bud Barnes Thank you for the great article on Great Lakes Training Center. I went through boot camp there in 1948, where I served in Building 1 from September 1955 through August 1959.
When I was in boot camp the Blue Jackets Manual had pictures of uniforms for officers and enlisted. Last year at a rest stop on I-95, I spoke to a 2nd class dressed in a gray-sea colored fatigue uniform that he said was permitted off base. His uniform was spotless and very neat, but not dress blues or whites. Could you bring an old sailor up-to-date on present day uniforms?
I always enjoy your articles in FRA Today. Keep up the good work! (First time I’ve ever congratulated an author!)
Francis J. Rodrick, Sr.
FRA Response: The Navy uniform regulations are continually changing. I suggest you visit http://navy-uniform-regulations.com/ to learn more and see photos. There are tabs along the top of the home page and if you click “Navy Uniform Pictures” you can see what’s what. You may need to scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page to find the links to the different uniforms. 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
Debt Ceiling Increased with Spending Cuts
President Obama signed the Budget Control Act of 2011 (S. 365) into law, authorizing a debt ceiling increase ($2.1 trillion – $2.4 trillion) to allow the federal government to operate through 2013. The debt limit increases by $900 billion immediately and a second increase of $1.2 trillion to $1.5 trillion will be available after November 23, 2011. The size of the second increase will be determined by a new joint committee made up of six senators and six representatives who will identify cuts to meet the goal of reducing at least $1.2 trillion in spending over 10 years. The House and Senate will then vote to approve the committee’s recommendations without amendments or Senate filibuster. If the committee recommendations are not approved, there will be automatic across-the-board cuts for every agency and program with half targeted at the defense budget with implementation by January 2, 2013, continuing over the next nine years.
The debt ceiling agreement also requires both the House and Senate to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution by the end of the calendar year. The House version of the FY 2012 budget must also be reduced by $24 billion to meet spending caps. It remains unclear how this will impact current military and veterans’ benefits, pay, and quality-of-life programs. FRA is concerned about the potential impact of drastic funding reductions on military and veterans’ health care, pay and other benefits; will closely monitor implementation of the new law and weigh in with legislators and their staff regarding threats to hard-earned benefits.
The pace of legislative activity will speed up in September as Congress attempts to complete its work before FY 2012 begins on October 1, 2011. It’s more important than ever for shipmates to be informed on the issues at hand and take action when threats to benefits appear. To stay abreast of current happenings on Capitol Hill between issues of FRA Today, subscribe to NewsBytes, FRA’s weekly email update, by sending an e-mail to email@example.com. Shipmates are also encouraged to monitor the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org and communicate their views to their elected officials.
Return to Table of Contents FRA Questions Link Between Camp Lejeune Contaminated Water and DoD Commissaries
When North Carolina Senator Richard Burr, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs (VA) Committee, introduced the “Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act” (S. 277), FRA endorsed the measure. The proposal would authorize VA health care for veterans and military family members who are suffering from the effects of a contaminated water supply at Camp Lejeune between 1957 and 1987.
To comply with House “pay cut” rules, the Senate VA Committee recently voted to change the bill, without notice or hearing, to fund the care by eliminating the federal subsidy for military commissaries and directing consolidation of all Department of Defense (DoD) commissaries and exchanges, known collectively as the military resale system. Hill sources characterize this as one funding option and note that the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has primary jurisdiction over the resale system, may identify another funding source in conjunction with the legislation.
If approved, the plan would negatively impact access to the resale system and result in significantly higher costs for products offered in jointly operated combined commissary/exchange stores. The House and Senate Armed Services Committees have consistently rejected similar plans based on Congressional Budget Office options over the past few decades to consolidate the services’ resale programs.
FRA continues to advocate for benefits for those impacted by contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, but opposes funding the benefits in a way that would negatively impact access to commissaries and exchanges, the cost of products in both systems and reduced MWR program support.
Return to Table of Contents Report Recommends Drastic TRICARE Fee Increases and More
Senator Tom Coburn (Okla.) released a 614-page report, entitled “Back in the Black,” detailing suggestions for reducing the federal deficit by $9 trillion over 10 years. NOTE:This is only a report and these suggestions are examples of issues being discussed with regard to balancing the budget and have NOT been introduced as legislation.
Requiring all military retirees to take TRICARE Standard and increasing annual enrollment fees to $3,500 for families/$2,000 for individuals,
Increasing co-pays for prescription drugs from $3 to $15 for generic and from $9 to $25 for brand-name drugs,
Making TRICARE Prime available only for active duty personnel and their dependents.
Creating an annual $550 co-pay for TRICARE for Life (TFL) and requiring beneficiaries to pay half of the cost of expenses not covered by Medicare, up to $3,025,
Consolidating commissaries and exchanges,
Eliminating Department of Defense (DoD) schools, and
Eliminating DoD tuition assistance programs for active duty service members.
The plan also suggests the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) assess a $250 annual fee for veterans in Priority Groups 7 and 8 who seek VA health care and increase prescription co-pays for these vets to $15 (currently $9) for a 30-day supply of medicine.
The report is an example of cost-saving proposals associated with growing pressure to reduce government spending. FRA continues to monitor the legislative process and alert its membership about proposals to balance the budget that will negatively impact pay, health care and benefits for those currently serving and those who’ve served in the past.
Read Tom Philpott’s “Military Update” column (8-4-11) at www.fra.org/news to learn about other potential impacts of the proposed cuts.
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Beneficiaries Gain Mobile Access to TRICARE
TRICARE and Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI) initiated TRICARE Express Rx mobile application and mobile-optimized website. These tools allow TRICARE beneficiaries to use their smartphones to register for TRICARE pharmacy home delivery, order refills, check order status and switch current prescriptions over to home delivery from anywhere in the world. Beneficiaries with GPS-enabled smartphones can use the app to get directions to the closest retail pharmacy in their network.
“Improving convenience for our beneficiaries and broadening access to necessary services like prescription information is a key focus for TRICARE,” said Rear Adm. Thomas J. McGinnis, chief of TRICARE Pharmacy Operations. “Express Rx is yet another way for beneficiaries to use their benefit wisely and conveniently, anytime and anywhere.”
To ensure security and data protection, beneficiaries must register through the member portal at www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE before logging in to the Express Rx app or mobile-optimized site. Once registered, the same username and password allow access to the Express Rx app and mobile-optimized website. ESI is the TRICARE Pharmacy contractor.
Smartphone users can download the app for free by going to www.express-scripts.com/mobile or by using services like the Apple App Store or Android Marketplace. The mobile-optimized pharmacy website can be accessed at http://m.esrx.com. TRICARE beneficiaries in the South Region can also make use of the mobile Humana Military website, https://m.humana-military.com/.
For more information about TRICARE pharmacy, visit www.tricare.mil/pharmacy. To learn about the TRICARE pharmacy home delivery, go to www.tricare.mil/homedelivery
TRICARE Access in Philippines Discussed
FRA recently met with RADM Christine Hunter, USN, Deputy Director, TRICARE Management Activity, to discuss shipmates’ concerns regarding health care access in the Philippines. FRA’s Health Care Advisor Bob Washington reported that TMA is committed to working with FRA to resolve these issues and the Association will report on efforts to address this situation.
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Amendment to Restrict Agent Orange Claims Fails
FRA members rallied in opposition to an amendment offered during Senate debate on the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill (H.R.2055). The amendment proposed a significant change in the way presumptive Agent Orange-related disabilities are determined. Offered by Senator Tom Coburn (Okla.), the amendment would have required Vietnam veterans to prove a “causal relationship” between Agent Orange exposure and one or more of the 15 presumptive illnesses that the VA now recognizes. The proposal was tabled by a vote of 69-30 and readers can see how their senators voted on the amendment at the FRA Action Center by scrolling down to “Bills of Interest” and than scroll down to “Key Votes Senate.”
Thanks to the nearly 2,000 shipmates who sent e-mails to their senators on short notice in response to the FRA Action Alert on this issue. These efforts paid off and helped halt further consideration of the amendment. VN VETS (Viet Nam Vets) acknowledged FRA’s efforts to successfully table this onerous amendment on its website.
FRA continues to advocate for enactment of the “Agent Orange Equity Act” (H.R. 812), sponsored by Rep. Bob Filner (California), that would amend the VA’s definition of Vietnam service to include those veterans who served off-shore. Many of these “Blue Water” veterans are not eligible to receive VA benefits for health problems associated with Agent Orange exposure. Members are also urged to use the Action Center to ask their elected officials to support this initiative.
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Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act Becomes Law
President Obama signed legislation (H.R. 1383) in early August that increases the tuition cap to $27,000 for some veterans currently attending private schools. In order to qualify for the increased benefit, the veteran must have been enrolled in a private school before last year’s reform bill (The Post-9/11 Veterans Assistance Improvement Act) capped private school tuition at $17,500. The reform measure created a problem for veterans already enrolled in higher-priced, private programs and Rep. Jeff Miller (Florida), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the legislation to ensure these veterans will be able to complete their education using the benefits specified in the original Post-9/11 GI Bill, which was enacted in 2008. Additional information is available at www.gibill.va.gov/documents/factsheets/PL1383_Q&A.pdf.
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VA Reaches Out to Female Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) initiated a program to solicit input from women veterans on ways to enhance the health care services VA provides to them.
FRA’s Director of Membership Development Penny Collins participated in a recent VA National Training Summit on Women Veterans in Washington, D.C. Approximately 700 female veterans heard VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki and others speak about the VA’s priority effort to continue expanding services and outreach for the 1.8 million women vets who’ve served. The event also included a broad range of workshops and panel discussions on healthcare options and other services available specifically for women veterans.
Additionally, employees at VA’s Health Resource Center (HRC) are calling women veterans all over the country, asking them to share their experiences with VA and suggest potential enhancements that will further VA’s mission to provide the best care possible. The HRC callers are also informing female veterans about the services VA offers and quickly connecting them with appropriate departments if they have questions or concerns about VA care. For more information about VA programs and services for women vets, please visit: www.va.gov/womenvet and www.publichealth.va.gov/womenshealth.
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Active Duty Issues
New Condolence Policy for Certain Suicides
The Administration is now sending presidential condolence letters to families of service memberswho commit suicide in combat zones. Previously White House condolence letters were only sent to families of those service members who die in combat or of accidental incidents in a combat zone. In the notice of the change of policy, President Obama stated, “This issue is emotional, painful, and complicated, but these Americans served our nation bravely. They didn’t die because they were weak. And the fact that they didn’t get the help they needed must change. Our men and women in uniform have borne the incredible burden of our wars, and we need to do everything in our power to honor their service, and to help them stay strong for themselves, for their families and for our nation.”
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Pay Our Troops on Time
Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) introduced the “Ensuring Our Military Pay Act” (S. 724) that would guarantee service members would be paid even if there is a government shutdown. The law would apply to active duty service members, as well as Reservists on drill. FRA believes military personnel, particularly those serving in overseas contingency operations, should not be denied their pay because Congress can’t get its work done in a timely manner. This is particularly relevant given the standoff on finalizing this year’s appropriations bills and the upcoming end of the current fiscal year and needs to pass appropriations bills to fund all departments and agencies in 2012. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org to ask their senators to support this legislation.
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OSA, CFPB Ready to Help Military Consumers
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and its Office of Servicemember Affairs (OSA) are operational and ready to assist service members and families who have questions or complaints about consumer financial products and services. The OSA was established as part of last year’s financial regulation reform law and strongly supported by FRA.
The need for OSA was demonstrated earlier this year when the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) held hearings and heard complaints about banks ignoring and abusing the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. Holly Petreaus, director of the OSA, pledged to work on educating military personnel about their financial protections and best financial practices.
The CFPB’s Consumer Response Center is now accepting credit card complaints on its newly redesigned website, ConsumerFinance.gov, and will also refer distressed homeowners to housing counselors via the Homeowner’s HOPE Hotline. Over the coming months, the agency will expand its Consumer Response Center to handle complaints about other consumer financial products and services under its jurisdiction.
FRA submitted testimony in conjunction with a recent hearing of the House Coast Guard and Maritime Subcommittee. The Coast Guard’s current authorization expires on October 1, 2011, and the Association strongly supports timely enactment of legislation that will provide congressional budgeting and effective oversight of the service and its wide-ranging missions.
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Frank LoBiondo (New Jersey) said ensuring Coast Guard parity with DoD personnel programs is a top priority of any authorization legislation for FY 2012, which is expected to be introduced in the near future. FRA advocates the measure should include adequate funding for the Coast Guard Health Care Fund (HCF), funding for a 1.6-percent pay increase for 2012 that equals the 2010 Employment Cost Index (ECI), improved family housing, and access to affordable child care.
Return to Table of Contents 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.