The FRA Marketing/Communications department has two full-time staff (DMC Eileen Murphy and CM Lauren Armstrong) who manage FRA Today, fundraising, marketing, public relations and a host of other items at headquarters. We appreciate shipmate feedback on our work and assure all that we are giving our best efforts to promote the association in the best way possible.
We strive to increase the value of the magazine to all shipmates. FRA Today is available online in a rich text format (RTF) which is compatible with audio readers for sight-impaired shipmates. This option is in addition to the pdf format which has been available on www.fra.org for a few years. The pdf format can be magnified and is an exact replication of the print version, but does not consistently work with audio readers. As vision trouble is on the rise for FRA shipmates, young and old, we wanted to make sure you are aware of this — and aware that NewsBytes is available by phone at 1-800-372-1924 ext 112.
The content of FRA Today is an example of the true teamwork at National Headquarters (NHQ), and reflects reader requests and survey responses from members and prospective members over the past several years. Consistently we receive feedback that members are interested in learning more about legislation and how that impacts them and their families. They are also interested in how FRA takes that legislative information and formulates the association’s stance.
The NED Perspective column provides a vehicle for insight on association work, history and leadership views. The Legislative Department contributes editorial information to the “On and Off Capitol Hill” section which keeps members abreast of the recent movement or issues related to FRA’s principal program. The Membership Department submits the “Membership Matters” column, often sharing information about branches and shipmates who have been doing great work. The Administrative Department, under the direction of Alicia Landis, compiles the monthly “Taps” listing from information provided by the Membership Records Department. “Reunions” is a regular feature as well and can be posted by shipmates online, as well as entered by Teresa Wiener in the Administrative Department. Many postings for “Looking For” have resulted in positive results and the success rate of that offering is inspiring.
Fran Hoadley has now completed her time as the FRA Auxiliary liaison. She will be tremendously missed and the FRA Today editorial staff appreciated her dedication and “can do” spirit more than she’ll ever know. It is important to note that the FRA Auxiliary page could be sold for more than $3,000 per month in advertising, so this is a considerable commitment for FRA to provide the space free of charge to FRA Auxiliary. Fran understood that and worked to make sure that FRA Auxiliary was represented well in each article.
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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NED pERSPECTIVE: Benefits in the Crosshairs
There is a short time remaining for the recently established Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction to finalize a package of broad spending cuts. There’s been much coverage of this so-called “Super Committee” since its establishment as part of the Budget Control Act and its mandate to agree to federal spending cuts totaling at least $1.2 trillion over a 10-year period.
Prior to the law’s enactment, defense spending cuts totaling more than the $350 billion had already been agreed to and the 12-member Super Committee is working on additional government-wide reductions to achieve this target. The cuts must be approved by a committee majority and then by Congress before December 23, 2011, with no opportunity for floor amendments and no Senate filibusters. Failure at any juncture — or approving budget cuts below the threshold — will result in mandatory across-the-board spending cuts (sequestration) that will take effect in 2013. If sequestration occurs, half the reductions will come from the defense budget over the next decade. Worst case, this could mean defense cuts totaling an additional $600 billion.
Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), has scheduled a series of hearings focused on the effects of significant defense spending reductions. With strong support from other members of Congress, he released a special report entitled “Breaking Faith With the Military” and has produced a video (available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CHpqWdyE5vY) featuring testimonials from several committee members on the human consequences of additional defense cuts.
There’s been considerable media coverage on the potential impacts of these reductions, including a recent Washington Times cover story (Oct. 11, 2011) by Rowan Scarborough, that states, “Looming defense budget cuts not only threaten new weapons, ships and planes, but also endanger the all-volunteer force itself. Cuts of this magnitude require a fundamental cultural shift in the commitment to (DoD) schools systems, military commissaries and exchanges, and other morale, welfare and recreation [MWR] programs, significantly reducing support of military families and retirees … [and] will reduce investment in the Defense Health Program. Wounded warrior care and support will be dramatically reduced, and … no budget cutting idea is unnerving the military community more than a recommendation to scrap the current pension system for new inductees and replace it with a 401(k) type retirement savings plan.”
In a recent speech Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cited the exponential growth of military compensation and health care and noted the need to “look at the growth in personnel costs, which are a major driver of budget growth and are, simply put, on an unsustainable course … My approach will be to try to grandfather benefits when I can in order to try to implement future reforms in these areas.”
The Administration’s proposals to the Super Committee include a plan to establish a new $200 enrollment fee for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries that would apparently increase over time, and significantly increased retail pharmacy prescription co-pays benchmarked to a percentage of the cost of the drugs, versus the current fixed co-pay by class / type of drugs.
Leaner budgets will likely result in major end strength reductions and threats to the military resale system are also being considered. The annual $1.3 billion appropriation for the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) is a prime target, along with repeated proposals from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to consolidate commissaries and exchange operations. If approved, the effect will, at a minimum, be a significantly diminished benefit, with higher costs to shoppers and less MWR program support.
These are significant threats and FRA’s September 21, 2011, letter to Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), co-chairs of the Super Committee, states, “Military service is unlike any other government or civilian occupation — a reality missing from many proposals to drastically reduce hard-earned benefits (and) there’s usually no mention of commitments made to those currently serving and those who’ve served in the past. Instead, the focus is almost always solely on costs to the government.”
To address these and other threats, it’s important to track what’s happening on Capitol Hill by subscribing to NewsBytes, FRA’s weekly electronic update on pay, health care and benefit issues. And, as always, shipmates are encouraged to weigh-in with members of Congress demanding that personnel and veterans’ programs be exempted from required spending cuts — something that’s easy to do via the Action Center on FRA’s Web site at www.fra.org.
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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Budget Cuts Impact Military, Veterans’ Benefits
Budget woes shouldn’t affect veteran services. The U.S. is raising fees on the backs of veterans to compensate for budget shortfalls.
The [Department of Veterans Affairs] has raised prices of generic medication each of the last three years, charging $9 for a 30-day supply and $27 for 90 days. Walmart and many other pharmacies charge $4 for 30 days and $10 for 90 days of medication. Thus veterans pay 125 percent more for 30 days’ medication and 170 percent more for 90 days’ medication than at Walmart.
Dental services used to be free for veterans at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Now fees have been set based on income. To qualify for dental services, veterans have to present evidence of sources of income, including wages, Social Security, dividends, interest and retirement.
When veterans enlisted or were drafted, they were not required to reveal their sources of income. What will happen to benefits for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? We must care for those who have borne the battle.
Edward F. Borucki I am getting more concerned about my Navy retirement and VA benefits due to the rhetoric in Washington. I understand that FRA is there constantly trying to protect those things that were promised to me while I was a member of the U.S. Navy. I would like to see the FRA take a new step forward in influencing our congressmen and the current administration.
My recommendation is to get business and industry more involved. I constantly see signs and advertisements from companies that [say] “Support Our Troops.” I would like to see individuals and the different veterans’ organizations contacting these businesses to make their leaders fully aware of the suggestions concerning military pay and benefits that are being considered in Washington. If these business leaders were aware of the negative impact these suggested cuts would have, I believe they’d be willing to add additional pressure on Congress to seek cuts from other sources.
Thank you very much for the excellent POW article on Commander Galanti. I’ve read several books on POWs in Vietnam, Japan and Germany and am always amazed at the positive attitude they used to get through it. Any time I think I’m having a bad day I think of what POWs endure and suddenly I’m better.
Neil Wollam 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
Notes About the FRA 2012 Calendar
Due to our publishing deadlines, a couple regional events were not included in the 2012 FRA calendar you received with the October issue of FRA Today. We hope you’ll add the dates for future reference:
September 15, 2012: The Northwest Regional Convention will be held in Everett, Washington. Unfortunately, this information was unavailable when the new FRA calendar went to print.
March 22–24, 2012:The East Coast Region’s Mid-Year Meeting will be held in Fayetteville, N.C.
We received numerous e-mails and calls about the absence of the Navy’s Birthday on the calendar. The Navy Birthday (October 13th) was included in all draft versions of the calendar, but did not appear in the final edition due to an inadvertent file error. We’ll be sending a sticker with the December FRA Today magazine to place on this auspicious date.
FRA also received some feedback concerning the photo we published with our August 2012 calendar. It shows a child in a hooded sweater and cap sitting on the edge of the Coast Guard Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery with a box and plastic bin of flags off to the side. The child was a volunteer participating in the Flags Across America program and was resting after hours of placing flags at grave sites in preparation for Veterans Day 2010. The containers, used to carry the flags into the cemetery, included the extra flags after volunteers finished visiting their assigned graves. Our intention was to highlight the work of these volunteers to remember the sacrifices made by our brave service members.
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On & OFF Capitol HILL
New Budget Process Means New Challenges for FRA
The recently enacted Budget Control Act created the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which is tasked with reducing the federal budget by $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years. Made up of six senators and six representatives and evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, this so-called “Super Committee” and the new cuts they’re sure to propose are creating serious challenges for the FRA Legislative Team as it works to improve and protect shipmates’ pay and benefits. (Read more in the NED Perspective on page 5.)
The Super Committee’s work is also influencing the FY 2012 budget process. Congress passed a second Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government running at FY 2011 spending levels through November 18, 2011. Appropriators will likely want to consider the Super Committee’s recommendations, which are due by November 23, before making spending decisions, so another CR is expected to be passed.
With U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, the country’s economic and unemployment problems and a Congress focused on reducing the nation’s enormous budget deficits, military benefits — especially retiree benefits — are prime targets for budget cutters. Proposals to “civilianize” military retirement, institute annual fees for TRICARE for Life beneficiaries and other recommendations (see page 9) are among the many deficit-reduction measures being considered by the Super Committee.
FRA has shared its concern and its members’ increasing alarm at these proposals in a letter to Senator Patty Murray (Wash.) and Representative Jeb Hensarling (Texas), the co-chairs of the Super Committee. The letter notes the significant differences between military and civilian careers and asks committee members to honor the commitments made to veterans and career personnel who served in the past. A copy of the letter is available online at www.fra.org/supercommittee
FRA is also working to make sure legislators understand the unique challenges, inherent risks and required sacrifice associated with military service. The Association is urging lawmakers to examine the impact proposed cuts would have on military recruiting and retention, citing the growing stress on service members that’s reflected in increased suicide and higher divorce rates among military personnel, along with declining morale and threats to military readiness.
If cuts cannot be identified and approved by the House and Senate and signed into law by the President, automatic across-the-board cuts (known as sequestration) will be implemented by January 2, 2013, and continue over subsequent fiscal years. Half of these automatic cuts would come from Defense, which could significantly impact military pay and benefits.
Shipmates are urged to use the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org to let their legislators about their concerns on these issues.
Return to Table of Contents New JCS Chairman Appoints Senior Enlisted Advisor
Army General Martin E. Dempsey became the 18th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on September 30, 2011. Replacing Admiral Michael Mullen, USN, Dempsey’s background includes service as Chief of Staff of the Army and extensive command experience during recent conflicts.
In his first act as Chairman, Dempsey reinstated the position of Senior Enlisted Advisor (SEA) to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and presided over a swearing-in ceremony for Marine Corps Sergeant Major Bryan B. Battaglia. Battaglia will serve as the principal military advisor to the Chairman and to Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta on all matters involving the total force integration, the health of the force, and joint development for enlisted personnel.
Return to Table of Contents Senior Enlisted Sub Pay Increases
The Chief of Naval Personnel recently announced that Continuous Submarine Duty Incentive Pay (CONSUBPAY) increased substantially for E-8s and E-9s with more than 18 years of service, effective October 1, 2011. The increase is aimed at enhancing submarine manning levels and is the first change to CONSUBPAY since 2004.
Visit http://www.navycs.com/submarine-pay-chart.html to view submarine pay charts.
FRA strongly supports this change and has consistently supported targeted pay increases for mid-career and senior enlisted personnel. This special duty pay would be in addition to the 1.6-percent across-the-board military pay hike proposed in both the House and Senate versions of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1540 and S.1253) that await congressional approval.
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President Proposes TFL Annual Fee
As members of the Super Committee consider a variety of cost-saving measures in the coming weeks, they’ll be looking at several proposals that could impact military personnel and retirees. The Administration’s recently released Plan for Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction seeks changes to the current retirement benefit for military personnel.
The plan proposes a new $200 annual enrollment fee for TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) beneficiaries that would begin in 2013 and be adjusted annually based on a health care inflation index. The Administration also proposes increasing prescription co-pays at retail pharmacies for active-duty family members and military retirees by charging a percentage of the cost of the medication (10 percent for generic and 15 percent for non-generic) rather than the current fees ($5 for generic, $12 for brand name drugs and $25 for non-formulary drugs) which took effect on October 1, 2011. Shipmates are urged to use the Action Center at www.fra.org/stopfee to ask their elected officials to oppose these provisions.
Although none of the Defense Business Board’s (DBB) recent recommendations to overhaul the military retirement system were mentioned in the report, the White House proposes a commission to consider changes to that program. This panel would be modeled after the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission and would consider Defense Department recommendations, with authority to alter these if deemed necessary. The commission will then submit its recommendations to the President, who can decide whether to forward the report to Congress for approval. Congress cannot alter the recommendations and can only vote to approve or disapprove. If Congress approves then the reforms become law.
FRA commends Senator James Inhofe (Okla.) and 15 of his Senate colleagues, who recently wrote to Secretary of Defense (SecDef) Leon Panetta advising him not to alter or reduce military retirement benefits. The letter was issued in response to the DBB recommendations to do away with the current retirement system and implement a 401(k)-style retirement system that would allow more service members to be eligible for some level of significantly reduced retirement benefit. Senators Jim Webb (Virginia); Ben Nelson (Nebraska); Sherrod Brown (Ohio); Dianne Feinstein (California); Richard Durbin (Illinois); Mark Begich (Alaska); Richard Blumenthal (Connecticut); Claire McCaskill (Missouri); Bob Casey (Pennsylvania); Jeanne Shaheen (New Hampshire); Tom Udall (New Mexico); Kristen Gillibrand (New York); Kay Hagan (North Carolina); and Daniel Akaka (Hawaii) also signed the letter.
FRA expressed its strong opposition to these proposals in the above-referenced letter to Super Committee members and in a conference call with White House staff, who stressed that benefit reductions are needed to control costs and bring military benefits in line with the private sector. FRA believes providing adequate benefits and pay for those now serving and those who served in the past is part of the cost of defending the nation and the Association opposes the “civilianization” of military benefits as a way to reduce the budget deficit.
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Increased TRICARE Prime Fees for New Enrollees
Military retirees enrolling in the TRICARE Prime health plan after October 1, 2011, will pay slightly higher annual fees, but fees for retirees currently enrolled in the program will remain at $230 and $460 per year (for individual coverage and family coverage, respectively) until Oct. 1, 2012. The fees for new enrollees will be $260 per year for members and $520 per year for members and family, an increase of $2.50 per month for individual members and $5 per month for members and family. The change does not affect active duty service members and their families, survivors of active duty deceased sponsors or medically retired service members and their families. Visit www.tricare.mil/costs for more information about TRICARE Prime enrollment fees.
Return to Table of Contents Premium Change for Retiree Dental Program
Retirees enrolled in the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) may have noticed a change in their September 30th retirement payment, according to the Defense and Finance Accounting Service (DFAS). The change reflects Delta Dental’s recent adjustment of monthly premiums, which vary according to location and plan. For most retirees, this adjustment will result in a premium increase, but a few will see a slight reduction in their monthly premium.
Visit Delta Dental at http://trdp.org/ for further information. Return to Table of Contents
Agent Orange Reform Bill in Senate
FRA supports recently introduced legislation (S. 1629) that would authorize veterans who served in the waters off the coast of Vietnam to file claims for exposure to Agent Orange. (The VA now only acknowledges service-connection for those who had “boots on the ground” within the borders of Vietnam.) The bill, introduced by Senators Kristin Gillibrand (New York) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), aligns with the Association’s efforts to change the VA policy that currently prevents many so-called “Blue Water” vets from receiving benefits for illnesses associated with Agent Orange exposure.
Shipmates are urged to use the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org to ask their senators to co-sponsor this important legislation and ask their Representatives to co-sponsor similar legislation (H.R. 812) in the House.
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Veterans’ Employment Initiatives
The White House and the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) recently took steps to address the high rate of unemployment among our nation’s veterans.
The Administration recently unveiled its American Jobs Act (S. 1549) that includes proposals to stimulate the sluggish economy by creating jobs. Among its many provisions, the bill includes a section (Section 201) pertaining to incentives for hiring veterans.
Under current law, employers that hire veterans who have been unemployed for at least six months and have a service-connected disability are eligible for a maximum tax credit of $4,800. The legislation proposes to increase that amount to $9,600 and seeks to create two new hiring credits for veterans. If enacted, employers could obtain a $2,400 tax credit for hiring a veteran who has been unemployed for at least four weeks and a $5,600 tax credit if the veteran has been unemployed for the last six months. The Secretary of the Treasury is mandated to certify veterans’ unemployment status.
President Obama has also asked the Departments of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a “reverse boot camp” to help veterans transition to the civilian workforce.
The HASC recently hosted a Veterans’ Employment Summit to discuss the best practices in the private sector for hiring veterans. More than 25 companies with veteran hiring programs attended the summit to bring greater attention to the issue, as well as to share commonalities in hiring practices and discuss new ideas to help veterans find employment in today’s job market.
All the companies in attendance were unanimous in expressing a desire to do more to increase employment among veterans. The unemployment rate currently stands at 7.7 percent for all veterans, with significantly higher rates (27 percent) for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Several companies noted that veterans feel most comfortable when they are hired by a fellow veteran and have implemented mentoring programs within their organizations. Summit participants urged CEOs to take a leadership role in hiring veterans into their companies and expressed frustration that DoD policy prevents them from providing internships to transitioning active duty service members so they can get real-world experience in the civilian work arena.
Companies who participated in the Summit included American Corporate Partners, American Electric Power, Booz Allen Hamilton, Inc., U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CINTAS Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation, CSX Corporation, Cubic Applications, Inc., Deloitte, Direct Employers Association, Edison Electric Institute, General Electric Company, GI Jobs Magazine, Inova Health System, ITT Systems Corporation, Intelligent Compensation, LLC, JP Morgan Chase, McKesson, ManTech International, Microsoft, Northrop Grumman, Prudential Financial, Society of Human Resource Management, Sodexo, Southern Company, URS Corporation, the U.S. Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and Walmart.
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GI Bill Improvements
When the Post 9/11 GI Bill was originally enacted, it provided payments for four-year college degrees, but as of October 1, 2011, the program now provides payments for vocational education, OJT apprenticeships, and technical degrees. The program also provides a housing allowance to students (other than those on active duty) enrolled solely in distance learning, which is equal to half of the national average BAH for an E-5 with dependents.
Visit www.gibill.va.gov for additional information about the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Return to Table of Contents Wounded Warrior Symposium
FRA’s Director of Legislative Programs John Davis attended the fifth annual Wounded Warrior Symposium in Washington, D.C. “A Journey Back: A National Commitment to Helping Wounded Warriors and Families Transition” was the theme for the event that included panel discussions pertaining to the challenges warriors, particularly wounded service members and those from the Reserve component, experience when seeking gainful employment when they return from deployment and return to the civilian workforce. Keynote speakers included Army General Peter W. Chiarelli, U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff, who discussed challenges related to the mental health of service members returning from the combat zone and their families, and VA Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, who gave a progress report on the department’s progress on implementing the electronic health record.
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.