FRA NewsBytes - 01-10-13

In this week’s edition:
FRA and Others Urge Action on Repealing COLA Cuts for Military Retirees
CFPB Takes Action Against Payday Lender
VA Regulation Expands TBI Benefits
TRICARE Retiree Dental Program Open for New Enrollments

FRA and Others Urge Action on Repealing COLA Cuts for Military Retirees
FRA, in concert with other like-minded organizations, sent a letter to all members of Congress this week urging them to repeal the one-percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) cut for military retirees under age 62 that is slated to take effect December 1, 2015, as part of the FY 2014 budget agreement (H.J. Res. 59). FRA staff members also participated in a conference call with Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to coordinate lobbying efforts on this issue. House and Senate Appropriations Committees are working to complete work on a still-unnumbered omnibus spending bill before January 15, when the current continuing resolution for temporary funding of the government expires. This measure, which will fund the federal government for the remainder of FY 2014, may be a vehicle for a provision to repeal the COLA cut.

Military retired pay and associated cost-of-living adjustments are benefits that have been earned with 20 years or more of arduous military service and members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (http://action.fra.org/action-center/) to contact their elected officials and urge them to support an amendment to repeal the entire COLA cut provided in the budget agreement.

CFPB Takes Action against Payday Lender
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently took its first enforcement action against a payday lender by ordering Cash America International, Inc. to refund consumers for robo-signing court documents in debt collection lawsuits. The CFPB also found that Cash America—one of the largest short-term, small-dollar lenders in the country—violated the Military Lending Act (MLA) by illegally overcharging service members and their families. Cash America will pay up to $14 million in refunds to consumers and it will pay a $5 million fine for these violations and for destroying records in advance of the Bureau’s examination.

After a routine CFPB examination of Cash America’s operations, the CFPB found multiple violations of consumer financial protection laws, including:

  • Robo-signing: Robo-signing procedures refers to a practice where important documents that require careful review and a signature from a knowledgeable individual are instead signed by someone else, a machine, or by someone who does not follow appropriate procedures. Robo-signing can result in inaccurate court affidavits and pleadings, which may cause consumers to pay false debts or incorrect debts, legal costs and court fees.
  • Illegally overcharged service members: Cash America violated the Military Lending Act, which restricts the rate on certain types of loans given to service members to 36 percent. Cash America extended payday loans exceeding that rate to more than 300 active-duty service members and dependents.
  • Impeded the CFPB exam: During a routine examination of Cash America that began in July 2012, the company, among other things, carelessly destroyed records relevant to the Bureau’s onsite compliance examination.

This is the Bureau’s first public enforcement action against a payday lender, its first public action under the Military Lending Act (MLA) and the first public action for a company’s failure to comply fully with the CFPB’s supervisory examination authority.

FRA applauds CFPB efforts to regulate predatory lenders through enforcement of the Military Lenders Act (MLA). The Association was in the forefront of supporting the enactment of the MLA in 2006 and supported the creation of the Office of Military Liaison within the CFPB when the Bureau’s enabling legislation was enacted in 2010. FRA continues its work to ensure active duty personnel are protected from predatory lenders.

The CFPB has authority to oversee the payday loan market and began its supervision of payday lenders in January 2012. In early November, the CFPB began accepting consumer complaints about payday loans. More information is available at: www.consumerfinance.gov/blog/you-can-submit-a-payday-loan-complaint/.

In related news, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee held a hearing recently on aggressive business practices that some service members and their families face, as well as ways to protect service members from abusive behavior. In particular, the hearing focused on disturbing predatory lending practices that target or affect military service members, and the aggressive debt collection practices service members may face when loans come due.

VA Regulation Expands TBI Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is promulgating a new regulation, set to take effect January 15, 2014, that will assist veterans living with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who also have Parkinson's disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands. The regulation stems from a report of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine regarding the association between TBI and the above-referenced diagnosable disorders. Eligibility for expanded benefits will depend upon the severity of the TBI and the time between the injury that caused the TBI and the onset of the second illness. However, the VA said veterans can still file a claim to establish direct service-connection for these ailments even if they do not meet the time and severity standards in the new regulation.

“We decide veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available,” said VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. “As scientific knowledge advances, VA will expand its programs to ensure veterans receive the care and benefits they’ve earned and deserve.” Read more at http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2506

Information about VA and DoD programs for brain injury and related research is available at www.dvbic.org.

In related news, the VA sent a proposal to the Federal Register to require the use of existing standardized forms when veterans file disability claims or notices of disagreement concerning their claims decision. Under current law, a veteran or survivor is not required to use a form to seek disability benefits from VA. This ultimately slows the process of getting veterans and their families’ decisions on their benefits claims.

TRICARE Retiree Dental Program Open for New Enrollments
The TRICARE Retiree Dental Program (TRDP) offers comprehensive dental coverage to all enrolled members. TRDP is currently open for enrollment and available to retired service members and their families, retired National Guard and Reserve members and their families, and Medal of Honor recipients and their families and survivors.

TRDP covers diagnostic and preventive services, such as exams and cleanings, at 100 percent. Emergency services and basic restorative services, like fillings, are covered at 80 percent. The annual deductible is $50 per person per benefit year, and $150 per family per benefit year. The annual maximum benefit is $1,300 per person per year for enhanced enrollees; this is an increase of $100 from last year. The annual maximum for orthodontia increased from $1,500 to $1,750. For more information, visit www.tricare.mil/Dental/TRDP/Costs.

Eligible beneficiaries can enroll online through the Beneficiary Web Enrollment (BWE) website, www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/bwe, or go to www.trdp.org to print, complete and mail in a TRDP enrollment application.

To enroll on the BWE, beneficiaries will need a DS, CAC or DFAS login. Enrollees may be asked to enter information to establish an electronic funds transfer (EFT) method for payment of their monthly premiums; please note that EFT is not an option for the TRDP, so enrollees should not enter anything in that section.

Federal law requires that TRDP premiums be deducted automatically through a monthly allotment from retirement pay. EFT is available only as an alternative method of payment for beneficiaries who do not receive retired pay or whose retired pay is insufficient to cover the allotment amount. For those eligible to pay TRDP monthly premiums by EFT, visit www.trdp.org to download the EFT authorization form.

There is a 12-month commitment for initial enrollments. After a year, beneficiaries can decide to continue on a month-to-month basis as long as they haven’t added additional family members to the plan. If a beneficiary and spouse are already enrolled, adding a child or any other family member resets the 12-month period.

Retirees who enroll in TRDP within four months of their retirement date have immediate access to the full benefit package. If they miss that four-month window, there is a 12-month waiting period for coverage of more advanced services such as crowns, bridges and implants.

Delta Dental of California manages the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program. Beneficiaries can register at www.trdp.org to access several online features such tracking claims and adding or removing family members. For further information, please visit www.tricare.mil/TRDP

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