FRA NewsBytes January 31, 2014

SASC Discusses Impact of COLA Cuts for Retirees

FRA Director of Legislative Programs John Davis attended the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) hearing this week to discuss the impact of the provision in the recently enacted two-year budget agreement that includes a one-percent reduction in the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees under the age of 62 that takes effect December 1, 2015. The recently passed FY 2014 spending bill (HR 3547) excludes retirees medically retired and widows with SBP benefits from these COLA cuts. This SASC hearing included discussion of the need to repeal the one-percent cuts for all military retirees. FRA provided the committee with a written statement that was made part of the record of the hearing. A copy of the statement can be found on the FRA website at http://www.fra.org/Content/fra/LegislativeAgenda/2005LegislativeAgenda/TestimonySASC012814.pdf.

All members of the committee support immediate repeal of the COLA minus one provision for all current service members and retirees. They also unanimously agreed that this COLA cut is a breach of faith with our men and women in uniform. SASC Chairmen Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) and SASC Ranking Member Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.) and others expressed support for a grandfather provision making the COLA cut effective for those joining the military after an unspecified date in the future. Chairman Levin indicated his opposition because this budget deal targets only one group—military retirees. Senator Joe Manchin (W. Va.) argued that there should be no cuts in retirement benefits until the Defense Department has been audited. Senator Lindsey Graham (S.C.) stated that the reason for this SASC hearing is due to the huge number of e-mails and phone calls legislators are getting from angry retirees. Many legislators on the committee suggested repealing the provision and waiting for the final report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The discussion included the need for offsets and where to find the revenue.

After the hearing FRA staff, DLP John Davis participated in a press conference with senators Roger Wicker (Miss.) Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) announcing that Senator Ayotte will introduce legislation repealing the COLA cuts and urged the senate to fast-track the legislation, allowing for quick senate passage.

In related news, the “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act” (S. 1982; originally numbered S. 1950) did not come up for a vote this week, as was predicted by the sponsor, Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.) Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC). Staff has informed FRA that the bill will come up for a vote in the senate next week. Included in this veteran’s omnibus bill is a provision that would exclude all retirees from COLA cuts. Other important provisions in the bill include:

  • Requiring in-state tuition rates at public colleges for all student veterans using Post 9/11GI Bill and MGIB benefits;
  • Extending VA caregiver program to all seriously injured veterans who were injured in the line of duty;
  • Allowing two-year funding for the entire VA budget;
  • Renewing veterans retraining assistance; and
  • Allowing veteran status for reservists who served 20 years but were never mobilized.

Members can weigh in on this issue by going to the FRA Action Center http://action.fra.org/action-center/to ask their Senators to support S. 1982 (originally numbered S. 1950). Your e-mails are having an impact!

 

FRA Launches 2014 Survey on Military, Veterans Benefits

As part of its mission to bring the enlisted voice to Capitol Hill, FRA is conducting an online survey to determine which military and veteran’s benefits are most important to active duty and Reserve personnel, retirees, veterans and their families. The brief survey, available at www.fra.org/survey, asks current and former members of the uniformed services and their spouses to rate a variety of benefits and quality-of-life programs associated with their service to our nation.

“As Congress explores ways to cut federal spending, many hard-earned benefits are in the budgetary crosshairs,” explains Tom Snee, FRA’s national executive director. “FRA is asking all current and former military personnel and their spouses to share their opinions about the programs they value most. Survey responses and comments from participants provide important reference information when we testify before Congress or meet one-on-one with lawmakers and their staff.”

FRA shares the survey results with elected officials on Capitol Hill and leaders within the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs—ensuring these key decision-makers understand the military perspective.

Visit www.fra.org/survey to let FRA know which military and veteran benefits are most important to you!

 

President’s State of Union Address Promises VA Claims Backlog Reduction

The country must maintain a strong military but “move off” a permanent war footing and look toward partnerships, diplomatic solutions and precision operations for dealing with world threats, President Obama said in his State of the Union speech this week before a joint session of Congress. The address focused largely on domestic policy and economic growth and less on foreign relations and national security; the president did mention the disability claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) but made no reference to the recently enacted COLA cuts.“As this time of war draws to a close, a new generation of heroes returns to civilian life. We’ll keep slashing that backlog so our veterans receive the benefits they’ve earned, and our wounded warriors receive the health care—including the mental health care—that they need. We’ll keep working to help all our veterans translate their skills and leadership into jobs here at home. And we all continue to join forces to honor and support our remarkable military families.” The president mentioned Staff Sergeant Army Ranger Cory Remsberg, who was sitting next to the First Lady Michele Obama in the gallery. Remsberg was badly wounded in Afghanistan and the president praised his efforts to recover from his wounds.

The president also mentioned The Joining Forces alliance that the First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden launched, which has encouraged employers to hire or train nearly 400,000 veterans and military spouses. He stated that “few Americans give more to their country than our diplomats and the men and women of the United States Armed Forces.” He said we will complete our mission in Afghanistan by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.

 

TFL Home Delivery Program Moves Forward

National Executive Director Thomas Snee and HCA Bob Washington met with the Defense Health Agency (DHA) Director Lt. Gen. Douglas Robb this week to discuss issues of mutual concern. Letters to more than 300,000 TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries will be mailed out February 18, 2014 notifying them of the implementation of the TFL Pharmacy Home Delivery (no co-pay) program, which will save these beneficiaries more $28 million in pharmacy co-pays and save DHA more than $100 million in the first year. This is a five year pilot program that allows beneficiaries to opt out after the first year.

At the meeting, it was also revealed that DHA will be implementing a 24-7 toll-free Nurse Advice Line (NAL) throughout the U.S. in the Spring of 2014. All TRICARE beneficiaries will have access to a nurse by phone who can answer questions and help with decisions regarding self-care at home or when it is best to see a health care provider.

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