FRA NewsBytes - 02-18-14

In this issue:

Senate and House Vote to “Grandfather” COLA Cuts and Extend Doc Fix
Debt Ceiling Extension Passes House
Federal Agencies Partner to Protect GI Bill Beneficiaries

We apologize for the delay in sending you this issue of NewsBytes. Hazardous winter weather and a federal holiday have delayed our production schedule. We assure you that this issue does not represent “old news,” but is as current and up-to-date as ever. The next issue will come to you at its regularly-scheduled time on Friday.

Senate and House Vote to “Grandfather” COLA Cuts and Extend Doc Fix

The House and Senate moved quickly last week to partially repeal most of the COLA cuts and extended the “doc fix” for doctor reimbursements for Medicare and TRICARE patients. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) agreed to bring an FRA-supported COLA-cut bill (S. 1963) to the floor without committee action after a SASC hearing last week. This measure, introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (Ark.), was expected to pass the Senate after procedural vote to end debate was approved 94-0. Unexpectedly, the House amended and passed (326-90) abill (S. 25) that would only modify the one-percentage-point reduction in the annual cost-of-living adjustment for military retirees under age 62. Under the legislation, the one-percent COLA reduction would apply only to service members who joined the military after Jan. 1, 2014 (a grandfather clause). The bill also extended the deadline from March 31, 2014 to December 31, 2017, for significant cuts to reimbursement rates for physicians seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients. Reductions of nearly 25 percent were slated to take effect on April 1, 2014, unless Congress extended the deadline to prevent it. The Senate quickly approved the bill (95-3) the next day and sent it onto the President to be signed into law.

FRA is delighted that all current retirees and almost all of those currently serving are excluded from the one-percent COLA cut, and that the doc fix was extended. The Association remains concerned, however, that the one-percent COLA cut provision for those enlisting after January 1, 2014, could have a negative impact on recruitment. Further, these changes should go through the “regular order” of subcommittee and committee hearings in the House and Senate to thoroughly review the impact on the future of the All-Volunteer-Force (AVF). Additionally, FRA argues that any changes to retirement benefits and military compensation should be put on hold until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission makes its final report in February 2015. FRA will continue to advocate for repealing COLA cuts for all future retirees.

Senators and Hill staff noted the large number of e-mails and phone calls legislators received from outraged retirees, which is a potent demonstration of the power of grassroots advocacy. FRA shipmates recently sent more than 13,000 emails to Congress through the Association’s online Action Center (at action.fra.org) to share their concerns about this cut in retirement benefits. These messages reinforce our legislative advocacy efforts and give all shipmates a strong voice on Capitol Hill. Your participation is a critical asset in our fight to repeal these cuts and FRA appreciates your active involvement.

 

Debt Ceiling Extension Passes House

The House and Senate last week passed a debt ceiling increase (S. 540) with no conditions attached. The “clean” debt measure extends the nation's borrowing limit through March 15, 2015. In the weeks leading up to the vote, House leadership floated a number of conditions to link to the debt vote that included the one-percent COLA cut repeal for military retirees under age 62 that will take effect December 1, 2015.

President Obama and congressional Democrats have been calling for the debt limit increase vote with no other provisions. They claimed that raising the debt limit does not authorize new spending, but rather allows the federal government to pay for the obligations it has already approved. House Leadership and Senate Republicans claimed that it's irresponsible to continue huge deficit spending without implementing greater fiscal restraint. The nation's debt stands at approximately $17.2 trillion.

 

Federal Agencies Partner to Protect GI Bill Beneficiaries

The Departments of Veterans Affairs (VA), Defense (DoD), Education (DoE) and Justice (DoJ), along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced the launch of a new online complaint system designed to collect feedback from veterans, service members and their families who are experiencing problems with educational institutions while receiving funding from federal military and veterans education benefits programs, including benefits programs provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the DoD Military Tuition Assistance (TA) Program.

The centralized online reporting system is designed for veterans, service members and eligible dependents to report negative experiences with educational institutions; and gives the federal government the information needed to identify and address unfair, deceptive, and misleading practices, and ensure that high quality academic and student support services are available for veterans, service members, and their families.

“The online complaint system empowers veterans and their dependents and provides them a direct line to VA and our partner agencies,” said Allison A. Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs. “Our service members and their families now have an easier and more efficient way to provide feedback on their civilian educational experiences, which will ensure we have the right information to identify and address any negative practices,” said Jessica Wright, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness.

Students can submit a complaint if they believe their school is failing to follow the Principles of Excellence (i.e., unfair recruiting practices, credit transfer or change in degree requirements) through the centralized online reporting system accessed at: http://www.militaryonesource.mil/voluntary-education?content_id=274604 http://www.militaryonesource.mil/voluntary-education?content_id=274604 and http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/feedback.asp.

When feedback is received, agencies will contact the school on behalf of the student and work toward a resolution. Complaints and their resolutions will be forwarded to the Federal Trade Commission Consumer Sentinel Network, accessible by over 650 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies for use in enhancing and coordinating law enforcement investigations.

__________________________
NewsBytes is FRA's weekly legislative update. If you received this through a forward and would like to subscribe, please e-mail newsbytes@fra.orgwith "Subscribe" in the subject line and your name and address in the body. If you are a member of FRA or LA FRA, please include your member number as well. To unsubscribe, please respond to this email with "unsubscribe" in the message line.

If you would like to hear a recorded version of NewsBytes, dial 1-800-FRA-1924 (ext. 112).

Follow FRA on Twitter (https://twitter.com/FRAHQ) and "like" FRA on Facebook (use the shortcut of www.fra.org/fb).

FRA is celebrating its 90th anniversary and is the oldest and largest association representing the interests of current and former Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard personnel. If you are not a member and are eligible, please join FRA at www.fra.org. The larger the membership base, the louder your voice is heard on Capitol Hill!