July 21 2017

In this issue:
SASC NDAA Has TRICARE Fee Increases and More
VA Gulf War Illness Program Reviewed by HVAC Subcommittees
House Passes DHS Authorization Bill
SASC Chairman Diagnosed With Brain Cancer 


SASC NDAA Has TRICARE Fee Increases and More
The Senate Committee version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) allows substantial TRICARE fee increases. This Senate bill (S.1519) has been approved by Committee and will soon be considered by the full Senate. The bill repeals the so-called grandfather clause that excluded retirees who retired before the January 1, 2018 from scheduled TRICARE fee increases. The bill also increases pharmacy co-pays and provides for a smaller active duty pay increase (2.1% vice 2.4%) and makes further cuts to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH).  Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center  to ask their Senators to oppose these provisions.  

The House has already passed its version of the FY2018 NDAA (H.R.2810) and once the Senate completes its work on its version of the NDAA a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the bills and create a final bill, if approved by both chambers it will be sent to President Trump to be signed into law or vetoed.   

VA Gulf War Illness Program Reviewed by HVAC Subcommittees
Two House Veterans Affairs Subcommittees held a joint hearing on the approval rates of veterans seeking compensation due to Gulf War illness. The joint hearing focused on the approval rates of veterans seeking compensation and the training required for medical examiners and claims processers. Gulf War veterans displaying symptoms of Gulf War illness continue to have their claims denied. Many members of the HVAC subcommittees want the VA to improve the disability claims process for this ailment. Many subcommittee members noted that the VA has made little if any progress on the issue since a similar hearing held in 2016.   

House Passes DHS Authorization Bill
For the first time since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) the House passed an annual authorization act for the entire DHS (H.R.2825).  This omnibus legislation includes authorization for the U.S. Coast Guard FY2018 authorization bill (H.R.2518) and authorization for the other 21 agencies within DHS. The legislation authorizes an increase in Coast Guard end strength from 42,000 to more than 47,000 for the next five years.   

FRA supports the annual authorization legislation for the Coast Guard to enable Congress to provide adequate oversight of the 11 Coast Guard statutory missions. Coast Guard parity with DoD personnel programs remains a high priority for FRA. The association notes the Administration's FY2018 budget request increased funding for the Navy and Marine Corps by nine percent and provided no increase for the Coast Guard. The House Authorization bill authorizes a 6.3 percent increase for the Coast Guard compared to FY2017 and 7.3 percent more than the FY2018 Administration's request. Members can use the FRA Action Center  to ask their legislators to provide the same increase for the Coast Guard that was provided to the Navy and Marine Corps.  

SASC Chairman Diagnosed With Brain Cancer 
Senator John McCain (Ariz), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, recently had surgery to remove a blood clot above his left eye. Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a brain tumor known as a glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer, was linked to the blood clot. This is not the former Navy pilot and Vietnam POW's first battle with cancer. In 2000 the former GOP 2008 Presidential nominee successfully eliminated melanoma from his left arm and in 2002 eliminated melanoma from his nose. The 80-year-old Senator is currently being treated at the Mayo Clinic.  A recent statement announced the doctors treating Senator McCain will decide when he can return to work. Last year he was re-elected to his sixth consecutive term as Arizona's senior Senator. In 2000, FRA awarded McCain the FRA Pinnacle Award for being the outstanding legislator of the previous year. Despite the absence of the Chairman, the Senate Armed Services Committee is continuing to function with Senator James Inhofe (Okla.) as acting Chairman. 



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Newsbytes 07-07-17

Snee Elected Co-chair of TMC

FRA’s Full Month’s Retired Pay Bill Introduced

Bill Introduced to Extend SSIA

 

NED Snee Elected Co-chair of The Military Coalition

National Executive Director Thomas Snee has been elected to co-chair The Military Coalition (TMC), a group of 33 military and veteran organizations that work together to advance legislation beneficial to military personnel, veterans and their families or survivors.

 

FRA is a founding member of TMC, and is the leading enlisted organization in the coalition. Monthly coalition meetings are held at FRA NHQ. FRA staff members co-chair the following TMC policy committees: HCA Bob Washington-Health Care Committee, DLP John Davis-Retiree Committee and NVSO Chris Slawinski-Guard and Reserve Committee.

 

Snee is in his fourth year as FRA NED. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy and attended recruit training (boot camp) at Great Lakes, Ill., from October to December 1965. He initially served as a Yeoman but in August 1973 changed his rating to Navy Counselor. Snee retired in September 1996 as the Force Master Chief, Navy Recruiting Command, Washington, DC. As a Master Chief Navy Counselor (Surface Warfare) he served in leadership and management positions for training and education, career development, recruiting and administrative duties.

 

FRA’s Full Month’s Retired Pay Bill Introduced

Representative Walter Jones (N.C.) recently introduced the “Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act” (H.R.3011) authorizing surviving spouses, or other designated survivors, to retain the full month’s retired pay for the month in which a military retiree passes away. “The Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act” was introduced at FRA’s request and seeks to ensure survivors’ are not unfairly burdened when overpayments occur.

 

The problem most often occurs when a military retiree dies late in the month. As survivors mourn and sort out the details of their loved one’s passing, sometimes there is a delay in reporting the death to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). If the death report and other administrative details aren’t handled before the next retirement payment is processed, an overpayment occurs for the period between the retiree’s death and the end of the month. DFAS has the authority to recoup this overpayment directly from the survivor’s bank account with little or no warning, often creating financial and emotional hardship for the family.

 

Jones’ proposal would allow survivors to retain the full month’s retired pay for any month in which the retiree was alive for at least 24 hours. To offset the cost associated with this proposal, a provision of the bill would delay the first Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity payment until the month after the retiree passes.

 

Congress passed a similar law in 1996, allowing surviving spouses to retain veterans’ disability and VA pension payments issued for the month of the veteran’s death. FRA believes military retired pay should be no different. This legislation is listed on the FRA Action Center (www.fra.org) and members are urged to contact their U.S. Representative to ask them to support this bill.

 

Bill Introduced to Extend SSIA

Sen. Bill Nelson (Fla.) has introduced a bill (S.1411) to extend the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) benefit that expires in May 2018. The bill provides a five-year extension of the SSIA payments. The Association supports this bill, however, FRA is also working to increase the payments of SSIA.

 

FRA has long sought the elimination of the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset for widows and widowers of service members (H.R.846/S.339). This offset, also known as the “widow’s tax,” impacts approximately 63,000 widows and widowers of our Armed Forces. These widows and widowers should receive both SBP and DIC benefits without the current dollar-for-dollar offset.  SBP provides a surviving spouse 55 percent of their deceased spouse’s retirement pay. The retiree gains this coverage for their spouse by paying a premium equal to 6.5 percent of his/her retired pay.

 

SBP and DIC payments are paid for different reasons. SBP is purchased by the retiree and is intended to provide a portion of retired pay to the survivor as stated above. DIC is a special indemnity compensation paid to the survivor when a member’s service causes his or her death. In such cases, the VA indemnity compensation should be added to the SBP the retiree paid for, not substituted for it. Currently this offset is more than $1,200 a month for many widows/widowers. It should be noted as a matter of equity that surviving spouses of federal civilian retirees who are disabled veterans and die of military-service-connected causes, can receive DIC without losing any of their federal civilian SBP benefits.

 

In 2008, Congress enacted the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) which increased gradually and now pays approximately 25 percent ($310) of the offset. Unfortunately the SSIA sunsets in May 2018.  Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their legislators to support the SBP/DIC offset legislation (H.R.846/S. 339) and to ask their Senators to support extension (S.1411) as well as increase payments of SSIA.

 

 

 

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