Benefit News

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04/01/14

Disability Claims Backlog Reduced by 44 Percent Since Peaking One Year Ago

By VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Apr. 1, 2014 – One year after the backlog of pending disability compensation claims peaked at over 611,000 in March 2013, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has reduced that number by approximately 44 percent to 344,000 claims – a reduction of more than 267,000 – while at the same time improving the accuracy of the decisions being made on Veterans’ disability claims. Additionally, on average, Veterans are waiting 119 days less for a decision than they were at this time last year.

03/31/14

Bethesda Ready to Unveil New USO Warrior, Family Care Center

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr., American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Mar. 31, 2014 – Naval Support Activity Bethesda looks forward to the newest United Service Organizations facility opening which will enhance the installation’s ability to care for troops, said Navy Capt. David A. Bitonti, commander of NSA Bethesda. “We’re very excited about the USO facility opening on Naval Support Activity Bethesda,” Bitonti said. “This facility is a phenomenal addition to our ability to provide the full range of care and support to, not only our wounded warriors, our patients [and] their families, but also our staff.” “It’s a wonderful partnering opportunity that the USO has agreed to do along with us here on the installation,” he added. The biggest benefit, he said, is that the center will provide new opportunities for staff, patients, wounded warriors and their families.

03/24/14

VA Removes Annual Income Reporting Requirement

By: VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Mar. 24, 2014 VA Removes Annual Income Reporting Requirement Eliminates Burden on Veterans, Improves Customer Service - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is eliminating the annual requirement for most Veterans enrolled in VA’s health care system to report income information beginning in March 2014. Instead, VA will automatically match income information obtained from the Internal Revenue Service and Social Security Administration. “Eliminating the requirement for annual income reporting makes our health care benefits easier for Veterans to obtain,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.

03/24/14

TRICARE Service Centers to ‘Go Virtual’ April 1

By: American Forces Press Service

FALLS CHURCH, Va., March 24, 2014 – Walk-in service at TRICARE service centers in the United States is ending April 1. TRICARE officials said the change reflects “the always growing number of TRICARE beneficiaries who most often now turn to a laptop or cell phone when they have questions about their health care.” TRICARE patients have a wide variety of secure, electronic customer service options available through the TRICARE website at http://www.tricare.mil, officials said. The “I want to …” feature puts everything beneficiaries want to do online right on the website’s front page, they added.

03/19/14

VA Makes Specially Adaptive Housing Grant Eligibility Automatic for Veterans and Servicemembers Living with ALS

By VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Mar. 19, 2014 – Veterans and active-duty military personnel with service-connected amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, are now presumed medically eligible for grants up to almost $68,000 to adapt their homes, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced today. "VA is committed to eliminating barriers that keep Veterans and Servicemembers from the benefits they have earned," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "This change will make it easier for some of our most severely impaired Veterans to receive speedy assistance adapting their homes to their unique needs. " The change affects recipients of VA's specially adapted housing grants, which helps pay for the costs for building, buying or adapting a home, up to a maximum of $67,555.

03/18/14

Social Security Launches Expedited Veteran Disability Process

By: American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Mar. 18, 2014 – Social Security claims from veterans with a Veterans Affairs Department disability compensation rating of 100 percent permanent and total have a new process that will treat their applications as high priority and issue expedited decisions. Carolyn W. Colvin, acting Social Security commissioner, said the new process is similar to the way the agency currently handles disability claims from wounded warriors.

03/12/14

'Transition GPS’ Helps Troops Re-enter Civilian World

By Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Mar. 12, 2014 – Feedback on “Transition GPS,” which prepares service members to enter the civilian workforce, indicates it improves on the program it replaced, director of the Defense Department’s Transition to Veterans Program office said here yesterday. Transition GPS -- for goals, plans and success -- is a redesigned, weeklong curriculum that replaces the Transition Assistance Program with a more in-depth approach that is a “significant improvement,” Susan S. Kelly said. Participating service members give high marks to the Transition GPS program, she noted. “We have received very positive reviews from the service members,” Kelly said. “They’re telling us they’ll use the content to prepare for transition, use it after they separate, [and] they know how to access resources they’re going to need before and after they separate. That’s a very positive outcome for the program so far.”

02/20/14

VA Announces Rollout of Secure Veteran Health Identification Cards

By: VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced the phased roll out of newly designed, more secure Veteran Health Identification Cards. The new cards are distinguished by additional security features and will have a different look and feel. In addition to being more secure, the card has been transformed into a Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC). Similar to a typical health insurance card, the VHIC displays the Veteran’s Member ID, a new unique identifier, as well as a Plan ID, reflecting the Veteran’s enrollment in VA health care.

02/18/14

VA Names Two New National Cemeteries in Florida

By VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Feb. 18, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has announced the names of two new VA national cemeteries planned in Florida – the Cape Canaveral National Cemetery in Scottsmoor and the Tallahassee National Cemetery in Tallahassee.

02/18/14

TRICARE For Life Begins Notifications for Pharmacy Pilot Program

By: American Forces Press Service

FALLS CHURCH, Va., Feb. 18, 2014 – TRICARE For Life beneficiaries soon will receive letters guiding them to TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery or a military pharmacy for some prescriptions as part of a congressionally mandated pilot program, officials of the military health care plan said. TRICARE For Life is secondary coverage for TRICARE beneficiaries who have both Medicare Parts A and B in the United States and U.S. territories. Starting this week, officials will send letters to affected TRICARE For Life beneficiaries notifying them of the pilot program. The pilot program starts March 15, and it requires beneficiaries who use TRICARE For Life to get certain medications through Home Delivery or at a military pharmacy. The program applies to refills of maintenance medications taken regularly for chronic conditions, officials said.

02/06/14

DOD Electronic Health Records Help VA Disability Claims

By Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 6, 2014 – The Defense Department has made troops’ health records electronically available to the Veterans Affairs Department to speed up the adjudication of disability claims, a DOD health information technology official said. Now in place for service members who have separated or discharged from the military since Jan. 1, the Health Artifact and Image Management Solution, or HAIMS, electronic system makes certified military service treatment records automatically available to VA to determine disability benefits when a claim is filed, said David M. Bowen, director of health information technology at the Defense Health Agency.

02/04/14

Labor Department Awards Grants for Homeless Vet Reintegration

By Department of Labor

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2014 – The Labor Department has awarded two grants totaling $900,000 to fund services provided by the department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez announced yesterday. Grants of $450,000 each were awarded through the department’s Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program to Advocates for Human Potential Inc. in Sudbury, Mass., and the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in the nation’s capital.

02/04/14

New Online GI Bill Comparison Tool Available

By VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2014 – The Department of Veterans Affairs launched today an online GI Bill® Comparison Tool to make it easier for Veterans, Servicemembers and dependents to calculate their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and learn more about VA’s approvedcolleges, universities and other education and training programs across the country. “We are pleased that Post-9/11 Veterans are taking advantage of this significant benefit program,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “The new GI Bill Comparison Tool will help future beneficiaries as they make decisions about what education or training program best fits their needs.” The GI Bill Comparison Tool provides key information about college affordability and brings together information from more than 17 different online sources and three federal agencies, including the number of students receiving VA education benefits at each school.

01/30/14

Federal Agencies Partner to Protect Veterans, Service Members and their Families Using GI Bill Education Benefits

By VA Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2014 - The Departments of Veterans Affairs, Defense, Education and Justice, along with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission announced today 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 receiving funding from Federal military and veterans educational benefits programs, including benefits programs provided by the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the DoD Military Tuition Assistance Program.

01/27/14

'MyICP' Gives Military Spouses New Career-Planning Tool

By Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27, 2014 - Military spouses who need guidance on education and careers have a new online tool at their fingertips, a program analyst for the Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, known as SECO, said in an interview last week. "My Individual Career Plan," or MyICP, allows spouses to build a virtual career roadmap based on their specific goals and objectives, Lee McMahon said. MyICP launched Jan. 10 on Military OneSource's MySECO website, the primary access point for the Defense Department's Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, McMahon said. "SECO provides expert career and education guidance to military spouses worldwide," she explained, "supporting them in four career lifecycle stages: career exploration, education, training and licensing, employment readiness, and career connections."

01/13/14

TRICARE Ends Walk-in Admin Services at 189 Facilities

By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2014 – TRICARE military health plan service centers will end administrative walk-in services in the United States on April 1, Pentagon officials said today. While the 189 facilities will stop taking walk-ins, beneficiaries can accomplish any administrative task online or by phone, said Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren. TRICARE service centers overseas are not affected, Warren said.

01/09/14

Army Restructures Warrior Transition Units

By Department of Defense, Press Operations

Release No: NR-015-14, January 09, 2014 The United States Army announced today a restructuring of its warrior transition units (WTUs) as the service prepares for a scheduled withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and a continued decline in the number of combat wounded. According to Brig. Gen. David Bishop, commander, Warrior Transition Command and Assistant Surgeon General for Warrior Care and Transition, “These changes will improve the care and transition of soldiers through increased standardization, increased cadre to soldier ratios, improved access to resources on installations, and reduced delays in care. They are not related to budget cuts, sequestration or furloughs.” As part of the restructuring, the Army will inactivate five WTUs and establish more than a dozen community care units (CCUs) across 11 installations by September 30, 2014. The transition to CCUs will result in the inactivation of nine community-based warrior transition units (CBWTUs), which currently provide outpatient care and services for Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers who do not require day-to-day care, allowing soldiers to continue their recovery closer to home.

12/31/13

Veterans to Receive 1.5 Percent Cost-of-Living Increase

VA News Release

New Rates for Compensation and Pension Benefits in 2014 WASHINGTON – Veterans, their families and survivors receiving disability compensation and pension benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs will receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase in their monthly payments beginning Jan. 1, 2014. “We’re pleased there will be another cost-of-living increase for Veterans, their families and their survivors,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “The increase expresses in a tangible way our Nation’s gratitude for the sacrifices made by our service-disabled and wartime Veterans.”

12/30/13

Calculate Your Savings: New TRICARE Pharmacy Calculator Debuts

TRICARE News Release

TRICARE.mil features a new tool that lets beneficiaries calculate how much they can save by switching their prescriptions from a retail pharmacy to TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery. Visit www.tricare.mil/pharmacy to use the calculator and see the savings.

12/17/13

Department of Defense Releases 2014 Basic Allowance for Housing Rates

The Department of Defense released today the 2014 Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates, which take effect Jan. 1, 2014. Overall rates will increase an average of five percent this year. On average, BAH rates for members with dependents will increase approximately $79 per month and $76 for members without dependents. A typical mid-grade enlisted member with dependents, for example, will find his/her BAH about $79 per month higher than last year, while a typical junior officer without dependents will find his/her BAH about $76 higher than last year. In areas where rates will decrease, the decrease will only apply to members newly reporting to those locations. Members are protected by individual rate protection which ensures that those already assigned to a given location will not see their BAH rate decrease, however, they will receive the increase if the rate goes up. This assures that members who have made long-term commitments in the form of a lease or contract are not penalized if the area's housing costs decrease. Three components are included in the BAH computation: median current market rent; average utilities (including electricity, heat, and water/sewer) and average renter's insurance. Total housing costs are calculated for six housing profiles (based on dwelling type and number of bedrooms) in each military housing area. BAH rates are then calculated for each pay grade, both with and without dependents. An estimated $20 billion will be paid to approximately one million service members in 2014.

12/16/13

VA to Expand Benefits for Traumatic Brain Injury

Adds Five Illnesses Related to Service-Connected TBI

WASHINGTON – Some Veterans with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who are diagnosed with any of five other ailments will have an easier path to receive additional disability pay under new regulations developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The new regulation, which takes effect 30 days from today, impacts some Veterans living with TBI who also have Parkinson’s disease, certain types of dementia, depression, unprovoked seizures or certain diseases of the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.

12/09/13

Universities partner to create degree program, support leader development

By Combined Arm Support Command Public Affairs

FORT LEE, Va. (Dec. 9, 2013) -- The Army Logistics University and Virginia Commonwealth University have partnered to create a new degree program to support Soldiers. The Master of Supply Chain Management is slated to begin in fall 2014 and will emphasize innovation, critical thinking and logistics management. In a ceremony Dec. 4, at the Richmond campus, Dr. Michael Rao, VCU president, and Maj. Gen. Larry D. Wyche, Combined Arms Support Command and Fort Lee commanding general, signed a Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, agreement to develop the program.

12/03/13

DFAS Announces 2013 Tax Statment Delivery Schedule

By Defense Finance and Accounting Service

INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 3, 2013) – Pay customers of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service are scheduled to receive their 2013 tax statements between mid-December through January. Most of the W-2 and 1099 forms will be available a week earlier via the online myPay pay account management system for active duty and reserve military members, retired military members, annuitants and federal civilian employees paid by DFAS.

11/18/13

Retirees, Family members must enable AKO email auto-forwarding by Dec. 31

By Army CIO/G-6 and PEO EIS

WASHINGTON (Nov. 18, 2013) -- Retirees and Family members should activate the forwarding function in their Army Knowledge Online account profile before Dec. 31, 2013, when their email will no longer be accessible. As of Jan. 1, 2014, they cannot log into their inboxes or reach information and messages archived in Army Knowledge Online, known as AKO, email folders. As part of the Army's AKO transition to enterprise services, Army retirees and Family members can have their AKO email automatically forwarded to a commercial email address until Dec. 31, 2014. In the past, users could only forward AKO email to a government email address. Users may need to update business and billing accounts, such as utilities, credit card companies, banks and other financial institutions, mailing lists, etc., if AKO email was used for these accounts. Retirees may need to update their myPay email address to continue getting messages from the Defense and Accounting System. Retirees and Family members who use AKO email as their primary email should sign up for an alternate email account before Dec. 31, 2013, and have email forwarded.

11/15/13

VA Offers Dental Insurance Program

WASHINGTON – VA is partnering with Delta Dental and MetLife to allow eligible Veterans, plus Family members receiving care under the Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA), to purchase affordable dental insurance beginning Nov. 15, VA officials announced today. “VA continues to explore innovative ways to help Veterans get access to the care and services they have earned and deserve,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “This new dental program is another example of VA creating partnerships with the private sector to deliver a range of high-quality care at an affordable cost, for our Nation’s Veterans.” More than 8 million Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care can choose to purchase one of the offered dental plans. This three-year pilot has been designed for Veterans with no dental coverage, or those eligible for VA dental care who would like to purchase additional coverage. Participation will not affect entitlement to VA dental services and treatment.

11/13/13

DoD/TSA Partner to Provide Military TSA Pre✓™ at 100 Airports

Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard, as well as Reservists and National Guard members, eligible for expedited screening

WASHINGTON — As part of the ongoing effort to move away from a one size fits all security approach and provide more of the traveling public the ability to participate in expedited screening, today the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) announced a partnership to expand TSA Pre✓™ expedited screening benefits to all U.S. Armed Forces service members, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard. As a result of the agreement, these individuals will be able to enjoy the benefits of the program at the 100 participating airports across the country, beginning Dec. 20. Currently, members of the U.S. Armed Forces can utilize TSA Pre✓™ lanes at 10 domestic airports by presenting their Common Access Card (CAC). The partnership expands the program to the military at all 100 airports offering TSA Pre✓™, allowing service members to keep their footwear on as well as light outerwear, laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carry on in select screening lanes.

11/08/13

DOD, VA Collaborate to Serve Nation’s Veterans

Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2013 – The departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs reaffirmed their commitment to serve and care for the nation’s military veterans in a joint message issued by Acting Undersecretary of Defense Jessica L. Wright and Undersecretary of Veterans Affairs for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. The message reads as follows: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan” are the words President Lincoln used to affirm the obligation our government has to care for those who have worn the uniform and their families. Today, 148 years later, we continue the work that fulfills that promise. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) are working closer today than at any point in history to ensure Servicemembers and their families have an understanding of the care and benefits they have earned before leaving military service, connect Veterans to those benefits, and deliver those benefits on time. To accomplish this goal, the departments are providing a great deal of information through expanded briefings for every separating and retiring Servicemember that explain what VA benefits and services are available and the process for obtaining them. This is one place that offers a warm handoff to connect military personnel to the services available to them after separation.

10/31/13

New Guide Helps Service Members, Veterans with Brain Injury Get Back to School

By Lauren Sucher, DVBIC Public Affairs

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) created a free electronic resource for service members and veterans who have sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and plan to go back to school. The “Back to School Guide to Academic Success After Traumatic Brain Injury” is available to download at www.DVBIC.org.

10/31/13

Commissaries to start scanning IDs

By DeCA Public Affairs Division

FORT LEE, Va. – Commissaries will soon begin scanning customers’ Department of Defense ID cards at checkouts as the Defense Commissary Agency continues its pursuit to deliver a 21st century benefit. The commissary at Fort Lee, Va., became the first store to scan ID cards on Oct. 22 as the first part of an agency-wide rollout to all stores that begins Nov. 10 and will be completed by mid-January. Commissary shoppers are used to showing their ID cards to establish their eligibility to use the commissary. By scanning the ID at checkout, DeCA will no longer need to maintain any personal information on customers in its computer systems, such as the system used for customers who write checks. Scanning will also help improve the commissary benefit for all patrons, according to Joseph H. Jeu, DeCA director and CEO.

10/17/13

VA Resuming Normal Operations as Government Shutdown Ends

WASHINGTON – Employees at the Department of Veterans Affairs are working to resume normal operations as quickly as possible. Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regional offices are re-opening their doors and resuming public contact services for Veterans today. “With the shutdown over, we are all very grateful that the Nov. 1 benefit checks will go out to approximately 5 million Veterans and other beneficiaries as scheduled,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We at VA are working quickly to resume normal operations in order to fulfill our solemn obligation – to ensure that Veterans receive the benefits and services they have earned through their service. I want to thank all of our VA employees for their dedication and resolve during this difficult period.” During the government shutdown, VA medical centers, clinics, and other health services remained open. Due to the shutdown, VA claims processors were unable to continue working 20 hours of overtime per month to reduce the backlog of claims, overtime that has helped VA significantly reduce the disability claims backlog by more than 190,000 claims over the last six months. Mandatory overtime will resume immediately and will continue as planned through Nov. 16, at a minimum. “In the coming weeks and months, we will fight hard to regain ground lost as a result of the government shutdown,” said Shinseki. “We remain committed to eliminating the disability claims backlog in 2015.”

10/17/13

TRICARE Statement on End of Government Shutdown

On Oct. 16, Congress and the President approved a short-term spending measure to end the federal government shutdown. As of Oct. 17, 2013, all TRICARE operations have returned to normal, and TRICARE beneficiaries should experience no disruption in their medical benefits. The continuing resolution currently funding the government expires on Jan. 15, 2014. TRICARE beneficiaries who are concerned about the effect of future budget negotiations on their benefits should sign up for updates at www.tricare.mil/subscriptions. If you have questions about your benefits, please contact your regional contractor or the appropriate contractor (i.e. pharmacy, dental, etc.). Visit the Contact Us page for a complete list of toll-free numbers.

10/10/13

Most TRICARE Beneficiaries Meet ACA Coverage Requirements

Defense Health Agency

FALLS CHURCH, Va., Oct. 10, 2013 – The Affordable Care Act, also known as the health care law, was created to expand access to affordable health care coverage, lower costs, and improve quality and care coordination for all Americans. Under the health care law, people will have health coverage that meets a minimum standard (called “minimum essential coverage”) by January 1, 2014, qualify for an exemption, or may be required to pay a fee if they have affordable options, but remain uninsured. Because of this, many TRICARE beneficiaries may be wondering how this new law will affect them and their families. Simply speaking, the Affordable Care Act will have very little impact on TRICARE beneficiaries. The biggest change they will notice may be an extra letter in their mailbox every January, and an extra box to check on their tax forms every April. Beneficiaries who receive TRICARE benefits, whether at no cost, by electing to pay an enrollment fee, or by paying monthly premiums, have minimum essential coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This includes: TRICARE Prime, Prime Remote and Standard; TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS); TRICARE Young Adult (TYA); TRICARE Retired Reserve (TRR); and the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP).

10/02/13

Attention: TA Suspensions and Course Rejections

Congress has not passed either a budget or a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. Tuition Assistance (TA) for classes starting on or after 1 October 2013 have been suspended until further notice. Effective 1 October, all Soldier accounts in GoArmyEd have been placed on hold and they will not be able to process any new TA requests. The Antideficiency Act prohibits federal agencies from obligating or expending federal funds in advance of or in excess of an appropriation by Congress. As such, the Army will not be able to honor all of the FY14 TA requests that have been requested in GoArmyEd prior to 1 October 2013 with a class start date of 1 October or after. GoArmyEd will reject all approved and pending TA requests for classes scheduled to start on or after 1 October 2013 until either a budget or a CR is approved by Congress and signed by the President. Soldiers should be aware of the potential debt they may incur with their school should they attend classes that are rejected as a result of this budgetary crisis and are encouraged to monitor GoArmyEd for updates. When this issue is resolved, the holds will be removed and Soldiers will once again be able to request TA through GoArmyEd. However, Soldiers will not be able to request TA for classes with a start date during the suspension period. In the interim, Soldiers can use GI Bill benefits, if applicable -- either the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) or the Post 9/11 GI Bill, or use another funding source. We regret having to take this action and hope that this is resolved in a timely manner.

10/02/13

Veterans Field Guide to Government Shutdown

View the Veterans Field Guide to see services to Veterans impacted and NOT impacted by lapse in appropriations.

10/01/13

TRICARE Statement About Government Shutdown

On October 1, 2013, the Defense Health Agency issued the following statement: "We know that those who rely on the Military Health System (MHS) are concerned about how the government shutdown might impact their health care. While we can’t predict the exact consequences of a shutdown on every part of our MHS, we will likely see some impact on the delivery of health care services within our military hospitals and clinics. Inpatient, acute and emergency outpatient care in our medical and dental facilities will continue, as will private sector care under TRICARE. Local hospital and clinic commanders will need to implement the required adjustments to available medical services while ensuring that the quality of care and safety of patients remain intact. Patients should contact their hospital or clinic to confirm previously scheduled routine appointments. Patients needing to schedule new routine appointments might experience delays. For TRICARE beneficiaries using providers in the private sector, little or no effect is anticipated at this time. The MHS leadership - comprised of the assistant secretary of defense for Health Affairs, the director of the Defense Health Agency, and the surgeons general of the military departments – are closely monitoring the impact of a government shutdown on the health services provided to our 9.6 million beneficiaries." Please also be aware that during the government shutdown, TRICARE will not be able to process or pay TRICARE travel claims for the TRICARE Prime or the Combat-Related Specialty Care travel benefits. You may still file your travel claim. TRICARE will review claims for eligibility and process them once the government shutdown ends. If you have questions about your benefits, please contact your regional contractor (below) or the appropriate contractor (i.e. pharmacy, dental, etc.). Visit the Contact Us page for a complete list of toll-free numbers.

09/24/13

Same-Sex Spouses are Eligible for TRICARE Benefits

TRICARE Communications

Spouses, including same-sex spouses, of service members (active duty, retired or Guard/Reserve) are eligible for TRICARE. Coverage for same-sex spouses is retroactive to June 26, 2013. For full information on enrolling a spouse in TRICARE, visit the getting married page at www.tricare.mil/LifeEvents/Marriage. For more information on filing claims with your managed care support contractor, visit the claims page at www.tricare.mil/GettingCare/Claims/HowtoFile.

09/13/13

Army: suicide prevention help available 24/7

By Lisa A. Ferdinando, ARNEWS

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 13, 2013) -- Suicide prevention help is available 24 hours a day and that message was emphasized at this year's health fair at the Pentagon. "Soldiers, Army civilians and family members have options," said Sherry Simmons-Coleman, senior program analyst for the Army's Suicide Prevention Program. Those options include talking to a member of their unit, visiting the chaplain or behavior health professional on the installation, or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available 24-hours a day at 1-800-273- TALK (8255), she said. Simmons-Coleman, who spoke at the Army Suicide Prevention Program health fair, Sept. 12, said the Army wants its members to know that support and counseling are available to help reduce the stresses that put people at risk for suicide. "It's about bouncing back from adversities, tragedies, and any setbacks that life presents to you," she said. "It's knowing that that things will get better, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel." The Army has marked National Suicide Prevention Month, which is September, and National Suicide Prevention Week, which runs Sept. 8-14, with the message that prevention is a 365-day effort. The prevention efforts are part of the Army's Ready and Resilient Campaign that addresses the overall health -- mental, physical and emotional -- of Soldiers, Army civilians and family members to create a stronger, more resilient force.

09/04/13

Same-sex spouses of Soldiers now receiving benefits

By ASA M&RA/Army G-1 Public Affairs Office

WASHINGTON (Sept. 4, 2013) -- Same-sex spouses of service members are eligible to receive identification cards and all associated benefits, effective Sept. 3, 2013, according to a Department of Defense memorandum. For same-sex military couples married before or on June 26, 2013, the effective date of benefits and entitlements is June 26. However, for same-sex couples married after June 26, their effective date of benefits and entitlements is the actual date of marriage. All Army spouses whether in a same-sex or opposite-sex marriage are eligible for benefits. Soldiers are responsible for updating their personnel records with the appropriate spouse information.

08/29/13

VetSuccess Now Serving Veterans at 94 Campuses Nationwide

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today it is expanding the availability of services through the VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) program to an additional 62 new locations this fall – bringing the number of VSOC schools across the country to 94. “VetSuccess on Campus is an innovative approach to help Veterans in the often difficult transition from military service to academic life,” said Allison A. Hickey, VA’s Under Secretary for Benefits. “Placing experienced VA counselors directly on college campuses strengthens VA’s partnership with institutions of higher learning and creates myriad opportunities to help Veterans succeed.” This expansion triples the number of on-campus VA vocational rehabilitation counselors available to help ease Veterans’ transition to student life and assist them in achieving their educational and career goals through VA’s Post-9/11 GI Bill and other education benefit programs. The counselors maintain close relationships with local VA Vet Centers and VA medical facilities, referring Veterans as needed for counseling or medical services and providing assistance enrolling in and applying for VA medical and nonmedical benefits. Partner schools provide on-campus office space for the VA counselors.

08/21/13

HUD, VA Announce More Funds to Help Homeless Veterans

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2013 - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs today announced the second round of HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing funding to local public housing agencies across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. The $7.8 million in added funding will provide housing and clinical services for 1,120 currently homeless veterans. In May of this year, the two agencies announced $60 million in HUD-VASH vouchers. The supportive housing assistance announced today is provided through the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program which combines rental assistance from HUD with case management and clinical services provided by VA. Since 2008, a total of 58,140 vouchers have been awarded and 43,371 formerly homeless veterans are currently in homes of their own because of HUD-VASH.

08/16/13

DOD partners to combat brain injury

By Ellen Crown, U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Army News Service, Aug. 16, 2013 -- Experts from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs gathered Aug. 14 at the Military Health System Research Symposium to discuss the future of research on mental health and traumatic brain injury. Discussions turned toward the National Research Action Plan, or NRAP, which is the result of an executive order signed a year ago by President Barack Obama, to improve access to mental health services for veterans, service members, and military families. The plan directs DOD and the VA to work with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Education to share resources and complete certain goals. One such goal to complete within the next year is the DOD, Center for Disease Control - Brain Trauma Foundation mild traumatic brain injury, or TBI/concussion classification project to clarify what is known and unknown about mild TBI and the critical gaps that need to be addressed.

08/08/13

NASDVA Joins Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice

WASHINGTON (Aug. 8, 2013) – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today welcomed the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) to the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) Community of Practice (CoP), which was established in May to speed the processing of Veterans’ disability compensation claims by promoting the early submission of all available evidence needed by VA to reach a disability rating decision. NASDVA joins Veteran Service Organizations, the American Legion and Disabled American Veterans, who are charter members of the community. “We’re thrilled NASDVA is part of the effort to increase the number of Veterans filing fully developed claims so that earned benefits can be delivered faster,” said Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “State Veterans Affairs offices help many thousands of Veterans across the country each year to get the benefits they deserve, and their support is critical in in meeting our goal of processing all claims within 125 days in 2015.” Claims are considered “fully developed” when Veterans submit all available supporting evidence, such as private treatment records, at the time they first file a formal claim and certify they have no additional evidence to submit. VA can typically complete FDCs in half the time of traditionally filed claims. Last week, VA announced that Veterans filing an FDC may be entitled to up to one year of retroactive disability benefits. The retroactive benefits, which are in effect Aug. 6, 2013, through Aug. 5, 2015, are a result of a comprehensive legislative package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last year.

08/07/13

TRICARE Moves Forward With Prime Service Area Reductions

From a TRICARE Management Activity News Release

FALLS CHURCH, Va., Aug. 7, 2013 - The Defense Department will reduce the number of TRICARE Prime service areas in the United States beginning Oct. 1, affecting about 171,000 retirees and their family members. Those beneficiaries, who mostly reside more than 40 miles from a military clinic or hospital, received a letter earlier this year explaining their options. They will receive a second letter later this month. TRICARE Management Activity officials said changing the location of Prime service areas has been planned since 2007 as part of the move to the third-generation of managed care support contracts and will allow them to continue their commitment to making high-quality health care available while supporting DOD efforts to control the rising cost of health care for 9.6 million beneficiaries.

08/06/13

Website Teaches Coping Skills to Military Community

By Claudette Roulo

WASHINGTON, Aug. 6, 2013 - As part of the Integrated Mental Health Strategy, the Defense Department's National Center for Telehealth and Technology and the Veterans Affairs Department's mental health informatics section have partnered to develop an interactive online educational and life-coaching program. Moving Forward, at http://www.startmovingforward.org, is designed to teach problem-solving skills to members of the military community, Dr. Robert Ciulla, director of the mobile health program at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, told American Forces Press Service today. Moving Forward is focused on addressing stress -- specifically, recognizing when a person is stressed, identifying stressors and developing stress management skills. To accomplish this, users navigate through a set of problem-solving exercises, Ciulla said. In addition to testimonials from former service members, the site offers quizzes to evaluate stress levels and games to practice counseling progressions.

08/06/13

VA Reaches Out to Veterans about the Health Care Law

WASHINGTON (Aug. 6, 2013) – The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched an awareness campaign and a new website, www.va.gov/aca, to let Veterans know what the Affordable Care Act means for them and their families. Veterans receiving health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs will see no change in their benefits or out-of-pocket costs when portions of the Affordable Care Act take effect next year. “VA wants all Veterans to receive health care that improves their health and well-being,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “If you are enrolled in VA health care, you do not need to take any additional steps to meet the health care law coverage standards. If you are not enrolled in VA health care, you can apply at any time.” “VA encourages eligible Veterans who are not enrolled in VA’s health care system to take advantage of the world-class care we provide to the men and women who have served this Nation in uniform,” Shinseki added. Veterans can apply for VA health care at any time by visiting www.va.gov/healthbenefits/enroll, calling 1-877-222-VETS (8387), or visiting their local VA health care facility. Full details on eligibility are available at www.va.gov/opa/publications/benefits_book

08/05/13

Spouse Employment Effort Surpasses Goal More Than 2 Years Early

By Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2013 - A White House and Defense Department challenge to hire 50,000 military spouses by the end of 2015 surpassed its goal Aug. 1, the acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness told members of the Defense Department's Military Family Readiness Council at the Pentagon today. The effort to hire 50,000 spouses reached fruition through the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, a group of more than 180 employers that vowed to recruit military spouses, Jessica Wright said. Part of the broader DOD Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program, MSEP is a result of Joining Forces, a 2011 call to action by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, to mobilize support from all sectors of the nation to help find work for service members, families and veterans.

07/29/13

Post 9/11 GI Bill Celebrates Its Fourth Anniversary

Nearly 1 Million Veterans, Servicemembers and Families Benefit Thursday, August 1, marks the fourth anniversary of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. VA has issued approximately $30 billion in Post 9/11 GI-Bill benefit payments since its inception in August 2009 and helped nearly 1 million Servicemembers, Veterans, and their families pursue their education. “The Post-9/11 GI Bill has helped many of our Nation’s Veterans pursue their education and successfully transition to civilian life,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We’re proud that the Department of Veterans Affairs can administer this important benefit that makes such a big difference in the lives of nearly a million Veterans and their families.” The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most extensive educational assistance program since the Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944, more commonly known as the GI Bill, was signed into law. The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides comprehensive educational support through tuition, books and housing allowance to people with at least 90 days of total service after September 10, 2001, or people discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days. Approved training under the Post-9/11 GI Bill includes graduate and undergraduate degrees, vocational and technical training, on-the-job training, flight training, correspondence training, licensing and national testing programs, entrepreneurship training, and tutorial assistance.

07/08/13

New Army Post-9/11 GI Bill transfer policy to take effect Aug. 1

By C. Todd Lopez , Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 8, 2013) -- Beginning Aug. 1, 2013, every Soldier who elects to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a family member will incur an additional four years in the Army, without regard to their time in service. The policy already applies to nearly every Soldier in the Army -- and has since the beginning of transferability in 2009. Until now, Soldiers who were nearing retirement were eligible for certain exemptions from the policy. That will no longer be the case. This policy change affects them. "This policy was drafted in 2009 and takes effect Aug. 1, 2013. It is important that we inform Soldiers of this existing policy regarding the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits," said Lt. Col. Mark Viney, chief of the Enlisted Professional Development Branch, Army G-1. That news comes in a message to military personnel, dated April 15, 2013. The rule largely affects senior officers and enlisted Soldiers who are retirement-eligible. As of now, these Soldiers may be able to transfer benefits to their loved ones with anywhere from zero to three years of additional service. Soldiers who are not retirement eligible, electing to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a family member means committing for an additional four years. Beginning Aug. 1 that rule will apply to all Soldiers, whether they are retirement-eligible or not.

07/03/13

Army Emergency Relief announces 4,614 scholarship awards

By AER Communications

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, July 3, 2013) -- Army Emergency Relief recently announced the award of 3,469 scholarships for children of active-duty and retired Soldiers, as well as 1,145 scholarships under the Spouse Education Assistance Program. "We received a total of 8,854 applications for the 2013-2014 academic year, which was an increase of approximately 1,500 over last year," said Tammy LaCroix, manager for Army Emergency Relief, or AER's, scholarship programs. "There were 4,614 scholarships awarded. More than 90 percent of the applicants who completed the entire application process received a scholarship award." The Maj. Gen. James Ursano scholarships for military children are awarded based on three criteria, including financial need, academic performance, and demonstration of leadership. A student could qualify under one, two or all three of the criteria. AER received 6,132 applications under this program.

06/27/13

Labor Department Awards $29 Million in Grants to Help Veterans

From a Department of Labor News Release

WASHINGTON, June 27, 2013 – More than 14,000 Veterans across the nation will benefit from job training, job placement, housing help and other services, thanks to 121 grants totaling almost $29 million announced today by officials of the Labor Department’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. The grants were awarded through the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, the only federal program that focuses exclusively on employment of homeless Veterans. "Military service members and their families have been asked to make tremendous sacrifices for this nation. Although homelessness among Veterans has fallen, too many of our heroes cannot find jobs or homes," acting Labor Secretary Seth D. Harris said. "These grants will provide those who have served our nation with the means to find meaningful civilian employment and chart new directions for their lives." The grants will help homeless Veterans reintegrate into society and the labor force while providing effective services aimed at addressing the complex challenges that homeless Veterans often confront, officials said. The services provided by grantees will include job placement, on-the-job training, career counseling, life skills and money management mentoring, as well as help in finding housing.

06/19/13

Deployment Health Assessment Program builds ready, resilient Soldiers

By DHAP Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (June 18, 2013) -- Just this month alone, the Army has screened more than a million Soldiers -- pre- and post-deployment -- to ensure they are healthy both physically and mentally, before deployment and after they return home to their families. The Deployment Health Assessment Program, or DHAP, screenings are part of an ongoing Army effort to assess the health of Soldiers involved in deployments. Such screenings happen before deployment, and twice after returning home. The DHAP is a key element in the Army's Ready and Resilient Campaign, an effort to integrate and synchronize multiple efforts and programs to improve the readiness and resilience of Soldiers and their families. The Army began screening active duty, Army Reserve and Army National Guard Soldiers though DHAP in August 2006. The DHAP includes three individual assessments, including the pre-deployment health assessment, which is taken before a Soldier deploys; the post-deployment health assessment, which is taken within 30 days of returning home; and the post-deployment health reassessment, which is taken within six months of returning home.

06/06/13

DKO goes offline, AKO to transition over years

By Gary Sheftick, Army News Service

FORT MEADE, Md. (Army News Service, June 3, 2013) -- Defense Knowledge Online was discontinued May 31, but officials said Army Knowledge Online will be available for at least two or three more years. Eventually, the Army will transition AKO to next-generation enterprise services, according to a memorandum signed by Secretary of the Army John McHugh, April 26. But that transition will take place over the next few years, the memo states, adding a timeline will be published by G-3/5/7 as part of an execution order to be released by September. DKO finished its migration to enterprise services last week. It began the transition about 14 months ago, according to John Hale, chief of Enterprise Applications for the Defense Information Systems Agency.

05/30/13

DOD Adds Peer Support Chat Sessions for Sexual Assault Victims

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2013 – In response to a need for peer support services identified by users of the Defense Department’s Safe Helpline for sexual assault victims, Pentagon officials have launched the Safe HelpRoom, a new service that allows victims to participate in group chat sessions to connect with and support one another in a moderated and secure online environment. The Safe HelpRoom is available at http://SafeHelpline.org, officials said, noting that the moderator can provide referrals as necessary and will ensure that chat postings adhere to all ground rules. "Survivors of sexual assault have told us that being able to discuss their concerns with peers can provide a level of support not available through other means," said Jessica L. Wright, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. "Safe HelpRoom is a groundbreaking development in the department's commitment to support military victims of sexual assault." Safe HelpRoom sessions will begin immediately and are available twice weekly in two-hour sessions. The session schedule can be found at http://SafeHelpline.org, along with polls to determine session topics to address specific concerns.

05/21/13

VA, Vet Groups Announce Initiative to Reduce Claims Backlog

From a Department of Veterans Affairs News Release

WASHINGTON, May 21, 2013 – The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion today announced a new partnership to help in reducing the compensation claims backlog for veterans. The effort -- called the Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice -- is a key part of VA’s overall transformation plan to end the backlog in 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy, VA officials said. VA can process fully developed claims in half the time it takes for a traditionally filed claim, officials noted.

05/14/13

Hagel announces fewer furlough days for DOD employees

By Nick Simeone and Karen Parrish, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (AFPS, May 14, 2013) -- After weeks of review, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has concluded budget cuts will require most of the department's civilian employees to be furloughed beginning in July, but that because of other efforts to deal with the shortfall, only half of the 22 days originally envisioned as temporary layoffs will now be necessary. During a town hall meeting today at the Mark Center in Alexandria, Va., Hagel told Defense Department employees that most will be required to take 11 furlough days beginning July 8, one per pay period, through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2013.

05/03/13

Army G1 visits, addresses Army Ready and Resilient

By Staff Sgt. Mark Miranda

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (May 3, 2013) -- The U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff, G1, visited Joint Base Lewis-McChord, April 26, to meet with leaders to discuss the Army's Ready and Resilient Campaign. Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg observed some of the measures that support the Army-wide programs. "This is about making us an even stronger Army," Bromberg said. "We want to carry that message forward so that even at basic training, basic officer training, people coming in understand that resiliency is part of who we are. It's part of becoming a well-qualified Soldier for the future." The Ready and Resilient Campaign, or R2C, incorporates several efforts and programs to improve the readiness and resilience of the Army Family - Soldiers, Army civilians and Families.

04/29/13

Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance Benefit Changes

By Jim Garamone

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2013 – Service members married to other service members are no longer automatically enrolled in the Family Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance program, Pentagon officials said. The change was effective Jan. 2, and to date affects about 4,500 service members, Coast Guard Cmdr. Kristen Martin, who heads the Defense Department’s SGLI policy office, said in an interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel. Martin emphasized that no changes have been made to the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance program in which all service members are enrolled. SGLI provides up to a $400,000 payment to a service member’s beneficiary, while the Family SGLI term insurance benefit provides a payment to a service member of up to $100,000 upon the death of a spouse or $10,000 for dependent children. The Veterans Affairs Department administers the program. There are no changes for personnel who were auto-enrolled before Jan. 2, nor are there changes for military members married to civilian spouses, Martin said.

04/24/13

VA Launches Hotline to Answer Questions on VA Health Care and Benefits for Women Veterans

By Department of Veterans Affairs

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new hotline - 1-855-VA-WOMEN - to receive and respond to questions from Veterans, their families and caregivers about the many VA services and resources available to women Veterans. The service began accepting calls on March 27, 2013. "Some women Veterans may not know about high-quality VA care and services available to them," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "The hotline will allow us to field their questions and provide critical information about the latest enhancements in VA services." The hotline is staffed by knowledgeable VA employees who can provide information about benefits including health care services for women. Callers can be linked to information on claims, education or health care appointments as well as information about VA cemeteries and memorial benefits. Staff can answer urgent questions and provide referrals to homeless and mental health services as well as provide Vet Center information.

04/17/13

Army changes requirements for transfer of GI Bill benefits

By C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 17, 2013) -- Beginning Aug. 1, 2013, every Soldier who elects to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a family member will incur an additional four years in the Army, without regard to their time in service. That news comes in a message to military personnel, dated April 15, 2013. The new rule largely affects senior officers and enlisted Soldiers who are retirement-eligible. As of now, these Soldiers may be able to transfer benefits to their loved ones with anywhere from zero to three years of additional service. Soldiers who are not retirement eligible, electing to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a family member means re-upping for an additional four years. Come Aug. 1, that rule will apply to all Soldiers, whether they are retirement-eligible or not.

04/16/13

Program Launches to Educate Communities on Family Needs

WASHINGTON, April 16, 2013 – A new publication series designed to educate civilians on the specialized needs of military and Veteran families in their neighborhoods launched here yesterday. Charles E. Milam, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, spoke at the launch event at the Army-Navy Club for the “How to Help Military and Veteran Families, Before, During and After Deployment” initiative. “Today, more than two-thirds of our military families live in communities, and in many cases, 20 miles away, [from the installation],” Milam said. In addition, he said, some military families settle into communities outside their installations for the schools, churches and activities available there. “In over a decade of deploying service members to active war zones, we’ve paid careful attention to the changing demographics and impact of these deployments on the well-being of our service members and their families,” Milam said. “We have prioritized programs and services that support families and help with overall preparedness and resilience. Our family readiness system is the network of agencies, programs, services and individuals, and the collaboration among them that promotes the readiness and the quality of life service members and families deserve.” The initiative comprises a series of pamphlets on topics such as military and Veteran families’ needs for higher education, early childhood education, financial assistance and more, Defense Department officials said.

03/28/13

TSA Expedites Airport Screening for Wounded Warriors

From a Transportation Security Administration News Release

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2013 – The Transportation Security Administration now offers expedited airport screening to severely injured members of the armed forces. In addition to offering curb-to-gate service, TSA now allows wounded warriors to move through security checkpoints without having to remove shoes, light outerwear jackets or hats, officials said. “In recognition of the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, we have revised our screening requirements to allow expedited screening for this trusted group of citizens,” said John Halinski, TSA’s deputy administrator and 25-year Marine Corps veteran. To be eligible for this service, a wounded warrior or traveling companion should email the Military Severely Injured Joint Services Operations Center, MSIJSOC@dhs.gov, or call 1-888-262-2396 with itinerary information for the traveling party. Traveling companions will receive standard screening.

03/27/13

Military tuition assistance restored

The Department of Defense will pay for the program for all four military branches, George Little, the Pentagon’s press secretary, said Wednesday. Citing budget constraints, the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force announced earlier this month that they would suspend paying new claims. The recently passed continuing resolution, however, prevents DoD from eliminating the funding. The Pentagon will comply with the law and maintain the same level of funding that each service was providing before the suspensions, Little said.

03/13/13

Sequestration to impact recruiting

By David Vergun, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 13, 2013) -- The Army projects a decrease in 10,000 to 14,000 recruits across the services this fiscal year as military entrance processing stations shut down one day per week. Beginning next month, civilian military entrance processing stations, or MEPS, employees will be furloughed, said the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-1, Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg. He explained that the Army is the executive agent for MEPS, which processes entry-level personnel for all the armed forces.

03/08/13

Army suspends Tuition Assistance program

By Jim Tice - Staff writer, Army Times

The Army’s popular Tuition Assistance program is being suspended because of the budget squeeze, although the many thousands of soldiers currently enrolled in courses will be allowed to complete those courses. The shutdown will begin at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time today. About 200,000 soldiers are currently using tuition assistance. Soldiers will not be allowed to enroll in TA-funded courses after that deadline, according to Lt. Col. Tom Alexander, spokesman for the Army’s personnel chief. “Soldiers who are in courses now can complete those courses, but they will not be allowed to enroll in new courses,” he said.

03/07/13

Soldier Record Briefs to go online with new personnel, pay system

By Gary Sheftick, Army News

FORT MEADE, Md. (March 7, 2013) -- Soldier Record Briefs will be available online this fall with debut of the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army. Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, has been in the works for three years. When fully implemented, it will replace 54 legacy systems while combining pay and personnel processes, said Col. Edward Prem, chief of the Functional Management Division, G-1. He's been working on IPPS-A for the past 18 months.

02/26/13

1,300 individual mobilization augmentee positions open for Soldiers leaving active duty

By J.D. Leipold, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 26, 2013) -- As the Army begins downsizing, a personnel official said Soldiers who leave active duty should consider the opportunity to continue serving in the Army Reserve as individual mobilization augmentees. About 1,300 individual mobilization augmentee, or IMA, positions are currently open with Army commands worldwide, said Lt. Col. Steven Kesling, chief of Reserve Programs and Policies Branch, G3, at Human Resources Command. A total of about 4,000 authorized IMA positions exist at approximately 75 Army commands ranging from Department of the Army staff level on down to battalion-level units. A large number of those positions are for senior noncommissioned officers, known as NCOs, and officers, Kesling said.

02/26/13

Army Family programs to be cut under sequestration

By Gary Sheftick, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 26, 2013) -- Childcare and family support programs will be reduced under sequestration, the Army's chief of staff told members of Congress. "We don't want to reduce these, but we have no choice," Gen. Raymond T. Odierno told lawmakers, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill. The general and the other service chiefs testified before the House Appropriations Committee Defense subcommittee during an oversight hearing to examine fiscal challenges to the military. If sequestration is triggered March 1, the Army will have a shortfall of $18 billion in its operation and maintenance accounts this year, Odierno said. The sequestration will necessitate reduced hours at post childcare centers, he said. Spouse employment programs will be reduced, and even healthcare programs, in some cases, will be affected. "On our installations, civilian furloughs, a 70 percent reduction in base sustainment funding and an elimination of contracts will strain our ability to protect our Army family programs," Odierno said. "If sequestration is implemented, we'll be forced to reduce funding for our schools, our daycare centers, family assistance and community service programs, family and substance-abuse counselors and tuition assistance for our Soldiers."

02/15/13

Revised disability evaluation system improves process for transitioning Soldiers

By Reginald Rogers, Paraglide

FORT BRAGG, N.C. (Feb. 15, 2013) -- In 2007, and in the wake of abuse allegations at the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center, then President George W. Bush called for a commission to ensure of the proper care and processing of the nation's wounded veterans. The commission led to the analysis and revamping of veteran's healthcare system and included a closer look and integration between the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs to create the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, or IDES. The system streamlined the process of treatment and transitioning for wounded veterans. According to Lt. Col. Arthur I. Campbell, chief, Department of Deployment Health at Womack Army Medical Center, and director of IDES at Fort Bragg, the system differs from the DOD, and particularly the Army's, way of doing business in the past.

01/31/13

Disability Claims Initiative Reduces Processing Time, Adds Convenience

Department of Veterans Affairs

Medical Records Review Can Eliminate In-Person Exam Requirement WASHINGTON –The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a new initiative that could eliminate the requirement for an in-person medical examination for some Veterans and shorten the time it takes to process Veterans’ disability compensation claims. The initiative is called Acceptable Clinical Evidence (ACE). This initiative was developed by both the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) in a joint effort to provide a Veteran-centric approach for disability examinations. Use of the ACE process opens the possibility of doing assessments without an in-person examination when there is sufficient information in the record. Under ACE practices, a VA medical provider completes a Disability Benefits Questionnaire (DBQ) by reviewing existing medical evidence. This evidence can be supplemented with information obtained during a telephone interview with the Veteran – alleviating the need for some Veterans to report for an in-person examination. “ACE is a process improvement that will help us meet our goal to eliminate the claims backlog and provide more timely benefits to our Veterans, their families and survivors,” said Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey. “The initiative also saves Veterans the inconvenience and costs associated with attending a medical examination.” When a VA medical provider determines VA records already contain sufficient medical information to provide the needed documentation for disability rating purposes, the requirement for Veterans to travel to a medical facility for an examination may be eliminated. If VA can complete a DBQ by reviewing medical records already on file, it will use the ACE process. This would then expedite the determination of disability ratings – in turn eliminating the wait time to schedule and conduct an exam from the claims process. During a 15-month pilot test at one VA regional claims processing office, 38 percent of claims submitted were eligible for ACE. The ACE initiative is a part of the VBA’s agency-wide Transformation Plan – a five-year, multifaceted organizational change that is based on more than 40 personnel, process and technology initiatives designed to improve claims processing. The goal of the Transformation Plan is to eliminate the claims backlog and process all claims within 125 days with 98 percent accuracy in 2015. To learn more about VBA Transformation Initiatives, visit: http://benefits.va.gov/transformation/.

01/29/13

75-day leave carryover extended

By Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Jan. 29, 2013) -- The policy allowing service members to carryover up to 75 days of leave from one training year to another has been extended until Sept. 30, 2015. The leave carryover policy was set to revert back to only 60 days on Sept. 30 of this year. But the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act passed this month extends the 75-day carryover. "Otherwise there was going to be a big push the last few months of the year for everybody to burn up their extra 15 days of leave," said Victor Bosko of the G-1 Compensation and Entitlements Division at the Pentagon. "Now they have two more years." The 75-day leave carryover policy was implemented in 2008 due to the high operations tempo, Bosko said. "Everybody was complaining about losing leave," he said about troops at that time. The policy was geared at easing some of the OPTEMPO stress. An All Army Activities, or ALARACT, message dated Jan. 22 of this year announced extension of the leave carryover policy.

01/29/13

Applications for Tillman scholarships open until mid-February

By Tillman Military Scholars Foundation

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 29, 2013) -- Service members, veterans and their spouses have until Feb. 15 to apply for financial aid through the Tillman Military Scholars program. The Tillman Military Scholars program removes financial barriers to completing a degree program. The scholarship covers direct study-related expenses such as tuition and fees, in addition to other needs such as housing and child care.

01/28/13

New Copays for Some TRICARE Pharmacy Customers

By TRICARE

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – New copayments for prescription drugs covered by TRICARE will go into effect February 1, 2013. The Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act requires TRICARE to increase copays on brand name and non-formulary medications that are not filled at military clinics or hospitals. There is no increase to copays for generic medications. TRICARE Pharmacy copays vary based on the class of drug and where beneficiaries choose to fill their prescriptions. The copay for generic medications stays at $5 when a prescription is filled at a network pharmacy. There is no co-pay when generic prescriptions are filled through TRICARE Home Delivery. The new copay for a 30-day supply of a brand name medication purchased at a retail network pharmacy will be $17, up from the current $12. Beneficiaries using TRICARE Home Delivery will pay $13 for brand name drugs, up from $9. However, the Home Delivery price is for a 90-day supply. The greatest change in copays applies to non-formulary medications. The $25 copay for these drugs increases to $44 at retail pharmacies and $43 through Home Delivery. The TRICARE Uniform Formulary is a list of all the medications TRICARE covers. For fiscal 2014 and beyond, the new law directs that copays increase annually by the same percentage as retiree cost-of-living adjustments. In years when a COLA increase would total less than a dollar, it will be delayed a year and combined with the next adjustment so increases will always be $1 or more. Pharmacies at military hospitals and clinics will continue to provide medications with no copays. Visit www.TRICARE.mil/pharmacycosts for more details.

01/17/13

Army freezes hiring, cuts base ops, reduces training

By C. Todd Lopez, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 17, 2013) -- In advance of possible extreme budget cuts that could arrive in March, Army leadership has called for an immediate hiring freeze and spelled out other pre-emptive measures meant to help the service prepare for a fiscal cliff. In a memo dated Jan. 16, Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno laid out 15 "near-term" actions to help the Army "reduce our expenditure rate and mitigate budget execution risks in order to avoid even more serious future fiscal shortfalls." "We expect commanders and supervisors at all levels to implement both the guidance contained in this memorandum and the detailed instructions to follow," wrote McHugh and Odierno. "The fiscal situation and outlook are serious." WHAT HAPPENS NOW First among those actions is an immediate freeze on civilian hiring, though Army leaders have left commanders with some latitude in the policy for "humanitarian and mission-critical purposes." Also among employment-related measures spelled out in the memo is a termination of temporary employees when "consistent with mission requirements." The memo also directs installation commanders to reduce base operations support for fiscal year 2013, which runs from Oct. 1, 2012 to Sept. 31, 2013, to levels that are about 70 percent of fiscal year 2012. Commanders have been asked to reduce support to community and recreational activities and to also reduce utilities consumption "to the maximum extent possible." Non-mission-essential training activities are also up for reduction. In particular, training not related to maintaining "readiness for Operation Enduring Freedom, the Korean forward-deployed units, Homeland Defense and the Division Ready Brigade." Also targeted is conference attendance and professional training that is not mission essential.

12/28/12

AER scholarships available for families of Soldiers

By David Vergun, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 28, 2012) -- Army Emergency Relief scholarships for the academic year 2013-2014 will be available starting, Jan. 2, for spouses and children of Soldiers, retired Soldiers and reserve-component Soldiers on Title 10 orders. The application deadline is May 1. The Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarships are for unmarried children under the age of 23. "Scholarship awards for children are based on financial need, grade point average and leadership and activity roles -- like sports, scouting and student council -- held over the last four years," said Tammy LaCroix, AER Scholarship Program manager. "A student could qualify under one, two or all three of the criteria." The Spouse Education Assistance Program Scholarships are based solely on financial need, LaCroix said. Applicants of both scholarships must be pursuing their first undergraduate degree at an accredited college or university. All applicants must maintain a GPA of 2.0 on a GPA scale of 4.0. Transcripts need to be included in applications, along with a "Free Application for Federal Student Aid" form and report. Children who have not attended college should submit their high school transcripts instead. Scholarship funds can be used for tuition, fees, books, supplies and room and board. This year there has been a change in the application procedure. "Instead of mailing, emailing or faxing the forms, transcripts and other paperwork, all submissions must be submitted online," LaCroix said.

12/20/12

VA, SSA and IRS Cut Red Tape for Veterans and Survivors

New Policy Eliminates Paperwork, Allows More VA Staff to Focus on Eliminating Claims Backlog

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today it is cutting red tape for Veterans by eliminating the need for them to complete an annual Eligibility Verification Report (EVR). VA will implement a new process for confirming eligibility for benefits, and staff that had been responsible for processing the old form will instead focus on eliminating the compensation claims backlog. Historically, beneficiaries have been required to complete an EVR each year to ensure their pension benefits continued. Under the new initiative, VA will work with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify continued eligibility for pension benefits. “By working together, we have cut red tape for Veterans and will help ensure these brave men and women get the benefits they have earned and deserve,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. VA estimates it would have sent nearly 150,000 EVRs to beneficiaries in January 2013. Eliminating these annual reports reduces the burden on Veterans, their families, and survivors because they will not have to return these routine reports to VA each year in order to avoid suspension of benefits. It also allows VA to redirect more than 100 employees that usually process EVRs to work on eliminating the claims backlog.

12/17/12

DOD Announces 2013 Housing, Subsistence Allowance Rates

By Claudette Roulo, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 17, 2012 – On Jan. 1, 2013, service members can expect to see an average increase of about $60 in their 2013 basic allowance for housing, Cheryl Anne Woehr, the BAH program manager, said Dec. 13. Overall, rates went up an average of 3.8 percent, Woehr said. Rate increases were spread throughout the country.

12/13/12

New Oklahoma Program Puts Veterans on Fast Track Back to Work

By Craig Day, Oklahoma News On 6

BARTLESVILLE, Oklahoma - A new program is aiming to put Oklahoma veterans back to civilian work much faster. It's often hard for military men and women to transition back to the civilian work force, especially with the poor economy. An estimated 30,000 Oklahoma veterans are unemployed. Several programs help, like job fairs for veterans, but now there's one more to get them back in the civilian work force. "It's tough. It's pretty tough, and a lot of my friends getting out are having kind of a hard time finding jobs," said veteran Michael Harris. Harris served in the Marine Corps with multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, plus assignments worldwide. Now, home in Bartlesville, he's a student at the Tri County Technology Center. A new program offered at all of Oklahoma's Career Tech facilities will make getting a job easier and faster.

12/07/12

VA Seeks to Expand TBI Benefits

Proposes Adding 5 Diagnosable Illnesses Secondary to Service-Connected TBI

WASHINGTON– The Department of Veterans Affairs is publishing a proposed regulation in the Federal Register that would change its rules to add five diagnosable illnesses which are secondary to service-connected Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). “We must always decide Veterans’ disability claims based on the best science available, and we will,” Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki said. “Veterans who endure health problems deserve timely decisions based on solid evidence that ensure they receive benefits earned through their service to the country.” VA proposes to add a new subsection to its adjudication regulation by revising 38 CFR 3.310 to state that if a Veteran who has a service-connected TBI also has one of the five illnesses, then the illness will be considered service connected as secondary to the TBI. Service connection under the proposed rule depends in part upon the severity of the TBI (mild, moderate, or severe) and the period of time between the injury and onset of the secondary illness. However, the proposed rule also clarifies that it does not preclude a Veteran from establishing direct service connection even if those time and severity standards are not met. It also defines the terms mild, moderate, and severe, consistent with Department of Defense (DoD) guidelines.

11/19/12

Army Launches "Hire a Veteran" Campaign to Debunk Myths

By Emily Anderson, Warrior Transition Command

Alexandria, Va. -- With more than 80,000 disabled Veterans expected to enter the workforce over the next five years, the U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command (WTC) launched a national education campaign to address employers concerns that currently impede the hiring of wounded, injured, and ill Veterans. During a press conference at the National Press Club on November 19, 2012, WTC launched "Hire a Veteran" to debunk the myths around Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, reasonable accommodations, and transferability of military skills. "Our goal for this campaign is for employers to gain clarity on how well military skills translate to civilian employment; post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/traumatic brain injury (TBI), and reasonable accommodations--which will result in the employment of more wounded warriors," said Brig. Gen. David J. Bishop, Assistant Surgeon General for Warrior Care and Commander, U.S. Army Warrior Transition Command. "We hope to amplify the incredible value our wounded warriors bring to the civilian workforce given their unique training and experience," Bishop added. "We hope to illuminate the fact that PTSD and TBI are treatable conditions which are not unique to the military and that most individuals affected go on to have productive, successful lives." The campaign includes a 10 minute educational video providing solutions to the three obstacles, a two-minute "trailer" video, radio spot, and online employer toolkit. View the materials at www.WTC.army.mil or engage online with #hireaveteran.

11/05/12

National Parks Free to All for Veterans Day Weekend

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 5, 2012 – America's 398 national parks will offer the public free admission Nov. 10-12 during Veterans Day weekend in honor of those who serve and have served in the U.S. military, according to a National Park Service news release. "National parks preserve places that commemorate our country's collective heritage -- our ideals, our majestic lands, our sacred sites, our patriotic icons -- which our military has defended through the years," National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said in the release. "We are grateful for the service and sacrifice of military members, past and present, and honored to tell their story at many of our national parks," Jarvis added.

10/31/12

Leadership resolves to find 'right' family programs

By J.D. Leipold, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 31, 2012) -- In a town hall meeting with Army spouses, Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno reiterated the Army's commitment financially to do everything possible to find the right programs to help families deal with the complexities of Soldier life. "We're still going to invest a lot of money in our family programs -- it's a high priority -- that's not going to change, but we need to do better and be more efficient in the dollars that we have," he said to the predominantly female audience at the annual meeting of the Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, last week. "We have to eliminate programs that aren't efficient enough and aren't gaining enough for our families and invest in the programs that are truly making a difference," Odierno said, adding he needed input from spouses on the programs that work and don't work. He also said the Army needed to look at many programs that were funded with wartime funding, such as the child care subsidy program. That program was put in place because leadership knew there would be many parents deployed. "As we move to the future, is this (funding) still necessary when parents are no longer deployed? We'll have to make those decisions as we go forward," Odierno said. "I don't want to paint a picture that we're funding everything. We've gotten additional monies from our operational funds because we were fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that will begin to go away after 2014." Odierno made it clear that no family program would arbitrarily be discontinued. He stressed that garrison commanders will have to determine their particular family program needs and possible solutions to problems since every post has different quality of life issues.

10/25/12

Boston program helps Veterans finally reach home

By Bob Reinert, USAG-Natick Public Affairs

BOSTON (Oct. 25, 2012) -- It's not easy to reach home base in baseball. That journey can be even more difficult in real life for Afghanistan and Iraq veterans who return to their loved ones with the so-called "invisible wounds of war." Jeremy Bordenca, 34, has traveled that challenging path. When he came back from Iraq in February 2005, the former Army staff sergeant had changed. "I would walk my house in the middle of the night to make sure the doors were closed, the windows were locked," Bordenca recalled. "From there, it went to actually physically walking my neighborhood. "Slowly, I was alienating myself from everybody when I came home. I started having a lot of drinking problems and anger-management issues, and being able to hold a job was becoming next to impossible. I said, 'Where am I going to end up at? I'm either going to end up in jail or I'm going to end up dead,' because that's the harm that I was doing to myself and others." To help veterans such as Bordenca find their way back, the Red Sox Foundation and Massachusetts General Hospital teamed up in 2009 to form the "Home Base Program" to treat post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Each of those organizations contributed $3 million in seed money over three years to launch the unique partnership, which had been born during visits that Red Sox players, management and owners had made after their World Series wins in 2004 and 2007 to young veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Home Base is the first partnership of its kind between an academic medical center and Major League Baseball to offer clinical care, community education and research for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families, according to retired Gen. Jack Hammond, Home Base executive director, who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

10/10/12

Electronic Payments Required for TRICARE Reserve Select and Retired Reserve Monthly Premiums

TRICARE News

FALLS CHURCH, Va. - To avoid losing coverage, beneficiaries enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) or TRICARE Retired Reserve (TRR) who pay monthly premiums by check need to switch to an electronic form of payment before Jan. 1, 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2013, TRICARE will only accept monthly premium payments using recurring automatic payments by credit or debit card, or by recurring electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a linked bank account. To avoid confusion, beneficiaries should verify that their bank sends EFT payments electronically.

10/09/12

Retroactive Stop Loss pay deadline set for Oct. 21

By J.D. Leipold

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 9, 2012) -- The final deadline for Soldiers, veterans and beneficiaries to file for retroactive Stop Loss special pay has been set at Oct. 21, after which they will no longer be able to apply for the benefit which averages $3,600 per claim. Established by the 2009 War Supplemental Appropriations Act, military personnel whose service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009 may be eligible for the payments. "It's $500 per month or for part of a month that a Soldier was held beyond their contractual obligation," said Maj. Roy Whitley, Army G-1 Compensation and Entitlements. He noted that over the last three years the Army has received 120,000 claims, some from every state and territory as well as a dozen foreign countries. "We have paid out in excess of $311 million to the veterans and this is good news because this money goes right into their pockets, it's spent locally and makes a dramatic difference for many of these folks," he said. The best method for any Soldier, regardless of component, whether active duty, veteran or beneficiary to get the ball rolling remains by obtaining an instant claim number through the online site at https://www.stoplosspay.army.mil/. Claimants can also call 1-877-736-5554.

10/09/12

Smartcard pilot for spouses and retirees yields valuable feedback

By Margaret McBride

WASHINGTON (Oct. 9, 2012) -- In October, the Army ended a two-year smartcard pilot for 900 Army spouses and retirees, who log on to Army private networks such as Army Knowledge Online and Army self-service sites. Five installations participated. The Common Access Card-like smartcards were an alternative to the Army Knowledge Online, or AKO, username/password login for identity authentication. The Common Access Card, or CAC, is used for identity authentication by active-duty Army members and Army civilian and contractor employees. "We want to thank all the participants who made this pilot a success, and provided valuable feedback to the Army," said Mike Krieger, Army deputy chief information officer/G-6. "The pilot was part of a larger DOD initiative to secure sensitive personally identifiable information and personal health information data on Army and DOD private web servers." "We found that smartcard identity authentication is not cost-effective for non-CAC holders," said Krieger, "We also found that most users preferred the smartcard." Pilot participants are again using AKO username/password to access non-FOUO sites. The Army CIO/G-6 led the pilot with support from the Defense Manpower Data Center, AKO, Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management/Installation Management Command, Army G-1, and the TRICARE Management Activity.

09/26/12

Department of Defense Launches Mobile Website for Absentee Voters

Military service members and overseas citizens provided new resource for voting information

The Department of Defense's Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) recently launched a mobile website for military service members, their voting-age dependents, and overseas citizens. The mobile website provides an interface that quickly leads users to voting information in an easy-to-read, mobile friendly format. Accessible from any smartphone, the site connects voters, wherever they may be, with the latest news alerts, absentee voting information, State election dates, key contact information, and answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Users also can sign up for FVAPs voting alerts. The new mobile website is found at: http://www.fvap.gov/mobile/. Users will automatically be directed to the mobile website when they visit FVAP.gov from a mobile browser.

09/25/12

Oct. 21 last day to claim stop-loss special pay

By U.S. Army

WASHINGTON (Sept. 25, 2012) -- Soldiers, and veterans held under stop-loss authority between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2008, and their legally designated beneficiaries qualify for $500 for each month held in a stop-loss status. The last day to submit claims for the special pay is Oct. 21, 2012. "We have completed actions to directly notify those we believe are eligible for the special pay," explained Maj. Roy Whitley, program manager. "In addition, we've worked directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs, veteran service organizations and leveraging traditional and social media to spread the word about stop-loss pay. We have claims from all 50 states and every U.S. territory. We have claims from over 12 foreign countries. The word has gotten out." The Army conducted extensive outreach to reach the estimated 120,000 service members considered eligible. Outreach efforts included a direct mail campaign completed in March 2011.

09/17/12

New DOD Safe Helpline Mobile App Now Available

The Department of Defense announced its new DoD Safe Helpline Mobile Application. With this new app, service members transitioning to civilian life will have access to critical resources that assists in managing the short and long-term effects of sexual assault. This new app is the latest in a string of technological innovations designed to support sexual assault victims in the military. The app contains the option for users to record their current emotional state and create tailored self-care plans to address sadness, hopelessness and disconnection. These self-care plans include suggested resources and exercises, and can be stored for future reference. This includes a list of breathing, stretching and visualization techniques that can reduce anxiety, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress.

09/10/12

Army ready with vaccine for flu season

By J.D. Leipold, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 10, 2012) -- The Army has ordered nearly 2 million doses of vaccine to immunize all Soldiers, their families, civilian employees and retirees for the upcoming flu season. The vaccinations will be available at most installations in October, but each medical facility will set its own schedule for distribution. Seasonal influenza can start as early as October and run as late as May, but it generally peaks between January and March, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC cautions that new flu viruses can appear which could lengthen the season -- though that's not expected for 2012-2013. The Army expects to have 90 percent of the force vaccinated by Dec. 17, according to Col. Richard Looney, director of the Army Military Vaccination Program. He said vaccinations would be available at installations as soon as it's received and until the supply runs out or expires. "Regardless of previous vaccination history, routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons age 6 months and older," Looney said. "Several studies have demonstrated that post-vaccination immunity declines over the course of a year, thus, annual vaccination is recommended for optimal protection against influenza." Looney said about two-thirds of the Army's order for 2012 consists of vaccine that's given through intramuscular injection and the remaining third of the order is the type administered via nasal spray. The dominant influenza strain for the upcoming flu season remains the H1N1 strain from 2009, Looney said, adding that due to outstanding efforts and immunization campaigns of the past few years, people are more aware and likely to be adequately protected during the height of flu season. Immunization rates climb every year, and Looney said he sees no reason why that trend won't continue. An annual average of 25 million reported cases, 36,000 deaths and 226,000 hospitalizations occur each year in the U.S. due to influenza infections. "Immunization is the very best protection against disease and related complications," Looney said. "Vaccines are safe and effective, and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history." People who should not be vaccinated against the flu without first consulting their physicians include: • People with severe allergies to chicken eggs • People who have previously suffered severe reactions to influenza vaccinations • People with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome • Children younger than six months of age • People acutely ill with fevers -- those with a mild, common cold and a low-grade fever do not have to wait to be vaccinated. Vaccination is especially important for the following, in order to decrease the risk of illness: • Pregnant women • Children younger than age 5 and especially children under age 2 • People 65 years of age and older • American Indians and Alaskan natives • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions • People who are morbidly obese • People who live in nursing homes Flu vaccinations will be available at no cost to beneficiaries from any TRICARE-authorized provider or at any participating pharmacies. To find a participating pharmacy, call 1-877-363-1303 or go to http://www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE/pharmacy/.

08/23/12

Behavioral health study aims to improve health of the force

By Staff Sgt. Mary S. Katzenberger, 4IBCT Public Affairs

FORT STEWART, Ga. (Aug. 23, 2012) -- Soldiers with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team participated in the second phase of an ongoing behavioral health study taking place within the Third Infantry Division, Aug. 13-17, on Fort Stewart, Ga. The study, funded by the Facilitating Soldier Receipt of Needed Mental Health Treatment grant from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, aims to improve the health of the force by collecting data to create an intervention for Soldiers focused on reducing the stigma of seeking behavioral health treatment. "Vanguards" from each battalion participated in the study by completing anonymous surveys designed to determine their attitudes and opinions about mental health treatment, medication and behavioral health care providers and the factors they believe encourage or discourage Soldiers from seeking treatment. Thomas W. Britt, a psychology professor with Clemson University, and a study facilitator, said he hopes the data and resulting intervention will help change the culture within Army units to better facilitate Soldier treatment.

08/22/12

Changes to Comprehensive Soldier Fitness focus on Families

By J.D. Leipold, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 22, 2012) -- Thirty-two Army spouses are now qualified to serve as master resilience trainers after completing a pilot program identical to the one Soldiers take to become MRTs under what was formerly called Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, or CSF. Reflecting changes to the newly renamed Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program, or CSF2, the spouses attended a 10-day, 80-hour course at Fort Campbell, Ky., to learn how to train other spouses in psychological health and resiliency principles. Col. Kenneth Riddle, new CSF2 director, said teaching the other half of the family effective listening techniques, constructive response and optimism skills along with critical thinking skills is okay, but sharing those communication tools are what builds strong families, and that's a primary objective he's focused on as the program evolves. "The spouses are the ones who came up with the idea," said Riddle, who participated in a 90-day strategic review of CSF before becoming its leader. "They said, 'train us as MRTs and we'll turn around and train other spouses because we see them at Family Readiness Group meetings; we have yellow-ribbon events, picnics, coffee groups; we see each other every day and can teach the same skills just as Soldiers do.'" The colonel said not only was the curriculum for the 32 spouses identical to that which Soldiers receive, this pilot class was mixed and included 29 Soldiers, something he noted could become the future of the training.

08/17/12

Changes Coming to US Family Health Plan/TRICARE Eligibility Requirements

TRICARE News Service

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Starting this fall, the eligibility requirements for the US Family Health Plan (USFHP) are changing for new enrollees. TRICARE beneficiaries who enroll in USFHP after Aug. 20, 2012 will lose their eligibility for the program when they turn 65 and be transitioned into TRICARE For Life. Under the new policy, beneficiaries 65 and older won’t be able to enroll in USFHP after Aug. 20, 2012. Because the eligibility requirements are effective Oct. 1, 2012, new USFHP enrollees must submit their application by Aug. 20, to be enrolled before the requirements go into effect.

08/14/12

ROTC seeks qualified enlisted Soldiers who want to become officers

By U.S. Army Cadet Command

FORT KNOX, Ky. (Aug. 14, 2012) -- Enlisted Soldiers who may have an interest in furthering their Army careers by becoming commissioned officers can learn more by exploring Cadet Command's Green-to-Gold option, an in-service recruitment program to attract junior soldiers with leadership potential. Cadet Command is accepting applications now as part of "Operation Officership," a campaign designed to attract talented enlisted and noncommissioned officers who want to complete a college degree and compete to become second lieutenants. The Army's Green-to-Gold program offers several options, including: Option 1 -- The Green-to-Gold Active Duty Option is a two-year program that provides eligible, active duty enlisted Soldiers an opportunity to complete a baccalaureate degree or obtain master's degree and be commissioned as a second lieutenant upon receiving the appropriate degree. Option 2 -- The Green-to-Gold Scholarship Option provides eligible Soldiers with 2, 3, or 4-year scholarships, depending on the Soldier's needs and the needs of the Army. Option 3 -- The Green-to-Gold Non-scholarship Option is available to Soldiers who have already completed two years of college and who can complete their degree requirements in two years. This option is optimal for enlisted Soldiers interested in becoming an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve or Army National Guard. To begin the application process or just learn more about Green-to-Gold, enlisted Soldiers should contact their career counselors or visit www.goarmy.com/rotc for more information. To contact US Army Cadet Command, please e-mail rotcinfo@usacc.army.mil, or call 502-624-6937.

08/13/12

Disability review method changed

By Sharon Ayala, Western Regional Medical Command

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. (Aug. 13, 2012) -- Last week, senior leaders from I Corps, the Western Regional Medical Command and Madigan Army Medical Center participated in a press conference to address questions regarding the Army's recent announcement about changes to how post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, cases are processed, the reinstatement of Col. Dallas Homas as commander of Madigan, and the way ahead for the base's medical community. Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commanding general, I Corps, opened the Aug. 2 press session by reiterating his top priority as the senior mission commander -- to ensure service members and families are getting access to the care they need, and reduce the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care. "It is critical as leaders that we reduce the stigma of seeking behavioral health care," Brown said. "There is a stigma out there and it's in our society and the Army. I've seen a big improvement over the years, but we still need to get after this one." The Army wants Soldiers to know they can trust their leaders when they seek help for any issue, he said, but especially behavioral health issues. "As a commander, your number one concern is always taking care of Soldiers, Airmen and families -- a promise we take very seriously," Brown said. "A key part of that is providing access to world-class medical care. That's why we do what we do, because we know we're going to get world-class health care."

08/02/12

VA program offers Vets between ages 35-60 new education opportunities

By J.D. Leipold, Army News Service

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 2, 2012) -- Unemployed veterans between 35 and 60 years old have an opportunity to begin a new career in one of more than 211 high-demand occupations by applying for enrollment in the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program launched as part of the Vow to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. Sponsored by the Veterans Administration and the Department of Labor Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, or VRAP, offers up to 12 months of educational assistance to veterans enrolled in a VA-approved program of education offered by a community college or technical school. The program the vet chooses must lead to an associate's degree, a non-college degree or certificate and train the veteran in one of the labor department's list of high-demand occupations. Online courses may be approved for VRAP. Programs of study at vocational flight schools, correspondence courses, on-the-job training, apprenticeship and work-study are not approved. Applicants to VRAP will have until March 31, 2014 to apply. After that date, the funding program ends. While enrolled in a full-time educational program, participants receive direct monetary assistance equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty program. That rate is currently capped at $1,473 per month. Vets are responsible for paying tuition, fees and books.

07/31/12

Army Career and Alumni Program changes make Soldiers' transition easier

By Katie E. Nelson, ARNEWS

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 31, 2012) -- The president announced last month an initiative to expand programs designed to prepare servicemembers for leaving the military. But before those initiatives were announced, the Army was already at work making improvements to the Army Career and Alumni Program, which is designed to help Soldiers transitioning back into civilian life. Army Career and Alumni Program, or ACAP, is a program designed in 1991 to reduce veteran unemployment and help troops adjust to life outside of the Army. Recently, ACAP coordinators decided to make some changes to help more Soldiers be successful after leaving the military by tailoring the program to meet each Soldier's unique needs. "The ACAP program is flexible so we can better prepare Soldiers for their transition back into the civil society," said Walter Herd, director of the Army Transition Office. Some of the additions the Army has made to ACAP include individual counseling, a financial planning seminar, a veterans' benefits workshop and an expanded employment workshop. Another important part the improved ACAP system is that Soldiers will begin the transition process 12 to 18 months prior to leaving the Army, giving them ample time to prepare for their transition to civilian life.

07/19/12

SBA helps veterans start businesses

by Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Transitioning service members and veterans will be able to learn how to become entrepreneurs through a U.S. Small Business Administration-sponsored pilot program, SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills told reporters July 12. Operation Boots to Business: From Service to Startup is a pilot program designed to provide the training, tools and resources that transitioning service members and veterans will need to establish businesses, Mills said. “We know that a quarter of veterans are interested in buying or starting their own businesses,” she said. The pilot program will begin at four Marine Corps bases: Quantico, Va., Cherry Point, N.C., and the Camp Pendleton and Twenty-nine Palms installations in California. Mills said the SBA wants veterans to have the capital, advice and counseling, and access to federal contracting opportunities to start, build and grow successful businesses. “Operation Boots to Business will increase their likelihood of success,” Mills said. The program has four phases: • Exposure to entrepreneurship as a potential career path, which will be offered to all service members leaving the military; • In-person and interactive classroom training; • A feasibility analysis for potential business plans; and • An eight-week online course outlining the basics of business ownership. Mills said the SBA has partnered with the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments and a network of resources to train 20,000 returning Marines. By fiscal year 2013, she said, the program will be offered across the board to transitioning service members.

07/18/12

Fort Hood resources now on smartphones

By Christie Vanover, III Corps

FORT HOOD, Texas (July 18, 2012) -- A new mobile website now makes Fort Hood's Community Resource Guide accessible on a smartphone. The resource guide contains a comprehensive list of local, regional and national resources aimed at maintaining the health of the force. "Fort Hood has hundreds of programs available to help Soldiers, civilian employees and their families manage the complexities of military life," said Col. Matt Elledge, Fort Hood Garrison commander. "Our challenge is letting the community know what programs exist. "This smartphone website is one more way we're able to reach out to our community in an ever-changing information environment," he said.

07/16/12

TRICARE and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) signed into law in 2010 had no direct effect on the TRICARE benefit. The bill meant changes in health care coverage for many Americans, but the legislation did not apply directly to TRICARE. Nor did the law change the Defense Department's commitment to seeing that our service members, retirees and their families continued to receive the best quality health care. TRICARE is authorized by an independent set of statutes, and remains under sole authority of the Defense Department and the Secretary of Defense. Neither the passage of the PPACA or the recent Supreme Court ruling upholding the PPACA had a direct impact on the TRICARE benefit, or TRICARE's commitment to provide the best possible health care to its more than 9.7 million beneficiaries.

07/03/12

Joint VA/DOL Veterans Retraining Assistance Program Reaches Important Milestone - Over 25,000 Unemployed Veterans Have Applied

Department of Veterans Affairs

Online Site Opened May 15 for Veterans to Apply for Education Benefits WASHINGTON – More than 25,000 unemployed Veterans between the ages of 35 and 60 have already applied for new benefits to cover education costs for up to one year through a joint Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor (DOL) program that focuses on retraining up to 99,000 Veterans for high-demand jobs. “This important milestone demonstrates how meaningful this tool will be to help our Nation’s unemployed Veterans receive the education and training they need to find rewarding employment in a high-demand career field,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Veterans realize this is a great opportunity to hone the skills they need to be competitive in the job market, and this program contributes directly to enhancing the strength of our Nation’s economy.” Forty-five thousand Veterans can start receiving benefits during the current fiscal year. VA began accepting applications on May 15. A maximum of 54,000 billets will be available for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2012. “No veteran should have to fight for a job at home after fighting to protect our nation," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “This training program focused on high-demand jobs will help unemployed Veterans expand their skills and compete for good jobs that need them," she added. As part of a provision of the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, the Veteran Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) allows qualifying Veterans to receive up to 12 months of assistance equal to the full-time Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty rate, currently $1,473 per month.

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