Benefit News

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08/05/13

Spouse Employment Effort Surpasses Goal More Than 2 Years Early

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

06/27/12

States’ Attorneys General Action A Victory for Veterans and the GI Bill

WASHINGTON – Officials of the Department of Veterans Affairs applauded a decision by the attorneys general of several states to give VA the rights to use the GIBill.Com website, after the website’s original owners QuinStreet Inc. agreed to give up the internet site to settle a lawsuit by the states. “This action is a victory for Veterans and a victory for the GI Bill. Veterans and VA applaud the great work by the states’ attorneys general, along with Holly Petraeus and her team,” said W. Scott Gould, Deputy Secretary for Veterans Affairs. “We all want Veterans to be informed consumers and for schools to meet their obligations in training this Nation’s next ‘Greatest Generation.’” Holly Petraeus is assistant director for service member affairs at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The attorneys general of several states had sued QuinStreet Inc., the owner of the GI Bill.com domain, charging it with deceptive practices by directing Veterans and Service Members on its website exclusively to for-profit schools that were clients of QuinStreet. The announcement comes as VA is seeking legal authority to trademark the term GI Bill. An executive order by President Obama on April 26 directed VA and the Department of Defense to undertake a number of measures to “stop deceptive and misleading” promotional efforts that target the GI Bill educational benefits of Service members, Veterans, and eligible family members and survivors.

06/20/12

Army research looks at new PTSD treatment

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 20, 2012) -- While there are no simple cures for post-traumatic stress disorder, a leading military researcher said progress is being made with a new treatment method and a number of recent studies. Col. Carl Castro, director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program, has been funding studies into post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, over the past five years, and he said the results are beginning to come in. "I really think the next eight to nine months are going to be the most exciting as the data comes on line and we can start saying, okay, this is really working, we really know what we're doing here, let's do this," Castro said. Castro's program funds studies into PTSD at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Fort Detrick, Md. "Some of the early initial data," Castro said, "looks like we can really treat Soldiers in a two-week compressed time frame. And then we're also looking to see about follow-up, modifying the treatment as we go: the grief, the anger, the second guessing." Traditionally, he said, psychotherapy is one session per week for 10 weeks. But with the new compressed time frame the Army will use individual and group therapy because Castro wants to take advantage of the natural bonding and cohesion that exists within the military to facilitate recovery.

06/18/12

Are you or do you know an unemployed Veteran?

There is still time to apply for the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP), but don't delay. Almost 20,000 of the 45,000 slots for this fiscal year have already been applied for. The VRAP program is a joint effort by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor to offer additional educational and/or training benefits to unemployed Veterans 35 to 60 years old that do not have any remaining GI Bill benefits. If qualified, you may be eligible to receive up to 12 months of Montgomery GI benefits ($1,473/mo) leading to an Associates Degree or certification for a high demand occupation. Apply online before all the openings are gone! Visit VOW to learn more about the program and to apply now. To complete the application you will need to know your direct deposit information (bank routing number and account number), the name and location of your school, the program you wish to pursue, and the high demand occupation you are training towards. If you have further questions please visit our Customer Help page where you can read our FAQs about the VRAP program or submit a question to our customer service staff.

06/14/12

Future system to streamline Army HR and Soldier pay

WASHINGTON (June 14, 2012) -- An Army Human Resources system is currently under development and targeted to improve the way the force manages Soldiers' information and Soldier pay. Named the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, the system will help ensure Soldiers are paid on time and accurately. For the first time, the Army will automatically execute pay actions in response to approved personnel information changes, such as a change in grade or dependents. The Army intends to incrementally release IPPS-A over the next five years to accommodate necessary testing and training. IPPS-A's automatic processes will help reduce errors and streamline Soldier assignment transitions, particularly those between components. In addition, Soldiers will have 24/7 access to their personal information online and the ability to request changes electronically. These capabilities will empower HR professionals to more efficiently and accurately execute soldiers' HR and pay actions.

06/11/12

Hiring event goes virtual to reach more Veterans

WASHINGTON (June 11, 2012) -- It won't be a job fair in Detroit, June 25-29, but rather, a "hiring event." The difference is that Soldiers who attend the Veterans Affairs-sponsored event won't just be dropping off their resumes with company reps in hopes of receiving a call back. Soldiers can actually attend the event, get interviewed and perhaps, get hired. "We are actually offering positions and jobs, on site," said Mary M. Santiago, director for Veteran Employment Services at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Soldiers don't need to actually go to Detroit to participate, either. There are five locations throughout the Army where they can interview with participating employers via video teleconferencing: Fort Drum, N.Y.; Fort Knox, Ky.; Rock Island Arsenal, Ill.; Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.; and Fort Riley, Kan. Santiago said there are close to 21,000 jobs, from across the United States, that are being offered at the event. Those jobs are from employers, with hiring officials and mangers on site. "All these companies that are coming want to be able to hire veterans," she said. "We are providing a forum for all companies to be under one roof, bring veterans in also to the same place, and make that connection." In January, she said, the VA held a similar event in Washington, D.C. There, 6,400 potential jobs were available for veterans. About 4,100 veterans attended the event. Today, more than 14 percent of those veterans are employed as a result.

06/06/12

Army Emergency Relief awards $6.6 million in scholarships to family members

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 6, 2012) -- The Army Emergency Relief program announced the award of 2,614 scholarships under the Maj. Gen. James Ursano Scholarship Program. This year, scholarships awarded to the children of active duty and retired Soldiers totaled $6.6 million. "We received 2,781 compete applications and were able to award 2,614 scholarships," said Diann Evans, manager for AER's scholarship programs. "That's 94 percent and shows that if the students complete the process, they have a very high probability of receiving an award." AER began accepting applications in December with a deadline of April 1. Transcripts were due April 2, with the final Free Application for Federal Student Aid documentation due by May 1. Ursano scholarships are awarded based on three criteria. Those criteria include financial need, grade point average and leadership experience such as participation in sports, scouting programs, or student council. A student could qualify under one, two or all three of the criteria, so the size of the awards varies. This year the average award was $2,550. Notification letters are being mailed this week.

05/29/12

Army to pilot new Soldier transition resources, processes

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 29, 2012) -- The Army will begin piloting in mid-July components of what constitutes a major overhaul of how the Army transitions Soldiers from military to civilian life. Most of the core transition curriculum has either been modified or is brand new, said the Army Career Alumni Program director. Walter Herd was one of more than 30 representatives from across the federal government who participated in a Pentagon Transition Summit last week hosted by Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Lloyd Austin. Participants met to address collective progress and remaining tasks in the Army's ongoing efforts to meet full compliance with the Veteran's Opportunity to Work Act of 2011 by the November 2012 suspense.

05/24/12

Social Security benefits for wounded warriors, survivors

GLEN BURNIE, Md. (May 24, 2012) -- It's an American tradition to pay tribute to the men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces each Memorial Day, especially honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving our country. If you are a service member who was wounded and needs to apply for disability benefits, it's important to know that you will receive expedited processing. Social Security's Wounded Warriors Initiative is for service members who become disabled while on active duty on or after Oct. 1, 2001, regardless of where the disability occurs. Depending on the situation, some family members of military personnel, including dependent children and, in some cases, spouses, may be able to receive benefits. Learn more about it at www.socialsecurity.gov/woundedwarriors.

05/24/12

Changes coming for the Army's Regular Army Enlisted Involuntary Early Separation Program

WASHINGTON -- Congress recently amended legislation that expands the services' authority to separate Regular Army enlisted members from three months to one year prior to their scheduled date of separation, referred to as Expiration Term of Service (ETS). The Army intends to begin using this expanded authority in June 2012 in a very targeted manner to address readiness in deploying formations and not as a force reduction tool. The Army's Enlisted Involuntary Early Separation Program is targeted towards the small percentage of Soldiers in deploying units who remain in the unit's rear detachment due to insufficient time remaining before ETS to complete the deployment. The Army will not immediately increase the period of early separation to one year, rather it will implement this change in a phased manner based on scheduled unit deployment dates.

05/11/12

Social Security and Department of Defense Implement New Process to Improve Efficiency for Wounded Warriors Applying for Disability Benefits

Electronic Medical Records Will Reduce Time for a Decision The Social Security Administration and the Department of Defense (DoD) are working together to improve access to disability benefits for the nation’s Wounded Warriors, service members, veterans, and their dependents. A new nationwide project enables Social Security disability case processing sites to receive military medical records from multiple DoD facilities with a single request to a centralized DoD site. As of today, this initiative is in its first phase of nationwide expansion. “Receiving electronic medical records for our Wounded Warriors and other military personnel will significantly shorten the time it takes to make a disability decision,” said Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security. “This new process will improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of the disability program.” Originally a pilot, the program included five states (Colorado, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington) and more than 60 military treatment facilities. These states are now receiving electronic medical records within 72 hours, a remarkable improvement over the previous average response time of five weeks for paper records from individual military treatment facilities. The new DoD-Social Security collaboration consolidates requests for medical records from Social Security to a single location that has access to DoD records in a central electronic repository. This central location receives and responds to requests for medical records based on Social Security’s Electronic Records Express (www.socialsecurity.gov/ere), another successful initiative that offers electronic options for submitting health records related to disability claims.

05/07/12

Connecting Transitioning Soldiers with Job Opportunities

Our Soldiers, Veterans, and Families face a number of challenges transitioning from military to civilian life. Among these challenges is finding a productive, post-military career. We have a responsibility to ensure our transitioning personnel have the support they need and deserve prior to separating and entering the civilian workforce. We have conducted multiple transition studies and determined there was a need to better prepare our Soldiers for post-military service and enhance opportunities to connect Soldiers with the private sector. As a result, we published a new Transition Policy in August 2011 and later an Execution Order to focus on immediate transition policy actions. Also, we are supporting the White House Employment Initiative and the Department of Defense – Department of Veterans Affairs (DoD-VA) Veterans Employment Initiative Task Force (TF). The purpose is to develop a new transition training and services delivery model to maximize the career readiness of all Service Members. The TF Implementation Plan will follow in the next couple of months with detailed recommendations.

05/07/12

VA & DOL Introduce a New Training Program for Unemployed Veterans

The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 was recently passed by Congress to provide assistance for unemployed Veterans. If you are an unemployed Veteran between the ages of 35 and 60 you might qualify. The Veterans Retraining Assistance Program (VRAP) was part of the recently passed legislation. The program is a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Labor (DOL) joint effort to provide training to Veterans unable to find work. VRAP will provide 12 months of training assistance equal to the monthly full-time payment rate under the Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty program (currently paying $1,473 per month). Participants must be enrolled in a program approved for VA benefits that is offered by a community college or technical school. The program must lead to an Associate Degree, Non-College Degree or a Certificate. To qualify, a Veteran must: * Be at least 35 but no more than 60 years old * Be unemployed on the day of application * Have an other than dishonorable discharge * Not be eligible for any other VA education benefit program (e.g.: the Post-9/11 GI Bill, Montgomery GI Bill, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Assistance) * Not be in receipt of VA compensation due to unemployability * Not be enrolled in a federal or state job training program * Pursue a program that leads to employment in a high demand occupation The program is limited to 45,000 participants between July 1, 2012, and September 30, 2012, and an additional 54,000 participants from October 1, 2012, through March 31, 2014. DOL will provide employment assistance to every Veteran who participates upon completion of their program. Applications will be accepted beginning May 15, 2012. VA will publish more details on the program as they become available at our VOW website.

04/30/12

Senior Enterprise Talent Management program opens for Army civilians

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 27, 2012) -- Army civilians in the grades of GS-14/15 and equivalent employees, may now begin the self-nomination process for entry into the Army's Senior Enterprise Talent Management program. The Senior Enterprise Talent Management program, also known as SETM, was developed collaboratively as a Civilian Workforce Transformation initiative and is administered by the Civilian Senior Leader Management Office. The program prepares participants for positions of greater responsibility through advanced senior-level educational and developmental experiences. Included in the SETM program are opportunities in the Enterprise Placement Program, Developmental Experiences, Senior Service College, and the Defense Senior Leader Development Program. Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh announced the new Army policy for SETM, March 19. The secretary encouraged commanders and supervisors to support the SETM applications of candidates who represent the "best-of-the-best, high-performing civilian leaders with outstanding potential for assignment to positions of increasing importance, responsibility and impact across the Army." Eligible GS-14/15 employees and equivalents may request consideration for one or more of the SETM modules. The SETM modules include the Enterprise Placement Program, or EPP, SETM-Temporary Duty, Senior Service College, or SCC, and the Defense Senior Leader Development Program, known as DSLDP.

04/26/12

Web program helps Soldiers move

FORT SILL, Okla.-- Did you know that 65 percent of permanent change of station moves occur between May 1 and Sept. 30? This, coupled with increases in private sector moves due to economic conditions, stresses the commercial moving industry's capacity and capabilities to conduct moves in a timely manner. If you will PCS during this timeframe, there are many ways to ease the stress of your move. The Department of Defense recently started a new program -- the Defense Personal Property System, or DPS. It is a Web-based system for service members and DoD employees to conduct self-counseling and scheduling of their household goods shipment directly with the transportation service provider, or TSP. Proper planning, careful preparation, flexibility on packing and shipping dates, and constant communication with transportation service providers can reduce the stress and potential for shipment difficulties.

04/12/12

Beware of financial services scam

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- A scam to solicit money from service members and DoD civilians has been identified. The director of the Defense Military Pay Office sent an email warning to alert the rising number of victims. Scammers have copied the Defense Finance and Accounting Services logo as well as the DoD logo to make it appear as though it is a valid DFAS document. DFAS does not send unsolicited email messages with attachments or letters asking you to send money to pay for some benefit. This letter purporting to be from DFAS asks the fiancée of a service member to register in "our system," entitling the fiancée to benefits in the event of the service member's death. This letter is a typical phishing scam used to obtain personal information and oftentimes, money. The Army Criminal Investigation Command recommends sharing this information with your fellow Soldiers.

04/03/12

Redeployed Soldiers and DA Civilians: take the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA)

Soldiers and DA Civilians are encouraged to take the Post-Deployment Health Reassessment (PDHRA) three to six months after redeployment. The PDHRA screens for physical and behavioral health concerns that may have evolved over time since your return from downrange. Specific guidance on taking the PDHRA is available by contacting your Commander. The PDHRA is the last of three deployment health assessments (DHAs) taken at specific times during the deployment cycle. Protect your health for your daily life, family, career and future. For more information on the PDHRA, visit the PDHRA website, www.pdhra.army.mil, or the PDHRA AKO page at https://www.us.army.mil/suite/page/611427 (CAC access only).

03/29/12

Smartphone application benefits wounded warriors

FORT SILL, Okla. (March 29, 2012) -- A new smartphone app has been released for iPhone and Android devices that provides wounded warriors with a comprehensive mobile resource guide. Based on "The Wounded, Ill and Injured Compensation and Benefits Handbook" that was released November by the Department of Defense, the free app gives wounded and ill service members and their families access to vital information on the go. The app was designed and developed for the DOD through the Combined Arms Support Command Technology Integration Branch's SCoE mobile team.

03/28/12

DFAS to host first Facebook town hall meeting

CLEVELAND (March 28, 2012) - Military retirees are invited to chat about their pay with military retirement experts live on Facebook in May. The Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS), the agency that pays the nation's more than 2 million military retirees, will host its first Facebook town hall May 8 from 3 to 5 p.m. Eastern. During this online town hall meeting, military retirees will have direct access to DFAS Retired and Annuitant Pay experts, who'll answer their retirement questions live on Facebook.

03/22/12

Deadline to Apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay Extended

The deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) has been extended to Oct. 21, 2012, providing those eligible more time to apply for the pay under the program guidelines. “Even with extensive outreach efforts, and tremendous support from the President, Congress, the VA, veteran and military service organizations, and friends and family around the world, some qualified individuals have not yet applied,” said Juliet Beyler, acting director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management. “We highly encourage anyone who may be eligible to apply for this pay; you have earned it.” RSLSP was established to compensate for the hardships military members encountered when their service was involuntarily extended under Stop Loss authority between Sept. 11, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2009. Eligible members or their beneficiaries may submit a claim to their respective military service in order to receive the benefit of $500 for each full or partial month served in a Stop Loss status. When RSLSP began on Oct. 21, 2009, the services estimated 145,000 service members, veterans and beneficiaries were eligible for this benefit. Because the majority of those eligible had separated from the military, the services have engaged in extensive and persistent outreach efforts, to include multiple direct mailings, public service announcements, and continuous engagements with military and veteran service organizations, social networks and media outlets. To apply for the pay, or for more information on RSLSP, including submission requirements and service-specific links, go to http://www.defense.gov/stoploss.

03/22/12

2012-2013 AER Ursano Scholarship Program deadline approaching

The MG James Ursano Scholarship Program offers scholarships based on financial need to dependent children of Active, Retired and Deceased Soldiers. The deadline to apply for the 2012-2013 academic year is April 2, 2012. Students must be enrolled full time as an undergraduate for the entire school year; must maintain a 2.0 on a 4.0 scale; be under the age of 23 and a dependent of a Soldier on federal active duty, of a retired Soldier, or of a deceased active or deceased retired Soldier. For more information on the MG James Ursano Scholarship visit the MyArmyBenefits fact sheet or the AER website to apply.

03/08/12

Streamlined health benefit process partners First Army with VA

FORT MEADE, Md. (March 8, 2012) -- As Reserve and National Guard troops return from overseas deployments, Soldiers now register for their medical benefits via an online partnership established between First Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Eligibility Center. The online application replaces the traditional paper application and is helping thousands of returning troops to receive their health benefits during the demobilization process. "To ensure that our demobilizing Guard and Army Reserve Soldiers receive the medical care and benefits to which they are entitled as new veterans, both the VA and First Army concluded that a new and better process had to be put in place," said Maj. Gen. Mark MacCarley, First Army deputy commanding general-support. The VA and First Army leaders decided to test this new enrollment system, which is specifically designed for demobilizing reserve-component service members at Camp Shelby, Miss., during the Soldier's demobilization process.

03/05/12

AFAP delegates choose 8 issues to help military families

ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, March 5, 2012) -- Extending the time allotted to invest survivor benefits and granting per diem for families to attend therapy sessions were the top issues requested this week during the Army Family Action Plan conference. After four days of workshop discussion, groups presented their top issues to senior Army senior leaders this morning. "I've been told that since 1983 this forum has raised 501 issues that were resolved," said Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, Army chief of staff. "Most importantly, 61 percent of those issues went across the entire Department of Defense. So you're not only helping Army families, you're helping Air Force families, Marine families, Navy families, Coast Guard families. And I know the Air Force has started this (type of forum) as well." The Army Family Action Plan, known as AFAP, is not just about the Army, Odierno said, it's about military families and the work the delegates are doing to help military families. "But most importantly you're helping those who come behind us -- those families that are maybe just coming into the Army, who don't understand the Army that much, and don't understand what's there. You are setting the stage for them, and reaching out to them, and making sure our Army is a better place for our Soldiers and our families," he said.

02/23/12

EFMP aims to help special needs Families

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Feb. 23, 2012) -- It's not uncommon to hear mothers talk about being soccer moms, but at least one mother on Fort Rucker says she's not a soccer mom, but a therapy mom. Instead of carting kids back and forth between practices, she's taking them to therapy sessions and doctors' appointments, said Marion Cornish, manager of the Exceptional Family Member Program at Fort Rucker, about a person she supports through the program who wishes to remain anonymous. For Families like this, it helps to know Cornish, who said the program's mission is "to help Soldiers that have Family members who have any type of special needs and insure that services are available to them as they move throughout their military career." The services offered by EFMP are as varied as the needs that would qualify a person for the program. "Special needs" is a broad category that includes special education, developmental delays, asthma, diabetes and many other significant health problems, Cornish said. Even if a Soldier's Family member is recovering from an illness and just needs to see a specialist once a year, it could qualify them for the EFMP program, she said.

02/16/12

FRP Program answers financial woes

FORT SILL, Okla.-- It happens to most of us in our lifetimes -- financial problems whether it's credit card debt, mismanagement of money or lack of financial planning and saving. Some people go to financial institutions for help with making a budget or getting a consolidated loan but those institutions charge money for those services. For Soldiers and their families the Financial Readiness Program at Fort Sill has the answers and it won't cost them any interest or hourly charges. "Our mission is to provide financial education and training to Soldiers and families. These financial resources will help enhance their personal financial readiness and deploy-ability through the use of sound management and consumer skills," said Zilpa Oseguera, Financial Readiness Program counselor and trainer and Army Emergency Relief Officer at Army Community Service. "Currently, Soldiers and their spouses can come in and each obtain a free credit report score. We'll explain how the score is calculated and also help analyze this information to show them ways to improve their score. We can also provide them with information on how to dispute charges. Knowing your score can be powerful in getting better rates on their loans," she added.

02/14/12

Veterans Health Benefits Handbook Released

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is committed to informing the Veteran community about VA health benefits and services. Currently, VA is producing personalized Veteran Health Benefits Handbooks for Veterans who are enrolled in VA health care. The new handbooks are tailored specific for each Veteran and provides detailed information about the VA health services the Veteran may be eligible to receive. The Veteran Health Benefit Handbook provides answers to common questions such as contact information for the Veteran's local facility, instructions on how to schedule appointments, guidelines for communicating treatment needs and an explanation of the Veteran's responsibilities, such as co-pays, if applicable. Veterans enrolled in VA healthcare will receive their personalized handbooks via mail as part of a national rollout campaign starting in February 2012 based on Priority Group, beginning with Priority Group 1 and ending with Priority Group 8. In the near future, VA will develop an online version of the handbook for Veterans to access via MyHealtheVet. This will allow Veterans to access their up-to-date health benefit information anywhere, anytime.

02/09/12

Army to open six jobs, combat battalion staff positions to women

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 9, 2012) -- The Army announced its intent today to open six occupational specialties and more than 13,000 positions to women. These six military occupational specialties, or MOSs, were previously closed to women because they were normally co-located with direct combat units: -- 13M Multiple Launch Rocket System crewmember -- 13P MLRS Operations/Fire Detection Specialist -- 13R Field Artillery Firefinder Radar Operator Specialist -- 91A M1 Abrams Tank System Maintainer -- 91M Bradley Fighting Vehicle System Maintainer -- 91P Artillery Mechanic

02/07/12

Obama announces program to hire vets as first responders

ARLINGTON, Va., (Feb. 7, 2012) -- President Barack Obama continued his commitment to improving employment among veterans by introducing an initiative Feb. 3, 2012, to hire them as the country's first responders. "In my State of the Union address, I proposed a new initiative called the Veterans Jobs Corps to put veterans back to work protecting and rebuilding America," he said. "And today, we're laying out the details of this proposal." Speaking at a fire station here to veterans, firefighters, police officers and national park employees, Obama shared the venue's significance before his remarks. "This is a fire station that holds some special significance for our country," he explained. "On September 11th, the firefighters of this house were among the first to respond to the attack on the Pentagon." "You guys answered this nation's call during its hour of need," Obama added. "And in the years that followed, as Americans went to war, some of you answered that call, as well." The president encouraged the hiring of veterans to replenish the ranks of the nation's first responders.

02/02/12

DOD begins prorating imminent danger pay

WASHINGTON (Feb. 2, 2012) -- Service members now will receive imminent danger pay only for days they actually spend in hazardous areas, Pentagon officials said here today. The change, which took effect yesterday, was included in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law Dec. 31. "Members will see the prorated amount in their Feb. 15 pay records," Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said. The act called for DOD to pay service members imminent danger pay only for the time they spend in areas that qualify for the pay. In the past, service members received $225 per month if they spent any time that month in an area where the pay was authorized. "This is a more targeted way of handling that pay," Kirby said. Now, service members will receive $7.50 a day for days spent in these areas. Personnel who travel to the designated areas for periods less than 30 days should keep track of the number of days they are in the area to verify that they are paid for the correct number of days, officials said.

02/01/12

New Law Will Give Tax Relief to Spouses of Disabled Veterans

Tens of thousands of spouses of totally disabled veterans in Texas will qualify for significant property tax relief under a new law. Texas law already exempts veterans who are declared 100% disabled because of combat injuries or other service-related causes from paying property taxes on their home. As of January 1, the homestead exemption will also apply to a spouse after the veteran dies. Texas has about 300,000 disabled veterans, and nearly 25,000 of them are designated as 100% service-related disabled, according to the Texas Veterans Commission.

02/01/12

Resiliency app available on Androids

FORT BENNING, Ga. (Feb. 1, 2012) -- The Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Resiliency Goals Book, previously released as an app for iPhones and iPads, is now available for Android users. About 5,700 people have downloaded the app since its debut last summer, said Sam Rhodes, the action officer with the Directorate of Training and Doctrine who was responsible for getting the app developed, tested, revised and ready for use. "(That) is just the beginning," he said. "We're setting the groundwork for years to come. The future of our country will be determined by how resilient our warriors are."

01/25/12

Some Soldiers must make re-enlistment decision now

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 25, 2012) -- Some Soldiers will need to make a reenlistment decision by Jan. 31, or they won't get to stay in the Army. "If your expiration of term of service is in fiscal year 2012, you have to re-enlist before you hit 90 days from ETS (end term of service) , or Jan. 31, whichever date you hit first," explained Jim Bragg, chief of Enlisted Retention and Reclassification at the Human Resources Command. Historically, the Army's retention mission would encompass October through the following September -- the entire fiscal year. This year, Army G-1, the staff that makes policy for retention actions, has broken the retention mission up into two phases, with the first phase running from Oct. 1, 2011 to Jan. 31, 2012. The second phase will start no later than March 1.

01/23/12

Earned Income Tax Credit may put money in people's pockets

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (Jan. 23, 2012) -- Some people could be eligible to get more money back from the Internal Revenue Service -- as much as $5,751. People who earned less than $49,078 from wages, self-employment or farming last year may qualify for a refundable tax credit called the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. But people must file a federal income tax return claiming the credit to get it. EITC can be a big financial boost for working people in a recovering economy. Millions of workers who saw their earnings drop in 2011 may qualify for the first time.

01/13/12

IMT launches Family readiness website

Members of the Initial Military Training Center of Excellence Family now have an online resource to connect with each other. IMT launched a family readiness website Jan. 13, designed as a one-stop area that links cadre, Family members and civilians to resources, information and communication channels designed to promote well-being. "Family readiness ranks as my number one priority," said Maj. Gen. Richard C. Longo, Deputy Commanding General of IMT, noting the unique stressors that IMT Families experience. "The training mission is habitually executed by under-strength units, resulting in an unexpectedly high-operational tempo comparable to deployed units, which can make it difficult for cadre to balance the demands of work and Family." The website blends technology and personal contact so that users can learn from and support each other, said Beverly Nicholson, IMT Family Readiness Program Manager.

01/11/12

Military skills transfer to civilian career

Soldiers exiting the military can use that experience gained to find a job. Pvt. Fred Reed said the skills from his MOS, 15J, electrical and electronic avionic work on aircraft, directly translate to a civilian career. "This new career path may require the Soldier to continue (or) complete his (or) her education or certification prior to or immediately after separation," he said. Reed said he learned how his skills could translate to a civilian career when he attended three-day Transition Assistance Program workshops in April and December. "Soldiers should view their military skills as a wealth of knowledge gained during service and the more time they served, the more knowledge they gained," said Eddie Perez, transition services manager for Fort Benning's Army Career and Alumni Program.

01/06/12

Army National Guard, Arizona State University education initiative

PENTAGON, Washington DC (6 Jan. 12) -- A collaborative effort between the Army National Guard and Arizona State University that could lead students to a graduate certificate in Sustainability Leadership was applauded today as being an asset to the Army's Sustainability Campaign Plan. The online graduate certificate in Sustainability Leadership is designed to assist eligible Soldiers and Army Civilians in fulfilling the goals of the 2010 Army Sustainability Campaign Plan, an essential factor in meeting the military's readiness challenges for the 21st century. Students who successfully complete this program will be better equipped to help future generations of Army leaders make a difference in: • Protecting the lives of our troops and making our military a better and more capable force • Achieving Net Zero Energy, Net Zero Water and Net Zero Waste goals on installations to improve managing costs and maintaining resources • Minimizing the Army's carbon foot print Soldiers (Active, Guard, Reserve) and Army Civilians interested in learning more about the Sustainability Leadership Certificate can gain more information at http://sustainabilityonline.asu.edu.

01/02/12

Walgreens Pharmacy no longer participating in TRICARE pharmacy network

Express Scripts, the administrator of the TRICARE pharmacy benefit, announced that effective January 1, 2012 Walgreens Pharmacy is no longer participating as a provider in the TRICARE pharmacy network. To avoid disruption in medications for those who may have been using Walgreens and who desire to receive medications and realize the cost-savings from within the network, there are important steps to take to transition to an alternative pharmacy. Complete information is available at: http://www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE/news/networkChange.shtml

12/29/11

Rules Liberalized for Veterans with Undiagnosed Illnesses Application Window Extended for Five Years

WASHINGTON – Veterans of the Persian Gulf War with undiagnosed illnesses have an additional five years to qualify for benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. “Not all the wounds of war are fully understood,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “When there is uncertainty about the connection between a medical problem and military service, Veterans are entitled to the benefit of the doubt.” A recent change in VA regulations affects Veterans of the conflict in Southwest Asia. Many have attributed a range of undiagnosed or poorly understood medical problems to their military services. Chemical weapons, environmental hazards and vaccinations are among the possible causes.

12/23/11

Phishing scams target military, Families, Veterans

WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2011) -- Anyone who gets caught by phishing scams loses money, time and security. Phishing is usually an unsolicited email that prompts an action, such as divulging secure information, downloading potentially dangerous files, or sending money to an unknown source. A recent aggressive phishing attack is making the rounds in an email to USAA members, which appears be from USAA, a financial services company that serves service members, their families, and veterans. The email subject begins with "Deposit Posted." Members are asked to open a Zeus-infected attached file. Once opened, it launches a malicious virus which if launched could provide access to personal information and may require a complete reinstall of the computer operating system. Most USAA members are affiliated with the military.

12/21/11

Army tightens retention

FORT HOOD, Texas (Dec. 21, 2011) -- Soldiers whose term of service is scheduled to end in fiscal year 2012 and want to stay in the Army must make that commitment sooner rather than later. With looming cuts to the force, the retention mission has been affected and Soldiers who want to re-enlist must do so by Jan. 31. "This is a huge change in how we do business," said Sgt. Maj. Rob Sluss, III Corps and Fort Hood Retention sergeant major. The biggest change is for Soldiers whose terms expire late in the fiscal year. "Soldiers who (are scheduled to depart the Army) before October 1, 2012, have to decide by January 31," Sluss said. "Soldiers slated to (depart the Army) May through September are the most affected."

12/15/11

New Online Tools for Veteran Job-Seekers Secure Access to Military Records, Skill “Translators”

WASHINGTON - Veterans now have on-demand access and can download official data about their military training and experience, which can be used to help them find jobs and continue their careers. Their service data can be uploaded to job search and networking sites to help identify employment opportunities. “Savvy employers look to Veterans for the excellent training and unique experiences they bring to the civilian workforce,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Now, Veterans can have state-of-the-art access to official data about their military service that we will help them land meaningful jobs.” Starting Dec. 3, Veterans can use the VA’s online My HealtheVet portal (www.myhealth.va.gov) to see official information about their military service, including deployment data, in-uniform experience, and Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes which define the type of work performed and skills learned during their tour of duty. Veterans can electronically download that information to their personal computers by using an enhanced version of the Blue Button. This new capability is the latest addition to a growing suite of job-hunting tools announced by President Obama on Nov. 14.

12/15/11

Department of Defense Releases 2012 BAH Rates

The Department of Defense released today the 2012 Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates, which take effect Jan. 1, 2012. Overall rates will increase an average of 2 percent this year. For members with dependents, average increases in BAH are approximately $39 per month. A typical E-6 with dependents, for example, will find his/her BAH about $35 per month higher than last year, while an O-3 with dependents will receive about $40 more than last year.

12/08/11

TRICARE Allows Network Pharmacies to Administer Covered Vaccines

TRICARE is expanding the number of preventive vaccines covered at retail network pharmacies. Until now, the majority of vaccines were only covered when obtained through a physician's office. TRICARE covers age-appropriate vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including the high-demand shingles vaccine Zostavax. Since late 2009, TRICARE has covered seasonal flu, H1N1 flu and pneumococcal vaccines at retail pharmacies with nearly 300,000 vaccines administered to date. The expanded program covers immunizations for measles, mumps, shingles and many other preventable diseases.

12/06/11

Reserve looks to preserve Army investment in personnel

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 6, 2011) -- With force cuts looming for the active component, the Army Reserve is looking for ways to preserve some of that investment which might otherwise be walking out the door, for good. Lt. Gen. Jack. C. Stultz, chief of the Army Reserve, said he's been trying to push for almost a year now a "continuum of service" concept that would make it easier for those who've donned an Army uniform to move back and forth between statuses in the Army and to stay connected with the service. "When you join the Army, our intent is to make you a 'Soldier for life,'" Stultz said.

11/28/11

MilConnect is new online portal for DOD beneficiaries

WASHINGTON (Nov. 28, 2011) -- A range of information about Defense Department benefits information and eligibility is now available online, the director of the Defense Manpower Data Center said yesterday. Two new online efforts -- milConnect and eCorrespondence -- give beneficiaries 24/7 access to personnel information; the ability to update information related to health, education and other benefits; and email notifications about changes in benefits, Mary Dixon told American Forces Press Service.

11/23/11

Educational opportunities build leadership: Application deadlines coming up soon!

FORT KNOX, Ky. -- The U.S. Army Human Resources Command announced recently that some educational opportunities are still open or have fast-approaching application deadlines. These programs are designed to enhance the leadership skills of Soldiers and otherwise broaden their experience. "The Soldiers who are selected for these programs are go-getters; they're tomorrow's leaders," said Joel Strout, HRC coordinator of these programs. Whether you want to be selected for a think tank to research important Army topics or to explore a foreign country, you can't be selected if you don't compete. "The Army is looking for exceptional officers or enlisted Soldiers who demonstrate the Warrior Ethos," Strout said. "They must not only demonstrate it but pass it on to subordinates." These programs complement military education. "They provide life experiences otherwise not offered in military training," Strout said.

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