Benefit News

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11/21/11

Veterans get boost as Obama signs tax credits into law

WASHINGTON (Nov. 21, 2011) -- President Barack Obama delivered a clear message today when he signed two new tax credits into law to increase the hiring of military veterans and wounded warriors. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides businesses that hire unemployed veterans with a credit of up to $5,600 per veteran, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers a credit of $9,600 per veteran for businesses that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities. Under the Recovery Act, employers who hired certain unemployed veterans were eligible for a tax credit of up to 40 percent of the first $6,000 of wages, for a maximum credit of $2,400 for veterans who had been unemployed at least four weeks. This credit expired at the end of 2010. For employers who hire veterans unemployed for longer than six months, a new credit of 40 percent of the first $14,000 of wages, up to $5,600, will be applied. The Wounded Warrior Tax Credit will double the existing tax credit for long-term unemployed veterans with service-connected disabilities. A new credit of 40 percent of the first $24,000 of wages, up to $9,600, will apply for firms that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities who have been unemployed longer than six months. The law will maintain the existing Work Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $4,800 for veterans with service-connected disabilities. The new tax incentives continue an ongoing effort to ease unemployment among veterans. A White House statement released today notes that in August the president challenged the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans or military spouses by the end of 2013.

11/09/11

Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance Maximum Coverage Increases

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs announced today that the maximum amount of Veterans Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI) increased from $90,000 to $150,000, effective Oct. 1, under the Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010. Maximum coverage will further increase from $150,000 to $200,000 after Jan. 1, 2012. VMLI is issued to those severely disabled Veterans and Servicemembers who have received grants for specially adapted housing from VA. These grants are issued to Veterans and Servicemembers whose movement or vision is substantially impaired because of their disabilities. Policyholders have three options for their VMLI coverage. They may decline the increase and retain their pre-October level of VMLI coverage and premium, accept the maximum amount of VMLI coverage for which they are eligible, or select a different amount of VMLI coverage. Coverage may not exceed the maximum allowed by law, or their mortgage balance, whichever is less.

11/07/11

Obama announces jobs initiatives for Veterans

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2011 -- President Barack Obama announced executive orders today to give tax credits to employers who hire post-9/11 veterans and wounded warriors, as well as enhanced career counseling and related services for veterans. The president, flanked by veterans association representatives in the White House Rose Garden, expressed concern that unemployment continues to increase among post-9/11 veterans, despite the skills and attributes they have to offer. Today's 9/11 generation has performed heroically in some of the world's most dangerous places, he said, and "done everything that we've asked of them." "We ask our men and women in uniform to leave their families and their jobs, and risk their lives to fight for our country," he said. "And the last thing they should have to do is fight for a job when they come home. "And that's why we're here today," he continued, "to do everything in our power to see to it that America's veterans have the opportunities that they deserve and that they have earned." To incentivize employers to hire them, the president announced a new Returning Heroes Tax Credit that will provide companies up to $5,600 in credits for each unemployed veteran they hire. Similarly, a new Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers employers up to $9,600 for each veteran with service-connected disabilities they hire.

11/06/11

TRICARE Reduces Pharmacy Home Delivery Co-Pays

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Copayments for some medications provided through TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery are being reduced to zero. As of Oct. 1, 2011, Home Delivery beneficiaries may fill generic prescriptions at no cost to themselves. Generic formulary drugs purchased through Home Delivery currently cost $3 for a 90-day supply, but as of Oct. 1 the copayment drops to zero. “These new copays make using TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery more affordable than ever,” said Rear Adm. Christine Hunter, TRICARE Management Activity deputy director. “Home Delivery offers a great value for patients taking maintenance medications for chronic conditions.” The following changes to the TRICARE pharmacy copayments are scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1: • Generic formulary drugs purchased at retail pharmacies will go from $3 to $5. • Brand name formulary drugs from retail pharmacies will go from $9 to $12. • Non-formulary medications will go from $22 to $25 in both retail and Home Delivery.

11/02/11

Army Medicine helps Wounded Warriors heal, recover

WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2011 -- From advanced battlefield medicine techniques to Warrior Transition Units providing personal support to wounded Soldiers and their families, Army Medicine offers many programs to help Wounded Warriors recover from their injuries and return to some semblance of normalcy. "Our unrelenting drive to provide world-class care means more Soldiers are surviving their wounds, recovering more quickly and returning to their units or transitioning to quality civilian life," said Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Eric B. Schoomaker, Army surgeon general and commander, U.S. Army Medical Command. When Soldiers are injured and require medical attention, an integrated system of care helps them heal, rehabilitate, and reintegrate, either back to duty or into their civilian communities as productive citizens.

11/01/11

Presidential Proclamation -- Military Family Month, November 2011

With every step we take on American soil, we tread on ground made safer for us through the invaluable sacrifices of our service members and their families. During Military Family Month, we celebrate the exceptional service, strength, and sacrifice of our military families, whose commitment to our Nation goes above and beyond the call of duty.

10/20/11

Officials Seek DOD-wide Tuition Assistance Plan

WASHINGTON, Oct. 20, 2011 – Pentagon officials are reviewing the Defense Department’s tuition assistance policy, and no DOD-wide decision has been made to change benefits, officials said today. All military services are providing input to the DOD review, officials said. Any recommended changes, they added, must be instituted in a deliberate, thoughtful manner that maintains the integrity of a joint, uniform policy for all service members. Tuition assistance is a popular benefit for military members, particularly in light of the rising costs of post-secondary education courses. However, in light of high military participation in the program, officials said the current tuition assistance policy has created funding challenges for the services. During fiscal 2010, tuition assistance costs totaled $542 million, they reported. In light of current fiscal constraints, the services consider these costs unsustainable, officials said. However, even if adjustments are made to the program, they emphasized that the department will continue to support its members’ higher education goals.

10/18/11

Panetta, Shinseki discuss more transition support for vets

WASHINGTON, Oct. 18, 2011 -- Ways to help separating service members and veterans prepare for and launch civilian careers topped the agenda during Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta's visit yesterday with Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby reported. Shinseki hosted the latest in a series of quarterly meetings about ways to help smooth the path for military members as they transition to civilian life and careers. Panetta and Shinseki lead a joint task force President Barack Obama established to promote veteran employment and boost separating and retiring military members' career readiness. They agreed during yesterday's talks on the need to provide each veteran with a cohesive employment search strategy and improve direct connections between employers and veterans, Kirby said. Separating service members also need access to improved career counseling services that include information about GI Bill benefits and guidance on small-business opportunities, the secretaries noted.

10/14/11

Army transforms for future of Soldiers, families, nation

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 14, 2011) -- To ready itself for the future, the Army is transforming installations and housing as well as its use of fuel, water and energy. As part of the Army's Residential Communities Initiative, about 98 percent of Army family housing, at 44 locations now, has been privatized. "We have successfully prioritized just about all of our Army housing -- about 89,000 homes," said Katherine Hammack, assistant secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. "We have also successfully remodeled barracks and we have constructed many new barracks for our single Soldiers." Now the Army is focused on base lodging, to provide transient Soldiers and other visitors the same quality of life in temporary housing that's available in base housing.

10/13/11

Army civilian workforce development on track

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 13, 2011) -- In the last year, the Army has moved closer to transforming its civilian work force of more than 320,000 employees. Currently, the Army Career Tracker, or ACT, is available to some 50,000 civilian employees. The online tool is designed to integrate training and education into one web site. The tool allows an employee and leadership to track their careers, and monitor education and training resources. During a lunch for Army civilians at the 2011 Association of the United States Army Annual meeting and Exposition in Washington, D.C., Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal highlighted some of the progress made toward some short-term goals that he laid out a year earlier at the same event. Included in those goals, Westphal said, was mapping civilian employees to a career program and also developing a "scalable hiring process proof-of-concept" to reducing hiring times for civilian employees. So far, about 50,000 civilians have been mapped to one of 31 career programs and there is a target to have 100 percent mapped to a career program under ACT by Sept. 30, 2012.

10/05/11

New app to spotlight Army exhibits, forums at AUSA

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 5, 2011) -- A new app for smartphones will allow Soldiers worldwide to visit Army exhibits and watch presentations taking place at the Washington Convention Center Oct. 10-12. The Army Exhibit Mobile App will help visitors find what they're looking for at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting and symposium, and allow those who can't be there to take a virtual tour. The app will also allow users to watch Secretary of the Army John McHugh, Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno and other senior leaders discuss leading-edge issues facing the Army, such as advancing the network, cyber security, future training, leader development and more. They will be able to hear Soldiers ask questions and get frank answers from their senior leaders. "We want to expand the reach beyond the building and beyond the calendar," said Lt. Col. Thomas Smedley, who explained the presentations and exhibits will be available for viewing on the app not just during the three days of the conference, but for months to come.

10/04/11

Officials aim to manage TRICARE costs, preserve future benefits

WASHINGTON, Oct. 4, 2011 -- Modest increases to certain aspects of military health care will help to responsibly manage costs and ensure benefits for future service members, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs said today. "The truth of the matter is the spiraling cost of health care requires us to adjust some fees and co-pays -- fees and co-pays that really have not been adjusted since the TRICARE program was put into place in 1994," Jonathan Woodson said. "This allows us to responsibly manage our costs while providing access to high-quality care and ensuring the benefit is there for those that might serve in the future." Effective Oct. 1, military retirees enrolling in the TRICARE Prime health plan began paying slightly higher annual fees, Woodson said. "The [TRICARE Prime] fee increases for an individual has only gone up, essentially, $2.50 a month," he explained. "And for a family, $5 a month. [The] total cost is really modest in terms of the overall cost of the entire year." Those enrolled before Oct. 1, however, won't see an increase in cost until fiscal 2013, he added.

09/29/11

New TRICARE Prime Enrollees Pay Adjusted Annual Fees

In accordance with changes authorized in February 2011, the Department of Defense announced today military retirees enrolling in TRICARE® Prime after Oct. 1, 2011, will begin paying an additional $2.50 per month for individual members and $5 per month for members and family. This change does not affect any retiree currently enrolled and only affects future enrollees. Active duty service members will continue to receive health care with no out of pocket costs. “We are committed to offering the best possible health care system for our entire military family,” said Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson. “This modest annual fee increase allows us to responsibly manage our costs in line with other secretary of defense initiatives announced earlier this year.” The change was authorized by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in February 2011 as part of his effort to responsibly manage military healthcare costs. Since 1995, the secretary of defense has been permitted by law to set a premium, deductible, copayment, or other charge for health care, including enrollment fees. The TRICARE benefit is among the nation’s most affordable health care plans. All service members, military retirees and their eligible family members have TRICARE benefits regardless of prior health conditions.

09/26/11

Retroactive Traumatic Injury Benefits No Longer Just For OEF/OIF Injuries

WASHINGTON - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is extending retroactive traumatic injury benefits to Servicemembers who suffered qualifying injuries during the period Oct. 7, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2005, regardless of the geographic location where the injuries occurred. "Now all of our nation's Servicemembers who suffered severe traumatic injuries while serving their country can receive the same traumatic injury benefits, regardless of where their injury occurred," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "We at VA appreciate the efforts of Congress and the President to improve benefits for our troops." Effective Oct. 1, the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Traumatic Injury Protection benefit, known as TSGLI, will be payable for all qualifying injuries incurred during this period. This retroactive benefit is payable whether or not the Servicemember had SGLI coverage at the time of the injury. The Veterans' Benefits Improvement Act of 2010, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in October of 2010, removes the requirement that injuries during this period be incurred in Operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF). This is welcome news for the many Servicemembers who suffered serious traumatic injuries while serving stateside or in other areas outside of OEF/OIF during this time period, but until now have not been eligible for TSGLI.

09/21/11

Deadline to Apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay Nears

The Oct. 21, 2011, deadline for eligible service members, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay (RSLSP) is one month away. The deadline was previously extended to allow those eligible more time to apply for the benefits they have earned under the program guidelines. “The nation has rallied behind this effort -- the military services have been joined by the White House, Congress, the VA, veteran and military service organizations, and friends and family members around the world,” said Lernes Hebert, director of Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management. “Despite these remarkable outreach efforts, some people may still not yet have applied. If you think you are eligible, and have not yet applied, now is the time to do so.” Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay 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.

09/16/11

Retroactive Traumatic Injury Benefits No Longer Just For OEF/OIF Injuries

TSGLI Payments Will Be Made for Qualifying Injuries WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is extending retroactive traumatic injury benefits to Servicemembers who suffered qualifying injuries during the period Oct. 7, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2005, regardless of the geographic location where the injuries occurred. “Now all of our nation’s Servicemembers who suffered severe traumatic injuries while serving their country can receive the same traumatic injury benefits, regardless of where their injury occurred,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We at VA appreciate the efforts of Congress and the President to improve benefits for our troops.” Effective Oct. 1, the Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Traumatic Injury Protection benefit, known as TSGLI, will be payable for all qualifying injuries incurred during this period. This retroactive benefit is payable whether or not the Servicemember had SGLI coverage at the time of the injury.

09/15/11

Online program helps military children SOAR in school, life

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii, Sept. 15, 2011 -- The School Age Center here recently hosted a presentation about the Student Online Achievement Resource, or SOAR, Program. SOAR is a free online program that helps parents play an active role in their children's education. SOAR was designed for military families worldwide and for classmates of military family members in schools serving military installations. Currently, SOAR has more than 60,000 users. "Kids in military families are always moving to different schools," said Barbara Adams, director, Resources for the Military Impacted Schools Association. "Most kids are left on their own to fill in the gaps and catch up. SOAR helps them cope with different curriculum."

09/12/11

Wounded vets applaud new plan for caregivers

With the touch of a button, Russ Marek's easy chair lifts him to a standing position. He takes specially fitted crutches and walks down the hallway of his home in Viera, Fla. Then with a slow unsteady gait, but with a sense of accomplishment and smiling, he walks back with the help of only one crutch. Marek, a staff sergeant, was serving in Iraq with the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, when he was critically wounded Sept. 16, 2005, by a roadside bomb. His injuries included the loss of his right leg and right arm, brain injury and burns over 20 percent of his body. "He can't cook and do a lot of things," said Rose Marek, his mother and principal caregiver. "It's 24-hour care right now." The Mareks have been approved for the VA's new Family Caregiver program for post-9/11 veterans that provides benefits for the first time to designated family caregivers of eligible severely wounded service members. The program includes monthly stipends, health insurance and other benefits for the family caregiver. It also provides counseling and travel benefits when the wounded veteran must go for specialized treatment and other services. Quarterly visits from VA social workers help to ensure the veterans are getting appropriate care.

09/06/11

Overseas training connects active, Reserve Soldiers

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany, Sept. 6, 2011 -- Thousands of National Guard and Reserve Soldiers this year experienced overseas deployment training in Europe as a means to prepare for a unit deployment to a command theater operation, a security operation, a forward presence or mission support activities. This training opportunity -- known as the Overseas Deployment Training program -- is administered by the 7th U.S. Army Joint Multinational Training Command here and the Army's selected reserve program to assist both National Guard and Reserve units that are nearing or have already been notified about a Title 10 overseas deployment. "The Overseas Deployment Training program is designed to have state-side Guard and Reserve units use their two-week annual training and one additional week to test their ability to prepare, move, and train with their active duty counterparts, and then re-deploy back to home station successfully." said Master Sgt. Donna Dosik, the Overseas Deployment Training, or ODT, operations sergeant in Grafenwoehr.

09/02/11

Army strives to build more resilient families

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii, Sept. 2, 2011 -- The Army will promote Suicide Prevention Awareness during the month of September using the theme "Shoulder to Shoulder: Building Resilience in the Army Family." Everyone is encouraged to watch the Army's new video, "Shoulder to Shoulder: Finding Strength and Hope Together," available at www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/default.asp. National Suicide Prevention Week is celebrated Sept. 4-10, culminating in World Suicide Prevention Day, Sept. 10. The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the world that suicide can be prevented. The World Health Organization estimates that one million people around the world die from suicide each year.

08/29/11

Those Denied Purple Heart Should Reapply

Active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers, as well as veterans, who were denied Purple Heart awards for concussive or mild traumatic brain injuries are encouraged to resubmit documentation for reconsideration of the medal. The injury must have occurred on or after Sept. 11, 2001. Active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers must resubmit through their chains of command. Veterans should submit packages directly to Army Human Resources Command. They can obtain copies of their deployment orders from the Veteran's Inquiry Branch by Emailing veterans@conus.army.mil. Veterans will also need to submit their DD Form 214. More information on submission requirements is available at Army Human Resources Command.

08/26/11

Gold Star dad finds support in outreach program

FORT STEWART, Ga., Aug. 26, 2011 -- The plight of the Gold Star family is something close to home for Survivor Outreach Services at Fort Stewart. The program offers support services to families of Active, Reserve and Army National Guard Soldiers who have passed away. Its mission is to provide support services to families of the fallen for however long the family wishes. The term Gold Star is used for all family members of fallen Soldiers. For Gold Star father, Willie Judon, he thought his family did not fit the criteria to receive services from Survivor Outreach Services, or SOS, or be involved in Gold Star programs. Judon, like most people, thought the program was available only to family members whose Soldier was killed in combat during a deployment. "The program is here to provide support services for families and Soldiers of fallen service members," said Cheryl Sowell, SOS coordinator. "The fallen Soldier could have died for numerous reasons and SOS is here for them regardless of the circumstances."

08/22/11

Program supports military families with special needs

WASHINGTON, Aug. 22, 2011 -- About a year ago, Air Force Maj. Nicholas Sabula received word of an upcoming assignment following his deployment in Afghanistan. He became concerned, however, when he learned that his new duty station and the local area didn't have adequate services for his son, who was diagnosed with autism in 2006. But shortly after, based on a recommendation from his Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator, Sabula's assignment was canceled and he moved here instead. "The benefit to our son was tremendous," he said. "It showed the availability of services at one location versus another can make an incredible impact on that child. "Knowing that EFMP took care of my family, that was critical to me," he added. Ensuring military families with special medical and educational needs receive the best care and support possible is the goal of the Exceptional Family Member Program, said Rebecca Posante, deputy director of the department's office of community support for military families with special needs. The program assists these families with everything from assignments, as in Sabula's case, to referrals for military and community resources, Posante said, with a focus on three key areas: identification and enrollment, assignment coordination and family support. Family members -- whether a spouse, child or dependent adult -- with a chronic medical condition or special educational requirement are eligible to enroll, Posante explained. Conditions run the gamut, she noted, covering everything from asthma and allergies to autism and Alzheimer's disease.

08/18/11

VA Paralympic Program Office Launches Website for Disabled Veterans

WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched its Paralympic Program website as part of VA’s ongoing commitment to support the rehabilitation and recovery of disabled Veterans through participation in adaptive sports. “Adaptive sports participation among disabled Veterans has many proven benefits such as increased independence, reduced dependency on pain and depression medication and stress reduction,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “Providing resources for disabled Veterans to participate or compete in adaptive sports supports the holistic wellness of Veterans, which is a key component of VA’s Veteran-centric care.” The website is located at www.va.gov/adaptivesports .

08/16/11

Free books for active duty under G.I. Bill changes

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 16, 2011) -- Active duty Soldiers and their spouses will soon be able to get funding for books and supplies as part of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Beginning Oct. 1, active duty members and their spouses can receive up to $1,000 for books and supplies, per academic year, as part of the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. Active duty members were not previously eligible for the books and supplies funding. Additional benefits to servicemembers and veterans include reimbursement of fees for exams used for admission to colleges. Such exams include the ACT, GMAT or SAT. Changes to the bill also mean reimbursement for more than one licensing or certification examination. Additionally, there are expanded benefits for non-college degree programs, on-the-job training, apprenticeship training, flight programs and correspondence training.

08/08/11

Army offers post-deployment resources

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. -- After nearly a decade of deployments in support of wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, Soldiers and their families continue to endure long separations and are faced with challenges at each stage of deployment. Post deployment, a time when Soldiers readjust to life at home, involves its own set of challenges for both the Soldier and the family. Understanding how to reintegrate and reconnect during this time is critical to the strength of the Army. The Army and Department of Defense have developed programs and resources to aid families during post-deployment readjustment. “One of the biggest assets that we have here is the Military and Family Life Consultant Program,” Carey said. According to the MFLC Program’s website, consultants provide solution-oriented consultations to individuals, couples, families, and groups. The MFLC Program is designed to provide support and assistance to active duty Soldiers, National Guard and Reserves, military family members and civilian personnel. MFLCs can help people who are having trouble coping with a number of issues to include deployment cycles. "One of the great qualities about the Military and Family Life Consultant Program is that it’s totally anonymous. The counselor doesn’t even need to know your name, and there is absolutely no paperwork involved. It’s a program intended to make Soldiers and their families feel comfortable seeing a counselor without getting the command involved,” Carey said.

08/04/11

VA Reaches Out to Veterans to Explain Upcoming Changes to GI Bill Encourages Veterans to Visit VA Website to Learn More

WASHINGTON (August 4, 2011)- The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is reaching out to inform Veterans of recent changes made by Congress to the Post 9/11 GI Bill that take effect in 2011. General Allison Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits, said "The Post 9/11 GI Bill is incredibly important because it reduces the financial burdens of higher education so that Veterans have an opportunity to achieve their education goals. VA believes it is important for Veterans to be aware of changes to the GI Bill this year and learn more about how these changes may affect them." "It's hard to believe how far we have all come with the Post-9/11 GI Bill the past two years," stated General Hickey. "Today, more than 537,000 students have received over $11.5 billion in GI Bill benefits to help them take charge of their future." Upcoming changes to the Post-9/11 GI Bill effective August 1, 2011 include paying the actual net cost of all public in-state tuition and fees, rather than basing payments upon the highest in-state tuition and fee rates for every state; capping private and foreign tuition at $17,500 per academic year; and ending payments during certain school breaks, to preserve Veterans' entitlement for future academic semesters. Also, certain students attending private schools in select states can now continue to receive benefits at the same rate payable during the previous academic year.

08/02/11

Program helps disabled vets become entrepreneurs

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2011 -- Retired Army 1st Sgt. Renee Floyd wasn’t about to let a disability stop her from realizing her dream of having her own business. Applying 21 years of experience as an Army mechanic, she launched BRF Mobile Lube Service in Phenix City, Ala., in 2009 and began traveling to people’s homes and businesses to provide convenient oil changes and maintenance services. But her big break came last month, she said, when she attended the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans With Disabilities at Florida State University. The nine-day EBV crash course is part of a program designed to help participants get their businesses off the ground or enhance ventures they have started. Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management in New York was the first to offer the program for veterans disabled as a result of their military service since Sept. 11, 2001. Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla., launched its own program in 2008. Now, a consortium of seven universities around the United States participates, anxious to help disabled veterans make their dreams of entrepreneurship a reality.

07/29/11

Technology to aid DoD mental health services

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash., July 29, 2011 -- Imagine being a psychologist sitting across from your patient. Now imagine that patient is actually hundreds of miles away. The first-ever live Introduction to Telemental Health Delivery Workshop at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology’s, or T2, headquarters on Joint Base Lewis-McChord last week offered guidance to providers on offering mental health services from a distance -- in this case, using videoconferencing technology. “The (Department of Defense) is pushing for this form of care because it’s a way to reach a lot of people who otherwise wouldn’t get care,” T2 clinical health psychologist Dr. Greg Kramer said.

07/21/11

National Guard and Reserve Status Determines TRICARE Eligibility

TRICARE’s commitment to providing quality medical care to beneficiaries affiliated with the uniformed services includes National Guard and Reserve members and retirees. Several health care options are available to reservists and their families. But their eligibility for certain plans is determined by the sponsor’s status. While activated under federal orders for more than 30 consecutive days, National Guard and Reserve members are eligible for the same health care benefits as other active duty service members. These benefits include TRICARE Prime, Prime Remote, TRICARE Overseas Program (TOP) Prime and TOP Prime Remote. Enrollment is required for TRICARE Prime options. The families of activated National Guard and Reserve members are covered under the same health plans as other active duty family members. Families can learn more about the available plans by clicking the “Quick Links” tab located on the home page at www.tricare.mil. National Guard and Reserve members who are deactivated or serving on active duty for 30 days or less are covered for any injury, illness or disease sustained in the line of duty, including conditions incurred or aggravated while traveling directly to and from their place of duty. In order to receive coverage for such injuries, guard and reserve members must obtain a Line of Duty Determination/Notice of Eligibility (LOD/NOE) from their respective service component. Line of duty coverage is separate from customary TRICARE health plans and does not apply to family members.

07/20/11

Shinseki: VA task force improves care of women vets

WASHINGTON, July 20, 2011 -- The newly formed VA Task Force on Women Veterans will go a long way in addressing key benefits gaps to female veterans, according to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki. While support for women veterans has improved, “it has not been enough,” Shinseki said during the 2011 National Training Summit on Women Veterans held here on July 16, 2011. The task force’s “near-term mission,” he said, is to develop -- in coordination with VA's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and in conjunction with the Defense Department -- a comprehensive VA action plan that will focus on key issues facing women veterans and the specific actions needed to resolve them. Those issues include obstetric and gynecological care, childcare, military sexual trauma, homelessness, aging and end-of-life issues, among others, the secretary said. A draft of the plan is due to Shinseki on Jan. 1, 2012, and “will set our course for the next four years in everything we do, from planning to programming, to budgeting, to education and training,” he said.

07/19/11

Symposium discusses ways to improve warrior care

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, July 19, 2011) -- The Army Wounded Warrior program’s 7th Annual Symposium is taking place this week in Orlando, Fla., with focused discussions that will identify the most important transition and care issues facing Soldiers and their families. More than 90 wounded, ill and injured Soldiers, veterans and family members will participate in intensive group discussions based on their personal experiences. They will ultimately identify the top five issues in Soldier care, which span topics affecting families, Warrior Transition Units, finance and veterans affairs, explained Col. Greg Gadson, director of AW2. “Simply put, this event is about listening to those who have been through it and learning about ways we can continue to improve how we care for our most severely wounded, injured and ill Soldiers, veterans and their families, and then take action,” Gadson said.

07/06/11

Emergency grant to aid job search for military spouses

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- When searching for a job, Meg Jameson usually finds herself in demand. As a high school chemistry teacher, she has skills useful to plenty of school districts. But Jameson is also an Army spouse, and things have been tougher since she arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord a few weeks ago. She’s applied for four teaching positions and hasn’t had any response. “It’s distressing,” she said. To her good fortune, there are resources for those who left jobs when their servicemember-spouses or Family members received orders to change stations. A National Emergency Grant for $4.8 million was recently awarded to help spouses relocating to Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The grant, which was awarded to the Washington State Employment Security Department and partners by the U.S. Department of Labor, is part of the Base Realignment and Closure Committee action of 2005 and will help 825 military spouses upgrade skills or find new careers.

06/29/11

Career opportunities expand for military spouses

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2011 -- In an effort to address military spouses’ employment challenges, the Defense Department today launched a program to expand career opportunities for military spouses worldwide, and to recognize the skills and talents they bring to the employment table. Flanked by military spouses and corporate leaders, top government and military officials unveiled the Military Spouse Employment Partnership during a ceremony at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce here. The partnership encompasses more than 70 employers who have committed to opening their doors to spouse employment.

06/28/11

Goal-setting app on iPhone, iPad: Coming soon to Droid

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 28, 2011) -- “A lot of times we push off getting back to stuff because we can’t get to it. The goal-setting now is right there in your pocket,” said Sam Rhodes, the action officer responsible for a mobile-phone app that sets resilience goals. The free app for iPhones and iPads, developed by Rhodes and a team at the Maneuver Center of Excellence, Fort Benning, Ga., and the Signal Center of Excellence at Fort Gordon, Ga., was released one month ago. It is the i-version of the Resilience Goals Book under the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program. The app allows Apple users to set goals within their personal beliefs and then set up e-reminders to stay on top of them. It can be downloaded at http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/download/.

06/28/11

New disability evaluation system benefits Soldiers

A joint initiative between the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs aims to simplify and streamline the delivery of disability services and benefits for wounded, injured or ill servicemembers who are unable to continue service. The new Integrated Disability Evaluation System, or IDES, makes the overall evaluation process faster and simpler for servicemembers, according to Col. Sheila Hobbs, the chief of patient administration for the Office of the Surgeon General, who helped develop the new system. IDES provides servicemembers a seamless transition from active duty to veteran status, she added. On average, Soldiers evaluated through IDES received their VA disability benefits more than 50 percent faster than those evaluated through the legacy system in use by the Army since 1949, according to Col. Daniel Cassidy, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Physical Disability Agency, headquartered at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

06/27/11

WTC releases new video on enhanced warrior care system

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 27, 2011) -- The Warrior Transition Command released a 10-minute educational video last week highlighting new aspects of the Army’s system to care for wounded, ill and injured Soldiers. Titled “Soldier Success through Focused Commitment,” the video features three Warriors in Transition -- Capt. Jeremy McGuffey, Sgt. 1st Class John Wright and Staff Sgt. Gabriel Garcia -- working through the WTU on their way to recovery. It walks the viewers through several parts of the program including the Warrior Transition Unit structure -- which provides personal care for Soldiers who require six months or more of rehabilitation or complex medical care. “The Army has committed the money and the resources to ensure that our wounded, ill, and injured Soldiers and their families can heal together,” said Brig. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of the WTC, “as well as learn the necessary skills and tools that will enable them to lead productive lives post injury.”

06/23/11

Partnership Links Military Spouses With Employers

WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 – The Defense Department is launching a new partnership next week that’s intended to expand job opportunities for military spouses by connecting them with employers actively seeking to hire them. Microsoft, Home Depot, Starbucks and the Navy Federal Credit Union are just a few of the nearly 60 corporations and companies that have signed on with the DOD partnership, said Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. When the partnership is launched June 29 at the Chamber of Commerce here, Gordon expects 14 more companies will be added to the partnership’s roster. “The design of this program is to bring together those spouses who want to work with a web portal where companies that would like to employ our military spouses can find them,” he said. That web portal is Military OneSource -- located at http://www.militaryonesource.com -- which also offers job-seeking resources such as resume building. People can call OneSource consultants at 1-800-342-9647. The partnership is based on memoranda of agreement to hire military spouses, Gordon explained. Some 100 job fairs are scheduled, starting in Los Angeles on July 10, with 200 companies ready to offer jobs to spouses.

06/17/11

Fishing program assists Soldiers’ recovery

FORT DRUM, N.Y., June 17, 2011 -- Remington Pond is eerily quiet except for the soft whishing of fishing lines and splashing on the water’s surface. Capt. Rob Burke stands on the edge of the pond, rhythmically casting his fly fishing line into the water. Around him, a few local volunteers and fellow Soldiers silently do the same. The anglers are members of Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing, a nonprofit organization that focuses on reaching out to wounded veterans to aid in their rehabilitation -- both mentally and physically.

06/07/11

Army MWR integrated into Installation Management Command

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, Texas, June 7, 2011 -- Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of the Installation Management Command, presided over a ceremony marking the integration of the Army’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command into the Installation Management Command. The ceremony on the Fort Sam Houston, Texas, parade field completed the Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command’s Base Realignment and Closure law-mandated move from Alexandria, Va., to Texas. Immediately after the FMWRC command colors were uncased and presented, they were retired during a deactivation ceremony that formally made Army Family and MWR programs part of IMCOM and marked the creation of a Family and MWR Programs (G9) Division. The mission of the newly established G9 is to serve the needs and interests of each individual in the Army community for the duration of their association with the military. Family and MWR programs are proof of the Army’s commitment to support and care for all who defend the nation and their Family members.

06/02/11

Army launches new 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal website

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 2, 2011) -- In preparation of the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the Army has launched a new website to provide servicemembers and their Families the most up-to-date information about the change. The website features current news articles, key facts, frequently asked questions and additional resources. It is just one of the many training resources the Army implemented to educate the force and minimize misconceptions about the repeal. "It's a way for the Army to provide the latest and greatest information about the repeal to Soldiers, Family members and the public," said Lt. Col Timothy M. Beninato, public affairs advisor to the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs and Army G-1. Current policies remain in effect, and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", or DADT, law will stay in place until 60 days after the president, secretary of defense and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff certify that the repeal can be implemented "consistent with the standards of military readiness and effectiveness, unit cohesion, and military recruiting and retention."

06/01/11

Labor Department grants to provide veterans job training

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2011 -- As part of an interagency effort to support America’s veterans, the Labor Department today announced $37 million in grants to provide job training for about 21,000 veterans, many of them homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis announced the grants today, awarded to continue successful programs into their second and third years. Twenty-two grants totaling more than $9 million will provide job training to about 4,000 veterans to help them succeed in civilian careers, Labor Department officials said. Those funds, provided through the Veterans Workforce Investment Program, emphasize training in “green” jobs related to energy efficiency and renewable energy, modern electric power development and clean vehicles.

05/31/11

Gates, Mullen praise efforts of troops, families, vets

WASHINGTON, May 29, 2011 -- Flanked by the memorials of wars past, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today said he has had no greater honor than serving and leading the U.S. military. "I will always keep them in my heart and my prayers as long as I live," Gates, who retires next month, told thousands of troops, families and veterans gathered for the annual Memorial Day weekend Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride. Rolling Thunder began in 1987 as a demonstration to bring awareness to the plight of prisoners of war and those missing in action. Today more than 250,000 motorcycles participate in the weekend observance, which has evolved into a patriotic demonstration for Soldiers and veterans from all wars. Gates praised the efforts of the organization for ensuring the sacrifices of the military and families are recognized, honored and never forgotten.

05/19/11

Study focuses on mental health of force in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 19, 2011) -- Soldiers say there's lower barriers and better access to behavioral health care in theater, even though for many there's been an increase in time spent outside the wire. The assessment of Soldier opinion on behavioral health care was revealed May 19, 2011, with the release of the Joint Mental Health Advisory Team VII survey.

05/17/11

NY Guard Yellow Ribbon Program helps Soldiers, families deal with redeployment stress

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., May 17, 2011 -- There have been a lot of changes in his house since New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Jason Diaz left for Iraq in 2010, but the thing that stands out the most is how independent his wife Nisha is now. "She finished her degree and did a great job of taking care of our family while I was away," said Jason. Nisha Diaz pretty much got used to doing it all on her own, which is a little tough on her husband. "I've been home for a little over a month, and the hardest part is finding a place where I belong" said Jason. Coping with changes like those in the Diaz household, and learning how to embrace them is what the New York National Guard's Yellow Ribbon Program is about.

05/13/11

Army working to streamline disability evaluation system

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 13, 2011) -- Army leaders told lawmakers Wednesday the service is revamping its disability evaluation system because the current process is inefficient. "The disability evaluation system is complex, disjointed, hard to understand, and takes way too long -- and that's the good news," said Thomas R. Lamont, the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. "It is highly inefficient, and truly does impact our readiness. We have got to get a grip on this and we are making every effort to do that." Both Lamont and Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, deputy chief of staff, G-1, appeared May 11, 2011, before the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on personnel. Bostick explained how the Army is working to fix the disability evaluation system. "We are working very close with OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) to figure how we can streamline it," Bostick said of the Army's old system. "As you know we have worked closely with the VA on the Integrated Disability Evaluation System, so instead of doing two physicals we now do one physical."

05/11/11

Army Initiates Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) Improvements

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have generated over the past ten years a significant number of Soldiers with multiple and complex medical conditions that require a disability evaluation. What the Army has done? The U.S. Army and Army Medical Command (MEDCOM) implemented an expansion strategy on April 1, 2011, to deploy an augmentation team comprised of activated Reserve Component Soldiers and TRICARE Management Activity support contractors to Dwight. D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center, Fort Gordon, Ga. The augmentation team supplements existing resources at the medical center and enhances the Army's ability to provide timely, quality and compassionate Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) disability processing for Soldiers. The expansion also helps ensure the Army has adequate personnel and resources available to process MEB cases and enhance continuity of care so Soldiers do not lose entitlements or benefits. The Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES) is another initiative the Army, Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) collaborated on to improve the disability process. The IDES, which began as a pilot program in the National Capitol Region in 2007, combines the separate rating systems used by the Army and VA into a single disability rating that the VA prepares for use by both departments. The Army will deploy IDES to all of its military treatment facilities by the end of the fiscal year. The Army also recently opened a new Reserve Component Soldier Medical Support Center in Pinellas Park, Fla., to transform and improve the disability evaluation process for Reserve Component Soldiers.

05/10/11

Call center helps Arlington National Cemetery serve public

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 10, 2011) -- On average, Arlington National Cemetery receives 5,000 calls a month, ranging from basic information to scheduling funerals. A year ago, the cemetery staff answered all of these calls, straining the system. Now in partnership with the Army's Information Technology Agency, the Consolidated Customer Support Center, or CCSC, answers 60 to 65 percent of those calls, providing the first level of support to the public.

05/02/11

Army accelerates app innovation, delivery

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, May 2, 2011) -- The Army is now developing another "Apps for the Army" challenge which will be the next increment of the Army Marketplace. The challenge is expected to launch in 2012 with expanded participation, to include both public and industry developers. "In 2010, the Apps for the Army challenge provided a venue for internal Army early adopters and innovators," said Gary Blohm, lead for software transformation within the Army Chief Information Office/G-6. "This time the Army wants to tap into industry, and not just for its well-known application development capabilities, but to help them look at new ways to broaden third party participation in the marketplace."

04/27/11

New TRICARE Program Offers Coverage for Young Adults Under 26

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – TRICARE Young Adult (TYA) is now open for enrollment with coverage beginning May 1, 2011. Uniformed services dependents under 26, unmarried, and not eligible for their own employer-sponsored health care coverage may be qualified to purchase TYA, which offers TRICARE Standard coverage for monthly premiums of $186. A premium-based TRICARE Prime benefit will be available later this year. Dependent eligibility for TRICARE previously ended at age 21, or age 23 for full-time college students. Similar to provisions in the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, TYA extends the opportunity for young adults to continue TRICARE health care coverage, as long as their sponsor is still eligible for TRICARE.

04/27/11

Basic combat training now includes naturalization

ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, April 27, 2011) -- Soldiers are now able to obtain their citizenship faster than ever during a time of war, and may soon see United States Citizenship and Immigration Services personnel at their basic combat training location. Soldiers looking to apply for citizenship can now do so during basic combat training and at a faster clip than they have been able to in the past. In addition, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, officers may become a permanent fixture at places like Fort Jackson, S.C., officials said.

04/20/11

Deadline 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, 2011, allowing those eligible more time to apply for the benefits they’ve earned under the program guidelines. The deadline extension is included in Continuing Resolution H.R. 1473, signed by President Obama April 15, 2011, providing funding for federal government operations through Oct. 21, 2011.

04/19/11

Army training app adds popular 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' repeal teaching materials, more

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. - Two months after being posted on the Army Training Network, U.S. Army training materials on the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" or DADT, continue to be the most-downloaded information on the Army training website - with more than 85,000 total downloads. The DADT video, a summary of top things you need to know, presentation slides and other DADT tools have also been added to the downloadable ATN2GO app. The app, which has been downloaded more than 5,000 times since it was introduced in August, allows anyone with a CAC card or Army Knowledge Online login ID to choose DADT and other Army training materials they want to download to their iPad, iPhone or Android mobile device.

04/06/11

National Guard news has an app for that

ARLINGTON, Va., April 6, 2011 -- The National Guard Bureau has unveiled a new application which enables iPhone and iPad users to stay in touch with National Guard news anytime via their mobile devices. The National Guard News Mobile App - available for free download at www.ng.mil - keeps readers connected with up-to-the-minute updates and enables the National Guard's 22,000 Facebook fans and 12,000 Twitter followers to share their favorite stories with their friends on popular social media platforms.

04/04/11

DoD to drop social security numbers from ID cards

WASHINGTON, April 1, 2011 -- Beginning June 1, Social Security numbers on military identification cards will begin to disappear, said Air Force Maj. Monica M. Matoush, a Pentagon spokeswoman. The effort is part of a larger plan to protect servicemembers and other DoD identification card holders from identity theft, officials said. Criminals use Social Security numbers to steal identities, allowing them to pillage resources, establish credit or to hijack credit cards, bank accounts or debit cards. Currently, the Social Security number is printed on the back of common access cards, and on the front of cards issued to dependents and retirees. Beginning in June, when current cards expire, they will be replaced with new cards having a DoD identification number replacing the Social Security number, officials said. The DoD identification number is a unique 10-digit number that is assigned to every person with a direct relationship with the department. The new number also will be the service member's Geneva Convention identification number. An 11-digit DoD benefits number also will appear on the cards of those people eligible for DoD benefits. The first nine digits are common to a sponsor, the official said, and the last two digits will identify a specific person within the sponsor's family.

04/01/11

TRICARE Young Adult Program: Coming Soon

FALLS CHURCH, Va – Qualified TRICARE dependents up to age 26 can soon purchase TRICARE coverage on a month-to-month basis. To qualify to purchase TRICARE Young Adult (TYA) coverage, dependents must be under 26, unmarried and not eligible for their own employer-sponsor health coverage. TYA will initially offer a premium-based TRICARE Standard benefit with a premium-based TRICARE Prime benefit phased in later this year. Eligible family members who receive health care services between Jan. 1, 2011 and when the program is implemented can purchase TYA coverage retroactively to Jan. 1, 2011. Beneficiaries should save their receipts.

03/31/11

VA makes progress to end veteran homelessness

WASHINGTON, March 31, 2011 -- They served their country in uniform -- many on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now that they've returned home and rejoined civilian life, an alarming number of veterans have found themselves on the streets and living under bridges. The Veterans Affairs Department is making progress on its commitment to end homelessness among veterans, Deputy VA Secretary W. Scott Gould told American Forces Press Service, striving to achieve that goal ahead of its original 2015 timetable. "This is a big, bold goal," Gould said of the pledge President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki announced in 2009. "What I see there is the president and secretary willing to do something that rarely happens in government, which is to set a clear, measurable and time-phased goal -- zero homelessness by 2015 for our veterans -- and then apply the resources, the planning and the leadership to make that happen," Gould said. Shinseki has become even more forward-leaning on the issue, vowing to achieve those aims a year ahead of schedule. "As the president has said, 'We're not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America,'" he told the Marine Corps League in February. "If you wonder what I will be working on for the next several years, this is it. We will end veteran homelessness in 2014."

03/26/11

Physical Disability Board of Review Reexamination Possible for Soldiers

Service members who have been medically separated since September 11, 2001 will have the opportunity to have their disability ratings reviewed to ensure fairness and accuracy. The new Physical Disability Board of Review (PDBR) will examine each applicant’s medical separation, compare DoD and VA ratings, and make a recommendation to the respective Service Secretary (or designee.) A disability rating cannot be lowered and any change to the rating is effective on the date of final decision by the Service Secretary. To be eligible for PDBR review, a service member must have been medically separated between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2009 with a combined disability rating of 20 percent or less, and not found eligible for retirement. There are significant differences between this new PDBR review and a Board for Correction of Military (or Naval) Record (BCMR/BCNR) review. These differences are outlined here and are also in the instructions accompanying the application (form DD-294).

03/25/11

Military offspring await health care extension

PITTSBURGH - One heralded part of the controversial health care law that took effect this past year - allowing people to stay on parental insurance policies until age 26 - has a hole big enough to march an infantry division through. The law doesn't apply to Tricare, the Department of Defense program that insures 9.6 million active duty, reserve and retired military members and their families. Congress moved to fix the oversight with an addition to the 2011 defense spending bill, but the Defense Department is still crafting regulations that would give veterans' children the same options civilian children have had for nearly a year. Because Tricare is a government program, and the health care bill regulated private insurance carriers, the law didn't apply.

03/24/11

Military children need nation's support

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2011 -- Military children need the support not just of the Defense Department, but the "whole of nation" to ensure they're ready for the future, a DoD official said here today. "Military children are resilient, but they need a lot of help," said Robert L. Gordon III, deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy. "We're doing much more in the within the Department of Defense and federal government, but it will not be enough, because this is an American problem. It's not just a problem of the Department of Defense." Gordon touched on the challenges facing military children and some of the programs the Defense Department is implementing to help them during a roundtable on the education of military children, one of the culminating events of an education summit called "Building a Grad Nation."

03/23/11

DoD Education Activity opens online preregistration for schools

WASHINGTON, March 23, 2011 -- Defense Department officials have launched an online preregistration application that's intended to help parents get an early start on enrolling their children in DoD schools. Through the site, parents can preregister their children in a DOD school from anywhere in the world, and even while on the move from one installation to another, explained Mike Lynch, chief of policy and legislation for the Department of Defense Education Activity. The site, located at https://registration.dodea.edu, is open to parents with students entering pre-kindergarten up to 12th grade.

03/22/11

Congressional Fellowship Program accepting applications

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 22, 2011) -- Applications are now being accepted for Soldiers and Army civilians to apply for fellowship positions with members of the 113th Congress. Active-duty and reserve-component Soldiers as well as Department of the Army civilians all have a unique opportunity to participate in the Fiscal Year 2013 Army Congressional Fellowship Program. The program will allow participants to serve for one year on Capitol Hill.

03/22/11

Brain injuries: Recovery is possible

FORT HOOD, Texas, March 22, 2011 -- Many people have experienced the effects of a concussion at some point whether on the battlefield or at home, but unless the injury is severe, it can be difficult to determine if treatment is needed. So that Soldiers and family members are aware of brain injuries and when and where to seek help, Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center, here, held an informative discussion with reporters, staff and patients on the causes, effects and treatment of traumatic brain injuries, referred to as TBIs. The most important fact to remember when dealing with a TBI is that recovery is possible with rest and treatment, said Lt. Cdr. Scott Mitchell, a physical therapist with the U.S. Public Health Service who also is the officer-in-charge of the CRDAMC Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic. "Most people who experience a concussion will recover with rest," he said. "Generally you won't need extensive medical care, but it is good to get seen and treated." There are several signs and symptoms of TBI to be aware of after a head injury, including any loss of consciousness, loss of memory, confusion, disorientation, weakness, loss of balance, change in vision, sleep disturbances, nausea, irritability and depression.

03/15/11

Red Cross website links Japan-based troops to home

WASHINGTON, March 15, 2011 -- In the wake of Japan's massive earthquake and tsunami, Red Cross officials are encouraging U.S. servicemembers and families posted there to register with an online resource intended to keep family and friends back home informed of their welfare. Military members and their families overseas can relay their status and pass on messages to loved ones through the American Red Cross-sponsored "Safe and Well" website at http://redcross.org. "It's a great online tool," Deanna Swanier, senior director of service delivery for the American Red Cross' Service to the Armed Forces, told American Forces Press Service yesterday. "Family members back here can visit the website and look up loved ones to see if they're safe."

03/12/11

Therapy dogs helping with more than PTSD, TBI

FAIRFAX, Va. (Army News Service, March 11, 2011) -- Launched just eight months ago, Veterans Moving Forward vows to provide service dogs, at no cost, to veterans with physical and mental health challenges, including those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries. "We want to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our veterans by increasing their safety and independence within their environment," said Karen Jeffries, founder of Veterans Moving Forward, or VMF, and a service-disabled veteran herself. She retired as a commander from the Navy nine years ago. "We differ from similar services that only focus on vets with PTSD or those from certain wars. I don't care if somebody lost their leg because of diabetes or they lost a leg because of an IED (improvised explosive device) explosion. If they're a wounded veteran, we will engage with their health care team, to analyze their needs and see if one of our dogs can help them," she said.

03/08/11

Commission recommends women be allowed in combat arms

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 8, 2011) -- A report released to the president and Congress Monday recommends 20 changes in the way the military facilitates diversity, and suggests gender barriers be lifted on all career fields. The Military Leadership Diversity Commission, established under the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, is a group of 31 active-duty and retired officers, enlisted personnel and senior executives from major corporations. Research the commission conducted included finding a new universal definition of diversity and how to increase language, regional and diverse cultural knowledge in military leaders. The commission is also recommending that the Department of Defense eliminate its combat-exclusion policies, which currently bar women from combat-arms specialties and from assignment in units battalion-size or smaller that have a routine mission to engage in direct combat. According to the report, the commission would like the military to immediately allow women to be assigned to any unit that requires their military occupation, regardless of the type of unit. It would also like the DoD to take steps to open up career fields traditionally not available to women, including combat arms.

03/04/11

President signs continuing resolution, extends 'Stop Loss' deadline

WASHINGTON, March 3, 2011 -- President Barack Obama signed legislation last night that will keep the government funded and running through March 18. The new continuing resolution cuts $4 billion from the previous continuing resolution funding. None of the $4 billion is taken from Defense Department programs. Extending the continuing resolution also means that servicemembers and veterans have until March 18 to file for 'stop-loss' funds if their service was involuntarily extended between Sept. 11, 2001 and Sept. 30, 2009.

03/03/11

Battlefield to boardroom: Corporate execs mentor troops

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 3, 2011) -- Twenty-nine companies are now participating in the American Corporate Partners program to mentor veterans and help them transition to become the next wave of corporate leaders. The American Corporate Partners is open to servicemembers and veterans who have served on active duty since 2001, as well as the spouses of troops severely wounded or killed in action. The nationwide mentoring program connects them to the most fitting corporation related to their desired field of endeavor. American Corporate Partners has matched 1,000 mentors with proteges across the nation since it began on Labor Day 2008. The 12-month program is centered on the protege and mentor relationship, and includes various networking opportunities and professional building techniques. It involves one-on-one communication and e-mentoring. The in-person program is available to veterans who live within 100 miles of one of the American Corporate Partners cities of participation, and the e-mentoring is available to veterans who live outside these cities.

02/26/11

Suicide prevention, everyone's responsibility

CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq -- "Suicide can dip in to any age group, any rank, from a private to our most senior officers," said Command Sgt. Maj. Earl L. Rice, senior enlisted advisor for the deputy commanding general for operations, United States Forces - Iraq, and XVIII Airborne Corps command sergeant major. "Regardless of who you are, you need someone to talk to. Servicemembers need some type of way to communicate their issues and concerns, so that we can get them help." Servicemembers should not have to fight alone against this silent enemy, and fortunately, the U.S. military forces have many personnel that are able to guide them to a solution, as well as a variety of helpful programs that can assist those who need support. "Suicide prevention is extremely important to all of our senior leaders," said Rice. "It's about protecting the force, protecting our Army and doing what's right for our Army." Top leaders, such as Rice, strongly recommend all servicemembers needing help concerning suicide to use all available resources in order to overcome this challenge. "Obviously the statistics show a significant increase in suicide deaths over the past few years, but I think everyone should understand that one suicide is too much," said Chaplain (Cpt.) Robert Nofsinger, the chaplain of Task Force Dragon, Headquarters and Headquarters Battalion, XVIII Abn. Corps. While being deployed can cause various types of stress to many servicemembers, issues such as legal, marital and financial problems, as well as feelings of loneliness and depression, add to the strain that could lead to heavy anxiety. The 883rd Medical Detachment Combat Stress Control at Camp Liberty Clinic has numerous support programs for servicemembers on Victory Base Complex. "Combat Stress Control serves as a force multiplier by providing 13 regularly scheduled psycho-educational classes such as anger management, positive thinking and stress management," explained Maj. Sandra Pabon, an occupational therapist with 883rd Med. Co., 804th Med. Brigade, and officer-in-charge of Liberty Clinic. "One of the most important prevention programs is the Unit Behavioral Health Advocate," said Pabon. "This is where we educate and train selected Soldiers at the unit level. They are the eyes and ears of the company and they are the first responders."

02/24/11

Federal agencies learn benefits of hiring wounded veterans

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 24, 2011) -- Hiring representatives from two dozen federal agencies gathered Feb. 23, at Fort Belvoir, Va., for a two-day event designed in part to help them meet new requirements to increase hiring of veterans and disabled Americans. "We structured the event to educate our federal agencies about the wounded warrior programs, about how we're organized and what our missions are," said Col. Gregory D. Gadson, director of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Program, known as AW2. "We are starting out just from an education standpoint. It's important for federal agencies to understand the services' wounded warrior programs." President Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13518 in November 2009, which focused on employment of veterans in the federal government. In July 2010, the president also signed Executive Order 13548, which focused on increasing federal employment of individuals with disabilities. Gadson said he hopes federal employers represented at the event -- which was co-hosted by the wounded warrior programs from all services -- would come away with a better understanding of how to and why they should look to wounded servicemembers when fulfilling the requirements of President Obama's executive orders.

02/22/11

Battle ongoing to defeat combat stress

PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- Combat stress is one of the most lethal enemies that members of the armed forces must face. Members of the Combat Stress Clinic are working throughout Afghanistan to defeat this enemy. Lt. Col Thomas Stokes, a social worker from Glenshaw, Pa., leads a team dedicated to helping servicemembers cope with the stress of combat and increase their efficacy on the battlefield. "My objective is to maintain the fighting strength," said Stokes. Stokes said he recognizes each person he treats is faced with a different set of stressors depending upon where they are in the deployment cycle. "I treat every person who walks through my door as a unique individual," said Stokes. "Our treatment is not, 'one size fits all.'" Servicemembers deployed for their first time must adjust to life in a foreign environment and help their loved ones to adjust to their absence. Those returning to the U.S. often feel both joy and anxiety as they prepare to reintegrate into home and Western society.

02/14/11

'Don't Ask' repeal training set to begin

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2011 -- Training will begin shortly for experts in certain specialties and leaders as part of the plan for finalizing repeal of the law that bars gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from serving openly in the military, the chief of staff for the Defense Department's repeal implementation team said here today. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Steven A. Hummer outlined the process in an interview. President Barack Obama signed the repeal of the law commonly known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" Dec. 22, beginning a process that will culminate in full repeal. The current policy remains in effect until 60 days after the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the president certify the military's readiness to implement the repeal. Gates has said he wants repeal done expeditiously and effectively, and that it can happen this year.

02/11/11

HRC has new toll-free number

Soldiers and other customers will be able to contact the U.S. Army Human Resources Command much more easily now that HRC has a new, memorable toll-free number: 1-888-ARMYHRC (1-888-276-9472). Customers using the Defense Switched Network should use DSN 983-9500. The telephone number connects to the Human Resources Contact Center. The HRCC serves as the primary entry point into the U.S. Army Human Resources Command for military-related HR inquires. When you get a misdirected call, instead of trying to figure out what person to transfer it to, give the caller HRC's new toll-free number so the call can be logged, referred to the proper person and tracked. Customers who prefer electronic mail may contact the HRCC at askhrc.army@us.army.mil Read more about what the HRCC can do for you at https://www.hrc.army.mil/site/index.asp

02/10/11

Army drafting new regulation for WTUs

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 10, 2011) -- The Warrior Transition Command is developing a consolidated regulation that will provide complete oversight and guidance for its 29 units across the Army. The new regulation was one of the recommendations of a 158-page Inspector General report concerning the Warrior Transition Units that WTC Commander Brig. Gen. Darryl Williams spoke to reporters about Jan. 25, at the Pentagon. Inspectors noted that the Warrior Care and Transition Program had no single synchronizing document which outlined governing policies, guidance and regulatory requirements. In lieu of a primary instruction or regulation, the WTUs have been working under numerous orders, messages, directives and policy memos which create varying interpretations and cause some confusion among the staff. "Folks in my organization need to be able to pull off their shelf a single document, an Army regulation that contain the rules and missions, and where they (WTUs) fit into this bigger picture," said Williams, who was promoted to brigadier general Feb. 4. "It's very confederated right now and what we hear most about from the field." So the WTC is now working with G-1 on a regulation for its 29 WTUs and Community-based Warrior Transition Units.

02/09/11

New and Enhanced VA Benefits Provided to Caregivers of Veterans

WASHINGTON (Feb. 9, 2011) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is launching the first of a series of new and enhanced services supporting family caregivers of seriously ill and injured Veterans. In May 2010, President Obama signed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010 legislation authorizing VA to establish a wide range of new services to support certain caregivers of eligible Post 9/11 Veterans. "Caregivers make tremendous sacrifices every day to help Veterans of all eras who served this nation," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. "They are critical partners with VA in the recovery and comfort of ill and injured Veterans, and they deserve our continued training, support and gratitude." "DAV is happy to hear that caregivers of Veterans are getting additional support and services to care for our Nation's heroes and unprecedented new services for our most recent severely ill and injured," said David W. Gorman, executive director of the Washington Headquarters of the Disabled American Veterans. "We understand there are challenges to implementing the new law; including ensuring that critically ill and injured Veterans of all eras are similarly supported."

02/09/11

National Guard psychological health directors help Soldiers, Airmen manage stress

ARLINGTON, Va., Feb. 9, 2011 -- The National Guard has appointed directors of psychological health for each state and territory to ensure a continuance of excellent care for servicemembers and their families. The state directors of psychological health have been assigned to each of the 54 Joint Force Headquarters to serve servicemembers in the Army and Air Guards, National Guard officials said. "We are slowly building a behavioral health program [in the National Guard]," said Public Health Service Capt. Joan Hunter, the National Guard Bureau's director of psychological health. "Currently, we have 56 directors of psychological health. "These are licensed practitioners at the independent level - meaning they have state licenses to practice without supervision - but we provide them with supervision and make it mandatory, even if they don't need it. "In other words, they have a lot of experience." The Director of Psychological Health, or DPH, assesses what is going on in the states; acts as a consultant to leadership and servicemembers and assesses and refers servicemembers who are showing signs of stress, post-traumatic stress or a mild traumatic brain injury.

02/07/11

Relief in sight for chronic pain sufferers

FORT HOOD, Texas, Feb. 7, 2011 -- Injury and pain may be considered just a consequence of the job for many Soldiers, but the medical professionals at Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center here are striving to help wounded Soldiers manage their pain so they can continue their Army careers. "We've definitely seen a steady increase in the incidence of acute and chronic pain within the military population. Just in the nature of their jobs and what they do every day, Soldiers are at a greater risk for developing chronic pain," said Dr. Richard Erff, chief of the CRDAMC Pain Clinic. "Helping Soldiers manage their pain presents some challenges for us, but we have been successful in helping them experience appreciable relief." The International Association for the Study of Pain defines chronic pain as pain that persists beyond the typical three-month healing time. Chronic pain can result from injury or surgery and is severe enough to disrupt normal functioning. Many acute or less severe pain issues transition into chronic conditions that require a comprehensive approach to treatment. "Pain becomes a problem when it is so severe that it keeps you from functioning at your normal level," Erff said. "People experience pain in different ways, too. Some may have a constant pain or a pain that fluctuates-flaring on some days, waning on others. Some may be living with the same pain for years. Some may only experience pain when doing a specific activity." Whatever type of pain they are experiencing, Erff said that there is relief available as there are many therapies and strategies that can help. "Soldiers shouldn't take a 'tough it out' stance when dealing with their pain. It's important to see a medical provider," Erff stated. "And the sooner you see someone about your pain, the better it will be for you, since the longer pain persists, the harder it is to treat."

01/25/11

Conference kicks off for wounded Soldiers on active duty

Alexandria, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 25, 2010) -- The Army Wounded Warrior Program Continuation on Active Duty/Continuation on Active Reserve Forum began today and focused on improving care for Soldiers deemed medically unfit for service, yet wanting to continue to serve, and will result in presenting recommendations to Army senior leaders. The conference is enlisting the help of 30 severely wounded, ill and injured Soldiers to suggest possible changes based off their experiences. "Of course there's always room for improvement," said Col. Greg Gadson, director of the Army Wounded Warrior Program, or AW2, a double-amputee himself. "What we're trying to do is to give this population a voice, and bring them together to ask them for their feedback on how we can make the program better." There has been a 23-percent increase in wounded Soldiers who participate in Continuation on Active Duty, or COAD, since 2008. "Personally, it's very important to me," Gadson said of COAD. "I'm very grateful that the Army has a formal program like this that allows those who want to continue to serve the possibility to. And I want to make it better." The 30 delegates will be broken up into groups to discuss the issues wounded Soldiers face while returning to active duty and they will prioritize potential changes.

01/25/11

Obama announces 'unprecedented commitment' to military families

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2011 -- President Barack Obama today unveiled a governmentwide plan to strengthen military family support, offering a glimpse at a few of the new programs and cooperative efforts being launched in the coming months to improve quality of life and well-being for military families. "Today, I'm proud to announce that for the first time ever, supporting the well-being of our military families will be a priority not just for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but all across the federal government," Obama said. Speaking from the White House's East Room, Obama unveiled this "unprecedented commitment" to military families with First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, at his side. Top government and Defense Department officials also were on hand, including Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the service chiefs, and their spouses. Spotlighting the importance of military family support, Obama recalled his trip to Afghanistan last month, where he spoke to troops and asked them what he could do to better support them. "Without missing a beat, they looked me in the eye and they gave me their answer," the president said. "It wasn't about more equipment. It wasn't about more resources on the battlefield. In fact, it wasn't about them. "They said, to a man: 'Sir, take care of our families,'" he said. "'If we know our families are all right back home, then we can do our jobs.'"

01/21/11

TRICARE improves online communication, access

WASHINGTON, Jan. 21, 2011 -- Additions to the TRICARE military health plan's website are giving beneficiaries easier access to their personal health data, more convenient appointment scheduling and better communication with their health care providers, the top TRICARE official reported. TRICARE Online, the military health system's patient portal, already enables users who get care at a military treatment facility to schedule appointments, track their medications, order prescription refills and view and even download their personal health records, Navy Rear Adm. (Dr.) Christine S. Hunter told American Forces Press Service. Later this year, patients also will be able to get their laboratory and X-ray results through the portal, along with secure messaging from their health care providers, Hunter said. "You will be able to go there and it will say you have two messages from your doctor," she explained. "You will click on it, and it may be the nurse telling you that you are overdue for something, and maybe a lab result and an explanation of the findings." The next goal will be to expand these capabilities so beneficiaries can track what immunizations they received and when, and get a "heads up" from their health care provider when they're due for their next one, she said. Meanwhile, TRICARE plans to increase the number of clinics that offer online appointment scheduling and tailor the process to offer the broadest selection of openings so beneficiaries can select what's most convenient for them.

01/19/11

Army minimizes stress suffered by victims of domestic, child abuse

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - The Army Family Action Plan has once again proved invaluable for Soldiers and families. On Jan. 21, eligible enlisted family members began receiving 36 months of Transitional Compensation, the same as officer family members, rather than the average of 22 months of payments they formerly received. The change ensures payments are standardized for all approved applications. Transitional Compensation is a congressionally-authorized program. The TC benefits help ease the transition from military to civilian life by providing temporary payments and benefits for Families in which a Soldier has been court-martialed or is being administratively separated from the Army because of a dependent-abuse offense such as domestic or child abuse.

01/19/11

'Virtual world' helps with post-traumatic stress

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19, 2011 -- The Defense Department is using virtual-world interactivity to educate and help warfighters and others who are reluctant to seek more direct care to deal with post-traumatic stress, said an official at the National Center for Telehealth and Technology, also known as "T2." During a recent telephone briefing from the center's headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash., Greg Reger, a clinical psychologist and acting chief of the center's innovative technology applications division, said the kinds of immersive experiences available in virtual worlds, such as the internationally-populated virtual world called Second Life, are designed to appeal to tech-savvy servicemembers and their families. "Far too many of our warriors come home and, despite difficulties they are having, are not going to come and see a psychologist, a social worker, a psychiatrist," Reger said. According to the center's website, many researchers have declared traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress to be the "signature wounds" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. About 19 percent of servicemembers returning from combat screen positive for psychological health problems, and just more than half seek help, the website says, noting that barriers for those that don't seek help include perceived stigma, physical access barriers and limited resources.

01/19/11

Army sees slight reduction in active-duty suicides

WASHINGTON (Jan. 19, 2011, Army News Service) -- The Army vice chief of staff reported a slight reduction this past year in suicides committed by Soldiers on active duty, from 162 in 2009 to 156 in 2010. "While we achieved modest success in reducing the number of suicides of these Soldiers on active duty," said Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, "we saw a significant increase in the number of suicides of Soldiers not serving on active duty, to include a doubling in the Army National Guard." In 2009, the number of Guard and Reserve Soldiers who committed suicide while not serving on active duty was 80. In 2010, that number nearly doubled to 145. "In 2010, we've got two obvious questions: first of all what happened and second, we have to be able to respond and tell people what we are doing about it," Maj. Gen. Ray Carpenter, acting director of the Army National Guard, said.

01/18/11

Study shows pre-deployment screening yields benefits

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Jan. 18, 2010) -- An Army study released today found that Soldiers who received extra behavioral-health screening prior to deployment had significantly lower rates of combat stress than those who did not. The study, published in The American Journal of Psychiatry, was conducted by five Army doctors. They screened three 3rd Infantry Division Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs) at Fort Stewart, Ga., prior to their 2007 deployment, and compared results with three BCTs who did not take part in the program. The study, called the Pre-deployment Mental Health Screening/Care Coordination Program, was developed by Army physicians and psychologists who had been searching for a better way to track Soldiers with behavioral health issues, especially when headed overseas.

01/14/11

TRICARE to extend dependent coverage to age 26

WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2011 -- To ensure military families don't get left out as the new national health care reform law extends parent's health insurance to their children up to age 26, TRICARE plans to roll out its new Young Adult Program by spring, and to provide an option to make coverage retroactive to Jan. 1. The new program will allow qualified, unmarried military children up to age 26 to buy health care coverage under their parents' TRICARE plans through age 26, defense officials announced yesterday. That's up from the current maximum age of 21, or 23 for full-time college students whose parents provide more than half their financial support. The Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act President Barack Obama signed Jan. 7, gave the Defense Department the authority it needed to extend TRICARE coverage to young adults, TRICARE spokesman Austin Camacho explained. This ensures benefits extended under TRICARE are in line with those all American families receive under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that took effect in March.

01/13/11

Program helps Soldiers return to duty after brain injury

BAMBERG, Germany -- Since 2000, the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center has counted 178,876 cases of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) amongst U.S. Military personnel. Seventy-seven percent of those cases were determined to be mild. Based on these numbers, the number of confirmed cases of TBIs has surpassed recorded cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by nearly 100,000. The Army has responded to these numbers by increasing behavioral health and clinic services, teaching Soldiers to recognize evidence of TBI or PTSD in themselves and their battle buddies and implementing treatment programs at installations across the globe.

01/10/11

Holly Petraeus aims to bolster families' fiscal knowledge

WASHINGTON (Jan. 7, 2011) -- Holly Petraeus hopes to hear from servicemembers and their families about their financial issues and pitfalls in the coming months as she leads up efforts to create the Office of Servicemember Affairs. The information she gathers will be integrated into the formation of the new office, which aims to strengthen and support military families financially as part of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Under the leadership of Holly Petraeus, the Office of Servicemember Affairs in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will forge a close collaboration with the Department of Defense that will benefit military members and families," said Clifford L. Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness. As a military spouse, Petraeus "has keen awareness of the challenges associated with the military lifestyle," Stanley continued. "Her work with the Better Business Bureau's Military Line has given her a full view of the financial concerns held by service members and their families." Service members rate stresses from financial concerns "as second only to work and career," Stanley said, adding that Petraeus "understands the consequence this type of stress can have on an individual's capability to perform their mission."

01/07/11

Battle heats up again over Tricare fee hikes

The war over retiree health care costs is underway even before it is clear what the Pentagon may be proposing in its 2012 budget plan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced Thursday that a $154 billion savings initiative will include $7 billion shaved from the Tricare health insurance program over five years from restructuring medical departments, finding ways to limit cost growth and “modest increases to Tricare fees” for working-age retirees under age 65. Details on exactly what is involved are not expected until the Obama administration releases the 2012 federal budget, planned for mid-February. While Gates offered no more details, the $7 billion savings goal was big enough to concern major military associations. “We don’t know what he considers to be modest, but in 2007 the Defense Department proposed a two-year phase-in of higher Tricare fees that would have doubled and even tripled out-of-pocket costs,” said Steve Strobridge, government relations director for the Military Officers Association of America. “That plan would have saved $735 million the first year and $1.9 billion the second year, so the five-year savings are about same as now proposed.

01/06/11

E-mail hoax offers message to veterans

FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas -- An old e-mail lurking in the electronic cloud is making rounds again in a renewed attempt at phishing for veterans' personal information. "While the e-mail is not what it purports to be, the message lends itself to a much bigger issue of the exploitation of veterans using survivor benefits as a hook by financial services companies to get their business," said Matthew Lofiego, Military Officers Association of America's (MOAA) deputy director of the Member Service Center. "There are so many organizations out there targeting veterans, offering them money and becoming the beneficiary of their benefits," Lofiego said. "Servicemembers and veterans need to be careful in this day in age," said Jerry Manar, deputy director for Veterans of Foreign Wars, a non-profit service organization of combat veterans in the U.S. "Many scams seem to offer something for very little money or for free. Once you're involved with them they do a bait and switch and begin charging money for services," Manar said, stressing residents of retirement and nursing homes are often targeted and particularly vulnerable.

01/06/11

Program helps Soldier cope with traumatic loss

FORT HOOD, Texas -- Watching a friend die in combat changed Sgt. Allen Chase's life. "My gunner, Eric Caldwell, he was killed right in front of me. We were stopped on the road, and a sniper shot him," Chase recalled. "I looked up. I knew he was dead, but I went ahead and pulled him down to me. I just remember kissing him on the forehead and saying, 'I love you brother. Go with God.'" "He and I did everything together. We went to the gym together. We went to chow together. He watched my back when I was dismounted. I was his first priority," Chase said, fighting back his emotions. Chase remained in Iraq with the 2nd Bn., 8th Cav. Reg., 1st Bde., 1st Cav. Div. for another year. As a combat medic, he said he saw numerous fatalities, but none hit him as hard as Caldwell's. While deployed, Chase said he found a way to work through his grief.

01/04/11

Suicide Prevention Alliance focuses on troops, veterans

WASHINGTON (Jan. 3, 2011) -- A suicide prevention task force for troops and veterans has been added to a national alliance that officials hope will help bring more attention to the issues and offer solutions in the future. The National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention last week announced that troops and veterans, identified as a high-risk group, were added because of their increased suicide rates. "Combined with initiatives already under way by the Department of Defense and the [Department of Veterans Affairs], this task force will further strengthen prevention, bringing together the best minds in the public and private sectors," said Army Secretary John McHugh, co-chair of the alliance. The alliance was launched last year by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, with input and support of many public- and private-sector stakeholders, including the National Council for Suicide Prevention and VA.

12/26/10

Army officials work to treat invisible wounds of war

WASHINGTON (Dec. 26, 2010) -- Military leaders and troops alike need more time at home between deployments to help diagnose and receive treatment for the "invisible" wounds of war such as post-traumatic stress, a senior Army officer said today. "It affects everything. It affects the divorce rate. It affects substance abuse. It affects everything. And we've kind of taken our focus and shifted it to ensure that we're getting at that," Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the vice chief of staff of the Army, said on ABC's "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour. "You want to get at these issues. We need more time at home before deployment," Chiarelli said. Complicating matters, the symptoms of post-traumatic stress take sometimes months or years to show. More research is needed to understand the brain and the effects of stress, Chiarelli said.

12/23/10

Congress extends Stop Loss application deadline

WASHINGTON (Dec. 23, 2010) -- The deadline for eligible servicemembers, veterans and their beneficiaries to apply for Retroactive Stop Loss Special Pay has been extended to March 4, 2011, Defense Department officials announced today. The deadline extension is included in the continuing resolution bill that President Barack Obama signed Dec. 21, providing funding for federal government operations through March 4.

12/22/10

President signs repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 22, 2010) -- President Barack Obama today signed the bill to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy on gays in the military. "No longer will tens of thousands of Americans in uniform be asked to live a lie, or look over their shoulder, in order to serve the country that they love," he said. "So this morning, I am proud to sign a law that will bring an end to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.' It is a law, this law I'm about to sign will strengthen our national security and uphold the ideals that our fighting men and women risk their lives to defend."

12/15/10

House votes to repeal 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' Gates urges Senate action

WASHINGTON (Dec. 15, 2010) -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is pleased with today's House of Representatives vote to repeal the law that bans gays from serving openly in the military, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said, and he hopes the Senate will follow suit before its current session ends. The House voted 250-175 to repeal the so-called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law, and Senate action is required for the bill to go to President Barack Obama's desk for signature. The president has advocated the law's repeal, and Gates and other military leaders repeatedly have expressed a preference for legislative action, which they say would permit an orderly transition for the military, over having the law struck down by a court, requiring immediate compliance with the change and possibly creating different rules in different places. "[The secretary] encourages the Senate to pass the legislation this session, enabling the Department of Defense to carefully and responsibly manage a change in this policy instead of risking an abrupt change resulting from a decision in the courts," Morrell said.

12/09/10

Stop loss allowance deadline extended, again

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2010 -- Concerned that fewer than half of the people eligible for a $500 per month stop loss allowance have applied for the money, the House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday to extend the application deadline for the payment to Sept. 30. The proposed extension is included in HR 3082, the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 that passed the House on Wednesday and is on its way to the Senate. Just last Friday, Congress extended the stop loss allowance application deadline until midnight Dec. 18 as part of another federal funding bill.

12/09/10

DoD expands community-based child care options

WASHINGTON, Dec. 9, 2010 -- The Defense Department will launch an initiative early next year aimed at expanding the quality and quantity of community-based child care options for geographically dispersed Reserve and Active Duty families and for families facing long waits for on-base care. Through the initiative, DoD will work with federal agencies, state officials and child care centers and programs to raise the quality of care within communities, which should translate to an increased child care capacity for military families, Barbara Thompson, director of the Pentagon's office of family policy/children and youth, explained. "We know child care is a work force issue," Thompson said. It's vital "not just for our deployed servicemembers, but for our servicemembers who are here working long shifts, that they know their children are taken care of, that they are in a high-quality, developmentally appropriate, nurturing environment."

12/07/10

Senate resolution brings recognition to Gold Star Wives

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 7, 2010) -- For the first time, America officially recognizes the contributions and dedication of military widows with ''Gold Star Wives Day.'' A Senate resolution designates Dec. 18, 2010, as a day to honor and recognize the contributions of the members of the Gold Star Wives of America, Inc. The group, with about 10,000 members, provides service, support and friendship to the widows and widowers of military personnel who died on active duty or as the result of a service-connected cause. "This is the first year we've had a Gold Star Wives day. It's something that our government relations committee has been working on," said Kit Frazer, president, Gold Star Wives of America Inc. "It's national recognition for the organization, which is wonderful. It's something very special to us."

12/03/10

Survey sheds light on GI Bill hiccups

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Dec. 2, 2010) -- A year after Veterans Affairs implemented the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the American Council on Education has released a study showing that most veterans are pleased with the new benefit, but there is room for improvement. The study, released Nov. 10, canvassed four colleges and students representing 13 installations, for a total of 230 survey and focus group participants. The majority of veterans using the new GI Bill benefit said they were glad for the increase in tuition support and monthly housing and book stipend, yet many reported that payments were often several months late.

12/01/10

Army's first community-based medical clinic now open

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 30, 2010) -- The first of 17 planned off-base Army medical clinics opened today outside Fort Campbell, Ky., as part of an initiative that is aiming to free up health care access for Active Duty Soldiers on installations. The concept for community-based medical home clinics began when the Army realized it will need to provide health care access to an increasing number of Soldiers and their families who are being relocated as part of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC). "At many of our Army installations, we have limited space, and military construction takes a considerable amount of time. We don't have the four-to-five years that it takes to complete a military construction project to adequately take care of the patients," said Lt. Col. Bradley Lieurance, program manager for the community-based primary care clinic initiative. The medical home clinic is a good solution to providing care for more beneficiaries without overloading Army hospitals, Lieurance said. The clinics, which will each be able to accommodate about 8,100 enrolled patients, are primarily for the families of Soldiers, said Lieurance. He explained that many Army families live off base, and in some cases, traveling onto an installation for a medical appointment can be an inconvenience. The in-town clinics will present a more accessible location for some families while providing them with more personalized care. Currently, clinics are planned to be opened at Forts Sill, Bragg, Stewart, Sam Houston, Hood, Shafter, Lewis, Leonard Wood and Benning. Several installations will have more than one community-based clinic, which are all planned to be opened by April of 2011.

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