Tom Philpott has been breaking news for and about military people since 1977. After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and senior editor with Army Times Publishing Company, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column, in 1994. "Military Update" features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families.
Tom also edits a reader reaction column, "Military Forum." The online "home" for both features is Military.com.
Tom's freelance articles have appeared in numerous magazines including The New Yorker, Reader's Digest and Washingtonian. His critically-acclaimed book, Glory Denied, on the extraordinary ordeal and heroism of Col. Floyd "Jim" Thompson, the longest-held prisoner of war in American history, is available in hardcover and paperback.
Readers of Tom Philpott’s Military Update column sound off on TRICARE changes, the defense budget, giving retired Guard and Reserves veteran status, and more.
HOW MANDATORY MAIL ORDER WILL IMPACT ‘RV’ RETIREES
The decision to force retirees on maintenance medicines to use the TRICARE mail order program means I have to have all my prescriptions transferred from the CVS pharmacy. Then I have to see if the mail order program can deal with someone who does not have a permanent address!
I am an RVer --recreational vehicle owner -- and I am on the road all the time, using only a mailing address (versus home address) to get mail. With my prescriptions going there, I have to pay an additional fee to have them sent to me and will not receive them for more than a month.
I have tried using mail order before while in this situation and it does not work! They cannot understand my traveling lifestyle.
Now when I need prescriptions in a short period of time I can at least go to the nearest CVS and have it filled. I can't do that with mandatory mail order.
Lieutenant Colonel, USMC-Ret.
TRICARE officials say their mail order contractor, Express Scripts, Inc. (ESI), is able to service beneficiaries like you if you will do a little advance planning. ESI easily can update its records for a temporary shipping address to an RV park, post office box or a friend's address, provided you are not getting any controlled substances or specialty medications. Those medicines require special handling such as a signature required and a physical address.
The TRICARE mail order pharmacy is able to ship most prescriptions to a beneficiary’s different locations and there is no fee for making address changes. You simply need to call the Home Delivery at (877) 363-1303 in advance to coordinate temporary address changes.
Once a beneficiary places a home delivery order, the processing time generally is two to four days, although shipping times vary. For that reason, officials suggest that beneficiaries give themselves about two weeks' time in one location to ensure the order will be received. So for this to work, beneficiaries need to be flexible, TRICARE officials say. – Tom Philpott
LOSING TRICARE PRIME
I can't afford to be moved from TRICARE Prime, the managed care option, to TRICARE Standard, the military’s fee-for-service coverage.
I spent 26 years dedicating my life and energy to the Air Force. I retired in 2006 with what I felt was an adequate retirement foundation for my family. I do not have any other medical insurance because I’ve been unemployed since retiring, and my wife's company does not provide health insurance to part time workers.
Making ends meet is a struggle sometimes. The added costs of TRICARE Standard are just not possible on our budget. Money simply is not there to pay additional fees and cost shares that can reach the $3000 annual catastrophic cap. Supplemental coverage for my family of five would not be affordable either, costing nearly the same as cost gap covered.
If we were forced to transfer to Standard coverage and get a large bill, my daughter’s college tuition money, which we scraped together, would be the only money we could tap. My son is graduating [high school] this year and we still have not figured out how to finance his college tuition.
I receive compensation for a 50-percent disability rating from lower back problems. It is very difficult for me to work on a full time basis. Just getting out of bed is a chore some days.
Otherwise my family is in good health and rarely goes to doctors. But I can't take the chance of a $3000 health bill I cannot pay. We are okay with the drive to our primary caregiver and wish to keep things that way.
BILLY J. GARRETT
I live 73 miles from Tinker Air Force Base. My TRICARE Prime doctor is three miles from our home.
My wife will turn 65 in December and will enter the Medicare program. But will she be allowed to keep Prime coverage for October and November 2013?
HOWARD C. MCLAUGHLIN
Master Sergeant, USAF-Ret.
Pauls Valley, Okla.
No. The Prime network in your area won’t exist after September. You can verify this using your zip code and an online tool that TRICARE has developed at www.tricare.mil/psazip. You also will be receiving a letter to explain options for you and your wife. You also may contact the contractor, Humana Military, at 1-800-444-5445 if you have questions. – T.P.
CUTTING DEFENSE $$
A significant reduction in defense spending could be accomplished without reducing readiness by making all overseas assignments unaccompanied tours. Bring all military dependents back to the states and do not ship anymore overseas.
This would reduce not only transportation costs but also overseas costs for dependent housing, schools, recreation and other support services, which now do nothing to benefit the military mission.
And the money now spent for dependent support overseas could be spent in the United States instead, supporting our economy rather than the economies of Japan, Italy, Germany and other countries!
GUARDSMAN IS VET
I completed more than 29 years in the Army National Guard, the majority of my service in the Active Guard/Reserve program (Title 32 USC). I retired from the AGR program in August 1996 with the rank of Sergeant Major (E-9). Since I had sufficient “active duty” time under the AGR program, I immediately began receiving retired pay, and my spouse and I were immediately covered under the TRICARE program. I have now been in receipt of regular active duty retirement for more than 16 years.
Imagine my dismay when I contacted the VA recently and was told I am not classified as a veteran.
During all those active duty AGR years, I had to meet all the requirements of my fellow active duty soldiers to include Military Occupational Specialty qualification, physical fitness and NCO Education system requirements including graduation from the Army Sergeants Major Academy.
During the early 1990’s, I was assigned to a Headquarters that had many subordinate units mobilized and deployed in support of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. However, leaders did not see fit to mobilize the headquarters, only the subordinate units.
Hopefully, the proposed legislation will correct this injustice to those others in the same situation.
JAMES F. (JIM) THRASHER
Sergeant Major, ARNG-Ret.