How many of you know what the National Military Family Association (NMFA) is? How many of you are members? I am. I have been since my first year as a military spouse but it wasn't until I became a volunteer last year and attended their national convention in Denver, Colorado that I truly began to understand what an asset the NMFA is to military families.
ALL military families. And servicemembers.
I would urge each and every spouse here to join if you have not already. It is a wonderful organization whose sole purpose is to advocate for servicemembers and their families. There are very few organizations out there that have that pure of a mission.
From their website:
NMFA's Primary Goals
"To educate military families concerning their rights, benefits and services available to them and to inform them regarding the issues that affect their lives and...
To promote and protect the interests of military families by influencing the development and implementation of legislation and policies affecting them."
Just to give you a heads' up about some of the things that NMFA does for military families and servicemembers, you can go to their website and read about their accomplishments . I will highlight just a handful here:
- survivor issues
- retiree issues
- dental care
- transition assistance
- medical care
- return and reunion
- force health protection
- financial literacy
- WIC overseas
- family support
- spouse employment
- deployment and separation
- Guard and Reserve family programs
- single servicemembers
- extended family members
- mission readiness
- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act
- military community
- state education issues
- safety net programs
- religious programs
- base realignment and closure
- quality of life facility construction
- isolated families
Each Tuesday, NMFA puts out a newsletter, "Government and You E-News" that highlights the top issues that NMFA is tackling at the time. Here is this week's issue (I will post this each week as I receive it):
Here's the News!!
1. NMFA Speaks Out Against Installation Cutbacks: At a Capitol Hill press conference on September 21, Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO, 4th) led Representatives Dr. Vic Snyder (D-AR, 2nd) and Silvestre Reyes (D-TX,16th) in focusing on the continuing shortfall of funding for installation operations support. "Base ops funds" pay for the day to day operations of military installations-security, fuel, force support, training support, dining halls, libraries, and family support programs conducted by installation family centers. Joyce Raezer, Director of Government Relations for NMFA, was invited to participate in the press conference with the three Members and summarize what NMFA has been hearing from families about how reduced services have been affecting them.
In his opening remarks, Representative Skelton identified a $500 million shortfall for the Army in FY 2006. This shortfall has resulted in the closing of dining facilities and reduced hours in troop support facilities. He called the reduced resources "time thieves", taking Soldiers away from training, work, and families, as they wait in long lines. It had been anticipated that some of these shorted funds would have been restored in either supplemental appropriation bills or in upcoming Defense appropriation bills; however, Representative Skelton said that it appeared that more cuts would be in the offing in the out years.
Representative Snyder remarked that service members and their families, who are already making sacrifices, are being told to sacrifice even more by doing without services that they have come to rely on. He cited a Navy installation commander's column in a base newspaper that explained the need for belt-tightening on the installation so that they could keep the lights on. At a time when the focus should be on training and equipping service members for war, commanders are being asked to find innovative ways to save energy and resources at home.
Representative Reyes stated that service members cannot carry out their mission and worry about whether their families have sufficient support at home. He also cited programs that will be further impacted, including the successful housing privatization initiative, should needed funds not be provided. Funding cutbacks are even more difficult for installations affected by BRAC and transformation. He called for increased oversight by Congress of how money is being spent by the Services.
Joyce Raezer thanked the Members of Congress for their concerns and echoed their concerns about the impact on the ability of service members to concentrate on the mission when worrying about the well-being of families at home. She emphasized that funding shortfalls were affecting all Services. While conceding that special funding for child care, family support and other programs has been included in recent Defense funding bills, she stressed that this funding for war-related support was intended to build on existing base support programs, not to replace them. With increased demands on installation support programs, cuts to them tell families that the military doesn't care about them. "Installation professionals charged with supporting service members and their families noted that this past year, more than ever, they seemed to start 'in the hole' and were never able to work their way out." Raezer stated. The cut back in contract positions, many filled by military spouses, have had an additional financial impact on some families. Cutbacks affect military teenagers when summer job opportunities dry up. While families realize the need for sacrifice during a time of war, cuts in key installation programs only add another stressor to the long list of deployment-related challenges by making accessing services more difficult. She stated that families should not be asked to do with less just when they need quality of life programs most. Their commanders should not have to make the choice of paying installation utility bills or providing family support services.
NMFA would like to thank our NMFA members and installation Representatives who forwarded information about cutbacks on their installations. With the end of the 109th Congress looming, these issues will not be addressed this session, but NMFA will be urging both Congress and the administration to make adequate funding for installation operations a priority in the 110th Congress.
2. Congress Passes Bill to Curb Military Insurance Sales Abuses: On September 21, the House of Representatives passed S. 418 by a vote of 418 to 3, clearing it for the President's signature. S. 418 was created to be an important first step to protecting service members and their families from certain insurance and investment products that are deceptively expensive and have virtually disappeared from the civilian market. Investment companies that offer these products tend to prey primarily on military personnel and family members by using abusive and misleading sales practices.
Additionally, sellers of life insurance products will be required to disclose to military customers that their policies and products do not have the endorsement of the federal government Sellers must give potential military customers an honest assessment of whether they could benefit from the product. Military personnel already have access to subsidized life insurance policies through the Servicemembers Group Life Insurance Program.
The House companion bill to S. 418 had also included a provision addressing abusive lending practices by check cashing stores and other short term loan companies. As we have discussed in previous editions of this newsletter, a provision to curb these predatory practices was included in the Senate version of the FY 2007 National Defense Authorization Act, which is still being considered by a House and Senate Conference Committee.
3. DoD Delays TRICARE for Life Payment Changes: NMFA and other military associations received word on September 24 that the TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) has postponed implementation of a policy that would deny claims from beneficiaries who enter into private contracts with providers who have opted out of Medicare. Certain providers may "opt out" of Medicare for a period of two years and enter into private contracts with Medicare-eligible beneficiaries. When a provider "opts out" of Medicare, Medicare will not make any payment to the provider or the beneficiary except for services provided in an emergency/urgent care situation. A private contract must be signed by both parties prior to delivery of services, and must include the following statements:
- The beneficiary (or legal representative) agrees not to bill Medicare or to ask the provider to bill Medicare for services.
- The beneficiary (or legal representative) agrees to give up any Medicare coverage and payment for services furnished by the opt-out provider, even though the services may have otherwise been covered by Medicare.
- The beneficiary (or legal representative) agrees to be liable for the full billed amount without regard to any limits that would otherwise apply under Medicare.
- The beneficiary acknowledges that Medigap plans will not make payments to opt-out providers, and other supplemental plans may elect not to make payment.
Since the beginning of the current TRICARE contracts, TRICARE has been acting as primary payer for these opt-out claims. In other words, TRICARE has been paying as if the beneficiary was in TRICARE Standard. Paying these claims as primary payer is contrary to long-standing TRICARE policy, which requires TRICARE to pay second to Medicare for any Medicare-covered services. As a rule, TRICARE beneficiaries may not elect to waive benefits under a double coverage plan and shift the costs to TRICARE. To comply with these requirements, TMA recently announced it had decided to modify the payment process for claims from opt-out providers and Medicare beneficiaries who have entered into private contracts.
Military associations and other raised many questions about this policy change to senior DoD Health Affairs officials. Due to the concern about this issue, several different alternatives are being explored and TMA will announce its final decision in the near future. While this proposed policy change is being analyzed, beneficiaries may continue to see Medicare opted-out providers. However, they are strongly encouraged to seek Medicare participating providers. Additionally, TRICARE beneficiaries should review any papers they sign in a provider's office to rule out that they are agreeing to see a provider who has opted out of Medicare. TRICARE will continue to pay claims as primary payer of beneficiaries continuing to see providers who have opted-out of Medicare if they would otherwise be covered by TRICARE until a final decision regarding this issue is made. NMFA will continue to monitor this issue.
4. Special Needs Toolkit Brings Resources to Military Families: According to the Department of Defense (DoD), more than 100,000 military families have members with special needs. These include spouses, children, or dependent parents who require special medical or educational services. These family members have a diagnosed physical, intellectual or emotional condition. DoD invites families to explore the Special Needs module on its Military Homefront website (http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/portal/page/itc/MHF/MHF_HOME_1?section_id=20.40.500.5188.8.131.52.0.0) to learn about and find the resources that will support them. Families can also subscribe to the Military Homefront special needs e-mail newsletter so they can be alerted as new items about special needs are added to the website.
The newest addition to the Special Needs site is the DoD Special Needs Parent Toolkit. This web publication has comprehensive information and tools that are designed to help military families with special needs children navigate the maze of medical and special education services, community support and benefits and entitlements. The Toolkit is broken down into six colorful modules that families can easily download and print. Important facts, records, tools and sample letters have also been included. Modules included in the Parent Toolkit are:
- Module 1: Birth to Age Three
- Module 2: Special Education
- Module 3: Health Benefits
- Module 4: Families in Transition
- Module 5: Advocating for Your Child
- Module 6: Resources and Support
- Module 7: Records and Tools
Whether you need to learn about early intervention services or want to learn how to be a more effective advocate for your child, you will find the information you are searching for in the Parent Toolkit!
5. New Military HOMEFRONT Search Engine Makes Finding Information Easier: The DoD family information portal Military HOMEFRONT (http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/) has a new search engine that allows users to find, access, and explore all available MilitaryHOMEFRONT content, as well as content from over 100 sources of Quality of Life information. The new MilitaryHOMEFRONT search engine delivers a much richer and more productive search experience for users. Rather than just a long list of search results, the new search engine provides users several ways to find want they want:
- Search "clustering" feature takes thousands of search results and categorizes them by topic, making it easier for users to locate the specific information they want more quickly. Now when you search for a topic, the search engine will cluster the results into appropriate categories. For example, if a user enters Child Care into the search engine the following "clusters" will be returned: Family Child Care, Military, Parenting, Youth Services, Policies, Leadership, Special Needs, Child Care Centers.
- Associated (Federated) search results allow users to simultaneously search for their topics within multiple data sources, including internet news archives, the MilitaryHOMEFRONT Community Directory, and even posted job vacancies related to their specific topic area.
- Preview function allows users to determine the relevancy of an individual search result before leaving the search page.
- If a user misspells their search topic, the search engine's Spell Check functionality will provide them with an alternative, correctly spelled search topic.
6. Walter Reed One of First Military Hospitals to Offer New HPV Vaccine: Women patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center can now get vaccinated against certain subtypes of the virus that can lead to cervical cancer, a deadly cancer in women. Walter Reed is one of the first military hospitals to begin using a Food and Drug Administration-approved "breakthrough" vaccine that can be administered to women ages 11 to 26 to protect them against human papillomavirus (HPV) type 6, 11, 16, and 18. The vaccination is offered in the Pediatric Clinic and the Allergy and Immunology Clinic. Vaccinating against HPV type 6, 11, 16, and 18 is a three-step process given over a six-month period. The vaccine was approved for use by the FDA in June, 2006 and is the first vaccine designed to prevent cervical cancer.
According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, studies suggest that three out of four people will get an HPV infection during their lifetime. Although more than 100 subtypes of HPV have been identified to date, the ones most commonly associated with cervical cancer and genital warts are covered by this vaccine. Women and parents of girls should discuss HPV and vaccination options with their gynecologists. At Walter Reed, vaccinations are given to female patients age 11 to 26 in the medical center's Allergy and Immunology Clinic. Pediatric patients get the vaccination in the Pediatric Clinic. For more information on HPV, go to: http://www.fda.gov/bbs/topics/NEWS/2006/NEW01385.html. (Source: http://www.dcmilitary.com/stories/091406/stripe_27936.shtml)
7. Employers Lauded for Support of Guard and Reserve: DoD honored 15 outstanding employers of National Guard and Reserve members with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve's (ESGR) 2006 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award on September 21, 2006. This award is the highest in a series of Department of Defense employer support awards that include the Patriot Award, the ESGR Above and Beyond Award and the Pro Patria Award. Honorees included familiar names such as MGM MIRAGE, Starbucks, and DuPont; public agencies such as the State of Vermont and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and small businesses such as SkyLine Membership Corporation of North Carolina and the Fred Fletemeyer Company of Colorado.
In his keynote address, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army General Richard Cody reinforced the important role that employers play when they support their employees who are activated or deployed. Hundreds of National Guard and Reserve members from across the country nominated their employers for their exceptional provision of continued benefits, differential pay, family assistance, and additional support to ease their transition from civilian employees to active military personnel and back. From those nominations, ESGR selected the 15 most exemplary employers from organizations large and small, public and private. A handful of nominators were in attendance to help ESGR honor and award their employers for going above and beyond federal law requirements in providing support and offered accolades to their employers for their exemplary support.
In addition to the employers mentioned above, the other winners included: Ag Country Farm Credit Services, Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America, Baptist Health, BNSF Railway Company, Cardi's Furniture Superstores; South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks; and Sun Valley General Improvement District. For more information about the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, visit their website at http://www.esgr.mil/. (Source: ESGR Press Release: http://www.esgr.org/employers2/FAP2006.asp?c=FAP2006event.html and event program)
8. Payday Lender Withdraws From Military Market: Advance America, Cash Advance Centers, Inc. announced on September 25 that it will "respectfully and voluntarily" refrain from making any payday advances to active, full-time members of the military. According to a company press release (http://investors.advanceamerica.net/ReleaseDetail.cfm?ReleaseID=212095), officials maintained that service members deserved " the right to choose the financial options that best suit their needs." However, they noted recent criticisms of payday lenders aired in a DoD report on predatory lending practices and at a Senate hearing had forced them to re-evaluate their lending practices to military members. The company stated it had made its decision to refrain from making loans to military members in order to "remove any perceived distraction to members of the military during this critical time for our country." It noted that members of the military represent less than 1 percent of the Advance America customer base and only 42 out of 2,728 total Advance America centers are within 1 mile of any military base.
Crackdowns on lending practices in some states, such as North Carolina, have forced Advance America and other companies to cease operations in some locations. A legislative provision being debated by House and Senate Conferees for the FY 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would limit interest rates and fees for payday advance loans to military families to 36 percent.
9. Moneywise in the Military Seminars Focus on Improving Your Financial Savvy: Washington D.C. Metropolitan Area service members, families and family center staff have the opportunity this coming Saturday, September 30, to increase skills in money and credit management, as well as savings and investment. The Department of Defense (DoD), in collaboration with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, local Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations, and the PBS series Moneywise with Kelvin Boston, is presenting a Moneywise in the Military financial stability education event on Saturday, September 30, 2006, from 10am to 4pm, at the Walter Reed Medical Center. Future Moneywise in the Military events will be offered at installations in California, Texas, New Jersey and Missouri.
Each day-long event is tailored to the concerns and needs of military families, with particular attention to spouses who are often the family's money manager. The programs will be open to all branches' uniformed personnel, primarily enlistees through junior officers, their families and other installation staff working directly with the military. In addition to a live presentation by Kelvin Boston, nationally recognized financial advisors and speakers will be drawn from the experts and practitioners who regularly appear on the Moneywise series. Audiences will have the opportunity to gather resource material and meet with numerous exhibitors. Panel discussions on Credit Reporting, Bankruptcy, Credit Counseling, Fraudulent and Predatory Lending, as well as Personal Financial Plans, Saving & Investing and Home Ownership will include lively audience participation. For more information on the September 30 event at Walter Reed, go to: http://www.militaryhomefront.dod.mil/dav/lsn/LSN/BINARY_RESOURCE/BINARY_CONTENT/2194421.pdf.
10. Virginia Hearing to Take Aim at Predatory Lending: On Tuesday, October 3, a committee of the Virginia House of Delegates will meet to discuss legislation to curb predatory lending practices in the state. The hearing will feature statements by members of the Virginia Partnership for Responsible Lending (VaPERL) about the dangers of payday and car title lending. The Department of Defense (DoD) may also send a representative to speak on behalf of military families. NMFA has been working diligently with other organizations and DoD to make military families more aware of the dangers of using check cashing stores and other predatory lenders and to encourage state governments and Congress to curb the worst practices of these companies.
The recent DoD report on predatory lending (http://www.usa4militaryfamilies.dod.mil/dav/lsn/LSN/BINARY_RESOURCE/BINARY_CONTENT/2141721.pdf) illustrated how predatory lending establishments often cluster outside military installations, including some in Virginia. Predatory lenders seek out young and financially inexperienced borrowers, like many junior military members, who have bank accounts and steady jobs, but also have little in savings, flawed credit, or have hit their credit limit. Predatory loan products feature high interest rates and fees. Most predatory lenders take advantage of the borrower's inability to pay the loan in full when due and encourage extensions through refinancing and loan "flipping." As a result, military service members using these lenders can begin a spiral of debt that can result in serious financial difficulties that may even affect their military careers. The Navy reports that the number of Sailors who cannot obtain a security clearance or lose that clearance because of financial difficulties has increased from 212 in 2002 to 1,999 last year.
In addition to the Committee meeting on October 3, VaPERL will be hosting a morning educational session, beginning at 10:00 a.m. for interested and concerned citizens. By participating in these events, military families and those who support them can learn about the predatory lending problem in Virginia, witness a legislative committee meeting up close and personal, and learn how to add their voices to others concerned about these lending practices. Their presence will also illustrate how important curbing these practices is to the military community. For more information or to register to attend the October 3 events, go to: http://ga4.org/interfaithcenter/events/RLadvocacyday/details.tcl.