Topics in this Week's News Include:
Here's the News!!
1. NMFA Honors Supporters of Military Families: At its biennial Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill last week, the National Military Family Association (NMFA) honored four individuals and one organization with the Association's Support of Military Families Award. For more than 35 years, NMFA has worked in support of military families. Since 1984, NMFA has celebrated those who have joined in its mission. The Support of Military Families Award honors those individuals and organizations who, through their own work or their leadership, have made changes that positively affected the lives of military families around the globe. The 2006 Recipients of the Support of Military Families Award are:
- Senator Carl Levin (D-MI): NMFA honored Senator Levin for his continuing efforts on behalf of military families, especially the survivors of those who die on active duty. Senator Levin led efforts to provide equitable survivor benefits for those who had made the greatest sacrifice. These efforts culminated in awarding the increased death gratuity and Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) to the survivors of ALL those killed on active duty since the beginning of the war in Afghanistan. NMFA heard from many grateful families who were gratified to learn that their service member's death was not a "second rate sacrifice."
- Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH): NMFA recognized Senator DeWine for his work on behalf of the survivors of those service members who die while on active duty. Senator DeWine sponsored legislation to provide an increase in the military death gratuity to SGLI and to extend the increased death gratuity and SGLI benefit to ALL survivors. Senator DeWine's concern for surviving military children was evidenced by his proposal to extend active duty family member TRICARE benefits to these children. Senator DeWine has also worked to limit TRICARE Prime enrollment fee increases, expand health care coverage for the reserve component, and secure retroactive coverage for wounded service members under the Traumatic Service Members Group Life Insurance (TSGLI).
- Mr. Gerald (Gary) Leeling, Minority Counsel, Senate Armed Services Committee: As the Minority staff member for the SASC Personnel Subcommittee, Mr. Leeling is in the unique position of dealing with the full range of personnel and compensation benefits, health care, and family support issues. Even before the beginning of the war on terrorism, he was an advocate for robust family programs because he instinctively understands the link between strong families and a strong force. He has constantly sought out information on what families need and has worked to see those needs are met. Mr. Leeling assisted Senator Levin's efforts to ensure equitable benefits would be provided for all survivors of active duty deaths, understanding that all of today's service members are ready to serve wherever they are assigned.
- Dr. Jean Silvernail, Department of Defense State Liaison Office: In her position in the Office of Military Community and Family Policy, Dr. Silvernail facilitates the Department's efforts to improve quality education for military children by assisting families, commanders, and school districts in easing the unique challenges children face due to deployment and frequent moves. Dr. Silvernail was the guiding force behind the creation and content of the DoD education website, http://www.militarystudent.org/. This year, she brought together a team of Service representatives, school district personnel, military leaders, military parents, and associations such as NMFA to create a set of three toolkits to assist families, school districts, and military leaders in easing military students transition.
- "America Supports You": NMFA honored the DoD program America Supports You for its contributions in increasing the connectivity between the many individuals and organizations-large and small-interested in supporting service members and families. By highlighting those efforts to uplift the troops, it also inspires others to assist them and their families in practical and meaningful ways. The America Supports You website (http://www.americasupportsyou.mil/) and corresponding programs provide a means to connect those who need support with local organizations that can help. Additionally, America Supports You gives these supporting organizations much needed publicity to get their message out, inform the community about the resources they provide, and attract financial supporters and volunteers.
2. Congress Passes Key Defense Legislation: In a last minute flurry of activity before leaving town to campaign, Congress approved the Conference Reports for the FY 2007 Defense Appropriations Act (H.R. 5631, H.Rept. 109-676) and the FY 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5122, H.Rept. 109-702). On Saturday, President Bush signed H.R. 5631, which, in addition to funding most Defense activities, also contains funding under a Continuing Resolution for all other government departments. As of Sunday's start of the new fiscal year, only two of the eleven appropriations bills needed to fund the government had cleared Congress and only one, the Defense appropriations, had been signed.
The appropriations bill sets funding levels for the Defense Department for the coming year and the authorization bill, the NDAA, tells DoD what it must do in the coming year, what it may do, and what it may not do. We are still analyzing the details of the provisions included in these very large bills, but do know there are many of interest to military families. Included in the NDAA are many NMFA-supported provisions, including those that would:
- Provide a 2.2 across-the-board pay raise, the lowest military pay raise in 12 years. This pay raise takes effect on January 1, 2007, with additional targeted raises for certain non-commissioned and warrant officers taking effect on April 1.
- Authorize an increase of 1,000 in active duty Marine Corps end strength and maintaining the Army active duty end strength at the FY 2006 level, despite calls for an increase.
- Maintain the authorized Army National Guard end strength at the FY 2006 level.
- Authorize payment of more than 20 types of bonuses and special pays, including an increased inter-Service transfer bonus of $10,000 (up from $2,500), for service members who transfer to another Service and increases bonuses and incentives for certain medical personnel.
- Require DoD to provide full replacement value reimbursement for household goods lost or damaged in government-ordered moves for military members and DoD civilians no later than March 1, 2008.
- Authorize $35 million in support to civilian school districts educating large numbers of military children, $5 million to support the education of severely disabled military children, and $10 million for districts affected by the relocation of large numbers of families. Unfortunately, the appropriations bill provides only $30 million for the support based on numbers and $8 million for districts affected by base closure and other large-scale movements.
- Limit to a maximum of 36 percent the interest rate charged on payday loans to service members and their families, and prohibit predatory practices by creditors who loan to military personnel.
Among the hottest issues facing Members of Congress in their crafting of the Defense bills this year was how to deal with DoD's proposals for certain TRICARE fee increases. Congress chose to put these proposals on hold pending a Government Accountability Office (GAO) study. It thus prohibited any increase in TRICARE enrollment premiums for TRICARE Prime and Reserve Select for the coming fiscal year. It also prohibited any increases in co-payments for drugs purchased through TRICARE retail pharmacies. It also:
- Eliminated the new tier system for TRICARE Reserve Select premiums, authorizing all members of the Selected Reserve to enroll in the program at the same premium level currently paid only by members who had been mobilized in support of a contingency operation.
- Required the development of a comprehensive disease and chronic care management program for TRICARE beneficiaries.
- Authorized $10 million for projects to improve early diagnosis and treatment of post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health conditions.
- Authorized $12 million for treatment and rehabilitation for traumatic brain injury.
To view summaries of the NDAA Conference Report prepared by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, go to: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/press/Conference%2007%20Press%20Release.pdf and http://www.house.gov/hasc/pressreleases/FY2007NDAACRSummary.pdf. NMFA will provide a full listing of provisions affecting military families on its website soon.
What's next? When it returns in November following Election Day, Congress must still complete important legislation. One of the outstanding appropriations bills would fund military construction and family housing, as well as the Defense Health Program and health care provided through the Veterans Administration. NMFA will be monitoring this legislation closely and report on its progress.
3. Chairman of Joint Chiefs Honors Military Families: The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff turned an honor to him into a tribute to the families of U.S. servicemembers during the recent Patriot Dinner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The society presented the Patriot Award to General Peter Pace. The Congressional Medal of Honor Society is made up of the men who have received the nation's highest award for battlefield valor. They present the Patriot Award annually to "those persons, who through their life's work, have distinguished themselves as Americans who are dedicated to freedom and the ideals represented" by the society.
Upon receiving the award, General Pace stated: "I want to accept this award on behalf of a very special group of Americans, and that is the families of our men and women who serve in the armed forces." Pace added: "What I learned about families I learned in my own kitchen. I learned from my family, and from watching so many others, some very basic truths about the American military family." He said that when service members deploy overseas, they know when they are in danger. Besides, they are with superbly trained and equipped units that are capable of getting them through the battle. But families don't have the luxury of knowing when their service members are in danger. "Every day that we're in combat, they think we are being shot at," Pace said. "It's an enormous strain on them."
General Pace observed that if servicemembers are wounded in combat, the families help them recover. "And if we get awards, they stand in the background as if they had nothing to do with it," he said. "And when we get tired, they dust us off and put us back in the fight and remind us how important it is to the nation. And when we get killed, they suffer for as long as they live." General Pace said the children of military members often make the greatest sacrifices. When talking of the 12 year old son of Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Smith, who received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions in the Battle for Baghdad in 2003, General Pace talked of the sacrifice the boy had already made for his country: "Our families, quite simply, serve this country as well as anyone who has ever worn the uniform." (Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=1385)
4. TRICARE Reserve Select Expands to all Guard and Reserve Members: The newly-expanded TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) program has now expanded to include all Guard and Reserve members and their families. Tier 2 and Tier 3 coverage began October 1, 2006, for members whose request form and premium was postmarked or submitted to a TRICARE Service Center between August 1 and September 25, 2006. Coverage begins January 1, 2007, for members whose request form and premium is postmarked or submitted from September 26 through November 25, 2006. Service members who believe they are eligible for Tier 1 of TRS must contact their reserve component to obtain qualification guidance.
The TRICARE Reserve Select Program was expanded by Congress in the FY 2006 National Defense Authorization (NDAA) to offer health care coverage to qualified members of the National Guard and Reserve and their family members. The expansion of TRICARE Reserve Select allows all qualified members of the Selected Reserve to purchase health care coverage, with three tiers of premium sharing. The TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) and the DoD Office of Reserve Affairs worked together to develop this new benefit and finalize system changes to launch the program.
As noted in item # 2 of this newsletter, Congress made further adjustments to the TRS benefit in the Conference Report for the FY 2007 NDAA. Section 706 eliminates the tiered system, thus making TRS available to any member of the Selected Reserve for the same 28 percent premium cost share as currently available only to members eligible for Tier 1. This change will become effective on October 1, 2007, which means that members not eligible for Tier 1 will pay higher premiums for coverage during the next year.
Because of all the changes occurring with TRICARE Reserve Select, it is important that beneficiaries check the TRS webpage (www.tricare.osd.mil/reserve/reserveselect) often to find the most current information. They may also subscribe to an e-mail subscription service that provides updates as changes are implemented. To subscribe, go to: www.tricare.osd.mil/tricaresubscriptions/.
5. Army Launches Our Survivors Web Resource: Last week marked the launch of the Army's new Our Survivors web resource, dedicated to the survivors of Soldiers who have died. Available through the Army Well-Being website, http://www.armyfamiliesonline.org/, this site offers resources for families to help them through the difficult time after their Soldier's death. While listing links to the new DoD guidebook A Survivors Guide to Benefits and Veterans Affairs and DoD survivor sites, it is unique in offering the Our Survivors Forum, a space for surviving family members to share their experiences and thoughts with others going through the same thing. There is also a helpful FAQ section that can answer many questions families may have in the aftermath of the death of a loved one.
This section was part of a recent Army initiative that also saw the creation the Army Families First Casualty Call Center (FFCCC), a one-stop resolution center established to assist surviving family members of deceased Soldiers with questions regarding benefits, outreach, advocacy, and support. Its mission is to provide long-term support and advocacy, and offer comprehensive solutions to the families of fallen Soldiers by partnering with private and public organizations, in addition to various outreach groups. FFCCC will provide assistance, support, and referral information to spouses, children and parents, as well as extended family members of fallen Soldiers. The FFCCC team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (866) 272-5841.
NMFA applauds the outreach by the Army to surviving families and the creation of this web resource. Many families feel cut off from their military "family" when their service member dies and this site, in addition to the FFCCC, may help them feel more connected. We hope that a link to this specific information will soon be featured on the Army Community Service's website, http://www.myarmylifetoo.com/, to make the information even more accessible to the Army community.
6. Spouses to Teachers Expands to Europe: As of October 1, military spouses in Europe interested in teaching can participate in the Department of Defense Spouses to Teachers (STT) program, which until now had been only available stateside. The program's services include information on state-specific educational requirements, teaching credentials and scholarship options, along with a maximum reimbursement of $600 for teacher certification examinations.
According to DoD research, teaching is one of the top five career choices among military spouses. And because keeping military spouses employed is a good retention tool, the overseas expansion of the Spouses to Teachers program simply makes sense to DoD officials. The program, directed by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Educational Support (DANTES), is open to spouses of all service members, including National Guard and Reserve members. There are no higher-education requirements to enter the program, and the program is commitment-free. Interested spouses can contact the Spouses to Teachers network to be assigned a counselor designated for the state where the spouse is interested in teaching. For convenience, the interaction between spouses in Europe and their program counselors will occur via the Internet and by phone.
While counselors will help prospective teachers map out their educational careers according to state and subject-based requirements, DoD officials emphasize the program is not a job-placement service. Plus counselors will not advise spouses which schools to attend. Spouses can find a list of several military cooperative teacher certification programs available through distance learning at http://www.dantes.doded.mil/.
Though the program does not find jobs for spouses, there is a planned partnership between Spouses to Teachers and the DoD Education Activity (DODEA), through which DODEA plans to provide support to spouses wherever it can, including possible student teaching opportunities. Spouses should also consult two additional websites-- www.military.com/spouse and http://www.milspouse.org/ that compliment the program by serving as career centers where spouses can research career information, post resumes and make job searches.
Spouses interested in the STT program in Europe can log onto http://www.spousestoteachers.com/ and click on the "OCONUS" link. They also can contact the National Spouses to Teachers Office in Pensacola, Fla., by phone at 1-800-231-6282 or DSN 922-6282, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Read What the Navy is Reading: Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Mullen introduced a new Navy Professional Reading Program (NPRP) October 2, replacing CNO and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy reading lists of the past. The NPRP slogan, "Accelerate Your Mind," challenges Sailors to take an active role in their own professional development. "Put simply," noted the CNO, "reading fosters critical thinking, and critical thinking makes us better leaders and better warfighters."
The program includes five 12-book collections with subjects focused on leadership, military heritage, joint warfare, cultural awareness, critical thinking, and management. The collections are geared toward varying experience levels, from the most junior recruit to the most senior admiral; however Sailors are encouraged to read anything that interests them from the program list.
To make the books readily accessible, the Navy is providing collections to every operational unit in the Navy. Book sets will also be available in base libraries and liberty centers, and audio versions of some books will be available for free download on the Navy Knowledge Online (NKO) website. Books from the new Navy Professional Reading Program are available for purchase at Navy Exchange (NEX) bookstores worldwide, through the Uniform Support Center toll-free numbers, and through the NEX Uniform Web Store at http://www.navy-nex.com/. The books will sell for 3540 percent below list price and are available by title or in five 12-book collections. The books on the list have been carefully chosen by a panel of Navy leaders and scholars. They include award-winning histories, biographies, novels, business bestsellers and more. To view the entire list with descriptions, visit the reading program web site: http://www.navyreading.navy.mil/.
8. Free Community Management Training Available for Military Spouses: The Military Spouse Corporate Career Network (MSCCN), a non-profit corporate direct hiring program, in partnership with Community Association Institute (CAI), is offering a one-time free of charge training and certification seminar to the first 25 military spouses to sign up. The seminar will be held at Marine Base Quantico, Virginia. The specific location will be provided upon selection. Persons eligible to receive the no-cost training are spouses of active duty, National Guard, or Reserve service members or retirees, spouses of war-wounded/injured veterans, or widows/widowers of service members or retirees. To sign up, they should place their resumes on: http://www.msccn.org/jobs/jobseekersOther.php and select the job "November 1, 2, 3, 2006" under featured jobs. MSCCN will contact candidates for a pre-screen interview.
Upon completion of the seminar, participants will be given a certification test which, when passed, allows the MSCCN and CAI to find suitable placement among CAI member companies in the United States. For further information please contact MSCCN team: email@example.com.
9. Moneywise in the Military Seminar Held at Walter Reed: Kelvin Boston, host of the award- winning PBS financial literacy series Moneywise was the keynote speaker for a free day-long event at Walter Reed Army Medical Center on Saturday, September 30. Speaking to an overflow crowd of more than 300 service members and family members, Boston gave a well-received presentation on financial issues, highlighting the importance of having a financial plan. Two panels followed in the afternoon addressing issues such as Credit Reporting, Bankruptcy, Credit Counseling, Fraudulent and Predatory Lending, as well as Personal Financial Plans, Saving and Investing, and Home Ownership. The audience peppered the presenters with questions about credit scores, the military Thrift Savings Plan, the difference between a credit union and a banking institution and how much one needs to start an investment plan. Several of the panelists applauded the work that the Department of Defense is doing to promote financial literacy, citing the work of Marcus Beauregard as particularly effective.
Exhibitors invited to participate in the seminar included Kiplingers, FDIC, Military Money and NMFA, among others. This seminar was the first of five events to be presented through a unique collaboration with DoD, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, local PBS stations, and the PBS series Moneywise with Kelvin Boston. These events will present a unique opportunity to build bridges between local PBS stations and local military installations by meeting a need of mounting national importance: increasing basic financial literacy and life skills. Future events will be held in California, Texas, New Jersey and Missouri. For more information contact Christina Mazzanti at firstname.lastname@example.org or (202)587-4158.
10. Is Military OneSource a Good Resource for You? Have you used Military OneSource lately? Do you have access to a similar program through your employer? Do these programs meet your needs as a military family? Please complete NMFA's new Military OneSource/EAP survey (www.nmfa.org/onesource) and tell us what you think!