SpouseBuzz

Government and You E-News for November 15, 2006

Topics in this Week's News Include:

1. What Do the Election Results Mean for Military Families?

2. TRICARE Website Gets A New Look

3. Navy Sets Up Hotline for Individual Augmentees and Families

4. Mental Health Task Force to Visit San Francisco Area

5. New Commission to Improve the Future of American Veterans

6. House Passes Veterans' Benefits Bill

7. A Win/Win for Military Students and Virginia Education

8. Indiana Governor Announces Initiatives to Support Veterans and Military Families

9. Happy Thanksgiving!

Here's the News!!

1. What Do the Election Results Mean for Military Families?The November 7 mid-term Congressional elections results spell bigchanges on Capitol Hill. The switch to Democratic control in both theHouse and Senate for the 110th Congress means new personalities incharge, new agendas, and new approaches to ongoing challenges. Thechanges will not affect the issues NMFA brings to the Hill as itchampions military service members and their families. However, theymay affect how we focus on some of those issues, who we will work with,the speed with which the new Congress addresses these concerns as itworks first to organize, and just how many issues will be leftincomplete by the lame duck 109th Congress. NMFA has always beennonpartisan in its dealings with Congress and has built strongrelationships on both sides of the aisle. Our priorities early in the1st Session of the new Congress will be to introduce NMFA and militaryfamilies to the many new Members, strengthen connections with keyMembers and staff, and work to make support for military families a toppriority for the Congress.

NMFA has a long history of working effectively with the Senate andHouse Armed Service Committees on issues that affect military servicemembers and their families, regardless of the party in control of theHouse and/or Senate. These Committees have also enjoyed a long historyof collegiality between the Members from both parties and the Chairsand Ranking Members of the Committees and their Subcommittees haveworked well with each other. Representative Ike Skelton (D-4th/MO) isthe current Ranking Minority for the House Armed Service Committee(HASC) and is poised to take over as Chairman. On November 8,Representative Skelton held a conference call to outline the HouseDemocrats' defense priorities, which will include: safety in the UnitedStates with a strong defense; providing the troops with what they need;oversight of the Executive Branch with the reinstatement of theOversight and Investigation Subcommittee; and ensuring militaryreadiness. Representative Skelton also called for an increase indefense spending, improvements in health care, and a modernization ofthe military. He pledged not to cut defense funding while servicemembers are deployed. He noted that an early focus of his Committee inthe 110th Congress will be to gather pertinent information on a widerrange of issues than they had received at hearings during the previousCongress. Based on previous conversations with Representative Skelton,NMFA will also be looking for an intensified interest by the Committeeregarding funding levels for basic quality of life and installationsupport programs. 

On the Senate side, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) is in line to becomeChairman of the Armed Services Committee (SASC). Senator Levin hasalready announced he plans to make Iraq the focus of much of hisactivity as Chairman. Both the HASC and SASC will focus on determiningand providing the tools the military needs to execute the mission. Theywill probably hold more hearings to examine operations in Iraq andAfghanistan. Look for them to continue the discussion on the propersize of the force and the proper range of personnel benefits to recruitand retain a quality force. The Committees must also address the issueof rising Defense health care costs.

Changes in leadership on the Veterans Affairs Committees willprobably increase the focus on several issues important to militaryfamilies. House and Senate Democrats have already focused on ensuringthe Veterans Administration (VA) has the resources to deal with caringfor the increased number of wounded and injured service members. Lookfor them to call for enhanced coordination between the DoD and VA toensure a smooth transition for all veterans, but especially for thosewho have been injured. These Committees will probably also increasevisibility on issues related to care for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury. NMFA's job will be to highlight thatcare for the family is essential to ensuring quality care and arecovery for the service member or veteran.

Like their counterparts on the HASC and SASC, the leaders of theAppropriations Subcommittees dealing with Defense issues have a longhistory of working well with each other on behalf of a strong militaryand benefits for military personnel. Look for that working relationshipto continue even with leadership changes. One big issue for theseSubcommittees will be ensuring adequate quality of life funding forinstallations experiencing growth due to Base Realignment and Closure(BRAC) and Global Rebasing. Representative Chet Edwards (D-TX-17th),the current Ranking Member of the House Military Quality of Life andVeterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee and in line to serve asits Chair, has long emphasized the importance of providing for qualityof life programs and facilities and has voiced concern about DoD'spreparations for these large-scale movements of personnel and families.He has also been an advocate for increased support for schoolseducating military children.

For information about Congressional leadership changes as they occurand what these changes mean to you, keep reading the weekly NMFAGovernment and You E-News. 

2. TRICARE Website Gets a New Look:TRICARE beneficiaries now have a new, one-stop website thatincorporates both the TRICARE Online site and the old TRICARE.osd.milpage. The new official website for all TRICARE information is now http://www.tricare.mil/.TRICARE officials boast they have reorganized the website withbeneficiaries in mind. They can now go to one site to look up benefitinformation, schedule an appointment at their military treatmentfacilities, or track claims. Everything is in one place making the siteeasier to use.

The new TRICARE.mil portal comprises five main content areas:

  • My Health (TRICARE Online) - personal health information and onlineappointment scheduling for TRICARE Prime enrollees enrolled at militarytreatment facilities (check with your facility for instructions on howto schedule online appointments using the TRICARE.mil website).
  • My Benefit - TRICARE benefit information
  • MHS Staff - resources for Military Health System staff members
  • TRICARE Providers - information for TRICARE network providers
  • Pressroom - the latest news about TRICARE and the military health system

In the next phase of website improvements, beneficiaries will beable to enter their profile and receive benefit information tailored tothem. TRICARE expects this feature to be available in the winter of2007. NMFA encourages military families to explore the new site and letus know what you think by e-mailing us at families@nmfa.org. (Source: http://tricare.osd.mil/news/news.aspx?fid=238)

3. Navy Sets Up Hotline for Individual Augmentees and Families: The Navy is tasking more of its Sailors to deploy to hot spots aroundthe world on Individual Augmentee (IA) orders, asking them to supportother Services or deploy in smaller groups. Unlike a ship or squadrondeployment, an IA may come from an area without fleet concentration.This could make it difficult for their families to find the resourcesand information they need. In response to the challenges emerging fromthese new types of Navy deployments, the Expeditionary Combat ReadinessCommand (ECRC), headquartered at Amphibious Base Little Creek, Norfolk,Virginia, has established a hotline for active-duty and reserveSailor's families on Individual Augmentee (IA) orders. The toll freephone number, 877-364-4302, provides IA family members a way to findthe information or resources they may need while their Sailors aredeployed.

The ECRC's hotline aims to alleviate the stress IA family membersmay experience. It can serve as a conduit between the family and theNavy, providing the means of helping families get in touch withorganizations that can provide the support they need. The ECRC alsoplans to establish a website designed specifically for IAs and theirfamilies. NMFA applauds the Navy's efforts to establish this hotlineand website. Families of service members deployed singly or in smallgroups often tell us of the unique challenges they face in obtaininginformation about their service member and support from both theservice member's original unit and the unit with which they aredeployed. (Source: http://www.news.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=26475)

4. Mental Health Task Force to Visit San Francisco Area:The Department of Defense (DoD) Task Force on Mental Health will hostan open meeting to hear concerns from San Francisco veterans, as wellas local National Guard and Reserve members and families on Tuesday,November 21, from 1-5 p.m., at the Double Tree Hotel, 835 AirportBlvd., Burlingame, California. The meeting is open to the public andprovides an opportunity for all beneficiaries of DoD mental health careto share their experiences with Task Force members. 

According to the Task Force co-chairs, members want to hear frombeneficiaries about all aspects of mental health care, includingaccess, quality, and even the stigma associated with seeking this care.They are also interested in understanding how deployments impactchildren and spouses, and about care received from civilianpractitioners.

Beneficiaries who may not wish to speak publicly or who are unableto attend the meeting may send their testimony or comments directly to Cynthia.vaughan@us.army.mil.Comments should include the name, phone number, address and e-mailaddress of the writer. They will be forward directly to the Task Forcemembers.

The Task Force was established at the direction of Congress and willsubmit a report to Secretary of Defense in May 2007 that will includean assessment of, and recommendations for improving the effectivenessof mental health services provided to service members. The Task Forceconsists of seven DoD members and seven non-DoD members, including NMFAvolunteer Deb Fryar, who is serving as the active duty family memberrepresentative. It is co-chaired by LTG Kevin Kiley, Army SurgeonGeneral, and Dr. Shelley M. MacDermid, Associate Professor in theDepartment of Child Development and Family Studies, Purdue Universityand the Co-Director for the Military Family Research Institute atPurdue.

The San Francisco meeting will be the latest in a series of openevents the Task Force is sponsoring on its visits to numerousinstallations, VA facilities, and communities worldwide. For moreinformation on the Task Force, go to: http://www.ha.osd.mil/afeb/mhtf/default.cfm.

5. New Commission to Improve the Future of American Veterans:On September 11, 2006, a nonpartisan, independent Commission on theFuture for American's Veterans was created to develop a long-term planfor veterans. The Commission is comprised of ten commissioners who werechosen for their expertise and experience in healthcare and veteransissues. The Honorary Harry N. Walters will reside over the Commissionas a nonvoting Managing Commissioner. Their inaugural meeting was heldin the House of Representative's Veteran's hearing room on November 9,2006, which was attended by Barbara Cohoon, NMFA Deputy Director ofGovernment Relations.

The Commission on the Future for American's Veterans was theinspiration of a newly-formed Veterans Coalition that was establishedin June 2006. The Veterans Coalition is a nonprofit, privateorganization, composed of five veterans service organizations (VSO):the American Legion, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), AMVETS,Paralyzed Veterans of America (PAV), and the Veterans of Foreign Wars(VFW). The Commission is unique because: Congress did not appoint it;it is an autonomous body; and it is privately funded through variousgrants, private partners, and the generosity of individuals and groups.Staff members and the research firm, Altarum, will analyze trends anddata pertaining to the veterans' future. 

The Commission will examine catastrophic lifetime disabilities,modernization of benefits, the health care system's long-termviability, and the changing role of the Reserve and the National Guard.Its work will include examining where veterans programs and servicesneed to be in order to support today and tomorrow's American veterans.It will complement and add to the body of knowledge being collected byexisting government agencies and advisory bodies, such as the VeteransDisabilities Commission. Over the next eighteen months, the Commissionwill hold a series of town hall meetings, gather and formulateinformation from various resources, and present their findings in areport to the American public by Memorial Day 2008. Additionalinformation on the Commission on the Future for America's Veterans canbe found at: http://www.futureforamericasveterans.org/.

6. House Passes Veterans' Benefits Bill:One of the first orders of business for the "lame duck" House ofRepresentatives after its return to Washington this week was to pass astripped-down veterans' benefits bill. The bill, H.R. 6314, wouldprevent the cutoff of some current programs and provide a new educationbenefit to spouses of severely injured active-duty service members. Thebill was sponsored by Representative Steve Buyer (R-IN, 4th), thecurrent Chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. It must nowbe considered by the Senate. The bill, approved by the House on a 393-0vote, prevents a cutoff of rehabilitation programs for homeless andseriously mentally ill veterans as well as grants for veterans'programs. It also extends the VA advisory committee on homelessveterans and health care for veterans exposed to biological andchemical testing under Projects SHAD and 112 in the 1960s and '70s.

There is one new benefit, which is built upon a current survivorbenefit: Spouses and children of service members who are permanentlyand totally disabled from service-connected causes would be allowed touse VA survivor education benefits while the member is still on activeduty. Under current law, that is allowed only after the disabledservice member is separated from active duty. NMFA has sent a letter ofthanks to Representative Buyer for including this provision in thebill. (Source: http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2358012.php)

7. A Win/Win for Military Students and Virginia Education:For many military families with school aged children, year end teststaken in one state under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirementsdo not always count in the state of a new duty assignment. This issuebecomes increasingly frustrating for high schools students who mustpass certain exams in order to meet graduation requirements. Severalyears ago, on behalf of the 68,000 military connected students in theHampton Roads area of Virginia, the Joint Military Services SchoolLiaison Committee (JMSSLC) initiated discussions with statelegislators, school district superintendents, and others, regardinggranting credit for year end tests taken in other states under the NCLBrequirements. The Virginia Board of Education and Virginia Departmentof Education administrators were briefed on the need for grantingverified credits for high stakes testing reciprocity for mobile(military) students. With the support of many parties and organizationsreciprocity is now a reality in Virginia. On May 24, 2006, the VirginiaBoard of Education adopted revised Regulations Establishing Standardsfor Accrediting Public Schools in Virginia. This regulation becameeffective September 7, 2006 and reads in part: "...to permit testsadministered as a part of another state's accountability program to beapproved as substitute tests..."

NMFA congratulates the Virginia Board of Education on their forwardand progressive thinking. This revised regulation will truly add to thequality of life experienced by mobile military families and shows anappreciation and understanding of the unique challenges such alifestyle poses. For a complete text of the revised regulation go to: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/VDOE/suptsmemos/2006/inf180.html

8. Indiana Governor Announces Initiatives to Support Veterans and Military Families:Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels chose the Veterans' Day holiday toannounce a set of initiatives designed to help the state's veterans andmilitary families as a part of his 2007 legislative agenda. Thegovernor's proposals include:

  • Exempt all military pay earned while serving in combat theater fromIndiana state income tax for all active duty, National Guard, andReserve personnel who file Indiana tax returns.
  • Increase themaximum allowable state income tax deductions on military pay(including retirement pay and survivor's benefits) to $5,000 per yearfor individuals and $10,000 for couples filing jointly. The currentallowable state income deduction on active or reserve military pay,retirement pay, or survivor's benefits is capped at $2,000, or $4,000for a couple filing jointly.
  • Provide state matching funds ofup to $350,000 annually for Indiana Military Families Relief Fund. Thiswill dedicate state funds of up to $350,000 to match all privatecontributions to the Indiana Military Families Relief Fund as well asrevenue generated for the fund from the sale of Hoosier veteranspecialty plates. Senate Enrolled Act 75, part of the governor's 2006legislative agenda, established the fund, which provides grants for thefamilies of Indiana Guard and Reserve members who have been called toactive duty since September 11, 2001.
  • Extend delayed highschool diploma program. Military veterans of the Korean and Vietnamwars who left high school before graduation to perform military servicewill now be eligible to receive a high school diploma. This program iscurrently available to the state's veterans of World War II.

Two other initiatives in the governor's agenda were developed inconjunction with the National Governor's Association and U.S.Department of Defense to work toward consistent and uniform policies tosupport members of the military and their families:

  • Allow in-state tuition rates for out-of-state soldiers assigned toIndiana. This would allow service members and families assigned toIndiana to be immediately eligible for in-state tuition rates at statecolleges and universities, and would enable children enrolled inIndiana institutions to continue paying in-state rates even if parentsare transferred elsewhere.
  • Establish a spouse employmentprogram. This program will work with relevant professional licensingorganizations to expedite the process through which military spousesmust go to more efficiently transfer professional licenses such asteaching, nursing, real estate, and others to be recognized in Indianafrom their previous states of residence.

The Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) estimates thatthere are currently 546,000 veterans in Indiana. Approximately 16,000Indiana residents are currently on active duty, with an additional4,000 reservists. Nearly 10,000 members of the Indiana National Guardhave been deployed overseas since September 11, 2001, with an estimated2,000 Guard members currently serving overseas.

Since 2005, the governor has spearheaded a number of initiativesaimed to help Indiana's veterans and military families, including thecreation of two veterans' specialty plates, restoring a fee remissionprogram at state colleges and universities for disabled veterans,regardless of the extent of their disability, and a ban on protestswithin 200 yards of military funerals. (Source: http://www.in.gov/serv/presscal?PF=gov2&Clist=196&Elist=87655)

9. Happy Thanksgiving! We will notbe publishing an edition of the NMFA Government and You E-News nextweek, and so we wish all military families and those who love them asafe and happy Thanksgiving. We are thankful for the many ways militaryfamilies and their civilian supporters have enabled NMFA to do whatmeans most to us: be strong, effective advocates for military families.Your encouragement, information, questions, and, of course,contributions keep us focused on our mission. We are also thankful forall the ways so many American citizens have reached out to support ourtroops and their families. Families tell us often how critical thissupport is to their morale and quality of life. On behalf of themilitary families we serve, we thank you!

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