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Government and You E-News - February 20, 2007

Topics in This Week's News Include:

1. Protecting the Benefits of Surviving Children

2. Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Hearings held in Various Committees

3. Senior Enlisted Advisors Testify

4. Top Groups Receive Family Readiness Awards

5. Family Program Leaders Define Top Concerns

6. Virginia Continues to Pass Military Friendly In-State Tuition Legislation

7. Position Announcement for Deputy Director of Government Relations

Here's The News!!!

1. Protecting the Benefits of Surviving Children: Recently,in reaction to a story in the Washington Post, there has been concernabout the awarding of survivor benefits to the children of singleservice members.  It is important to understand that there is a packageof survivor benefits. The payment of the death gratuity is meant to actas a financial bridge, to help with living expenses until otherbenefits such as the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)payment, the Survivor Benefit annuity, and Social Security Benefitsbegin to be paid. These payments are to support the child until he/shereaches adulthood. The Servicemembers Group Life Insurance, is, as itname implies, insurance. As the law is written now, the death gratuityis only awarded to the next of kin, but the service member maydesignate multiple beneficiaries for the Servicemembers Group LifeInsurance. SGLI beneficiaries are free to use these payments for anydesired purpose.

It is critical that the service member be informed about thedifference between the death gratuity and the SGLI payment. Inaddition, service members and their families must discuss theimplications and disposition of these payments. Those provisions shouldbe enumerated in a will. It is incumbent upon single service memberswith children or dual service member couples with children to createnot only a family care plan, but an estate plan as well. Upon the deathof a single service member with a minor child, a guardian must beappointed by the court. There could be a delay in access to benefitsfor the child until a guardian is appointed. In these circumstancesNMFA would be in favor of a parent or sibling of the service memberbeing named as the awardee of the death gratuity payment if there wouldbe a guarantee that the payment would be used as a financial bridge forthe minor child until other benefits are awarded. If the service memberdesires to provide financial support for other family members, theproper mechanism is to designate that family member as a beneficiary ofall or part of the SGLI.

There will be much discussion of this issue in the coming days.Several bills have already been introduced addressing this issue. Focusmust be on the purpose of the death gratuity is it insurance or apayment to help the family in transition? NMFA is committed to theprotection of the financial future of the child. We also continue tostress the importance of educating service members and their familiesabout survivor benefits and financial planning. We will continue tomonitor the progress of this legislation and invite your comments.

2. Fiscal Year 2008 Budget Hearings held in Various Committees:This week in Congress involved several hearings in response to lastweek's release of the President's Fiscal Year 2008 (FY08) budget. ANational Military Family Association member attended some of thesehearings.

On February 13, 2007, the Fiscal 2008 Budget: Military Health Carewas held in the Military Personnel Subcommittee of House Armed ServicesCommittee, chaired by Chairman Vic Snyder (D-AR, 2nd). The budgetcontains proposed cost savings initiatives totaling $1.9 billion.Congressional concern surrounds DoD's assumption that savings will beachieved through requiring enrollment and co-pay fee increases tomilitary retirees and their families. Last year these efforts wereprevented by Congressional action and similar reaction has alreadysurfaced with the introduction of the Military Retiree Health CareProtection Act by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Chuck Hagel(R-NE) and Congressman Chet Edwards (D-TX, 17th). Also, DoD isanticipating additional savings will be achieved throughrecommendations made by the Task Force on the Future of MilitaryHealthcare. However, their report is not due out until December 2007,which would leave DoD very little time to evaluate theirrecommendations, implement and benefit from these cost saving measures.Subcommittee Members were skeptical DoD will achieve these savings andwonder what DoD's back up plan would be. Dr. Winkenwerder respondedthey have some options, but they would be fairly drastic.

The Military Construction, Veterans Administration, and RelatedAgencies Subcommittee of House Appropriations Committee held VA andMilitary Long-Term Health Care Challenges on February 15th. ChairmanChet Edwards (D-TX, 17th) presided over testimony to examinediscretionary spending programs and the long-term challenges to the DoDand Department of Veterans Affairs health care systems. Witnessesincluded representatives from Government Accounting Office (GAO) andthe Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The CBO reported that the VA's proposed enrollment fees andincreased co-payments will result in increased savings as veterans seekalternative health care resources. Hence, cost savings through lowerparticipations. Also, it is difficult to determine whether the VA isbeing efficient in their spending. One cannot simply compare VA providehealth care to private sector because veterans use a combination ofhealth care systems, such as TRICARE, VA, Medicare, Medicaid and otherprivate health care insurance. 

The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of House Veterans'Affairs Committee held a hearing on the FY08 budget and its potentialeffect on VA Inspector Generals (IG) ability to perform their duties onFebruary 15th. According to VA Inspector General George Opfer, thebudget will cause the reduction of 40 employees impacting their abilityto provide oversight and investigations into VA activities, such asresearch on veteran population and ethical considerations and assuringconfidentiality of personal data transfer between DoD and VA.

3. Senior Enlisted Advisors Testify:On February 9th, the Senior Enlisted Advisors of the Army, MarineCorps, Navy, Air Force, Army Reserve Command and Army National Guardrecently testified before the Military Quality of Life and VeteransAffairs Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee. Writtentestimony from all of the panel members indicates that meeting theneeds of military families continues to be a top priority for each ofthe Services.

Representative Sam Farr (D-CA, 17) asked each of the Senior EnlistedAdvisors about their top three issues for the coming year. NMFA waspleased to note that all respondents highlighted the critical need forchildcare at their installations. In addition to childcare the SeniorEnlisted Advisors listed barracks modernization, workspaceimprovements, the need for more mental health care providers, andbetter care for our wounded warriors as top priorities.

The Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, Master Chief PettyOfficer Joe Campa, Jr., put a face on the issue of the effect of theincreased operational tempo on military families. In his openingremarks he stated: "Navy families can no longer rely on the comfort ofpredictable deployments. Five years ago, my son Jared knew exactly whenhis dad would deploy. Now families must be ready at all times forunexpected separations. Jared Campa was present at the hearing and hadthe opportunity to meet the Subcommittee Chairman, Representative ChetEdwards (D-TX, 17).

During oral testimony Sergeant Major of the Army, Kenneth Preston,addressed the potential problems associated with Congress's failure tofully fund FY2007 Defense Authorizations. According to his testimony,in April the Army will be forced to divert more base funds tooperational commitments unless Congress moves to close the funding gapbetween the authorizations for FY2007 and the funds provided in thecontinuing resolution. In his words, the readiness of the Army is atstake.

NMFA is continuing to follow these issues as the new Congress beginsto debate the FY2008 budget and the funding for the remainder ofFY2007. We are pleased to see military family issues featured soprominently in the Senior Enlisted Advisors' testimony.

4. Top Groups Receive Family Readiness Awards:The Defense Department's top reserve official today recognized thenation's top family readiness programs. Thomas F. Hall, AssistantDefense Secretary for Reserve Affairs, presented the 2006 ReserveFamily Readiness Awards in a ceremony at the conclusion of the 2007Family Readiness Summit. Retired Navy Vice Admiral Norb Ryan, presidentof the Military Officers Association of America, accompanied Hall.

Award winners are:

  • Army National Guard: 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry, Wisconsin Army National Guard Headquarters, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Army Reserve: 108th Division, Institutional Training, Foreign Army Training Command, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Navy Reserve: Detachment 0225, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 25, Rock Island, Illinois
  • Marine Forces Reserve: 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Selfridge, Michigan
  • Air National Guard: 153rd Airlift Wing, Wyoming Air National Guard
  • Air Force Reserve: 913th Airlift Wing, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania
  • Coast Guard Reserve: Port Security Unit 312, San Francisco

NMFA salutes all the award winners and the new and creative waysthey are reaching out to their families. NMFA especially congratulatesDenise Rampolla, long time NMFA Representative and Board of Governors'member, who is the Wing Family Coordinator for the award winning groupfrom the Air National Guard in Wyoming.(Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=3096)

5. Family Program Leaders Define Top Concerns:Top military family program leaders from across the services gatheredin Arlington VA last week focused on addressing questions on how tobetter work together. NMFA was invited to participate and wasrepresented by Kathleen Moakler and Patty Barron of the GovernmentRelations staff and Kathy Schumacher, an Army Reserve family member andNMFA member. Broken down into four working groups, leaders at the 2007Family Readiness Summit came up with nine issues they will present tosenior military leadership.

"Part of our goal was to identify best practices, lessons learned,challenges and requirements, and what we found was that regardless ofwhich group and which questions they were working on, everyone came upwith essentially the same list," said James L. Scott III, the directorof individual and family policy for the Office of the AssistantSecretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. Each of the issues will bedefined and will include recommendations by the group. The findingswill be attached to a letter from Assistant Defense Secretary Thomas F.Hall to the service secretaries and reserve-component chiefs asking fortheir support in implementation.

Among the recommendations were:

  • Defining, and possibly renaming, family assistance centers across the services.
  • Increased and consistent funding for family assistance programs
  • The successful use of emerging technologies
  • Increasing the use of partnerships between military and civilian organization
  • Increased focus on single soldiers' family needs, as well as the reintegration process after returning from deployment.

The summit's purpose was for group members to brainstorm ways tobreak down interservice bureaucratic barriers that sometimes preventmilitary family members from getting the help they need. This is thethird such summit since 2001. NMFA was grateful for the opportunity toparticipate. We repeatedly heard that while the Services wanted to keeptheir distinct cultures, many family support functions can be joint or"purple" to make them more accessible to families and cut costs overall.(Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/NewsArticle.aspx?ID=3095)

6. Virginia Continues to Pass Military Friendly In-State Tuition Legislation:Delegate Terrie L. Suit (R-81st District), a Navy spouse and strongsupporter of military families added another successful passage oflegislation to an already impressive record. HB 1822 Military members,certain; reduced college tuition passed the House and Senate onFebruary 15, 2007 and is currently awaiting the Governor's signature.This bill provides that any active duty member, activated guard orreserve member, or guard or reserve member mobilized or on temporaryorders for six months or more, who is stationed or assigned to Virginiaand is residing in Virginia, shall pay an amount no more than theamount covered by their military service Tuition Assistance program orthe In-state tuition rate, whichever is greater, to the publicinstitution of higher education in which they are enrolled. Full text: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+ful+HB1822ER.

This is a companion bill to the well received legislation sponsoredby Delegate Suit in 2006 which deemed all dependents of active dutymilitary personnel assigned to a permanent duty station in Virginia andwho reside in Virginia eligible for in-state tuition. Although thislegislation was considered a significant win for military families,certain restrictions in the law prevented inclusion for a small groupof military families caught in a gray zone of "eligibility". NMFA heardfrom several families who were concerned about Permanent Change ofStation (PCS) orders and the effect such a move would have on theirrising college freshman.  NMFA took these concerns to Delegate Suit inSeptember 2006.  As a result of this visit, input from the StateCouncil on Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV), and various othersources, Delegate Suit introduced HB 1996 which clarifies eligibilityfor dependents of certain military personnel. This bill defines the"Date of alleged entitlement" as the date of admission or acceptancefor dependents currently residing in Virginia or the final add/dropdate for dependents of members newly transferred to Virginia. The billpassed both the House and Senate on February 15, 2007.   Full text: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?071+ful+HB1996ER.

NMFA is truly thankful for Delegate Suits' understanding andcompassion toward our military families. Her continued support andstrong voice in the Virginia General Assembly is greatly appreciatedand resoundingly recognized by military members and families alike.

7. Position Announcement for Deputy Director of Government Relations:The National Military Family Association has an open position in ourGovernment Relations Department. It is a 30 hour a week, non-exemptposition available immediately through December 31, 2007 with apossible extension. The position entails working for the Director ofGovernment Relations in Alexandria, VA, for the advancement of theadvocacy and education agenda of the National Military FamilyAssociation.  This includes: the identification, study, research, andevaluation of issues affecting the families of the uniformed services;Articulation of the concerns and positions of NMFA to those able toinfluence the quality of life for Uniformed Service families;assistance in the development of department educational materials andweb content.  Issue areas to be addressed will include military healthcare, housing, military compensation and benefits and deployment.Qualifications include: familiarity with NMFA, its mission and goals,legislative interest, aptitude and knowledge. Excellent communicationskills, both oral and written, including public speaking, managerialand supervisory skills, computer skills, and knowledge of militaryfamily issues are essential.

Interested applicants may submit their resume via email to Pat Travis at pat.travis@nmfa.org or fax at 703.931.4600. Closing Date: March 5, 2007.

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