Topics in This Week's News Include:
Here's the News!!!
1. Defense Appropriations Moving Forward? Asreported in previous Government and You issues, some of the 2007Appropriations bills were not passed during the last session ofCongress. This is a significant issue for military families since theprograms that are authorized for 2007 are currently being funded at2006 levels through a continuing resolution which is set to expire onFebruary 15th. In a joint letter from the Senate and HouseAppropriations Committees, led by Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) andRepresentative Dave Obey (D-WI, 7th), there is indication that Congressrecognizes the impending shortfalls.
The letter details the impact of the appropriations bill on avariety of federal agencies and programs. With regard to militaryhealth care, the letter states: "A continuing resolution, using theformula carried over from the 109th Congress, would result in asignificant shortfall in the Defense Health Program. This programprovides basic and specialized medical treatment for the American menand women who have returned from the front lines in Iraq andAfghanistan, and in other trouble spots around the globe. While theMilitary Healthcare System will continue to fully support the careprovided to our deployed forces, this shortfall will have a severenegative impact on the care provided to active duty members, theirfamilies, and retiree beneficiaries. Non-emergent care, electivesurgeries, pharmacy formularies, facility maintenance, equipmentacquisition, and provider staffing contracts would be reduced oreliminated.The size of the shortfall would force the Department todelay payments for claims. Delayed payments to network providers willhave a long term negative impact on their willingness to participate inTRICARE networks."
The letter also addresses Veteran's Administration (VA) funding andstates: "Medical services to veterans will suffer greatly under anextension of the current funding formula.The shortage of funding isexacerbated by the increase in patient demand which alreadyexceeds theFiscal 2006 levels." According to the letter "the difference betweenthe CR and the requested budget is about $3.2 billion (this includesthe $1.225 billion in emergency funding in the FY 2006 MilitaryConstruction/Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill) -- a reduction ofapproximately $250 million per month. As patient demands increase, thiscut would force as many as 850,000 veterans to wait even longer for thehealth care they have earned, and as many as 500,000 could be turnedaway entirely."
In addition to the discussion on health care, the letter addressesthe Military Construction Appropriations and states that "military menand women could see service cutbacks if the current funding levels areallowed to continue for the full year." The Military ConstructionAppropriations bill provides funding for child care centers, medicalfacilities, housing maintenance, and other family support activitiescritically needed in locations that are absorbing personnel relocatingunder the global rebasing initiative.
Yesterday Representative Obey introduced a resolution that wouldfund the The Military Quality of Life and Veterans AffairsAppropriations Act at the levels authorized for the VA and most DoDprograms for FY2007. We have been alarmed to learn this week that thedraft Continuing Resolution does not include all the funding authorizedto help. DoD initiate all the military construction projects necessaryto support the upcoming Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC)requirements. NMFA urges Congress to fully fund these vital projectsand quickly pass this resolution.
2. What Will the Call Home Act of 2006 Mean to You?The Call Home Act of 2006 passed Congress and became law late last year(P.L. 109-459). NMFA supported the efforts of the bill's sponsors,Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) and Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), to addressthe financial strain placed on service members and their families whileserving overseas in support of our country's military missions.
The bill requires the FCC to implement initiatives to lower servicemembers' phone bills stationed outside the United States, such aswaiving government fees and/or assessments. The bill requires the FCCto examine the cost of phone calls and explore alternate ways to lowerprices through the adoption of new technology and provide incentivesfor phone companies to offer lower and/or flexible rates for servicemembers and eligible family members and establish new contracts withforeign phone companies to provide lower international surcharges. Thelaw specifies the military service members must be stationed outsidethe United States, in receipt of official military orders, or deployedoverseas for training and/or operational purposes in support ofmilitary actions approved by the Secretary of Defense.
The FCC is in the interpretation and implementation stage of therules for enacting the new law. Soon a Notice of Proposed Rulemakingwill be issued and will seek written comments from military servicemembers and their families along with other interested parties. Theyare looking for first-hand experiences from parties calling to or fromthe United States military bases located overseas on methods used totalk with loved ones residing in the United States, with detailedaccounts of the pros and cons of the current communication systemsbeing utilized and the their related costs. The FCC has not establisheda specific date for the receipt of public comments. So, they will takeinto consideration all public comments regardless of their submissiondate. Comments may be submitted by mail at Federal CommunicationCommission, Pricing Policy Division, Room 5A232, 445 12th Street S.W.,Washington, DC 20554 or e-mail them to: CallHomeAct@fcc.gov (Source: http://hraunfoss.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-07-2A1.pdf).
3. DODEA Discontinuing Remote Home School Program:On January 24, 2007, the Department of Defense Education Activity(DODEA) announced that it would discontinue its remote home schoolprogram in school year 2007-2008 due to the expiration of funding andgrants for the program.
The funding for this pilot program, established in school year2001-2002 through unsolicited allocations and grants from Congress, hasexpired. By law, DODEA is not permitted to lobby for funds to continuethe Remote Location Home Schooling Program.
This change affects approximately 400 families who live in thePacific Theater. The news of the termination of the program follows achange in contractors for the 2006-2007 school year which resulted inconfusion regarding curriculum orders and requirements for the program.Currently the program is administered by WorldWide IDEA. Through theRemote Home School Program families who are eligible for space requiredattendance at DODEA schools in the Pacific, but do not live withincommuting distance of a DoD school, can obtain a computer, internetaccess reimbursement, assistance from certified teachers, standardizedtesting, and up to $1,600 per student to cover curriculum andeducational aids.
"We truly regret any disruption this may cause students andfamilies, "said Dr. Joseph Tafoya, DODEA Director, in the recent pressrelease. "We do not take this decision lightly-it is the result ofcareful analysis of the needs of our directed mission". Currentlyoperating a home schooling program is outside of DODEA's directedmission.
Spokespersons for DODEA state that they will assist students andfamilies in any way possible as they transition from the Remote HomeSchooling Based program to locally-DODEA-administered schools or localpublic schools. Parents who wish to continue to home schooling may doso at their expense.
NMFA realizes the unique challenges faced to families whoparticipate in pilot programs only to have funding run out after alimited period of time. We urge DoDEA school officials to work withfamilies who now must find other educational options for theirchildren.(Source:http://www.dodea.edu/communications/news/releases/012407.htm)
4. Helping Teens Talk About Deployment:NMFA believes that military families serve alongside their servicemembers. In Minnesota programs have been developed to help militarykids cope with the issues they face when a family member deploys. At arecent Speak Out For Military Kids event, sponsored by the MinnesotaNational Guard, 4-H, the U.S. Army Reserve and the Minnesota Child CareResource and Referral Network, eight teens were brought to MinnesotaState University to let them know they weren't alone. The program helpsmilitary teens express their fears and frustrations. One technique isto permit the group to ask questions of a pair of soldiers who had beenin Iraq. Their questions ranged from the expected to the unexpected.They asked about the sand, about what soldiers do with their free time,if they'd personally come under attack, and if Iraq has a lot ofsnakes. Sgt. Ben Schlag, an MSU student who returned from hisdeployment a year ago, and retired Staff Sgt. Steve Robbins ofMapleton, who served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, answered them all. Butthe typical group of adolescents changed when Schlag started askingquestions back. Like when he asked what the hardest thing was of havinga father or mother serving in Iraq. As the answers came, so did thesniffles and some tears and a bit of undisguised anger."The hardestthing is I thought he was going to come back in a couple of months,"said Nick Seibring, the stepson of a National Guard soldier servingwith the 1st Brigade Combat Team. "Now it's going to be September." The1st Bridage Combat Team deployment was recently extended to increasethe number of troops in Iraq. Tony Spurling started to offer hisopinion of the extension."It's dumb," Spurling said. "It's ... Oh,never mind." One of the adult organizers asked Spurling if he wanted toshare the word he used during a smaller group discussion to describehis feelings. "Rage," he said. Robbins, the retired soldier fromMapleton, didn't try to dissuade the kids from feeling what they'refeeling. "I don't think anything anyone can say can take away the painthe extension is causing," Robbins said. "Only time can take that away."
This discussion and the day long program are designed to help givemilitary teens some tools to cope with the feelings they areexperiencing. Bringing the teens together to discuss and validate thefeelings they are having helps them to realize that they are notexperiencing this alone. Amber Runke, a program specialist forOperation: Military Kids and a 4-H events coordinator shared that theidea behind it is to just give the kids a voice, so they can alsointeract with other kids who are going through the same things. "Youhear kids say, 'I'm the only one in my school. No one elseunderstands.'" This was the second Speak Out for Military Kids eventheld in Minnesota this winter. There are 12,000 kids in Minnesota witha parent in the National Guard, said Gail Mossman, the Guard's youthcoordinator. There are 3,700 kids with a parent in the 1st BrigadeCombat Team. Thousands of others have a brother, sister, uncle or auntserving in Iraq.The Speak Out events - others are planned for Lanesboroin February and Duluth in March - bring the kids together and guidethem through a day of figuring out how they feel about what's going onin their lives and how to express it. In the evening, the kids givelectures, present skits or show videos they made that day about whatit's like to have a parent overseas. Robbins' daughter Angela, 17, wentthrough the program. She's since done her speech for other groups andwas there Saturday, talking to the first-timers. Steve Robbins saidit's helped his daughter develop connections with similar teenagers andto talk about what she went through.
Recognizing the need for the children of deployed service members tofeel that they are not alone, NMFA's Operation Purple Camps fulfillthis same function with younger children in a week long, camp setting.We will continue to present ways that families affected by theextensions are being aided as the surge and plus-ups continue.(Source: http://www.mankatofreepress.com/local/local_story_028002534.html)
5. VA and DoD Agree to Partner with Inpatient Record System: TheDepartment of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) will developa joint electronic inpatient health care record. This will allow themto share inpatient information between the two agencies. Currently, theDoD's electronic health record AHLTA is used for outpatient health careand is scheduled to be incorporated into inpatient care. The VA usesVistA as its electronic inpatient and outpatient health care services.The two systems were developed at different timeframes and accommodateeach agency's missions. The VA focuses on supporting veterans' healthcare and DoD supports military family health care along with combatmissions.
The reason for the partnership is to aid in the transfer of woundedservice members' inpatient health care information between the twoagencies. Wounded service members' health care consists of moving backand forth between the two agencies. A service member may arrive at theNational Navy Medical Clinic Bethesda during their initial treatmentfor combat wounds received in theater and transfer to the VA'sPolytrauma Center in Palo Alto, CA for further treatment and recovery.Once recovered, the service member may return to the DoD MilitaryTreatment Facility for any follow-on treatment. It's important forindividual health care information to be easily transferred between thetwo agencies in order to maintain the patients' continuity of care.
Both agencies will perform a study to look at their clinicalprocesses, benefit requirements and the potential impact for eachagency's costs and ability to meet the required timeframes beforeembarking on a joint strategy for inpatient electronic health carerecording system.
NMFA applauds this effort by both agencies to examine an effectivemethod to share inpatient information electronically and note that thiseffort is long overdue. This joint venture will go a long way inassuring the seamless transmissions of wounded service members' healthcare information between the two agencies is successful. (Source: http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1279).
6. DeCA is Working Harder For You!The Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) is committed to making yourcommissary benefit a significant value. Toward that end they haverecently updated their website, http://www.commissaries.com/,with a brand new look. The new front page features easier to find linkswhich include a recipe section and the ability to create a personalizedshopping list for your local commissary. Shoppers can also view saleitems and purchase commissary gift certificates on the site.
A new added benefit for commissary patrons is the addition of astaff dietician at DeCA Headquarters. Maj. Karen Fauber has 16 yearsof service with 10 years as an Army Reserve dietitian and six yearsactive duty, including experience as a certified diabetes educator inArmy medical facilities and public health clinics. She has alsodeveloped, coordinated and evaluated health and nutrition programs inVirginia and was the Virginia "5 A Day for Better Health" programcoordinator. Major Fauber will be working on outreach programs such as"Ask the Dietician" and the recently updated "5 A Day For BetterHealth".
DeCA is constantly striving to improve their services. The next timeyou visit your local store, take a moment to complete a comment card orgo online and complete a customer comment form. Your comments andsuggestions help to make the commissary benefit better for all patrons.
7. Ken Burns New Documentary: OnJanuary 22, 2007, members of the National Military Family Associationattended a preview of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's documentary titled"The War." The documentary focuses on World War II and it will consistof seven episodes totaling 14 hours. The film depicts various battlesduring the war's Pacific and European theater while weaving 40 to 50personal experiences during that same time frame. The reason forproducing this documentary was to capture personal stories before theywere lost and educate current generations about the war.
After viewing a short snippet of the film, the audience had theopportunity to ask the co-producers questions. The film is centered onfour towns, the people who live there and the impact of the war. Thetimeframe is 1941-1945. The four towns were randomly selected torepresent a sampling of the United States. They are Waterbury,Connecticut; Sacramento, California; Mobile, Alabama and Luverne,Minnesota. Many in attendance were World War II veterans and asked theco-producers whether certain battles were included. They were assuredthat they would be pleased with the time spent on their particularbattle(s). However, not every battle was chosen to be highlighted inthe documentary. The film will air on PBS on September 16th for twoweeks. A member of the Government Relations staff remarked "I'm lookingforward to watching it with my dad, a P-51 fighter pilot during WorldWar II, and having him share personal experiences with me and hisgrandchildren."
8. NMFA Now Accepting Applications for Military Spouse Scholarships:TheNational Military Family Association is accepting applications forNMFA's Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarships.Scholarships are awarded to military spouses to obtain professionalcertification or to attend post secondary or graduate school.Applications will only be accepted online at www.nmfa.org/scholarshipand must be submitted by midnight March 15, 2007. Spouses of UniformedService members (active duty, National Guard and Reserve, retirees, andsurvivors) of any branch or rank are eligible to apply. Scholarshipsnormally range from $500 to $1,000 and may be used for tuition, fees,and school room and board. Through a new partnership with the MilitaryChannel, NMFA has expanded the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military SpouseScholarship Program in 2007 to provide additional scholarships to alarger number of deserving military spouses. NMFA recognizes thatunique challenges like frequent moves and deployments can interferewith military spouses' ability to complete their education. NMFA'smilitary spouse education initiative is dedicated to helping militaryspouses gain the education they need to reach their full careerpotential.
Visit www.nmfa.org/SpouseEd for additional resources. Organizations supporting military spouses are encouraged to provide this link, www.nmfa.org/scholarship, on their website or in other publications.