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Government and You E-News - January 8, 2008

1. NDAA Still on Hold

2. New Year Brings New Pay and Allowance Rates

3. TRICARE Enhances Behavioral Health Accessibility

4. VA Cost-of-Living Increases Take Effect

5. New Electronic Health Information Sharing Capability Announced

6. It's Tax Time!

7. Primary Season Has Begun

8. Military Families Benefit from Changes in Space-A Travel

1. NDAA Still on Hold: President Bush used a"pocket veto" during the Christmas holiday to stop the National DefenseAuthorization Act for FY08 from going forward. The pocket veto can onlybe used when Congress is not in session and means that the legislationdied at midnight on December 31, 2007. The president used this tacticto object to particular provisions within H.R. 1585, especially section1083 which would reshape Iraq's immunity to lawsuits, exposing the newgovernment to litigation within the United States courts stemming fromtreatment of Americans in Iraq during Saddam's reign. Even cases thathad once been rejected could be refiled. The President said thelegislation "would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at acrucial juncture in that nation's reconstruction efforts."

Much is being publicized about the delay of a pay raise as a resultof the veto. In reality it means that troops will get a 3 percent raiseinstead of the 3.5 percent authorized by the bill, unless an agreementis reached. As of now, Congress has not ruled out any legislativeoptions; including dropping the language on lawsuits against Iraq andsending the rest of the bill back to President Bush. The Administrationhas said that as soon as the House returns on January 15th, they willwork with Congress to fix the provision as quickly as possible. NMFAhopes that this will be accomplished in a timely manner so that all theother provisions in the NDAA so important to service members, militaryfamilies and the wounded can be implemented. Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/12/20071228-3.html

2. New Year Brings New Pay and Allowance Rates:Effective January 1, 2008 service members received a 3.0 % increase inbasic pay. In addition, Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Cost ofLiving Allowance (COLA) rates are now being paid at 2008 levels.According to the Department of Defense BAH rates increased an averageof 7%. To determine your 2008 BAH or COLA rate visit the rate querywebsite at http://perdiem.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/. For a complete 2008 pay table visit the Military Compensation website at: http://www.defenselink.mil/militarypay/pay/bp/index.html.

3. TRICARE Enhances Behavioral Health Accessibility:TRICARE is making behavioral health care access simpler for Primebeneficiaries by offering assistance with appointments. All active dutyservice members and their enrolled family members living in the U.S.who need help locating and making appointments with behavioral healthcare providers can now contact their Managed Care Support Contractor(MCSC) for assistance. 

For assistance making behavioral health appointments the toll-freenumbers are: West Region, 1-866-651- 4970; North Region,1-877-747-9579; and in the South Region the number is 1-877-298-3514.Hours vary according to region.

All active duty service members must have a referral from theirprimary care manager for behavioral health care before calling the MCSCappointment assistance line. TRICARE Prime active duty family memberscan receive the first eight outpatient behavioral health care visitsper fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) without a referral, but they mustreceive the care from TRICARE network providers to avoidpoint-of-service cost sharing charges.

TRICARE Oversees Program beneficiaries can also use the appointmentassistance line when traveling in the U.S. Beneficiaries are remindedthat the Behavioral Health Provider Locator and Appointment AssistanceService is not a help line for behavioral health treatment, counselingor advice.

For more information about TRICARE and the behavioral healthappointment assistance service, visit the mental health and behaviorsection at http://www.tricare.mil/ and create a profile. If you are a TRICARE Standard or Extra beneficiary your options vary slightly. Go to http://www.tricare.mil/ and follow the instructions for assistance in making behavioral health appointments.

4. VA Cost-of-Living Increases Take Effect:Millions of veterans and eligible family members will see theirdisability compensation, pension, and survivors' benefits increased asthe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides an annualcost-of-living increase for key benefits.

A recent law signed by President Bush provides a 2.3 percentincrease in disability compensation and survivors' benefits. Eligibleveterans and family members will see this increase starting in theirJanuary 2008 checks.

Under the veterans' disability compensation program, tax-freepayments will generally range from $117 to $2,527 per month dependingon the degree of disability. Special payments up to $7,232 per monthapply to the most severely injured veterans.

Pension disability benefits will also be increased by the samepercentage and effective on the same date. The maximum annual rate forpermanently and totally disabled veterans or veterans over age 65 canrange from $11,181 to $18,654, based on household income and whetherveterans are in need of help with activities for daily living.

This increase also applies to survivors of veterans who died inservice or from a service-connected disability.  The basic monthly ratefor Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) survivors' benefitpayments increased from $1067 to $1091 per month. The basic rate foreach dependent child under age 18 increased from $250 to $271 perchild.  For more information on DIC compensation payment rates go to http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Rates/comp03.htm.

Survivors of wartime veterans receiving death pensions are alsoentitled to an increase.  The maximum annual payment rate for asurviving spouse can range from $7,498 to $11,985.  Benefits under thisprogram are intended to bring an eligible spouse's income to a levelestablished by law. Under each benefit program, additional allowancesmay be payable for helpless, minor or school age children. For moreinformation about VA benefits and services, go to VA's website at http://www.va.gov/ or call 1-800-827-1000.  (Source: http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1436)

5. New Electronic Health Information Sharing Capability Announced:The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs(VA) can now share health care information electronically through theBidirectional Health Information Exchange (BHIE) and the Clinical DataRepository/Health Data Repository (CHDR) interfaces. These new productenhancements will allow DoD and the VA to see each other's clinicalencounters, medical procedures, and lists of medical problems. DoD willalso be able to view data collected in theater including inpatientinformation from the use of the Theater Medical Data Store. Earlierthis year, DoD and the VA were able to view pharmacy, allergy,microbiology, chemistry/hematology information, and radiology reports.

The CHDR software actively synchronizes data between DoD and the VArepositories for service members receiving health care services fromboth government agencies. CHDR has been in operation since late 2007,but in a limited basis. New enhancements to CHDR software will alloweach agency to see shared service members' information. Having accessto service member's pertinent information in a timely fashion willgreatly increase continuity and quality of care to our wounded servicemembers from the time of their initial injury in theater to carereceived stateside.(Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=11588)

6. It's Tax Time! As you make yourNew Years resolutions, this year consider curbing unnecessary expenses.Each year service members and their families needlessly spend theirhard earned income on tax preparation services that are available free.Your local installation tax office will prepare and file your return atabsolutely no charge. In addition, Military OneSource has provided freeonline preparation for the past several years. While the program hasnot yet been announced for this year, it is likely that it will beoffered again.

The first step in preparing your return is collecting the necessarydocuments. Just in time, Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS)has announced the release schedule for military W-2 and 1099 forms.Service members and civilian employees can log into their DFAS myPayaccounts and download tax documents. These electronic documents areavailable as much as two weeks prior to hard copy forms mailed torecipients. The following forms are currently available for download:

  • Retiree 1099R
  • Annuitant 1099R
  • Air Force, Army and Navy Reserve W2
  • Civilian W2
  • Marine Corps Active and Reserve W2

Other forms will be available according to the following schedule:

  • NAF Civilian W2, 1/11/2008
  • Savings Deposit 1099INT, 1/18/2008
  • Air Force, Army, and Navy Active W2, 1/22/2008

For complete details visit the DFAS myPay website: https://mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx

Remember, the new Military Lending Act is now in effect and providesregulation for long overlooked refund anticipation loans. Don't payfees and interest to access your money. File your own return or seekassistance at your local installation tax office.

7. Primary Season Has Begun: Therace for the White House officially kicked off with the Iowa Caucuseslast week. Have you filed your request for an absentee ballot yet? Eachstate has its own rules regarding absentee ballots, but all require anabsentee voter to actually request a ballot if they cannot be presenton the day of the election. Service members and their families canrequest an absentee ballot by obtaining and returning a Federal PostCard Application (SF-76). These forms are available from your commandVoting Assistance Officer or online at: http://www.fvap.gov/pubs/fpca.html.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program website, http://www.fvap.gov/,provides voters with publications and forms, information on votinglaws, services available, and links to local voting information. Votingis one of our most fundamental rights and privileges. Don't miss theopportunity to have your voice heard!

8. Military Families Benefit from Changes in Space-A Travel:Dependents of service members who have been deployed for 120 days orlonger will now find it easier to travel on Space Available militaryflights (Space-A). Due to a change in policy effective December 6,2007, military families no longer need to be accompanied by theirservice member when traveling Space-A regardless of where they arebased. Prior to the change, military dependents could only travelunaccompanied from an overseas location to the family's home of recordwithin the continental United States or within an overseas theater ofoperation. Additionally, they were limited to one round trip during themilitary sponsor's deployment period. 

Under the new policy, family members may now travel unlimited timesduring the deployment when seats are available. However, family membersplanning to use Space-A transportation will need a verification letterfrom the military sponsor's commander confirming the service member'sdeployment. In addition, an eligible parent or legal guardian mustaccompany family members under age 18.

NMFA wishes to thank the Department of Defense for this new policy,which provides better support for military families during deployments.For more information regarding the Space-A travel program, please visitthe Air Mobility Command website at http://www.amc.af.mil/.

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