3.21.2006

Government and You E-News - March 21, 2006

HERE'S THE NEWS:

1. NMFA Helps You Contact Your Members of Congress on Important Issues: This week, NMFA launched its Advocacy tool to give military families the opportunity to quickly and easily share their opinion about pending or current legislation with elected officials. From the NMFA “Action Alert” page, military families will find information about the current issue under discussions and instructions on how to add personal comments to an NMFA-composed letter and then send it by e-mail to their elected officials. To access the Advocacy tool, go to: www.nmfa.org/action.

NMFA’s first alert asks families to let their Members of Congress know their concern over adequate funding for military health care. As we have stated in previous publications this year, for the FY 2007 and 2008 budget years, the Administration has proposed instituting a tiered system of health care fee increases for military retirees under age 65, their families, and survivors. NMFA—and the many military beneficiaries who have contacted us—finds these fees for TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Standard deductibles to be arbitrary and exorbitant. We are especially opposed to the proposal by the Department of Defense (DoD) for a first-time ever TRICARE Standard enrollment fee for military retirees. TRICARE Standard must not be transformed from the basic military health care entitlement to simply another insurance plan!

Because DoD estimated its fee increases would result in $735 million in savings, it cut its health care budget proposal accordingly. NMFA is skeptical of this estimate. We are concerned that without Congressional action to increase the DoD health care budget, beneficiaries could find access to care diminished in the coming years. The DoD leadership has already instructed the TRICARE contractors to begin working on a plan to implement the increased TRICARE Prime enrollment fees on October 1, 2006. NMFA believes Congress needs time to review DoD’s plans before they are implemented, as well as to ensure adequate funding is included in the FY 2007 budget resolution. Military families who share that concern are urged to contact their elected representatives using the NMFA Advocacy tool and ask them to review these proposals carefully. Members of Congress must also be asked to make sure military health care is fully funded. Failure to do so would deny military families access to robust health care benefit.

The NMFA action alerts are designed to be taken using a physical address within the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. If you are assigned overseas or would like to contact the elected officials where you vote, we provide instructions on how to find your Senator or Member of the House of Representatives and send a letter using their web form. If you have questions or comments about the new NMFA Advocacy tool, please send them to: families@nmfa.org.

2. Dash to Your Computer to Comment on Proposed Drug Changes! The Department of Defense Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee has forwarded its recommendations on which drugs in certain classes should be the next to move to the third tier (non formulary) to the Beneficiary Advisory Panel (BAP). The Panel will review and comment on these recommendations during their open meeting on March 30, 2006 at the Naval Heritage Museum in Washington, DC (Navy Memorial metro stop) starting at 8 am.

Up to twelve individuals may address the Panel for five minutes each between 8:30 and 9:30 am. Sign ups to address the Panel will be on a first come basis the day of the meeting. However, if you move quickly you may send your concerns to the BAP electronically by sending them to: Richard.Martel.ctr@tricare.osd.mil Submissions must be made by March 23, 2006. The Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee has made the following recommendations for drugs to move to the third tier (non formulary):
  • Overactive Bladder Drugs: Detrol, Oxytrol, Sanctura
  • Miscellaneous Anti-hypertensive Drugs: Lexxel, Tarka
  • GABA Analog Drugs (used for adjunctive therapy in the treatment of partial seizures and the treatment of various types of neuropathic pain): Lyrica

Additional information should be posted on the BAP webpage shortly: www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy/bap

3. HASC Hearing Emphasizes Importance of Commissaries, Exchanges, MWR: On March 15, the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) held a hearing on military resale (commissaries and exchanges) and Morale Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs. Testifying on panel one were the Honorable Leslye A. Arsht, Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Military Community and Family Policy, and the senior leadership of the commissary, service exchanges and military family service programs The focus of the testimony centered on the successes and challenges currently facing resale and MWR activities. As always, this hearing covered a broad range of issues, including the unified exchange task force study, funding for second destination transportation fees, privatized Army lodging, self storage facilities on military installations, and how to sustain funding of MWR programs in the wake of transformation and base realignment and closure (BRAC).

In her opening statement, Secretary Arsht vowed to preserve and improve features of resale and MWR benefits that are essential to quality of life. Challenges would certainly be present in the face of BRAC and global repositioning requirements, but she stated she was committed to “seeking the levels of funding to fully fund these benefits and to maintain the balance between taxpayer and service member contributions.” Concern was voiced by Chairman John McHugh(R-NY 23rd) about the economic impact redeploying 70,000 troops out of the European theater would have on MWR programs since half of that income comes from the resale systems in Europe. Secretary Arsht reassured Congressman McHugh that savings from the closure of commissaries at closing installations would follow the troops to the installations that are enlarging. She also mentioned that continued work with community and industry partners in providing quality of life programs both inside and outside the gate as well as a careful review to ensure that “DoD programs are funded with BRAC savings” are all part of the overall plan”. NMFA hopes that in addition, DoD will look closely at how to best market the benefit to the military family who, because of housing shortages, may live 30 minutes to one hour away from the installation and not necessarily want to drive in to use the exchange or commissary, given high gasoline prices and other retail options in the surrounding communities.

Testifying in the second panel were various representatives of companies that do business with commissaries and exchanges, as well as two representatives of The Military Coalition (TMC), of which NMFA is a member. Renè Campos, Deputy Director, Government Relations, of the Military Officers Association of America and Joe Barnes, National Executive Secretary of the Fleet Reserve Association, testified on behalf of the Coalition. Commander (Ret.) Campos raised the issue of how MWR, exchanges and other quality-of-life support programs will fare during implementation of global re-basing and BRAC: “Already we are hearing about a lack of resources and infrastructure in implementing Army modularity." She went on to voice the Coalition’s concerns regarding DoD’s proposal to consolidate exchange operations: “We question the $17 million that DoD has spent on the consolidation shared services study and whether that money wouldn’t have been better spent on funding more urgent MWR activities”. Mr. Barnes raised the issue of a $15 million budget shortage and a $30 million proposed cut in the FY 2007 budget for DeCA: “Our members are concerned about continuing pressure to cut spending and squeeze efficiencies from DeCA…the Coalition ...urges authorization of funding necessary to sustain the commissary benefit.”

For complete copies of written statements provided by the witnesses go to: http://armedservices.house.gov/schedules/.

4. DoD States More Families Taking Advantage of Counseling Services: With high operational tempos and multiple deployments increasingly becoming the norm, DoD finds more service members and their families are seeking counseling services. DoD started expanding its array of counseling services shortly after September 11, 2001, to help counter the stress military service places on service members and their families, particularly during wartime. NMFA strongly encouraged these efforts based on input the Association has received from families. The result of these efforts is a vast family-assistance counseling network that emphasizes problem solving and communications skills to help individuals and families get through difficult times.

The National Mental Health Association identified symptoms affected people may experience:
  • Difficulty completing tasks,
  • Trouble concentrating,
  • Fear and anxiety about the future,
  • Apathy and emotional numbing,
  • Irritability and anger,
  • Sadness and depression,
  • Feeling powerless,
  • Extreme hunger or lack of appetite,
  • Difficulty making decisions,
  • Crying for no apparent reason,
  • Headaches or stomach problems,
  • Difficulty sleeping,
  • Excessive drinking or drug use, and
  • Feeling withdrawn.

Everyone experiences stress differently, and these and other symptoms aren't unusual for people who have undergone deployments or had a loved one deploy, say DoD officials. They also stress these are normal reactions to difficult circumstances. The goal of DoD-sponsored counseling programs is to address these issues before they escalate.

The National Mental Health Association recommends tips for coping during difficult times. They range from avoiding excessive exposure to news and talking with others to exercising, eating right and taking part in relaxing, soothing activities. The group urges people who can't seem to shake these feelings to seek treatment. Nearly every military installation has a family service or support center, chaplain, child-development center or other service where families can get help, from crisis intervention to counseling, depending on their need. In many cases, non-medical counseling—educational and outreach sessions as well as individual, group and marriage counseling—is the best medicine. Services extend beyond active-duty troops and their families to include two groups not always included in military programs: National Guard and reserve members not on active duty, and DoD civilian employees who have deployed overseas.

Educational sessions, the broadest form of counseling provided, focus on basic life skills, such as stress and anger management, communications, decision making and financial stability. Outreach sessions are a bit more targeted, with counselors or social workers attending town hall meetings and greeting troops arriving from deployments to ensure they know counseling services are available if they need them. Counselors also present briefings before, during, or after deployments and offer group coaching. In addition, trained social workers and counselors offer private counseling to help people who request it work through troubling issues. These issues can run the gamut, from deployment-related anxiety and family conflicts to emotional or financial difficulties. Such programs augment rather than replace the military's network of unit leaders, chaplains, child-development center staffs, and family centers that have traditionally offered the first step in crisis intervention.

Troops or family members interested in these programs can get a referral from these base service providers. They can also request help directly by calling Military OneSource, toll-free from the states at (800) 342-9647 or overseas at 800-3429-6477.

Officials believe it is a positive sign that several thousand service members and families have taken advantage of the non-medical counseling services offered and expressed hope others will follow their lead. NMFA has also found that families are willing to take advantage of counseling services if needed or that they have already done so. An important result of last year’s NMFA Cycles of Deployment Survey was that families wanted increased access to counselors and believed that more counseling resources should be made available to family readiness groups and volunteers. (Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Mar2006/20060314_4482.html)

5. National Conference Focuses on Behavioral Health Needs of Returning Service Members and Families: The Department of Heath and Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Therapeutic Communities of America (TCA) recently conducted a symposium in Washington, DC, aimed at identifying mental health needs of the military population, in particular veterans who have been deployed to a combat zone.

NMFA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, Debbie Fryar, attended the conference with approximately 1,100 other individuals. Participants came from communities across the country, non-profits, Mental Health Providers, and military representatives. The overall theme of the conference was: “Restoring Hope and Building Resiliency.” A strong emphasis was placed on families and involvement of families in the overall mental health and reintegration process. As veterans return from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of the men and women, and their families may need help re-establishing their lives and re-connecting with their communities. This conference helped draw attention to how local community substance abuse and mental health service providers could address the complex needs of the diverse military population.

The conference provided information and models on helping veterans and their families build resiliency and prevention of complex problems such as mental health problems (including PTSD), substance use disorders, suicide, homelessness, sexual abuse, and co-occurring disorders that can occur after serving in active combat or under other dangerous conditions. Read more about the conference’s agenda click at http://www.samhsa.gov/.

6. Navy to Delay Some PCS Moves: Navy officials recently announced they would delay until October 2006 Permanent Change of Station (PCS) orders for this fiscal year for approximately 3,800 Navy personnel. Deferring PCS moves has been used in past years by the Services, most frequently the Navy, as a way to save money during a period of tight budgets. The Navy normally moves approximately 75,000 Sailors and their families each year. The impact will only be to Priority 4 moves. Both officer and enlisted personnel who do not have written PCS orders in hand within the FY06 PCS transfer window may be impacted.

Sailors who fall into high-priority billets, such as those to forward deployed naval forces, currently deployed units, recruiting duty, Joint combatant command support, and senior leadership (CO/XO/DH/CMC/COB/RTC), will rotate as scheduled. The anticipated impact will delay lower-priority moves, including shore to shore and some sea to shore moves, beginning in March for personnel not in receipt of PCS orders. These PCS moves will be moved to October (FY 2007).Once Sailors have been issued PCS orders, even if the move is not taking place until FY 2007, they may make arrangements to move household goods and their families in advance of their actual departure from their current command. Families who need to relocate in the summer for school or other issues may still move before October 1. Detailers at the Navy Bureau of Personnel (BUPERS) will call each of the Sailors impacted by the PCS delay and ensure any issues with families, schools and careers are fully addressed. (Source: http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=22730)

7. Moving to Fort Knox? Innovative new Website Can Help You! Military families who are relocating to the Fort Knox and the Lincoln Trail Region in Central Kentucky now have a resource that will make it easier to find a home, job, church, or school. The Lincoln Trail Area Development District, working with the Lincoln Trail Workforce Investment Board has launched the website http://www.oneknox.com/ to help families relocating to the region as a result of recommendations from the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.

Paid for with federal funds, OneKnox.com allows families to search within categories, such as government, employment, housing, religion, or resources specifically relating to service members, government civilian employees, and their families. For those who may be unfamiliar with the region, general information on the region and each county is also available. While the site is still building its resource list, it already contains links to useful information for families contemplating a move. One Knox.com will serve as the resource for promoting all the communities in the Lincoln Trail and Greater Louisville area. Officials state people are already accessing the site from Alexandria, Virginia; St. Louis, Missouri; Indianapolis, Indiana; Fort Monroe, Virginia; and Fort McCoy Wisconsin.

Members of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Investment Board (WIB) and the newly created One Knox organization will also be traveling to locations around Kentucky that have units that are relocating to Fort Knox, providing information on the region. Potential future residents and other interested parties can sign up for an electronic monthly newsletter at http://www.oneknox.com/ that will provide updated news and relevant information. NMFA did note that the site did not have a direct link to the official Fort Knox website (http://www.knox.army.mil/) and encourages both sites to link to each other. The OneKnox website, however, can be a model for other installations and communities who are expecting an influx of population as part of Service transformation, global rebasing, or BRAC.

8. Indiana is Latest State to Set Up Military Family Fund: Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (R) signed a bill into law Friday that creates a military relief fund to provide grants to families of Indiana National Guard or reserve personnel on active duty since September 11, 2001. Money for the grants will come from the sale of Hoosier Veteran and Support Our Troops license plates. Drivers will pay an additional $15 annual fee for the veterans’ plate and $20 more for the troops’ plate. The relief fund is designed to provide grants to families for utilities, clothing, food, transportation, and other basic needs. The new law allows the Veterans’ Affairs Commission to establish the grant amount, the eligibility criteria, and selection procedures.

Senate Bill 75 was modeled after the Illinois Family Relief Trust Fund, a similar program that took effect in 2003. Several other states have or are considering similar legislation. The Illinois program provides $500 to $2,000 grants to families, depending on their needs and whether the soldier was injured during service. (Source: http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060317/NEWS02/60317013)

9. What’s New in the TRICARE Dental Program? The TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) is the military dental insurance program for active duty families, members of the Selected Reserve, and their families. In January, United Concordia (UCCI), the TRICARE contractor that administers the program, launched a new website for TDP enrollees. The site offers users access to answers about their dental benefit. From the home page, beneficiaries can click to two main areas of the site: enrollee information and dental health information. Check out the TDP website at: http://www.tricaredentalprogram.com/tdptws/home.jsp.

10. What is Freedom Team Salute? The Freedom Team Salute (FTS) is a recognition program that gives active, National Guard, and Reserve Soldiers an opportunity to recognize parents, spouses and employers for the support and strength they provide. FTS is an official program sponsored and funded through the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (M&RA). The program is intended to honor those who support U.S. Army service members, as well as to honor U.S. Army veterans who have served this nation, including those who served in the National Guard or Reserve. All material is provided at no cost to either the nominator or the recipient. Nominees receive an Army lapel pin, an Army decal, a certificate and letter signed by the Secretary of the Army and the Chief of Staff of the Army thanking them for their support.

To learn more about the program go to http://www.freedomteamsalute.com/.

11. Show Your Appreciation for a Special Military Family You Know: Nominate them for the NMFA Family Award! Military families know military service is not a job, it’s a lifestyle. While this lifestyle provides endless opportunities for adventure and learning, at the same time families are subject to unique challenges. The NMFA Family Award provides an opportunity to recognize those families who have made the most of the adventure and conquered the challenges.

The NMFA Family Award is given to 12 families who exemplify the best of the military family lifestyle. Each winning family will receive $500 and a $250 donation will be made to a charity of their choosing. Additionally, one winning family will be chosen as the NMFA Family of the Year and will receive $1000 and a trip to Washington, D.C., where they will be honored at a reception with key military leaders and the program sponsors. They will also have the opportunity to present a check in the amount of $500 to the charity of their choice.

Any active duty, reserve component, or retired family of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, or commissioned corps of NOAA or the Public Health Service, are eligible, as well as the families of fallen service members, or families of wounded service members who were injured in the line of duty within the past three years and have since been discharged. Nominations will only be accepted online at www.nmfa.org/familyaward.

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