FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Tom Philpott

Costs of war obscure attractions of service

Perhaps to a degree not seen before, news outlets, politicians of every stripe and wounded warrior charities have turned an intense spotlight on the problems service members and veterans have faced on returning from war. Consider the number of news stories on post-traumatic stress and suicide, congressional hearings on the same topics as well as […]

Arguments behind tech-track career paths

Every year, hundreds of technically or tactically skilled officers and noncommissioned officers, trained at great expense, leave the military for the private sector, not because their skills aren’t needed but because the military up-or-out promotion system and enlisted retention rates favor leadership qualities over technical expertise. Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in shaping his “Force of […]

‘Force of future’ to reward talent, diversity

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter next month will be presented with a package of detailed proposals for reshaping military and defense civilian pays, promotions and quality of life, all of which strive to capture a “Force of the Future” vision that Carter laid out in a speech last March. The draft proposals, reviewed over the past […]

Commissary reformers eye repeal of pricing

Defense Department officials appear ready to ask Congress to repeal a law that commissaries must sell products at cost plus 5 percent, a formula that for decades has ensured commissary shoppers everywhere pay the same prices. Officials have drafted a replacement formula that would allow prices to vary from store to store to meet a […]

Compound drugs fleece Tricare, create deep budget hole

Dodgy companies peddling pricey compound pharmaceuticals have fleeced the Tricare program so severely this year, before tougher screening procedures took effect May 1, that they are largely to blame for a $2 billion defense health budget hole Congress is scrambling to fill. In fiscal 2010, military outpatient pharmacy costs totaled $6.6 billion, with only $23 […]

VA chief fights back on ‘community care’ bill

The Veterans Choice, Access and Accountability Act of 2014, that Congress rushed to pass last summer to address a patient wait-time scandal at dozens of VA hospitals and clinics spurred VA to broaden access to care. Turns out it did so largely through use of existing and often costly contract authorities and partnerships for non-VA […]

July 26, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Groups warn hill not to act on ‘IU’ claimants

Representatives of The American Legion and Disabled American Veterans have warned lawmakers to reject calls to impose an age ceiling or other new cost control on VA compensation payments to veterans whose service-connected disabilities leave them unemployable. An age ceiling is perhaps the most tempting cost-control option discussed in a new Government Accountability Office report […]

July 19, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Hospitals seek more challenging patient mix

The Department of Defense will ask Congress for new authorities to funnel more challenging cases into military treatment facilities, a move aimed at sustaining wartime specialty skills and overall medical readiness, said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. The effort to enrich the patient mix, particularly for inpatient care, will focus […]

July 12, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Doctor skills factor in plan to streamline care 

The number of surgeries and other inpatient procedures done on base by military physicians trails the inpatient workloads of private sector peers by wide margins, according to data comparisons run in support of a Defense Department study on modernizing the military health system. The inpatient workload at many bases is a readiness concern, which the […]

July 05, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Senate puts end to stateside food stamp fiasco

The Senate has voted to end a special food allowance stateside that was conceived 14 years ago primarily to avoid more news reports of military families using food stamps. On that original goal, it failed miserably. The idea behind the Family Subsistence Supplemental Allowance was to offer junior enlisted with large families an alternative to […]

June 28, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Defense Department: Reshape retirement to protect forces

Military leaders and Department of Defense pay experts have presented to Congress a reshaped version of the new “blended retirement” system for future service members, saying this one “best enables us to maintain the readiness of the all-volunteer force.” Their hope is that Congress will accept the fresh changes quickly and integrate them into the […]

June 14, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

White House to Senate: Ditch cut to BAH

President Barack Obama’s administration applauds several steps the Senate Armed Services Committee has taken to dampen military compensation growth next year, including support for a third straight pay raise cap, a jump in co-pays on drug prescriptions filled off base and a deep cut in taxpayer support of commissaries, which is sure to shave shopper […]

June 07, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Dual-service couples’ housing pay could shrink

Many of the 40,000 dual-service couples in the military – members married to other service members – have for years drawn combined housing allowances stateside that more than cover their rent and utility costs. The philosophy has been that Basic Allowance for Housing is a key element of military compensation needed to keep pace with […]

May 31, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Senators OK plan to cut commissary budget

The Senate Armed Services Committee has accepted a Defense Department plan to pare taxpayer support of base grocery stores, which if enacted into law would lower shopper savings at least 2 percentage points next year as well as cut store operating hours and other shopper services. Defenders of the benefit for military families and the […]

May 24, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Senate, House reject reform plans for Tricare

Both the Senate and House armed services committees have rejected two Tricare reform plans, one from the President Barack Obama administration to raise fees and consolidate the triple-option health benefit and a second from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to replace Tricare entirely with a menu of civilian health insurance options. Both ideas […]

May 17, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Committee approved ‘blended’ military retirement plan

Despite vigorous opposition from a few colleagues who are military retirees, the House Armed Services Committee voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to give future generations of service members something different from the all-or-nothing 20-year retirement system the military has relied on for seven decades. The 55-8 vote was so lopsided that the last member to cast got […]

May 03, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

One pilot talks war to destroy Islamic State

The Department of Defense daily releases a list of U.S. and coalition airstrikes conducted in the previous 24 hours against Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant forces across war-torn Iraq and Syria. Periodically, a news outlet will use the strike data to weigh the effort by the United States and allies in trying to use […]

April 12, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Caution flag up on easing ‘choice card’ usage

An actuarial firm under contract to the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that allowing veterans who live more than 40 miles from needed VA health care to use private sector care instead could balloon VA health care costs by as much as $46 billion a year. That blast to the VA budget is a worst-case […]

April 05, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Wounded Warrior Project big, getting bigger

Americans must be increasingly curious about Wounded Warrior Project with its ubiquitous TV appeals for donations to help veterans of our longest wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, recover and transition to civilian life. Operation Iraqi Freedom, after all, ended three years ago. U.S. forces in Afghanistan no longer engage routinely in combat. The Department of […]

March 15, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Senator vows to ease limit on ‘choice card’

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, new chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, promises to push for two critical changes to soften a restrictive 40-mile rule on user eligibility under the VA Choice Card program. If Isakson succeeds, thousands more veterans would gain routine access to government-paid health care in the private sector. His challenge is […]

March 08, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Force draws many from South, middle class

A new “Population Representation” report on the U.S. military affirms that the four-decade-old volunteer force is a healthy cross-section of America, if just a little smarter, a little better educated and with a deeper southern drawl than the nation as a whole. The percentage of female enlisted members has declined slightly over the past decade, […]

March 01, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Plan would ‘destroy’ commissaries, say industry reps

The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2016 budget request would slash taxpayer support of base grocery stores by $322 million in 2016 and by $1 billion next year, enough to “destroy” the shopping benefit, warns the American Logistics Association. ALA, which represents manufacturers, distributors and brokers of products sold in commissaries and base exchanges, released a […]

February 22, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Graham backs pay commission after hearing critics

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, new chairman of the Senate armed services’ subcommittee on military personnel, has signaled he will defend retirement reforms proposed for a new generation of service members by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. Graham on Wednesday led Commission Chairman Alphonso Maldon Jr. carefully through the logic that fueled its […]

February 15, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Commission ideas draw bipartisan praise on hill

There is rising confidence across the Senate and House armed services committees that 2015 will be the year Congress passes legislation to modernize military compensation, with an alternative to traditional 20-year retirement and perhaps replacing the triple-option Tricare health program. After decades of rejecting military compensation studies, whether from teams of Pentagon analysts or independent […]

February 08, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Privatized housing tenants to feel BAH pinch

Families living in privatized military housing units will not escape the impact of moves Congress made last month to dampen the value of Basic Allowance for Housing, says a Defense Department housing expert who is coordinating with service branches to implement the changes. The result will be that families moving into privatized base housing will […]

January 25, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Reservist behind victory for C-123 crewmen

Retired Air Force Reserve Maj. Wes Carter almost didn’t travel to Washington, D.C., last week where, to his surprise, he heard an independent panel of scientists verify what he had dogged the Air Force and Department of Veterans Affairs about for almost four years. The Institute of Medicine said Carter and up to 2,100 other […]

January 18, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Doctor, lawmaker ready to triage compensation reforms

As an Army Reserve physician triaging the care of arriving wounded at the combat support hospital on Al Asad Airbase, Iraq, for half of 2008, Joe Heck said he saw “exactly how well joint operations can work.” Where the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force was based, Heck ran the hospital’s emergency support section with two other […]

January 11, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Congress pulls back on star-rank retiree pay

At the urging of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Congress in 2006 took aggressive steps to raise pay and future retirement of currently serving general and admirals, particularly those serving beyond 30 years. Having been a well-compensated industry executive, Rumsfeld viewed admirals and generals as underpaid. Besides raising star-rank pay, he wanted the military basic pay […]

January 04, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Average stateside housing allowance rises only 0.5 percent

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) paid to a million service members living off base in the United States will rise by an average half percentage point in January as two slimming changes to rate calculations take hold. The 2015 BAH rates no longer will include added dollars for renters insurance, a move that dampens rates […]

December 28, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Sky-high price has VA rationing hep C drug

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, used one of his last hearings as chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to review how VA has had to ration a break-through medicine that cures hepatitis C, a liver virus infecting 174,000 veterans, because a course of treatment – 84 pills over 12 weeks – costs VA almost $50,000 […]

December 21, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,
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