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Friday, April 18, 2014
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Author Archive: Tom Philpott

Proposal would slow enlisted military compensation

Military leaders lead. Politicians can lead too, of course, but usually not before sticking a wet finger in the wind to learn how political winds blow. The contrast was evident Wednesday as top enlisted leaders delivered a kind of suck-it-up-and-punch-us message to a group of nervous senators. The armed services personnel subcommittee wanted to know […]

Shrinking smoker discounts still seen as unhealthy

Military discounts on cigarettes sold at base exchanges narrowed by half during the past two years but remain “substantial” and contradictory of stated health policies of the Department of Defense, according to a new analysis of cigarette pricing on base in this month’s American Journal of Public Health. The survey results add momentum to a […]

Merged eyed for exchanges, commissaries

Crowds that shop daily in base commissaries and exchanges perhaps are oblivious to a confluence of forces threatening to dismantle their multibillion dollar resale systems. Thomas C. Shull, chief executive officer of the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, is not, which helps to explain his March 17 memo proposing a merger of commissaries with […]

Mandatory ‘mail order’ starts for Tricare users

Approximately 500,000 military beneficiaries age 65 and older with chronic health conditions are being forced, starting this month, to have maintenance drug prescriptions filled by mail order rather than in local retail pharmacies. The Tricare For Life Home Delivery pilot is a yearlong program required by law. Defense Department health officials project it will save […]

‘Consolidated’ Tricare: fees, freedom increase

Tricare Prime, the military’s managed care option for 5.5 million beneficiaries who enroll for a modest fee to be guaranteed timely access to primary care, would cease to exist within a few years under the “Consolidated Tricare” plan proposed in the fiscal year 2015 defense budget. Networks of care providers, built for Prime, would not […]

Commissaries to be run as business, not benefit

Behind the plan to slash taxpayer support of commissaries is a concept Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and his senior advisors have embraced that base grocery stores should operate as a business and not a benefit. This shift is candidly revealed in budget documents released Tuesday and in a legislative packet for implementing the funding cuts […]

Defense Department budget proposal would squeeze Tricare

One of the two biggest changes to military compensation proposed in the president’s 2015 defense budget request would roll back, after 20 years, an offering of multiple health insurance options to millions of beneficiaries. The other would end deep discounts on groceries, a benefit that is decades old and long had been viewed as critical […]

VA, Congress shrug as sleep apnea claims spike

Last June, the Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Disability Compensation privately recommended to Allison A. Hickey, undersecretary for benefits, that the Department of Veterans Affairs consider four steps to address a “recent surge” in VA compensation awards for sleep apnea. The proposals, which only now come to light, were drafted the same day that committee members received […]

Congress retreats on six-week-old COLA cap

Bowing to colossal pressure from military associations, younger retirees and angry careerists who served through long and nasty wars, Congress has repealed the retiree COLA cap it enacted only six weeks ago. Cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under age 62 will not be set a full percentage point below annual inflation, starting in January 2016, […]

New defense health chief vows relief from new Tricare lab fees

Army Maj. Gen. Richard W. Thomas, newly assigned as chief medical officer and director of healthcare operations for the new Defense Health Agency, acknowledges that some Tricare patients and their civilian physicians face lab fee challenges that the DHA needs to address. A year ago Tricare, the military’s health insurance program, quietly stopped reimbursing civilian […]

Lawmakers vow to roll back cap on COLA

Democrats and Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee vowed Tuesday to clear with unusual speed a bill to roll back the cap on cost-of-living adjustments for military retirees under age 62, long before it can ding anyone’s retired pay or cause more damage to troop morale. “It is our intention and belief that it […]

Is COLA relief tied to rocket or falling star?

Senate Democrats have tied repeal of the cost-of-living adjustment cap for working-age military retirees to a mammoth veterans’ health and benefits bill that they aren’t sure yet how to pay for or whether Republicans will support it. In earlier war years, a maneuver such as this might have enhanced prospects for repeal of the COLA […]

New ‘fix’ for COLA divides disabled retirees

Congress has rushed to protect the medically retired and survivor benefit recipients from the cap on annual cost-of-living adjustments it approved only a few weeks ago for all “working age” military retirees. The lightning quick “COLA fix,” part of a massive “omnibus” funding bill for 12 federal departments, still leaves most military retirees under age […]

Tricare patients to see some lab fees soon

Tricare beneficiaries soon will have to pay out of pocket for certain diagnostic genetic tests that their civilian physicians order, but that the Defense Health Agency doesn’t view as appropriate or medically necessary. In January 2013, without notice to beneficiaries or to health care providers, Tricare stopped reimbursing clinical laboratories for more than 100 different […]

Gains in military, veteran pays stall in 2013

As it came to a close, 2013 seemed to leave a kind of high-water mark on the wall of more than a decade of steady, impressive gains to military and veterans’ pays and benefits. Will those gains now begin to recede? This month, the military is getting its smallest annual pay raise in 50 years, […]

Housing allowances to see 5 percent bump

Basic Allowance for Housing paid to service members living off base in the United States will rise an average of 5 percent in January 2014 to keep pace with local rental costs over the past year. But senior defense officials are weighing whether this should be the last significant hike in housing allowances for a […]

Ryan-Murray deal affects younger retirees

The yearly value of a 20-year military retirement would be cut for the current force steadily until age 62 under a cost-of-living adjusment cap provision in the “bipartisan” budget deal struck by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the House and Senate budget committee chairmen. The cumulative effect would be to cut […]

Sergeants’ promotion rate creates pay conflict

Air Force enlisted members advance to pay grades E-5 through E-7 faster than they did before recent wars, but still slower than peers in every other branch of service. That dampens total earnings over a 20-year career. The greatest career income difference tied to promotion pace is seen between Air Force and Navy enlisted because […]

Controversy over ‘condition not a disability’ discharges

Navy Department medical personnel are misusing an administrative separation authority called “Condition Not A Disability” on many sailors and Marines whose medical conditions should be screened through the disability evaluation system, an advocate for wounded warriors is charging. “The use of administrative discharges for conditions that require DES [disability evaluation system] processing simply has to […]

Pentagon requests plan to close all stateside commissaries

Tasked by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to find ways to preserve force readiness amid sharply falling budgets, his comptroller and the Joint Staff have asked the Defense Commissary Agency for a plan to close all stateside base grocery stores, say military resale community sources. Time will tell if this is just the loudest warning shot […]

New budget cut options include pay, veterans

Military members, retirees and veterans have a few more reasons to be wary of politicians who say their top priority is to cut federal spending. The Congressional Budget Office on Wednesday released a report of more than 100 options for reducing budget deficits. It’s a timely product as House and Senate conferees strive to negotiate […]

Balk on compensation reform irks officials

The Department of Defense disappointed members of the new Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission by failing this month to propose a fresh set of ideas for reforming pay and benefits, as Congress had directed. The anticipated Pentagon proposals were to serve as a kind of launch pad for the commission’s work, which entered a […]

70,000 vets have chance to gain ‘retiree’ status

About 70,000 disabled veterans who served on active duty after 9/11 and were medically discharged with disability ratings of 20 percent or less, still have a shot to gain “retiree” status, with base shopping privileges and lifetime eligibility to Tricare for them and families. The catch is they have to know about this opportunity and […]

Hale: Military force-outs, civilian ‘rifs’ likely

Keeping the military as combat ready as possible during this period of budget chaos will require an accelerated force drawdown starting in 2014, the Defense Department’s chief financial officer explained recently. That will mean more tumult for personnel because a steeper drawdown likely will require some involuntary separations of military careerists and reductions-in-force orders for […]

Shutdown ends, but budgets still feel pinch

With the government shutdown ended, Reserve and National Guard members can resume weekend drills. Hundreds of thousands of federal civilians have returned to work. Disabled veterans, Veterans Affairs pensioners and eligible survivors will get November benefit payments. Promotion boards are operating again and active duty folks who had transfer orders in limbo can firm up […]

Shinseki: Shutdown puts payments at risk

If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this with hope that those who shut down much of the federal government will soon sound retreat, perhaps thank a veteran. VA Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired four-star general and former Army chief of staff, called Wednesday on House Republicans to pass a […]

Shutdown stings military, commissary in multiple ways

As House Republicans prepared to close down a large part of the government in their latest attempt to gut the 2010 Affordable Care Act, one of their own introduced the Pay Our Military Act (HR 3210) to allow military members to be paid through the shutdown. Congress quickly passed the bill from Colo. Rep. Mike […]

New health agency aims to expand on-base care

A new Defense Health Agency will come to life Tuesday, armed with new authorities to control health costs by cutting waste and duplication across the separate medical departments of Army, Navy and Air Force. DHA is tasked to streamline delivery of care, recapture thousands of patients for the direct-care system from purchased care contractors, combine […]

Gridlock, sequester deepen military budget morass

The uniformed chiefs of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps got another shot Wednesday at describing the deepening readiness crisis that Congress has inflicted on the armed forces. The chance came as the sequester-driven chaos of 2013 kicks into a kind of hyper drive with new budget threats from political gamesmanship: A possible federal […]

Senator: Renaming of gay marriage leave ‘no fix’

A revised Defense Department policy intended to quell criticism of its August announcement of up to 10 days uncharged marriage leave to gay and lesbian service members assigned where they can’t legally marry fails to “fix” the issue of giving same-sex couples a special benefit, says Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, ranking Republican on the […]

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