FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Tom Philpott

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 ,

Commissary funds restored; tobacco costs to rise

House and Senate conferees negotiating a package to fund the Department of Defense through September 2015 have protected commissary operations by restoring 90 percent of a planned $100 million cut. Once again lawmakers thwarted a cost-saving initiative targeting military compensation and endorsed by the Joint Chiefs as a way to dampen personnel costs so more […]

December 14, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Sequester looms over coming 2015 pay pinch

Military folks will see compensation packages pinched in 2015 under a deal struck this week by House and Senate negotiators finalizing pay and benefit changes in the fiscal year 2015 defense authorization bill. But the compensation pinch in 2015 could become a more hurtful punch starting in 2016, the armed services committees warn, if the […]

December 07, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Late-hour benefit fight has defense bill on ropes

A dispute between House and Senate armed services committees over whether to slow growth in military housing allowances and raise off-base pharmacy copayments has put at risk passage of a defense authorization bill. “This is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” said one armed service committee staffer, describing the impasse between House-Senate negotiators striving […]

November 30, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Lejeune vets gain by knowing details of law

A 2012 law that requires VA to cover health care of former Marines, sailors and family members with ailments linked to 1957 to 1987 water contaminations at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, continues to surprise segments of the affected population. Some of the law’s details bitterly disappoint those who believe they’ve been harmed by exposure to […]

November 16, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

First ‘Choice Cards’ sent to 320,000 veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs has mailed its first medical “Choice Cards,” with letters explaining how to use them, to 320,000 VA-enrolled veterans who reside more than 40 miles from any type of VA medical facility. By late November, another 370,000 vets, those facing waits longer than 30 days for VA appointments, will be the […]

November 09, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

DECA answers sales drop with ‘value brand’

The Defense Commissary Agency faced a tough operating environment in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 as sales fell by 4.3 percent. The drop was due in part to commissaries closing for six days during a government shutdown last fall. But patrons also saw the worth of their benefit debated for months after President […]

November 02, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Slim chance to stop coming higher RX co-pays

When Congress reconvenes Nov. 12, opponents of billions of dollars in military compensation “reforms” sought by President Barack Obama and the Joint Chiefs of Staff will have one final and narrow opportunity to derail the plans. Three significant compensation changes still alive on Capitol Hill are: • A second consecutive 1-percent cap on the January […]

October 26, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

‘Choice card’ doubts swirl as deadline nears

Last August, Congress gave the Department of Veteran Affairs 90 days to issue medical “Choice Cards” to 9.1 million veterans enrolled in VA care. The tight deadline of Nov. 5 won’t be met, say representatives of major veteran organizations who attend periodic VA briefings on plans for rollout of the Choice Card. The card will […]

October 19, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Health review verifies need: Secure doc-patient email

The recent 90-day review of the Military Health System found it “comparable in access, quality and safety to average private-sector health care,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a press conference last week. That was disappointing to hear for a medical system that, for decades, has described itself as overall excellent and among the best in […]

October 12, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Redux retirement: $30,000 ‘loan’ costs service members $390,000

Would an E-6 careerist nearing retirement accept a $30,000 car loan if forced to pay back a total of $390,000 in principal and interest? Would an E-7 accept a $30,000 loan to make a down payment on a home or to wipe out credit card debt if the lifetime cost of that decision were $386,000 […]

October 05, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Caregiver program expansion looks unlikely

For older generations of spouses, mothers and other family caregivers of severely disabled veterans, the startling feature of the Family Caregiver Program that Congress enacted in 2010 was its exclusivity. The unprecedented package of caregiver benefits includes training to help to ensure patient safety; cash stipends to partially compensate for caregiver time and effort; caregiver […]

September 28, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Veterans with PTSD could see discharge upgrades

As many as 80,000 veterans who suffered from post-traumatic stress and received other-than-honorable discharges can use evidence of their PTSD to petition service boards to upgrade the bad paper discharge. At stake for individuals is removal of lifelong stigmas that have scarred reputations, limited job prospects and blocked critical veteran benefits. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel […]

September 21, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

VA chief: ‘Tens of thousands’ more medical staff needed

The Department of Veterans Affairs needs “tens of thousands” more personnel working in VA hospitals and clinics to meet patient demand, the new VA Secretary, Robert “Bob” McDonald, told lawmakers Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The size of the staff shortage, McDonald said, explains why VA has launched “a big […]

September 14, 2014 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,
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