FAIRFIELD-SUISUN, CALIFORNIA
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Tom Philpott

Tricare ‘reforms’ call for higher retiree fees

With congressional leaders vowing this year to overhaul Tricare, the military’s health insurance benefit, the Department of Defense on Tuesday delivered to Capitol Hill its revised recommendations to get that job done. The Tricare reform packet, Defense officials maintain, would simplify insurance options, improve access to managed care and incentivize greater and more efficient use […]

Pledges, doubts shared over women in ground combat roles

Army and Marine Corps leaders swapped pledges with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday not to cave to political pressure and relax ground combat skill requirements so that more women will qualify to serve in infantry, armor and special forces units. Certainty that such pressure will come and the need to be […]

VA e-claim system melts backlog, but costs

During the past five years, since Republicans won control of the House, the Department of Veteran Affairs has been flogged publicly many times, often for allowing a mountain of backlogged disability compensation claims. As the backlog fell, lawmakers now are learning, they should have paid more attention to how much VA was spending on its […]

Congress is last hurdle to women in combat

On Jan. 8, six days before he closed out a 45-year Marine Corps career, his last job leading U.S. Southern Command, Gen. John F. Kelly sounded an alarm, which he must have hoped would be heard on Capitol Hill. Kelly was asked at his final Pentagon press conference to comment on Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s […]

Reformers urged not to redefine commissary ‘savings’

Advocates for preserving the military commissary benefit warned a House subcommittee Wednesday to avoid reforms that promise to preserve current savings for patrons but instead change how savings are measured, creating a lesser benefit that shoppers over time might reject. Advocates for service families and the military resale industry also criticized the tools that commissary […]

VA ‘presumption’ reg could help many vets

The Department of Veterans Affairs expects up to 15,000 seriously ill veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, before 1988, when base drinking water was contaminated, to be helped by a faster-track compensation process proposed last month. But the promised acceleration in VA disability awards can’t begin until the proposed regulation becomes final, which […]

January 10, 2016 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

House eyes giving widows more relief from SBP-DIC offset

In a hopeful sign for 60,000 military widows and widowers who lost spouses to service-connected illnesses or injuries, a key House subcommittee is taking a fresh look at how Congress might allow a further easing the “SBP-DIC offset” to provide heartier and fairer survivor benefit packages. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., chairman of the House armed […]

January 03, 2016 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

TRICARE fee cuts for autism therapy stir access worries

When TRICARE this month announced cuts of up to 15 percent next year in fees for applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy of children with autism, some ABA businesses, in responding to an online survey, said they would stop treating TRICARE clients. Most respondents, however, said they need more time to assess how the reduced rates […]

December 27, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Travis housing allowance climbs 13.5 percent

Basic Allowance for Housing paid to a million service members living off base in the United States will rise an average of 3.4 percent on Jan. 1, 2016, which for a second straight year will not be enough to match rising rents and utility costs nationwide. At Travis Air Force Base, members will see a 13.5 […]

December 20, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Will reforms improve access, raise fees or both?

Retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Rodric G. Hammond of Pensacola, Florida, said he was mystified when a blue-ribbon commission on military compensation declared last February that the triple-option Tricare benefit was “broken.” It proposed replacing Tricare for active-duty families and retirees under age 65 with a menu of commercial insurance plans, like those offered to federal […]

December 13, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Congress, beneficiary groups prepare for health reforms

Last January the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission proposed replacing the current triple option TRICARE benefit with a menu of commercial insurance options, similar to those offered to federal civilians, but with a break on premiums except for working age retirees. As the military community studied those details, the Obama administration released its latest […]

November 29, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Modest changes for Carter’s ‘Force of Future’

Defense Secretary Ash Carter unveiled the “first tranche” of his Force of the Future initiatives Wednesday. They included none of the costly or controversial ideas that his personnel chief, Brad Carson, had brainstormed with Pentagon and private sector personnel experts since last April: No end to the up-or-out promotion system. No dramatic “on-ramps” to military […]

November 22, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged

Reserve, Guard retirees closer to vet status

On the eve of Veterans Day, the Senate passed a bill with language to grant “honorary” veteran status to as many as 200,000 Reserve and National Guard retirees – those not deemed veterans now because they lack a qualifying period of active service under federal orders. The House is expected to adopt similar language soon, […]

November 15, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Lawmaker is ‘ground zero’ for 2016 commissary reforms

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nevada, is a brigadier general in the Army Reserve, a soldier-physician thrice deployed and also a discerning commissary shopper. Heck bristles at seeing half-empty shelves and goods askew because commissaries, unlike commercial grocers, rely on vendors to stock most items, and some do so only a few times a week. Shoppers, he […]

November 08, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

VA chief to hill: Health reforms have arrived

Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald told the House VA Committee Wednesday that a $68 million, 4,000-page study of VA health care it ordered last August and accepted last month uncovers the same weaknesses and solutions that McDonald and his policy team have been tackling for months. The “Independent Assessment” of the Veterans Health Administration by […]

October 11, 2015 | Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged ,

Conferees shape leaner budget for pay, benefits

Military members and families have little to cheer from compromises House and Senate conferees have reached as they finalized details of key personnel provisions in the fiscal year 2016 defense authorization bill. The potential lifetime value of the new retirement plan, which many current members will be allowed to opt into, suffered a significant cut. […]

October 04, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Defense resists push to roll back drug rules

Thirty-one House members, most of whom, public records show, got campaign dollars from compound drug lobbyists, are pressing the Defense Department to soften rules set in May that block Tricare coverage of compound medicines when medical efficacy is unproven or prices extreme. Defense officials say they don’t intend to relax the rules created to protect […]

September 27, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

New commissary reform plan to protect shopper savings

The Department of Defense is modifying its approach to reform the commissary benefit with new guarantees to preserve overall shopper savings and also to avoid pay cuts for current employees, according to a source who has seen fiscal year 2017 budget planning documents. The guarantees are part of revised commissary overhaul proposal that officials believe […]

September 20, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Medicine advances when experts collaborate

Perhaps the most significant life-saving advancement in combat medicine in Afghanistan and Iraq was refinement of tourniquets and training to keep wounded warriors with shattered or missing limbs from bleeding out. Another notable gain was faster medical evacuations of wounded to reach increasingly higher levels of care, thanks to enhanced communication and transport capabilities, said […]

September 13, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

Digital innovation team to help shape future

Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s “Force of the Future” initiative is expected to include a distinct Defense Digital Services office that, within a year, would hire up to 100 top designers, developers and engineers from government and Silicon Valley to launch a new era of digital innovation across the Department of Defense, internal documents explain. Defense […]

September 06, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

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 […]

August 30, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

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 […]

August 23, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

‘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 […]

August 16, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

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 […]

August 09, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

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 […]

August 02, 2015 | Posted in Military | Tagged ,

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 ,
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