Author : debi-teter

House Defense Budget Proposal Calls for Overhaul of Military Retirement System

Posted by Debi Teter
militaryauthority_us-capitalHouse lawmakers are set to unveil a defense budget this week that will not include any changes to Tricare health insurance or commissaries, but which calls for overhauling the military retirement system by 2017. blended 401(k)-style retirement system was suggested in January as part of a landmark study by the congressionally appointed Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) and has sparked wide-ranging debate among servicemember and veteran groups.

Under the proposed blended retirement system, the military would give all new servicemembers a Thrift Savings Plan account and provide matching contributions throughout their service. Troops who separate after 20 years would still get a pension but only 80 percent of what those already in the system today will get.

The Armed Services Committee has stated it will modify the compensation commission proposal by continuing the TSP contributions beyond 20 years for those who want to continue serving. The loss of contributions was a sticking point for some military groups.

Servicemembers who are serving now would see no change or reduction to their retirements if they choose but could opt into the new system.

The committee’s bill must pass the House and eventually be merged with the Senate’s version, but the work this week — including the retirement overhaul — will set the course for what eventually gets passed into law.

#TSP #ThriftSavingsPlan #tricare #militaryretirement

Purple Heart Awards Aren’t Enough to Secure Benefits for Fort Hood Victims

Posted by Debi Teter
militaryauthority.com_purple-heart-for-foot-hood-victimsOn Nov. 5, 2009, Majar Nidal Hasan launched an attack on fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas. The Obama administration has finally acknowledged that those hurt and killed in the shootings were victims of terrorism and not “workplace violence,” as the attack had previously been described.

In 2012 a memo from the Department of the Army was released detailing its denial of the terrorist connection, even though the evidence showed Hasan was emailing the al-Qaida cleric Anwar al-Awlaki prior to the attack.”MAJ Hasan has been charged with criminal activity, but has not been adjudicated a terrorist. Therefore, the clear preponderance of evidence does not support that the injuries sustained were the direct result of armed conflict,” the memo stated. It went on to say that victims’ injuries were not caused by an “instrumentality of war” because Hasan’s “weapon was a private semi-automatic pistol. The Army did not issue this weapons to the soldier.”

The 2015 defense budget, known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), included language that meant Fort Hood victims were eligible for the Purple Heart honor because the attack was inspired by a foreign terrorist group. But now because of a narrow interpretation of the language, benefits requests to at least one solider are being denied. In a memo issued regarding SSG Shawn Manning, attacks motivated by terrorist organizations do not qualify as combat operations.

“Section 571 of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act addresses both the awarding of the Purple Heart to service members killed or wounded in attacks inspired or motivated by foreign terrorist organizations and the Defense of Freedom Medal for those members and civilians killed or wounded during the Fort Hood attack on 5 November 2009.

“Nowhere in the act, however, does it offer combat benefits for service members permanently disabled in attacks inspired or motivated by foreign terrorist organizations. Although subsequent legislation and guidance may change, currently, the Board has no authority to award V1/V3 (service related) designation to soldiers disabled during the Fort Hood attack.”

Fox News contacted the Army on Manning’s behalf and was told by Army spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith that “…all recipients of the Purple Heart Medal under section 571 of the NDAA 2015 will receive the benefits to which they are legally entitled. In the case at issue, no final decision has been rendered, and the Soldier will have a full opportunity to present evidence at a formal hearing.”

On follow-up by Fox News asking if the Army’s intention is to require all Fort Hood Purple Heart recipients to go through formal hearings to prove their injuries are combat-related as is the case with Manning, the Army declined to comment.

Fort Hood Victims Finally Set to Receive Purple Hearts

Posted by Debi Teter
militaryauthority.com_purple-heart-for-foot-hood-victimsIn February, Army officials announced they would award the Purple Heart and its civilian counterpart, the Defense of Freedom medal, to Fort Hood victims — after years of pressure from families and a rule change approved by Congress. The Purple Heart usually is bestowed to those wounded in war zones, but it can be awarded in other situations, including terrorist attacks against the United States.

Military officials had been reluctant to deem the shooting a terrorist attack. The Pentagon categorized it as “workplace violence.” Congress has expanded the eligibility criteria by redefining an attack by a “foreign terrorist organization” to include those motivated or inspired by a foreign terrorist organization.

Army Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, has been convicted of carrying out the attack, which killed 13 and wounded more than 30. Prosecutors say Hasan had communicated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric who served as a chief propagandist for al-Qaida.

Can you view and print your tax statement online?

Posted by Debi Teter
militaryauthority.com_online-tax-statementsMilitary members and federal employees can see their tax statements online. For Active/Reserve Military: You may view, print and save your W-2 Wage and Tax Statement on-line. You may access your W-2 from the “Main Menu” by clicking on the Tax Statement (W-2) option. If you have trouble reading the graphic version of your W-2, you can click on the “Text Version” link. The text version of your W-2 lists all your W-2 data items in a single column. Army Active, Army Reserve and Army Guard soldiers are able to view, print and save their Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP) tax statements on myPay. Annuitants: You can view, print and save your tax statement. The tax statement displayed on myPay is the end of year tax statement. Additionally, if the tax statement displayed is incorrect, please contact your customer service representative. For Civilians: You can view, print and save your tax statement. The tax statement displayed on myPay is the end of year tax statement. Additionally, if the tax statement displayed is incorrect, please see your customer service representative. Non Appropriated Fund employees: You can view, print and save your tax statement. You may access your W-2 from the “Main Menu” by clicking on the Tax Statement (W-2) option. Any corrected tax statements issued will not be reflected in myPay. Additionally, if the tax statement displayed is incorrect, please see your installation representative Retirees: You can view, print and save your tax statements. The tax statement displayed on myPay is the end of year tax statement. Additionally, if the tax statement displayed is incorrect, please contact your customer service representative. All DFAS recommends you use the Printer Friendly version of your tax statement. For Printer Friendly information, please see FAQ # 54. If Acrobat Reader is not available to you or you prefer HTML, you can print the HTML version of your tax statement. Follow these instructions. The appearance of the tax statement varies according to the Browser used and your PC’s resolution. You will have to adjust your Page Setup for the best printing results. For Internet Explorer, begin with setting the Top and Bottom margins at “.50” inches and the Right and Left margins at “.25” inches. For printing the W-2C on Internet Explorer, begin with setting the Top and Bottom margins at “.80” inches and the Right and Left margins at “.25” inches. For Internet Explorer if you see a URL, page number, etc. on your printed copy, use Page Setup to clear out the Header and Footer information. Most Browser defaults are set to capture this information so that when an individual prints from the Internet, they will know where the printed data came from. Finally, if you do not want to print the “Back” and “Print” buttons on an extra page, count the number of W-2/W-2C Forms displayed. For every 2 forms displayed there will be one print page. Example, if you have 4 W-2 Forms displayed, the current setup will print 2 on page 1, 2 on page 2, and the Buttons on page 3. So if you set the print range to print only pages 1 through 2, you save a page that contains only the 2 buttons. Before filing your tax return, carefully separate the copies printed on a single page. When filing your tax return, you are not required to include/send the instructions on the back of the tax statement. For all other printing issues, please contact the DFAS Centralized Customer Support Unit toll free at 1-888-DFAS411 or 1-888-332-7411, or commercial at (216) 522-5096, or Defense Switching Network (DSN) at 580-5096. You will be able to access myPay and view your W-2 for one (1) year after you are no longer in a pay status or separated.

VA Pensions for Low-Income Veterans

Posted by Debi Teter
veterans-pensionsLow-income wartime Veterans may qualify for pension if they meet certain service, income and net worth limits set by law; are age 65 or older, permanently and totally disabled, a patient in a nursing home receiving skilled nursing care, receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, or receiving Supplemental Security Income. Generally, a Veteran must have at least 90 days of active duty service, with at least one day during a VA recognized wartime period. The 90-day active service requirement does not apply to Veterans discharged from the military due to a service-connected disability. (Veterans may have to meet longer minimum periods of active duty if they entered active duty on or after Sept. 8, 1980; or if they were officers who entered active duty on or after Oct. 16, 1981.) The Veteran’s discharge must have been under conditions other than dishonorable and the disability must be for reasons other than the Veteran’s own willful misconduct. Payments are made to bring the Veteran’s total income, including other retirement or Social Security income, to a level set by Congress. Unreimbursed medical expenses may reduce countable income for VA purposes. Protected Pension: Pension beneficiaries, who were receiving a VA pension on December 31, 1978, and do not wish to elect the Improved Pension, will continue to receive the pension rate received on that date. This rate generally continues as long as the beneficiary’s income remains within established limits, or net worth does not bar payment, and the beneficiary does not lose any dependents. Beneficiaries must continue to meet basic eligibility factors, such as permanent and total disability for Veterans. VA must adjust rates for other reasons, such as a Veteran’s hospitalization in a VA facility. Veterans Pension: Congress establishes the maximum annual Veterans Pension rates. Payments are reduced by the amount of countable income of the Veteran, spouse, and dependent children. Currently, under federal statute, the VA recognizes all marriages performed in the state of residence when that state considers the marriage legal. Marriages not considered legal in the state of residence may not be recognized when counting income. When a Veteran without a spouse or a child is furnished nursing home or domiciliary care by VA, the pension is reduced to an amount not to exceed $90 per month after three calendar months of care. The reduction may be delayed if nursing-home care is being continued to provide the Veteran with rehabilitation services. Aid and Attendance and Housebound Benefits (Special Monthly Pension): Veterans and surviving spouses who are eligible for VA pensions are eligible for higher maximum pension rates if they qualify for aid and attendance or housebound benefits. An eligible individual may qualify if he or she requires the regular aid of another person in order to perform personal functions required in everyday living, or is bedridden, a patient in a nursing home due to mental or physical incapacity, blind, or permanently and substantially confined to his/her immediate premises because of a disability. Veterans and surviving spouses who are ineligible for basic pension based on annual income may still be eligible for VA Pension if they are eligible for aid and attendance or housebound benefits because a higher income limit applies. In addition, unreimbursed medical expenses for nursing home or home-health care may be used to reduce countable annual income, which may result in a higher pension benefit. Claimants may apply for aid and attendance or housebound benefits by completing VA Form 21-2680 (available through www.va.gov). Claimants may also write to the nearest VA regional office and include copies of any evidence, preferably a report from an attending physician or a nursing home, validating the need for aid and attendance or housebound care. The report should be in sufficient detail to determine whether there is disease or injury producing physical or mental impairment, loss of coordination, or conditions affecting the ability to dress and undress, to feed oneself, to attend to sanitary needs, and to keep oneself ordinarily clean and presentable. In addition, VA may need to determine whether the claimant is confined to the home or immediate premises. VA also pays a special $90 monthly rate to pension-eligible Veterans or surviving spouses with no dependents who receive Medicaid-covered nursing home care. These funds are available for the beneficiary’s personal use and may not be used to offset the cost of his or her care.

Family and Medical Leave Act Now Includes Same-Sex Military Couples

Posted by Debi Teter
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 gives eligible employees of covered employers the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for specific family and medical reasons. Eligible employees who need time off to care for a service member who becomes ill or injured in the line of duty may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave. On Feb. 25, the Department of Labor (DOL) amended the definition of “spouse” to include legally married same-sex spouses. Further, the rule clarifies that, if an otherwise eligible employee is currently living in a state where same-sex marriage is not recognized, as long as the person and his or her spouse were married in a state that does recognize same-sex marriages, the employee will still be eligible for benefits under the FMLA. The revised rule becomes effective March 27.

Travel Expense Reimbursement for VA Visits

Posted by Debi Teter
travel-cost-to-VA-reimbursedAccording the Census Bureau, there are 21.8 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces as of 2014. Unfortunately, most of those veterans do not live within a few city blocks of a VA center. So when faced with getting to a center for care, they wonder if there’s a way to have that cost covered. Travel costs can be reimbursed. Here’s the lowdown…   Eligible veterans may be provided mileage reimbursement or, when medically indicated, special mode transport (e.g. wheelchair van, ambulance) when traveling for approved VA medical care. Mileage reimbursement is 41.5 cents per mile and is subject to a deductible of $3 for each one-way trip and $6 for a round trip; with a maximum deductible of $18 or the amount after six one-way trips (whichever occurs first) per calendar month. The deductible may be waived when travel is in relation to a VA compensation or pension examination; travel is by special mode; or when imposition would cause a severe financial hardship. Eligibility The following are eligible for VA travel reimbursement:
  • Veterans rated 30 percent or more service-connected.
  • Veterans traveling for treatment of service-connected conditions.
  • Veterans who receive a VA pension.
  • Veterans traveling for scheduled compensation or pension examinations.
  • Veterans whose income does not exceed the maximum annual VA pension rate.
  • Veterans in certain emergency situations.
  • A veteran whose medical condition requires a special mode of transportation and travel is pre-authorized. (Advanced authorization is not required in an emergency and a delay would be hazardous to life or health).
  • Certain non-Veterans when related to care of a Veteran (Caregivers, attendants & donors).
Beneficiary travel fraud can take money out of the pockets of deserving Veterans. Inappropriate uses of beneficiary travel benefits include: incorrect addresses provided resulting in increased mileage; driving/riding together and making separate claims; and taking no cost transportation, such as DAV, and making claims. Veterans making false statements for beneficiary travel reimbursement may be prosecuted under applicable laws.

Finding Support for Military Spouses and Their Families

Posted by Debi Teter
Military families may be a lot of things, but one thing they are not is all the same. That’s why finding the right support group to help you and your family weather the ups and downs of military life is important. There are as many types of support groups as there are people, so you have to go into your search knowing what you’re looking for. Do you need a group of enlisted wives to help you get acclimated to the military lifestyle? Or are you looking specifically for people who understand what it’s like to have overinvolved in-laws? If you’re not sure, pick the one that seems to be closest to your needs and give them a try. You can always keep shopping until you find the right mix of people for you. But don’t forget – it isn’t all about you. Being part of a support group is as much about giving support as it is about taking support. If you’re going to join, you have to be ready to offer some of your own time, compassion, humor, or other skill. Otherwise, you’re not going to win any friends or influence people. If you don’t know where to start looking – here’s some tips:
  • Search the Internet. Search for organizations near your base, community, or area of interest.
  • Visit your installation’s military support service center; the Navy, Army, Air Force, and the Marine Corps all have support centers for military spouses and families.
  • Talk to people. You are not alone in this. Whatever you’re going through, there are others out there who can help – or at least just listen. Ask your neighbour, the checkout person at the commissary, anybody you might come across where to find like-minded groups to join.
Military life is full of ups and downs. The right support group can make all the difference. What’s worked for you? Tell us how you’ve connected with others in the comments below.

Veterans Groups Say Even More Suicide Prevention Tools Needed

Posted by Debi Teter
clay-hunt-428x285-ts300This week the US Senate unanimously passed veterans legislation intended to reduce the veteran suicide rate, which averages to about 22 veterans per day. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act bill now goes onto the White House for President Obama’s signature. The measure is named for a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who committed suicide in 2011. He was 28.

The $22 million Clay Hunt bill includes a new tool that the Veterans Affairs Department can use to recruit more mental health professionals — repayment of student loans for psychiatry students. VA officials say the pilot program will be a significant incentive for young psychiatrists to fill VA positions.

The law also mandates annual evaluations to determine the efficacy of VA suicide prevention programs, new veteran peer support programs and the creation of a new website to better explain what mental health resources are available to veterans.

Veterans’ advocacy groups said the Senate’s passage of the bill will not end their push for improving mental health services for veterans. VFW National Commander John W. Stroud said the bill, “does strengthen and expand the mental health programs and services currently available to service members and veterans … [but what it] doesn’t do is go far enough.” The VFW and other groups had supported dropped provisions to improve access to mental health programs for reserve and National Guard members. Other dropped provisions include a mandated review of less-than-honorable military discharges to determine if the member’s behavior was linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, and to establish a single drug formulary for the VA and the Defense Department. Aleks Morosky, deputy director of legislative services for the VFW, said the VFW believes a single drug formulary for VA and DoD is critical for the care of troops transitioning from active-duty to veteran status.  “Now, when you’re on active duty and get mental health care, you get a certain medication regimen” based on specific needs and met by the drugs available through the DoD’s inventory. Because getting the right medication is “trial and error,” it can be a difficult process finding the correct regimen, Morosky explained. “But since the VA does not have all the same drugs as the DoD, when you transition you have to start all over again. So we support them having a single formulary.” A provision calling for a single VA-DoD drug formulary may have been pulled because it directly affected the Defense Department, he said. That would have meant sending the bill to the armed services committees of the House and Senate for approval, thereby adding another legislative hurdle to passage.  

Will Your Taxes Be More Complicated This Year?

Posted by Debi Teter
Tax return checkThere’s been a lot of buzz already in 2015 about how complicated it will be to file taxes thanks to the new requirement to prove you have enough mandatory health insurance coverage. (There’s also buzz about how the IRS isn’t staffed well enough at their help centers to handle all of the questions, but we won’t get into that today.) Why is filling out taxes going to cause a bigger headache for most Americans, and will the typical military family need a jumbo-sized bottle of aspirin to survive? If you are active duty military, you will probably escape the headache pretty easily. The good news is that all the ways that make this tax season especially confusing for most of America don’t really apply to the active duty military. That’s because troops and almost all of their dependents have coverage through Tricare. Long before the Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka Obamacare, started requiring everyone to have a certain level of health care coverage. You still have slightly different requirements this year, though. Like every other tax-filing American, Tricare users will need to “self-identify” on their tax forms as having the minimal required coverage. There are three versions of the basic 1040 federal income tax return: the 1040EZ, the 1040A, and the regular 1040. Each form has a line that says Health Care: individual responsibility (see instructions), and then the words Full-year coverage and then a box.  IF you had an acceptable forms of Tricare for the entire 2014 calendar and tax year, then you just check the box and you are done. What are the acceptable forms of Tricare? Any of these:
  • Prime
  • Standard
  • Tricare for Life
  • Overseas
  • Remote
  • Uniformed Services Family Health Plan
  • Tricare Young Adult
  • Tricare Reserve Select
  • Tricare Retired Reserve
Minimum required coverage is also provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to those who are enrolled with the VA for health care, and for those who are enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA.) Dependent parents and parents-in-law using Tricare under their active-duty military children’s plans are the only users whose Tricare plans DON’T meet that requirement. Because they use Tricare on a space-available basis, it doesn’t meet the rule for minimum coverage. They need to buy other coverage or pay a fine starting next year. For this year, however, they are covered under an exemption (which can be claimed by filing Form 8965.)