Archive for August, 2013
Any big new government initiative brings confusion with it, and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – known colloquially as “Obamacare” – is no exception. The flood of information about mandates, exchanges, fines, taxes, penalties, lawsuits and rulings has boosted the noise-to-signal ratio about the ACA, and left millions – especially seniors – scratching their heads.
Naturally, a small army of frausters, shysters and criminals have stepped in to exploit the confusion.
This article from CNBC outlines some of the scams we’re already seeing – and Obamacare hasn’t even been rolled out yet.
- Con artists have created websites designed to fool people into thinking they are logging onto the online exchange system to buy health insurance when they are not.
- Criminals are telling seniors that in order to qualify for coverage under Obamacare, they must buy an “insurance card.” In some cases, con artists are telling seniors they can even go to jail if they don’t buy the card.
- Fraudsters are calling people and posing as “navigators,” there to help people through the system. Once they earn the mark’s trust, they exploit it to gain personal information, including Social Security numbers, birthdates, bank account numbers and other sensitive information. They then empty the victim’s accounts and disappear.
- Some of these criminals are claiming to be officials with Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Health, Obamacare, or other government agency.
Here are some things to keep in mind that are of particular relevance for veterans and military families:
Tricare beneficiaries do not need to do anything. Tricare continues as it has before, and is not affected by the Affordable Care Act at all. You don’t need ‘navigators,’ and you don’t need to go onto the online exchanges. The same applies to veterans enrolled with the Veterans Administration for their health care.
The exchanges are not even slated to be live until October 1. You cannot buy a policy under the exchanges until that date. Any website billing itself as an Obamacare ‘exchange’ and trying to sell you a policy before that date is likely fraudulent.
You do not need to buy an “insurance card.”
No one from the government is or will be calling to get personal information over the phone.
If you are not a Tricare or VA health care beneficiary and you want more information about health care and the exchanges in your state, start with www.healthcare.gov.
Happy Fun Friday! Are you ready for the weekend and want to have some fun? Maybe hit the theaters to see the latest flick?
Well, here’s some good news…some of you won’t have to go off-post and spend a fortune to take the kids to see the latest first-run Disney movies. AAFES, which runs movie theaters on most large Army and Air Force installations around the globe, has announced a distribution deal with Disney that will allow it to show the latest from Disney Studios at military base movie theaters without having to wait until the movie has been out at least four weeks.
The program starts with Disney’s new movie, Planes, which began showing August 9th at these theaters:
- Ft Campbell, Clarksville, TN
- Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX
- Ft Irwin, Barstow, CA
- West Point, Newburgh, NY
- McGuire AFB/Ft Dix, Wrightstown, NJ
- Ft Drum, Watertown, NY
- Ft Sill, Lawton, OK
- Ft Polk, Leesville, LA
- Travis AFB, Fairfield, CA
- Ft Hood, Killeen, TX
- Hanscom AFB, Bedford, MA
- Ft Knox, Ft Knox, KY
- Ft Belvoir, Alexandria, VA
- Dover AFB, Dover, DE
You’ll have to spend a little more at the AAFES theater than you normally do: Military Times checked the prices at Fort Drum, New York and found that while the normal admission prices are $5.50 per adult and $3.00 for a child, AAFES Theater at Fort Drum is charging $6.80 for both adults and children to see Planes.
This deal marks the first time in the history of AAFES that they are able to show first- run movies on opening day.
As of yet, the Navy Exchange Service, which runs exchanges and MWR activities for the Navy and Marine Corps, has not yet announced such a distribution agreement.
For their part, AAFES officials say they are in negotiations to reach similar arrangements with other film studios, so hopefully we will see more first-run movies in on-installation movie theaters in general in the future.
If you’re a father on TDY in Texas and you need to travel to New York because your child or wife is in the hospital, you have to take leave out of your allotted 30 days per year. That’s what it’s for.
If you want to marry your same-sex partner, however, you don’t have to charge leave against your 30 days. Instead, the DoD, at taxpayers’ expense, will grant you an additional, free 7-10 days of military leave – a benefit the DoD does not grant under any circumstances to heterosexuals, single or married.
That’s the end result of the DoD’s announcement yesterday that they will grant 10 days leave to any servicemember who wants to marry a same-sex partner if that servicemember is not stationed within one of the 13 states that grant same-sex marriage licenses, or within 100 miles of one.
The decision sparked applause from advocates of gay/lesbian rights within the military, but also criticism from some circles for granting a special benefit to gays and lesbians that is not available to heterosexuals.
What Does This Cost?
The DoD estimates that as many as 18,000 active-duty servicemembers are gay or lesbian. If a third of these take non-chargeable leave to get married, and we assume a standard planning factor of $250 per servicemember per day, a 7-day leave for all 6,000 results in a total cost to the taxpayer of approximately $10.5 million. And that’s just to get wedding rings on their fingers.
This is not counting the additional outlays the taxpayer must fund as thousands of servicemembers qualify for the higher Type II ‘with dependents’ BAH rate, nor the cost of adding six thousand more enrollees in TRICARE.
The announcement comes even as the Secretary of Defense and other Pentagon leaders are cautioning military families that funding for basic services such as schools, commissaries and day care is in jeopardy due to sequestration.
Supporters of the additional non-chargeable leave available only to same-sex couples argue that the leave simply addresses the additional hardships and inconveniences that same-sex couples have because they cannot get married in every state.
Opponents argue that that is an issue for state legislators to address, and should not be the DoD’s problem, nor should taxpayers in other states
Opponents also argue that the announcement amounts to special treatment of a favored group, and will serve to undermine resentment of servicemembers in same-sex relationships as other troops make up their workload.
They also argue that in today’s austere budget environment, benefits granted to same-sex couples will squeeze out benefits for traditional families, and that the money committed to providing these benefits is better spent elsewhere.
On a personal level, the idea that we could lift the ban on gay or lesbian servicemembers serving openly without quickly granting full spousal benefits to same-sex dependents was never realistic. You cannot have a military with an apartheid-like system of family supports and services, with some spouses eligible for full benefits and other spouses not even allowed to live in military housing. To do so would be rightly perceived as an insult to those same-sex couples assigned to 2nd class status. You cannot have a functional family support group, or a functioning community, if you do not include the lawful spouses of all servicemembers.
That said, granting the additional 10 days leave to gay and lesbian servicemembers while denying the same benefit to other service members who have family emergencies, for example, or who simply want to get married in their home of record, is a bridge too far. It will be widely perceived as a $10.5 million-plus sop to political correctness and as special treatment for the new protected class.
The resentment will be particularly acute as money is found to provide this leave, plus additional benefits for same-sex couples, even as services for traditional families, such as DoD schools, face cutbacks and furloughs. This will be especially true in inevitable cases where soldiers taking emergency bereavement leave, or leave to witness their children being born, for example are forced to charge their leave while gay or lesbian coworkers at the next desk are not. There is no way to cover or paper over that absurdity, and that’s what it is – an absurdity.
If everyone can’t use an additional 7-10 days of non-chargeable leave for major family issues such as births and deaths, as well as marriages, then it should apply to no one.
Put another way, the same leave policy should apply across the board. Period.
That is what is best for gay and straight troops alike.
Where do you stand on this issue? Do you agree with Jason that it is unfair to grant a special benefit of extra leave to gay servicemembers? Or do you think this is one small way to make up for the discrimination gay servicemembers have endured up to this point? Tell us in the comments.
Are reduced hours at commissaries, community centers, day care facilities, DoD schools and other military community support institutions negatively affecting you and your family? Do you want to put pressure on Congress to end the sequestration law that is forcing the DoD to furlough many critical civilian workers, resulting in disruptions to services to military families? Then take some pictures.
The Military Family Association is no slouch at public relations – and they understand very well that a picture is worth a thousand words. A few well-composed photographs can put a lot of pressure on Congress and the DoD to make some changes. Therefore, the Military Family Association is creating a clearing house for you to send your photographs of shuttered facilities, long lines, and other evidence of reduced services due to the sequester.
Here’s what they’re looking for:
- Signs at installation facilities announcing closings or reduced hours
- Extra long lines at the gate
- Military equipment in disrepair (There should be no shortage of subject matter, from what I’ve seen recently!)
- Canceled school programs
- Unpaid bills piling up as a result of government furloughs
The Military Family Association would also like to collect photos of your family members holding up signs that detail what your family is going through as a result of sequestration. This was an often-utilized PR tactic during the run-up to the passage of the Affordable Care Act.
The Military Family Association plans to use these photos to create a photo book, which their lobbying staff will hand deliver to each member of Congress. They will also post these photos on the www.militaryfamily.org website and make them available for the media. A sharp PR professional at the Military Family Association will no doubt make these images available to every journalist wanting to do a story on how the sequestration provisions affect military families.
To participate, send your photos to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with a location and description.
In 1989, an eleven year-old Minneapolis boy named Ian Lundman died of diabetes. Diabetes, of course, is normally readily treatable with diet and insulin. School officials detected symptoms of diabetes, including a fruity aroma to his breath. The child could have been saved. Why did Ian die? Because his mother and stepfather retained a Christian Scientist practitioner to treat him.
Christian Scientist practitioners don’t believe in modern medical care. They rely on the power of prayer to heal the sick. They also believe that modern medicine is incompatible with spiritual healing.
Ian’s father filed a lawsuit against Ian’s mother and stepfather and the Christian Scientist. A jury found the parents and the Christian Science Church liable for Ian’s death, and awarded Ian’s father 5.2 million in damages. The award was later reduced.
This is one of a number of cases where Christian Scientist parents and practitioners watched their children die of easily treatable illnesses and refused them medical treatment because of their religious convictions.
Not as stupid as the Army, Air Force or Navy commissioning a devout Christian Scientist who openly espouses the rejection of modern medicine and making them a battalion surgeon or ship’s doctor.
The problem: It’s difficult to carry out one’s responsibility to fight illness or injury as a medical doctor if you don’t believe in medical remedies.
But invert that reasoning and that’s what will happen if Jason Heap gets his way.
Heap is a self-described “humanist” (a term that has been shortened from the construction ‘secular humanist’ in common parlance a generation ago), an atheist, and a schoolteacher in the U.K. who has applied to the Navy to be a chaplain.
On paper he has the normal qualifications: He holds a degree in divinity studies from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. He’s been “ordained” by the Humanist Society, which is not a religious organization but is the leading certification authority for secular humanists.
He has some supporters: The Military Association of Atheists and Free Thinkers is pushing for the services to open the Chaplain’s Corps to humanists and other stripes of atheists.
This is absurd.
The central mission of a chaplain is to minister to the spiritual needs of the troops. You cannot minister to spiritual needs that you believe don’t exist, any more than a Christian Scientist radical can be trusted to apply medical remedies he believes are useless or counterproductive.
From the Stars & Stripes story:
Belief in a higher power, the 38-year-old humanist argues, has nothing to do with that work.
“I am aware there are many who would be reticent or militant against that,” he said. “But at the end of the day, my job is not to inculcate my viewpoints onto other people. My job as a chaplain is to be a facilitator, someone who cares for people, someone who is a sounding board.”
Heap accurately describes the job of any military leader, regardless of branch. A chaplain has the additional duty of ministry.
It is true that we have Muslim and Jewish chaplains who must minister to Christians, even though theologically they do not accept the basic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ. However, neither group of chaplains believes, as a matter of doctrine, that the spiritual needs of the flock do not exist, nor are little more than a fairy tale. It works for the same reason the Catholic chaplains can successfully minister to Protestant troops and vice versa. There are theological differences, yes. But they are all “people of the Book,” as the Muslims express it, and while some compromises are necessary, the U.S. military has successfully integrated Jewish chaplains for many generations going back to the Civil War, and Muslim chaplains are generally accepted for the same reasons.
Heap’s advocates also point out that the military also has Buddhist chaplains. They rightfully point out that Buddhism is not a theistic tradition. But Buddhism is not doctrinally affirmatively atheistic, either. It is more non-theistic. Buddhism, like veganism, can exist among theists and atheists alike. There is a spectrum of beliefs within Buddhism regarding the existence of a Creator, but the main thrust of Buddhism self-mastery in this world, rather than salvation in the next one. While there are some Buddhists who would posit that there is no external Creator mentioned in the recorded teachings of Siddhartha Gaudama, there is a wide swath of theistic Buddhists, including Christian Buddhists. Buddhism does not rely on belief in an external Creator for the consistency of its message. But it is not necessarily hostile to the concept of a Creator, either.
No devout Buddhist would argue that Christian, Jewish, Mormon and other believers don’t have spiritual needs that are worth attending to. Appointing a Buddhist chaplain who himself is a believer to minister to troops of different faiths is a fundamentally different thing than appointing a chaplain who is affirmatively atheist – despite the best efforts of atheists to conflate the two scenarios. Doing so is an insult to the intelligence of every believing servicemember of any faith.
Advocates of the inclusion of atheist chaplains – whether they self-describe as such or attempt to camouflage themselves under the label “humanist” are more interested in proving a point than they are in ministering to troops. They cannot meaningfully do so, in a manner that is relevant to theist troops, any more than a color-blind individual can accurately describe red versus green. It’s like putting the deaf in charge of rehearsing Army bands.
If Mr. Heap’s desire to serve the military community is genuine, there are many opportunities for him to do so outside the Chaplain’s Corps, in mental health, education, or as a lieutenant or ensign in whatever branch.
Using the chaplain corps to advance atheism has nothing to do with serving troops and their families, and everything to do with committing an act of institutional vandalism.
So now it’s your turn to tell us what you think. Do you think an athiest chaplain makes sense? Tell us in the comments.
President Obama has signed a broad student loan deal into law last week. The new law restores public subsidies of student loan interest rates, translating to lower costs of borrowing for those taking out federally-guaranteed loans for school.
The new law is expected to benefit about 11 million college students and former students. Some estimates peg the annual savings for the average borrower at $1,500 per year.
The federal government had been subsidizing borrowing costs on Stafford loans, which allowed students to borrow at a below-market rate of 3.4 percent. Student loan interest is also generally tax deductible, so the effective after-tax rate on student loan interest was even lower.
However, the subsidy expired as of July 1, which effectively doubled the rates borrowers had to pay out-of-pocket to 6.8 percent.
The new law restores the subsidy, and should allow students taking out new loans this year to borrow at 3.85 percent for undergraduates. Graduate students, on the other hand, will be able to borrow money at 5.4 percent, while parents of students can borrow at 6.4 percent.
These rates are tied to changes in Treasury rates, but also come with caps: The law provides that the most undergraduates can pay in student loan interest is 8.25 percent per year, while graduate students’ rates are capped at 9 percent. Parents’ rates are capped at 10.5 percent, regardless of what happens to Treasury rates, through the 2015 academic year.
Student loans are becoming an increasingly dicey problem, as total debt increases faster than the availability of jobs for newly-minted graduates and undergraduates to move into after leaving school that compensate enough to pay off the loans while still getting ahead. Total school debt now tops $1 trillion and is approaching $1.2 trillion, while new home purchases for first-time homebuyers have fallen by 29 percent over the last year, according to a recent data release by the National Association of Realtors. The combination of data suggest that student loans and a poor job market are combining to squeeze out other spending by the 22 to 35-year-old demographic.
That’s where your Post 9/11 GI Bill comes in handy, along with possible Tuition Assistance benefits, the Student Loan Repayment Program, and the VA Home Loan program. This combination of benefits can give veterans and servicemembers a leg up against other students when considering their education plans. This combination of benefits can blunt the costs of higher education, and make school a much better value for qualifying veterans than the general population.
The law expires in 2015 – making student loans a sure flashpoint in the 2016 election cycle, which includes a Presidential election.
Much has been made of the stubborn backlog of benefits claims at the Veterans Administration. While we have been critical of the VA on this website, it is also true that the problem is not entirely of their making. When a veteran submits an incomplete claim, the clock starts ticking, and keeps ticking even if the documentation the veteran submitted is incomplete and the VA claims processor has to send it back with a request for additional information.
The VA is now addressing this with a new incentive program: For original claims submitted between August 6th, 2013 and August 5th, 2015, the VA is paying a higher benefit to those who do the paperwork right the first time.
The bonus compensation does not apply to “supplemental” claims; that is, to claims submitted by veterans already receiving benefits because their medical condition or disability status has changed.
Under the VA’s Fully-Developed Claim Program, however, veterans who have all their ducks in a row when they do initiate a claim may qualify for up to one year retroactive disability benefits – going back to the date they submitted that fully-developed claim.
Furthermore, the VA, to its credit, has developed a system to make it much easier for veterans to file fully-documented new claims:
- Log onto eBenefits at www.eBenefits.va.gov
- Click on Apply for Benefits.
- Click Apply for Disability Compensation
- Answer the questions about you claim.
To preserve the date in the system, click SAVE and Continue. This establishes the day from which the VA may be able to pay you retroactively if your claim is approved.
You have one year from the start date to gather your evidence and submit your claim. The VA will not process your claim until you hit Submit.
You should be prepared to tell the VA the following information:
- Where you have been treated at VA medical facilities and when.
- Whether you receive Social Security (SSI) benefits for a service-related condition or disability.
- Where your treatment records or DoD personnel records are located. However, if you have these records, submit them yourself.
Also, gather up all relevant records of private treatment. If you are in the Reserve Component (National Guard or Reserves), you must also identify and submit all relevant private medical treatment records.
You should also submit supporting statements of family, friends, clergy, medical professionals, etc., if you don’t believe the incident resulting in your disability is recorded in your records.
Scan all your documents, and, in the eBenefits section of the VA website, select Upload Documents, then Manage Files. From here, you can upload the documents you scanned into the VA system.
The VA recommends that you have a Veterans Service Officer, or VSO, review your application for completion. Once you have everything uploaded, you can let a VSO look at your file and advise you on anything missing that could delay or endanger your claim.
The National Care Planning Council – not a federal agency – maintains a listing of state and county Veterans Services Officers here.
Once you have had a VSO look at your claim – or you have elected not to appoint a VSO, click No More Evidence and Submit.
A more detailed checklist is available here.
Again, once you initiate your claim via the Fully Developed Claim program, you have a year to complete it. If your claim is successful, the VA will pay benefits retroactively to the date you initiated your claim.
For more information, see this brochure published by the VA.
Most people don’t do their jobs completely alone – even if they office alone. Real life requires interaction with people, whether electronically or face-to-face. An important part of online education is learning to connect and work with others via Internet technology.
In case you were wondering, that’s why your high school teachers assigned those group projects. And that’s why you’ll often find group work as part of your post-high-school education. Because learning to get along with people is one of those life skills that takes lots of practice. When you can work with people to achieve goals, you’ll be able to work your way up that career ladder.
If you’ve been assigned to a group that you think may be made up of one part normal, two parts devil spawn, keep reading. In this post, we’ll take a look at some common personality types that make study group dynamics interesting. We’ll offer some tips for surviving and succeeding – and none of our tips involve exorcism of any kind.
There’s always one in any group: a natural leader who oozes charisma and quickly takes control. This person usually has a great “big picture” view but can often miss the details. The Ringleader thrives on being the group’s spokesperson because they may enjoy hearing themselves talk. They like to “help” the rest of the group by delegating tasks.
The key to working with this person is to make the most of his or her natural abilities and love of the limelight – but don’t let them overlook key details and don’t let them shrug off their share of the work. Sure, they can read the details of the project out loud for the rest of the group. But make sure, along with the rest of your team, to spell out specific roles and responsibilities, due dates, and any other important details up front to keep things fair for everyone.
Don’t let this person’s quiet, well-mannered demeanor fool you: this is somebody who knows how to get things done, who usually has a very well-informed opinion and tends to be a major asset to any group.
Make your group an inclusive, safe place to participate by setting “no wet blanket” ground rules up front. When introverts feel welcome to share their thoughts and opinions, they’ll often shine. This personality type can be a significant asset to any group – independent, hardworking, often with brilliant ideas. They’re just not particularly forthcoming with them. Don’t pressure or bully them to share – just be inclusive and they will usually surprise you.
Speaking of wet blankets – if there’s a blanket of any kind to be thrown, there’s usually one person who will pitch one at everyone with both hands. This person may not have learned many social graces, or, they just plain don’t care whether they make anyone uncomfortable. They have a negative attitude and are often disrespectful to the point of distraction from the group’s purpose. At the extreme, they spew hateful, offensive commentary and bully others in the group.
Often times, when someone is pushing boundaries in a group, it only takes one or two people to publicly call them on it in order for them to back off, buckle down and participate appropriately. Sometimes, though, you will have to power through in spite of this person’s toxic behavior. Don’t let it affect you or sour your group – stay positive and productive. Plus, it’s always a good idea to make sure you are aware of your institution’s policies on bullying. If you have the option to remove unproductive bullies from your group, remove them. If not, make sure to have backup coverage for the assignment your wet blanket is responsible for so you don’t get left high and dry.
The Free Spirit.
This person is usually very passionate, well-intended, and possibly easily distracted. What they lack in structure and discipline, they make up for with enthusiasm. But unfortunately, enthusiasm doesn’t drive results.
The key to getting something accomplished when working with the free spirit is to provide structure where there isn’t any. This means someone – say, the ringleader – will need to provide reminder emails when tasks are due or break down an assignment into small to-do lists. Most importantly – the free spirit should be held as accountable as the rest of the team for getting the job done.
Learning to achieve goals as a group is a major part of learning how to win at life. And it’s something that you will practice for the rest of your days. Every group or project team is different, but there are always some archetypal personalities that come into play whenever there’s a group of people involved. These are just some ideas for dealing with the various types of personalities you may encounter.
Have you had any opportunities handling any of these types of people? What’s worked for you? Share your experiences here.
Ms. Shelly has spent more than a decade working in higher education. She currently serves as executive vice president for Grantham Education Corporation. Ms. Shelly is passionate about changing lives – about making college education accessible and affordable to more people and preparing students and graduates for success.
The new adjusted reimbursement rates for GI Bill beneficiaries for the 2013-2014 academic year become effective on August 1st. Here’s a breakdown:
Benefit Cap for Tuition and Fee Reimbursement for Qualified Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs)
- Private and Foreign Schools: Up to $19,198.31 per academic year, subject to certain exceptions, outlined below
- Vocational Flight Schools: Up to $10,970.46 (actual net costs).
- Correspondence Schools: Up to $9,324.89 (actual net costs).
- Public colleges and universities for state residents: No cap. The GI Bill will cover all tuition and fees for in-state students.
Max Charge per Credit Hour Max fees per term
Arizona $725 $15,000
Michigan $1,001.00 $19,374.50
New Hampshire $1,003.75 $5,197
New York $1,010 $12,293
Pennsylvania $934 $6,110
South Carolina $829 $2,798
Texas $1,549 $12,130
These rates apply to students attending an institute of higher learning in these specific states who have been enrolled in the same program since January 4th, 2011. The VA will pay the lower of actual tuition and fees combined or the highest public in-state undergraduate tuition and fees.
For non-residents, you may be eligible for additional benefits if your school elects to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. To qualify for this program, you must have served on active duty after September 10, 2001, for a minimum of 36 months, in the aggregate, be honorably discharged for a service-connected disability after having served 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001, or be a qualified dependent of an eligible veteran and use the Transfer of Entitlement feature under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
You can find a list of education institutions participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program here.
Generally, GI Bill recipients enrolled full-time in institutes of higher learning get the same pay as the Basic Allowance for Housing for an E-5 with dependents. The Department of Veterans affairs calculates that based on your school’s zip code, not your address.
There are some exceptions, however, to the VA’s GI Bill monthly housing allowance (MHA) policy:
- Foreign schools: $1,429.00
- Exclusively online programs with no classroom component: $714.50
- ½ time students or less: NO MHA
- Active duty trainee: NO MHA
- Transferee spouse of service member: NO MHA
For non-residents, you may be eligible for additional benefits if your school elects to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Books: Post 9/11 GI Bill beneficiaries receive an annual stipend of up to $1,000, prorated based on their enrollment.
For more information, visit www.gibill.va.gov