Military Authority Blog

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

 

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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.

 

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The Online Student’s Spring Break Dilemma

Posted by Christine A. Shelly

Spring-Break-online-students-militaryauthorityA group of college students meet for coffee one March morning to discuss their Spring Break plans.

Student A is a sophomore at the local state college; he plans to pick up some extra hours at his part time job. Student B is in her second year at a nearby community college; she and some friends are driving to the beach for the week. Student C works full time at a small startup business, serves in the Army Reserves and is in an online bachelor of business administration degree program.

Pop quiz:  Does Student C get a spring break?

Depending on the school, the answer is probably no, there’s no ‘official’ spring break for most online programs.

But here’s the thing: You don’t need to be a traditional student to have a spring break. There are plenty of ways to take a breather without getting behind in classwork.

Online classwork = flexibility. If you can swing it, spend a little time getting ahead in your reading, projects or assignments so you can relax.

If you don’t live near a beach and/or can’t afford the airfare (who can?) Here’s a few ideas for some springtime fun:

  1. Put on your sunglasses and be a tourist in your own city. Most people avoid their local landmarks – and they miss out on some fascinating history and entertainment. Pack yourself a picnic, grab a few coins for the parking meters and spend a day (or two) basking in the glory of your own hometown.
  2. Give back. If there’s a cause that’s near and dear to your heart, spend time volunteering for them when you’d usually study. During a time of year when most people bug out, a lot of organizations would probably be happy to have an extra pair of hands.
  3. Road trip it. If you absolutely, positively, must get out of Dodge, pick someplace you can drive in an hour or two and soak up all the local flavor. Speaking of flavor, you could make a game of eating only at local diners or drive-ins along the way to wherever you’re going (and back).

Some students – I was always one of these – use spring break to get ahead caught up on projects and reading. If you’re one of these souls, don’t forget that it’s good study hygiene to take a break now and then. Find ways to unplug for a little while – even if you only take an hour away here or there, recharging time is important.

Here are a couple of ideas for mini-getaways:

  • Foodie fieldtrip. This is also known as Dinner (or Lunch) Out. Go to a restaurant, sit down and relax. If you really want to live it up, shower beforehand and put on a clean shirt. You’ll feel like a new person.
  • Get some Vitamin S – Sunshine. Okay, so it’s actually Vitamin D that sunlight delivers, but that’s not as catchy. At any rate, taking a brisk walk outside for twenty minutes can do wonders for you and your brain. Put the laptop aside for a little while and get moving in the great outdoors.
  • Read for fun. Give your brain a rest and read something else that interests you. Spend a few minutes on something that you want to read, whether that’s a classic novel, a comic book, or a trashy magazine.

 

If you’re an online student, you still need a breather so you can finish the semester strong. Give yourself a much-needed break and don’t miss out on the fun. Even if you have to create your own.

Tell us your spring break tales in the comments below…keep it clean, this is a family blog!  😉

 

By Christine A. Shelly

#springbreak #onlinestudents #roadtrip #vitamind #readinglists

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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The Battle for Your Brain: Ways to Avoid Distractions

Posted by Christine A. Shelly

thinking3_militaryauthorityMultiple assignments with springtime distractions can be tiresome and threaten your grade point average, making finishing the last few weeks of the spring semester akin to running a medieval gauntlet.

There are so many things fighting for your attention: email, texts, Facebook and Twitter, family, friends, coworkers, and even pets.

Here are some easy things you can do to combat distractions and finish the semester strong:

Identify your weaknesses.

Can you resist a text message? What about a Facebook notification? If your web browser is open, can you ignore it or must you surf?

Knowing what distracts you will help you form a strategy to avoid straying from your target. Be honest with yourself, and make a list of every potential threat to your focus. This leads us to number 3…

Use your resources.

When you know what you want to achieve, and you’ve identified potential obstacles to achieving your goals, the next step is to figure out what you can do to help yourself stay focused.

Is noise is a distraction? Wear noise-canceling headphones or put in ear buds and listen to ocean sounds. If email or text notifications are a problem for you, adjust your phone’s settings and turn them off, or put your phone in a drawer across the room while you’re working. For some people, shutting down Outlook and closing their Internet browser is the only way to get things accomplished.

If you have kids or pets that distract you, ask a friend, family member or neighbor to keep them occupied so you can work.

Read two more tips on the Military Authority Google + page.

Do you have a plan to counteract distractions? What works for you?  Let us know in the comments below.

 

References:

http://topachievement.com/smart.html

http://career-advice.monster.com/in-the-office/workplace-issues/work-interrupted-6-ways-to-avoid-distractions-hot-jobs/article.aspx

http://www.helpguide.org/articles/add-adhd/adult-adhd-attention-deficit-disorder-self-help.htm

#stayfocused #adultstudents #studysmarter

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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The Education You Need for the Job You Want

Posted by Christine A. Shelly

education for the job you wantWhen a major retailer announced last week that it would increase salaries for its hourly employees, many people took notice. Whether the move was a byproduct of pressure from lobbyists or unions, no one but the decision-maker truly knows. A spokesperson for the retailer stated that this long-awaited increase was driven by the desire to retain, and attract, good employees and reduce costly turnover.

This move is yet another indication that competition for jobs is fierce – and it’s also a signal that companies want to attract well qualified people – hiring for good-paying, career-building jobs. That’s good news.

So what does it take to find a one of these jobs?  That’s a great question, and if we had a guaranteed solution, we could retire early.

Based on a look at some of the top employers’ most sought-after jobs, the most common denominator is a bachelor’s degree.

Among the top five employers from the Top 100 Military Friendly Employers list, a look at their websites reveals that they are actively hiring for a variety of roles: administrative, engineering, and human resources to name a few.

Let’s take a look at what kind of responsibilities are entailed, and what kind of education is required to qualify for an Office Manager position.

Administrative Roles:  Office Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics describes these tasks as those performed by office managers or administrators regardless of the business:

  • Oversee the purchasing, storage of distribution of office supplies
  • Manage all administrative and clerical personnel
  • Oversee the budget for contracts, equipment and supplies
  • In factories, overseeing the maintenance and repair of machinery and electrical and mechanical systems.
  • Office managers also often keep track of environmental and health regulations and make sure a company adheres to those standards.

Education:  College degrees are not always required for entry-level roles in these positions, but in leadership roles, a bachelor’s degree is a requirement. A master’s in business administration can boost chances for promotion.

 

Engineering Roles: Industrial Engineer

The BLS Occupational Handbook states that Industrial engineers typically:

  • Review production schedules, engineering specifications, process flows, and other information to understand methods and activities in manufacturing and services
  • Figure out how to manufacture parts or products, or deliver services, with maximum efficiency
  • Develop management control systems to make financial planning and cost analysis more efficient
  • Enact quality control procedures to resolve production problems or minimize costs
  • Work with customers and management to develop standards for design and production
  • Design control systems to coordinate activities and production planning to ensure that products meet quality standards
  • Confer with clients about product specifications, vendors about purchases, management personnel about manufacturing capabilities, and staff about the status of projects

Education: A bachelor’s degree in industrial, mechanical or civil engineering is a must for these roles. In addition, applicants may want to become licensed so they may carry the designation PE (professional engineer). Licensure requires:

  • A degree from an engineering program accredited by ABET
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

 

Human Resources:   Labor Relations Specialist

The BLS Occupational Outlook states that Labor relations specialists typically:

  • Advise management on contracts, worker grievances, and disciplinary procedures
  • Lead meetings between management and labor
  • Draft proposals and rules or regulations in order to help facilitate collective bargaining
  • Interpret formal communications between management and labor
  • Investigate validity of labor grievances
  • Train management on labor relations

Education: Generally speaking, labor relations specialists usually have a bachelor’s degree in a human resources or business field with coursework in human resource management. However, the level of education and experience required can vary by position and employer.

Some organizations prefer specialists who have had coursework in mediation.  There are universities and colleges who offer labor relations certifications, as well as a number of professional associations that offer coursework and supplementary certification programs.

The next step is to evaluate your own competencies and interests. It’s important to know where your expertise can be best applied, and where you may need to seek additional education, training or credentials. Do your qualifications make you well-suited to the type of jobs employers offer? If not, education is often the best first step toward reaching your career goal.

 

References:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kathryndill/2014/11/11/the-top-100-military-friendly-employers/

http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2015/02/25/tj-maxx-marshalls-to-follow-wal-mart-in-raising-pay

https://www.linkedin.com/company/military-veterans-employment-network-mven

By Christine A. Shelly

#militarystudents #bachelorsdegree #mastersdegree #getthejobyouwant

 

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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.

 

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