FRA NewsBytes — 12-13-2013

 

NewsBytes 12/13/13

NewsBytes 12/13/13

In this week’s edition:
COLA Cut Battle Moves to Senate with Temporary Doc Fix
House Approves 2014 NDAA
HVAC Reviews VA Complex Disability Claims Process
Expedited Airport Security Screening for Service Members Expanded
COLA Cut Battle Moves to Senate with Temporary Doc Fix

House and Senate budget negotiators had until December 13, 2013, to agree on budget recommendations. They produced a last-minute two-year budget agreement (H. J. Res 59) that includes a one-percent cut in the annual cost of living adjustment (COLA) for military retirees under age 62 that takes effect December 1, 2015, and will impact 2016 COLA increases. REDUX retirees (those who accepted a retention bonus in exchange for reduced retirement benefits) are excluded from these cuts. The resolution passed the House with a vote of 332-94 and now moves to the Senate for further consideration.

FRA supports reducing the harmful effects of automatic sequestration cuts in the Defense budget to ensure the nation’s security and military readiness, but to make those cuts penalize the men and women who have sacrificed and served more than others is simply unfair. While portrayed as a minor change in retired pay, it is actually a substantial cut in benefits over the long term and an egregious breach of faith. An E-7 who retires after 20 years of service will lose $83,000 in benefits by the time he or she reaches the age of 62. FRA believes that military service is unlike any other occupation, and the benefits should reflect that reality. The benefits connected with this service have been earned through 20 or more years of arduous military service.

The COLA cut battle now moves to the Senate, which will take up the measure next week. Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their Senators to oppose this provision in the budget resolution by going to: http://action.fra.org/action-center/.

To see how your Representative voted on this bill, go to the FRA website (www.fra.org), click “advocacy” and then click “Action Center.” Scroll down and click “Bills of Interest,” then click “Key Votes” and scroll down to “House Votes.” The budget bill is the first one listed; click on it and follow the instructions.

In addition to the COLA provisions, the House approved another last-minute addition to extend the “doc fix” deadline by three months. Without this extension, Medicare/TRICARE physician reimbursements would have been cut by more than 24 percent on January 1, 2014, a move that may have forced many doctors to stop seeing Medicare and TRICARE patients. The budget resolution will also provide $63 billion in sequester relief over two years, split evenly between defense and non-defense programs.

House Approves 2014 NDAA
The House approved the final provisions of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-H.R. 3304) this week, after agreeing to provisions with the Senate. The Senate is expected to approve a final bill next week that includes:

– Rejecting new and increased TRICARE fees;
– Authorizing a one-time offer to TRICARE Prime beneficiaries who live outside Prime Service Area (PSA) to keep their current health care coverage
– Authorizing a one-percent annual active duty/Reserve pay increase;
– Extending special pays and bonuses that will otherwise expire on Jan. 1, 2014;
– Providing 27 new provisions that provide protections for alleged victims of sexual assault;
– Requiring DoD and VA to implement seamless electronic health care data by Oct. 1, 2016;
– Providing for additional Impact Aid for schools with large military populations; and
– Allowing veterans and service members not in uniform the option to salute during the Pledge of Allegiance.

The Association is disappointed that numerous FRA-supported Senate amendments pertaining to concurrent receipt reform, SBP/DIC offset repeal, an active duty pay increase that keeps pace with civilian pay increases, and other legislative agenda issues were not considered by the Senate. FRA’s Legislative Team will continue to work on these and other important issues that impact the membership.

HVAC Reviews VA Complex Disability Claims Process
The House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance recently held a hearing examining the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) ability to process complex disability benefits compensation claims. While the VA has made progress in reducing its disability claims backlog over the last several months, concerns remain regarding the department’s ability to process complex claims, which can involve multiple medical issues (including traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, military sexual trauma) and special monthly compensation, with consistent quality and efficiency.

Over the past four years, VA Inspector General (IG) reports have focused on concerns regarding the VA’s ability to process these complex claims. For example, of 19 regional offices, more than half saw a decrease in processing accuracy of traumatic brain injury claims. When the IG looked at post traumatic stress claims, half of the offices it inspected could not process 50 percent of the claims correctly upon second inspection. FRA believes that the cost of defending the nation includes treating the nation’s wounded warriors in a timely and efficient manner, and welcomes the subcommittee’s oversight hearings on this issue.

Expedited Airport Security Screening for Service Members Expanded
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Defense (DoD) announced an expansion of the expedited screening benefits to all U.S. Armed Forces service members, including those serving in the U.S. Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard. As a result of the agreement, these individuals will be able to enjoy the benefits of the program at the 100 participating airports across the country beginning Dec. 20, 2013.

Currently, members of the Armed Forces can utilize expedited security screening at 10 domestic airports by presenting their Common Access Card (CAC). The soon-to-be expanded program for the military will be available at 100 airports, allowing service members to keep their footwear on, as well as light outerwear and belts, and to keep a laptop in its case and their 3-1-1 compliant liquids/gels bag in a carryon bag in select screening lanes.

“TSA joins with the American people in showing its appreciation for the service and sacrifices of our men and women in the Armed Forces,” said TSA Deputy Administrator John W. Halinski, a 25-year Marine Corps veteran. “Providing expedited screening while on travel is the least we can do for these courageous men and women.”

For more information on the program and a list of participating airports go to:
http://www.tsa.gov/tsa-precheck/military-members.