FRA NewsBytes May 1 2015

FRA Newsbytes 05/01/2015

FRA Newsbytes 05/01/2015

In this issue
HASC Marks up NDAA and Keeps Cuts for Future Retirees
Veterans Appeals Court Rules in Favor of “Blue Water” Claim
New DoD Allotment Rule Protects Troops From Lending Scams
DFAS Email Address Changing
Vietnam War Ended 40 Years Ago this Week

HASC Marks up NDAA and Keeps Cuts for Future Retirees
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) marked up and approved the House version of the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA – H.R. 1735) in a 19-hour session that ended at 0430 Thursday morning. A special thanks goes to Rep. Chris Gibson (N.Y.) for offering a committee amendment to repeal NDAA provision to cut retirement benefits for future retirees. The Committee amendment failed (8-55), and the Committee adopted 11 of the 15 recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). FRA opposes the first recommendation of the MCRMC final report, which was adopted by the HASC. The provision creates a “blended” military retirement system. The current defined benefit plan for 20 or more years of service would be replaced by smaller defined benefit plan (from 40 to 50 percent of base pay). It also adds a new mandatory defined contribution plan known as a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which provides a one percent employer contribution and an employee contribution unless the service member opts out. Any employee contributions would be matched by the employer up to five percent of pay. The plan would also provide a bonus, determined by the military branch, at 12 years of service if the service member signs up for four more years. It has been estimated that a future E-7 retiree who serves 20 years and lives until age 85 will lose more than $260,000 in benefits compared to the same E-7 who retires today. These lost benefits would be shifted to pay for benefits for service members who leave the military before completing 20 years of service.

FRA believes that this shift will provide an incentive for service members to leave before they complete 20 years of service. For more information on the committee action, members can read the April 30, 2015 Military Update on the FRA website.

Other changes in the Committee mark include:

  • Rejecting the administration’s proposed TRICARE fee increases and increases in pharmacy co-pays for retirees under age 65;
  • Creating a unified medical command to provide health care savings by eliminating duplicate efforts by each service branch;
  • Rejecting MCRMC recommendation to abolish TRICARE (except for TFL) and replace it with multiple programs offered by commercial insurance companies, shifting costs to beneficiaries;
  • Rejecting the administration’s reductions to the active duty annual pay increase (2.3 percent vs. 1.3 percent), commissary subsidies and BAH;
  • Consolidating the number of Reserve Component status category authorities by which Reservists can be mobilized from 30 to 6;
  • Delaying a vote on an amendment to create another round BRAC;
  • Reviving active duty financial literacy education;
  • Recognizing Reserve Component members as veterans if they are entitled to retirement benefits; and
  • Improving the sexual assault prevention program.

The FRA Legislative Team is still reviewing committee action and will provide additional information on any other additional changes impacting FRA members.

The bill now goes to the full House for further consideration. The Senate will begin its markup process in the near future. Once both chambers approve their version of the Defense authorization bill, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two bills. The conference committee bill will be voted on by both chambers and, if approved by the Senate and the House, will then be sent to the President to sign into law or veto. Members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their U.S. Representative not to cut future military retiree benefits to pay for benefits for those who serve fewer than 20 years. If you have already sent a message, you can continue to send more.

Veterans Appeals Court Rules in Favor of “Blue Water” Claim
The Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has ruled that Navy veterans who served aboard ships in the harbors of Vietnam more than 40 years ago should not be arbitrarily excluded from Agent Orange claims—a significant step forward for these veterans.

Former Navy seaman Robert Gray has been denied multiple disability claims by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) based on the fact that he was aboard a ship—not on land—during the Vietnam War, when the herbicide Agent Orange was liberally sprayed by American forces to remove foliage and eliminate enemy cover. The chemical was later found to cause a myraid of health problems for service members who were exposed, but the federal government has denied disability claims to U.S. Navy sailors under the argument that the seamen were offshore and were not directly exposed.

FRA-supported proposals (HR 969/S. 681), introduced in both the House and Senate, which are pending in Congress, would give recognition to Navy personnel exposure to Agent Orange through ships’ water systems. Runoff containing the herbicide flowed into Da Nang harbor and other offshore waterways, infiltrating water systems on naval vessels.

Military Veterans Advocacy (MVA), a veteran’s rights organization based in Louisiana, has long sought recognition for these conditions and filed an amicus brief in this case. “This is an important step forward in restoring the benefits to those veterans who served offshore,” said retired Navy Commander John B. Wells, executive director of MVA. “When the VA stripped benefits from 174,000 Navy veterans, they left these veterans without health care and their families destitute. The VA now has a chance to restore the presumption of exposure to veterans who served aboard ships anchored in Da Nang and other harbors of Vietnam.”

The VA will probably appeal this decision, and Congress has not yet acted on Agent Orange/Blue Water legislation. FRA staff recently met with House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) staff to discuss the status of Agent Orange legislation (H.R. 969) and to request a HVAC hearing on this issue.

FRA has worked closely with MVA in the legislative arena, and members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support Agent Orange/Blue Water Navy proposals (H.R. 969/S. 681).

New DoD Allotment Rule Protects Troops From Lending Scams
The Department of Defense (DoD) has made improvements to the allotment system to create greater protections for service members. The policy change in new paycheck allotments is to prevent unscrupulous commercial lenders from taking advantage of troops and their families. The change in DoD’s Financial Management Regulation will prohibit service members from allotting pay to buy, lease or rent personal property. This policy change will eliminate that aspect of the allotment system most prone to abuse by unscrupulous lenders that prey on service members. This will significantly improve protections for all service members and their families, while not significantly reducing the flexibility to use allotments for a number of legitimate purposes. Current allotments are not affected, but service members will no longer be able to make new allotments for the following types of purchases:

  • Vehicles, such as automobiles, motorcycles and boats;
  • Appliances or household goods, such as furniture, washers and dryers;
  • Electronics, such as laptops, tablets, cell phones and televisions; and
  • Other consumer items that are tangible and moveable.

Allotments still can be used for savings account deposits, investments, supporting dependents, paying insurance premiums, mortgages and rent, make Combined Federal Campaign contributions, and U.S. government debt repayments. Another line of protection for service members and their families is included when starting new allotments through MyPay and manually on DD Form 2558. The new allotment rule applies to active-duty members and not military retirees or DoD civilians.

DFAS Email Address Changing
From time to time, DFAS sends out emails that contain important information pertaining to your pay account. These are called “SmartDocs” emails because of the email address used as the sender. The sending email address is changing on 16 May 2015. If you have spam controls set up on your email system, you should add the new address to your permitted list so that you don’t miss anything. The new sender email address is DFAS-SmartDocs@mail.mil. This address is only used to send out bulk emails—please do not send anything important to the address as you will not receive a response.

Read more: http://paycheck-chronicles.military.com/2015/04/16/news-from-dfas/#ixzz3XsngylDz.

Vietnam War Ended 40 Years Ago this Week
On April 30, 1975, the Vietnam War ended with the fall of Saigon. The war lasted nearly 20 years and claimed millions of casualties, including 58,303 American dead and hundreds of thousands wounded.