FRA NewsBytes November 6, 2015

FRA Newsbytes 11/06/2015

FRA Newsbytes 11/06/2015

In this issue:
President Signs Budget Deal and House Approves New NDAA
VA Officials Refuse to Talk about Excessive Relocation Compensation
TRICARE Surpasses Two Million Flu Vaccines Given Through Retail Pharmacies
Former Coast Guard Caucus Co-chairman Passes on
Veterans’ Day/Marine Corps 240th Birthday

President Signs Budget Deal and House Approves New NDAA
President Obama signed into law the two-year budget deal and in response the House approved a new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-H.R. 1356) similar to the bill that was vetoed, a major difference being that it trims $5 billion from various programs, dropping FY 2016 annual spending from $612 billion to $607 billion. The specific reductions were agreed to by House and Senate Armed Services Committees and House and Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittees.

The newly enacted budget deal eliminates the $38 billion cut in the FY 2016 Defense budget mandated by sequestration. FRA opposes these mindless, across-the-board cuts to the Defense budget, and we thank all Shipmates who used the FRA Action Center to weigh in on this issue. The agreement lifts the debt ceiling for the federal government until March 31, 2017, and eliminates a 52-percent Medicare premium increase for certain Medicare beneficiaries.

The new NDAA includes:

  • Creation of a new “blended” military retirement system for those who join the military after January 1, 2018;
  • Increased pharmacy co-pays for family members and retirees for prescriptions filled off base or by mail. These increases will range from $2 to $4 depending on whether drugs are brand-name or filled at retail outlets;
  • An active duty pay increase of 1.3 percent, which is lower than the civilian wage increase of 2.3 percent;
  • Authorizing Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) benefits for a second spouse, when the first divorced spouse is deceased;
  • Reducing BAH rates by one percent each year until 2019;Continuing dual Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) payments to service members married to other service members;
  • Establishing victim’s rights for sexual assault and domestic abuse; and
  • Rejecting the Administration’s request to reduce stateside commissary funding.

The FY 2016 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 1356) was placed on the fast track since the fiscal year started October 1, 2015, and the government has remained open due to a Continuing Resolution that would have expired on December 11. Congress still has to pass all 12 appropriations bills for the remainder of the fiscal year.

 

VA Officials Refuse to Talk about Excessive Relocation Compensation
The House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC) finally got the five Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) witnesses they demanded last month, but the witnesses did not provide any new information on the VA’s relocation bonus scandal.

The controversy centers around two officials who refused to answer any committee questions on their alleged schemes to game the bonus program for personal gain, instead invoking their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. Three other VA officials also subpoenaed by HVAC described a flawed employee reassignment process but not a corrupt system, which several lawmakers have accused top VA officials of allowing to fester.

“If I could go back in time, I still would have made all the moves,” said VA’s acting Undersecretary for Benefits Danny Pummill. He blamed the “second and third order” problems of the bonus program on the VA moving too quickly to get the right people in posts that needed immediate improvements, to better help veterans.

The VA Office of the Inspector General investigation discovered that some senior VA executives misused interoffice moves to bump up their pay while reducing their job responsibilities, at a significant cost to taxpayers. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) spent more than $1.5 million on 21 questionable senior executive reassignments over the past three fiscal years. The investigation was spurred by two specific cases. Philadelphia VA Regional Office Director Diana Rubens is blamed for receiving more than $288,000 in moving expense compensation to switch from a job in nearby Washington, D.C., and St. Paul, Minnesota, VA Regional Office Director Kimberly Graves received nearly $130,000 in a similar job switch scheme. Both officials were required to appear before HVAC, and both refused to answer any questions on the advice of their lawyers.
TRICARE Surpasses Two Million Flu Vaccines Given Through Retail Pharmacies
The Defense Health Agency (DHA) wants to remind beneficiaries that when the weather starts to cool, it means that flu season is here again. TRICARE makes it easy to get your flu vaccine at no cost from more than 45,000 participating retail pharmacies. More than 2 million TRICARE beneficiaries have gotten a free flu vaccine under the TRICARE Retail Vaccination program since it began in 2010.

“The flu vaccine helps protects hundreds of thousands of TRICARE beneficiaries from the flu every year,” said Dr. George Jones, chief of the DHA Pharmacy Operation Division. “Hitting 2 million prescriptions is a great sign that this program is making flu vaccinations more accessible and affordable.”

Getting the flu vaccine every year is the most effective way to lower your chances of getting the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine every year. Serious cases of the flu can lead to hospitalization and even death. The elderly, young children and people with serious health issues are at a higher risk for getting the flu.

TRICARE covers two forms of the flu vaccine—the flu shot and Flu Mist. The CDC recommends a normal flu shot for everyone aged 6 months to 64 years of age. There is a high dose version for those older than 65. Flu Mist is for those between the ages of two and 49 years old, but not pregnant women.

If beneficiaries choose to get the flu vaccine in a retail pharmacy, they must make sure to get it from the pharmacist. Some retail pharmacies now include medical clinics, but if someone other than a pharmacist (like a nurse, doctor or physician’s assistant) administers the vaccine, TRICARE may not cover it.

TRICARE also covers vaccines from a beneficiary’s primary care doctor. Depending on the TRICARE plan, there may be copay for the office visit. Active duty service members need to follow their service policy for getting and reporting vaccines.

“If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, there is still plenty of time left in flu season,” says Dr. Jones. “Get vaccinated now, for yourself and your family.” For more information, go to www.tricare.mil/flu.
Former Coast Guard Caucus Co-chairman Passes On
Retired Rep. Howard Coble (N.C.) recently joined the staff of the Supreme Commander. He was 84 years old and was the last member of Congress to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. He served in the Coast Guard from 1952–1956 and in the Coast Guard Reserve from 1960–1981. He served 28 years in Congress and retired in 2013. Coble was a Shipmate of the FRA, having served as a Yeoman in the Coast Guard, and was honored at the 2014 FRA Coast Guard Caucus Breakfast on Capitol Hill. He was instrumental in creating the Coast Guard Caucus and served as one of the co-chairmen of the caucus. The Caucus, started 17 years ago, is a bipartisan group of lawmakers who share a common interest in the Coast Guard.
Veterans’ Day/Marine Corps 240th Birthday
In accordance with a long-standing tradition, FRA shipmates will participate in Veterans’ Day ceremonies around the country on Wednesday, November 11th, 2015—a date which also marks FRA’s 91st anniversary. FRA National President Virgil Courneya will attend a White House breakfast before ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and a special wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns, following President Obama’s address to veterans and their family members who will assemble for the occasion. National President Courneya is also scheduled to attend a wreath laying ceremony on Tuesday, November 10, at the Iwo Jima memorial in observance of the 240th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. Please note that the FRA National Headquarters will be closed on Wednesday, November 11 in observance of Veterans’ Day.