FRA NewsBytes – 3-29-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition:
FRA’s Full Month’s Retired Pay Bill Introduced
House and Senate Pass Budget Plans
House Panel Discusses Military Suicide
FRA Education Foundation Scholarship Deadline is April 15th
“Communicate With Your Elected Officials” Available Soon

FRA’s Full Month’s Retired Pay Bill Introduced

Representative Walter Jones (N.C.) recently introduced legislation (H.R. 1360) authorizing surviving spouses (or other designated survivors) to retain the full month’s retired pay for the month in which a military retiree passes away. “The Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act” was introduced at FRA’s request in the 113th Congress and seeks to ensure survivors’ are not unfairly burdened when overpayments occur.

The problem most often occurs when a military retiree dies late in the month. As survivors mourn and work to sort out the details of their loved one’s passing, there is sometimes a delay in reporting the death to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). If the death report and other administrative details aren’t handled before the next retirement payment is processed, an overpayment occurs for the period between the retiree’s death and the end of the month. DFAS has the authority to recoup this overpayment directly from the survivor’s bank account with little or no warning, often creating financial and further emotional hardship for the family.

Jones’ proposal would allow survivors to retain the full month’s retired pay for any month in which the retiree was alive for at least 24 hours. To offset the cost associated with this proposal, a provision of the bill would delay the first Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity payment until the month after the retiree dies.

Congress passed a similar law in 1996 allowing surviving spouses to retain veterans’ disability and VA pension payments issued for the month of the veteran’s death. FRA believes military retired pay should be no different. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (link below) to ask their representative to support this legislation.

http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62543371

House and Senate Pass Budget Plans
For the first time in four years, the House and Senate each passed competing 10-year spending plans last week. The Senate considered fewer than 40 of the 573 amendments filed, including one of particular interest to FRA shipmates.  The Senate approved an amendment, sponsored by Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (Vt.), that prohibits applying the less-generous chained CPI formula when calculating cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) on veterans’ benefits.

The Senate did not consider another FRA-supported amendment, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), that sought to limit increases in TRICARE premiums, enrollment fees and pharmacy co-pays to the annual percentage increase in military retired pay.

The budget resolutions serve as a blueprint for the annual appropriations process and, despite action in both bodies to establish a budget for next year, the Administration’s FY 2014 budget request is not scheduled to be submitted to Congress until April 8, 2013.

House Panel Discusses Military Suicide
Jacqueline Garrick, Acting Director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, told the House Military Personnel Subcommittee last week that there were 291 confirmed military suicides for FY 2012 and that 59 deaths are still pending determination. These numbers are troubling and reflect a significant increase compared to past years (10.3 military suicides per 100,000 in 2001 to 18.3 per 100,000 in 2010).

Garrick also shared statistics for a comparable civilian population and revealed that the civilian suicide rate is higher (21.8 civilian suicides per 100,000 in 2001; 25.1 per 100,000 in 2010), but military suicides are increasing at a significantly faster rate. Civilian suicides went up 15 percent over the nine-year period, while military suicides went up 77 percent over the same time period.

She and witnesses from the four military services testified on DoD’s suicide prevention programs. Chief of Naval Personnel VADM Scott Van Bustkirk stated that the Navy had 65 suicides in 2012, six more than last year, and there have been 13 Navy suicides so far in 2013. Discussion also centered on access to behavioral health counselors, particularly for Reserve Component personnel. Van Bustkirk cited 55 counselors available for Marine/Navy Reservists, and Garrick noted the expansion of “Partners in Care,” a chaplain program in which faith-based organizations provide support to Reserve Component members.

The Marine Corps has developed policies and programs to make all personnel responsible for the health and well-being of their fellow Marines, Brig. Gen Robert Hedelund, director of Marine and Family Programs, told the subcommittee. “Marines are taught to know each other at a personal level — to know their behavior patterns, their likes and dislikes so they can identify even subtle changes,” and then aid them in seeking help if suicide warning signs occur.

Suicide prevention is a high priority for FRA and has been addressed in the Association’s recent congressional testimony. FRA believes that efforts to limit and prevent suicide should address financial and marital stress.

FRA Education Foundation Scholarship Deadline is April 15th
The deadline to apply for FRA Education Foundation scholarships is rapidly approaching and all college-bound students who have an affiliation with the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard are encouraged to apply. Eligible candidates are invited to submit applications for academic awards of up to $5,000 before April 15, 2013. Applications are available online at www.fra.org/foundation.

Applicants must be affiliated with the Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard, either through their own service or that of a spouse, parent or grandparent, and those who are affiliated with an FRA member are eligible for a broader range of scholarships. FRA Education Foundation scholarships are funded through private donations, established trusts and corporate sponsorships, and recipients are selected based on financial need, academic standing, character and leadership qualities.

“Communicate With Your Elected Officials” Available Soon
FRA is proud to offer Communicate With Your Elected Officials, a free guide that makes it easy and convenient to reach lawmakers. The booklet contains a congressional directory for the 113th Congress and includes helpful hints for sending messages to your senators and representative. To order your FREE copy (which will be sent in the coming weeks), please e-mail fratoday@fra.org and include your name, service, rate and address and include “Communicate” in the subject line or call 1-800-FRA-1924 to request by phone.