FRA NewsBytes – 4-12-13

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition:
FY 2014 Budget Includes TRICARE Fee Increases, Reduced COLAs
FRA Supports Veteran Status Bills
DOJ Enforces SCRA
Last Call for FRA Scholarship Applications
Happy Birthday, U.S. Navy Submarine Force

FY 2014 Budget Includes TRICARE Fee Increases, Reduced COLAs
The Administration released its proposed FY 2014 budget this week, which includes a variety of proposals that threaten future benefits for military personnel and retirees.  The budget proposal includes a complex plan to increase existing TRICARE Prime enrollment fees, implement new fees for TRICARE Standard and future TRICARE-for-Life beneficiaries, and phase-in higher pharmacy co-pays over four years. Active duty personnel, survivors of active duty members who died on active duty, medically retired, and current TRICARE-for-Life beneficiaries are excluded from the proposed health care fee increases. (See Tom Philpott’s Military Update column (4-11-2013) at www.fra.org for more details.)

The budget seeks to reduce the percentage increase for active duty pay for FY 2014 and beyond. The plan includes a one-percent increase for 2014 (versus the 1.8 percent increase necessary to keep pace with civilian pay scales) and reduced funding for bonuses and special pays. A one-time round of military base realignments and closures (BRAC) is also proposed.

Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) FY 2014 funding is increased by 10 percent, plus an additional $1.1 billion (1.9 percent) above FY 2014 levels for advanced appropriations for medical care in FY 2015. Funding the VA’s transition to a paperless claims system in all 56 regional offices is a top budget priority.

Funding for the U.S. Coast Guard shrinks in the Administration’s budget plan.  Coast Guard appropriations would be reduced from $11.03 billion in FY 2013 to $9.79 billion in FY 2014.

The budget also proposes using the chained Consumer Price Index (CPI) to calculate future Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) for military retirees, veterans and Social Security recipients. The chained CPI would be used in lieu of the current CPI and would generally reduce COLA increases by 0.2 to 0.3 percent. FRA is committed to ensuring equitable COLAs for all military and veteran beneficiaries and is reviewing other issues addressed in the budget proposal.

FRA Supports Veteran Status Bills
FRA believes that all who served 20 or more years in the Reserve Component (Guard or Reserves) should qualify for veterans status and strongly supports the “Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act” (H.R. 679 & S. 629), sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.) and Sen. Mark Pryor (Ark.), respectively. This legislation would authorize “veteran’s status” for members of the Reserve Component who served 20 or more years and are thereby considered military retirees, but due to current criteria, do not qualify for veterans status. These so-called “gray-area retirees” receive military retired pay and TRICARE benefits at age 60, but are not veterans under the law unless they were activated under federal orders. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center to ask their senators and representative to support these bills.

http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62586556

DOJ Enforces SCRA
The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently announced that Bank of America must pay more than $39 million to 316 service members whose homes were unlawfully foreclosed upon between 2006 and 2010 in violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). Under another recent settlement, Saxon Mortgage Services Inc. is in the process of paying out over $2.5 million to 19 service members who experienced similar unlawful foreclosures.

Abuses of service members’ SCRA rights were initially addressed by House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.) at hearings in February 2011. The subsequent DOJ investigation began more than a year ago and revealed excessive interest rates for and wrongful foreclosure of homes owned by deployed service members.  At that time it was announced that certain mortgage institutions would also collectively pay $10 million into the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) home loan program.

FRA continues its work to ensure that SCRA is enforced by regulatory agencies, including the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Military Affairs, and works to ensure that active duty personnel are protected from predatory lenders.

Last Call for FRA Scholarship Applications
The deadline to apply for FRA Education Foundation scholarships is April 15th and all eligible candidates are invited to submit applications for academic awards of up to $5,000 before the deadline. 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.

Happy Birthday, U.S. Navy Submarine Force
The U.S. Navy Submarine Force celebrates its 113th birthday this week. On April 11, 1900, the Navy accepted the designs for the USS Holland, its first official submarine.  Named for the engineer and designer John Philip Holland, the vessel proved what an indispensable asset submarines could be and set the course for the greatest submarine force in the world.