FRA NewsBytes – 5-10-2013

fra_logo_tr-c6-opt1In this week’s edition:
Sexual Assault in the Military
TRICARE Prime Referral Authorization Waived in West Region
GI Bill Improvements Move Forward in the House
CFPB Issues Report on Military Complaints


Sexual Assault in the Military
The Pentagon released a report this week indicating that sexual assaults in the military spiked from approximately 19,000 in 2011 to an estimated 26,000 assaults in 2012, reflecting a 37-percent increase over the one-year period. This data, coupled with the low percentage of cases that result in court-martial, has led a flurry of legislative action addressing this disturbing trend.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the Pentagon “may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission to recruit and retain the good people we need.”

Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) introduced bipartisan legislation (S. 871) that is supported by FRA and would provide specialized legal assistance to military victims of sexual assault, as well as revise some of the procedures for court-martial cases related to sexual assault.

Reps. Mike Turner (Ohio) and Niki Tsongas (Mass.) introduced a bipartisan measure (H.R. 1867) in the House this week that would require dismissal or dishonorable discharge for any service member found guilty of sexual assault or attempts to commit such acts. The Better Enforcement for Sexual Assault Free Environments Act of 2013 would also prevent any military officer from altering or dismissing a sexual assault court-martial conviction.

Other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), support ending the process that permits senior officers to overturn a jury conviction in such cases and called on senators to include provisions addressing the issue in the 2014 Defense authorization bill.  Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y) and Rep. Joe Wilson (S.C.), chairs of the Senate and House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittees, respectively, have issued statements that this issue will be addressed during their panels’ upcoming mark-up of the FY 2014 Defense Authorization legislation.

FRA has addressed this issue in its recent Capitol Hill testimony and also supports the “Ruth Moore Act” (S. 294/H.R. 671), sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (Mont.) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (Maine), respectively. The bills seek to improve the evaluation procedure for VA disability compensation for veterans with mental health conditions related to military sexual trauma.

Members are urged to use the Action Center to support the “Combating Military Sexual Assault Act” (S. 871) at
http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62651621

and the “Ruth Moore Act” (S.294/H.R. 671) at
http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62651316 ;

TRICARE Prime Referral Authorization Waived in West Region
TRICARE is temporarily waiving the authorization requirement for beneficiaries in the West Region seeking referrals to specialty care.  For the period of April 1 to May 18, Prime beneficiaries referred to a network specialist for TRICARE-covered services will not need an authorization.

The waivers are intended to help expedite the referral process for UnitedHealthcare Military & Veterans, the contractor that began serving TRICARE’s West Region in April.  Since then, the volume of referral and care authorizations has increased beyond traditional norms and the waivers are designed to help eliminate the resulting backlog.

Beneficiaries should ask for a written copy of their referral or ask their provider to fax a copy to the specialist they wish to see.  This authorization waiver is for TRICARE Prime beneficiaries in the West Region only and does not apply to TRICARE Standard beneficiaries.

Visit http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=119971 for more information.

GI Bill Improvements Move Forward in the House
The House Veterans Affairs Committee recently approved the “GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act” (H.R. 357), sponsored by Rep. Jeff Miller (Fla.), chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and the committee’s ranking member, Rep. Mike Michaud (Maine).  The bill requires colleges and universities eligible for GI Bill education benefits to give veterans in-state tuition rates even if they are not residents of the state where the school is located.

“The men and women who served this nation did not just defend the citizens of their home states, but the citizens of all 50 states. As such, the educational benefits they receive from the taxpayers should reflect that,” said Chairman Miller. “By offering in-state tuition, service members can attend an institution of higher learning that meets their specific needs without worrying about higher costs which non-residents often must pay.”
“Because of the nature of military service, veterans often have a difficult time establishing residency for purposes of obtaining in-state tuition rates,” added Ranking Member Michaud. “This bill will address this problem and ensure that veterans can access the affordable higher education options they have earned.”

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration. Members are urged to use the Action Center to ask their legislators to support this legislation and the Senate companion bill (H. R. 257).

To contact your legislators on this issue, visit
http://www.capwiz.com/fra/issues/alert/?alertid=62465326

CFPB Issues Report on Military Complaints
The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) Office of Service Members Affairs (OSA) issued a report on its efforts to help military personnel with their financial challenges. The report indicates that 3,455 complaints were received at OSA during 2012. Mortgage grievances predominate, followed by credit card and credit reporting complaints. OSA also responds to protests related to bank accounts/service, student loans, and vehicle or consumer loans.

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (P.L.  111-203) created the Bureau, which was launched in July 2011 and is the first federal agency solely focused on consumer financial protection. FRA successfully advocated for inclusion of an Office of Service Member Affairs in the legislation that would assist the whole military community:  active duty and Reserve personnel, retirees, family members and veterans.

For more information on the CFPB Office of Service Members Affairs, go to:
www.consumerfinance.gov/servicemembers