Monthly Archives: December 2012

One last holiday gift

Last chance to donate for 2012 - your gift makes a difference!The wrapping paper is torn to shreds, your relatives have departed, and you couldn’t possibly eat another ham sandwich. The holiday season may be drawing to a close, but there are still gifts left to give this year!

As you kick your feet up and breathe a sigh of relief for another successful holiday season, you can put your weight behind a great cause without risking flashbacks of long lines and crowded shopping malls. Consider supporting the military families who stand watch as their loved ones miss holiday celebrations to deploy or participate in humanitarian missions for victims of natural disasters all over the world.

In addition, today is the last day to make your gift one that gives back— December 31st is the last day to make a charitable donation to be deductible on your next tax return.

Show your appreciation for the extraordinary efforts of service members and their families by standing with them and making a donation. Give in your own name or as a tribute to the important people in your life.

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor at the National Military Family Association

More money for military families in 2013

More money for military families in 2013Here’s some good news for the new year, and it’s not even here yet! Some military families will see additional money in their paychecks in 2013. The annual adjustment for BAH and BAS were recently announced. BAH and BAS? While you may not score points in Scrabble with either word, these are important acronyms for military families. BAH means Basic Allowance for Housing, and BAS is the Basic Allowance for Substance.

BAH is a nontaxable allowance provided to eligible service members. The allowance varies worldwide and is based on the median current market rent, average utilities (including electricity, heat, and water/sewer), and average renter’s insurance. BAH is also calculated for each pay grade, both with and without dependents. For 2013 the average increase in BAH for military families is about $60 per month. You can calculate your BAH rate for 2013 before it hits your service member’s paycheck. Remember, BAH is based on your service member’s duty station, which may not be the same zip code where you live. (There are some exceptions to this guideline.)

I used the calculator and noticed the BAH rate for 2013 for our family was actually less than our 2012 rate. Yuck. But not to panic. A key feature of the BAH program is rate protection. This means our BAH will not decrease. This ensures military families who have made long-term housing commitments in the form of a lease or contract are not penalized if the area’s housing costs decrease. However, new families assigned to the area will receive the 2013 rate.

BAS is also a nontaxable allowance and is intended to replace the rations historically provided to service members. BAS rates are tied directly to the United States Department of Agriculture’s calculation of the increasing price of food. This not an allowance to feed your family. It is an allowance to offset the cost of food for the service member only. Enlisted service members will receive $352.27 a month, up from $348.44 per month in 2012. Officers will receive $242.60 a month, up from $239.96 in 2012.

Is this what you expected for the new rates? Are BAH and BAS allowances a key part of your family’s budget?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager at the National Military Family Association

The Holiday Split

The holiday split - how do military families decide where to spend the holidays?It is that time of year again.  The time when you look back on the past 12 months and wonder where the days have gone. The time when the weather gets cooler, the kids are back in school and we are suddenly in the midst of the hectic holiday season! There are many things to think about regarding the holidays but probably the main question brought up before they start is: “Where are we going to spend them?”

This question can easily become an argument in many households. One spouse might feel like they don’t see their family enough and that should justify spending one holiday there. Another spouse might feel like their family holds more traditions and cannot see being away for the year. When you are a military family, this decision seems to get even harder.

It is a rarity that we live near our families. Maybe one tour during our military careers will put us near our loved ones, but let’s face it, we go where the job is.  That being said, visits are hard to come by and the holiday season might be the only time to see extended family during the year. Now, don’t go putting too much pressure on the situation or on your spouse. It is important to remember that holidays are supposed to be fun. We need to enjoy the time with those that we love.

If you and your spouse have this argument every year, it is time for a change. Make it easy and say we will do Thanksgiving at one house and Christmas at another. Then, the next year, you can switch! If it seems like other family members are putting pressure on you, then be honest with them about what you can and cannot do. Family is important, but they are also supposed to be understanding.

In the military, there are many men and women who cannot come home for the holidays at all. We always need to remember that and not feel so bad when choosing where to go because at least you have the choice!

How do you decide where to spend the holidays?

Posted by Rebecca Brinkley, a Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

A Christmas Tree Tale

A Christmas Tree TaleIt’s a particularly warm December day in Florida, but the Christmas spirit makes its way into the hearts and homes of thousands of military families. It is the day when every local military family has the chance to bring home a free Christmas tree. With the help of FedEx employees, the Trees for Troops organization brings thousands of freshly cut Christmas trees to military bases across the world. At MacDill Air Force Base, this annual tree giving event is highly anticipated.

I arrive at the location half an hour early and there are already dozens of families from all branches of Service ahead of me in line. The smell of freshly cut Christmas trees is enchanting. Holiday music is playing in the background and happiness sparkles in the eyes of the children. Everyone already has their perfect Christmas tree in mind and is anxious to pick it up.

As the hour of choosing a tree approaches, the organizers of the event serve us cookies and hot beverages. They are all smiling and thanking service members for the sacrifices they are making for the country. A sense of pride, accompanied by a smile, appears on the faces of military families present. I feel very fortunate to be part of this large family.

One by one, each person goes to pick out the tree of their choice. Children run and point their parents to the tree they desire. Everyone seems, for that particular moment, to have forgotten about all the worries in the world. FedEx employees help carry the trees to the cars and everyone rushes home to start decorating their new Christmas tree.

Once I select my Christmas tree, I notice it is accompanied by a hand written note thanking the troops for guarding our freedom and wishing them a Merry Christmas. I look closely and notice all of the trees carry the same message. It is a true gesture of respect and appreciation.

Among the events I attended at MacDill Air Force Base, this seems to be the one that brings most smiles and light to the community. Bringing a Christmas tree home becomes a symbol of hope and joy. This year, Santa Claus will have a few more decorated trees to admire as he spreads his gifts around the world.

What is your favorite holiday memory or favorite place you’ve spent the holidays?

Marlis Perez RiveraPosted by Marlis Perez Rivera, a Volunteer with the National Military Family Association

Here We Go Again! Cuts to Medicare/TRICARE Physician Payments Begin January 1 Unless Congress Acts

Here We Go Again! Cuts to Medicare/TRICARE Physician Payments Begin January 1 Unless Congress ActsAttention TRICARE beneficiaries! In two weeks, doctors will face a 26.5% payment cut for care they provide to Medicare and TRICARE patients. The National Military Family Association believes these impending cuts will directly affect military families’ access to timely care because physicians may decide to no longer care for their existing Medicare or TRICARE patients or accept new ones.

Getting a so-called “Doc Fix,” which would end scheduled cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates, is a recurring issue. Congress temporarily stopped the scheduled payment cuts in February 2012 as part of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012  (P.L. 112-96). Unfortunately, that fix is due to expire on January 1, 2013, which means that without further Congressional action the 26.5% physician payment cut will go into effect. The timing of the expiration also means the issue has been caught up in the negotiations over the pending fiscal cliff. This makes fixing it that more difficult.

By law, TRICARE reimbursement rates must follow the Medicare reimbursement rules. The law does permit TRICARE to make exceptions if necessary to ensure an adequate network of providers or to eliminate a situation of severely impaired access to care. But, the process of making those adjustments can take time and may happen only after TRICARE officials receive enough reports that military families aren’t finding the care they need.

Our research, Views from the Homefront, demonstrated the need for mental health services for military spouses and children. Our military families already experience difficulty gaining access to mental health care in many communities. We cannot afford to lose any mental health providers. After 11+ years of war, the military must be growing our access to mental health care rather than decreasing it.

We’ve been monitoring this issue and raising concerns about the impact not fixing the rates could have on military families. We encourage military families to contact Members of Congress (House and Senate) and tell them how these cuts can affect access to the health care they need. Ask Congress to implement a permanent fix.

What do you think about these potential cuts? Will your family be affected?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the National Military Family Association

Operation Appreciation 2012

Show military families you care at www.operationappreciation2012.com!It’s nice to be a part of something.

This year, we are proud partners with Operation Appreciation, a new, fun, and easy way to support our military families. At the time I write this, more than 38,000 people have signed Operation Appreciation’s pledge to thank military families during the holiday season. Actor Geoff Stults, along with dozens of athletes and celebrities have taken the pledge and signed on to support our cause to show military families just how much we appreciate them. Watch their messages of support here.

As the person at our Association responsible for rallying support for military families, this initiative is music to my ears. As a military spouse, the thanks are truly appreciated.

While it’s so important to recognize those in uniform, we must not forget the families that serve with them. When you consider all of the wives, husbands, kids, siblings, parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles affected, there are millions of people with an empty seat this holiday season—at the dinner table, at a school play, on the bleachers at a game, or sitting at home with their family.

Sometimes we struggle with how to acknowledge the sacrifices of military families in a meaningful way. What will make a difference? Operation Appreciation is a great place to start. Sign the pledge, share your own story, and learn about ways you can join the Operation Appreciation movement at www.OpApp2012.com.

So, do you have a favorite of the celeb support videos? I definitely have mine!

michellePosted  by Michelle Joyner, Communications Director at the
National Military Family Association

Military families and child care – what are the options?

Military families and child care - what are the options?When mom and dad work, finding care for the little ones, especially if the child is under the age of two can be a challenge and quite an expense. According to Parents and the High Cost of Child Care: 2012 Report, in 35 states and the District of Columbia, the average annual cost for center-based care for an infant was higher than a year’s in-state tuition and related fees at a four-year public college. Yikes.

Military families are not immune to this cost. Many times the Child Development Centers are backfilled for months and do not have space availability for new parents. Since many military families don’t have the safety net of extended family and the service member’s schedule is unpredictable, finding reliable child care is a top priority.

So what resources are available for military families?

Military OneSource is a great resource as families start thinking about what options are available when it comes to child care. The National Military Family Association also has a section on our website dedicated to information about child care for military kids. Both are good starting points!

If you are located near a military base, contact the local Information and Referral specialist and the Children, Youth, and Teen programs. The Information Referral specialist will provide information about child care on and off base. The Children, Youth, and Teen programs will have installation-specific options available. Services vary from installation or community and fees are tiered based on the total family income.

Military families may also be eligible for a subsidy through Child Care Aware (formerly NACCRRA). Child Care Aware can help parents locate quality resources in their local community. Child Care Aware also processes the military child care subsidy for most Services. The subsidy programs include Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood, Operation Military Child Care, and Child Care Assistance for Families of Severely Injured Military Members. Eligibility requirements vary from program to program, and Service-specific information is available on Child Care Aware’s website.

Most military families are also eligible for a free membership to Sittercity, a popular child care website that is a great option for families new to an area that don’t know any babysitters.

What child care resources have worked for you and your family?

katiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information
Manager at the 
National Military Family Association

Speak up or shop until your Commissary benefits are dropped

Are military families' Commissary benefits in jeopardy?Growing up, the Commissary was just the store we went to where I got to push the cart and be denied candy. At the time I didn’t understand that there was a benefit to shopping there, but as an adult (an adult without military privileges) I understand just how much you can save by shopping at the Commissary instead of the local Safeway.

Military families that shop at the Commissary save up to 30% more on their grocery bill than civilian families, however, these savings are in jeopardy. In a measure to cut spending, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has suggested cutting the $1.5 billion subsidy the Department of Defense spends on Commissary operating costs. In addition to possibly losing the subsidy, military families’ Commissary benefits could also be affected by looming sequestration cuts should debt agreements not be reached by January 2nd. That’s just three weeks away! With government funding cut by 9.4%, prices could be raised, hours could be restricted, and staff could be reduced in order to absorb some of the shock.

Many families value the Commissary’s savings so much that they are already willing to drive over an hour a few times a month to stock up on groceries. Families overseas are able to purchase favorites from back home without having to pay import prices.

Here’s what other military families have been saying:

“Commissary privileges are a valued asset to the military way of life. We need the subsidy and without it, it would make for a hardship on many of our lower enlisted soldiers and their Families.”

“Please be considerate when looking at our commissary benefit. There are bases across the country that without a commissary service members and dependents would be driving for 30 minutes or more to buy groceries at higher prices.”

“Support our military and our military benefits, which are so important to the morale and welfare of all those who serve and go into harm’s way. Veterans depend on their military benefits and have fought to defend our country. Our military deserve the very best as they give their very best to defend our country.”

Now’s the time to speak up—contact your member of Congress (House and Senate) and let them know what the Commissary benefit means to you.

Military families, how would your life be affected if your Commissary benefits were altered?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor
at the National Military Family Association

So you love a service member: partners, parents & significant others

So you love a service member: partners, parents & significant othersSo, you love a service member. They could be your son or daughter, your boyfriend, or long term partner, but there are likely a number of things you’ve yet to understand about the military lifestyle.  As an “outsider” on the inside, it can be difficult to feel connected to the military community, especially when your service member is deployed or away on duty.

Modern military families take on many different shapes and forms, and it’s important for you to know the basic information and resources available to your unique situation.  Getting everything down can be confusing, even for those that grew up in the military, let alone for parents or boyfriends trying to nail down the logistics. Whether you think an FRG* is the toy robot your nephew wants for Christmas, or you just want to know how to keep in touch with your service member while they’re deployed, the new Partners, Parents, and Significant Others section of our website has you covered. Find information particular to those new to the military lifestyle or just approaching the military from a new perspective. Acronyms, benefits, and information for caregivers—we’ve put it all in one place!

As a non-ID card holder, you are likely not near a military installation, and there are many things that you might not have access to.  Your service member is always your best information resource, but they might not always be available to help with questions and concerns as they arise. Create your own military community by staying in the know through your service member’s leadership, and becoming part of local groups and organizations that provide support and resources. With our nation at war for more than a decade, it is an especially difficult time to have a loved one in the military, but having the right resources and information can help provide some stability in the most unstable of times.

*an FRG isn’t a toy robot—it’s a Family Readiness Group.

Experienced military families: what’s something you’ve learned that you would pass on to a non-ID card holder as they learn more about the military?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor
at the National Military Family Association

Discrimination by uniform: an update on TRICARE and ABA therapy

Discrimination by uniform: an update on TRICARE and ABA therapyFor the first time—ever—Congress is purposely excluding certain members of the Uniformed Services from receiving some health care benefits because of their Service affiliation. Shocked? So are we.

When I speak about who our Association serves, I say that we work to improve the lives of active duty, National Guard and Reserve, retired, and surviving families of members of all seven Uniformed Services. Then I ask the trivia question: “What are the seven Uniformed Services?” In most cases, people easily name the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard, but they’re often stumped on the other two: the Commissioned Corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Public Health Service (PHS).

Members of all seven Uniformed Services take the same oath to support our Nation, are paid using the same pay tables, go where our leaders send them, earn the same retirement benefits, and receive the same TRICARE health care coverage. But this equality in benefits for their service that is granted by law is now threatened by the very Congress we ask to protect us.

A little background. Many military families with an autistic child, as well as some with other disabilities, have seen improvement when the child has access to Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy. Because TRICARE has provided ABA therapy under the ECHO Program, which is open to active duty families only and has an annual cap on costs, many military families have asked Congress to make it a covered TRICARE benefit to remove the cap and be available to retirees as well. They’ve encountered resistance for several reasons, most notably the cost.

The House’s version

In May, the House of Representatives added a provision to its version of the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would make ABA therapy a TRICARE benefit for patients with an Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. Normally, when a benefit is added to TRICARE, it applies to everyone that qualifies medically. In this case, however, the House decided it was acceptable to specifically exclude all  families of three Uniformed Services: the Coast Guard, NOAA, and PHS—a first.

The Senate’s version

On December 4, the Senate approved its version of the NDAA, which also contains a provision adding ABA therapy as a TRICARE benefit. At the request of our Association and others, the Senate provision opens up the therapy to anyone whose doctor believes would be helped. In response to our concerns about the House excluding three of the seven Uniformed Services from the benefit, the Senate included coverage for all active duty Coast Guard, NOAA, and PHS family members. But, it still specifically excludes retiree families of those Service branches.

What’s Needed

I don’t want to diminish the importance of this new TRICARE benefit. I’m glad Members of Congress have recognized the burden military families with a child needing ABA therapy face in finding and paying for the treatment. However, our Association is deeply concerned about the precedent this action by both Houses of Congress sets—and thinks that every military family should be as well.

Members of Congress have a chance to fix this inequity as they meet to create the final version of the NDAA. They must ensure eligibility for TRICARE benefits is determined by the medical needs of the patient, not the type of uniform their service member wears or wore.

How do you feel about these exclusions in the proposed NDAA?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the
National Military Family Association