Category Archives: Joyce’s Voice

Recent Good News Won’t Keep the Yellow Ribbon from Unraveling in 2014

yellow-ribbon-tree-blogOn August 6, military families got a little sequestration relief. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the DoD civilian employee furloughs would be capped at six days rather than the planned 11. These furloughs had closed commissaries an extra day, made it more difficult for families to get health care appointments, cut family center hours, and would have closed DoD schools for several days in September.

So, let’s celebrate a little because the 2013 DoD furloughs will end this week. But, make it only a small celebration please! Sequestration is a 10-year menace and none of the good news from last week will carry over into the new fiscal year that starts on October 1. DoD officials have shared a lot of numbers about the difficulties sequestration will cause in 2014.

According to DoD, this summer’s furloughs that caused so much disruption saved the Department $1 billion. In 2014, DoD will have to find savings of $52 billion.

How much pain and disruption for military families will come as DoD tries to find those savings?

Forget about furloughs–how many civilians will be laid off? How fast will a drawdown in the number of uniformed troops happen? How many airplanes will the Air Force be able to fly? What training will be cancelled? What family support facilities will close? What will the DoD and civilian schools educating military children have to cut? How long will we wait for health care appointments? Will schedules for Permanent Change of Station moves lengthen? What ships will be repaired? Already, the Navy has announced it will scrap, rather than repair, a nuclear submarine damaged by arson. Why? Navy officials blame a $4 billion shortfall in the shipbuilding account and other maintenance priorities deferred by sequestration.

Cuts totaling $52 billion in 2014 will hurt service members, families, and the communities where they live. Even though the 2013 furloughs will soon end, sequestration’s effects can still be seen in programs affected by hiring freezes, in reduced training for service members, and deferred maintenance of equipment and facilities. Those effects will get worse unless Congress acts to #EndSequestration.

The National Military Family Association and the other organizations that have joined with us in our campaign thank the families who have sent us pictures and stories about how sequestration is affecting their communities. Please continue to send pictures showing sequestration’s effects to social@militaryfamily.org. We’re creating a booklet of your photos and sequestration stories and will deliver it to every Member in early September.

Our Nation’s leaders must keep the yellow ribbon from unraveling. #EndSequestration.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director



**By submitting your photo, you agree that the National Military Family Association may use your submission, the language within, and any subsequent photos in any way including, but not limited to, publications, promotional brochures, promotions or showcase of programs on our website or social networks, showcase of activities in local and/or national newspapers or programming, and other similar lawful purposes.

Time to #EndSequestration: The yellow ribbon is unraveling

yellow-ribbon-tree-blog“I tried to schedule my son’s 2-month well-baby exam this morning and they won’t be able to see him until he’s almost 3 months old. His clinic is closed on Fridays now due to the Furlough so if either of my two children or I get sick on a Friday, we will have to go to the ER to be seen. As a patient, this makes me feel unimportant – insignificant.”  Military Spouse

“Sequestration is a mindless, irresponsible process. You know it — I know it. And I’m hoping that our leaders in Washington will eventually get that and come to some policy resolution.”  Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, July 17, 2013

The time is NOW. You’re frustrated, we’re frustrated, even the Secretary of Defense is frustrated, and there is still no end in sight. No matter how many articles are written, interviews done, or blogs posted, Congress still isn’t stirring to do something about the budget cuts that are hurting military communities. The National Military Family Association says: “It’s time to #EndSequestration!” The only way we can accomplish this goal is for all of us to take a united stand.

So what can you do?

Don’t just tell us how sequestration and budget cuts have hurt your family, disrupted your community, and brought pain to your lives – show us! We’re asking every military family to send us pictures demonstrating the disruptions of sequestration. Send them to social@militaryfamily.org with a brief description and your location**.

Get creative! Find a way to tell us your sequestration story in a picture. Take and send us pictures of:

  • “Closed” or “reduced hours” signs at commissaries, clinics, or other installation facilities
  • Extra-long lines at installation gates
  • Unpaid bills because of furloughs
  • Military equipment in disrepair
  • Canceled school programs
  • Your family holding a sign that explains how sequestration has affected you

We believe our Nation’s leaders and ALL Americans need to understand what sequestration is doing to our military community. We will use your photos to create a photo book that we will hand deliver to each Member of Congress so they can see for themselves how their actions, or lack thereof, are hurting the military community. We’ll also post these photos on our website so others can see what you see every day in your community.

We’re proud that Military.com, SpouseBUZZ, Macho Spouse, and Military Partner and Families Coalition are partnering with us to show Congress the power of numbers. And we’ll be announcing the support of other organizations soon.

But, it starts with you: we need YOUR help to make sure the message is heard. Send us your pictures, but also tell everyone it’s time for the budget madness to stop. Please change your Facebook profile picture and/or cover photo to join the movement. Let’s show we are united. We may only be 1% of this Nation, but we protect what we hold dear. It’s time to make it clear where we stand on the broken promises.

The yellow ribbon is indeed unraveling.

Yellow Ribbon FB Cover2

It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to #EndSequestration!

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

 


**By submitting your photo, you agree that the National Military Family Association may use your submission, the language within, and any subsequent photos in any way including, but not limited to, publications, promotional brochures, promotions or showcase of programs on our website or social networks, showcase of activities in local and/or national newspapers or programming, and other similar lawful purposes.

Sequestration adds stress to military families: Association meets with DoD officials

Sequestration adds stress to military families:Association meets with DoD officialsShortly after the new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, arrived at the Pentagon, he told his staff that he wanted to reach out to military and veterans organizations. As a result of that request, I recently spent two days at a Pentagon roundtable meeting with Secretary Hagel, senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials, and twenty-one other military and veterans organization leaders. I appreciate Secretary Hagel’s early outreach and the opportunity his roundtable discussion provided for me to ask many of the questions military families have been asking us about sequestration, support for military families, and what lies ahead for our military community.

Secretary Hagel shared his opinion that the tough budget realities facing DoD would not change. He asked how DoD can effectively work with military and veterans organization to expand the services and support our service members and military families need. This was an important discussion for a new Secretary of Defense to have with the organizations in the room and, I hope, with many others in the future. Partnerships and collaborations are important, but we also need to talk about the unique obligation our government, through the Department of Defense, has to support and sustain military families during times of war and peace.

We remain a nation at war. Our all-volunteer force, making up less than one percent of the nation, has made extraordinary sacrifices for our country. Military families are navigating new uncertainties: unpredictable deployment schedules; downsizing; worry about how the stress of separation and reunion will affect family relationships; and concern that the foundation of support families have come to rely on will disappear.

The reality of sequestration adds to the stress of military families. Will the military be able to retain mental health counselors and will civilian mental health providers continue to care for our families to the extent needed? How will DoD address the consequences of civilian employees furloughs on the delivery of support services? Will child care services be available for school-aged children who suddenly have fewer school days? Will families be reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs made in anticipation of a deployment only to learn the deployment has been cancelled? Will DoD have robust resources for the families affected by suicide or sexual assault? Does DoD have the funding and capacity to meet the mandated requirements of the new transition assistance program to effectively prepare transitioning families?

Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We will fight to ensure programs and benefits critical to the wellbeing of military families are authorized, funded, and implemented to maintain their readiness and allow them to meet the challenges of military life. We will fight to protect families from destructive budget cuts. We will fight to relieve the emotional stress of military families as service members respond to crises worldwide.

What budget cuts are you most concerned about?

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

DoD: we’ll protect family programs… “to the extent feasible”

yellow ribbon

When you were a child, how hopeful did you feel when you asked your mom for something and she said “we’ll see”? What’s your reaction when you suggest something to your boss to improve your work place and she says “we’ll try”? How encouraged are you when you ask your spouse to do something and they respond “hold that thought”? When you think about the possibility of checking things off your to-do list, how optimistic are you really if you begin your thoughts with “if the planets align…”?

We’ve talked a lot in this blog space about the budget pressures and uncertainties Department of Defense (DoD) and military families face: from the fiscal cliff to sequestration to the debt ceiling and threatened government shutdown. If you’re as concerned as I am about whether the support programs your military family depends on will be around in the future, then you want reassurance from the DoD. Well here it is, folks.

According to a memo released on January 10 by the Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, DoD will “to the extent feasible, protect family programs.” Secretary Carter’s memo offers needed guidance to the Service Chiefs and DoD agencies on dealing with those challenges and uncertainties, but it doesn’t give me warm fuzzies about how families will fare in this process.

The Secretary’s memo also lists major program and funding areas and guidance on how agencies should allocate scarce funding. The National Military Family Association appreciates the decision to exempt military personnel funding (generally regarded as pay and allowances) from sequestration. The guidance also provides the good news that war operations and wounded warrior programs will be “fully protected.” We’re not quite sure about what it means that military health care wasn’t mentioned in the memo. Should we be reassured or worried?

While we’re pleased that family support programs are mentioned in the guidance, the “to the extent feasible” language makes us uneasy. Where does “feasible” fall on a DoD priority list? How do we measure the success of DoD’s efforts if they’re only saying they’ll try?

What makes this statement even more alarming is that we also know other recommended actions outlined in the memo will hurt family programs. A civilian hiring freeze, furloughs of civilian employees, cuts to base operating funding, and curtailment of travel and training will decrease the viability of military family support programs that, in some cases, have already been subject to personnel downsizing and funding cuts.

Our Association shares the Secretary’s concern about the damage that will be done if a Fiscal Year Defense Appropriations bill is not enacted. (This will mean DoD must continue to operate under a Continuing Resolution.) We know families understand some programs may need to be scaled back to protect funding for the readiness and support of their service member. But we also know service members say they can better focus on their missions in dangerous places when they know their families have the support they need. They don’t do their jobs just “to the extent feasible”!

DoD must not be forced to cut military family programs to the bone at a time when they are still needed by families supporting service members at war. We will continue to keep an eye on the effect of this budget guidance on support for families and let DoD know if efforts “to the extent feasible” fall short of the mark.

Tell us what’s happening to family support programs in your community. Are people trying to do more with less? Have you or families you know had trouble accessing programs and support services you need?

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

One toe over the edge: the Fiscal Cliff and military families

One toe over the ledge: the Fiscal Cliff and military familiesSo we’ve managed not to topple over the cliff, but it looks like we’ll be hanging on the ledge of uncertainty for a few more months. In the wee hours of the New Year, Congress passed a compromise bill to keep the country from heading over the edge. Like any compromise, the bill didn’t please everyone, but it did fix several issues important to military families, including a one-year extension of the Medicare/TRICARE doc fix, which will help protect families’ access to health care. The compromise legislation did not include an increase to the debt ceiling and the Treasury Department estimates it will run out of ways to stay within the current ceiling by late February or early March, right about the time sequestration is now set to start.

And what of those automatic cuts to federal spending, known as sequestration? The best the Congressional leaders and the President could do was to postpone it for two months. That might sound like a good thing, but this delay also means uncertainty about what will or could be cut for military installations, schools that educate military kids, defense contractors, and all other military and community agencies that support military families.

Other provisions included in the compromise bill would:

  • Create a permanent fix for the Alternative Minimum Tax to prevent taxpayers from moving into higher tax brackets simply because of inflation—this fix was needed immediately to keep taxpayers from paying higher taxes on their 2012 income.
  • Permanently extend the Bush-era tax rates for all families earning less than $450,000.
  • Increase the tax rate on capital gains and some estates.
  • Freeze Congressional pay.
  • Extend federal unemployment benefits for one year.
  • Extend provisions in the expiring farm bill by one year. (This means milk prices won’t skyrocket, as you may have seen in the news.)

The compromise bill did not extend the lower payroll tax rate of 4.2% in effect during the past two years through economic stimulus legislation. Therefore, the payroll tax workers pay to support Social Security will immediately return to 6.2%. Workers will see this change in their first paycheck of 2013. Experts estimate that the family earning an average of $50,000 per year will pay an additional $1,000 in payroll taxes this year.

While the New Year’s Congressional action gives the government and taxpayers some breathing room, we’re not out of the woods yet. The temporary delay of the sequestration cuts will combine with other pending budget events to continue the fiscal uncertainty facing our Nation.

The Association appreciates the actions by Congress and the President to provide the fix to Medicare and TRICARE doctors. We remain concerned about the failure to address the potentially devastating sequestration cuts to both civilian and military programs that could have a negative impact on military families. While the delay in sequestration will temporarily protect some needed support services, it also continues the uncertainty, and a military community at war needs certainty that the Nation supports its service. We call on our Nation’s leaders to forge a more permanent solution that will preserve the strength of our service members and their families.

How do you feel about the outcome of the compromise bill and the negotiations surrounding it?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at 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

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