Tag Archives: DoD

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

The Lesser of Many Evils

govt-shutdownMy, how expectations have fallen in recent years!! When I started working for the National Military Family Association in the mid-1990s (yes, I’m old and feeling older by the minute), I learned about budget cycles, fiscal years, and the requirement that appropriations bills for a new fiscal year should be signed into law BEFORE THE YEAR STARTED on October 1. I was also told that, even if Congress didn’t get all the appropriations bills passed on time, the expectation was that Members of the House of Representatives and Senate would never want to put our military at risk by failing to provide the authority and the money on time to protect our national security.

Why is passing a Defense budget on time so important? If an appropriations bill isn’t passed by the start of a new Fiscal Year (FY), the Department of Defense (DoD) must face the possibility of several evils. One evil is a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s level for a certain period of time. Continuing Resolutions are bad because they don’t account for different priorities in the current year and so too much money might be available for things that aren’t needed anymore, but not enough for current needs. Also, the money is only allocated for the period covered by the Continuing Resolution. That means agencies only get a portion of their whole budget and no long-term projects, such as construction, can be started.

Contrary to the expectations we used to have about DoD getting its funding bill on time, DoD has had to operate under a CR for at least part of the year for all but one of the last five years. FY 2010 was the last time DoD had its appropriations at the beginning of the year. This year, DoD didn’t get an appropriations until March 26—halfway through the fiscal year!

I’ve talked a lot in this space about the evils of sequestration—and I’ve heard plenty from military families about its effects. Another Continuing Resolution will continue sequestration AND make it more difficult for DoD to put limited money where it’s most needed.

But as bad as the evils of Continuing Resolutions and sequestration are, we’re coming close to a situation where a CR is actually the lesser evil. If Congress can’t pass—and the President sign—a CR by midnight, September 30, the government will shut down. The military hasn’t been affected by a shutdown in a while—it could operate during the last one in 1996 because its funding bill had passed. But, we’ve come close to a shutdown in recent years and military families are understandably concerned about what might happen next week. How did we get in a situation where temporary funding—the lesser of many evils—is seen as the best our Nation’s leaders can do?

We’re gathering information about what resources will be available for military families in case of a government shutdown. Military families want to know whether their service member will be paid on time and where they will go for help if they don’t get paid. We’re asking whether military hospitals will be open or whether their civilian doctors will still treat TRICARE patients. Military families want to know whether their commissary, child care facility, or DoD school will be open. Be sure to check our Government Shutdown web page for regular updates and resources.

What do you want to know about a shutdown? We’ll ask and keep you informed.

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

The Power of Volunteering

The power of volunteeringApril 21-27 is designated as National Volunteer Week and this year’s theme is “Celebrate Service.” The National Military Family Association is celebrating our volunteers, both past and present, who have made a profound contribution to the Association and the military families we serve. Today’s post is written by a volunteer about a volunteer, and is just one highlight of the great work all our volunteers do!

“Never be afraid to ask what you can do, because even if something seems really small, it can still help,” says Susan Reynolds, a military spouse and volunteer for the National Military Family Association. This philosophy, an unshakable optimism, and a genuine desire to contribute to her community keeps Susan fighting hard for military kids and families. She is committed to making sure that military kids, especially those with special needs, get the quality medical care they need and deserve.

Susan’s initiative started when her son was diagnosed with plagiocephaly, a condition defined by an asymmetrical distortion, or flattening, of one side of the skull. Her son needed a reshaping helmet, which she was told was not covered by TRICARE. The helmets can cost up to $5,000. Luckily, she and her husband were able to pay for it out of their savings account. However, she realized that not every military family could afford to do the same. “I don’t care what your rank is, that is a lot of money to come up with right away,” Susan says.

Even worse than the cost of the treatment was the uncertainty and delay Susan faced in getting her son properly diagnosed. “I was really given the runaround from the military treatment facility about TRICARE and what his course of treatment was,” Susan explains. Her experience convinced her that TRICARE and DoD can and must do better to ensure that military kids, especially those with special needs, are getting the care they need.

Susan soon became a tireless advocate for military kids and families. She worked closely with our Association’s Government Relations Department to understand TRICARE policy and how it should be changed. She founded support groups for military families with special needs children and met with Congressional staff members and other officials to share those families’ stories. During this time, while her husband deployed to Afghanistan, Susan’s home was hit by a tornado, but she never allowed herself to be distracted from her objective: to fight for military children.

Thanks in part to Susan’s efforts, Congress included a provision in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act directing the Department of Defense to study TRICARE and its policies regarding care for kids. The provision, known as TRICARE for Kids, aims to develop and encourage health care practices addressing the specific needs of military children. “It was just so exciting to know that something I had worked on with the Association was passed,” Susan says. For her, knowing the President signed the bill that includes this provision is among her most rewarding and exciting achievements. She continues to work hard, however, to make sure that the results of the study reflect the real needs of military children and families.

To Susan, being a volunteer for the Association is her part time job. She enjoys reading, doing research, and keeping an eye on different issues happening in her local community and the greater military community. She never hesitates to talk about the Association and the people and organizations that she is involved with. She goes to key spouse meetings, to community blueprint meetings, talks to local nonprofits, and reports information associated with the military.

Susan will continue to work with the Association and to represent military families, as she wants to ensure people’s voices are being heard. She has received various awards and recognition  including one of the Air Force General’s coins. On more than one occasion, Susan was nominated as Air Force Spouse of the Year by different spouse magazines. Nevertheless, to her, knowing that she can make a difference and serve her community is the greatest reward.

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

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

We fight for military families: the Association’s 2013 priorities, Part 2

We fight for military families: the Association's 2013 priorities, Part 2Yesterday we covered how we determine our legislative focus for the year. Today, Part 2 in our series on explaining our priorities for 2013.

This is the time of year we develop our list of priorities to share with policymakers. What needs to be done to make the benefits and programs that military families depend on more responsive to their needs right now and for the long term? What can the Department of Defense (DoD) do to improve or refine military family access to health care and mental health support? How can the schools our children attend better serve the needs of a mobile population in a time of diminishing school budgets? Why doesn’t the expansion of spouse career opportunities go hand in hand with quality, affordable child care? What support does a grateful Nation owe wounded service members, their caregivers, and the survivors of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice? How can DoD help those service members and families who are transitioning to civilian life?

Here’s the first part of our list of priorities – the priorities we will address to Congress, the Department of Defense, and the Services. Not all issues need to be addressed by legislation. Sometimes Congress asks for a report on how a program is working or to find out how a specific need is being addressed. While DoD may have policy jurisdiction, Congress – through language in the National Defense Authorization Act – can mandate that DoD take a certain action. That’s why we address these priorities to both Congress and DoD.

  • Ensure families of all seven Uniformed Services have timely access to high quality, affordable health care and a robust TRICARE benefit.
  • Enhance military families’ access to the medical and non-medical counseling they need to recover from the stress of long years at war. The progress made in lessening the stigma associated with seeking behavioral health care is threatened if service members and families cannot get help when needed.
  • Mandate tracking and reporting on military family member suicides. Anecdotal reports indicate the number of military family suicides is growing. We cannot address the problem until we know its extent.
  • Ensure that a robust, responsive system of reintegration support for families still trying to reconnect or deal with the effects of wounds, injuries, or illnesses is accessible across Services, components, and geographic locations.
  • Provide equal eligibility of benefits for caregivers of wounded, ill, or injured service members and veterans across all seven Uniformed Services and from all wars. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and DoD caregiver benefits don’t mesh and many caregivers lose the support they need just when they need it the most.
  • Ensure better cooperation and accountability between the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs at the highest levels in the support of transitioning wounded, ill, and injured and care givers. The lack of a seamless transition between agencies still exists and must be corrected.
  • Protect the commissary benefit by continuing the annual appropriation to support the system at its current level. Commissaries provide an important benefit for military families as well as a good deal for the taxpayer. Oppose attempts to consolidate the commissary and exchange system.

Do these resonate with what you are experiencing as a military family? What are your priorities for Congress and DoD for 2013?

Tomorrow’s post, Part 3 in this series, will look at the rest of our priorities for 2013. Read Part 1 here.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director at the National Military Family Association