Tag Archives: Fiscal Cliff

Losing the Budget Battle Does Not Mean We’ve Lost the War

son-says-goodbye-to-dadSomething happened last week that made military families stand up and say “Don’t you dare!!” That something was the budget deal that provides $6 billion in “sequestration relief” for DoD out of the wallets of our youngest military retirees. As word about the deal spread into the military community, the sound you heard was “Enough!”

What followed was a #KeepYourPromise campaign on Twitter, storm the Hill visits by military associations, and letters and calls to Congressional offices all aimed at persuading Congress to reject the proposed cap on Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) for military retirees under age 62. Despite all the best efforts, the budget bill passed the Senate on December 18.

What should military families do now?

  1. Say Thank You: While too few Members of Congress showed they understood the damage the budget deal would do to the military community, several did and stepped up to fight the COLA cap. They will be our allies in our continued fight, so please send them a thank you letter or email.
  2. Stay Engaged: Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and several other Senators who voted in favor of the budget deal are on record saying they want the Committee to look for ways to eliminate the cap—count those statements as proof that the grassroots efforts were noticed.
  3. Hold Them Accountable: Military families need to help us remind Members of Congress who said they hoped they could find a way to eliminate the cap to do so. Ask your Member, especially if he or she is on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, to encourage the Committee to take up this issue as soon as possible. If your Member voted for the budget deal, give them a chance to make things right.
  4. Expand Your Outreach: Tell your story to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission’s website has a comments section for military families and Commission’s recommendations will be taken seriously.
  5. Keep Telling Your Story: Start each letter to your Member of Congress with “I’m a proud military family member and I VOTE in your state/district.” Enlist your family and civilian friends in this fight to help Congress understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and the need for our Nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made.
  6. Don’t Give Up! The Senate vote this week was only the opening skirmish of a fight we can win if we continue to work together and make our voices heard.

The military spouses who founded our Association walked the halls of Congress for several years before it passed the DoD Survivor Benefit Plan. The elderly retirees who were once denied military health care once they became eligible for Medicare spent almost a decade mobilizing their peers, their associations, and their Members of Congress before getting TRICARE for Life. It took our Association almost eight years to see Congress pass and DoD implement the WIC Overseas program for military families. Our past successes prove that we can do so again IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!

Currently Serving and Retirees – Pay Cuts Affect Us All

Balance-Budget-on-Backs-(2)With the proposed Ryan-Murray budget deal being voted on this week, military retirees are being urged to let their Congressional Members know how the Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) cap on military retired pay will adversely affect them over the course of their retirement. But this is only one part of the Congressional attack on compensation aimed at both the currently-serving and retirees.

Let’s not forget that the other deal announced recently — the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA) — inflicts some pay pain on those currently-serving, which will translate to more pain when they retire. Our active duty service members should be getting a 1.8 percent pay raise, but the NDAA provides only a 1 percent raise.

And, oh by the way, in 2014, retirees will receive their full 1.7 percent COLA. The phase-in of the reduction in the COLA for retirees ages 62 and under, called for in the budget bill, doesn’t start until 2015 and will happen over 3 years. Projections on active duty pay call for smaller raises than the civilian wage increase during that time. So even if the phase-in of the reduced retired pay goes into effect, those currently serving will probably receive a few smaller pay increases than retirees. And remember, smaller active duty pay raises translate into lower retiree pay when that active duty member retires.

Congressional decisions are spreading the pain to all military people in a way disproportionate to the rest of the Nation. We firmly believe the changes in pay and retirement should not have been done piecemeal by Congress without waiting for the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, established to study compensation and retirement.

We can’t talk about the harm to one group of our community without talking about the damage long term to the folks serving now if they’re denied the pay raises equal to civilian wage growth. The families of our future retirees are getting a double whammy–one punch is the lower pay raise now and the other is the lower retiree COLAs in the future. At least there will be a catch-up for the retirees when they turn 62. There’s no catch-up on active duty pay losses.

Let’s make our leaders understand the effects these deals AND continued sequestration are having on all military people.

Let Congress know that budgets should not be balanced on the backs of those who have already given so much. Despite the urgency on the budget bill, we need to focus on the effects to entire life cycle of service – from currently serving to retired. Write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel.

And, on another note, with these hits to military families’ wallets, commissary savings become even more important! We continue to urge the Department of Defense to preserve the commissary system and the savings it provides.

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

Get the Facts on the 2013 Government Shutdown

do-not-disturb-congress

Our Association has been tirelessly demanding Congress does its job. As part of our #EndSequestration campaign, we stormed Capitol Hill and took your concerns to the ears of our Nation’s lawmakers.

At 12:00am on October 1, 2013, those very same lawmakers shut it down.

No deal. The government shut down.

What does this mean for you and your military family?

Our Association is bringing all the facts to you on our website. While information is always changing, and new information is coming to the surface, we are working around the clock to make sure your questions, comments, Facebook messages, and tweets are answered!

If you want to know how the government shutdown will affect you, and get the most up-to-date information, visit our government shutdown page or join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

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

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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 

Looking back at 2012

National Military Family Association: A look back at 2012Where does a year go? It’s amazing to see the months fly by, filled with memorable occasions like weddings, road trips, big moves, and deployments. 2012 was a year of change, new ideas, and growth for the military community, and for us as well! Here’s how we spent our year.

Sometimes it seems like if something can go wrong, it will. Or when it rains, it pours. Whichever idiom you want to apply, 2012 brought a few unexpected lemons for us to make into lemonade. From the close call of a government shutdown in April, threats to commissary benefits, and the fiscal cliff negotiations in December, we were proud to be  the place military families turned to understand the impact of these actions and find out what could be done in response. It’s nice to know that no matter what comes our way, our community always makes it to the other side of the issue infinitely stronger.

With almost everyone and their grandma (literally) having a smart phone or social media account, these days it seems like we are more connected than ever. Military families are no different, and this year we created a few new ways to provide resources and support via the most-used platforms. Although we are all part of the same community, each military family faces its own challenges going through the many different stages and phases of life. Whether a family is preparing to move, expecting a baby, or anticipating a deployment, our new app, MyMilitaryLife, brings our subject matter expertise and important resources when and where it’s most needed. We’ve had nearly 4,000 downloads from the iTunes and GooglePlay stores, and with six more life paths being added in 2013, we look forward to growing our presence on this new mobile platform.

We are committed to providing spouses and families with the resources and programs needed to make military life a bit easier. We awarded $448,000 in scholarship funds to military spouses beginning or continuing their education through our Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship Program. Our Operation Purple® program had another great season, sending 1,581 military kids to camp across the country. With so many service members returning from deployment, creating a network of support during this period of change and adjustment was more important than ever. We held six Family Retreats and four Healing Adventures for families with a wounded or returning service member who needed to ease into the reintegration process after a deployment.

It went by fast, but 2012 was a productive and fulfilling year. We’re excited to see where 2013 takes us—stay tuned for a companion post on the Association’s goals for the year.

Your turn: what would you like to see us focus on this year?

maranathaPosted by Maranatha Bivens, Communications Editor 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

Election’s Over and the Turkey Leftovers are Gone—Now Get to Work

In the aftermath of the November 6 election results, we posted a congratulatory message to re-elected President Obama and members of the new 113th Congress:

“Congratulations President Obama and members of the new 113th Congress. Our country faces challenging times and there is a lot of work to be done. We’ll make every effort to ensure our elected leaders honor the sacrifices of military families by providing them the Nation’s highest level of care and involvement. The National Military Family Association will continue to work with the President and members of Congress, as we have since 1969, to make sure caring for military families remains a priority.”

In that message, we wanted to emphasize our long history of working with administration officials and Congress. We also felt it important to point out that multiple, important tasks face our elected officials and military families expect these priorities to be addressed.

Our elected officials, starting with the lame duck 112th Congress that returned to town briefly before heading home for Thanksgiving, must work together to pass the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, a tough task given that the Senate did not even bring its version to the floor before Congress recessed to campaign. They must pass a Defense Appropriations Act for FY 2013 rather than force DoD to continue operating under a Continuing Resolution.

Once again, they need to stop a looming payment cut to doctors who take Medicare and TRICARE so that military families don’t have to add whether their doctor will continue to care for them to their worry list.

And our leaders must decide what—if anything—they will do about the approaching Fiscal Cliff.

We are encouraged by the reported progress of post-election meetings between the President, administration officials, and Congressional leaders on addressing the tax and sequestration concerns that if unsolved will lead us off the Fiscal Cliff. Fixing these issues is part of all elected leaders’ job descriptions. When coming up with their solutions, we hope they remember:

  • Our Nation—and our military—are still fighting a war!!
  • Military families depend on both DoD and community safety nets: proposed sequestration cuts to schools and programs like WIC will affect military families, too!
  • Ending deadlock and addressing the issues our Nation faces in a collaborative way should not be regarded by our Nation’s leaders as just a nice campaign promise but an urgent call to action.
  • The national debt is a national security issue and sequestration only reduces that debt by less than 10%–solving the deficit issue will take sacrifice and commitment from all Americans.

Our Association will continue to listen to military families, respond to their questions and concerns, and be their voice to help our elected officials understand the issues most important to them. We offer ourselves as a resource for our Nation’s leaders and also pledge to help military families understand the complex issues facing our Nation.

What do you expect of our Nation’s leaders as they get back to work?

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