Category Archives: Your benefits

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

What Do You Say About Military Pay…in Two Minutes?

moneyI’ve been invited to provide a military family perspective today at a hearing of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC).

Yes, even the acronym for this Congressionally-created group of experts is a mouthful! And its task is broad. The commission is charged with looking not just at military pay and retirement, but everything that affects service members and their families: health care; family support programs; education assistance to service members and families; tax implications of military pay; military family housing; commissaries and exchanges; and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Programs.

The Commission must accomplish its mission within 15 months. Its recommendations, if approved by Congress, may have a far-reaching impact on the future force. But, it’s important to note that the law creating the Commission says no retirement changes will apply to current military retirees and anyone who joins the military before Congress enacts any of the changes recommended by the Commission.

Even though retirement changes recommended by the Commission may not affect today’s military families, other proposals could. The scope of what the Commission is supposed to study is so vast, but those testifying at the hearing are given only two minutes to sum up what’s important to military families before the question and answer period starts.

Here’s what I’m saying on behalf of the National Military Family Association:

  • The choice to serve our Nation in the uniform of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, or in the Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, isn’t just another job for the service member or the family. And, it shouldn’t be regarded as just another job when our Nation’s leaders consider how those service members should be compensated.
  • Who makes up today’s military force can give clues about who might be recruited for the force of the future. In order to determine what will be needed to recruit and retain the best possible force of the future, those looking to change the compensation system to meet the needs of the future should learn as much as possible about the military families of today. Look at all the data available, not just on what today’s military families say they need but on what the demographic trends in our Nation at large tell us about the people who might become tomorrow’s military families.
  • If we’ve learned nothing else in the past dozen years it’s that keeping families strong and ready is essential to the readiness of service members and their ability to focus on, and perform, their mission. Programs and services used to enhance the readiness of families help ease the transitions they face. Those programs and services also provide support when the challenges of military life threaten to overwhelm them, and are not and MUST NOT EVER BE considered part of the service member’s compensation package. They are a cost of doing business.
  • Given all the unpredictable things that are a part of military life—frequent moves, deployments to dangerous places, family separations, and upheavals to spouses’ careers and military children’s education, military families value whatever predictability is possible. They want to know what support resources will be available when they move or their service member deploys. They want to know they can access quality health care when they need it. They want to be assured there are community resources available to enhance their quality of life wherever the military sends them. They want assurance that their kids’ education won’t suffer because of the service member’s choice of career. They want clear expectations about what they must learn and do to be ready to handle the unpredictable. They want to know what to expect in retirement should they make the decision to make the military a career. They want to know that both monetary and community support will be available to them should their service member be injured or wounded or if they should die in service to our Nation.
  • The military, as an employer, must acknowledge its “employees'” need for predictability, and balance that need with the flexibility it must have to shape the force of the future and ensure it has the right skill and experience mix to meet new challenges to our Nation’s security.
  • The military, as an employer and because of the nature of how it does business, has a unique responsibility to ensure the community in which military families live and work has the systems necessary to enhance quality of life. The military community is not just a place of work; it is also a place of support that enhances the readiness of service members and families.

And lastly, military families need to believe that the Nation they serve values their service. Even though it may be difficult to put a dollar and cents value on what might be appropriate compensation for the work performed, the sacrifices made, the skills gained, and the lives disrupted, families want to know both the tangibles and intangibles are weighed in our leaders’ decisions about military pay, benefits, and quality of life programs in their communities.

My two minutes are up.

What would you say about military pay?

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

Preparing to Return to Civilian Life: A spouse’s perspective

crossroads-sign2With small budgets and shifting priorities, the mission for the U.S. military is changing. An estimated 123,900 service members will leave the Services within the next five years. Some folks signed up for one tour and only intended to stay in for that enlistment. Others joined knowing they wanted to make this a career. Regardless of the reasons for separating from the military, a significant number of current service members will not make the military a career.

When I read articles about downsizing, I immediately think about how this would impact our family; specifically what happens to our pay and benefits. Any entitlement to pay and benefits after your service member leaves the service will depend on the circumstances of separation.

For example, if the service member retires; he or she is eligible for retirement benefits. Unfortunately, most folks who are separating due to the drawdown are not eligible for retirement benefits. If you fall into the later category, here are some tips to help you prepare for life outside the gates:

Pay: This is a big one. You and your service member will need to decide how you will earn an income. It may be helpful to consider the following:

  • Your taxable and nontaxable income (i.e. allowances such as a housing allowance (BAH) are not taxable)
  • Your current and estimated expenses (i.e. if you are living on the installation now and will move back to your home town, check out the local rental rates, property values, utility costs, etc.)
  • The cost of living in your projected job market
  • Your estimated income needed to meet or exceed your current standard of living

Health Care: Health care is the largest non-monetary part of the service member’s benefit package. While the service member may be eligible for service-connect health care for life through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), your family generally loses coverage once the service member separates from the Service.

You may be able to receive health care coverage in the individual market, a health care exchange, or through an employer’s plan. Your family may be eligible to participate in TRICARE’s Transitional Assistance Management Program for 180 days of premium-free transitional health care benefits after regular TRICARE benefits end. After this coverage ends, your family may be eligible for the Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP).

CHCBP is a premium-based program offering temporary transitional heath coverage from 18-36 months after TRICARE eligibility ends. A family premium for 2013 is $2,555 per quarter.

Life Insurance: Whether you are separating from military service or retiring, you will need to decide what to do with your Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage. SGLI stays with you for an additional 120 days after you leave the service, and then it stops for good. You need to decide to either take Veterans’ Group Life Insurance (VGLI) or get your own individual life insurance.

For those who sustained injury or have chronic conditions, it is imperative to look at whether or not outside insurers will cover you. You can convert to VGLI in the specified time period without proof of good health. After that time period, you will have to prove you are in good health.

Keep in mind that Family Servicemember’s Group Life Insurance (FSGLI) provides coverage for your spouse and children. It may be converted to an individual policy, but not to VGLI. Companies listed on the VA website will convert spouse health coverage without proof of good health during a specified time period.

Ancillary benefits: Ancillary benefits may include the Commissary, Exchange, reduced child care fees, or discounts in your local community – all part of the overall military lifestyle and some elements of the military compensation package.

In most cases, you will not be able to continue to access these privileges; however, some communities may provide benefits for veterans. It is recommended you ask each establishment to determine what type of documentation you need to show if you are eligible to participate. You may find there is another type of discount, such as a community membership, for folks who live in a specific neighborhood, which is available to you instead of a military discount.

This is the first of a blog series discussing transition from military life to civilian life. What other transition topics would you like to see? Leave a comment below!

KatiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

Same-Sex Spouses: Welcome!

same-sex-military-coupleIt’s been over a month since same-sex spouses could register in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) and receive a brand-new military family member ID and all the benefits it encompasses.

We have heard of the overwhelming welcome that these just-recognized military spouses have received. We have also heard of their pride in their new-found recognition as a military spouse.

In case you haven’t heard, once a spouse is enrolled in DEERS, he or she is eligible for the whole array of military benefits.

The most important benefits to most service members and their spouses are:

  • Military Family Member Identification Card
  • TRICARE health care coverage
  • Dependent-rate housing allowance
  • Eligibility for the family separation allowance
  • Ability to move off base to live with a spouse
  • Command-sponsored visas
  • Access to military installations and facilities, including: commissaries, exchanges, and Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) centers; Family Center programs
  • Joint Duty Assignments
  • Access to legal assistance

The spouses of service members may also invoke the protections of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), which provides certain protections from civil actions against service members who are called to active duty.

While military affiliated same-sex married couples are protected under Federal law, there are some states that don’t recognize same-sex marriage and may create stumbling blocks in accessing state benefits or services.

A recent example includes the refusal of National Guard armories in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi to issue military ID cards to same-sex spouses because same-sex marriages are illegal in those states.

You should also check on other state legal requirements such as those associated with adopting biological children, or limitations to joint home-ownership. There may also be problems with accompanied assignments to countries where homosexuality is illegal.

The information landscape is in a state of constant change so check back with our website, and the Military Partners and Families Coalition, for updates.

New military spouses – welcome! Consider this your symbolic swat with the saber. And know that we are here to provide you and your military family the same helpful information and resources that we have been offering to all military families for more than 40 years.

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations 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.

Suicide Prevention Month: Listen, Respect, Share

marine-ceremony-flagRecently, I enjoyed a weekend getaway with my husband. We wandered in and out of beach front shops, miles away from a military base. It was nice to have a chance to be together and enjoy the beach scenery.

My husband and I were surprised when a local shop owner shared a very personal story with us. After exchanging pleasantries, she asked if my husband was in the military (his haircut gives it away). She also inquired where he was stationed and how long we had been assigned to this location. Her daughter’s family recently moved away from this particular location.

She shared with us that her son-in-law, an Army veteran, committed suicide. He was being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). She was trying to grapple with her new feelings and offer support to her grieving daughter and grandchild.

After sharing our condolences, my husband and I both wanted to offer resources to help this anguished family. Before I rattled off a list of resources, I realized I need to step back and listen to the person speaking to me, respect what she was sharing with me, and share resources if she was agreeable to accepting information.

If you find yourself in a situation similar to mine, here are some suggestions:

Listen: Really listen. Try to understand what the person is communicating. Try not to think of a solution or offer a resource right away.

Respect: Respect that the person feels safe enough to share this information with you. Understand your boundaries and your comfort level.

Share: Is the person able to receive information? Do you have resources available? If not, and you are comfortable, exchange contact information and ask a professional for help.

I am not a counselor. I am not a medical expert. But, I am an involved military spouse. I was thankful I had read recent articles about the Military Crisis Line and Veterans Crisis Line.  Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7 support to those in crisis across the nation.

If you or someone you know has contemplated suicide, seek the support you need. The military and your local community provide a wide array of available programs for preventive care and support.

KatiePosted by Katie Savant, Government Relations Information Manager

TRICARE Standard: Is it right for you?

flag-stethoscopeAs a new spouse, or even a seasoned spouse, the difference between TRICARE Standard and TRICARE Prime can be somewhat confusing. I remember how overwhelming it felt when I was faced with the decision on whether I wanted “Prime” or “Standard”. After reading through the literature available, as well as on TRICARE’s website, I decided TRICARE Standard was the best for me. If you are considering TRICARE Standard for your family, here are some points to consider:

TRICARE Standard is an option which allows you to choose your own doctor. You are able to see any type of doctor, from a specialist to a primary care physician. To search for the type of doctor you need, go to TRICARE’s “Find a Doctor” feature. If you choose a network provider, you end up paying less of a cost share . The cost share depends on what care you get at that particular appointment, whether or not you use a network or non-network doctor, or whether you are an active duty family member, retiree, or retiree family member.

The “in network” doctors file the TRICARE claims for you so you do not have to deal with the paperwork of filing the claim yourself. Using a network doctor is called TRICARE Extra . Also, there is no pre-authorization required when you need lab work or testing done. Each fiscal year you have an annual deductible to meet, which varies based on your service member’s status. As an active duty spouse, I pay only 20% of any allowable charges after I have paid my deductible for the year. There is also a $1000 “catastrophic cap” for active duty families. This means your out of pocket expense will not exceed that cap.

TRICARE patients have the option to choose which pharmacy they would like to use. Using TRICARE retail pharmacies are especially convenient for patients using TRICARE Standard, but are the most expensive option. Major drug store chains such as RiteAid, CVS, Target, and Walmart are in-network pharmacies. By using an in-network pharmacy, you are responsible for a $5.00 copay for generic medications and a $17.00 copay for brand name medications. You can save money if you use the TRICARE Pharmacy Home Delivery to have your prescriptions mailed right to your home.

A common misconception of TRICARE Standard is the idea that patients are not able to use the military pharmacy because they are not seeing a doctor at a Military Treatment Facility (MTF). As a TRICARE Standard user, you have the option to use the MTF pharmacies, which may be the best value if the MTF stock your drugs. Personally, I have never used a MTF Pharmacy because they were not as convenient for me because I did not live on the Army Post. However, if you want to save money, using the MTF pharmacy is a great option because both generic and formulary drugs have no copay!

TRICARE Standard has been the best choice for me because I enjoy choosing my provider instead of being assigned one. I also enjoy the flexibility of changing providers if I am not happy with my current doctor. Unlike TRICARE Prime, TRICARE Standard does not require a referral to see a specialist. Because of these choices, I don’t mind paying to see a doctor when I am ill and can’t survive another day without an appointment! I feel I am in control of my healthcare experience with TRICARE Standard. I encourage you to read about the other differences between Prime and Standard in order to make the best decision for your family. I hope that by shedding some light on the sometimes confusing and often-misunderstood TRICARE Standard, your decision may come a little easier.

Stephanie-OSullivanBy Stephanie O’Sullivan, National Military Family Association Volunteer, Fort Bragg, NC