Tag Archives: Fiscal Cliff

2016 Presidential Election: There’s Strength in Numbers, Military Families!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, we’re in an election year. This November, Americans will take to the polls to elect a new Commander in Chief. Many of us have watched news coverage of the candidates’ campaign efforts and tuned in for one of the 22 presidential primary debates that have been televised since last August (TWENTY-TWO?!). Others have even showed up to rallies to support our favorite candidate.

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As military families, we’ve been briefed on the do’s and don’ts regarding political campaigns—the Department of Defense (DoD) even has well-defined directives for Armed Forces members:

No marching or riding in political parades.

No display of partisan political signs at one’s residence in military housing.

Don’t wear your uniform to, or be an official Armed Forces representative at, any partisan political event.

Don’t speak before any partisan event or gathering that promotes a specific cause or candidate.

Basically, don’t do anything except vote?

Well, not exactly. The DoD explains there are things service members CAN do:

Register to vote.

Express your personal opinion about candidates…just not as a representative of the Armed Forces.

Display political bumper stickers on your personal vehicle (but nothing bigger).

Attend partisan events, rallies, or other activities as a spectator not in uniform.

Though none of these rules apply to military spouses or family members, it’s smart to consider what you do and don’t share, participate in, and identify with.

So, with such a laundry list of do’s and don’ts, why should any military family give a hoot about this election? Why bother? Only 1% of the American population serves in the military…1% can’t make a difference.

That, my friends, is where you’re wrong.

Many elections in our nation’s history have been decided by a margin smaller than 1%. From presidential elections to legislative elections, every vote matters. And if it wasn’t a margin of less than 1%, it sure was close. Remember in 2004 George W. Bush won the popular vote and defeated John Kerry? That victory margin was a mere 2.4%.

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Military families SHOULD care about voting in this year’s Presidential election.

You have the opportunity to decide your next Commander in Chief. This person will have the final say on important issues, like Sequestration (remember when your commissaries closed, and your MTF doctors weren’t on call?), foreign war, and your service member’s earned benefits.

The next President will make the call on whether your loved one will deploy in support of continued war.

Sure, there’s been 22 presidential primary debates in the last 8 months, and I think I can speak for many of us when I say those debates have been…interesting. But regardless of how many rules and regulations the DoD has for participating in political activities, the one that matters most is that you CAN vote. And you SHOULD.

There’s a reason military units don’t go into battle alone. There’s strength in numbers, and though 1% seems small, if this community banded together, the impact will be huge.

Between now and November 8th–when voters will take to the polls–NMFA will be spending time making sure this message is loud and clear: your vote matters! We’ll be sending out helpful information to make sure as many military families as possible are registered to vote and who make their voices heard by choosing the next Commander in Chief in November’s election.

You are the 1%. The small, but mighty 1%. And just like we always say here at NMFA: TOGETHER WE’RE STRONGER.

Do you have questions about voting? Not sure where or how to register? Leave your questions in the comments and we’ll answer them in upcoming blog posts!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

Reading the Defense Budget’s Fine Print: Is Your Military Family a Priority?

What’s the advice every financial counselor gives you before you sign a contract for a car loan, an apartment, or a service agreement for your new big screen TV? Read the fine print! It’s important to understand, legalese buried in a sub-clause might end up costing you if you don’t do what it says. It’s also important to know what protections for you weren’t included in the contract so you can fight for them—things like a military clause in a rental agreement to keep from being penalized for a sudden PCS move. 

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Our Government Relations team has certainly been reading the fine print on the budget proposal submitted by the Department of Defense (DoD) for the next fiscal year (FY17). I’m testifying before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, on behalf of our Association, about how that proposal will affect military families. We’re asking Congress to read the fine print and consider:

  • Pay raises: In their budget presentations, DoD officials have been quick to highlight that the proposed 2017 pay raise of 1.6% is the largest basic pay raise in four years. In the fine print, they admit this figure is smaller than the 2.1% increase in private sector raises, which is the standard currently in law. If the 1.6% pay raise is approved by Congress, 2017 will mark the fourth year in a row military pay raises lagged behind pay increases in the private sector.
  • TRICARE Reform: Although its primary mission is keeping our troops healthy and strong when in harm’s way, the military health system also has an obligation to deliver high quality care to military families, retirees and their families, and survivors. Too often, as military families tell us, DoD has failed to meet this obligation. Any discussion of TRICARE Reform must start with how DoD can fix the problems it knows exist in order to improve military families’ satisfaction with their access to care and the quality of that care.

In its FY17 budget proposal, DoD did acknowledge many of the issues military families face in accessing health care: the shortage of same-day and urgent care appointments, the time-consuming and cumbersome referral process. But, it stopped short of committing to specific improvements.

Instead, DoD chose to focus first on controlling costs. They propose eliminating TRICARE Prime, Standard and Extra and replacing them with two new plans: TRICARE Select (a managed-care option that sounds a lot like Prime but with higher out of pocket costs, particularly for retirees) and TRICARE Choice, a preferred provider option that would allow families to choose their providers. What’s in the fine print? Increased costs for Choice users across the board, including higher catastrophic caps and co-pays for out-of-network care, as well as a new annual participation fee for retiree families—but no expansion of the network or improved benefits.

  • Force of the Future: Lots of good ideas in what’s been released thus far: good ideas that will help many military families. But, will these enhancements and recognition of some of the demands military life places on families be enough to offset the constant budget threats to pay and support programs, downsizing, more missions to be performed with a smaller force? Where in the fine print are those things mentioned?

When I testify on Capitol Hill today, I will talk about what’s important to today’s military families. How does the Department’s proposed budget address their needs? Does it make a mom feel her sick child’s health is a priority? Does it ease fears about downsizing? Does it ensure support will be available for a family during their service member’s deployment, whether it’s the first or the fifth? Does it support a spouse eager for a career? Does it promote smooth transitions, whether to a new duty station or life after the military? Does it support families financially? Does it keep our military families strong?

I want to thank all the military families who share their stories with us, complete our surveys, and comment on our web and social media posts. You help us tell your story to people who not only want to hear, but who are in a position to address your concerns. Our message is stronger because of your trust in us. Together we’re stronger.

Watch the hearing today at 2:30pm ET and hear our full testimony on behalf of our nation’s military families.

joycePosted by Joyce Wessel-Raezer, Executive Director

Department of Defense is Paying for “Acts of Patriotism?”

We’ve all been to a sporting event of some kind, and felt that pang of pride in our gut when the National Anthem plays, and our service members take part in some kind of patriotic display. Some displays are beautiful—like a flag that covers an entire football field—and others are just plain awesome—like a service member rappelling down rope in the middle of a hockey arena to drop the puck.

I was a little confused when I read this week that the Pentagon has been paying sports teams for the opportunity to showcase service members in their pre-show routines.

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What? The same Pentagon that doesn’t have the funds to properly equip service members in the field, or to train them prior to deployment because there’s no money in the Defense budget? Where did the money come from? And should we be mad?

I’m on the fence.

But Senator Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., isn’t. He’s made sure Congress knows about these acts of ‘paid patriotism.’ Earlier this spring, contracts between the Department of Defense (DoD) and certain professional sports teams came to light (72 to be exact), totaling $6 million in taxpayer dollars.

So where IS this money coming from?

A few of the sports teams claim they’ve never accepted money from the DoD, while others aren’t sure. The National Football League (NFL), sent a letter to Congress advising they are launching their own external audits to see if money was exchanged; if it was, the NFL says it will be refunded.

Well that’s all nice and polite, but I’m still wondering where the money is coming from?

The National Military Family Association has been fighting tooth and nail since before Sequestration took effect in 2014, for Congress to stop balancing the budget on the backs of military families.

Commissaries had to close down, military treatment facilities (MTFs) weren’t fully staffed, and military spouses were sending their service members overseas without proper equipment or training, all because there wasn’t enough money in the budget.

But somewhere, in that budget they couldn’t balance, was money to pay professional sports teams for patriotic displays before games?

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Here’s where I’m on the fence: The future of our military force is in dire straits, and any form of recruiting is a necessary evil.

Service members and their families are packing up their toys and leaving; the benefits don’t seem so great to some, and the sacrifice doesn’t seems worth it to others. More military families are getting out and transitioning back to civilian life.

The military already has multimillion dollar ‘displays’ intact for recruiting future service members—demonstration teams like the US Navy Blue Angels, and the US Air Force Thunderbirds have been wowing crowds and inspiring America’s youth to give back to their country through military service for 69 years, and 62 years, respectively.

But are these recruiting tools working? Are other forms of ‘paid patriotism’ really needed?

Senator Flake doesn’t think so. He told ABC News, “These [sports] teams do a lot of good work. The problem is when activities like this are paid for by the tax payer, it cheapens everything else they do and that’s why it ought to go away.”

What will happen if the DoD really is paying for these ‘advertisements?’ And who should be held accountable?

I want to know what in the world is going on… or I’m jumping over the fence and rushing the field.

Do you think about the Department of Defense paying for these ‘acts of patriotism?’ Share your thoughts in the comments!

shannonPosted by Shannon Prentice, Content Development Manager

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

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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