Tag Archives: sequestration

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

TRICARE Prime: Why I Wish I Ditched it Sooner

I did it. I finally switched from TRICARE Prime to TRICARE Standard. I’ve been a military spouse for ten years, and I never really considered Standard to be an option for my family . . . until now.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE TRICARE Prime. I loved knowing that when I take my children to the doctor, I wouldn’t get a bill. If I had to call an ambulance and bring them to the hospital, there wouldn’t be a bill. If someone needed a surgery, or was diagnosed with some scary medical problem, there wouldn’t be a bill.

I thought I couldn’t afford a bill.

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Today, I’ve realized that it’s not the bill I should be worried about. I can no longer afford the care we’ve received at our Military Treatment Facility (MTF). As a working mom, I can’t afford to wait three hours at the pharmacy for prescriptions. As a mother of four, I can’t afford not being able to get my child into the doctor when they have an ear infection, or heaven forbid, pink eye, which left untreated will spread to ALL of my children.

I can’t afford to ignore my own health issues any longer, either. I can’t afford the time it takes to fight for referrals, or wait the three months until there is an opening at the specialist, or wait the six months the MTF told me it would take to get my child a referral for a mental health evaluation.

My family is in crisis; I can’t afford to ignore red flags any longer.

What I CAN afford is the co-pay for TRICARE Standard.

We switched to Standard two weeks ago, and let me tell you what happened:

I got online, and found doctors within the network. I found and called the specialists we needed and made an appointment, no referrals needed. In a half hour, I was able to schedule four appointments with a pediatrician, one appointment with a family practice doctor, a neuropsych evaluation, and an appointment with a specialist I have been asking to see for the last year. All of the appointments were scheduled for the next two weeks.

When I walked into my appointment at the specialist, I met a physician who listened to my symptoms, and immediately scheduled further testing…for the next day. During that test, he discovered a problem that will need surgery very quickly. This diagnosis explains all the symptoms I had been complaining about to the doctors at the MTF and military emergency rooms for the past year. I believe I could have (and should have) had this surgery a year ago, if one of the Primary Care Manager (PCM) I saw at the MTF (because I never did see the same PCM twice) had given me the referral I had asked for, by name, again and again.

Two weeks is all it took for me to get every last person in my family the medical care they need and deserve.

So what will it cost me? Every last penny I will spend on our healthcare this year is worth it. For my family of six, I will pay a $300 deductible before the coverage kicks in. We have already paid this within the first two weeks–we needed a lot of testing, procedures, appointments, and prescriptions! After I pay that deductible, we will continue to pay co-pays up until we hit a $1000 dollar catastrophic cap. My family will likely hit that cap, due to the special needs and health issues we are dealing with. Once we hit that amount, I will pay nothing else, until the following year.

There were times my family could not have afforded to pay a thousand dollars a year for health insurance, and during those times, and I am grateful my husbands service earned us TRICARE Prime healthcare coverage.

3-9 Tricare Standard Pinterest PIN

I know I’m not alone with the decision to switch to TRICARE Standard because my family couldn’t get the care they needed, when they needed it. Remember Sequestration? Remember when MTF’s were closed for a number of days each week and no one could get care? My problems, and others’, isn’t the fault of the doctors and PCM’s, in most cases, it’s the policymakers who can fix this for military families. My family deserves the best care, no matter which plan we’re on. So does yours.

The National Military Family Association continues to fight for military families like yours and mine by asking Congress to end Sequestration and the unfair burden it puts on military families. And this year, NMFA is putting a heavy focus on TRICARE reform and the health proposals in the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

Right now, I can’t afford to NOT to pay the thousand dollars for my family’s healthcare. I am kicking myself for not transitioning to Standard sooner. I could have gotten my son the evaluations, help, and services he needed sooner. I could have received the preventative care I needed sooner. I could have saved myself so much stress and time spent waiting on referrals and prescriptions, and time spent sitting in the waiting room at the ER when appointments were unavailable at the MTF.

I could have saved so much, had I switched sooner.

Did your family switch from TRICARE Prime to TRICARE Standard? What would you tell Congress about your experience?

HeatherPosted by Heather Aliano, Social Media 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

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

Finding the Silver Lining: Military Family “Wins” in 2013

army-dad-with-babyOver the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the many ways that Washington is breaking faith with military families. Just in the last month, we learned that in 2014 the military will receive a pay increase of only 1 percent – the lowest such pay raise since the creation of the all-volunteer force. At the same time, we were told that cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases to military retiree pensions will be reduced starting in 2016. And just last week we learned the stateside commissaries may be eliminated in the next three years. These blows came at the end of a year in which military families watched as the programs and services they depend on were threatened by budget cuts. Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that military families feel that they are the big losers in Washington’s epic budget battles.

Fortunately, there were a few bright spots for military families in 2013. Both the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) included provisions to support military families and improve their quality of life.

As a parent, I was particularly pleased to see the NDAA provides a total of $30 million to assist public schools educating large numbers of military-connected children. Even better, the spending bill passed by Congress restored $65 million in Department of Education Impact Aid funds that had been cut by sequestration. These funds are used to compensate school districts for the loss of tax revenue due to the presence of a federal activity or federally connected students (like military kids). These two provisions mean public schools educating military children will receive much-needed financial support in 2014.

In 2013 some retiree families learned that they would no longer be eligible for TRICARE Prime because of the elimination of some TRICARE Prime Service Areas. This change struck many military family members as unfair and disruptive, and Congress agreed. The NDAA offers a one-time opportunity for those families to opt back in to TRICARE Prime. We have not yet received any information from TRICARE about how this policy will be implemented.

The NDAA recognized families of service members in Special Operations Command have unique needs that may not always be met by regular family support programs. To address these needs, Congress authorized $5 million to develop support programs dedicated to those families.

We were gratified to see Congress take on the issue of suicide among service members and military families in the NDAA. Our Association has long been concerned about suicides among military family members. We have heard reports the numbers may be increasing, but currently there is no data on the numbers, the causes, or how they can be prevented. We recommended Congress call for a study on this issue and were especially pleased to see this request included in the NDAA. The legislation also called for enhanced suicide prevention efforts for members of the reserve component.

Finally, we were pleased to see that the NDAA included provisions to care for wounded service members, their families and caregivers, and survivors. DoD was directed to improve assistance for Gold Star spouses and other family members in the days following the death of a service member. The legislation also aims to support wounded service members as they transition out of the military and seek civilian employment by providing additional information about disability-related employment and education protections in Transition Assistance Programs. Congress also directed DoD to provide service members’ medical records to the VA in an electronic format.

In 2014, our Association will continue to fight for programs and services that support service members and their families.

What issues are important for you and your military family? Let us know – and let your Members of Congress know too!
Click here to find contact information for your Representative or Senator.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

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!