Wednesday, February 23, 2011

800,000th Reservist Deploys; Reserve Contribution Record High

ROA urges Congress to consider the contribution of the Reserve Components and the need to appropriately fund the total force as the military marks a significant milestone for Citizen Warriors in overseas contingency operations this week.

The Department of Defense announced it has mobilized over 800,000 Reservists since Sept. 11, 2001. Of this number, more than 250,000 people have deployed more than once.

“As troops withdraw from Iraq and the surge in Afghanistan wanes, we for the first time in years have less than 90,000 Reservists and Guardsmen from all services deployed around the world today,” said retired Maj. Gen. David Bockel, ROA’s Executive Director. “Yet noting the contributions of 800,000 Reserve and Guardsmen, we have clearly moved into an era where the Operational Reserve has become an integral and imperative part of the total force.”

This transition in use of the Reserve and Guard as an operational force multiplier brings with it the necessity to fund training and equipment for the Reserve Components at appropriate levels, particularly ensuring equipment is on par among all three components, and reset funding is available as units return from war.

ROA Current Issues: Operational Reserve

ROA urges Congress to consider the contribution of the Reserve Components and its serving members and the need to appropriately fund the total force in the continuing resolution and Fiscal Year 2012 budget as the military marks a significant milestone for Citizen Warriors in overseas contingency operations this week.

“The Congress has been generous with its National Guard and Reserve Equipment Appropriation in recent years allowing the Reserve to properly equip and reset itself,” said General Bockel. “Despite the tightening budgets, we recommend NGREA continue to be funded to ensure security readiness.”

ROA Current Issues: Equipment

ROA is also concerned by Reserve operational and equipping funding customarily obtained through supplemental funding.

“It is clear that the military cannot do its job without the Reserve Components today,” said General Bockel. “Reserve Components traditionally receive less than a proportionate share of funding to resource their equipment and training needs. Funding needs to be baselined to ensure the cost-saving contributions of the Reserve Components can continue as supplemental funding dries up.”

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ROA Concerned Over Failures to Protect Student Veterans Rights

The Reserve Officers Association has found a little-known public law protecting student veteran rights may be being ignored by financial institutions.

Since Aug. 14, 2008, federally guaranteed student loans have been subject to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act’s (SCRA) 6 percent interest rate cap upon mobilization. Students must request interest rate reductions upon mobilization. Those students unaware of this 2-year-old provision may be losing out on a significant benefit. Likewise, loan officers may not be aware of the relatively young law either.

Individuals calling into the Service Member’s Law Center, a service of ROA, recently have questioned loan officer statements that SCRA’s 6 percent interest rate reductions do not apply to student loans. Prior to 2008, Section 527 of SCRA did not protect students; however Public Law 110-315 changed that.

The purpose and effect of this 2008 amendment was to make the SCRA 6 percent interest rate cap applicable to student loans, just as it applies to credit cards, automobile loans, and other financial obligations.

“Given the niche of people this law affects, the Service Members Law Center still helps about ten people a month on the SCRA interest rate issue,” said Capt. Samuel Wright, a retired Navy lawyer and director of the Law Center.

The Service Members Law Center provides free information regarding laws on employment, voting rights and other legal issues primarily pertaining to the citizen warriors of the Reserve Components.

“This was a very important change,” said Wright. “For many National Guard and Reserve members, the student loan debt will be the most significant financial obligation for which the member will need relief upon call to active duty. We need to get the word out there to both students and banks to take advantage of this law.”

A complete copy of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act with all of its amendments and changes included as of the end of the 111th Congress can be found by visiting

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Discussions Held on Military Health Care Fee Increases

ROA was invited to a special briefing Monday for beneficiary associations on proposed changes to health care which coincided with the release of the President’s budget request for Fiscal Year 2012. The meeting followed comments previously made by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates about the high cost of military health care, with a promise of “modest” health care fee increases. The meeting was hosted by Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Clifford L. Stanley.

ROA Current Issues: TRICARE

The briefing proved what is being requested is indeed modest. TRICARE Prime fees proposed by the Pentagon would increase a family’s enrollment cost in FY-2012 from $460 to $520.  An individual on TRICARE Prime would change from $230 to $260. No fee changes would occur for TRICARE Standard or TRICARE for Life.

A further proposal would incentivize pharmacy co-payments with an increase in retail prescriptions by two to three dollars for each formulary tier. To encourage people to utilize mail order pharmacies for maintenance drugs, the generic co-payment would drop to zero dollars, and formulary brand names would remain at $9. The co-payment for non-formulary drugs bought through mail order would be $22. While retail only provides a 30 day supply, mail order provides a 90 day supply.

But reenrollment in TRICARE Prime would be more expensive in FY-2013 and continue to go up each year. The plan would index the enrollment fees to an external medical index. In its proposal DoD suggests that the project increase would be 6.2 percent per year using Medicare accrual projections. Associations were briefed that eight index options were being considered, among which were CPIM – the consumer index for medical costs, the Federal Employee Health Benefit Plan cost average, or Medicare Part “B” increase basis. ROA pointed out there are two TRICARE plans, TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) and TRICARE Retired Reserve (TRR), that are already indexed, and that all TRICARE plans should be on the same type of indexing.  DoD said they were open to input from the beneficiary associations on suggesting an index, but indicated that the COLA index would be insufficient.

The challenge facing ROA and other associations is finding a fair index that does necessarily align with national health care increases. Increased premiums for both TRS and TRR are based on cost increases for that population over the previous year.  Nationally, medical costs increases have been higher than cost of living and inflation rates by two to three times, often in the double digits. ROA has also pointed out that health costs need to be based on the military community risk pool as a whole, and it isn’t appropriate to isolate groups into separate demographics.  

ROA will be working on indexing options over the next couple of weeks. If ROA members have suggestions for an index, please let national headquarters know. DoD plans to have a follow-up meeting with the associations within a month. House Armed Services Committee testimonies are expected to be scheduled in mid-March.

Second meeting on military health care

Another meeting on military health care was held last week with the House Armed Services Committee’s majority staff director. While overall priorities were discussed during the two hour meeting, the latter part of the discussion focused on health care possibilities. (The Pentagon’s recommendations were still embargoed at this time.) It appears that House members are open to some military health care fee increase, and that they are interested in some type of mechanism or rule to govern annual increases in future years. The health care positions that ROA has taken since 2006 helped get ROA included in these early discussions.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Military Personnel Forced to Miss School Now Protected

In 2010, the Department of Education published regulations implementing the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.  The regulations, 5 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R) section 668.18, went into effect July 1, 2010.  The law is codified under 20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 1091c.  Until the regulations were made effective, each educational institution was expected to make a good faith effort to comply with the language of the statute. 

The law and regulations accord the postsecondary education student whose education was interrupted by voluntary or involuntary military service the right to readmission to the educational program. These new requirements apply to any educational institution that participates in title IV federal student financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and the Federal Work-Study Program. 

This applies to the student who is a member of the National Guard or Reserves and who is called to active duty involuntarily or volunteers for an extended period of active duty. It applies to the student who starts an educational program (often part-time) while on active duty and who then must interrupt the educational program because of a deployment or a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). It also applies to a student who interrupts his or her education to enlist in a regular component of the armed forces. Such a person is entitled, as a matter of federal law, to resume the educational program later, either during or after the person's active duty service.

Law Review 1052, by Commander Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, Navy (Retired), provides more detailed information on this subject and who to contact regarding its implementation.

An Active Couple Weeks for ROA on the Hill

Over the past couple weeks, ROA met with the staff of key congressmen to discuss several important issues.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

ROA discussed strategy for correcting early retirement this year. Among the approaches discussed was correcting the coverage back to Sept. 11, 2001. The challenge faced is the need to offset the CBO-recalculated cost of $1.2 billion over ten years.

ROA Current Issues: Reserve Retirement

Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa

ROA discussed tactics to ensure that the policy is changed to eliminate the Fiscal Year barrier. While in the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, the provision was a Sense of Congress, rather than an actual change to U.S. Code. Congress informed the Pentagon that it was incorrectly crediting early retirement, which provides a 90 day reduction in retirement age for pay for every 90 days served. If a 90 day period crossed over Oct. 1, credit was lost for that quarter. Latham is considering reintroducing the bill to change the language.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla.

Miller is the new chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. Items discussed were veteran status for Reserve Component members with 20 or more years of service, Reserve retirement, and earlier retirement.

ROA Current Issues: Veterans Affairs

"Visit the Hill" event

Lastly, ROA had a successful “Visit the Hill” event with 70 members from the National Convention taking time to deliver ROA position papers and the 2011 legislative agenda to congressional offices.  Many departments visited multiple offices. ROA is already being contacted by staffers who were visited to work on legislative issues.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Congressional Meeting about SCRA and USERRA

Director of the Service Members Law Center CAPT Sam Wright and ROA Legislative Assistant Elizabeth Cochran met with Rep. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) staff last week to discuss issues with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) and Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA).

While there were a few improvements provided in the 111th Congress, there are still problems surrounding SCRA and USERRA, some which stem from non-compliance. Additionally, there are needed improvements to the laws, as disability insurance and insurance for lost income are not covered.

During the last Congress Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) introduced the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act, which would have allowed service members to be away from their places of employment when attending a medical appointment or receiving treatment for a service-related condition. Unfortunately, the bill did not make it through the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. ROA strongly supports introducing another bill like the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act as well as allowing service members to have the legal right to reinstate insurance if it has been suspended or terminated.

ROA Learns More about Defense Efficiencies and Cuts

ROA’s legislative department attended the House Armed Services hearing last week about the Department of Defense’s (DOD) efficiency and savings measures.

Read the written testimony/watch the webcast

One issue discussed was the termination of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which DOD has no specific plan to replace.

When the panel’s service leaders were asked about health care problems, the Army and Navy said they lack enough behavioral health specialists, and the Marine Corps and Air Force said they need better post-deployment health care.

According to the Army, the announced end strength cuts are to make up for the 22,000 influx that was meant to be temporary, and the plan is to eventually get down to 547,000. The end strength cuts are supposed to be condition-based for what’s happening on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) highlighted the fact that there has been enormous pressure on the Reserve Components and end strength should not be cut. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.) spoke about how TRICARE is widely viewed by those joining the military as providing lifetime health benefits, and that it is a breach of trust to impose fee increases on them.

Other issues that the committee were concerned about included lack of communication and transparency from DOD, continued utilization of Service Life Extension programs of equipment, maintaining the capacity to respond to threats, and plans for the new Air Force bomber.