Communications 2 from the bridge 3



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SHIPMATE FORUM




Long-Term Care Rip-Off


I recently attended a hearing hosted by the Maryland Insurance Administration, the topic being long-term care (LTC) insurance. Dozens of policy holders gave testimonies as to how their LTC policies were becoming impossible to afford. These people were being priced out of policies for which they’ve been paying for many years. The appeal of these policies was that by purchasing them at a relatively early age, a lower rate would apply. Possible future rate increases were downplayed in the sales pitch. Now the insurance companies are saying that people are living longer than expected and more policy holders are holding on to their policies than originally anticipated. As a result, policy payouts are higher than projected and the insurance companies’ investments did not meet expectations. Consequently, these companies have been steadily raising their rates at incredible levels to cover their losses. In other words, the policy holders are being forced to pay for the insurance companies’ mistakes.

I’ve had a policy since 1999 and, like others, I purchased it to try to lock in a lower rate for the insurance I might need in the future. Since then, the insurance company has raised the fees several times, with the amount only limited by our state insurance administration. They routinely request almost 40-percent increases, which fortunately have been limited to 15 percent. They then repeat the increase requests and admit that they will continue to do so indefinitely. My guess is that none of the insurance company employees responsible for their poor business predictions and investments have been financially penalized as much as the policy holders have. Were it not for the Maryland Insurance Administration, policy holders would have had to give up policies or see a reduction in benefits to a near useless level. This is actually what the insurance companies want us to do.

I urge anyone considering purchasing this type of insurance to consider investing what they would have paid and self-insure. You will probably do better than the insurance companies have done. I hope this can help some shipmates avoid a costly mistake.

E. S. Dashiell


Supporting Spouses of the Fallen


Thank you so much for your great work in helping support our armed forces. FRA Today is a publication I look forward to receiving each month.  The benefits of this organization are enormous. As you may know by my membership, I served with the Marine Corps in Vietnam and have been awarded the Purple Heart. I have a special place in my heart for wounded or fallen military men and women, and that’s the reason for this letter.

I drive for a shuttle service and, on a particular occasion, took a group of women that were survivors of fallen “Special Ops Heroes” to a dinner. In speaking with them, I realized these very strong and courageous women get together to offer as much support for one another as they can. Their funds are limited, as are many things today, but I was wondering if any groups within the various armed forces could offer any assistance to this group?

God bless our military and God Bless this country!

Tim Holliday

FRA Response: Thanks so much for sharing this with us, Shipmate!

FRA and the FRA Auxiliary have branches and units all over the world and our members may be able to assist on a local level by sponsoring events or offering manpower support.  If any shipmates or Auxiliary members want more information, they can visit http://specialopssurvivors.org/


Submissions Send Shipmate Forum letters to Editor, FRA Today, 125 N. West St. Alexandria, VA 22314. E-mail submissions may be sent to fratoday@fra.org. Please include “Shipmate Forum” in the subject line. FRA reserves the right to select and edit letters for publication. Letters published in Shipmate Forum reflect the opinions and views of FRA members. They do not necessarily reflect the official position of FRA as a whole. FRA is not responsible for the accuracy of letter content.


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ON & OFF CAPITOL HILL




More Devaluation of Military Service


Health care for military personnel and their dependents is currently provided through two sources: at military treatment facilities (MTF) and by referrals to civilian medical personnel. Civilian providers are primarily used in areas where military physicians are not available, specialty care is required or when the local MTF is overcrowded.

As far back as 1775, Congress established a “hospital” (technically a medical department) to care for the military. In 1818, a permanent medical department was established and in 1943, Congress authorized the Emergency Maternal and Infant Care Program (EMIC). The EMIC extended military health care for the wives and children of service members in the lower pay grades. In 1966, the Civilian Health and Medical Program for the Uniformed Services (CHAMPUS) was established, which was the forerunner to the current TRICARE program that was established in 1993.

Active duty members and their families currently do not pay enrollment fees, annual deductibles or copayments in the TRICARE network, but that may change soon. The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) version of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4909) proposes an annual enrollment fee for active duty personnel (and their dependents) who join the military on or after January 1, 2018. (See story below for more details on NDAA.)

This, along with last year’s reduction in retirement benefits for future service members, is part of an alarming, budget-driven trend to devalue benefits for active duty and the career military personnel. FRA will fight to preserve these earned benefits for the enlisted Sea Services. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (at http://action.fra.org/action-center/) to ask their legislators to oppose these new TRICARE fees.

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HASC Approves: 2017 NDAA with new TRICARE Fees

The House Armed Services Committee’s (HASC) version of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 4909) proposes substantial changes to the TRICARE program, particularly for those currently serving and their family members. FRA is thankful that the HASC did not include the Administration’s request for a TRICARE for Life (TFL) enrollment fee for new beneficiaries or FY 2017 TRICARE fee increases and large pharmacy co-pays for retirees under age 65.

The HASC members approved:

• Authorizing TRICARE Prime enrollment increase ($14 increase for individuals and $18 increase for families);

• Authorizing a new TRICARE fee ($150/year for individuals and $300/year for families) for active duty personnel who join the military after January 1, 2018;

• Authorizing a new enrollment fee ($100/year for individuals and $200/year for families) for TRICARE Standard starting in 2020, if the U.S. Comptroller General certifies quality-of-care improvements;



• Reorganizing TRICARE for military retirees under age 65 into two programs, Prime (HMO) and TRICARE Standard (which would include TRICARE Retired Reserve, TRICARE Reserve Select, TRICARE Young Adult);

• Rejecting the Administration’s request for FY 2017 TRICARE fee increases and large pharmacy co-pays for military retirees under age 65, and for a TRICARE for Life (TFL) enrollment fee for new beneficiaries;

• An active duty annual pay increase (2.1 percent) that keeps pace with civilian pay increases, which is larger than that requested by the Administration;

• Extending the expiration date from Oct. 1, 2017, to Oct. 1, 2018, for the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) for military widows/widowers, without any increase to the benefit;

• Providing a pilot program for select commissaries to offer variable pricing models and introduce private label products into the commissary system; and

• Revising the Uniformed Services Former Spouses Protection Act (USFSPA) to require awards to former spouses be based on a service member’s grade/years of service at the time of divorce, not at the time of retirement.

Unfortunately, no amendments were offered improving concurrent receipt. As FRA Today goes to press, the bill is being considered by the full House. The Senate will soon begin subcommittee and committee markup of its version of the FY 2017 NDAA. Once both chambers approve their respective versions of the bill, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two. The final bill will be voted on by both chambers and, if approved, it will be sent to the president to sign into law or veto.

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Veterans Issues

FRA Honors Congressman Tim Walz

For the past 20 years, FRA has presented its highest award to a member of Congress who goes above and beyond to advance FRA’s legislative agenda. FRA presented its prestigious, annual Pinnacle Award to Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz to honor his outstanding leadership in preserving and enhancing the quality of life for military personnel, retirees, veterans and their families.

As a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Walz has championed important legislation aimed at reducing military and veteran suicides, streamlining the process by which the VA receives medical information for disability claims and securing “veteran status” for members of the reserve component who do not currently qualify for that recognition. He also co-chairs the House Guard and Reserve Caucus and is chairman of the House Democratic VSO/MSO roundtable group that meets quarterly to discuss the concerns in the military and veteran arena.

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Subcommittee Hearing on Gulf War Illness

Two subcommittees (Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, and Oversight and Investigations) of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) recently held a joint hearing examining VA’s disability claims process for veterans afflicted with Gulf War Illness. VA’s own data reveals that at least 80 percent of claims for Gulf War Illness are denied. The data is specific to undiagnosed illnesses and chronic multi-symptom illnesses, both of which are presumed to be service-related conditions.

FRA continues its strong advocacy for a streamlined claims process and supports all initiatives that reduce the backlog of unresolved claims and appeals.

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White House Launches VA Employment Website

The Obama Administration recently launched a new website designed to help connect veterans with employers, called the Veterans Employment Center. The website is intended to consolidate and simplify government employment resources for veterans, while also giving employers a database of resumes for veterans and their spouses.

The program, hosted on the Department of Veterans Affairs website, is part of the Joining Forces initiative from First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Jill Biden. For more information visit www.vets.gov/employment/

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Subcommittee Reviews IT Program for VA Choice Program

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee (HVAC) Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee also held a hearing to scrutinize the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) implementation of improvements to its Information Technology (IT) related to the VA Choice Program. The committee heard directly from Dr. David Shulkin, VA Under-Secretary for Health, and Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology LaVerne H. Council on issues surrounding VA’s IT scheduling and community care provider claims processing system, as well as the new system that will support the consolidation of community care networks.

FRA supported the enacting legislation for the VA Choice program in 2014 and welcomes the subcommittee’s oversight hearing. FRA believes that the VA Choice program has merit, but it will require significant oversight by Congress to ensure its effectiveness.

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VA Technology Helps Identify Claims Errors

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it has identified claim processing errors for more than 14,000 veterans and survivors. The VA’s Beneficiary Fiduciary Field System has helped the department to recognize processing mistakes on veterans’ and survivors’ claims that were initially filed over the course of many years. The errors are related to cases in which VA had determined the beneficiary was unable to manage his or her VA benefits without assistance, due to disability or age, but no action was taken to transfer the claim for appointment of a fiduciary. The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has set up a team to immediately review the cases, notify beneficiaries, complete the claim processing steps and appoint a fiduciary as quickly as possible. For more information, members can call the VA fiduciary line 1-888-407-0144.



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FRA Storms Capitol Hill

Members of FRA’s National Board of Directors (NBOD) and other Association leaders brought the enlisted perspective to Capitol Hill in mid-April when they visited their respective elected officials in Washington, D.C. These shipmates shared the Association’s position on priority legislative issues with their senators and representatives, asking them to oppose the Administration’s call for drastically higher TRICARE Prime fees and co-pays, new enrollment fees for TRICARE Standard and new TRICARE-for-Life (TFL) beneficiaries.

FRA leaders asked lawmakers to pass legislation to reduce the disability claims backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and to extend disability benefits to “Blue Water” Vietnam veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide while serving off the coast of Vietnam. These shipmates also asked legislators to support concurrent receipt reform and repeal the Survivor Benefit Program (SBP) Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) offset for military widows and widowers. FRA wants to thank the shipmates who sent more than 3,000 advocacy messages to Capitol Hill in conjunction with the NBOD visits to Capitol Hill.

The issues enumerated above and other key issues are listed on the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center).

The FRA Legislative Team is National Executive Director Tom Snee, Director of Legislative Programs John Davis, Assistant Director of Legislative Programs Stephen Tassin and National Veterans Service Officer Chris Slawinski.
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