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Washington Update for 2/5/2018

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update

 

 

New Scandal Shows DoD Wasting Taxpayers' Money

 

 

Back in 2010 then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delcared that "Health care costs are eating the Defense Department alive." Leon Panetta said the same thing when he was Secretary of Defense a few years later.

In 2015 Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, "So over time, we're going to have to ask Tricare retirees to contribute more to make Tricare more sustainable."

Also in 2015, one publication wrote "Unsurprisingly, one of the most vocal cheerleaders of this effort to reduce benefits for American soldiers is Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) who stated that military personnel costs are 'one of our greatest challenges' and that 'we're going to have to make some tough decisions' soon.

Last year, Congress passed legislation that increased phamacy co-pays for all military retirees. It also restructured the Tricare health program and added new fees, as well as increased fees for those who use Tricare Prime.

Now, a new report by Politico, a Washington, D.C., newspaper and website, says that an audit has found more waste in the Defense Department.  According to the article, "the Defense Logistics Agency failed to properly document more than $800 million in construction projects, just one of a series of examples where it lacks a paper trail for millions of dollars in property and equipment. Across the board, its financial management is so weak that its leaders and oversight bodies have no reliable way to track the huge sums it's responsible for, the firm warned in its initial audit of the massive Pentagon purchasing agent."

TREA has argued for years that DoD needs to be audited because it wastes mountains of money.  Every year some new report comes out about wasteful Pentagon spending, this being only the most recent.

Yet many politicians, as well as Pentagon bean-counters, continue to insist that it's those of us who are military retirees who are the cause of unsustainable Pentagon spending.  This is outrageous and TREA will continue to fight to protect your military health care and fight to stop you from having to pay even more for your promised and earned military health care.

 

 

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The Coming of FEDVIP for Military Retirees and Active Duty Family Members

 

 

2018 is a year of big changes in TRICARE. Next year, 2019, will also present a large change. On January 1st 2019 (please note this is next year) the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (henceforth referred to as FEDVIP) will be available to some TRICARE beneficiaries.

This program, like the present TRICARE Retiree Dental Program is not funded by the federal government. The beneficiaries' premiums cover the full cost of the insurance. (This is also true for all civilian federal employees.) Presently 71% (1.5 million beneficiaries) of military retirees and family members eligible for the TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan (TRDP) while 600,000 (29%) of eligible beneficiaries are not enrolled.

The present FEDVIP program has 10 different dental carriers and 4 vision carriers:

Dental
Aetna Dental
Delta Dental
Dominion Dental
Emblem Health
FEP BlueDental
GEHA
Humana
MetLife
Triple-S Salud
United Concordia

 

Vision
Aetna Vision
FEP BlueVision
UnitedHealthcare Vision
VSP

 
The plans vary. Some have national and some have regional networks. Some have no maximum benefit for some dental plans - others do. Most do not have a waiting period for most dental services. The thing is they are different and you have the choice.
 
When you have a chance you should speak to your dentist (if you want to continue with him or her) and ask which plans they take, which they prefer and which is the best value.
 
Looking at the Vision plans they also vary. Some have no deductibles; some do; some have no limit on glass frames and/or contact lenses; others do. And some plans provide discounts for LASIK surgery. Again during 2018 you should study the various plans and see if you are interested and if you are which plan is best for you.
 
You can enroll in one or both plans. And Active Duty family members can enroll in the Vision plan.  (Active Duty family members have a dental plan that the federal government pays for 40% of the premiums.)

The most important thing for you to know is that if you wish to be covered in either plan you must affirmatively enroll in your selected plan during the FEDVIP's Open Season which will be November 12th to December 10th 2018.

There will be NO automatic transition for current TRDP enrollees to the new program.
 
After enrollment beneficiaries will only be able to enroll or change plans during the yearly Open Season unless you experience what is called "a Qualifying Life Event." Those include marriage, divorce, birth of a child etc.
 
This will seem strange to many of you but you have a year to get used to it. And FEDVIP provides more benefits than you currently have so it is definitely worth the trouble. As the program is rolled out we will write more about it- but in the meantime if you already have questions please call or email the Washington Office and ask for Deirdre Parke Holleman or write me at dholleman@treadc.org
 

 

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Tax Day is April 17th This Year

 

 

The Internal Revenue Service announced recently that the nation's 2018 tax season is underway and reminds taxpayers claiming certain tax credits that refunds won't be available before late February. The IRS will begin accepting tax returns on Jan. 29, with nearly 155 million individual tax returns expected to be filed in 2018. The nation's tax deadline will be April 17 this year - so taxpayers will have two additional days to file beyond April 15.

Although the IRS will begin accepting both electronic and paper tax returns Jan. 29, paper returns will begin processing later in mid-February as system updates continue. The IRS strongly encourages people to file their tax returns electronically for faster refunds. Choosing e-file and direct deposit for refunds remains the fastest and safest way to file an accurate income tax return and receive a refund. The IRS anticipates issuing more than nine out of 10 refunds in less than 21 days from the time returns are received.

A dozen brand-name Free File partners, acting through the Free File Alliance, offer their software free to eligible taxpayers. Each partner sets its own criteria, but any taxpayer earning $66,000 or less will find one or more software products available. Some providers offer both free federal and free state tax preparation, a seamless way to file taxes.

Active duty military personnel with incomes of $66,000 or less may use any Free File software product of their choice without regard to the criteria.

For taxpayers who earned more than $66,000, there are Free File Fillable Forms, which will be available Jan. 29. Free File Fillable Forms, provided by the Free File Alliance, is best for those taxpayers experienced in preparing returns by hand and with limited assistance.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) offer free tax help to people who qualify. VITA and TCE sites can be found using the VITA/TCE Locator and entering your ZIP Code or download the IRS2Go smartphone app to find a free tax prep provider.

Military OneSource is a Department of Defense-funded program that provides a range of free resources for Veterans and their immediate family up to 180 days after separation or retirement from the military.  MilTax, Military OneSource's tax services, provides online software for eligible individuals to electronically file a federal and up to three state returns for free through the Military OneSource website. The service also includes tax consultants available by phone to answer tax questions related to deployment, multi-state filing, combat pay, plus share information on military-specific and civilian tax deductions and credits.

Veterans may be eligible to claim a federal tax refund based on:

  • An increase in the Veteran's percentage of disability from VA (which may include a retroactive determination) or
  • The combat-disabled Veteran applying for, and being granted, Combat-Related Special Compensation, after an award for Concurrent Retirement and Disability.

Special tax considerations for disabled Veterans occasionally result in a need for amended returns.

Disability benefits received from the VA should not be included in your gross income. Some of the payments which are considered disability benefits include:

  • Disability compensation and pension payments for disabilities paid either to Veterans or their families,
  • Grants for homes designed for wheelchair living,
  • Grants for motor vehicles for Veterans who lost their sight or the use of their limbs, or
  • Benefits under a dependent-care assistance program.

If you are a military retiree and receive your disability benefits from the VA, see IRS Publication 525 for more information.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Office of Servicemember Affairs has a Financial Coaching Initiative, focusing on Veterans to help them with their financial goals. This program places certified financial coaches in organizations around the country to provide individualized financial support services. The program is managed through the Armed Forces Services Corporation (AFSC) at various locations for Veterans in the United States.

The phone number to talk to a financial coach is 1-844-90-GOALS. More information about this free program for Veterans can be found at the Financial Couching for Veterans website.

For more information about Veterans, please go to the "Information for Veterans" website on IRS.gov.

The IRS also reminds taxpayers that a trusted tax professional can provide helpful information and advice. Tips for choosing a return preparer and details about national tax professional groups are available on IRS.gov.

 

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New Features of the TRICARE Website

 

 

The TRICARE website is your first stop when you have questions about your benefit. It is now easier to take commmand of your health on the TRICARE website. Beyond the new look and feel of the website, new features and tools will now help you find what you're looking for quicker. Check out these improvements to the TRICARE website:

  1. Find Information Faster. Need to compare TRICARE plans, find a doctor or find a phone number? Three new search wizards on the home page have been optimized to make sure you'll answer fewer questions and get to your results faster. Use the Find a TRICARE PlanFind a Doctor and Find a Phone Number tools to see what plans you qualify for, locate a nearby provider or get contact information.
     
  2. Understand Your Benefit. TRICARE is changing, so the TRICARE website is better organized to help you quickly understand your benefit. Use the TRICARE website to know what's covered or what a qualifying life event is. Need to submit a claim or file a form? You'll find "Forms and Claims" in the top navigation bar.
     
  3. Access TRICARE On-the-Go. According to Pew Research Center, half of smartphone users use their phone to look up health information, and 62 percent used their smartphone to look up a health condition. With that in mind, the TRICARE website has been improved for viewing on mobile devices.

Now is the perfect time to tackle that to-do list: schedule your next appointmentchange your primary care managerreview costs and much more. Take command of your health and your health care in 2018 at https://tricare.mil/
 

 

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TREA Supports H.R. 4403, The Moving Americans Privacy Protection Act

 

 

The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) requires manifest documents for any shipments into and out of the United States. Under current law CBP can make this information publicly available and sells it to third-party data brokers for a fee. The vast majority of manifest information contains commercial trade information and is used to produce statistical information regarding cargo shipments in and out of the United States.

However, when individuals move household goods internationally, the manifest information disclosed by CBP includes Personally Identifiable Information (PII). When this occurs, personal information can become available online or deliberately stolen, subjecting those individuals to identity theft, credit card fraud and unwanted advertising solicitations. While this affects all Americans moving overseas, service members and foreign service officers are the main victims, especially so with the frequency in which they are ordered to move overseas. This is not only an issue about identity theft, but a national security issue as well considering how many of our servicemembers' Personally Identifiable Information is being revealed through this process.

 HR 4403, the Moving Americans Privacy Protection Act, addresses this major security breach at CBP by preventing them from selling any lists that have not had Personally Identifiable Information scrubbed from them.

TREA: The Enlisted Association supports this common-sense, straightforward legislation that would make the lives of our service men and women, as well as our Foreign Service Officers, more safe and secure.

 

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The Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Partner With the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to Focus on Reducing Suicide

 

 

On Jan. 30, at its annual Chapter Leadership Conference, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention announced a milestone partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  The three organizations have been champions for service member and veteran suicide prevention for many years, but this announcement marks the first time they are joining together to reduce service member and veteran suicide.

"As the nation's largest suicide prevention organization, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is proud to announce two new partners in the fight to prevent suicide - DOD and VA," said Bob Gebbia, AFSP CEO.  "We know from research that suicide is a national public health issue that impacts all Americans, including our service members and Veterans.  By having the DOD and the VA involved, we can make it a top priority to reach the men and women who serve, and have served, our country."

"VA and DOD have endorsed AFSP's goal of reducing the national suicide rate 20 percent by the year 2025 and will not stop in our efforts to work towards eliminating suicide among our service members and veterans," said Dr. Keita Franklin, acting national director of suicide prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs.  "Suicide is a national public health issue that impacts people of all ages, and prevention requires the cooperation and commitment of communities across the nation.  Reducing veteran suicide is VA's highest clinical priority, and this partnership is a momentous step in advancing our work."

Formalizing this partnership allows AFSP, DOD and VA to mobilize their respective nationwide networks of staff and volunteers towards a shared goal of reducing service member and veteran suicide.  This partnership is a powerful example of the public health approach to suicide prevention in action, allowing all three organizations to reach service members and veterans where they are.  The partnership will also enhance the ability of AFSP, DOD and VA to share evidence-based best practices and strategies to prevent suicide, helping advance the entire field of suicide prevention.

"Ensuring consistency throughout our communities - that our service members and veterans have access to resources before, while, and after wearing the uniform, and that the transition is seamless - is vital to our collective goal of reducing suicide," said George Parisi, acting director, Defense Suicide Prevention Office, Department of Defense. "Partnering with AFSP and VA is key to ensuring service members, veterans, and their families receive the support they need."

"Suicide impacts people of all walks of life, regardless of whether or not they've served in the military." said Franklin.  "There is no wrong door to treatment, whether that's with VA or another provider. Our responsibility is to equip communities to help service members and veterans get the right care for them, whenever and wherever they need it."

If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, support is available 24/7.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available to anyone by calling 1-800-273-8255.  Service members, veterans, and their loved ones can call the Military and Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net, or text to 838255.

About the Defense Suicide Prevention Office

Established in 2011, DSPO serves as the government oversight authority for the strategic development, implementation, centralization, standardization, communication and evaluation of the DOD suicide and risk reduction programs, policies and surveillance activities to reduce the impact of suicide on service members and their families.

Service members and their families in crisis should seek help immediately by contacting the 24/7 Military Crisis Line by phone at 800-273-8255 (press 1 for military), online chat (www.militarycrisisline.net), or text (838255).  The DOD BeThere Peer Support Call and Outreach Center offers non-crisis peer support and is available a  www.betherepeersupport.org, 844-357-PEER (7337), or text (480) 360-6188.

 

 

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