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Washington Update for week of 2/14/2018

TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



TREA: The Enlisted Association's Washington Update



VA Secretary Says Caregivers Program Can Save Money



Last week the Secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, David Shulkin, testified to the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee that a limited expansion of his department's caregivers stipend program could save the federal government around $2.5 billion annually by reducing nursing home and medical assistance costs.

Congress, however, seems worried about the upfront costs of the plan. These concerns made it seem like the Caregiver expansion might be dropped entirely from the VA healthcare legislation that is now working its way through Congress.

The program provides stipends of up to several thousands of dollars a month to the families of Post-9/11 veterans who require around-the-clock home care. This prevents them from needing care in facilities, which can cost multiples of in-home care provided by a family member.

Secretary Shulkin, along with veterans groups, have been pushing that the program should include other generations of veterans as well, especially as they age and require more expensive, supervised medical care.

Lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been supportive of the idea, but not necessarily the cost. Senate lawmakers have suggested a rolling expansion of the stipend program that the Congressional Budget Office says would require $3.4 billion in new funding over five years, money that would require offsets under House rules.

Shulkin supports expanding the program to only the most severely injured and incapacitated veterans, which would add around 40,000 new beneficiaries to the Caregivers program. All current participants are expected to be grandfathered in.

TREA: The Enlisted Association will keep you updated as more information becomes available.





Risk to Commissaries is Growing



For the last few years TREA has been warning that the commissary benefit is in danger of going away. 

Back in 2011 the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to combine all base exchanges and commissary operations everywhere into one for-profit retail business.  While that did not come to fruition it began the attacks on the commissaries by some key members of Congress who have complained about the taxpayer subsidy of the commissaries. 

Those attacks kept getting stronger until a couple of years ago when DeCA, the Defense Commissary Agency, was forced to take measures to change how commissaries are operated in an effort to try and save the benefit.

Some of those changes are now in place and DeCA is hopeful they will allow the taxpayer subsidy to be reduced.  However, DeCa has told Congress that it is not possible to eliminate the subsidy entirely and still save the benefit.

That's why a new report is so troubling.  According to military columnist Tom Philpott, commissary officials have said that on-base sales at commissaries fell six percent last year, which continues a trend that began in 2012.  Sales have dropped a total of 21.3 percent since then.

According to Philpott, "The worry is that falling sales leave commissaries open to criticism that they're losing relevancy as a military perk, or becoming too costly for taxpayers to support, given the fierce competition for customers from commercial grocers."

The fall in sales is ironic because surveys have shown the the benefit is the second most popular one after health care, according to Pentagon officials.

In addition to the benefit itself, commissary and exchange programs are a gift that keeps on giving to the military community- spinning off benefits far in excess of resources that are consumed-tens of thousands of jobs for family members; financing hundreds of millions of dollars in base infrastructure improvements; hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends that support MWR programs; and providing the support and financial base for services and programs for overseas and deployed forces.

DoD has set annual targets DeCA must hit to lower its appropriation from $1.4 billion in 2017 to $400 million by 2021. Military leaders have testified they want that that billion dollars in savings to applied to more critical readiness needs.

DeCA's target for 2018 is to lower reliance on appropriated dollars by $150 million but reaching that goal is likely to be very difficult.

TREA has been very active in the effort to save the commissaries and we will continue to do so. In the meantime, you can help by shopping at your commissary this week and this year and help stop the drop in sales.








No Request to Close More Bases/Posts in President's Budget



One of the unexpected surprises in President Trump's FY 2019 budget proposal is what it does not do. It does not call for closing more military facilities. It's surprising because a call for closing more bases and posts has been a regular part of presidential budget requests for the last several years.

For the first time in half a decade, the Pentagon isn't asking Congress to close some of the 22 percent excess infrastructure it is paying to keep open. DoD estimates it would save about $2 billion a year if it could conduct another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

Even though the budget calls for major increases in military spending in FY 2019, things will level off after that. So perhaps this is only a one-year lull and calls for more closings will reappear next year.

Whatever the case, Congress has not authorized another round of base/post closures since the last one in 2005.  And since most of the president's budget request is not likely to pass anyway, we can rest easy for a few months that no new closures will be coming anytime soon.





CAMP Lejeune Family Health and Disability Benefits



In 2012 Congress passed and President Obama signed to aid veterans and their family members who may have developed 15 medical conditions due to drinking contaminated water at Camp Lejeune N.C. It was discovered in the 1980s that several of the wells that provided drinking water contained trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), vinyl chloride, benzene and other volatile organic compounds. These compounds were mainly from on base leaking storage tanks and industrial activities and an off base dry cleaner.

Exposure to these compounds can, it is believed, contribute to many illnesses/ medical conditions. If a veteran, National Guard or Reserve member or their family members lived on Camp Lejeune or Marine Corps Air Station for at least 30 dyas (cumulative) between August 1st 1953 and December 31st 1987 are eligible  for healthcare and/or financial help for health care if the person has one of the following conditions:

Bladder Cancer
Breast Cancer
Esophageal Cancer
Female infertility
Hepatic steatosis
Kidney cancer
Lung cancer
Multiple myeloma
Myelodysplastic syndromes
Neurobehavioral effects
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Renal toxicity

Additionally, if a family member was exposed at the same time they can be reimbursed by the VA for any treatment costs after payment from the patient's other insurance policies. THIS IS A UNIQUE BENEFIT. The VA has never paid healthcare for non-veterans.
The veteran can also be found to have a presumption of service connection for the following 8 conditions and qualify for VA disability payments. (THE FAMILY MEMBERS ARE NOT ELIGIBLE FOR SERVICE CONNECTED DISABILITY PAYMENTS.)

These conditions are:

Adult leukemia
Aplastic anemia and other myelodysplastic syndromes
Bladder cancer
Kidney cancer
Liver cancer
Multiple myeloma
Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma
Parkinson's disease
To apply for the Ft. Lejeune health care go to or call 1-877-222-8387.

To apply for veterans disability compensation you can find a Veteran Service Officer by looking for VA facilities at and ask for assistance                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           


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