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Compiled by LTC Jim Wallace, USA (ret)
Vice President and Legislative Chairman

January 31, 2015

1. COLA UPDATE - The consumer price Index (CPI) fell 0.7 % in December 2014. over the first three months of FY 2015, and inflation was slowed down by 1.8%. This makes seven consecutive years (and ten of the past 12) that consumer prices fell the first quarter.

2. INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE ISSUES REPORT ON RESERVISTS' POSSIBLE EXPOSURE TO AGENT ORANGE - Air Force reservists working in aircraft that had been used to spray Agent Orange during the Vietnam War may have been exposed to the herbicide between 1972 and 1982, according to a report released by the IOM. Between 1,500 and 2,100 Air Force reservists trained and worked on the C-119 (Box Car) and C-123 planes and could have experienced health problems because of the exposure. Apparently, IOM has not considered Army airborne units' personnel who spent hours and hours in these aircraft. As a jumpmaster with 313 parachute jumps, of which 70% were as a jumpmaster, consideration should be given to the airborne personnel as well.

3. PENTAGON REPORTEDLY RESISTED CALLS TO ALERT TROOPS OF POSSIBLE TOXIN EXPOSURE - The Pentagon resisted calls for it to alert soldiers of possible toxin exposure at Fort McClellan, Alabama. The fort was closed because of contamination 15 years ago. An internet e-mail obtained by the Washington Times states: "The cost of attempting to identify all these individuals would be significant burden on the Army's budget." wrote Elizabeth King, the Pentagon's top liaison to Congress, in the 2013 e-mail.

4. VA IMPLEMENTS SECOND PHASE OF CHOICE CARD PROGRAM - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that it began mailing Veterans Choice Cards to Veterans currently waiting more than 30-days from their preferred date or the date that is medically determined by their physician for an appointment at a VA facility. Significant improvements have resulted nationally in the following categories:
     *Scheduling more than 1.2 million more appointments in the fourth quarter of 2014 compared to the same period of 2013. In total, VA medical centers have scheduled over 19 million Veteran appointments during this same period.
     *Reducing the national new patient Primary Care wait time by 18 percent.
     *Completing 98 percent of appointments within 30 days of the Veterans' preferred date, or the date determined to be medically necessary by a physician.
     *Authorizing 1.1 million non-VA care authorizations, a 47-percent increase over the same period last year.
     *Increasing the amount of time providers could deliver care to Veterans by increasing the amount of clinic hours in primary and specialty care and through adding weekend and evening clinics at the medical centers.
The Veterans' Administration indicated that they have reduced the back log of disability claims to roughly 245,000 veterans. That is a great improvement, however, far from being acceptable.

5. COMPENSATION PANEL COULD RELEASE FINDINGS PRIOR TO CARTER HEARINGS - Confirmation hearings on Ash Carter's nomination as Defense Secretary have been postponed until February as Carter recovers from back surgery. The delay means the hearings will likely take place after the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission issues its report on military pay and benefits.

6. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE STAFF LEVELS SWELL - A new report says that over the past decade, personnel numbers at the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) increased by 20 percent. The rapid growth in personnel is due to increased mission responsibilities, reliance on federal employees instead of contractors, and reorganizations. The OSD has been working on a personnel reduction since 2013, but some missions have understandably required the need for more personnel. For instance, ones on hot-button topics like cyber defense, suicide prevention, and sexual assault have led to a bloated civilian staff.

7. JOINT CHIEFS - END SEQUESTRATION NOW - In a familiar scene, the Joint Chiefs of Staff testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on January 28, 2015 imploring legislators to avoid and eventually repeal the across-the-board cuts of sequestration scheduled to return on October 1, 2015. Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ) captured the mood of the panel saying, "Warnings from our senior military and national security leaders have become frustratingly familiar, and yet , here we go again." Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh said," we are the smallest Air Force that we have ever been." Less than 50 percent of the force meets readiness requirements, and competition from the airlines could seriously degrade retention in the coming years." MOAA continues to call for Congress and the administration to rise above partisan politics to eliminate this serious threat to both service members and our national security.

8. COMMISSION SUGGESTS RADICAL REFORMS - On January 29, 2015, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) released its widely anticipated report on proposals to change military pay and benefits. The MCRMC suggests 15 total reforms to modernize military pay and benefits and generate budget savings for DOD and the VA. The proposals are bold and cold. If implemented, they would transform military pay and benefits. Below you will find what we know so far on the top proposals:
     * Military Retirement: At the top of list is replacing the current 20 year cliff-vesting military retirement system with a blended defined benefit and 401-K style retirement package. The proposal would be optional for the current force, and mandatory for new service entrants. Current retirees would not be affected by the recommended reform. The MCRMC recommendation would allow service members who don't reach the 20 year threshold to leave with a personal retirement account, but it would also create more uncertainty for the retirement benefits of those who serve a full career.
Key facets of the retirement proposal include:
     * Reduce the defined benefit modifier from 2.5 percent of base pay per year of service to 2 percent.
     * Increase flexibility in delivery of retirement annuities through monthly payments, lump sum payments, or a combination.
     * Automatic enrollment of all service members in the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) at a contribution of 3 percent of their base pay (service members can alter their contribution).
     * Services automatically contribute an amount equal to 1 percent of service members base pay into the TSP.
     * Matching service contributions up to 5 percent of base pay after two years of service.
     * Service members become fully vested in TSP after two years of service.

HEALTH CARE - Most controversially, MCRMC recommends eliminating TRICARE for military families and working age retirees and replacing it with a selection of commercial insurance plans similar to those available for federal civilian employees. The cost of the insurance would be subsidized.

MOAA and our partners in The Military Coalition are hard at work examining the impact of the recommendations, and will continue a dialog with the commission next week.

The program's monetary incentives and goals will focus more on chapter recruiting and retention, with chapters receiving $10 for every new chapter member they recruit. However, to receive the $10 incentive, each new chapter member also must be a member of national MOAA. Chapter leaders are encouraged to have new chapter members join national MOAA when recruiting.

Leaders who recruit paid national MOAA members (Premium or Life Members) at special events also will receive monetary incentives. Chapters that recruit a minimum of five new premium members will receive $100, while those that recruit a minimum of five new life members will receive $200 incentive. Personnel in the Council and Chapter Affairs Department will post the Chapter Recruiting 2015 materials to MOAA's website after January 1, 2015 . Chapter presidents will receive a hard copy of the recruiting materials, including new national MOAA membership applications, around the first of year 2015.

My thoughts-
1. Military Retirement - It will take more civilian employees at DOD to administer the above retirement system, and there would be a real risk to the service member if the stock market has a down fall.
2. Health Care - I have a feeling that we are looking at Obama Care for our service members and retirees. Since most service personnel and their families are in far better health in comparison to the present policyholders of the Affordable Health Care Act, the military would stabilize the health claims of Obama Care and this would transform into one federal health care program for all Americans to include the Medicare program for retirees.
3. With the release of proposals to reduce military pay and benefits by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), I am thankful these are only recommendations and are not legislative proposals. MCRMC recommended 15 total reforms affecting the following: Survivor Benefits, Consolidate the commissary and exchange systems, expand Space-A travel, Consolidate 30 Reserve component duty statuses into six, Create a four star joint command structure across the services. This all sounds like a tremendous increase to DOD civilian personnel staff, rather than a reduction. Thank goodness these are only recommendations and are not legislative proposals. How we can tell our legislative leaders of our total dissatisfaction is to bombard them by mailing the preprinted letters in the recent MOAA magazine. Our active troops and families need our help. Don't wait mail them TODAY!

QUOTE OF THE MONTH - "Anyone with so little perspective as to describe any level of needed care for our service members and their families suffering the terrible consequences of those decisions as a " burden to the system or the tax payer" needs some sense slapped into them" Colonel Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret), MOAA.

LTC Jim Wallace, USA(Ret)
Vice President and Legislative Chairman,
Alabama Council of Chapters of MOAA

Material compiled for this report is subject to copyright 2011 and 2012, Military Officers Association (MOAA), Military.com, RAO, DAV, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, VFW, and The Office of Senator Sessions, all rights are reserved. Except for MOAA affiliated organizations, it may not be used without written permission.