From: Director, RAO Baguio [raoemo@sbcglobal.net]

Sent: Friday, June 30, 2006 10:59 PM

Subject: RAO Bulletin Update 1 July 2006

 

RAO Bulletin Update

1 July 2006

 

 

THIS BULLETIN UPDATE CONTAINS THE FOLLOWING ARTICLES:

 

== VA Data Privacy Breach [12] ------------- (Long term situation)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [13] --------------(Another revelation)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [14] ------------- (Vet compensation)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [15] ------------- (Cost to VA)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [16] ------------- (Free credit monitoring)

== VA Data Privacy Breach [17] ------------- (Who’s at fault)

== NDAA 2007 [05] ---------------------------  (White House concerns)

== NDAA 2007 [06] ---------------------------  (Highlights)

== NDAA 2007 [07] ---------------------------  (Conference committee)

== Army Enlistment Age [01] ---------------- (Raised to 42)

== Phony War Heroes -------------------------- ($100,000 fine)

== VA Gravesite Locator [02] ---------------- (Online site maps)

== Tricare Data Breach (TriWest) [01] ------ (Current(Status)

== DACMC [02] -------------------------------- (Sweeping changes)

== Military Discounts -------------------------- (July 4th offers))

== Flag Legislation ----------------------------  (No ban on burning)

== VA AFGE Suit ------------------------------ (Physician pay dispute)

== Tricare Uniform Formulary [12] ---------- (Jun/Jul changes)

== Navy Personal Data Breach ---------------- (When will it stop)

== AF Retiree Council ------------------------- (Recommendations)

== ID Card Numbers [01] --------------------- (SSN removal)

== COLA 2007 Update 03 -------------------- (2.9% May increase)

== VA Phishing Alert -------------------------- (Another scam)

== Tricare User Fees [14] --------------------- (DoD still wants)

== Government Data Protection -------------- (What to do)

== SGLI [06] ------------------------------------ (Premium changes)

== VA Mental Health Care -------------------- (Availability questioned)

== VA SAH [02] -------------------------------- (Increased benefits)

== Veterans’ Preference [04] ------------------ (Post 911 )

== Military Legislation Status ---------------- (Where we stand)

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 12: Government auditors on 14 JUN told a congressional panel that long-standing weaknesses in the Veterans Affairs Department's information security systems were responsible for a massive data breach last month and its systems remain at risk.  Since fiscal 1997, the VA's Inspector General Office has cited weak information security controls at the department. Both the IG and Government Accountability Office officials testified at the House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing that the department has failed repeatedly to fully implement recommendations for improvement.  Michael Staley, VA assistant inspector general for auditing, told lawmakers that his office will be issuing a report in July regarding the scope of the early May incident. Previously, he said, individual IT centers within the department focused on resolving IG suggestions, but those recommendations were never implemented department-wide. GAO, the IG office, and former administration officials have long recommended that the VA pursue a more centralized approach to managing technology, a suggestion that has been a source of contention on Capitol Hill and within the department. The department's federated IT management model, adopted last year, gives the chief information officer line-item budget control, but critics, including House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Steve Buyer (R-IN) argue that the department needs to move toward a centralized model.

 

     Linda Koontz, GAO's director of information management issues, said in her testimony that the department's CIO needs veto authority over department procedures that just don't make sense. Buyer said Congress may need to strengthen the enforcement side of the law governing federal computer security (the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act) because there are no consequences for noncompliance. "This is not something that can be quickly fixed," Buyer said. "The VA's internal controls have been grossly inadequate for a number of years." Last week, VA Secretary James Nicholson told reporters that the incident was a result of one person, by being careless, violating our procedures. Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) who has previously called for Nicholson’s resignation because of the  incident  said the agency's response to the data breach has been pathetic and the incident has become the Katrina of the Veterans Administration. 

 

     The Defense Department will inform servicemembers who could be affected by the May theft of personal data from the VA through their monthly pay statements. DoD is in the middle of an analysis to determine exactly how many active-duty, Reserve and National Guard servicemembers could be affected by the data loss. When the analysis is completed the Defense Finance and Accounting Service will inform servicemembers who are determined to be vulnerable by putting a note on the bottom of their monthly leave and earnings statements along with phone numbers and website that will provide more information on identity theft and what troops can do to protect themselves.  Note:  The corrected Air Force Personnel Center Web site addee where all active duty, Guard and Reserve Airmen can check to see if their data was compromised is https://www.afpc.randolph.af.mil/checker/.  [Source: www.firstgov.gov/veteransinfo.shtml 13 Jun & GOVEXEC.com 15 JUN 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 13:  Troubling audit results have prompted the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to consider awarding an agency wide contract for transcribing medical records.  A report released earlier this week by the VA Department's inspector general revealed that a transcription subcontractor in India threatened to release the medical records of 30,000 veterans over the Internet in 2005, amid a dispute over payments.  The report came on the heels of a department data breach last month that compromised the personal information, including Social Security numbers, of 26.5 million people.  Jonathan Perlin, VHA health undersecretary, concurred with the IG findings and recommendations, and said standardizing contracts for transcription could help protect patient medical information.  A report on the feasibility of a nationwide transcription contract and rollout of speech-recognition technologies is expected from the agency's Prosthetics and Clinical Logistics Office 1 OCT.  A VA spokesman said the agency is using speech-recognition technology more often to enter text summaries into patients' electronic health records.  Perlin said the department also has inserted language into its business agreements forbidding the transfer of veterans' health information outside the United States, and is providing additional training to improve oversight of contractors.

 

     The medical records incident came to light when, beginning 23 FEB 05 the subcontractor sent the IG's Hotline Division e-mails claiming that a U.S.-based contractor failed to pay more than $28,000 for transcribing medical records. The subcontractor threatened to release data from five VHA facilities onto the Internet if it didn't receive payment.  The IG report which can be viewed at www.va.gov/oig/52/reports/2006/VAOIG-04-00018-155.pdf  did not give the name of the contractor, the subcontractor or the VHA facilities involved.   A VA spokesman said the contractor provided the medical information to the subcontractor without the agency's knowledge or approval. Aggressive action was taken to ensure that the contractor paid the subcontractor and that the records were destroyed.  But the IG report stated that there was no way of validating that the patient records were actually destroyed, or of knowing whether other offshore subcontractors or individuals possessed such records.

 

     The VHA held 147 medical transcription contracts with 43 companies, worth a total of $30 million, in fiscal 2004, according to the report. That year, the agency spent another $16 million on salaries for in-house transcription-related jobs.  The IG estimated that $6.2 million could be saved if VHA facilities uniformly negotiated for transcription services at the lowest rate currently paid for the various contracts.

The report also found that 113 out of 129 VA facilities surveyed failed to remove patients' personal identifiers before allowing contractors to access the information and 82 contracts did not limit access to VHA data at contractor facilities.  Seventy contracts lacked requirements that the transcription services take place in the United States, and 45 failed to specify requirements for erasing VHA data from contractor computers.  The incident has raised the ire of several members of Congress concerned about the agency's lack of controls of sensitive data after last month’s massive breach involving the theft of personal information on many of the nation's veterans and military service members from the home of a VA employee. Rep. John Salazar (D-CO) with the support of 45 co-sponsors, has introduced legislation H.R.5588 that would require VA to implement stronger data security procedures and to provide identity theft services to veterans whose personal information is at risk because of last month's breach.  [Source:  GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 16 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 14:   The House Judiciary Committee took a step on 21 JUN toward compensating veterans who might be victims of identity theft because of the loss of millions of Veterans Affairs Department personnel records. On a voice vote, the committee approved the legislation, clearing the way for likely House approval An Office of Veterans Identity Protection Claims would be established to process claims of veterans who might have their identities stolen by thieves who steal money or run up credit card bills.  Democrats complained the legislation was not strong enough. It is a "half-hearted way" to address the problem, said Judiciary ranking member John Conyers (D-MI). He said the bill tells 26.5 million veterans to deal with the problem themselves. The bill sets up a system of filing claims that might require hiring an attorney.

 

     A Conyers substitute that would require the VA to provide numerous services, including credit monitoring and fraud alerts, was ruled out of order by Judiciary Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) on grounds it interfered with the jurisdiction of the House Financial Affairs Committee.  A Conyers amendment to raise the maximum attorneys' fees under the bill from 10% of the paid claim to 25% failed on a 19-13 roll call. Democrats argued 10% t was too low to attract lawyers.  An amendment by Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) for a $2 million per year authorization for five years for a Justice Department probe of the computer file theft was accepted on a voice vote.  A Scott amendment also was adopted by voice vote to extend the time for a veteran to file a claim to two years from the time a problem is identified.  [Source: GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 22 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 15:  The Veterans Affairs Department is burning through $200,000 a day to operate a call center for veterans and active-duty service members seeking information on last month's data breach.  As of 20 JUN in addition to the more than $7 million spent operating the call center since the department announced the breach, a mailing to 17.5 million veterans cost the department about $1 million for printing and another $6 million-plus for postage.  VA freed up the money by reprogramming funds with the consent of the House and Senate appropriations committees.  The department contracted out the call center through the General Services Administration.   Scripted responses to anticipated questions were written for the call centers and a VBA employee has been assigned to provide assistance at each center.  While VA concluded that the May 3 incident compromised personal information for 26.5 million people, only 17.5 million records contained complete, accurate data. About 7 million records lacked Social Security numbers, making it impossible for the agency to track addresses for those veterans. In some other cases, people were deceased.

 

     VA has prepared to shift up to $25 million of its fiscal 2006 funding to handle the initial expenses linked to the theft.  VA officials told lawmakers that they would not speculate on whether fiscal 2007 funds would be tapped to handle the ongoing response.  The White House is preparing to formally ask Congress for $160 million -- with offsets -- to fund the VA’s response.  The supplemental request is expected to cover the costs of one year of free credit monitoring for affected veterans.  Steps taken to date by VBA to improve data securities are:

 

-  A list has been compiled of all VBA databases holding sensitive information and a workgroup will provide recommendations for improving the protection of that data.

-  All telework has been suspended and the agency has been considering various ways of protecting sensitive data that is moved from the office to an alternative worksite, often an employee's home.

-  New encryption technology has been purchased for all agency laptop computers

-  Consideration of increasing the use of network servers for accessing information to reduce the amount of information employees store locally their computers.

-  Discussion on changing its reliance on Social Security numbers as unique identifiers.  However,  that might not be a workable solution since the Defense Department and other agencies also use Social Security numbers for that purpose and VA interacts with those agencies.

 

Michael Staley, VA assistant inspector general for auditing, told lawmakers that even if all IG recommendations were followed, he could not say for sure that the data breach would have been averted.

A draft report on the agency's fiscal 2005 Federal Information Security Management Act audit from the IG office includes 17 recommendations for improving information security practices, including encrypting sensitive information on the agency's networks and setting policies on employee background checks.

Also testifying before the subcommittees was the director of information security issues at the Government Accountability Office, Gregory Wilshusen, who said while VA's initial steps appeared to be helpful in addressing information security weaknesses, they are not in themselves sufficient to establish a comprehensive information security program. The true test will be whether the VA can implement the policies over the long-term.  In related news, Sens. George Allen (R-VA) & Larry Craig (R-ID) & Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) introduced an amendment to the fiscal 2007 Defense Authorization bill S.2766 19 JUN that would require VA to contract with a private sector firm to provide credit monitoring and data theft protection services to veterans and armed service members.  [Source: GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 21 & 26 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 16:  Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson announced 21 JUN that VA will provide one year of free credit monitoring to people whose sensitive personal information may have been stolen in the 3 MAY incident. The service will be offered to 17.5 million veterans only since the remainder of the 26.5 million are deceased or did not have Social Security numbers or addresses compromised. VA staff said sending the letters to 17.5 million veterans, once a contractor is hired, would cost about $7 million, as that was the cost to print and mail the initial letters to veterans confirming news reports of the security breach. VA has conducted extensive market research on available credit monitoring solutions, and has been working to determine how VA can best serve those whose information was stolen.  He noted that free credit monitoring will help safeguard those who may be affected, and will provide them with the peace of mind they deserve.  The Secretary said VA has no reason to believe the perpetrators who committed this burglary were targeting the data, and Federal investigators believe that it is unlikely that identity theft has resulted from the data theft.  This week, VA will solicit bids from qualified companies to provide a comprehensive credit monitoring solution.  VA will ask these companies to provide expedited proposals and to be prepared to implement them rapidly once they are under contract.

 

     After VA hires a credit monitoring company, the Department will send a detailed letter to all those whose sensitive personal information may have been included in the stolen data.  This letter will explain credit monitoring and how eligible people can enroll or "opt-in" for the services.  Individual who choose to sign up for the credit monitoring service, including the insurance, will not be asked or required to relinquish any legal claim that he or she might have against VA in order to receive the credit monitoring and insurance that VA will offer. The Department expects to have the services in place and the letters mailed by mid-August. He also announced VA is soliciting bids to hire a company that provides data-breach analysis, which will look for possible misuse of the stolen VA data.  The analysis would help measure the risk of the data loss, identify suspicious misuse of identity information and expedite full assistance to affected people.  As part of VA's efforts to prevent such an incident from happening again, the Secretary previously announced:

*  A series of personnel changes in the Office of Policy and Planning, where the breach occurred;

*  The hiring of former Maricopa County (Ariz.) prosecutor Richard Romley as a Special Advisor for Information Security;

*  The expedited completion of Cyber Security Awareness Training and Privacy Awareness Training for all VA employees;

*  That an inventory be taken of all positions requiring access to sensitive VA data by 30 JUN 06 to ensure that only those employees who need such access to do their jobs have it;

*  That every laptop in VA undergoes a security review to ensure that all security and virus software is current, including the immediate removal of any unauthorized information or software;

*  That VA facilities across the country - every hospital, Community-Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC), regional office, national cemetery, field office and VA's Central Office - observe Security Awareness Week beginning June 26.

 

     The VA has learned the hard way that the cost of not securing sensitive personal information is clearly very high.  It's not just in terms of monetary costs, but reputation and the overall drag it has on the confidence people and businesses have on the Internet, computers and our digital society. Gartner, a security research firm, has estimated the average cost of a data breach at $90 per person. You can encrypt information far more cheaply than what is now under way at the VA.  Avivah Litan recently told the House Veterans Affairs Committee that a company's cost to encrypt 10,000 accounts would be as little as $6 per customer. Congress really has an opportunity now to put in a national standard for securing personal information. They have been staring at several bills for more than a year and the VA incident may be just the motivator to put one in place. The bills include S. 1326, S. 1408, S. 1789, H.R. 3997, H.R. 4127 and H.R. 5318. 

 

     In the interim a class action lawsuit against the VA is blocking the implementation of a security directive requiring review of all agency laptop computers to ensure that virus software is updated and appropriate encryption programs are installed. The temporary restraining order from the Federal District Court of Eastern Kentucky issued 23 JUN as part of the lawsuit prevents VA also bars the department from publicizing its free credit-monitoring offer to veterans whose personal data was stolen.  [Source: VA News Release 21 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA DATA PRIVACY BREACH UPDATE 17:  On 29 JUN it was announced that the stolen laptop and external, hard drive containing personal data on 26.5 million vets had been recovered. A preliminary review of the equipment by FBI computer forensic teams determined that the database remains intact and has not been accessed since it was stolen. A thorough forensic examination is underway, and the results will be shared as soon as possible. House VA Committee Chairman Steve Buyer stated he has been made aware of two other incidents of stolen VA data, one in Minneapolis in 2005 and one in May of this year in Indianapolis. During further questioning from committee members later in the hearing, Nicholson revealed that VA had compiled a ten page list of additional breeches of computer data security.  The acting top Democrat on the House Veterans' Affairs Committee Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) holding hearings on the theft said, “From the start, the VA has acted as if the theft was a PR problem that had to be managed, not fully confronted. They're trying to pin it on this one guy, but I think it is other people we need to be looking at.” Now, newly discovered documents show that the VA analyst blamed for losing the laptop had received permission to work from home with data that included millions of Social Security numbers and other personal information on veterans and military personnel.

 

     The department said last month it was in the process of firing this data analyst, who is now challenging the dismissal. VA officials have said the firing was justified because the analyst violated department procedure by taking the data home. They also said he was grossly negligent in handling sensitive information. However, the documents obtained by The Associated Press show that the data analyst had approval as early as 5 SEP 02 to use special software at home that was designed to manipulate large amounts of data. A separate agreement, dated 5 FEB 02 from the office of the assistant secretary for policy and planning, allowed the worker to access Social Security numbers for millions of veterans. A third document, also issued in 2002, gave the analyst permission to take a laptop computer and accessories for work outside of the VA building.  One of the documents noted that this data was protected under the Privacy Act. The analyst referred to is the lead programmer within the Policy Analysis Service and as such needed access to real Social Security numbers.

 

      Rep. Filner noted that the employee had informed supervisors of the theft immediately after the crime, while supervisors waited nearly three weeks to inform the public on 22 MAY. VA Secretary Nicholson himself was not informed until May 16. "The gross negligence in this case is the people above him," said Filner. On 29 JUN the chief information security officer for the VA Department Pedro Cadenas submitted his resignation. Cadenas, who has been involved with the forensic investigation of the data breach from the start, tried to resign two weeks ago but was talked out of it at the time by the VA. Veterans groups and lawmakers from both parties have criticized the VA for the theft and noted years of warnings by auditors that information security was lax. Some veterans also have filed suit in federal court, seeking $1,000 in damages -- or up to $26.5 billion total -- for privacy violations.  [Source: VVA Government Relations Department 29 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

NDAA 2007 UPDATE 05:  As the Senate began floor debate on the Defense Authorization Bill in mid-JUN, the White House sent Senate leaders a Statement of Administration Policy peppered with objections to benefit fixes put in the bill by the Armed Services Committee.  The June 14 statement applauded the Committee's action in supporting a 2.2% across-the-board active duty pay raise (a half-percent less than the House-passed 2.7%).  But it expressed disappointment and opposition to several initiatives endorsed by the Committee, including:

* Barring most of the DoD-proposed TRICARE fee increases for retirees under age 65. Not allowing these changes to proceed will result in at least $735 million in unbudgeted costs in FY 2007, and $11.2 billion from FY 2007 through FY 2011.

* Capping premium increases for Selected Reserve health coverage at the same percentage as the military pay raise;

* Repealing the requirement to deduct VA survivor benefits from Survivor Benefit Plan annuities when the member's death was caused by military service. DoD estimates that eliminating the SBP offset for all widows entitled to DIC would cost the Military Retirement Fund between $6 and $8 billion over 10 years. This is strongly opposed because the administration rationalizes the current offset approved by Congress avoids duplication of two fully funded Federal Government benefits and is consistent with benefits provided in the private sector. The current compensation package for survivors—which includes SBP, DIC, an enhanced death gratuity, and increased life insurance benefits—provides a reasonable level of income.

* Increasing minimum manpower levels for the Army and Marine Corps.

 

     On the positive side the letter also expressed concern that the Armed Services Committee neglected to adopt a Pentagon recommendation to prohibit courts from forcing divorced servicemembers to pay their former spouses a share of their theoretical retired pay while still on active duty -- before they actually retire from service.  Congress should clarify the law to protect such members, many of whom are, in effect, blocked by the courts from serving beyond the 20-year point.  You can view the full text of the Administration statement at  www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/109-2/s2766sap-s.pdf.  [Source: MOAA Leg Up 16 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

NDAA 2007 UPDATE 06:  When the Senate’s version of the FY2007 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 2766) came to the floor for debate they quickly adopted several groups of amendments that Senate leaders had agreed to approve without debate. A number of them involve huge issues for many of the military community.  Some selected highlights of the amendments adopted which now are included in the Senate’s version of the NDAA are:

 

*  Concurrent Receipt:  Sen. Harry Reid’s (D-NV) amendment would implement full concurrent receipt for the 20,000 retirees deemed 100% disabled with IU, retroactive to 1 JAN 05. Another amendment addressing concurrent receipt for retirees retired with less than 20 years service was not approved.

*  Guard/Reserve Retirement Age:  Sen. Saxby Chambliss’s (R-GA) amendment would reduce the normal age-60 requirement by three months for each 90 days mobilized since 9/11.

*  Guard/Reserve GI Bill:  Sen. Blanche Lincoln’s (D-AR) amendment would allow Guard/Reserve members to use their mobilization GI Bill benefits for up to 10 years after leaving Selected Reserve status.

*  Abusive Lending Practices:  Sen. James Talent's (R-MO) amendment would significantly tighten laws governing so-called "payday lenders," who now entice servicemembers into loan schemes involving 300-400% interest rates.

*  SSAN on ID Cards:  Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-TX) amendment would require a Pentagon report on the feasibility of removing Social Security account numbers from military ID cards.

*  Family Assistance Program:  Sen. Wayne Allard's (R-CO) amendment would authorize $5 million for a new program to coordinate assistance for military families at selected sites around the country.

*  Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP):  Sen. Mike DeWine's (R-OH) amendment would expand eligibility of survivors (whose sponsors died in active service after Oct. 1, 2001) to transfer SBP eligibility to children, if any.

*  Guard/Reserve Transition Assistance:  Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) amendment would establish various requirements to assist Guard and Reserve members who served in Iraq or Afghanistan in successfully transitioning to civilian employment, with particular emphasis on those who suffered traumatic injuries.

[Source: MOAA Leg Up 23 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

NDAA 2007 UPDATE 07:  Now that both the House and Senate have passed their respective versions of the FY2007 Defense Authorization Bills early in the year, the two chambers’ leaders can start negotiating to resolve their differences to come up with a final, compromise defense authorization act. Last year, when the Senate started so far behind the power curve, many issues got dropped in final negotiations (at least in part) because the legislators just ran out of time at the end of the year.  An early start on negotiations doesn't necessarily mean House and Senate leaders will reach a deal before the 1 OCT start of the new fiscal year.  In four of the last six years, the defense bill didn't get finished until December.  In the other two years, it was 24 NOV and 28 OCT.  So chances are we won't have final decisions on the issues for many months.  But an earlier start this (election) year means that, just maybe, there’s a shot at more timely action.

 

     In the interim Congress has moved on to other issues before their AUG recess.  Both the House and the Senate failed to include anything on the following:

-  188,000 Chapter 61 medical disability retired military career veterans with less than 20 years who fund their disabilities pay with their earned longevity for retirement.

-  375,000 retired military career veterans with less than 50% disability who continue to fund their disabilities with their earned retirement pay.

 

When congress returns from recess the following key issues will have to be resolved before the bills can be returned to their respective floors for a final approval vote:

-  Concurrent receipt:  The only issue still left on the table this year is the Senate provision recommending full payment, retroactive to 1 JAN 05 for the 20,000 disabled retirees designated by the VA as unemployable.  There’s nothing on this in the House bill.

-  Paid-Up SBP:  The Senate defense bill would implement 30-year paid-up SBP as of 1 OCT 06 (rather than waiting until 2008 under current law) for the 275,000 retired military career veterans who have aged at least 70 years and who have made at least 30 years of SBP premium payments.  There’s nothing in the House bill on this.

-  SBP/DIC Offset:  The Senate defense bill would end the deduction of the VA's Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from SBP for 55,000 widows when the member's death was caused by service.  There's no such provision in the House bill.

-  Guard/Reserve TRICARE Coverage:  The House bill would provide all members and families of the Selected Reserve the same option for TRICARE coverage, and get rid of the higher premium requirements for members who haven't been mobilized since 9/11.  The Senate bill would make only a minor tweak to the current three-level premium system, which is too expensive for most members who haven't been mobilized.

-  Guard/Reserve Retirement Age:  The Senate plan would reduce the retirement age by 3 months for each 90 days mobilized since 9/11, but there's nothing on this in the House bill.

-  Guard/Reserve GI Bill:  The Senate bill would authorize portability of educational benefits earned on active duty, but the House does not address the issue.

 

Here is a list of 24 designated Senate conference committee members for anyone wanting to voice their concerns with them on issues that are now on the table to be resolved. House list not yet available: Warner; McCain; Inhofe; Roberts; Sessions; Collins; Ensign; Talent; Chambliss; Graham; Dole; Cornyn; Thune; Levin; Kennedy; Byrd; Lieberman; Reed; Akaka; Nelson FL; Nelson NE; Dayton; Bayh; & Clinton.

[Source: MOAA Leg Up 23 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

ARMY ENLISTMENT AGE UPDATE 01:  The U.S. Army announced that it has raised the maximum enlistment age for both the active Army and Army Reserve from 40 to 42. This change was made possible under provisions of the Fiscal Year 2006 National Defense Authorization Act.  The Army raised the active duty age limit to 40 in January as an interim step while it worked out the additional medical screening requirements for recruits age 40 to 42.  Prior to January, an applicant could not have reached his or her 35th birthday.  The Army Reserve age limit was raised from 35 to 40 in March 2005.  More than 1,000 individuals over age 35 have enlisted in the Army and Army Reserve since the age limits were raised. 

 

     Raising the maximum age for Army enlistment expands the recruiting pool, provides motivated individuals an opportunity to serve, and strengthens the readiness of Army units.  All applicants must meet eligibility standards, to include passing the same physical standards and medical examination, however those 40 to 42 will be given additional medical screening. The program applies to both men and women. Older applicants are eligible for the same enlistment bonuses and other incentives available to younger applicants. Experience has shown that older recruits who can meet the physical demands of military service generally make excellent Soldiers based on their maturity, motivation, loyalty, and patriotism. U.S. Army Recruiting Command has achieved its active Army enlistment goals for the past 12 calendar months, and is ahead of its year-to-date goals for the Army Reserve. To learn more about active Army and Army Reserve opportunities, contact your local Army recruiter.  [Source:  Army News Service Jun 06]

 

 

PHONY WAR HEROES:  The FBI is cracking down on phony war heroes, who often obtain medals and wear them at public events. This year, federal agents have launched a dozen investigations against people allegedly masquerading as decorated veterans. At that pace, the FBI would open about twice as many cases as it did last year. The cases are sometimes difficult to prosecute because the phony heroes have to be caught wearing the medal. Also, Unauthorized Wearing of Military Medals and Decorations is classified as a misdemeanor with a small penalty. Of the 58 cases that were opened by the FBI in the past six years, 20 are pending. Of the other 38, almost 60% ended in convictions.

 

     Support in Congress is growing for the "Stolen Valor Act," which would stiffen penalties for falsely claiming to have received any medal. Since it was introduced last year, the number of co-sponsors has doubled.  Senate bill S.1998 currently has 26 sponsors and House bill H.R.3352 has 101.  The bills would make it a crime to merely claim the medal was earned. It would also increase punishment. Today, only those who fraudulently wear Medals of Honor face up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine. The bill would increase penalties for wearing other medals to the same level.  Offenders are people who buy Purple Hearts, Bronze Stars or even Medals of Honor on the Internet or at flea markets and play the role of war hero at military funerals, banquets and benefits.  FBI Special Agent Thomas Cottone, a violent crimes investigator who took on phony war hero cases as a personal crusade 10 years ago said, "They do it for the attention. They want to get noticed … these people, by wearing those medals, are literally stealing the valor and recognition of those who legitimately did the act. And this is absolutely disgraceful." The most recent conviction was Theodore Bantis age 59 of Dunlap IL. He pled guilty 20 JUN 06 to posing as a Marine Corps officer who had won the Navy Cross, the second-highest Marine valor award. He admitted he never served in the military. [Source: USA TODAY Gregg Zoroya article 21 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA GRAVESITE LOCATOR UPDATE 02:  The grave locations of more than three million veterans and dependents buried in national cemeteries can be found more easily now because the Department of Veterans Affairs has added maps of burial sections online that can be printed from home computers and at national cemetery kiosks. The latest improvement builds upon a service begun two years ago, in which a VA online feature permits family members to find the cemetery in which their loved one is buried.  This new map feature makes it easier for families, friends and researchers to find the exact location of a veteran’s grave in all national cemeteries and some state veterans cemeteries.  The gravesite locator http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov finds the cemeteries where veterans are buried.  With the new online feature, people enter a veteran’s name to search, click on the “Buried At” (burial location) link and a map of the national cemetery is displayed, showing the section where the grave is located.  In a related development, VA recently added to its database the cemeteries in which 1.9 million veterans were buried with VA grave markers.  These are mostly private cemeteries.

 

     This addition brings the number of graves recorded in the locator to approximately five million. Those with maps are in VA national cemeteries and in state veterans cemeteries and Arlington National Cemetery if burials were since 1999. Beyond the five million records now available, VA continues to add approximately 1,000 new records to the database each day.  VA also plans to add to its online database the exact locations of veterans’ gravesites in the remaining state veterans’ cemeteries. In the midst of the largest cemetery expansion since the Civil War, VA operates 123 national cemeteries in 39 states and Puerto Rico and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites.  More than three million Americans, including veterans of every war and conflict from the Revolutionary War to the Global War on Terror are buried in VA’s national cemeteries on more than 16,000 acres of land.

     Veterans with a discharge other than dishonorable, their spouses, and eligible dependent children may be buried in a national cemetery.  Other burial benefits include a burial flag, Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a government headstone or marker regardless of where they are buried. Information on VA burial benefits can be obtained from national cemetery offices, from the Internet at www.cem.va.gov or by calling VA regional offices at 1(800) 827-1000.  Anyone wishing to receive e-mail from VA with the latest news releases and updated fact sheets can subscribe to the VA Office of Public Affairs Distribution List at

www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/opa_listserv.asp.  [Source: VA Press Release 20 Jan 06]

 

 

TRICARE DATA BREACH (TRIWEST) UPDATE 01:  On 14 DEC 02 TriWest experienced a theft similar to the recent VA incident.  This should not be confused with the incident from the recent disclosure that hackers stole personal data from a Tricare Management Activity server containing information on more than 14,000 participants of a Tricare Healthcare Fraud Conference AUG 01 in San Diego. Following is a summary of the actions and activities related to the TriWest theft -

 

     The DCIS investigation into the 14 DEC 02 theft of hard drives from its corporate facilities in Phoenix containing the personal information of 550,000 Tricare beneficiaries to date has not identified the perpetrators or their motives. Nor has a report of the outcome of the investigation been made available to TriWest or the public. What DCIS has released is that there have been no confirmed instances of anyone’s personal information being misused as a result of the theft. The possibility that information could be misused was the motivator behind TriWest’s prompt action to inform customers about the fact that their personal information had been compromised as a result of the theft and to educate them about the steps they needed to take to protect themselves.  On learning of the nature of the theft, the company began coordinating with the DoD, and state, local and federal authorities, in an attempt to identify the perpetrators and protect its customers. Once a list of affected individuals was compiled from backup tapes, TriWest began working with the leadership of the DoD and the Military Health System to create and implement an integrated comprehensive communication and outreach plan.  The plan employed a three-prong approach: 

-  First, it began with TriWest contacting the media to broadcast the theft and stress the need for individuals to protect themselves.

-  Second, DoD working through military commands, disseminated information to every installation, worldwide.

-  Third, the communication plan included a letter campaign that contacted every beneficiary affected by the theft, and included information on steps they could take to protect themselves against misuse of their personal information.

 

     TMA recently completed a review of the security procedures implemented by TriWest as part of the DoD Information Technology Security Certification and Accreditation Process (DITSCAP). The report can be accessed through the TMA security officials. TriWest’s position is that any organizational leader, be they in the public or private sector, whose organization suffers the theft of customers’ personal information has an absolute obligation to take reasonable measures to inform those customers of such an event and help them understand what they can do to protect themselves against the misuse of that information.  In the months after the theft, TriWest’s leadership did this and vigorously advocated tougher legislation to combat identify theft.  In early JUN 06 the Secretary of the Veterans Administration and the House Committee on Veterans Affairs both asked TriWest President and CEO to advise them about how they should respond to the recent theft of information potentially impacting 26.5 million veterans.  At present he is lending TriWest's experience to the VAD in hopes that it will assist in guiding the steps that might be taken to successfully protect the veterans whose information has been put at risk as a result of the theft.  [Source: 

Michelle Harris, PAO, TMA Communications response to the MRGRG Tricare BAP representative inquiry Jun 06 ++]

 

 

DACMC UPDATE 02:  The Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation after spending the past year studying the military compensation system is recommending sweeping changes that, if approved, would bring military compensation more on par with private-sector compensation. The proposed package includes two major ideas. These include revamping the retirement system so servicemembers receive more pay throughout their careers rather than at their completion, and basing pay on performance rather than longevity and other factors.  Their final report titled, "Completing the Transition to an All-Volunteer Force: Report of the Defense Advisory Committee on Military Compensation," which can be found at www.dod.mil/prhome/docs/dacmc_finalreport.pdf.  These findings and recommendations will be analyzed as part of the10th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation, which was chartered on 2 AUG 05, to review of the principles and concepts of the compensation system.  [Source: DoD News 8 Jun 06]

 

 

MILITARY DISCOUNTS:  To honor America's military, Lowe's is offering all active duty personnel, reservists, retired military, veterans and their immediate family members a 10% discount on in-store purchases made during the Independence Day holiday.  The discount is available 29 JUN & 4 JUL 06 on all in-stock purchases up to $5,000.  Excluded are special order sales, online sales, previous sales, installation fees, purchases of gift cards, Fisher & Paykel appliances, Dyson vacuums, John Deere products, and Krups small appliances.  To obtain the discount, show valid military identification or discharge papers.

 

     The Home Depot is offering all active duty personnel, reservists, retired military, veterans and their families a 10% discount off their purchases in honor of Independence Day. The offer is valid on purchases of up to $2,000 for a maximum of $200 discount between 29 JUN & 4 JUL 06 at all Home Depot stores, Home Depot Floor Store locations, Home Depot Landscape Supply stores and EXPO Design Center locations.  To qualify, individuals must present proof of military service to the Special Services desk at any store where they will receive a coupon that is redeemable at any cashier's checkout register. Discount coupons are valid on a single receipt, in-store purchase only. Details and exceptions are printed on the coupon.  [Source: NAUS Update 30 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

FLAG LEGISLATION:  With a count of 66 ayes and 34 nays, the proposed amendment to the NDAA by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to authorize Congress to legislate against desecrating the U.S. flag failed to meet the required two-thirds vote. To find out how your senator voted on the Flag amendment refer to www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=109&session=2&vote=00189.   The amendment would have read, “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The vote on June 27 was the closest to passage in four Senate votes since the Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that flag burning was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. The house passes such legislation almost annually and did so last year by 286-130. If the amendment had been approved by the Senate, it would have required ratification by at least 38 states within seven years in order to become the Constitution’s 28th amendment. Supporters say that more than 38 states already have endorsed an amendment. On the positive side the House of Representatives on 27 JUN passed Representative Roscoe Bartlett’s HR42 denying the power of Home Owners Associations and Condominiums’ and Cooperatives’ Boards of Directors from barring the flying of the American flag on individuals residential property. The bill has been referred to the U.S. Senate and is awaiting action. [Source: TREA Leg Up 30 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA AFGE SUIT:  A union representing doctors and dentists in the Veterans Affairs Department is considering legal action after the agency refused to release data used to set their pay.  In APR 06 the Veterans Health Administration denied a January Freedom of Information Act request from the largest federal employee union, the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). The union wants to see the market surveys the agency is using to set new pay ranges for medical workers covered under a 2004 law that removed them from the General Schedule, which is the standard pay system for federal employees. VHA officials initially said they could not release the market surveys, which were purchased from four survey companies and used to set national base pay, because of copyright restrictions, but an appeal from AFGE is still under consideration in the general counsel's office. The survey companies are being contacted and given a chance to object to the information's disclosure.  Congress changed the rules for paying VA doctors and dentists to attract and retain more of the high-demand employees. The new system includes local, market-sensitive pay and performance components in addition to base salary. Performance standards have not been put into place yet, but local market decisions are in the process of being finalized. AFGE legislative representative Marilyn Park said secrecy over the surveys, and how they would be used in each location, is disturbing. VHA has not included AFGE in the decision-making process.   [Source: GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 27 Jun 06]

 

 

TRICARE UNIFORM FORMULARY UPDATE 12:  Four classes of drugs reviewed by Tricare have one or more drugs moving to the non-formulary beginning late June through the end of July. These classes include Gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) - Analog Agents, Antidepressants, Overactive Bladder Agents, and Antihypertensive Agents.

 

Gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) - Analog Agents

Formulary First-Tier: Gabapentin generic only

Formulary Second-Tier: Gabitril

Non-Formulary: Lyrica (effective June 28, 2006)

Antidepressants

Formulary First-Tier: Buproprin, Buproprin SR, Citalopram, Fluoxetine, Fluvoxamine, Mirtazapine, Nefazadone, Paroxetine, and Trazadone

Formulary Second-Tier: Effexor, Effexor XR, Pexeva, and Zoloft

Non-Formulary: Cymbalta, Lexapro, Paxil CR, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem, Wellbutrin XL (effective July 19, 2006)

Overactive Bladder Agents

Formulary First-Tier: Oxybutin generic only

Formulary Second-Tier: Detrol LA, Ditropan XL, Enablex Sanctura, Vesicare

Non-Formulary: Detrol, Oxytrol, Sanctura (effective July 26, 2006)

Antihypertensive Agents

Formulary First-Tier: Clonidine/chlorthalidone generic only, Clonidine generic only, Guanabenz generic only, Gunnadrel generic only, Guanethidine generic only, Guanfacine generic only, Hydralazine generic only, Hydralazine/HCTZ generic only, Methyldopa generic only, Metyrosine generic only, Minoxidil generic only, Reserpine generic only

Formulary Second-Tier: Catapres TTS, Inversine, Lotrel, Minizide

Non-Formulary: Lexxel, Tarka (effective July 26, 2006)

 

Beneficiaries currently on non-formulary (third-tier) medications may consult their health care providers about changing to a first ($3) or second-tier ($9) alternative or ask their provider if establishing medical necessity for the non-formulary (third-tier) medication is appropriate for them. If medical necessity for a non-formulary (i.e. third-tier) $22 medication can be established, co payments revert to second-tier price of $9. Non-formulary (third-tier) medications will NOT be available at military treatment facility (MTF) pharmacies unless medical necessity has been established and an MTF provider writes the prescription. Not all first-tier and second-tier medications are available at MTF Pharmacies. For more information on Tricare pharmacy programs refer to: www.tricare.osd.mil/pharmacy.  For more information regarding the Tricare Drug Formulary refer to www.moaa.org/controller.asp?pagename=serv_healthcare_drug_formulary.  [Source: MOAA News Exchange 21 Jun 06]

 

 

NAVY PERSONAL DATA BREACH:  U.S. Navy officials discovered 22 JUN 06 that personal information on nearly 28,000 sailors and family members was compromised when it appeared on a civilian website, fueling more concerns about the security of sensitive information belonging to federal employees.

Five spreadsheet files of data - including names, birth dates and Social Security numbers of sailors and their relatives were found exposed on a website.  The initial discovery was made by the Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command, which routinely monitors the Internet for such problems. Lt. Justin Cole, a spokesman for the chief of naval personnel, said the material was removed from the website within two hours and that there was no indication it was being used for illegal purposes.

 

     Officials are unsure how the information ended up on an insecure Website, and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is looking into whether the person who posted it was supposed to have access to the data. It is possible the information was posted inadvertently. Navy spokesman declined to identify the web site because of an ongoing investigation. But he said it was not a web log or site operated by an individual.

The Navy plans to contact the people affected and urge them to closely monitor bank and credit card accounts for fraudulent activity. Sailors may contact the Navy Personnel Command call center (866) 827-5672.to determine whether their names were on the compromised list.  There has been no decision made yet on whether the Navy will pay for credit monitoring. Information on how to watch for suspicious activity can be found at the Navy Personnel Command's Web site, www.npc.navy.mil.

 

     The potential security breach is one of several losses of important personal data reported in Washington, D.C. in recent weeks, part of an unusual string of thefts and Internet hacks that have compromised information belonging to millions of federal workers. In addition to the latest Navy incident and the theft of a laptop containing personal data on 26.5 million veterans, five other agencies and the Washington, D.C., city government have reported similar problems since the beginning of May 06.

-  The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it removed from its website archival records with names and Social Security numbers on fewer than 1,000 government workers.

-  The Agriculture Department (USDA) reported that data on as many as 26,000 employees had been compromised by a hacker.

-  A laptop containing data on 13,000 Washington, D.C., workers and retirees was stolen last week.

-  Internal Revenue Service (IRS) officials said a laptop containing names, Social Security numbers and fingerprints of 291 employees and applications computer was lost during transit on an airline flight in the western United States last May.

-      Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported two of its laptops were stolen from a car.  The laptops contained personal information on 110 people gathered in law enforcement investigations and included, variously, names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and in some instances, financial account numbers.  

 

In a letter Friday to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one member of Congress asked for details on the Navy incident and questioned whether the Defense Department will make sure free credit help is provided for people affected. Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) said he had asked Rumsfeld two years ago about the implications of federal agencies outsourcing data collection and processing activities. While there is no indication that outsourcing was the problem in the Navy case, Markey said he wants to know what effect that would have on the security of information on military personnel.

 

     The VA incident and the subsequent fallout over its delayed reporting to Congress have made other government departments more prone to report them. On 9 JUN the Energy Department (DOE) reported to Congress that in JUN 04 a hacker accessed personnel records for 1,500 employees at the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). Only now have they started notifying affected employees.   The big question is how many of us have been exposed to identity theft through unreported data breaches of other government agencies. President Bush in May ordered the creation of an Identity Theft Task Force to increase efforts to find and prosecute offenders, improve public outreach and boost safeguards over personal data held by federal agencies. The members of the group, which will be chaired by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and include the secretaries of Treasury, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security,  have 180 days to prepare a strategic plan to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the federal government's activities in the areas of identity theft awareness, prevention, detection, and prosecution.  [Source: Washington AP 23 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

AF RETIREE COUNCIL:  The Air Force Retiree Council meets once a year and can be reached at HQ AFPC/CCU, 550 C Street West, Suite 11, Randolph AFB TX 78150-4713 year round. After each meeting they recommend actions on retiree matters directly to the USAF/CC. The Council consists of a minimum of 16 centrally selected Air Force retiree volunteers from geographic areas that span the globe.  They normally serve a four year term and serve as the Air Force Chief of Staff’s personal liaison with the Air Force retiree community.  Members help the Air Force improve the Retiree Activities Program by keeping abreast of programs and policies that affect the retiree community and informing retirees of same.  In accomplishing this they determine independently and/or solicit topics suitable for Retiree Council consideration. When a vacancy occurs Air Force retirees who wish to self nominate can submit an application to the commander of the nearest Air Force installation in the vacancy area

 

     The Council met 9 to 12 MAY 06 and reviewed 35 issues submitted from the retiree community.  These will be forwarded to the appropriate Air Staff or outside agency for their information and/or action.  They have requested that the entire retiree community lend support to the following three:

 

1. Health Care Cost-Shifting to Military Beneficiaries. The Defense budget submission for FY 2007 proposes to precipitously increase health costs for beneficiaries over three years, beginning 1 OCT 06: RECOMMENDATION:  The AF Retiree Council recognizes the need for adjusting fees annually based on the Consumer Price Index, but seeks to maintain current health benefits without precipitous rate increases and creating class-differences among beneficiaries (officer or enlisted).

2. Military Postal Support for Retirees Overseas. DoD limits military postal system privileges for retirees residing overseas to mail weighing less than 16 ounces.  While the 16-ounce limit has always impacted the well being of retirees overseas, in this age of increasing use/dependence on internet purchases and subsequent mail delivery for countless “everyday” items, the limitation now increasingly affects the day-to-day quality of life of the retiree overseas. RECOMMENDATION:  The AF Retiree Council, in conjunction with the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Retiree Council, supports raising the weight limit to five pounds for mail sent/received by retirees overseas through the military postal system.

3. Loss of Contact with Retirees:  The DoD has until 15 SEP 07 to begin closing and realigning more than 800 installations identified in the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).  The process must be completed by 15 SEP 11. Four previous BRAC rounds – in 1988, 1991, 1993 and 1995 --resulted in 97 major closures, 55 major realignments and 235 minor actions.  With each of these closures, more retirees and annuitants lose contact with military installations and the benefits and services they offer.  These include, health care, exchanges, commissaries, ID card renewals, Retiree Activities Offices, etc.  This void is further compounded by the loss of communication, i.e., newsletters, base newspapers, Open Houses, Retiree Days, etc.  Example: Driving north from the nation’s capital to the Canadian border, there are three active Air Force bases -- Dover, McGuire and Hanscom AFBs.  There are none in seven northeastern states.  Similar voids are found across the northern plains.  There are more than 760,000 Air Force retirees and annuitants.  Most have direct deposits of their monthly checks, offering but 1-2 computer-generated “informational” letters annually.  Probably fewer than half of the retirees receive at least one RAO newsletter each year.  The strongest link is The Afterburner and its continuation by mail is shaky after 2006. The Air Force has an interest in maintaining contact with its retiree community with information on matters pertaining to their lifestyle and heritage.  Additional means of expanding channels of communication need to be explored.  The Retiree Activities Offices should be in the forefront of any such planning. RECOMMENDATION:  While costs continue to decrease as more retirees move toward electronic communication, the AF Retiree Council supports an Air Force commitment to maintaining non-electronic communication for those retirees without computer access.

[Source: AF136-1306 30 Jul 04 & Council Report 14 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

ID CARD NUMBERS UPDATE 01:  Saying the federal government must be pro-active when it comes to protecting military members from identity theft, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) convinced the Senate in Late JUN to press the Defense Department to stop putting Social Security numbers on military identification cards. Hutchison’s plan, approved by voice vote as an amendment to the 2007 defense authorization bill, does not force any immediate change. Instead, it requires a report from the Pentagon explaining what it would take to remove Social Security numbers and how quickly this could be done. This makes the Senate bill similar to the House version of the defense measure, which also asks for a study on why Social Security numbers remain on ID cards without demanding removal of the number, which is a crucial piece of information for someone trying to illegally steal an identity.  The feasibility study proposed has a reasonable finish date of six months from enactment, and would give DoD ample time to study this issue and find a self-imposed solution.

 

     Hutchison pointed out that when the Department of Defense began using Social Security numbers on identification cards in 1967, identity theft was not a problem most Americans were worried about.  Electronic transactions were, for the most part, nonexistent and we did not have the kind of access to personal records that we have today. By simply gaining access to someone’s Social Security number, a malicious person could attempt to open a line of credit, obtain a false driver’s license or completely steal another person’s identity. It should not be hard to accomplish. Social Security numbers are not included on driver’s license or passports. Colleges and universities are using generic numbers for student identification rather than Social Security numbers. It is time DoD provides this important safeguard to our military community.  Defense officials have indicated they plan to drop the Social Security number from ID cards but have not said when this might happen. [Source: Navy Times Rick Maze article 26 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

COLA 2007 UPDATE 03:  In mid-June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the May 2006 monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is used to calculate the annual cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for military retired pay, VA disability compensation, survivor annuities, and Social Security.

The CPI continued its upward trend, rising 0.5% in May for a total of 2.9% growth so far this fiscal year.  A 2.5% increase in energy costs played a key roll in the jump. Last year, the CPI had risen 2.7% through the month of May and ended the year at 4.1%.  With inflation running only slightly ahead of last year's pace so far, it would seem likely that we'll end this year in the same 4% ballpark. But there's plenty of CPI roller-coaster left to navigate in the next four months, and that outlook could change in a hurry.Month-by-month figures and historical inflation data are available at www.moaa.org/lac/lac_issues_list/lac_issues_fully_retired/lac_issues_second_career_cola.htm.  [Source: MOAA Leg Up 23 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VA PHISHING ALERT:  Recently the National Association of County Veterans Service Officers (NACVSO) whose membership covers over 1000 counties nationwide distributed a copy of a VA Phishing alert to all of its members.  The alert, issued by the Chief Network Security & Support Section of the Hines Information Technology Center, is applicable to all veterans with internet access.  Their report indicates that the Philadelphia VA’s Network Support Staff is seeing increasing reports of veterans receiving email from the address abuse@vba.va.gov which asks them to check an account by clicking on a link provided in the email. This email is a phishing scam, an attempt to gain personal information. The email address abuse@vba.va.gov is fake and the link in the email is to a web site in Asia. Recipients of this email are warned not to open the website link provided and to delete the email. This is just one in a series of ongoing attempts to use the VA as a medium for harassing or stealing from veterans. Similar past attempts include:

-  VA look-a-like website “Veterans Affairs Services” www.vaservices.org gathering personal information on veterans.

-  Company called "Patient Care Group" asking for credit card numbers to verify VA patient’s prescription orders

-  Offering lump sum payment in exchange for vets future disability/pension checks.

-  Falsely reporting Congress authorizing a bill to pay dividends based upon veterans prior years of service

 

To report suspected fraud, waste or abuse in VA programs or operations refer to www.va.gov/oig/hotline/hotline.htm. To learn more about how to avoid being taken advantage by this or any other scams visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft website www.consumer.gov/idtheft.  Here you can:

-  Learn what steps you need to take to avoid being victimized.

-  Learn the immediate steps to take if victimized.

-  Learn how to deal with specific problems the theft has caused.

-  Determine when and how to file a complaint with the FTC. 

-  Locate additional resources/agencies to assist you in your problem.

[Source: Linda Kintz, CISSP VBA SIO & NSC Coordinator NACVSO Notice Jun 06 ++]

 

 

TRICARE USER FEES UPDATE 14:  In spite of congressional opposition and an outcry from retirees the Pentagon’s top health affairs official Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, continues to insist that increasing health care fees for more than 3 million working-age military retirees and their family members is the only way to stabilize the rising costs of the military health care system. He told Air Force Times editors and reporters in a 12 JUN meeting that the phased changes, when put in context with annual increases in military retired pay, would not be as painful as they have been portrayed by some. He contends that when Tricare was created in 1995, the program had a built-in expectation that beneficiary costs would be adjusted incrementally over time. That did not happen, partly because the military’s overall health care costs rose relatively modestly in the late 1990s.  But costs rapidly changed with the 2001 introduction of Tricare for Life, the program for military retirees and family members age 65 and older. Since then, the Pentagon’s total health care budget has roughly doubled, to $38 billion this year, and at current rates would hit $65 billion by 2015. The point that’s been lost in the debate is that retiree pay increases each year with COLA. As it goes up it will more than cover any increased health care contribution..

 

     Some critics of the Pentagon proposal said such comparisons are flawed, because annual increases in retired pay are designed only to roughly keep pace with inflation.  Annual retired pay increases that are reduced by new health care fees do not translate into real pay increases. Retired pay and retiree health care are not two separate things.  It is devaluing the benefit if retired pay only keeps up with cost-of-living increases and doesn’t take health care into account. Data provided by the Pentagon show that a large chunk of projected increases in retired pay would be eaten up by proposed Tricare fee hikes in the first two years of the plan: 

-  Officers who retired 10 years ago and now have their families enrolled in Tricare Prime, for example, are drawing an average of $3,511 in monthly retired pay this year. With current inflation trends, that would rise to $3,606 next year, an increase of $95 per month. Under the Pentagon plan, their monthly health care premiums would jump from $38 this year to $83 next year, eating up nearly half of their monthly retired pay increase.

-  E-7s and above who retired 10 years ago and now have their families enrolled in Tricare Standard draw an average of $1,702 in monthly retired pay, which is projected to rise to $1,748 next year. Tricare Standard currently has no monthly premiums. Under the Pentagon plan, retired E-7s and above would pay $17 per month in premiums next year — erasing about 37 percent of their monthly gain in retired pay.

 

Heavy and steady criticism of the Pentagon plan has led the House and Senate Armed Services committees to put on the brakes. Both have placed one-year moratoriums on any hikes in co-payments, deductibles and enrollment fees for Tricare Standard and Tricare Prime. But Winkenwerder said some form of cost increase is inevitable if the quality of the health care benefit is to be sustained. One feature of the Pentagon plan that has rankled many retirees is that much of the projected savings would come not from increased fees but from the expectation that large numbers of retirees would opt out of Tricare altogether and use the health insurance provided by their second-career employers. Most of their plan was based on the idea that if we make it expensive enough, then the retirees who have other insurance available to them will take it.  Currently two bills have been introduced in the House and Senate that address this issue.  H.R.4949 with 158 sponsors which would amend title 10, United States Code, to prohibit increases in fees for military health care and S.2617 which would amend title 10, United States Code, to limit increases in the costs to retired members of the Armed Forces of health care services under the TRICARE program.  [Source: Air Force Times 26 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

GOVERNMENT PERSONAL DATA PROTECTION:  A former White House cyber-security adviser to President Bush and former President Clinton has offered a prescription to federal agencies and companies searching for ways to prevent security breaches. Richard Clarke said during a speech 20 JUN to government officials and companies that the security breaches at the Energy and Veterans Affairs departments and Internal Revenue Service show a crisis in data security. He sympathized with the VA employee who wanted to work extra from home and questioned if the fault was with the employee or his department which was negligent were for not putting in place a system to protect the data.  He pointed out that there are available relatively cheap, relatively easy, relatively user friendly technologies today that can solve so many of these problems and offered a four-step plan to solve the typical problems:

 

1. The ability to remotely tell a laptop to stop working would solve the problem of stolen laptops. These devices essentially would telephone home when such laptops connect to the Internet and then get a command to stop working.

2. With sensitive data like e-mail, whole disks or data at rest should be encrypted.

3. Cards to allow network access should be issued. DoD is presently working toward giving all government employees, dependents and contractors such cards to access buildings and computers.

4. Incorporate enterprise-rights management.  This concept allows an agency or department to control data at all points. For example, the department, not the author, could decide who gets to read, print, copy or e-mail a document. The other feature tracks the data, and can tell who has it and what they are doing with it -- or trying to do.

 

Michael Smith, a Harvard computer science professor, agreed that policies protecting the data should move with the data.  While Microsoft and Adobe offer solutions to protect their own documents, only a few companies offer such security compatible with various document types. Clarke had some advice to federal workers on how they can get heard to make security changes: Try meeting with top officials. Most Cabinet members haven’t met their chief information security officer and most Cabinet members do not even know they have a CISO.  If that does not work, he added, there are always the department or agency inspectors general.

 

     The four largest data losses -- at the Navy, the VA, the Energy and Agriculture departments -- occurred within agencies that all received Fs on the House Government Reform Committee's (HGRC) annual cybersecurity report card, which is based on compliance with the 2002 Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA). Former VA CIO Harold Gracey said, “The root of preventing data breaches is in the enforcement of policies. The whole government needs to become aware of how transportable data is and how powerful it can be. The VA has very strict laws dating back to the pre-IT era about how veterans' information is handled. If that had been effectively carried forward into the modern age, this wouldn't be possible." Bruce Brody and associate deputy assistant secretary for cyber and information security at the VA from 2001 to 2004 noted that agencies with low grades all have decentralized IT management structures, where no one person is in control of security.  HGRC spokesman Rob White said the incidents could push them to place more emphasis on their information security efforts. According to White the Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) is looking to change FISMA to include specific protocols for the disclosure of data breaches, including how to reveal breaches and how quickly to do so. Notification would become a specific responsibility for the OMB director and the heads of agencies. [Source:  GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 21 & 26 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

SGLI UPDATE 06:  Effective 1 JUL 06 premium rates for Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) will increase and rates for the Family SGLI (FSGLI) will decrease. The new monthly premium rate for SGLI will be 7 cents per month per $1,000 of coverage. For a member with maximum coverage of $400,000, the monthly total premium will increase from $27.00 to $29.00. This premium includes an additional $1.00 per month for Traumatic Injury Protection coverage (TSGLI), which is mandatory and added to any premium rate automatically. SGLI premiums are increasing because the current SGLI premium rate is below the “break even” point and therefore is insufficient to cover the cost of peacetime claims. (Note: The cost of wartime SGLI claims is borne by the uniformed services, not by service members.) The premiums for the first $150,000 of coverage for servicemembers deployed in support of OEF and OIF will still be covered. Family SGLI premiums will be reduced as of 1 JUL 06. FSGLI premiums are decreasing because of  favorable claims experience. What this means is that the actual number of claims received for FSGLI benefits has been less than expected. These lower premium rates will better reflect the claims experience of the program for each age group. For premium charts and further information about the various Group Life Insurance programs, visit the VA website www.insurance.va.gov/sgliSite/SGLI/sgliPremiums.htm.  [Source: NMFA e-News 20 Jun 06]

 

 

VA MENTAL HEALTH CARE:  Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs (VA) Committee, sent a letter on 16 JUN to Senate VA Committee Chairman Larry Craig (R-ID) and Ranking Member Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) requesting a hearing of the Committee on the status of mental health services provided by the VA. Murray said, "We need real answers from the VA and the Bush Administration. No gimmicks. No game I am requesting a hearing on the mental health services provided by the VA so we can learn more about the need for mental health care, how to meet that demand, and what changes need to be made to provide our veterans with the care they need and deserve."  Murray's called for a hearing following an article in the May edition of Psychiatric News in which Frances Murphy, M.D., Undersecretary for Health Policy Coordination at the VA, indicated that the agency is ill-prepared to serve the mental health needs of our nation's veterans. In the article, Dr. Murphy notes that some VA clinics don't provide mental health or substance abuse care, or if they do, waiting lists render that care virtually inaccessible.  It is estimated one third of the 1.3 million Americans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan will be in need of some form of mental health care. Murray is concerned that they are not or will not receive the services they need.  The full text of Senator Murray's letter to Sen. Craig and Akaka can be seen at www.vawatchdog.org.  [Source:  Larry Scott VA News Flash 19 Jun 06]

 

 

VA SAH UPDATE 02:  Legislation to help servicemembers and veterans with their Special Adaptive Housing (SAH) and other benefit needs was signed into law 15 JUN 06 by President Bush.  The bill known as the 'Veterans' Housing Opportunity and Benefits Act of 2006' (1235) introduced by Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) had been adopted with unanimous support in both the House and Senate.  Among its many provisions is one which authorizes VA to make grants available to assist with housing adaptations at a family member's home in which a severely disabled servicemember is temporarily residing. The grants range from between $2,000 and $14,000. Formerly, severely disabled veterans had to own their own homes to qualify for adapted housing grant assistance from VA. The legislation will also allow servicemembers, those who have been legally determined to be totally disabled at the time of their separation from the military, to have up to two years from their separation date to apply for premium-free Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance coverage. More importantly, the legislation will enable them to convert their coverage to Veterans' Group Life Insurance, or an individual plan or policy, during the same two-year period.  The bill also includes language crafted by Craig's Idaho colleague, Rep Mike Simpson (R-ID), to help veterans gain employment.  The Act reflects a compromise agreement reached between House and Senate Committees on Veterans' Affairs on a host of veterans' benefits provisions cleared by either body of Congress during the first session of the 109th Congress.  [Source: http://veterans.senate.gov 16 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

VETERANS’ PREFERENCE UPDATE 04:  Military personnel who have served in the post-Sept. 11 period now qualify for preference in hiring for federal jobs. The Office of Personnel Management issued a regulation (i.e. www.opm.gov/fedregis/2006/71-060906-33376-a.pdf ) giving hiring preference to anyone who served on active duty for at least 180 days, any part of which was between Sept. 11 and whenever Operation Iraqi Freedom ends, either by presidential proclamation or law. Military personnel need not have spent time in Iraq or Afghanistan to qualify.  The last period designated for veterans’ preference was the Gulf War, specifically for military members who served between 2 AUG 90 & 2 JAN 92. Without this designation, the rules are much stricter for military members to benefit from veterans' preference, and can require 24 months in service, permanent positions and a campaign badge.

 

     OPM has not completed any formal studies on the number of job applicants that the new rule, which implements part of the fiscal 2006 National Defense Authorization Act, may bring.  Mark Doboga, the agency's deputy associate director for talent and capacity policy, said he believes it will have a substantial impact, depending on agency hiring budgets and other external factors. The broadened rules qualify members of the National Guard and Reserves for veterans' preference, though none of the 180 days can be spent in training. In an uncommon move, the rules announced by OPM in the Federal Register went into immediate effect. Usually agencies publish draft rules and give stakeholders a few months to comment before finalizing them. Agencies, individuals and outside groups still can submit comments until 8 AUG and OPM can change the rules after that point. Members of the Guard or Reserves who are already federal employees cannot use veterans' preference for in-house promotions, although it would give them leg up during agency reductions in force. [Source: GOVEXEC.com Daily Briefing 15 Jun 06]

 

 

MILITARY LEGISLATION STATUS UPDATE:  Following is current status on some Congressional bills of interest to the military community.  Support of these bills through cosponsorship by other legislators is critical if they are ever going to move through the legislative process for a floor vote. At http://thomas.loc.gov you can determine if your legislator is a sponsor of the bill you are concerned with. The key to increasing cosponsorship is letting your representative know of your feelings on these issues. At the end of each of the below listed bills is a web link that can be used to do that:

 

H.R.994:  To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow Federal civilian and military retirees to pay health insurance premiums on a pretax basis and to allow a deduction for TRICARE supplemental premiums.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 333: Rep Charles Pickering (MS-03), Rep Rick Renzi (AZ-01), & Rep Corrine Brown (FL-03).  To support this bill send a message to your Representative at -- http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7761876

 

H.R.1366:  To amend title 10, United States Code, to expand eligibility for Combat-Related Special Compensation paid by the uniformed services in order to permit certain additional retired members who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for that disability and Combat-Related Special Compensation by reason of that disability. 

The following sponsors were added to this bill giving it a total of 46: Rep. John Kline (R-MN-2) & Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY-6). To support this bill send a message to your Representative at -- http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7718711

To support Sen. Reid’s amendment to the 2007 NDAA bill S.2766 send a message to your Representative at -- http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/alert/?alertid=8371516&type=ML

 

H.R.2962: To amend title 38, United States Code, to revise the eligibility criteria for presumption of service-connection of certain diseases and disabilities for veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during military service, and for other purposes.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 52: Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV-1). To support this bill send a message to your Representative at --http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7784066

 

H.R.4992: To provide for Medicare reimbursement for health care services provided to Medicare-eligible veterans in facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 16: Rep. Jon Porter (R-NV-3). To support this bill send a message to your Representative at -- http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8670886 

 

S.185:  To amend title 10, United States Code, to repeal the requirement for the reduction of certain Survivor Benefit Plan annuities by the amount of dependency and indemnity compensation and to modify the effective date for paid-up coverage under the Survivor Benefit Plan. The following sponsors were added to this bill giving it a total of 35: Sen Conrad Burns (MT). To support this bill send a message to your Representative at -- http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=7709421

 

S.2617: A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to limit increases in the costs to retired members of the Armed Forces of health care services under the TRICARE program, and for other purposes.  The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 8: Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) To support this bill send a message to your Senator at -- http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/alert/?alertid=8675066&type=CO

 

S.2658:  A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to enhance the national defense through empowerment of the Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the enhancement of the functions of the National Guard Bureau, and for other purposes. The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 38: Sen Robert Bennett (UT), Sen Thomas Carper (DE), Sen Susan Collins (ME), Sen Dianne Feinstein (CA), Sen Orrin Hatch (UT), Sen Robert Menendez (NJ), Sen John Rockefeller (WV), Sen Olympia Snowe (ME), & Sen Debbie Stabenow (MI). To support this bill send a preformatted or edited message to your Senator by using the “Write to Congress” feature at  -- www.ngaus.org.

 

S.2694:  A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to remove certain limitation on attorney representation of claimants for veterans’ benefits in administrative proceedings before the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.  The bill has a total of 7 sponsors.  Last activity on this bill was in the Committee on Veterans' Affairs where it was ordered it to be reported without amendment favorably. To express support or nonsupport of this bill send a message to your Senator at -http://capwiz.com/usdr/issues/bills/?bill=8835631

 

     Current status and bill text can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov. There has been no change in sponsorship on the following bills since last reported on in the Bulletin:

 

H.R.303:  To amend title 10, United States Code, to permit certain additional retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-Related Special Compensation and to eliminate the phase-in period under current law with respect to such concurrent receipt. 

H.R.808:  To amend title 10, United States Code, to repeal the offset from surviving spouse annuities under the military Survivor Benefit Plan for amounts paid by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs as dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC). 

H.R.968: To amend title 10, United States Code, to change the effective date for paid-up coverage under the military Survivor Benefit Plan from October 1, 2008, to October 1, 2005.

H.R.995: To amend title 10, United States Code, to provide for the payment of Combat-Related Special Compensation under that title to members of the Armed Forces retired for disability with less than 20 years of active military service who were awarded the Purple Heart

H.R.2076: To amend title 10, United States Code, to permit certain retired members of the uniformed services who have a service-connected disability to receive both disability compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs for their disability and either retired pay by reason of their years of military service or Combat-Related Special Compensation. 

H.R.4949: To amend title 10, United States Code, to prohibit increases in fees for military health care. 

S.407:  The ‘Keep Our Promise to America's Military Retirees Act’ to restore health care coverage to retired members of the uniformed services and their eligible dependents.

S.484: To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow Federal civilian and military retirees to pay health insurance premiums on a pretax basis and to allow a deduction for Tricare supplemental premiums. The following sponsor was added to this bill giving it a total of 62: Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID). 

 

Note: 129 days until Election Day.  Make your vote count.  Be sure you are registered to vote.

[Source: USDR Action Alerts 15-30 Jun 06 ++]

 

 

Lt. James “EMO” Tichacek, USN (Ret)

Director, Retiree Assistance Office, U.S. Embassy Warden & VITA Baguio City RP

PSC 517 Box RCB, FPO AP 96517

Tel: (760) 839-9003 or FAX 1(801) 760-2430; When in RP: (74) 442-7135 or FAX 1(801) 760-2430

Email: raoemo@sbcglobal.net.  When in Philippines raoemo@mozcom.com

Web: http://post_119_gulfport_ms.tripod.com/rao1.html

AL/AMVETS/CORMV/DAV/FRA/NAUS/NCOA/MOAA/USDR/VFW/VVA/CG33/DD890/AD37 member

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