SECNAV Retiree Council Update 06 ► Response to 2015 Report The Secretary of the Navy’s (SECNAV) Retiree Council (SNRC) met at the Washington Navy Yard in August 2015. The council meets annually in accordance with SECNAV Instruction 5420.1691, and is made up of both Navy and Marine Corps retired volunteers. The council debates areas of retiree concerns and makes recommendations to the Secretary of the Navy. After the council issues its recommendations, they are reviewed by the Secretary, who then issues a response. Among the highlights are:
In a repeat issue from 2014, the council made recommendations to address the shortage of mental healthcare providers, to include increased funding, recruiting providers and providing educational, administrative and financial support to decrease barriers to Tricare participation.
The Secretary’s response concurred with the Navy that during FY-15, Tricare added 14,022 behavioral health providers to its network, including six overseas. Currently, military retirees with a combined Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating of at least 50 percent and with at least 20 years service receive both a full military retired pension and full VA disability compensation benefits.
The council recommended Navy support of initiatives referred to Congress to pass legislation amending Title 10 of the U.S. Code to expand the Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payment entitlement to all military retirees, regardless of VA disability rating. The Secretary, while not opposed, pointed out such an expansion would cost approximately $35 billion over 10 years, and such a proposal could not be made without an equivalent budgetary offset.
In dealing with survivor’s benefits, the council recommended that the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) should not be offset by the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC). Survivors eligible for both SBP and DIC must forfeit one dollar of SBP annuity for every dollar of DIC received from the VA. The Secretary responded that elimination of the offset would create inequity compared to beneficiaries who are not eligible for both by creating a group of survivors receiving two government subsidized survivor annuities.
The council revisited extending presumption of Agent Orange exposure by “blue-water” Sailors. The council recommended the Secretary endorse the presumed exposure and support legislative change. If pending legislation (H.R. 969 and S.B. 681) fails or is delayed, the council intends to resubmit the issue. The response stated both bills remain in subcommittee, and that the Secretary will continue to monitor this legislation and update the council.
The council also made recommendations for expansion of Tricare overseas, urging SECNAV to take action to encourage Tricare efforts to increase the number of providers overseas, especially in areas around former U.S. military concentration areas. The Secretary’s response was that Tricare representatives indicated regional contractors use proprietary models to determine numbers of required providers. The representatives disagreed with a Navy assessment that the models do not take retirees into account. The Secretary indicated he will continue working with Tricare to determine if this issue needs further resolution.
Other issue recommendations receiving responses covered issues such as the medical evaluation process for those on the Temporary Disabled Retired List, transitional housing for single parent veterans with children, Space Available transportation, VA claims for radiation exposure, and TRICARE eye coverage and program enrollment fees. G0 to http://www.public.navy.mil/bupersnpc/reference/publications/shiftcolors/Documents/Response.pdf to read the full report. [Source: Shift Colors | Spring-Summer 2017 ++]
Navy Retiree Seminar/Appreciation Days ► 2017 Schedule
Retiree Appreciation Day Naval Base Kitsap/ Naval Station Bremerton Saturday, July 8, 9 a.m.-noon Jackson Park Community Center, 90 Olding Road Bremerton, Wash. POC: (360) 396-1768 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Retiree Appreciation Day Naval Support Activity Mid-South Millington, Tenn. Saturday, Sept. 9, 8 a.m.-2 p.m. NSA Mid-South Conference Center Email: email@example.com
Retired Appreciation Day Naval Air Station, Lemoore, Calif. Saturday, Sept. 23, 9 a.m. Station Theater, 824 Hancock Circle Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Retiree Appreciation Day Air National Guard Base Selfridge, Mich. Saturday, Sept. 23, 8 a.m. Dining Facility, Bldg. 164, 43156 Wagner Street Email: email@example.com
Joint Retiree Appreciation Day Navy Operational Center Minneapolis, Minn. Saturday, Sept. 30, 7:30 a.m. Mystic Lake Main Ballroom Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Retire Appreciation Day Sub Base New London, Conn. Saturday, Oct. 14, 9 a.m. Dealy Center (Base Auditorium) Email: email@example.com
Retiree Seminar Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla. Saturday, Oct. 21, 7:30 a.m. Mustin Beach Club POC: (850) 452-5618 Retiree Seminar Naval Base San Diego, Calif. Saturday, Oct. 29, 8 a.m. Anchors Catering Conference Center RSVP: (858) 277-4259
Retiree Appreciation Day Navy Operations Support Center Phoenix, Ariz. Saturday, Oct. 29, 8 a.m. Luke Air Force Base (NOSC) POC: Bill Best, (623) 856-3923/6827 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Retiree Appreciation Day Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Saturday, Nov. 4 7:30 a.m.-noon Hickam Officers’ Club POC: Phone: (808) 474-0032 Email: email@example.com
[Source: Shift Colors | Spring-Summer 2017 ++]
DoD Appropriations Act Update 02 ► Congress' Professional Malpractice For eight straight years, Congress has failed to pass a defense appropriations bill on time, forcing the armed services in wartime to operate for months at the start of every fiscal year under restrained spending authority called a continuing resolution (CR). CRs freeze defense spending at prior-year levels, block the start of new programs, delay expiration of old programs, and drive up procurement costs by billions of dollars by dismantling the efficiency of multiyear weapon contracts. For the current fiscal year, budget handcuffs on the military are tighter than at any time since the government shutdown of 2013. More than six months into FY 2017, the military continues to operate under a CR, in this case the second desperate budget patch lawmakers have applied since October.
As usual, Republicans and Democrats are paralyzed by partisanship. Republicans want only defense budgets to get relief from spending controls imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA). Democrats want relief from the BCA for domestic programs, too. So far, claims of deteriorating readiness across the military aren't enough to stir an old-fashioned compromise from this generation of lawmakers. At a hearing 5 APR before the House Armed Services Committee, service chiefs of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps predicted readiness disasters if Congress fails to pass a $578 billion defense money bill, or even a $30 billion defense supplemental budget the White House requested in early March. With the current CR set to expire April 28 and Congress taking a two-week break for Easter and Passover, military leaders fear lawmakers will take the easy path again and vote for a third CR to cover the last five months of fiscal 2017.
If that occurs, service chiefs warned, then by early summer training will stop across much of the military. New recruits won't be sent to boot camp. Most aircraft at stateside bases will be grounded. Ship repairs will stop. Only next-to-deploy ground units will see critical training continue. Most training center rotations and large-scale exercises will be suspended. Routine maintenance of equipment will be halted, and thousands of military families will see transfer orders put on hold.
Rep. Susan Davis (D-CA) got a sense of the depth of frustration felt by the chiefs when she suggested CRs might be the “new normal” and asked if military leaders shouldn't find more effective ways to deal with that reality. “I don't accept it as a new normal, Congresswoman,” snapped Gen. Mark A. Milley, Army chief of staff. “Candidly, failure to pass a budget, in my view both as an American citizen and chief of staff of the United States Army, constitutes professional malpractice. I don't think we should accept it as the new normal. I think we should pass it and pass the supplemental with it. And get on with it.” “The world is a dangerous place,” Milley continued. “And it's becoming more dangerous - by the day!” he said, emphasizing each word for effect. “Pass the budget.”
Other chiefs softened their tone but agreed with Milley it can't become normal to saddle the military with months of budget uncertainty every year.
Adm. John M. Richardson, chief of naval operations, said accepting CRs as normal would mean accepting the idea of giving potential adversaries a head start every year in the race to gain or sustain military dominance.
Gen. David L. Goldfein, Air Force chief of staff, said every service chief visits frontline fighting forces and can “give that speech” on why they are there, separated from family and putting their lives at risk. The hardest question to field, he said, is why Americans back home don't seem to be paying attention. “Are we serious about this or not? Is the risk, going forward, worth it or not? And I'm not sure, if we don't even pass a budget, that we can look them in the eye and tell them that what they're doing … is on the minds of this Congress,” Goldfein said.
By early March, the House alone had passed a defense appropriations bill to cover the current year. The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee was still discussing with leadership how it should proceed. “No one is advocating for a full-year CR for the Department of Defense,” said a committee staff member. “It has never operated under one, and we do not intend to start doing that now. We want that to be very clear.” Details of the House-passed appropriations had been worked out with senators with bipartisan support. The $30 billion defense supplemental, however, might not enjoy the same level of bipartisan support. Additional legislator comments made at the hearing included:
Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) noted at the House hearing that the supplemental includes $5.1 billion to fund President Trump's new strategy for defeating the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the terrorist organization still holding territory in Iraq and Syria. Garamendi pressed Milley for details. The Army chief declined to share publicly. “I guess you would expect us to approve a plan that's not been submitted,” Garamendi complained. So far Congress doesn't know, he said, “where the money would be spent [or] how it would be spent.”
Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), committee chairman, said frequent deployments have done more damage to readiness “than most of us realize, requiring more time and more money to repair than is generally expected.” Responsibility for “the current state of affairs” can be shared with “both Congress and the Obama administration, with both Republicans and Democrats, with both military and civilian leadership.” Defense budgets, he said, “got caught up in the partisan back-and-forth on other issues and has even been held hostage for other priorities. We need to get back to evaluating our defense needs on their own, without regard to any agreement or disagreement we may have on other issues.”
Rep. Adam Smith (D- WA), the committee's ranking Democrat, said the services deserve timely funding bills. CRs, he said, are “a colossal waste of your time and also very expensive.” But Smith told the chiefs he can't agree “that we can somehow pull defense out of the entire rest of the federal government … as if all the other money we spend on government doesn't matter.”
Adopting a full-year CR would mean canceled training, costly maintenance delays, and supply shortages across the military. But deploying forces would still be well-trained and equipped and other units would still deploy if called, Goldfein said. The Air Force chief advised adversaries listening to testimony on budget challenges to still know, if they were to challenge the U.S. military, they will lose. “I'll give you just one example: If [Russian President Vladimir] Putin makes a bad choice, he will face the combined economic and military might of 28 nations, and the most powerful alliance we've ever been part of. And that spells his loss.” [Source: MOAA Leg Up | Tom Philpott | April 7, 2017 ++]
Commissary Elimination Update 05► Are They in Jeopardy In late March, the GAO released an overdue report required as part of commissary reform measures included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016. GAO briefed the Armed Services committees more than a year ago on their preliminary observations, but just released the report on its analysis and review of certain aspects of commissary operations. In the meantime, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) has been moving full steam ahead on pilot programs in variable pricing and private-label products, directly impacting the experience of commissary patrons.
The GAO report concludes that certain DeCA business processes “are not consistent with those generally employed by commercial grocery stores.” This isn't surprising, as DeCA is constrained by law regarding how much they can charge, to whom they can sell, where they can operate, etcetera. But the report identifies certain areas where the standards used by DeCA are inefficient. This leaves the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) concerned, because during GAO's evaluation of the processes, DeCA already was implementing new ways of doing business. Achieving data fidelity is difficult when the evaluation instrument is out of touch and out of sync with the subject. The GAO concludes that:
DeCA's methodology for calculating the patron savings rate has limitations and “DeCA lacks reasonable assurance that it is maintaining its desired savings rate for patrons.” Not included in this report are DeCA's recent changes to its savings calculation. The report goes on to say, “at the time of this review, DeCA officials could not provide evidence to support how the revised savings methodology would address all the limitations we identified, including those related to seasonal bias, sampling methodology for overseas commissaries and geographic differentiation.” Additionally, DeCA's new calculation compares the prices of private-label items to commissary private-label items, which are not yet available at commissaries. Such a comparison is highly speculative in an area where GAO already is questioning DeCA's methodologies.
The way DeCA manages products sold at commissaries limits its ability to operate efficiently. GAO recommends DeCA find efficiencies based on store sales or customer demand. While DeCA has seen decreasing sales numbers since 2012, it is in the process of rolling out its own private label. To make room for private-label stock, commissaries will have to remove some items. Will those items be ones patrons feel strongly about losing? The report says, “DeCA has not focused on improving the management of products based on consumer demand and consequently may be missing potential opportunities to improve sales, leverage efficiencies, and achieve savings in commissary operations.” Introducing the private label as a cost-savings maneuver seems risky when other efficiencies may not have been thoroughly explored.
DeCA has not conducted a cost-benefit analysis for its service contracts for stocking and custodial services and for distributing products to commissaries. More than 70 percent of the appropriations dollars (the subsidy) go to labor costs, which include staff pay and benefits, shelf stocking, transportation of goods, janitorial contracts and purchased services. There is an argument to be made that DeCA should have explored some savings opportunities from the largest part of the government's subsidy prior to introducing variable pricing, a private label, and changing the way patrons shop.
MOAA's main concern is that GAO's report indicates there are many more avenues of savings that have not yet been explored. If sales are decreasing, and DeCA loses additional patrons based on its new reforms, what does that mean for foot traffic at the exchanges - and the resulting dividends to local Morale, Welfare and Recreation funds? Commissary reform laws allow DeCA to become a non-appropriated fund (NAF) entity if existing pilots for variable pricing and private label are successful. DoD is required to brief the Armed Services committees before those extra steps can be taken. Some questions remain:
Will those briefings be made public?
How have the three requirements of patron savings, satisfaction, and product quality been maintained?
Has the change in savings benchmark calculations lowered the bar for savings if it doesn't include exact comparisons?
What items will patrons see go away to make room for private label, and what assurance is there patrons will not be less satisfied as a result?
The Armed Services committees have reserved oversight authority over all of these reforms. They need to hear from the military community on the subject and hold hearings on the issue. MOAA has prepared an editable message at http://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/alert/?alertid=76546626 and suggests readers use it to ask theirlegislators to ensure their oversight includes assessment of these gaps noted by the GAO. [Source: MOAA Leg Up | March 31, 2017 ++]