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Government and You E-News – January 8, 2008

1. NDAA Still on Hold

2. New Year Brings New Pay and Allowance Rates

3. TRICARE Enhances Behavioral Health Accessibility

4. VA Cost-of-Living Increases Take Effect

5. New Electronic Health Information Sharing Capability Announced

6. It’s Tax Time!

7. Primary Season Has Begun

8. Military Families Benefit from Changes in Space-A Travel

1. NDAA Still on Hold: President Bush used a
"pocket veto" during the Christmas holiday to stop the National Defense
Authorization Act for FY08 from going forward. The pocket veto can only
be used when Congress is not in session and means that the legislation
died at midnight on December 31, 2007. The president used this tactic
to object to particular provisions within H.R. 1585, especially section
1083 which would reshape Iraq’s immunity to lawsuits, exposing the new
government to litigation within the United States courts stemming from
treatment of Americans in Iraq during Saddam’s reign. Even cases that
had once been rejected could be refiled. The President said the
legislation "would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a
crucial juncture in that nation’s reconstruction efforts."

Much is being publicized about the delay of a pay raise as a result
of the veto. In reality it means that troops will get a 3 percent raise
instead of the 3.5 percent authorized by the bill, unless an agreement
is reached. As of now, Congress has not ruled out any legislative
options; including dropping the language on lawsuits against Iraq and
sending the rest of the bill back to President Bush. The Administration
has said that as soon as the House returns on January 15th, they will
work with Congress to fix the provision as quickly as possible. NMFA
hopes that this will be accomplished in a timely manner so that all the
other provisions in the NDAA so important to service members, military
families and the wounded can be implemented. Source: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2007/12/20071228-3.html

2. New Year Brings New Pay and Allowance Rates:
Effective January 1, 2008 service members received a 3.0 % increase in
basic pay. In addition, Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and Cost of
Living Allowance (COLA) rates are now being paid at 2008 levels.
According to the Department of Defense BAH rates increased an average
of 7%. To determine your 2008 BAH or COLA rate visit the rate query
website at http://perdiem.hqda.pentagon.mil/perdiem/. For a complete 2008 pay table visit the Military Compensation website at: http://www.defenselink.mil/militarypay/pay/bp/index.html.

3. TRICARE Enhances Behavioral Health Accessibility:
TRICARE is making behavioral health care access simpler for Prime
beneficiaries by offering assistance with appointments. All active duty
service members and their enrolled family members living in the U.S.
who need help locating and making appointments with behavioral health
care providers can now contact their Managed Care Support Contractor
(MCSC) for assistance. 

For assistance making behavioral health appointments the toll-free
numbers are: West Region, 1-866-651- 4970; North Region,
1-877-747-9579; and in the South Region the number is 1-877-298-3514.
Hours vary according to region.

All active duty service members must have a referral from their
primary care manager for behavioral health care before calling the MCSC
appointment assistance line. TRICARE Prime active duty family members
can receive the first eight outpatient behavioral health care visits
per fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) without a referral, but they must
receive the care from TRICARE network providers to avoid
point-of-service cost sharing charges.

TRICARE Oversees Program beneficiaries can also use the appointment
assistance line when traveling in the U.S. Beneficiaries are reminded
that the Behavioral Health Provider Locator and Appointment Assistance
Service is not a help line for behavioral health treatment, counseling
or advice.

For more information about TRICARE and the behavioral health
appointment assistance service, visit the mental health and behavior
section at http://www.tricare.mil/ and create a profile. If you are a TRICARE Standard or Extra beneficiary your options vary slightly. Go to http://www.tricare.mil/ and follow the instructions for assistance in making behavioral health appointments.

4. VA Cost-of-Living Increases Take Effect:
Millions of veterans and eligible family members will see their
disability compensation, pension, and survivors’ benefits increased as
the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides an annual
cost-of-living increase for key benefits.

A recent law signed by President Bush provides a 2.3 percent
increase in disability compensation and survivors’ benefits. Eligible
veterans and family members will see this increase starting in their
January 2008 checks.

Under the veterans’ disability compensation program, tax-free
payments will generally range from $117 to $2,527 per month depending
on the degree of disability. Special payments up to $7,232 per month
apply to the most severely injured veterans.

Pension disability benefits will also be increased by the same
percentage and effective on the same date. The maximum annual rate for
permanently and totally disabled veterans or veterans over age 65 can
range from $11,181 to $18,654, based on household income and whether
veterans are in need of help with activities for daily living.

This increase also applies to survivors of veterans who died in
service or from a service-connected disability.  The basic monthly rate
for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) survivors’ benefit
payments increased from $1067 to $1091 per month. The basic rate for
each dependent child under age 18 increased from $250 to $271 per
child.  For more information on DIC compensation payment rates go to http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Rates/comp03.htm.

Survivors of wartime veterans receiving death pensions are also
entitled to an increase.  The maximum annual payment rate for a
surviving spouse can range from $7,498 to $11,985.  Benefits under this
program are intended to bring an eligible spouse’s income to a level
established by law. Under each benefit program, additional allowances
may be payable for helpless, minor or school age children. For more
information about VA benefits and services, go to VA’s website at http://www.va.gov/ or call 1-800-827-1000.  (Source: http://www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1436)

5. New Electronic Health Information Sharing Capability Announced:
The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs
(VA) can now share health care information electronically through the
Bidirectional Health Information Exchange (BHIE) and the Clinical Data
Repository/Health Data Repository (CHDR) interfaces. These new product
enhancements will allow DoD and the VA to see each other’s clinical
encounters, medical procedures, and lists of medical problems. DoD will
also be able to view data collected in theater including inpatient
information from the use of the Theater Medical Data Store. Earlier
this year, DoD and the VA were able to view pharmacy, allergy,
microbiology, chemistry/hematology information, and radiology reports.

The CHDR software actively synchronizes data between DoD and the VA
repositories for service members receiving health care services from
both government agencies. CHDR has been in operation since late 2007,
but in a limited basis. New enhancements to CHDR software will allow
each agency to see shared service members’ information. Having access
to service member’s pertinent information in a timely fashion will
greatly increase continuity and quality of care to our wounded service
members from the time of their initial injury in theater to care
received stateside.
(Source: http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/release.aspx?releaseid=11588)

6. It’s Tax Time! As you make your
New Years resolutions, this year consider curbing unnecessary expenses.
Each year service members and their families needlessly spend their
hard earned income on tax preparation services that are available free.
Your local installation tax office will prepare and file your return at
absolutely no charge. In addition, Military OneSource has provided free
online preparation for the past several years. While the program has
not yet been announced for this year, it is likely that it will be
offered again.

The first step in preparing your return is collecting the necessary
documents. Just in time, Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS)
has announced the release schedule for military W-2 and 1099 forms.
Service members and civilian employees can log into their DFAS myPay
accounts and download tax documents. These electronic documents are
available as much as two weeks prior to hard copy forms mailed to
recipients. The following forms are currently available for download:

  • Retiree 1099R
  • Annuitant 1099R
  • Air Force, Army and Navy Reserve W2
  • Civilian W2
  • Marine Corps Active and Reserve W2

Other forms will be available according to the following schedule:

  • NAF Civilian W2, 1/11/2008
  • Savings Deposit 1099INT, 1/18/2008
  • Air Force, Army, and Navy Active W2, 1/22/2008

For complete details visit the DFAS myPay website: https://mypay.dfas.mil/mypay.aspx

Remember, the new Military Lending Act is now in effect and provides
regulation for long overlooked refund anticipation loans. Don’t pay
fees and interest to access your money. File your own return or seek
assistance at your local installation tax office.

7. Primary Season Has Begun: The
race for the White House officially kicked off with the Iowa Caucuses
last week. Have you filed your request for an absentee ballot yet? Each
state has its own rules regarding absentee ballots, but all require an
absentee voter to actually request a ballot if they cannot be present
on the day of the election. Service members and their families can
request an absentee ballot by obtaining and returning a Federal Post
Card Application (SF-76). These forms are available from your command
Voting Assistance Officer or online at: http://www.fvap.gov/pubs/fpca.html.

The Federal Voting Assistance Program website, http://www.fvap.gov/,
provides voters with publications and forms, information on voting
laws, services available, and links to local voting information. Voting
is one of our most fundamental rights and privileges. Don’t miss the
opportunity to have your voice heard!

8. Military Families Benefit from Changes in Space-A Travel:
Dependents of service members who have been deployed for 120 days or
longer will now find it easier to travel on Space Available military
flights (Space-A). Due to a change in policy effective December 6,
2007, military families no longer need to be accompanied by their
service member when traveling Space-A regardless of where they are
based. Prior to the change, military dependents could only travel
unaccompanied from an overseas location to the family’s home of record
within the continental United States or within an overseas theater of
operation. Additionally, they were limited to one round trip during the
military sponsor’s deployment period. 

Under the new policy, family members may now travel unlimited times
during the deployment when seats are available. However, family members
planning to use Space-A transportation will need a verification letter
from the military sponsor’s commander confirming the service member’s
deployment. In addition, an eligible parent or legal guardian must
accompany family members under age 18.

NMFA wishes to thank the Department of Defense for this new policy,
which provides better support for military families during deployments.
For more information regarding the Space-A travel program, please visit
the Air Mobility Command website at http://www.amc.af.mil/.

About Homefront Six

Homefront Six is a past SpouseBUZZ blogger.