TREA weekly Newsletter (7/11/2018)

July 11, 2018
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 Inside this issue
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
Defense Bill in Final Stages – But TREA Has Concerns
As Congress returned to Washington this week and began dealing with a heavy workload in July, the House/Senate conference committee formally began its work to come up with a final National Defense Authorization Act for fy2019.  We say “formally” because staff members have been meeting to work on differences between the House and Senate bills for quite some time.
Their goal is to come to an agreement on one final bill, send it back to the House and Senate for a final vote of approval and send it to President Trump before the end of this month.

While passage of the bill before the end of the 2018 fiscal year is commendable TREA remains concerned about certain items in each of the versions of the bill.

The Senate version contains a provision that would eliminate the grandfathering in of those enrolled in TRICARE prior to January 1 of this year.  The effect of this would be to raise TRICARE co-pays on those individuals.  In other words, it would make them pay more for their healthcare.  TREA opposes this.

The House version would require a two year Medicare Advantage demonstration project for TRICARE for Life (TFL) beneficiaries.   We understand that there are certain areas of the country where military retirees who use TFL cannot see the doctors and other health care providers they have previously used because those providers are now in a Medicare Advantage group and cannot see patients who are not enrolled in Medicare Advantage.

However, we are concerned this demonstration project would be the beginning of an attempt to remove all Medicare-eligible military retirees from the existing TFL program and require them to purchase a Medicare Advantage plan for their secondary health care coverage – at their own expense.  This would create an unnecessary financial hardship on a limited income and vulnerable population and would break faith with retirees who thought they earned their health care through their military career.

At this point TREA is opposed to the authorization and commencement of the demonstration project and any attempt to force over age 65 military retirees off of TRICARE for Life, and making them pay more for their health care.

However, if you  – or someone you know – cannot see the health care providers you want because they can only accept Medicare Advantage patients, we would like to hear from you right away.

Finally, TREA supports parts of the Senate NDAA that honor the families of those who have fallen or died in support of this Nation and we want to make sure the Services always value and remember them. We know how important attendance at memorial ceremonies, access to cemeteries and access to entitled benefits are to surviving families.

We support a provision to give certain surviving spouses and other next of kin of those who die while on active duty or on certain reserve duty access to military installations.

We believe than any benefit provided needs to be for all eligible survivors of those who die while on active duty for their country. We oppose the provision in the House version of the NDAA that limits the benefit to only those whose service member died while in combat. No other Federal benefits are limited in that way.

The issuing of a military family member ID card to a remarried surviving spouse who acts as an agent for his/her children is a simple way to ensure that it can be used to make sure the children have access to their benefits no matter what installation their family may use. ID regulations, policies and procedures to limit eligibility to other programs are already in place for other specific beneficiaries i.e. TRICARE Young Adult participants.

No surviving family member should feel unappreciated or neglected. We support calling for a policy to consistently allow access to installations by other family members to be determined by the Secretary of Defense and the Service Secretaries.

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Senate Moves Forward in Confirmation of New VA Secretary
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee voted this week to confirm Robert Wilkie as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs.  Wilkie, 55, is an Air Force Reserve colonel who previously spent time in the Navy Reserve. He currently works as the Pentagon’s top personnel and readiness official, and served as the acting VA secretary for two months following the firing of former VA Secretary David Shulkin.
Privatizing the VA was a major issue during Wilkie’s confirmation hearing.  According to theMilitary Times, “Wilkie repeatedly promised that he was opposed to privatization of the department, but also said that partnerships with doctors outside the federal system are critical for the reliability of the department.
“‘I believe in the centrality of VA to care,’ he said in response to a question from [Senator Bernie] Sanders about privatization. ‘There are things that VA does that will never be replicated in the public sector.'”
“If we believe that the veteran is central, we can also make the argument that as long as VA is at the central node in his care … that reinforces the future of the VA.”
The nomination now moves to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. However, there is no set date for voting on the nomination.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is also one of three federal departments still without a deputy secretary.
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Defense Funding Bill Still Being Worked On
As we have reported in the past, there are two bills involving the Department of Defense that Congress works on each year.  The first is the National Defense Authorization Act which we discuss above.
The second is the Defense Appropriations bill, which actually provides the money for DoD to operate with.  So far, neither the House nor the Senate have managed to pass a DoD funding bill for fiscal year 2019.
There is no date that has been set for final passage of the bill although if it is not passed by the end of July, Congress will only have a few days in September to pass the bill since they will be in recess for most of August and they’ll want to leave town so they can campaign in September.  If a Defense funding bill is not passed by the end of September, some kind of legislation will have to be passed in order to keep the Pentagon functioning.
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