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ALLIANCE NEWSLETTER
 

Volume 11 • Number 1
January-February 2015
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Hagel Announces New Defense Innovation, Reform Efforts

Before leaving his position as Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel announced a plan to harness the brightest minds and cutting-edge technology to change the way the Department of Defense innovates and operates. Along with the new innovation initiative, the secretary also announced a project to reform the defense enterprise, preparing it to deal with dwindling time of transition,” Hagel said. “We face a reshaping of our enterprise by a fiscal environment plagued by budget uncertainty and a large decline in resources, and by an historic realignment of interests and influences around the world.” As these dynamics unfold, he added, the U.S. military is engaged in crises and security challenges around the world -- degrading the terrorist organization the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, helping to stop the spread of Ebola virus disease, and reinforcing NATO allies. “Few would have predicted these missions a year ago,” the secretary said, adding that DoD is responsible for addressing a range of contingencies and crises. budgets in an uncertain future.

“The Department of Defense is undergoing a defining time of transition,” Hagel said. “We face a reshaping of our enterprise by a fiscal environment plagued by budget uncertainty and a large decline in resources, and by an historic realignment of interests and influences around the world.”

As these dynamics unfold, he added, the U.S. military is engaged in crises and security challenges around the world -- degrading the terrorist organization the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, helping to stop the spread of Ebola virus disease, and reinforcing NATO allies. “Few would have predicted these missions a year ago,” the secretary said, adding that DoD is responsible for addressing a range of contingencies and crises.

New, Old Threats, Challenges

“We face the rise of new technologies, national powers and non-state actors,” as well as “sophisticated, deadly and often asymmetric emerging threats ranging from cyberattacks to transnational criminal networks, and persistent, volatile threats we have faced for years,” Hagel said. The nation’s long-term security, he added, depends on whether the department can address today’s crises while preparing for tomorrow’s threats.

Hagel described the department’s two most-important investments as bolstering the United States’ unrivaled capacity for innovation and reforming the defense enterprise to ensure that the military foundation is reliable, agile, accountable and worthy of the men and women who serve. While the United States and its allies spent more than a decade at war, he said, countries like Russia and China have heavily invested in military modernization programs to blunt the U.S. military’s technological edge, fielding advanced aircraft, submarines and longer-range and more accurate missiles, and developing new anti-ship and air-to- air missiles, and counter-space, cyber, electronic warfare, undersea and air-attack capabilities.

New Defense Innovation Initiative

Hagel described the effort as an ambitious, department wide effort to identify and invest in innovative ways to sustain and advance America’s military dominance for the 21st century. “Continued fiscal pressure will likely limit our military’s ability to respond to long-term challenges . . . so to overcome challenges to our military superiority we must change the way we innovate, operate and do business,” the secretary explained. The innovation initiative, he said, will ensure that U.S. power-projection capabilities continue to sustain a competitive advantage over the coming decades.

As part of the initiative, Hagel said, a new Long- Range Research and Development Planning Program will help identify, develop and field breakthroughs from the most cutting-edge technologies and systems, especially in robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and advanced manufacturing, including 3-D printing.

“The program will look toward the next decade and beyond,” he said, “but in the near-term it will invite some of the brightest minds from inside and outside government to assess the technologies and systems DoD should develop over the next three to five years and beyond.” The innovation initiative will explore and develop new operational concepts, including new approaches to warfighting, and balancing DoD’s investments between platforms and payloads, Hagel said.

People Are DoD’s Premier Asset

New approaches to war-gaming and professional military education already are in development, the secretary added, “and the initiative will focus on the department’s most important asset -- people -- by pursuing time-honored leadership development practices and emerging opportunities to re-imagine how we develop managers and leaders.”

Seeking Private-sector Proposals

“We all know that DoD no longer has exclusive access to the most cutting-edge technology or the ability to spur or control the development of new technologies the way we once did,” the defense secretary said. “So we will actively seek proposals from the private sector, including firms and academic institutions outside DoD’s traditional orbit.”

The Defense Innovation Initiative will shape the department’s programs, plans and budgets, Hagel said, adding that as the initiative matures over time he expects its impact on the defense budget to scale up as well. “As the world in which we operate changes, we must change too,” the defense secretary said, adding that he has ordered full reviews of the department’s business and management systems.

“The first reviews are underway now, starting with the Office of the Secretary of Defense,” Hagel said. “DoD must embrace better business practices that are core to any modern enterprise, private or public.”

Upgrade Business, Information Technology Systems

The department will upgrade business and information technology systems and processes, striking the right balance between civil service and contractor support and avoiding duplication of support functions in OSD and the services, he said, adding that after years of postponement and delay the department is making progress in moving toward greater financial accountability.

Hagel said the department has been making hard choices and mustering the flexibility required by new geopolitical and fiscal realities. “But to succeed,” he said, “we need the support and partnership of Congress, especially at a time when demands on our military are surging and our resources are shrinking and our ability to manage our institution is being more and more limited.” Hagel added, “If we make the right investments in our partnerships around the world in innovation and in our defense enterprise we will continue to keep our nation’s military and our nation’s global leadership on a strong and sustainable path for the 21st century.”

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Report from the Hill

When it comes to the Depart- ment of Defense, Congress must pass two bills each year. First is the NDAA -- the National Defense Authorization Act. This bill authorizes the spending that DoD can do each year. It also is the piece of legislation that is used to change mili- tary benefits. For instance increases in health care costs, like raising co-pays for prescription drugs, are made in the NDAA.

Congress has passed this bill each year for 53 years, although sometimes recently, like this year, they didn’t get it done until almost the last minute.

The second bill they need to pass is the appropriations bill -- the bill that actually provides the money to do the things DoD wants to do. This year, just like last year, the DoD funding was wrapped up in what is called an “omnibus” bill, which funded the entire federal government. Again, this came at the last minute.

The NDAA was a mixed bag for • military people.

Congress rejected most of the proposals from DoD to cut personnel benefits. However, it did vote for these:

  • Increase out-of-pocket costs for pharmacy co-pays. Beneficiaries who are not serving on active duty will see a one-time increase of $3 for drugs purchased at a retail pharmacy and for mail-order non- generic prescriptions.
  • Expand the mandatory mail-order requirement for maintenance medications to all TRICARE benef iciaries. TFL benef iciaries are already required to use the mail-order pharmacy or an MTF to refill maintenance medications. Starting in FY 2016 all TRICARE beneficiaries will enter this pilot program.
  • A one percent (1%) decrease in Basic Allowance for Housing in FY 2015 with no further decrease in future years.
  • Extends full COLA protection to servicemembers entering service through January 1, 2016. New service entrants were not protected when cuts to military retirement COLAs were repealed in March 2014. This means that starting on January 1 of 2016 new service members will receive a COLA that is 1 percent less than the annual inflation rate when they retire.
  • Extends 90 day early Guard/ Reserve retirement credit over two fiscal years. Previously, time served on active duty spanning two fiscal years was not fully counted.
  • Prohibits the Pentagon from initiat- ing another round of BRAC (base closures).
  • By staying silent on the issue of a pay raise for active duty personnel, Congress went along with DoD’s proposal to limit the pay increase to 1 percent, instead of a 1.8 percent that was already provided for in law.
  • Limited the cut in support to commissaries to $10 million, instead of a planned $100 million cut. The $10 million is supposed to be made up by increased effi- ciencies in the commissary system.
  • Blocks any attempt by the services to ban sale of tobacco products on military installations and ships but requires that such products not be sold at less that the most competi- tive prices in the local community.

Although AFTEA was opposed to these cuts in benefits, the silver lining is that they are much less that the Pentagon wanted when it submitted its budget to Congress last spring. In that budget it had requested these:

  • Cap the active duty pay raise at 1 percent (vs. a 1.8 percent raise established in law)
  • Increase out-of pocket housing costs by 5 percent over 3 years
  • Reduce purchasing power at the commissary by 66 percent
  • Radically overhaul the TRICARE benefit by consolidating TRICARE Prime, Standard, and Extra, increas- ing pharmacy fees, and implement- ing a means-tested TRICARE for Life (TFL) enrollment fee

The benef it cuts passed by Congress are clearly much less than DoD had wanted. AFTEA opposed those cuts because the erosion of pay and benefits in the past lead to poor recruiting and retention, resulting in unacceptable readiness issues. It appears we are heading down that path again.

Omnibus Spending Bill

Instead of passing 12 individual funding bills for the federal govern- ment as they’re supposed to do by the first of October every year, Congress let political fighting prevent them from doing their jobs. As a result, they had to pass a temporary funding bill that only kept the government functioning through December 11. That meant that after the November elections but before the December 11 deadline, they had to pass legislation to fund the government for the rest of FY2015. Because of the shortness of time, they decided to do what they had done the year before -- pass an “omnibus” bill that funded the entire government in one big bill. Even then, they had to pass a short-term funding bill to get past the December 11 deadline because they couldn’t come to an agreement.

However, they f inally did pass a funding bill and much to the surprise of AFTEA and other military and veter- ans groups, there were some things in it we did not expect.

In addition to restoring most of the cuts that had been made in funding for commissaries, Congress also included the two year advanced appropriations for VA benefit programs through FY 2016. These accounts include VA compensation and pensions, readjust- ment benefits such as the GI bill, and insurance and indemnities for survi- vors.

This comes in addition to advance funding for VA health care which happened in FY 2010. This provision will ensure veterans and survi- vors benefit checks would continue in the event of a future government shut- down, and allow important VA research programs to continue unhindered by annual budget negotiations.

Coast Guard Gets Short- Changed (Again)

Very often in the past the Coast Guard has been forgotten when it came to personnel benefits and other issues that were provided to the other armed services that are part of the Department of Defense. That is because unless a war is declared the Coast Guard is part of a different department of govern- ment. The service known as the Coast Guard was officially established in 1915 and was part of the Department of the Treasury. In 1967 it became part of the Department of Transporta- tion. Then in 2003 it became part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Because DHS is also the depart- ment that deals with the issues of border protection and immigration, and because the President’s executive order regarding illegal immigrants is so controversial, Congress could not reach an agreement regarding funding DHS for the remainder of FY2015. Instead, Congress agreed to fund DHS only through the end of February. By then the Republicans will have the majorities in both the Senate and the House and they intend to use their majority to try and stop the President’s order.

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard is caught up in that political fight simply because it is part of DHS. Therefore, like the rest of DHS the Coast Guard is only funded through the end of February and Congress must pass new funding legislation is the Coast Guard is to be able to continue functioning.

AFTEA is appalled that this has happened and we will fight to get the CoastGuardfundedjustliketherestof the armed services through the remain- der of FY2015.

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President's Column

With the AFTEA National elections concluded, I congratulate all of you who have agreed to serve on the National Board of Directors of this great organization. Many of you have served continually since AFTEA was chartered in 2003, and we thank you for continuing to do so.

As in the past, your new Board of Directors will continue to represent all of our members before Congress at every national stage in order to promote the military and its members, both active and retired. We must remain constantly involved and on guard to protect our earned benefits for the sacrifices we have rendered to this great nation. Let me remind you of the fact that “what Congress givith -- Congress can take away”.

When AFTEA was chartered, we hired AMS Management Services, based in Maryland, to assist us in recruiting and retention of fellow top enlisted military members. They have provided us with a multitude of services and have kept us informed on matters that affect us. They also publish, the “Alliance,” and maintain our website (www.aftea.us).

Recruiting and retention of current members continues to be our greatest challenge. At our National Convention in 2010, we were on the verge of reaching 5,000 members however, between our founding in 2003 and July 31, 2014, we lost 2,508 members. Our present membership stands at 4,121, most of whom are life members. We acknowledge that some members have passed away, but many non-life members simply failed to renew their membership.

When AFTEA was created we envisioned that new members would help to financially sustain the organization however, we are barely treading water and desperately need your help. AMS Services alone cannot sustain AFTEA. We all have friends and acquaintances who are not members. If we are to remain a viable organization we desperately need to get involved in recruiting and retention.

Lists of potential members are extremely difficult to obtain and very expensive due to the privacy act. I have informed AMS Services that after three or four attempts to recruit or renew the membership of a fellow E-9, we should quit “spinning our wheels” since it is obvious they are not interested. Hopefully they belong to at least one other veteran’s organization that looks out for their interests and voices their concerns.

Again, we need all AFTEA members to be recruit- ers, so we urge you to share the “Alliance” with qualified members and ask them to join. Also, refer them to our website for further information.

I want to congratulate our local chapters for the outstanding services they provide for their members and their communities. Most AFTEA members are Members At Large (MAL’s). We at National Headquarters are ready to assist in forming new chapters. If you are interested or know someone who might be in forming a new chapter, please contact me at: bpdelacruz2@aol.com.

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Thinking About Urgent CWare? The Nurse Advice Line Can Help

When urgent health problem arises, it is hard to know wheather you should try to tough it out or seek medical care. Luckily, TRICARE beneficiaries can call the Nurse Advice Line (NAL) to get advice on their health care questions. Not all health problems require a visit with a medical specialist but a Registered Nurse at the NAL can help you make the decision on whether you should seek care at an urgent care center.

While goig to an urgent care clinic for a high fever or a sprained ankle may seem like the easiest option, if you call the NAL first you can save time and money. The NAL is made up of a team of registered nurses (RNs), who can answer your healthcare questions. There is always a live person on the line to answer your concerns. When you call, the nurse will ask several medical questions based on your symptoms. These questions were developed by physicians to help the RNs get the most accurate assessment of your medical problem.

If you are not calling for yourself, please make sure that the family member in question is present so you can assess their condition as the nurse asks questions. If the person is over age 13, the nurse may ask to speak to them directly. Feel free to stay on another line or use a speakerphone option if that makes you more comfortable.

If self-care is recommended, the nurse may provide you with advice on home treatments and remedies. However, if you or your family member needs an urgent care appointment, the NAL will help you with next steps. If you are on TRICARE Prime and enrolled to an MTF or clinic, the NAL will try to schedule a same or next-day appointment for you. If you are a TRICARE Prime beneficiary enrolled to an MTF and the NAL is unable to get you an appointment in your MTF when you need it, the NAL will follow-up with your MTF to ensure your urgent care referral is submitted.

If you are a Prime beneficiary and receive care through the civilian network, and the NAL determines you need urgent care, just follow-up with a call to your civilian PCMs office the next business day to let them know. Please keep in mind that if you get urgent care from another provider without a referral from your PCM, or if the NAL did not recommend you seek urgent care, you will be using the point-of-service option. The NAL will advise beneficiaries on all other TRICARE plans to seek care within the network.

The NAL is a new and easy option for beneficiaries to get information on their medical problems quickly and at any time. To access the NAL dial 1-800-TRICARE (874- 2273) and select option 1.

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Hagel Says Vietnam Wall Teaches Sacrifice, Need for Questioning Policies

The Vietnam War Memorial teaches Americans to honor those who sacri- ficed, but also to be honest and to question the policies that send Americans to war, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said today.

Hagel served as an Army sergeant in the 9th Infantry Division during the war and spoke at the Wall today about the meaning of the memorial.

The secretary spoke about his first Veterans Day as a veteran in Omaha, Nebraska. “I’ve always remembered that Veterans Day in 1969, because it reminded me of the one constant throughout the Vietnam War -- the uncom- mon valor of common Americans from every corner of our country,” he said. “They were the quiet heroes of our time. Some of these veterans are here today, and the names of many more are memorialized on the Wall behind us.”

he Wall lists the names of the more than 58,000 Americans killed during the war. Those looking at the names also see the reflections of themselves.

“As it records the names of the past, and reflects our hopes for the future, it also offers a reminder -- a message that carries across generations: The Wall reminds us to honor those who defend our country -- from making sure they’re treated with the dignity, respect, and appreciation they deserve, to caring for those who return home with visible -- and invisible -- wounds of war,” Hagel said. Mustang Officers Protected No matter when, where or what war, the United States has “a sacred responsibility” to care for and honor those who sacrificed, the secretary said.

The Wall also reminds Americans to be honest. “There is nothing to be gained by glossing over the darker portions of a war that bitterly divided America,” Hagel said. “We must openly acknowledge past mistakes, and learn from them, because that is how we avoid repeating them.”

The Wall reminds Americans to not take security for granted, and that “we must always question our policies that send our citizens to war, because our nation’s policies must always be worthy of the sacrifices we ask of the men and women who defend our country,” he said.

As secretary, Hagel has a private lunch each month with junior enlisted personnel. “What they tell me -- and what every American should know -- is that today’s service members don’t want to be glorified or given special treat- ment,” he said. “The entire 9/11 generation volunteered to serve at a time of war, and they have a strong desire to continue making a difference in the world.”

These men and women want to continue to serve even after leaving the military, he said. “They don’t need a hand-out or a hand-up -- they just want the opportunity to continue proving themselves,” Hagel said. “It falls on us to make sure they get that opportunity -- the opportunity that too many veterans were denied in the past.”

Hagel called on all Americans to honor veterans by “creating new opportunities for them to contribute after their service in uniform, so they can continue to help make a better world. America is forever grateful for their service to our country.”

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Mustang Officers Protected

Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced last week that the Army is reversing a decision that forced prior-enlisted “mustang” officers selected for invol- untary retirement to retire at their last enlisted rank.

Roughly 160 out of the more than 1,900 Army officers selected for invol- untary separation were retirement-eligi- ble “mustang” off icers, but they did not have the required eight years of commissioned service time to retire at their current rank.

These officers were to be retired at their last enlisted rank, and stood to lose more than $1,000 a month in retirement compensation compared to the “high-three” average typically used to compute retired pay.

The policy reversal follows pres- sure from AFTEA and the National Military and Veterans Alliance along with members of Congress to stop this inequity. Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Penn.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) led the charge by introducing the Proudly Restoring Off icers of Prior Enlistment Retirement (PROPER) Act to reduce commissioned service time require- ments. Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), and 13 other senators wrote a letter to the secretary asking him to reverse policy.

When announcing the policy rever- sal, Secretary McHugh said that some off icers would be brought back onto active duty until they reached the eight year threshold. For others, time in service time requirements would be waived.

AFTEA applauds the actions of Secretary McHugh and the Army to rectify this inequity for prior enlisted ‘mustang’ officers. A particular thanks to Reps. Thompson and Walz for their quick response to protect these servicemembers who repeatedly answered the call of duty to our nation.

Together, these actions right a wrong and provide these off icers with the respect and compensation they deserve for their decades of selfless service and sacrifice. Reducing end strength is never easy, but the decision by the Army is the right one to draw down with dignity.

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DoD Seeks to Cut Red Tape, Bureaucracy

Cutting red tape and eliminating bureaucracy is a priority effort throughout the Defense Department, both the Secretary of the Air Force and DoD’s top acquisitions official said recently. “We have a combina- tion of world conditions which have our military perhaps the busiest that we have been in recent memory,” Secretary Deborah Lee James said. “Things seem to be popping up all over the world in near-simultaneous fashion . . . and of course there’s a certain state of play now that we’re dealing with -- both in the executive branch and in Congress -- in terms of coming up with gridlock as opposed to coming up with solutions to move forward.”

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisitions, Logistics and Technology Frank Kendall noted that eliminating govern-ment waste requires “constancy offocus, tenacity and the will to do it.And it takes a lot of time.”

One of the first things Kendall did when he came back into govern- ment four-and-a-half years ago, he said, was to start slimming down the requirements for program milestone reviews.

“It is a constant struggle to proceed in that area and to succeed,” the undersecretary said.

The Better Buying Power initiatives, begun in 2010, include a seriouseffort at eliminating unproductiveprocesses and bureaucracy, he noted.“And we’re just going to have to keepat it, because one of the iron rules, unfortunately, about bureaucracies is they tend to grow if left alone,” Kendall said.

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