October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

DoD offers counselling to help couples improve communication, prevent violent incidents.


Officials Aim to Manage TRICARE Costs, Preserve Future Benefits

Modest increases to certain aspects of military health care will help to responsibly manage costs and ensure benefits for future service members, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs said today.

“The truth of the matter is the spiraling cost of health care requires us to adjust some fees and co-pays -- fees and co-pays that really have not been adjusted since the TRICARE program was put into place in 1994,” Dr. Jonathan Woodson said. “This allows us to responsibly manage our costs while providing access to high-quality care and ensuring the benefit is there for those that might serve in the future.”

Effective Oct. 1, military retirees enrolling in the TRICARE Prime health plan began paying slightly higher annual fees, Woodson said. “The [TRICARE Prime] fee increases for an individual has only gone up, essentially, $2.50 a month,” he explained. “And for a family, $5 a month. [The] total cost is really modest in terms of the overall cost of the entire year.”

Those enrolled before Oct. 1, however, won’t see an increase in cost until fiscal 2013, he added.

Woodson said two groups of TRICARE beneficiaries would not experience any increases: people who are medically retired and survivors of deceased active duty sponsors.

Defense Department officials recognize the potential concerns regarding fee increases during tough economic times, he said.

“We understand, particularly in the current economy and set of fiscal realities, any increase in [out-of-pocket] costs would cause some concern,” he said. “But I would remind everyone there have been no fee increases since 1994.” Woodson also noted that not all co-payments and fees have risen.

“There have been some adjustments in co-pays,” he said. “In one category, actually, the fees have gone down, so [for] those individuals who have mail-order pharmacy benefits [and] previously paid $3 for generic drugs, … that fee will go away.”

Beneficiaries will see modest increases in other co-payments for brand-name drugs, particularly at the retail level, which will go from $3 to $5, he explained. Nonformulary drugs will rise from $22 to $25 for both retail and mail-order pharmacies. For brand-name drugs, the cost will remain the same -- $9 for the mail order pharmacy.

Another potential concern Woodson addressed was staff reduction.

“It will not affect the care, and it’s important to note that while we’ve been talking about adjustments in fees and co-pays, that is really part of a real comprehensive strategy to manage our cost,” he said. “We’ve taken a look at the administrative costs of TRICARE and reduced the numbers of so-called full-time employees and contractors to reduce the cost before getting to the point of increasing the fees.

“But none of this will decrease the service or the quality of care that beneficiaries will expect and receive,” he added.

The health affairs chief also said the department has taken a very “modest posture on the current recommendation and rollout of fee increases.” Woodson said no decisions have been made on future increases, and he re-emphasized that this is the first increase since TRICARE’s inception.

“I would like everyone to understand that because of the … cost of health care, TRICARE is trying to responsibly manage its cost and ensure that this benefit is available for the future for those that who will serve,” he said. “This does require some adjustment in fees, but we’ve taken a position to really only modestly increase these fees, understanding that those men and women who have committed to service in the nation’s military should have a more generous benefit than those in the civilian sector.”

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

Special-needs Families Offer Insight on Challenges

 Military families with special needs would benefit from better consistency in services, more effective communication and improved health care education.

A group of specially selected family members offered up these suggestions for countering ongoing challenges during an exceptional family member panel held last week at the Defense Department's office of community support for military families with special needs here.

The panel was composed of 10 families with special needs -- from children with educational or physical challenges to adults with medical problems -- with representation from all services, as well as the active duty and reserve components.

The panel's aim was to help DOD officials "get a pulse" on the challenges special-needs military families face, said Rebecca Posante, deputy director of the office of community support for military families with special needs, which oversees the department's Exceptional Family Member Program.

"We want to make sure what we think are the issues are what the families think are the issues," she said, "and see if we're going in the right direction."

Panel members spotlighted three key areas of concern: consistency, communication and health care, Posante said.

Across the board, panel members raised issues about the consistency of special-needs services across the branches and between the active duty and reserve components. For example, if a Navy member goes to an Army facility, that member should expect to receive the same quality and similar types of services, Posante said. And, people should get the same support regardless of activation status or uniform, she added.

Family members wanted to know, "Why do we get this when we're here, but not in another place?" Posante said.

Panel member Debora Childs, wife of Navy Chief Petty Officer Louis Childs, said she was pleased this issue was brought to the table. The couple has five children, three of whom are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program. Their 11-year-old daughter, Desiree, was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at birth and has asthma, and their two adopted sons, 14-year-old Jordan and 10-year-old Scottie, have issues ranging from learning disabilities to autism.

The 17-year Navy spouse said she hopes the department can find a way to make the program universal across the branches to "make sure the language is the same, the application process is the same and the services are the same" for all. That way, she said, if she's living near an Air Force base, she can be assured the experts there will know what types of services she's supposed to receive regardless of her service affiliation.

These consistency issues, Childs noted, can be compounded when moving. Parents want to ensure important services aren't interrupted during transition, she said.

Fellow panel member Army Maj. Charlotte Emery, mother of twin boys and a military lawyer at Fort Belvoir, Va., said she'd like to see better consistency regarding respite care for children. Her 2-year-old sons both are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program. One was diagnosed with autism at 18 months and his brother with developmental delays for speech, language and socio-emotional behavior.

Emery said she relies on respite child care for a break from her full-time job and parenting of the twins and her older daughter. Just a few hours for a run or a nap can carry her through the tough days when the boys are running around nonstop, she said. However, the ease of getting a few hours of child care varies from service to service.

"It's disconcerting, when you see such a difference between service branches, especially when we're in such a joint environment," she said.

Military families with special-needs families all start the same process with the same form, she said, and "everything that flows from that form should mirror."

Communication is another point of concern, Posante noted. It's an ongoing challenge to ensure the right information is getting to the right people in a timely manner. Her office, she pointed out, already is working this issue. They just launched a mobile website, she explained, that can be accessed via smartphone with the simple swipe of a barcode.

The site offers a program overview, links to service program sites and features an Exceptional Family Member Program contact locator. "We're hoping this will open up the program to a lot of younger people," she said.

Posante said military families who aren't near an installation, including those of the National Guard and reserves, can call a Military OneSource consultant for support and to discuss special-needs concerns. Families can receive 12 free consultations per year by calling 1-800-342-9647 or by visiting the Military OneSource website.

On the topic of health care, families discussed the need for better education regarding benefits, Posante said. Panel members suggested TRICARE develop an online health care course that describes benefits for special-needs families clearly and in detail. An online course, she noted, is "very doable."

Other health care issues, Posante explained, center on Extended Care Health Option, or ECHO, a supplemental program to the TRICARE basic program that offers financial assistance for a certain set of services and supplies for eligible active duty family members.

The panel also discussed fiscal constraints and how the current austere budget environment would affect the program, Emery noted.

"Much of the time, we were talking more policy -- how to do more with less," she said. "What should we do to optimize successes for everyone? What can we do that wouldn't be cost-added, but effective?"

Emery said the family members tried to give personal examples, but veered away from keeping the topics too personal, trying to make sure they addressed the big-picture issues that affected the most people possible.

It was encouraging to note that "much of what we discussed, they are already working on or had conceived of," Emery said of Posante's office. "We were validating where they're already headed. That's the telling point. We weren't that far apart."

Officials will use the panel's feedback and suggestions in an after-action report, which will help them devise an approach to tackling these issues, Posante said. Some of the suggestions, such as TRICARE online training, can be implemented quickly, while other ideas will call for a longer haul, she added.

Either way, the plan is to bring the same family members back in six months to evaluate progress and offer suggestions for the future, she said.

"I walked away feeling like we had a real partnership with the families," Posante said, noting her gratitude for the families' participation. "A lot of what we're doing, we're right on track, but a few things we might need to put a new focus on."

Childs said she was grateful for the experience.

"I feel extremely hopeful," she said. "The people who put this together really valued and sought our opinion. They encouraged us to be frank, and reassured us that they will take the suggestions and will apply them to the program appropriately, accordingly, and the program will be better than it is today."

By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service

Retroactive Traumatic Injury Benefits No Longer Just For OEF/OIF Injuries

TSGLI Payments Will Be Made for Qualifying Injuries

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is extending retroactive traumatic injury benefits to Service members who suffered qualifying injuries during the period Oct. 7, 2001 to Nov. 30, 2005, regardless of the geographic location where the injuries occurred. “Now all of our nation’s Service members who suffered severe traumatic injuries while serving their country can receive the same traumatic injury benefits, regardless of where their injury occurred,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “We at VA appreciate the efforts of Congress and the President to improve benefits for our troops.”

Effective Oct. 1, the Service members’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI) Traumatic Injury Protection benefit, known as TSGLI, will be payable for all qualifying injuries incurred during this period.  This retroactive benefit is payable whether or not the Service member had SGLI coverage at the time of the injury. The Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act of 2010, passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in October of 2010, removes the requirement that injuries during this period be incurred in Operations Enduring or Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF). This is welcome news for the many Service members who suffered serious traumatic injuries while serving stateside or in other areas outside of OEF/OIF during this time period, but until now have not been eligible for TSGLI. 

TSGLI provides a payment ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 to Service members sustaining certain severe traumatic injuries resulting in a range of losses, including amputations; limb salvage; paralysis; burns; loss of sight, hearing or speech; facial reconstruction; 15-day continuous hospitalization; coma; and loss of activities of daily living due to traumatic brain injury or other traumatic injuries.  National Guard and Reserve members who were injured during the retroactive period and suffered a qualifying loss are also eligible for a TSGLI payment, even if the cause was not related to military service, such as a civilian automobile accident or severe injury which occurred while working around their home. 

National Guard and Reserve members make up more than 40 percent of the total force which has been deployed since 9-11.  Those who are no longer in the National Guard or Reserves can also apply as long as their injury occurred while they were in service. “I am extremely pleased that these total force warriors who defend our freedoms are getting the recognition and benefits they have rightfully earned in service to our nation,” added Under Secretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey.

VA is working with the Department of Defense to publicize this change in the TSGLI law.  Additionally, all of the branches of service are identifying any claims previously denied because the injury was not incurred in OEF/OIF and reaching out to those individuals. Although applications are currently being accepted by branch of service TSGLI offices, benefits will not be paid until Oct. 1, 2011, the effective date of the law. 

For more information or to apply for a TSGLI payment, Service members and Veterans should go to http://www.insurance.va.gov/sgliSite/TSGLI/TSGLI.htm or contact their branch of service TSGLI Office (contact information available at above link).

Vietnam Vet Still in the Fight

Army Chief Warrant Officer 5 Roy Brown proved his mettle as a combat pilot in Vietnam. Now, 41 years later, he’s proving his stamina and love of the military with service in Afghanistan.

Brown, who also served in Operation Iraqi Freedom, began his career with the 101st Airborne Division, and is serving with the Screaming Eagles again as his career draws to a close. As the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade’s liaison officer to the Air Force’s 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, which supports Regional Command – South here, Brown is in no hurry to retire.

“Call it patriotism or call it my admiration of the Army’s principles -- its organizational objectives and goals, its performance over the decades in areas not only of military success, but what I think of as social equity,” he said. “But your life’s works need to have a higher purpose.”

Explaining how his career began, the Oklahoma native said it was a $5 bill that transformed his boyhood dream into reality in 1971.

“My mother asked me how I knew I wanted to be a pilot if I’d never flown, so I went to the local airport, paid $5 and rode in a Piper 140 airplane for about 20 minutes,” he said. “Then I walked right into the Army recruiting office and said, ‘Send me to flight school.’”

The recruiter told then-19-year-old Brown about a program called “High School to Flight School.” Still in his first semester of college, he knew flight school was a good opportunity, so he took it. His mother had reservations about him going to war, but knew that flight school was something her son would never be afforded any other way.

“He always wanted to be a pilot, even when he was a little boy, playing with [toy] airplanes,” his mother, Betty S. Terry-Schmidt, said. “It did not surprise me that he chose to be a pilot.”

Following basic training at Fort Polk, La., Brown went on to primary flight school at Fort Walters, Texas, and advanced flight school at Fort Rucker, Ala. Even then, Brown was a force to be reckoned with. As the custom held on the day of a pilot’s first solo flight, fellow students would throw the pilot into the local swimming pool.

“I evaded them successfully for about two hours, which, at that time, I think was a record,” Brown said. “Then, of course, I was finally caught and thrown into the pool.”

Brown proved to be an exceptional beginner pilot and graduated at the top of his class. This distinction earned him the privilege of choosing which air frame he would fly.

“I knew Vietnam was a hot and muggy place,” he said. “There was one aircraft with air conditioning, so I went with the [AH-1] Cobra. Besides that, I knew if somebody shot at me, I could shoot back.”

And choosing the Cobra guaranteed Brown would get shot at. “The question was not ‘Who’s going to Vietnam?’” he said. “If there was one or two not going to Vietnam, that was the unusual part. Everyone was going to Vietnam -- me, especially, when I chose the Cobra. That was 100 percent assurance you were going.”

While Brown embraced the adventure on which he was about to embark, his mother struggled to temper her fears with the support she knew her son needed.

“As a mother, I was anxious. Not about him leaving, but about him going into war,” Terry-Schmidt said. “I could understand his feelings, though. He was very determined, so I could only back him.”

Rather than feeling fear or anxiety about heading to war, Brown chose to think positively. “We were apprehensive about what could happen in Vietnam,” he said. “At the same time, we were young and bold, and we would be the ones to beat the odds.”

While Brown beat the odds, not all of his buddies did, nor did the enemy. But despite the casualties he saw in Vietnam, he said he never experienced post-traumatic stress the way some veterans have. “I was young and naive enough that it didn’t faze me,” he said.

His job as a gun pilot was to take down the enemy by any means necessary, and he did his job. “Nonmilitary people don’t understand, especially back in the days of Vietnam,” he said, “and if you can’t deal with that part of it, the military may not be a career path you should take.”

“He was always a strong young man, and he knew what he had to do,” Terry-Schmidt said.

Back at home, Terry-Schmidt had to endure long gaps in communication from Brown, with only the news to keep her informed. Sometimes it would be three weeks or longer before she’d hear from him.

“It would seem like forever,” she said. “I was always anxious for his safety.”

To keep her mind off the periods of no news from her son, she kept herself occupied.

“At that time, I was working, and I had younger children still at home, so in the daytime, I was busy,” she said. “At night time, I would think of him, and of course, I did a lot of praying, trusting that God would take care of him and my prayers were answered.”

Communication then was not like it is today, where soldiers can have contact with family and friends at most any time of the day, Terry-Schmidt said. This time around, she hears from her son a few times a week.

Improvements in communication have improved not only soldiers’ morale, it also has improved how they fight wars, Brown said.

Throughout his career, he has become qualified on 11 types of aircraft -- both rotary and fixed wing -- some with multiple models, like the UH-1 Huey models B, C, D and H. He has deployed five times.

“I feel more confident with him being in Afghanistan than I did with him in Vietnam because of the experience he has now,” Terry-Schmidt said. “I know he is a very careful pilot. He knows his abilities. I know he wishes he was not in Afghanistan, but that’s where his duty has led him, and I respect him for that.”

By Army Spc. Jennifer Anderson
159th Combat Aviation Brigade

McHugh Cites Major Improvements at Arlington National Cemetery

Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh today released publicly a “Report to Congress,” updating improvements made at Arlington National Cemetery more than a year after he ousted the cemetery’s leadership and made sweeping changes in its structure and oversight.

“In just over a year, the cemetery’s new management team has made major progress in reconciling decades’ worth of paper records with physical graveside inspections to regain accountability,” McHugh wrote in a letter to members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. “They have put in place new policies and procedures to protect against and prevent the type of errors uncovered in the Army’s previous investigations. Equipment and training have been modernized, contracting procedures revamped, a historic partnership created with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the workforce improved and reinvigorated, and ongoing outreach and information has been provided to family members and the American public.”

McHugh provided the report to Congressional oversight committees in response to legislation seeking the status of a directive he signed that made sweeping reforms at Arlington National Cemetery. In compiling the report, McHugh directed the Army’s inspector general to again inspect the facility to determine compliance. An earlier inspector general report, also ordered by McHugh, found failures in management and oversight that contributed to the loss of accountability, lack of proper automation, ineffective contract compliance, and a dysfunctional workforce.

“Perhaps most important, the inspector general found the mismanagement that existed prior to these changes, ‘no longer exists,’” he said. “And that ‘significant progress has been made in all aspects of the cemetery’s performance, accountability and modernization.’ We’re confident that the Army is on the right path toward repairing the cemetery’s failures and restoring the confidence of Congress and the American people.”

McHugh noted that even while making massive improvements in the cemetery’s management and oversight, the pace of 27 to 30 funeral services per day -- many with full military honors -- has not abated.

“Since 1864, the United States Army has been steward of this, the country’s only active military shrine,” McHugh said. “I believe this report will demonstrate the Army’s steadfast commitment to repairing what was broken in the past, and ensuring America’s continued confidence in the operation of its most hallowed ground.”

Self-Development of People person of the month

For 17 years Frederick Johnson has served his country.  He initially served through Active Duty Regular Army for three years.  In 1996 he joined the Reserves and in 2004 was involuntarily transferred from his reserve unit to another reserve unit in Ohio and deployed to Iraq where he served at LSA (Logistical Support Area) Anaconda for 12 months.  At least every other day during the entire 12 month period the post was mortared (bombed).  His entire time there Fred never pulled a trigger.  But he returned home fighting a lot of demons.  He returned suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD — a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of life-threatening events such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, etc.).  Every day for the 12 months he volunteered at the theater hospital he assisted with incoming medevac’s that contained soldiers and civilians with missing limbs, head wounds and various life threatening injuries.  Many survived; some did not.