Issue 2009-01 — January, 2009
|This newsletter is published monthly by the Military Retiree Assistance Office outside Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Korea. It is provided primarily for the information of retirees of all services and their families living in the Republic of Korea (South Korea). The information contained herein may not necessarily reflect the views or official positions of the Department of Defense, the U.S. military services and their component commands. If you are receiving this newsletter directly by e-mail, it is because you have subscribed to it and confirmed the subscription. To subscribe or unsubscribe, please follow the instructions contained at the end of the newsletter. All issues of the newsletter are maintained in HTML, PDF Print and Text formats on an index at the Retiree Activities Office web site. The index allows direct access to each news item in each newsletter.
Contact the MRAO: in Korea 031-663-0319; outside Korea 82-31-663-0319; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A retiree contacted me asking if it's true that the Korean Government is considering a revision to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) to withdraw Commissary and Exchange access to non-SOFA personnel such as retirees and widows.
I have heard nothing about this and suspect that it's just another rumor to stir the pot. If any such news arises from official sources, you can be assured that it will be announced widely through many official channels.
Scientists studying dioxin exposure in humans – including Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange – have found a correlation between the chemicals and the death rates of heart disease and cardiovascular disease. The research, presented in Environmental Health Perspectives shows that there are consistent and significant dose-related associations with heart disease and modest associations with cardiovascular disease.
Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Environmental Protection Agency said they realized that most dioxin studies had centered on cancer rates, but no one had produced a review of research about cardiovascular disease. "Future studies in both animals and humans should assess whether cardiovascular effects are present at environmentally relevant doses," the authors wrote.
Environmental Health Perspectives' editor, Hugh Tilson, said the report is of interest because cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death in many countries, and dioxin exposure can be prevented. [Source: NavyTimes, Kelly Kennedy article, 21 Nov 08]
Veterans will have easier access to world-class health care under a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) plan to open 31 new outpatient clinics in 16 states. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake announced this week that VA will establish new clinics in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont.
"VA is committed to providing world-class health care to the men and women who have served this nation," Peake said. "These new clinics will bring VA's top-notch care closer to the veterans who have earned it."
With 153 hospitals and about 745 community-based clinics, VA operates the largest integrated health care system in the country. VA's medical care budget of more than $41 billion this year will provide health care to about 5.8 million people during nearly 600,000 hospitalizations and more than 62 million outpatient visits.
"Community-based medicine is better medicine," said Dr. Michael Kussman, VA's Under Secretary for Health. "It makes preventative care easier for patients, helps health care professionals have closer relationships with their patients and permits easier follow-ups for patients with chronic health problems."
The community-based outpatient clinics, or CBOCs, will become operational by late 2010, with some opening in 2009. Local VA officials will keep communities and their veterans informed of milestones in the creation of the new CBOCs.
VA's Proposed Sites for New Outpatient Clinics:
[The Department of Defense] DoD's Military Health System (MHS) started a new computer test program out of Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington which allows both active duty members and retirees and their families to create and manage their own personal health records.
At a regular meeting, attended by [The Retired Enlisted Association] TREA's Executive Director Deirdre Parke Holleman, DoD's TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) staffers explained that it is the hope that such a program could soon be available around the country and would improve the quality of care for DoD health beneficiaries.
The new program is called MiCare and can be used through applications developed by Google (Google Health) or Microsoft's Microsoft Health Vault. Both software applications will allow online access to a variety of information for patients, including a list of their medications; allergies, lab and radiology results; data on past visits; upcoming appointments; and inpatient/outpatient documentation. This information will be pulled from the military health records stored in the Armed Forces Health Technology Longitudinal Application. But additionally, the patients can store records from their civilian health care providers, insurers and pharmacies.
This is another step by the government to try and create an electronic health care record. In October TRICARE agreed with Medicare to start a separate pilot in South Carolina to allow military retirees to test a personal health record with Medicare and TRICARE for Life. This pilot is accepting enrollment online at www.MyPHRSC.com.
The following table shows the 2009 VA disability rates for retirees and retirees with families.
|each addtl child up to 18||$22||$30||$37|
|*each addtl child 18+||$72||$96||$120|
|each addtl child up to 18||$45||$52||$60||$67||$75|
|*each addtl child 18+||$144||$168||$192||$216||$240|
|* Each child age 18 and over still enrolled in school as full-time student|
For the complete table showing additional compensation categories, visit the VA Web Site.
If Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) officials all of a sudden decided they wanted to mail you a check for $10,000 – no direct deposit allowed – would you receive it?
Many Air Force retirees and annuitants would not because DFAS has a wrong address on file for them. Many of you assume that as long as DFAS has your correct direct-deposit information, there is no reason to keep DFAS informed of your whereabouts. Not true.
DFAS must have current mailing addresses so it can mail out important information and documents regarding your state/federal taxes, the Survivor Benefit Plan, a Retiree Account Statement, etc. And there is always the possibly for that big check! (A person can dream.)
You can check your current address on file by calling (800) 321-1080, or accessing your MyPay account online.
And while we're on the subject of DFAS, the best time to call for routine matters is NOT at the beginning of the month. More people call DFAS at the beginning of the month to report pay problems than any other time, so naturally the wait times will be much longer. If possible, wait until at least the middle of the month to call or use the online services at http://www.dfas.mil/.
Remember, there are more than 750,000 Air Force retirees and annuitants. Mix in those from the other services and it is safe to assume the DFAS representatives stay busy. We all get frustrated after fighting our way through a challenging phone menu only to be told our 'wait time' is somewhere in the high double digits. But when you finally reach that 'live' person, remember that a little kindness goes a long way.
Beginning in late December, retirees eligible for both Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) and Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC), will be mailed a CRDP/CRSC Open Season Election Form. The election form includes a comparison of the individual's CRDP and CRSC entitlement amounts, as well as information about the tax implications.
The open season election period is Jan. 1 to Jan. 31, 2009. All elections must be postmarked no later than Jan. 31, 2009, with one exception: If no change is desired, no action is necessary. Election changes postmarked after this date will not be processed and your unchanged election will remain in effect until changed in a subsequent annual open season.
Typical processing time is 30 days. So look for your change to occur on the first business day of March if it does not occur in February. For March payment changes, you'll receive a retroactive adjustment for the payment that would have been paid on the first business day in February.
As part of the economic recovery effort, Congress recently passed H.R. 7327, the Worker, Retiree and Employer Recovery Act of 2008, which is now on the President's desk for signature.
This legislation provides a temporary waiver of some required distributions from IRAs and 401(k) plans.
The good news is that people age 70½ or older won't be forced to take a distribution from their employer retirement plans next year if they would prefer not to.
Most retirees' plans have taken a beating during the recent stock market decline, and being forced to take money out at the market bottom isn't very attractive for many people who would like to wait and see if the market rebounds before having to take distributions.
The bad news is that the exemption doesn't apply to 2008 distributions, so people age 70½ or older who haven't yet taken a minimum distribution this year will have to do so by the end of December.
Air Force retirees who believe that the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) monthly premium counter on the annual Retiree Account Statement is incorrect will be given the opportunity to dispute it.
The dispute period begins Jan. 1 and ends June 30. All disputes must be made by completing a DD Form 2656-11, Statement Certifying Number of Months of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) Premiums Paid. Completed forms are sent to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS).
The paid-up provision of SBP program became effective Oct. 1. All retirees who are at least 70 years of age and have paid SBP premiums for at least 360 months will no longer be required to make monthly payments beginning the month they meet the eligibility requirements. Participants in the Retired Serviceman's Family Protection Plan who were age 70 or older Oct. 1 will also have their premiums stopped.
Retiree Account Statements now have a premium counter tracking the number of months of paid premiums credited to a retiree's account. This counter automatically increases for each month a full premium payment is made, and will help retirees monitor their eligibility status. Each time a retiree receives an RAS it will display the current number of monthly premium payments toward paid-up status.
No action is required by the retiree to initiate the termination of premiums. DFAS will notify members of their paid-up status and when premiums will be stopped.
DFAS is working in conjunction with the Defense Manpower Data Center, the agency that maintains historical pay data on all military retirees, to ensure retirees receive proper credit for all premiums paid.
The DD Form 2656-11, used to file a dispute, is available by clicking here.
DFAS officials ask retirees to complete all fields on the form that apply. Section II should be filled out by each retiree, but if he or she did not serve any time on the Temporary Disability Retired List, then Blocks 9 and 10 must be left blank.
For more information, contact DFAS at (800) 321-1080 after Jan. 1.
In 1996 Congress passed a law directing that the VA provide a deceased veteran's full compensation benefit to the spouse for the month of the veteran's death, but due to an error, the department has continued to demand money back from the survivors.
Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka, (D-HI) was recently made aware of the problem by one of his constituents, and he asked the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to look into and fix the problem.
Secretary Jim Peake has set up a special task force is to review VA payment records for veterans who died after Dec. 31, 1996, and are survived by a spouse. The review will identify those to whom VA owes retroactive benefits for the month of the veteran's death. Current address information is being obtained for as many of these beneficiaries as possible.
According to VA, retroactive payments to eligible surviving spouses will begin by the end of December. Payments will continue to be issued as additional unpaid beneficiaries are identified.
A special Survivors' Call Center has been established for spouses who believe they may be entitled to this retroactive month-of-death benefit. Surviving spouses are encouraged to contact the Call Center (toll-free) at (800) 749-8387. Call Center agents will assist surviving spouses in providing VA with the information needed to determine their eligibility.
The Call Center is open Monday through Friday from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm central standard time. Inquiries may also be submitted electronically by clicking here.
[The Department of Defense] DoD's national security personnel system [NSPS] remains a work in progress, with only limited data available to assess whether it is meeting its goals, according to a Congressional Budget Office [CBO] study.
CBO said that "there is little evidence" that it could draw on to assess whether, for example, NSPS is improving DoD's ability to recruit and compensate employees. However, it noted employee surveys that show large majorities of employees who have not been put in NSPS are skeptical of the program, and that only small minorities of those who have been put in it believe it is an improvement over general federal personnel rules.
"Whether employees perceive NSPS as an improvement over the [General Schedule] GS system could affect their support for the new system," CBO said, adding that the survey results to date "could portend unfavorable views about personnel processes under NSPS."
Pay for Performance System a Key
CBO said that one goal of NSPS is to motivate employees to perform better on the job by emphasizing pay for performance, through new procedures for appraising and rewarding employees. CBO compared the results of the first rating and reward cycles for employees under NSPS with several other similar systems operating under demonstration project authority.
For example, it said far fewer NSPS employees received above average ratings compared to those in a Commerce Department project; however, the numbers also show that virtually no employees in either received unsatisfactory ratings. CBO said that it remains to be seen how the system relates to the achievement of organizational goals, but warned that in general, such goals are "usually stated in terms that are probably too broad to allow for a straightforward link to the duties and responsibilities of individual jobs."
Breakdown of Ratings Examined
The CBO report also looked into the distribution of ratings, an issue that employee organizations have raised as part of their contention that ratings would be subject to various forms of bias.
The report said the average rating in the 2007 ratings cycle for whites was 3.5, for blacks 3.3, and for other minority groups, 3.4. However, it said there was a stronger difference in ratings by pay level, with employees in higher levels of pay bands tending to get higher ratings. That "partly explains the differences among groups of employees" since the percentages of whites in the higher levels is greater than in the lower levels, CBO said.
Men and women received the same average rating, and so did employees under age 40 versus age 40 and up. CBO said the more significant difference in payout actually was by DoD component, with Army employees getting an average 3.8 percent of salary base pay raise plus an average 2.1 percent bonus, with while employees of the Navy got 2.9 and 1.2 percent on average, respectively.
A poll conducted by the Partnership for Public Service and Gallup shows largely negative views of the government, with positive responses about agencies and departments wallowing at around 27 percent, and just over one third rating the performance of civil servants and the government in general positively.
As an exception, the performance of military men and women were rated as good or excellent by 90 percent of the 2,808 respondents.
According to the survey, conducted before the November election, 84 percent of Americans claim to pay close attention to what's happening in government, and 80 percent agree that the government has an impact on their lives.
Though hardly encouraging, people that have direct interaction with the government tend to view it more favorably than those who do not, 32 percent versus 18 percent.
The survey also found that the Internet is the primary means by which the public interacts with the government, with over half of those questioned having visited the site of a federal department or agency, and 38 percent having done so in the past six months.
[The Office of Personnel Management] OPM proposed in the Dec. 5 Federal Register rules to carry out a recent presidential order giving spouses of military personnel new hiring preference for federal jobs under certain conditions. The authority allows agencies to recruit and noncompetitively appoint spouses, although the regulations do not provide a hiring preference or establish selection priority. The rules spell out eligibility rules and specify that eligible persons must apply to a federal vacancy announcement to be considered and that they may be converted to competitive service status after completing a probationary period.
A husband and wife were at a party chatting with some friends when the subject of marriage counseling came up.
"Oh, we'll never need that. My husband and I have a great relationship," the wife explained.
"He was a communications major in college and I majored in theater arts. He communicates really well and I just act like I'm listening."
It was Christmas and the judge was in a merry mood as he asked the prisoner, "What are you charged with?"
"Doing my Christmas shopping early," replied the defendant.
"That's no offense," said the judge. "How early were you doing this shopping?"
"Before the store opened," confessed the prisoner.
A little girl was talking to her teacher about whales.
The teacher said it was physically impossible for a whale to swallow a human because even though it was a very large mammal its throat was very small.
The little girl stated that Jonah was swallowed by a whale.
Irritated, the teacher reiterated that a whale could not swallow a human; it was physically impossible.
The little girl said, "When I get to heaven I will ask Jonah."
The teacher asked, "What if Jonah went to hell?"
The little girl replied, "Then you ask him."
A Kindergarten teacher was observing her classroom of children while they were drawing. She would occasionally walk around to see each child's work.
As she got to one little girl who was working diligently, she asked what the drawing was.
The girl replied, "I'm drawing God."
The teacher paused and said, "But no one knows what God looks like."
Without missing a beat, or looking up from her drawing, the girl replied, "They will in a minute."
A Sunday school teacher was discussing the Ten Commandments with her five and six year olds.
After explaining the commandment to "honor" thy Father and thy Mother, she asked, "Is there a commandment that teaches us how to treat our brothers and sisters?"
Without missing a beat one little boy (the oldest of a family) answered, "Thou shall not kill."
One day a little girl was sitting and watching her mother do the dishes at the kitchen sink. She suddenly noticed that her mother had several strands of white hair sticking out in contrast on her brunette head.
She looked at her mother and inquisitively asked, "Why are some of your hairs white, Mom?"
Her mother replied, "Well, every time that you do something wrong and make me cry or unhappy, one of my hairs turns white."
The little girl thought about this revelation for a while and then said, "Momma, how come ALL of grandma's hairs are white?"
The children had all been photographed, and the teacher was trying to persuade them each to buy a copy of the group picture.
"Just think how nice it will be to look at it when you are all grown up and say, 'There's Jennifer, she's a lawyer,' or 'That's Michael, He's a doctor.'"
A small voice at the back of the room rang out, "And there's the teacher, she's dead."
A teacher was giving a lesson on the circulation of the blood. Trying to make the matter clearer, she said, "Now, class, if I stood on my head, the blood, as you know, would run into it, and I would turn red in the face."
"Yes," the class said.
"Then why is it that while I am standing upright in the ordinary position the blood doesn't run into my feet?"
A little fellow shouted, "Cause your feet ain't empty."
The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a Catholic elementary school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large pile of apples. The nun made a note, and posted on the apple tray:
"Take only ONE . God is watching."
Moving further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a large pile of chocolate chip cookies.
A child had written a note, "Take all you want. God is watching the apples."
I had a startling realization one morning while reading about the plan to require students to do community service. My realization was that I fit the definition of a Community Organizer.
Please don't hate me for it.
As another year ends it's time to reflect on what we've accomplished in the year that we're leaving behind, and what the new year holds in store for us. With the U.S. under new leadership, and leadership that may have a very different philosphy than the outgoing administration, change is inevitable. The question is, in which direction will the change take us?
Anything we may try to divine at this point is only speculation. There is one thing that is real, however, and that is our wish to you for a happy, healthy and safe 2009. HAPPY NEW YEAR!