FRA NewsBytes July 20, 2015

Newsbytes 7/20/2015

Newsbytes 7/20/2015

In this issue:
FRA Weighs In on NDAA Provisions
Military Suicides Reduced in First Quarter of 2015
Veterans ID Card Bill to Help Reduce Identity Thief Sent to President
New, Stricter Military Lender Rules Coming Soon

FRA Weighs In on NDAA Provisions
FRA stated its position on a variety of proposals outlined in the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 1735 and S. 1376) in letters to key members of the NDAA conference committee. The committee will resolve differences between the two versions of the bill and create a report that must then be approved by both chambers. If the final version is approved, it will be sent to the president to be signed into law or vetoed.

FRA thanked House and Senate lawmakers for resisting the Administration’s call to increase TRICARE enrollment fees, but shared its opposition to the Senate proposal to increase pharmacy copays for military retirees under the age of 65. In other TRICARE-related references, FRA supports the Senate provision that would allow beneficiaries up to four visits for urgent care without a referral; a House proposal that would allow certain military retirees a one-time opportunity to regain TRICARE Prime coverage; and another House provision that would create a unified military medical command that would reduce cost and duplication.

The Association stands in support of the House provision to provide service members’ pay raises that are equal to those offered in the private sector, and spoke out against the Senate proposals to reduce Basic Allowances for Housing (BAH) from 99 to 95 percent of average housing costs and further reduce BAH for service members who are married to other military personnel. Additionally, FRA expressed its support for a section of the Senate measure that would allow military retirees to designate a new SBP beneficiary after the death of a former spouse and a provision in the House bill that would create “veteran status” at no cost to certain members of the Reserve Component. Copies of the letters are available on the FRA website. The final bill could be voted on at the end of this week, so members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to weigh in on key differences in the two bills that must be resolved by the conference committee.
Military Suicides Reduced in First Quarter of 2015
Suicides among active duty troops dropped in the first quarter of calendar year 2015 compared to the same time in both 2013 and 2014, according to information released by the Department of Defense (DoD) last week. 57 active duty service members (30 soldiers, 14 airmen, 10 sailors and three Marines) died by suicide, a 22 percent decline from the first quarter of 2014 and a 7 percent drop from 2013’s first quarter. But while the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps all saw lower death tolls, the Army saw an increase of 11 percent over the same time period. The Association welcomes the recent reduction in active duty suicides and appreciates the inclusion in the FY 2015 NDAA of an additional $18.8 million targeted for special operations units that have experienced an increase in suicides over the past year.

FRA supported the “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act,” which was introduced January 7, 2015 (H.R. 203/S. 167-P.L.114-2). The measure was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.) and Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) respectively and had bipartisan support. It was signed into law (P. L. 114-2) February 12, 2015 and requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the DoD to allow for an annual independent third party evaluation of their mental health care and suicide prevention programs. Service members or military family members experiencing a mental health crisis can get help by calling the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 and pressing 1.
Veterans ID Card Bill to Help Reduce Identity Thief Sent to President
The House approved a Senate amendment to the “Veterans Identification Card Act” (H.R. 91) and sent the bill to the president to be signed into law. The intent of the bill is to minimize the threat of identity theft and make it easier for veterans to prove their military service. Under current law, some veterans who did not serve for at least 20 years or receive VA health services must carry paper documents (DD 214) to prove their veteran status. These forms, used by many veterans, contain Social Security numbers and other details that could put veterans at risk of identity theft. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Vern Buchanan, (Fla.), called it “an example of what Congress can accomplish when lawmakers put partisanship aside and address the country’s needs.” Buchanan’s Southwest Florida district includes more than 70,000 veterans, many of whom are age 65 or older. The bill allows the VA to charge the veteran a fee to cover the cost of the program.

In related news, Social Security numbers, family information, health records and even fingerprints of 21.5 million federal employees—including potentially millions of military personnel—were included a massive data theft last month from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), officials acknowledged. The Department of Defense (DoD) confirmed that records of current and former service members dating back to at least 2000 were breached.
New, Stricter Military Lender Rules Coming Soon
The Department of Defense (DoD) and the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) are working together to develop stricter rules meant to rein in abusive predatory lending to military service members and their families. The authority to implement such a regulation stems from the FRA-supported Military Lending Act (MLA), which was a component of the FY 2007 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). CFPB Director Richard Cordray, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee, said “Service members will have new important protections that they probably should have had several years ago….Rules established in the past have proved too soft. Lenders are able to “swim around” them, which is why we were directed to come up with a broader set of protections. FRA supports more robust MLA protections. The Association works to ensure that the MLA and the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is enforced by regulatory agencies, including the CFPB, Office of Military Affairs and the DoD.