DoD Memo Totally Discredits TRICARE Cost Claims. Remember DoD leaders’ repeated claims that supposedly exploding retiree health costs were “eating us alive?” A new Pentagon memo proves those claims were bogus.
Frustration Over DoD-VA Integration. At a Hill hearing this week, the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs acknowledged frustration about slow progress in building integrated DoD-VA programs to meet veterans’ needs.
Major Veteran Bill Passes Senate. The legislation would, among other things, extend some VA health coverage to vets and families subjected to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, NC between 1957 and 1987.
DoD Memo Totally Discredits TRICARE Cost Claims
For months, the Defense Department has defended its proposals to punish beneficiaries with thousands a year in higher TRICARE fees by claiming TRICARE costs are spiraling out of control.
Senior DoD and military leaders repeatedly trotted over to Congress to assert radically escalating TRICARE costs are “eating us alive.” They even got the services’ senior enlisted leaders to join the campaign.
But a new DoD reprogramming memo proves those claims were bogus, and DoD leaders knew it – or should have known it.
The new reprogramming request to Congress says military health care will cost $708 million less than budgeted for FY2012.
“These funds are excess to Defense Health Program requirements,” it says, “and can be used for higher priority items with no impact to the program.”
And why exactly is that?
“The FY2012 budget estimate assumed private sector care cost growth of 12.9% for active duty and 8.5% for all other beneficiaries….Through the first six months of FY2012 [costs actually] are growing at historically low rates of 0.6% for active duty and -2.7% for all other beneficiaries.”
So in other words, all the time those leaders were claiming retiree health costs were exploding, the costs actually were…going down.
And it turns out the DoD health budget had a surplus of over $500 million for FY2011 as well.
MOAA has asserted all along that the blame for any cost growth lies more with DoD’s own inefficiencies than with retirees. Now we can add budgeting incompetence and misrepresentation on top of that.
House Armed Services Committee leaders are as outraged as MOAA over this appalling revelation, and 24 bipartisan members led by Military Personnel Subcommittee Chair Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Ranking Member Susan Davis (D-CA) have fired a pointed letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
“As you are aware,” the letter says, “The House of Representatives…declined to grant DoD the authority to raise TRICARE fees. We subsequently heard from DoD that our refusal…was endangering the sustainability of TRICARE programs. We have heard that ‘TRICARE is crippling’ the DoD. This does not appear to be the case if DoD has a $708 million surplus in FY2012…We do not understand how DoD can justify a request to raise fees on a class of people whose costs to the department are actually decreasing.”
The signers demand further explanations about how this happened and what other priorities are more important.
“We believe there are serious health issues that our military service members and military retirees are currently facing that are of the highest priority,” the letter asserts. “We urge the DoD to use all or a portion of these funds to address the issues of military retiree healthcare, research and treatment for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury, and address the military suicide epidemic that we are currently facing.”
MOAA couldn’t agree more.
Please use MOAA’s suggested message to let your legislators and Pentagon/Administration leaders know how you feel about this outrageous development.
Frustration Over DoD-VA Integration
While battle goes on for our troops on the frontlines, a struggle of a different sort continues within DoD and the VA as top leaders contend with their own bureaucratic systems that impede creating an integrated military and veteran support system.
On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared before a joint House Armed Services and Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing to address their joint efforts to help troops transition from the military to civilian life.
“DoD and VA are working more closely together than we have before. But frankly, we have much more to do to try to reach a level of cooperation to better meet the needs of those who have served… especially our wounded warriors,” Panetta told legislators.
Both Secretaries said most of the pieces for establishing a seamless system are in place, but the fundamental issue is their own agency staffs’ resistance to the kind of transformational culture shift needed to make the two systems work together.
They acknowledged it’s not a technology problem, but a leadership problem.
A frustrated Panetta stated bluntly, “We’re just going to have to kick [posterior] and try to make it happen, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Building an integrated system isn’t easy, and MOAA commends the Secretaries’ willingness to press the system. However, we remain concerned that budget and political pressures and leadership turnover have stymied most good intentions to date, leaving too many vets, families, and caregivers without the strong and seamless support they need.
Major Veteran Bill Passes Senate
Last week, the Senate approved the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012”, a comprehensive bill that combines several pending veteran legislative provisions in both the House and Senate.
This veteran omnibus package would extend VA health coverage to veterans and their families who lived at Camp Lejeune from Jan. 1, 1957, to Dec. 31, 1987. It would cover treatment for conditions incurred as a result of water contamination documented at Camp Lejeune during that period.
The bill’s passage came as the Pentagon released more than 8,000 documents related to water contamination at Camp Lejeune over decades.
“This bill will finally provide health care to veterans and family members exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, expand eligibility for housing adaptation grants to more seriously injured veterans, and make help for homeless veterans more widely available,” said Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA).
The House may consider the bill next week.