Military Coalition Honors Hill Champions. The consortium of 34 military and veterans associations presented its annual awards to two congressional committee leaders and two congressional staffers this week.
What’s Up With Military Absentee Voting? Absentee voting among military people is down significantly from 2008, and that’s generating some criticism. How valid is the criticism?
GAO Slams Joint Disability Process. A joint DoD – VA disability review process set in motion five years ago has failed so far to produce timely ratings for wounded warriors.
Family Readiness Council Finally Convenes. It took an act of Congress, but the Military Family Readiness Council met last month for the first time in 2012.
Military Coalition Honors Hill Champions
On October 3, The Military Coalition (TMC) hosted a Capitol Hill reception to present its highest awards to two legislators and two congressional staffers whose efforts this year have been particularly valuable to the military and veterans Community.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) was recognized for her leadership in pursuing legislation to promote hiring of returning veterans, improve GI Bill protections, and increase veterans’ access to mental health services.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon (R-CA) was honored for his leadership in seeking to mitigate the destructive effects of so-called “sequestration” budget cuts on military quality of life and other programs and for developing alternatives to protect military beneficiaries against large increases in healthcare and pharmacy fees.
The Coalition also presented its 2012 Freedom Award to Ms. Carrie Wofford of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee staff and to Ms. Jeanette James of the House Armed Services Committee Staff for their outstanding efforts in support of GI Bill protections and healthcare programs, respectively.
Colonel Steve Strobridge (USAF-Ret), TMC Co-Chair and Government Relations Director of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), said, “No one on Capitol Hill has done more to defend the military community against drastic, arbitrary budget cuts than Chairman McKeon. His determined and persistent leadership on a wide range of military personnel programs has materially improved protections for every segment of the military population – currently serving, Guard/Reserve, retired, survivors and family members.”
MCPO Joe Barnes (USN-Ret), TMC Co-chair and National Executive Director of the Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), said, “We’re extremely gratified and proud to honor Senator Patty Murray for her tremendous leadership in supporting the community of returning veterans. She has truly ‘gone the extra mile’ to ensure they and their families get needed care, have access to top-quality education programs, and experience the best possible transition to civilian work life.”
“The legislators are the champions,” said Colonel Herb Rosenbleeth (USA-Ret), TMC President and National Executive Director of the Jewish War Veterans of the United States, “and their staffs expend huge amounts of effort in crafting legislation, working with military associations to fill in the details, and coordinating our mutual efforts to get other legislators and the public on board. Carrie Wofford and Jeanette James have shown extraordinary dedication and professionalism in ensuring the government and beneficiaries alike get the biggest possible return on every federal dollar. Their innovative work will save billions of dollars for the government and for beneficiaries in terms of GI Bill and health benefits alone.”
What’s Up With Military Absentee Voting?
Absentee voting issues for military members and families tend to become an issue in every election cycle. In the past, there have been flaps over failure to count military votes.
This year, the big issue is – why the big drop in the number of requests for military absentee ballots since the 2008 election?
Organizations such as the Military Voter Protection Project blame DoD for failing to streamline the registration process and reach out to servicemembers and families overseas.
But DoD says far fewer troops are deployed overseas now than in 2008, and that current ballot requests track closely to 2004 numbers – the last time an incumbent ran for reelection.
Further, a glitch in the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act – which has since been fixed – required states to automatically send extra ballots in earlier election cycles. That created a much higher baseline of anticipated military voters.
MOAA takes military voting issues very seriously, and was a strong proponent of the MOVE Act (2009). The law established reforms and requirements that improved voting access for military voters.
MOAA and The Military Coalition are partnering in a long-term project to streamline voting procedures from state-to-state. The patchwork quilt of state rules on absentee voting is confusing at best, and inhibited counting of military votes in past elections.
The U.S. Attorney General sued a number of states for failing to comply with the MOVE Act, and that helped spotlight the need to assure military voting access.
If you’ve had problems applying for an absentee ballot, or know someone who has, please contact MOAA at email@example.com.
Absentee military voters can request a ballot at www.fvap.gov.
GAO Slams Joint Disability Process
A new Government Accountability Office Report (GAO-12-676) on the “Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES)” asserts that, instead of dropping as expected, disability evaluation times have actually increased under the new IDES system.
Built in 2007, the IDES was designed to address a growing chorus of complaints that returning warriors from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were being subjected to overlong medical and fitness evaluations to determine their disability.
But the GAO report says, “Since 2008, annual average processing times for IDES cases have steadily climbed, while the percentage of cases meeting established timeliness goals declined.”
Average times to clear cases jumped to 394 and 420 days for active duty and reserve component troops in 2011, compared to goals of 295 and 305 days, respectively. Less than 20% of cases completed the process and received benefits within the goals.
The medical evaluation board (MEB) phase of the four-step process was the major bottle neck. Staffing shortages and increased workload were blamed for failing to meet goals.
The GAO recommended DoD and VA conduct a business process review of the IDES; improve the accuracy of case information at the point of data entry; and consider alternative approaches to measure satisfaction.
MOAA finds the report extremely disappointing. It provides yet another example of why we must keep drawing attention to the continuing problems experienced by our wounded, ill and injured troops, families and caregivers.
Family Readiness Council Finally Convenes
This congressionally mandated Military Family Readiness Council is supposed to assess and evaluate military family programs and make recommendations to improve vital family resources during semi-annual meetings. But the council met only once in 2011, and met for just the first time this year on September 20.
Over forty members of the public attended the meeting, including many current and former MOAA Spouse Council members.
Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness) Erin Conaton chaired the meeting, and was joined by senior leaders from all services, two senior enlisted advisors, two senior enlisted advisors’ spouses, spouses representing each service (active and reserve), the Director for the Office of Community Support for Military Families, and representatives from service organizations.
Secretary Conaton noted the challenges of the tightening defense budget, stating, “We must ensure family programs do not bear the brunt [of cuts].”
In advance of the meeting, the Council asked MOAA and other organizations for their views on the top concerns of military families. Inputs included:
- The impact of budget reductions on troop and family programs
- Transition of servicemembers, spouses and families to civilian life
- Military spouse employment and licensure challenges
- Quality education for military children
- Exceptional Family Member Program issues, including lack of uniformity across services and access to Applied Behavioral Analysis Therapy (ABA) through TRICARE
The Council tentatively agreed on the following focus areas:
- Improving joint-base services and Guard and Reserve family program integration
- Alignment of efforts with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Cross Functional Teams to include: assessing military family needs, reducing program duplication, and enhancing program effectiveness
- Strategic communication to enhance family member/community awareness of programs and services
After panel members voiced concern that meeting only twice a year is insufficient to accomplish anything, the next meeting was accelerated from 2013 to this December.
MOAA is pleased the Council finally met, but it will be essential to convene on a more regular basis to meet its intended purpose, especially in the face of ever-increasing budget threats.