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Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

Tricare Coverage Changes for the National Guard and Military Reserve

 

Contributed by Kris Baydalla-Galasso

TRICARE, the health care program for uniformed service members, retirees, and their families in the U.S. and around the world, has been expanded for Reserve Component members in transition. Active duty servicemembers and their families receive TRICARE coverage without any annual or monthly fee, but that’s not the case for National Guard and Reserve personnel.

Prior to now, traditional Guardsmen and Reservists coming off more than 30 days of active duty were limited to 180 days of fee-free TRICARE coverage only if they were activated in support of war or overseas efforts. While this was helpful in times of conflict or contingency operations, it didn’t help Reservists and Guardsmen assigned to stateside efforts such as hurricane relief. When not activated, Guardsmen and reservists qualify for Tricare Reserve Select, a purchased care option which carries a monthly premium, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs.

Congress signed the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act into law in 2017, but the changes went into effect just last month. Now, Guardsmen and Reservists can enjoy 180 days of TRICARE coverage after any 30-day activation.

Not addressed by this legislation was the problem specific to dual-service technicians in the National Guard. As federal civilian employees, they are ineligible for TRICARE benefits. Legislative alterations to this rule have been tabled in the past due to cost factors.

Guard/Reserve Members Lose Travel-Expense Tax Deduction After 2017

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By Debbie Gregory.

On December 20, 2017, Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1) designed to cut taxes on individuals and businesses, stimulate the economy, and create jobs. But one aspect of the act will have an impact on Guard and Reserve  members who travel less than 100 miles from home to military duty:  after filing their 2017 tax returns, they will no longer be able to deduct any unreimbursed travel expenses.

Lawmakers raised the standard deduction for single filers from $6,500 to $12,000, but also reduced the amount of personal deductions in the reform bill. As a result, some individuals with more unusual financial situations will see their taxes rise slightly, as those exemptions disappear.

According to Army Lt. Col. David Dulaney, executive director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, beginning with tax year 2018, the tax act suspends all miscellaneous itemized deductions, which included the itemized deduction reserve-component members could take for unreimbursed employee expenses on Schedule A of their Internal Revenue Service Form 1040.

While those who drill less than 100 miles away from their home won’t be able to take an itemized deduction, hey may be able to file for reimbursement from the Defense Department.

Those who drill more than 100 miles from home still can deduct their unreimbursed expenses as an above-the-line adjustment to their gross income.

On the flip side, more than 133,000 veterans may qualify for a refund of federal taxes they paid on disability severance pay dating back to 1991 ― taxes that shouldn’t have been collected in the first place.

Eligible veterans will have a year after they receive the notice to file a claim for the refund.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Federal Laws Protect Military, Reserve, Guard & Veteran Students

Federal Laws

Guest Article and Post by Commander Wayne Leslie Johnson – Naval Officer and JAG – Retired.

FEDERAL LAW AND REGULATIONS (AND SOME STATE LAWS) PROTECT ACTIVE DUTY, GUARD, AND RESERVE MILITARY PERSONNEL WHO ARE ATTENDING POST-SECONDARY EDUCATION SCHOOLS IF THEY HAVE TO MISS SCHOOL DUE TO MILITARY ORDERS.

The federal law and regulation has the greatest protective impact on a “Veteran” who is now attending school who is also in the Guard or Reserves. The only time the federal law would not directly protect a veteran is when they are not in any reserve or active duty military status. Knowing about the law, however, might encourage a person, veteran or not, to join the military in some capacity, knowing that many disruptions to one’s education due to military orders are now ameliorated to some degree.

In 2010, the Department of Education published regulations implementing the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008.  The regulations, 34 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R) section 668.18, went into effect July 1, 2010.  The law is codified under 20 United States Code (U.S.C.) Section 1091c.

The law and regulations accord the post-secondary education student whose education was interrupted by voluntary or involuntary military service the right to readmission to the educational program. These requirements apply to any educational institution that participates in title IV federal student financial aid programs, including Pell Grants, Stafford Loans, and the Federal Work-Study Program.

This applies to the student who is a member of the National Guard or Reserves and who is called to active duty involuntarily or volunteers for an extended period of active duty. It applies to the student who starts an educational program (often part-time) while on active duty and who then must interrupt the educational program because of a deployment or a Permanent Change of Station (PCS). It also applies to a student who interrupts his or her education to enlist in a regular component of the armed forces. Such a person is entitled, as a matter of federal law, to resume the educational program later, either during or after the person’s active duty service.

EXTRA NOTE FOR RESERVE AND GUARD PERSONNEL:  There may be instances where your active military service due to its short duration (or how mobilized for National Guard personnel) does not receive Federal education protection.  In those cases, check to see what laws your state government has on this as they often provide additional protections. Some states even give the service member the ability to sue the school for violating the state’s law. There are currently 21 states that have their own laws in this area:  Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin

For Additional Sources of Information Click Here.

About Commandfer Johnson – Wayne Johnson holds a Bachelor of Science in Political Science from West Chester State College and a Juris Doctor, cum laude from Mercer College as well as a Master of Laws from Tulane University Law School. Wayne served I the Army from 1975 to 1979 and was a commissioned ensign in the Navy in 1982 advancing to Commander in 1996. He served as Senior Defense Counsel, Chief Legal Assistance Attorney, Navy Legal Service Office from 1983 to 1985 in Pensacola. He was a Staff Judge Advocate for the USS Canopus as well as a Military Law Instructor at the Naval Justice School.   Wayne retired in 1999 with 20 years of active military service. Since 2005, Wayne has been employed y the Department of Health and Human Service, Office of the General Counsel, Ethics Division, Washington, DC.

Guard/Reservists to Get Equal Death Benefit

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By Debbie Gregory.

A change to the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) for the families of Guard members and Reservists killed during inactive training will mean an increase in benefits. National Guard and Reserve members would receive the same death benefits as their active-duty counterparts under a bill expected to pass Congress.

Up until now, family members of Guardsmen and Reservists killed during inactive training receive a much smaller monthly payment than those of active-duty members. For example, a survivor receives $1,036 a month if the spouse was killed on inactive training status, yet another receives $3,381 if the spouse was killed on active duty, according to a fact sheet from the Defense Department.

For those on active duty, the amount is based on a simple percentage of what the troop’s retirement payment would be. For those in the Guard or Reserve, the amount is based on a more complicated three-step formula that factors in Reserve points and years of service, among other items.

In addition, survivors of active-duty members qualify for an additional payment designed to get around a rule that blocks them from receiving full death benefit payouts from both the Defense Department and the Veterans Affairs Department. But the allowance doesn’t extend to those of Guardsmen and reservists killed on in-active training.

The legislation includes language championed by Rep. Marc Veasey, a Texas Democrat, to fix this inequity.

“A discrepancy between survivor benefits for fallen service members of differing active duty statuses was finally remedied,” Veasey said in a statement. “This long overdue change will now make available equal survivor benefits for all who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our country and will hopefully alleviate some of the financial stress experienced by our military families.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

 

Army Reserve Chief to Build Rapidly Deployable Ready Force

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By Debbie Gregory.

Lt. Gen. Charles Luckey, chief of the Army Reserve and commanding general, U.S. Army Reserve Command said that he plans to stand up a package of forces capable of mobilizing and deploying into a major contingency operation much faster than traditional Reserve units.

“We are calling it Ready Force X; we are still trying to figure out what Ready Force X is going to look like, what’s in it and what war plans inform that requirement,” Luckey said.

Over the past 15 or so years, the Reserve has built readiness over time, in a progressive and rotational manner, he said. If a unit was alerted for a possible mobilization in 2019, he said, those soldiers had several years to work their way through the training required to prepare for the mission.

“I have asked the G-3/5/7 of U.S. Army Reserve Command down at Fort Bragg to do an assessment of capabilities that we think we — the United States Army Reserve — ought to provide to the warfighter and the Army on fairly short notice.”

The Reserve is made up of commands designed provide support, such as aviation, medical, military intelligence, civil affairs and theater sustainment, to active-duty and National Guard combat forces.

Now, what Reserve forces “need to be able to do is anticipate a contingency demand different than a known demand,” Luckey said.

“Instead of planning for a unit deploying sometime in 2019 and have several years to prepare, we are now in a situation where we have some capabilities that we may need to deploy in less than 90 days and, in some cases, significantly less than 90 days,” Luckey said.

This will be a challenge since the Army Reserve is made up of part-time soldiers, Luckey said.

Luckey, who assumed command in June, said units need to be on a relatively high degree of readiness — not just in terms of training, but also manning, individual soldier readiness and modernization.

Another challenge will likely come from budget constraints, he said, acknowledging that there is a “high likelihood” that it is going to cost more to generate and sustain this new type of readiness.

But “I want to make sure, before I start talking about money or needing more resources, I am very clear on what effect I think I can achieve if I had more resources,” he said.

The details of Ready Force X are still being worked out, but the idea is to have the first tranche of formations — about 25,000 to 33,000 soldiers — ready to go on short notice

“A lot of this is, frankly, a journey of discovery into what is in the art of the possible in terms of generating these capabilities.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

This Is The Future Of The Air Force Reserve

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By Debbie Gregory.

On July 15, 2016, Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller was named commander of the Air Force Reserve. She is the first female to hold the position.

As one of the highest ranking women in the military, Miller will have four years to make her mark by ensuring that anyone who joins the Air Force Reserve will play an important role in the branch’s future.

Miller spent eight years on active duty before choosing to switch to the full-time reserves. A few years later, she opened a restaurant and juggled dual military-civilian life.

She is proud to lead the 70,000 men and women of the Air Force Reserve as they stand side-by-side with the active component around the world.

Miller looks to the future in order to increase diversity across the Reserves in lock-step with the Defense Department. The DoD took proactive steps toward creating a more diverse force by making the move to fully integrate women into all combat positions and allow transgender men and women to enlist or commission.

During the four years Miller will spend at the helm, she hopes to make the Reserve a place that offers something unique for all those who volunteer to serve.

“My goal is to get out to every population and let them understand the opportunities that are out there for them.”

Miller intends to continue to build out the Reserves as a crucial part of the Air Force by seeking out the best talent not only from those who transition out of the active component, but also from the civilian population.

“What I am going to do in this particular area is to show an opportunity to serve,” Miller said. “You can serve in your civilian capacity and then bring that same expertise into the military side. There’s many, many opportunities to participate at all levels.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

ESGR Week Celebrates Our Nation’s Guard and Reserve Troops

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By Debbie Gregory.

August 21st through August 27th has been proclaimed by President Obama as National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week.

The president said, “For more than two centuries, brave patriots have given of themselves to secure our fundamental rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — and in times of both war and peace, members of the National Guard and Reserve have stood ready to don our uniform, answer our Nation’s call, and protect our way of life. This week, we recognize the important role played by the families, employers, and communities of these men and women in ensuring they can step forward and serve our country when they are needed most.”

As the Director of Employer Engagement for California’s ESGR, I see the sacrifices these servicemembers and their families make in order to balance their civilian lives with their commitment to our country’s safety and well-being. I also am privileged to liaise with their outstanding employers, who give their employees the flexibility that enables them to honor this commitment.

The employers who hire our National Guard troops and our Reservists give their employees the support which has been vital to the success, stability, and security of our Nation.

While the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) gives certain rights to uniformed servicemembers and their civilian employers, I have the pleasure of working with the employers who voluntarily sign a statement of support that they will do the right thing by their employees. Their employees do not need to worry about being discriminated against in their employment based on past, present, or future military service.

And that is something we should all honor and celebrate!

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Guard & Reserve May Get Vet Status & Preference!

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By Debbie Gregory.

In a move that is long overdue, two bills in front of Congress could be a big boon for Guard and Reserve members.

Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act contains two no-cost initiatives that would  honor their service by granting “veteran” status to 200,000 Reserve and National Guard retirees who, according to federal law, do not technically qualify as veterans.

Many civilians are surprised to learn that this is not a done deal for those who serve. While there are benefits for serving in the Guard and Reserve, they do differ from those who served in the active duty forces.

Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act, (in the House- H.R. 1384,  in the Senate- S 743) has been around for a while, but now may be closer than ever to being passed. It was introduced by Sen. John Boozman (Rep-AR) in March, 2015.

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) has been hesitant to support the measure out of concern that passage would make retired Guard and reserve members think they are eligible for benefits they have not earned.

The second initiative would make an increased number of former Reserve and Guard members eligible for veteran preference.

Veterans preference recognizes the sacrifices made by those who serve, giving them preference over non-Veterans in both Federal hiring practices and in retention during reductions in force. Preference applies in hiring for many positions within the Federal competitive service, and provides a uniform method by which special consideration is given to qualified Veterans.

If an individual signs on, devotes years of his or her life to being ready to serve at a moment’s notice, they should receive the respect given to veterans.

These men and women served honorably and should not be penalized simply because their country did not call them up to active duty for the full requisite period of time.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Secretary of Defense Freedom Award Semifinalists Named

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense office, has selected 139 employers as semifinalists for the 2016 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, commonly referred to as the “Freedom Award.”

Almost half of the U.S. military is made up of National Guard and Reserve members, many of whom also hold jobs with civilian employers. The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.

ESGR organizes the annual award program. The award was instituted in 1996 by then Secretary of Defense William Perry, and has since presented the honor to 220 employers.

Each year, up to 15 awards are presented to employers in the three categories – large (500 or more employees), small (fewer than 500 employees), and public sector.

This year’s semifinalist group is comprised of 48 large employers, 46 small employers, and 45 public sector employers. The nomination process is open to all Guard and Reserve personnel or a family member acting on their behalf and applications are submitted online to ESGR.

“Each of these 139 semifinalists have given great support to our citizen warriors,” said ESGR Director of Outreach Navy Capt. Steve Knight.  “They play a key role in maintaining the strength of the National Guard and Reserve, as they help take care of our troops and their families.”

ESGR received 2,424 nominations for employers in all 50 states, Guam-CNMI, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia.  This year’s 30 finalists are expected to be announced in April, with the recipients being announced in late June.

In 2008, ESGR launched a web site for the Freedom Award. Using videos, news articles, profiles of recipients, and tips about employer best practices, the site provides information about the support that employers across the nation provide to their Guard and Reserve employees and their families. The site also houses the nomination form for the award.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.