Health coverage, high costs among issues discussed at USACC AFAP conference
March 6, 2009
- Broad locality pay rates are costing government civilians money, according to USACC AFAP participants
- Delegates are proposing more incentives to attract TRICARE Dental Network Providers
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Fifty active-duty Soldiers, retirees (JROTC cadre), military and cadet spouses, DA civilians and several volunteers from across the nation assembled in Virginia Beach Feb. 24-27 for the first U.S. Army Cadet Command Army Family Action Plan Conference in three years.
The delegates presented and discussed a variety of issues, to include gaps in TRICARE health coverage and inadequate locality pay rates, during the conference that concluded with an out brief attended by Brig. Gen. Arnold Gordon-Bray, USACC's Deputy Commanding General. In his remarks, he said the command's current situation presents an anomalous scenario for change.
"It's like a perfect storm coming together. We have a new commander, a sense of transformation within the command, and the movement of (USACC to Fort Knox, Ky.,) all occurring or getting ready to occur," the brigadier general said. "And, by the way, the world's environment has changed; the money isn't there anymore. So, with all those things happening, it makes sense to ask, 'what is the impact on the family''"
Brig. Gen. Gordon-Bray told the delegates that he appreciated their energy and willingness to "get things fixed" as they participated in the forum. He reminded the group of AFAP's 25-year legacy, and the 633 issues elevated to Army level thus far that served as the impetus of significant change for military families.
As an example, he alluded to the Thrift Savings Plan that allows Soldiers to squirrel away money without losing anything on brokerage fees. He also mentioned the positive outcome for high-school students in the military community who now have an opportunity to stay in one school for more than a year before graduation.
"AFAP (emphasizes) action plans. Every issue has to have a plan behind it to go forward. If there were no plans, we'd just have a gossip session. That's what makes it so different, important and powerful.
"The work you do - trying to change rules, regulations and policies - enables us to ultimately serve with the kind of prestige and dignity that makes the U.S. Army Soldier the most envied in the world," the deputy commanding general said.
Of the original 21 issues submitted for the USACC conference, six were discussed at length by delegates and recommended for advancement to the U.S. Army Accessions Command Steering Committee for their consideration when they meet in July. The steering committee will review the issues and determine the ones that should be sent forward to the DA-level AFAP for resolution. The remaining 15 issues will be resolved at the USACC level.
The six focus issues presented at the out brief are as follows:
Issue - Locality Rates/Local Market Supplement (LMS) for Government Civilians
Scope - LMS does not cover all high-cost areas. There are 31 locality pay areas and numerous high cost areas combined with the "rest of the United States." (That category) is too broad and (is typically) assigned the lowest locality rate. This inaccuracy places a financial hardship on government civilians and hinders retention and recruitment.
Recommendation - Expand the locality pay areas for government civilians to include those high cost areas not accurately reflected.
Issue - Financial Hardship in ROTC Battalions
Scope - Facilities and services on military installations provide cost savings that are not available to ROTC Battalions. This causes a financial hardship (for ROTC personnel).
Recommendation - Provide an additional financial subsidy to ROTC Battalion personnel living away from a military installation in order to offset the financial hardship.
Issue - Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) Collection Data for Remote Locations
Scope - BAH rates do not reflect the actual rental market cost for personnel in remote locations. The method for collecting the BAH data is inconsistent and sometimes incomplete. Soldiers are not aware of the process for determining or adjusting BAH or the points of contact in their locality. This inaccuracy places a financial hardship on service members in remote duty locations.
Recommendation - Develop a tool that accurately pinpoints the market for the remote area. Local commands in remote areas need more input into the local market data collection process.
Issue - TRICARE Dental Network Providers for Families
Scope - The lack of dental providers accepting TRICARE coverage places an undue hardship on families. (Some) are not receiving adequate and timely care. This adversely impacts families due to the loss of work hours and out-of-pocket expense fpr excessive travel to providers that accept TRICARE Dental.
Recommendation - Actively recruit TRICARE Dental Providers to expand the existing network. Increase the timeliness of payment to providers to (encourage acceptance of the military dental plan).
Issue - Lack of TRICARE Coverage for the Family Members of Newly Commissioned Officers
Scope - The family members of newly commissioned officers have no TRICARE coverage while their sponsor is waiting to report to active duty. Currently, the average wait time for the Basic Officer Leadership Course is 137 days. The lack of TRICARE coverage during this time results in a financial hardship for the family members and impacts readiness.
Recommendation - Authorize TRICARE coverage for the families of newly commissioned officers, effective on the date of commissioning.
Issue - TRICARE Prime Remote Prescription Co-Payments for Active Duty Family Members
Scope - There is an inequality of benefits between active duty family members at remote sites versus those on or near military installations who have access to military pharmacies. Active duty family members who are remotely assigned are forced to make co-payments for prescriptions. This causes remotely assigned military families undue financial hardship.
Recommendation - Eliminate prescription co-payments for TRICARE Prime Remote for active duty family members.