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Tom Philpott

After service in the Coast Guard, and 17 years as a reporter and editor, Tom launched "Military Update," his syndicated weekly news column that features timely news and analysis on issues affecting active duty members, reservists, retirees and their families, in 1994.


F-16 pilots prepare for takeoff during training exercise at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti.
<br>Kenneth Norman/U.S. Air Force

Airline hiring, lifestyle issues deepen Air Force pilot shortage

With an Air Force pilot shortage that has hit 2,000, and commercial airlines in a hiring boom, service leaders are brainstorming ways to address a deepening crisis, eyeing improved financial incentives and a host of administrative actions to improve quality of life for aviators and their families.


Military Update

House panel, vet groups see no ‘deal breaker’ on ‘Choice’ reform

Starting next October, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman hopes to see every veteran who is enrolled in VA health care, and who has used the system in the previous two years, be assigned to a VA primary care physician.


MILITARY UPDATE

Plan to replace ‘Choice’ also will modernize VA health system

Congress, the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans service organizations will begin to spar this month over final details of a plan that not only will replace the much-maligned Veterans Choice program but empower VA to modernize large parts of its health care system.


MILITARY UPDATE

VA, Congress crawl toward ending abuse of vet pensioners

In 2012, the Government Accountability Office found more than 200 financial planning firms and estate law offices enticing veterans or their survivors into costly annuities or irrevocable trusts intended to hide or reallocate their assets so they qualify for VA pensions that the claimants wouldn’t be eligible for otherwise.


Military Update

Tricare reform rules fire a curveball over Jan. 1 fee levels

Near-final regulations released last week by the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to implement sweeping Tricare reforms on Jan. 1 include a surprise restructuring of appointment fees for active duty families, and retirees under 65 and their families, who get their health care outside of military treatment facilities.


MILITARY UPDATE

Board report sparks push to improve military kids' healthcare

The Defense Health Agency says it has embraced and begun to adopt a host of recommendations to improve health care services for military children.


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  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Senators vote compensation tradeoffs that the House avoided

    The Senate Armed Services Committee has voted to make permanent the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) set to expire next spring, and paid monthly to 63,000 survivors of servicemembers who died on active duty or, more commonly, died of severe service-connected health conditions in retirement.


  • Military update

    Vets online exchange benefit being tested, nearer for millions

    Veterans’ online exchange shopping, currently in beta testing, is set to open for millions of honorably discharged veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    House panel clears defense policy bill, but squeeze may be coming

    The House Armed Services Committee cleared a $696.5 billion fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill early Thursday, but supporters warn it will be sliced back if the 2010 Budget Control Act (BCA) isn’t repealed or if Congress lets bitter partisanship continue to produce late and unstable budgets for the military.


  • Military update

    VA standardizing caregiver plan before opening to older vets

    Special to Stars and Stripes


  • Military Update

    VA chief withdraws Staab appeal, vows to replace ‘IU’ pay cut

    Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin made two surprise announcements Wednesday before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that should relieve some financial stress for more than 600,000 veterans.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Vet groups endorse VA’s call to replace Choice with CARE plan

    The nation’s largest veteran groups joined key senators Wednesday to endorse conditionally a plan from Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin to replace the unpopular 2014 Choice program, which critics contend often has failed to provide timely access to private-sector care when VA health care isn’t readily available.


  • Military Update

    Justices: States erred in dividing retiree disability pay with ex-spouses

    State courts cannot order military retirees to divide their disability pay with ex-spouses to compensate for a drop in shared retirement triggered by the disability compensation award, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled.


  • Military Update

    Proposed budget to cap next raise, hike retiree fees

    President Donald Trump’s first budget request embraces many Obama administration ideas to dampen military compensation growth. But the new administration also has fresh cost-cutting plans.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Status of military raises part of study on converting to civilian-like salary system

    By year’s end the Department of Defense expects to launch its 13th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC), which will assess the pros and cons of converting servicemembers from traditional basic pay and tax-free allowances to a single, civilian-like salary system.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    DHA: New Tricare laws, contracts will drive 'historic' reforms

    Many elements of military health care are in flux due to three factors: a hefty package of reforms voted by Congress last December; a new generation of Tricare support contracts taking effect soon, and the introduction of MHS Genesis, the military’s new electronic records and scheduling system.


  • Military Update

    Patients will save, some docs will flee new Tricare dental plan

    A change in Tricare Dental Program contractor will bring lower patient premiums and a modest expansion of covered services. However, it also will lower key reimbursements to dentists below what they have been paid, prompting some dentists to warn patients they won’t be joining the new network.


  • Military Update

    Blended retirement's lump-sum feature is enticing, but is it fair?

    When the first wave of active-duty personnel who opt into the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) next year start to retire a decade later, they will face a decision on retired pay so unusual that the Department of Defense Board of Actuaries has called it inappropriate and asked Congress to rescind the choice.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Service chiefs call out Congress for using continuing resolutions

    For eight straight years, Congress has failed to pass a defense appropriations bill on time, forcing the armed services in wartime to operate for months at the start of every fiscal year under restrained spending authority called a continuing resolution or CR.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Commissary sales, transactions continue worrisome slide

    A steady fall in commissary sales and store transactions since 2012 suggests Congress and Defense Department officials picked a risky time to try to transform on-base grocery stores into more business-like operations, a move intended to lower taxpayer support of the benefit while still preserving shopper savings.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Lejeune vets' claims to be approved faster for 8 illnesses

    The Marine Corps has begun outreach to hundreds of thousands of veterans who served at Camp Lejeune, N.C., at least 30 days from August 1953 to December 1987, inviting them or surviving spouses to file for VA compensation if veterans suffered one of eight ailments linked to water contamination on the base.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Were store brands used to dampen commissary savings targets?

    Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) officials say they correctly calculated the “baseline” shopper savings that Congress insisted be verified and preserved as commissaries are transformed into more business-like grocery operations.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    VA plans to test several new ways to limit Choice plan costs

    VA Secretary David J. Shulkin used congressional testimony Tuesday and recent meetings with veterans’ service organizations to preview new steps the Department of Veterans Affairs might test for containing costs as it reforms the Choice program to smooth access to VA-paid private-sector health care.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    VA costs could balloon with 'choice' reform, new Agent Orange ailments

    Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David J. Shulkin announced this week that his priorities for improving services to veterans include expanding their access to private-sector health care in part by asking Congress to remove two irksome cost controls.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    VA denied stay on emergency care claims

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims has rejected with stunning speed a motion from the Department of Veterans Affairs that it be allowed to stop taking steps toward reimbursing hundreds of thousands of veterans, for the non-VA emergency care costs they have paid, until higher courts rule on VA’s appeal.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Thornberry: Politics hid depth of readiness crisis until now

    The House Armed Services Committee heard bracing testimony last week from the vice chiefs of Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps on how training, equipment, personnel strength and overall readiness have reached crisis levels.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Study: Blended retirement system won't harm retirees or force

    A new study commissioned by the Marine Corps concludes that the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) won’t endanger force retention under any reasonable set of economic and behavioral assumptions.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Suze Orman has some thoughts on new blended retirement plan

    Personal finance expert Suze Orman knows military leaders, pay officials and retirement service offices are getting ready to educate servicemembers on the new Blended Retirement System (BRS). But none of them, she said, can advise individuals whether to opt in, or avoid, the BRS when it becomes available in 2018.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Behind the Hill’s swift reforms of military compensation

    Michael Higgins served 20 years in the Air Force as a personnel officer and 23 more as a professional staff member for the House Armed Services Committee. There he helped generations of lawmakers set levels of military pay, determine the mix of benefits and bonuses, and grant force-shaping authorities that sustained America’s all-volunteer force.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Millions more vets to be able to shop at exchanges online

    After two years of study and debate, the Department of Defense has made a policy change, effective next November, to allow 16 million honorably discharged veterans to shop online for discounted military exchange products.


  • Military Update

    Avalanche of enacted Tricare changes poses challenges

    The National Defense Authorization Act (S 2943) signed into law Dec. 23 orders an avalanche of changes to the Tricare health care benefit used by servicemembers, retirees and their families. It also makes sweeping reforms to how the military direct-care system is organized and operates.


  • Military Update

    Point-of-service controls keeping Rx savings on track

    The Department of Defense pharmacy program is on track to slice $1.3 billion off projected drug costs from 2014 to 2019, thanks to higher beneficiary co-pays, tighter point-of-service rules and recent streamlining of prescription drug processes across the military, said Dr. George E. Jones, chief of pharmacy operations for the Defense Health Agency (DHA).


  • Military Update

    Costs kill big vet gains; Reserve retirees win vet status

    From the perspective of major veteran service organizations, the roadblock to critical reforms of benefits and services are budget controls that the veteran committees must operate under.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Stateside housing allowances to rise an average of 2.4 percent

    Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) paid to a million servicemembers living off base in the United States will climb an average of 2.4 percent, or about $41 a month, on Jan. 1. Actual increases for individual BAH recipients will vary by Military Housing Area, pay grade and dependency status.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Easing the stress of 'Death TV' for remotely located warriors

    The stress is significant enough, and recognized both by operators and the medical community, that the Air Force surgeon general has begun to embed mental health teams in remote warrior units to help treat the stress and improve mission performance.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Conferees reject more pruning of military compensation

    House Armed Services Committee conferees, in negotiating a final fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill, succeeded in blocking every substantive initiative aimed at slowing military compensation growth as had been backed by the Senate, the Obama administration and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    DeCA: We’ll add private labels but sustain brand savings

    Commissary shoppers will see no drop in savings on brand-name items even as the Defense Commissary Agency begins to offer better prices through its own private-label products, said DeCA Director Joseph H. Jeu.

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