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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.



MILITARY UPDATE

Report says military's Survivor Benefit Plan 'compares well,' irking widows still hit by offset

The 175-page “An Assessment of the Military Survivor Benefit Plan” was ordered by Congress and concludes that SBP is “well-structured to provide survivor benefits” and the benefits “compare well with those of public and private plans.”


MILITARY UPDATE

Many medically discharged veterans are missing out on rating upgrade

Congress ordered that the Physical Disability Board of Review be established as part of the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act after a mountain of evidence surfaced that service branches had been low-balling disability ratings given to thousands of servicemembers medically separated over a nine-year period through recent wars.


MILITARY UPDATE

Exchanges resist plan to merge with faltering commissaries

Defense Department officials want Congress to include in its fiscal 2019 defense policy bill new authorities to execute its plan to merge the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) with the three military exchange services under a single system of on-base stores to be called the Defense Resale Enterprise.


MILITARY UPDATE

Vet lawyers got desired ‘undiagnosed pain’ case to win on appeal

An April 3 ruling in Saunders v. Wilkie, if it stands, could benefit thousands of veterans who have had Department of Veterans Affairs compensation claims for pain denied for lack of a medical diagnosis.


Military Update

Despite start-up challenges, MHS Genesis gains in user support

Navy Lt. Lauren Alderson, a family medicine physician at Naval Health Clinic Oak Harbor, Wash., much prefers the Defense Department’s new electronic health record system MHS Genesis, even in its testing stage, over the legacy AHLTA system it has replaced, so far, at four military medical facilities in Washington state.


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  • Military Update

    Hill, agencies target home loan ‘churning’ aimed at veterans

    A dozen senators believe it is time for Congress to act. Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., this month introduced their Protecting Veterans from Predatory Lending bill alongside 10 co-sponsors, an even split of Republicans and Democrats.


  • Military Update

    VA to begin paying up to 800,000 non-VA emergency claims

    The Department of Veterans Affairs published a revised rule Tuesday that allows payment of hundreds of thousands of pending claims for private-sector emergency care that veterans’ other health insurance covered in part but not in full.


  • Military Update

    ‘Chained CPI’ shaves tax breaks. Will your retired pay be next?

    This first-ever use of Chained Consumer Price Index is viewed by guardians of Social Security, federal retirement plans, veterans’ compensation and survivor benefits as a worrisome development. If the same method for measuring inflation is adopted widely, they contend, it would cut the lifetime value of most federal benefit plans.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Opting in sooner for new military retirement plan can add value to TSP

    This week 900,000 active-duty servicemembers and 700,000 drilling Reserve and Guard members become eligible to opt out of a rigid yet more valuable High-3 military retirement plan into the new portable Blended Retirement System with government matching of thrift savings contributions and early vesting.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Stung by 'raw politics,' Roe assesses VA Choice, caregiver plans

    Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he was surprised and disappointed when all nine Democrats at the the VA Care in the Community Act's mark-up hearing opposed the legislation they helped to shape and for which they were original co-sponsors.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Military stateside housing allowances to rise only 0.7 percent

    Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) paid to 956,000 servicemembers living off base in the United States will climb modestly Jan. 1, an average of only 0.7 percent or $10 a month, as an allowance-dampening formula enters its fourth year.


  • GAO: VA health leaders failed to protect patients from inept doctors

    At a House hearing Wednesday, VA officials acknowledged years of lax oversight by VA medical center directors, regional supervisors and top leaders. But Dr. Gerard R. Cox told lawmakers the VA accepts the GAO’s findings and recommendations and vowed that reforms are underway.and Stripes


  • Military Update

    In halting transgender ban, judges find Trump overstepped

    Both court rulings shared stinging rebukes of the way President Trump tried to impose the ban, and sharp critiques of arguments by Department of Justice attorneys defending Trump’s actions. Two more court decisions over blocking the ban are pending in other circuit courts.


  • Military Update

    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

    Thornberry: Defense bill conferees kept people a priority

    Rep. Mac Thornberry said all the conferees had “the welfare of servicemembers foremost in our minds. Some of that is pay and benefits but also, [considering] recent naval accidents and air accidents, it’s making sure they have equipment that works.”


  • Military Update

    After 18 months of study, VA delays adding new Agent Orange illnesses

    After 18 months of review by Veterans Affairs, Secretary David J. Shulkin announced he plans to “further explore” adding ailments to the list of compensable conditions VA presumes were caused by exposure to Agent Orange and other herbicides used during the Vietnam War.


  • 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.


  • military update

    Pay raise, Tricare fees, couples' BAH might take months to set

    The fate of these key elements of compensation is uncertain because the Senate and the House treat them differently in separate versions of the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (HR 2810) bill.


  • Military Update

    Congress can’t be shamed into stabilizing military budgets

    “And get a grip on reality,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis scolded the Senate Armed Services Committee last June after some senators whined they won’t be able again this year to pass a defense authorization bill on time. “It’s like we’re all walking around as if we’re victims,” said Mattis, not hiding his disgust.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Legal ‘fistfight’ expected when transgender ban gets to court

    Transgender personnel can expect a “fistfight” in federal court as they seek to reverse a ban, arguing it violates their constitutional rights to due process and equal justice, said attorney Eugene R. Fidell, who has decades of experience with military personnel legal issues and teaches military law at Yale Law School.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    New law streamlining VA claim appeals eases some protections

    Every major veteran service organization except Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) supported legislation, signed into law last week, to reform a woefully clogged process for deciding appeals of veterans’ disability claims.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Top Air Force doc: Hospital commands keep critical role amid reforms

    At the direction of Congress, the Department of Defense is implementing sweeping reforms to how the military’s direct health care system is administered, with the Defense Health Agency gaining authorities that long have resided with the surgeons general of the Army, Navy and Air Force.


  • military update

    Transgender military left on ledge weeks after Trump tweets

    Three weeks after Donald Trump, their commander in chief, clouded their futures through a string of tweets, saying he won’t allow them to serve in the military “in any capacity,” thousands of transgender servicemembers continue to serve the nation, still anxiously awaiting official policy to determine their fate.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    The fight to derail senators' military compensation squeeze

    The Congressional Budget Office, in estimating the impact of key provisions in House and Senate defense authorization bills for fiscal 2018, also spotlights the higher out-of-pocket costs that military folks would face if various Senate-devised personnel initiatives survive negotiations with the House to shape a final bill.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Shulkin will decide whether to add more conditions to Agent Orange list by Nov. 1

    Any ailments Secretary David Shulkin might add to VA’s current list of 14 “presumptive diseases” linked to herbicide exposure would make many more thousands of Vietnam War veterans eligible for VA disability compensation and health care.


  • Military Update

    VA ‘Choice’ funding deal near; Trump targets transgender troops

    Two starkly different styles of governing were seen this week on issues with potentially profound impact for groups of military folks and veterans.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Momentum builds for GI Bill reform package to benefit thousands

    The House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees are moving with surprising speed and unanimity to correct inequities under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and boost or restore education benefits for thousands of veterans and select groups of dependents and survivors.


  • 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.

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