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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.


House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., speaks at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Feb. 6, 2018.<br>Joe Gromelski/Stars and Stripes

VA, Roe tie caregiver benefit expansion to tightened eligibility

In drafting legislation that would expand comprehensive caregiver benefits to severely injured veterans of all past wars, Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, directed staff this month to start with the proposal announced by Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin at a Feb. 6 committee hearing.


Military Update

DOD official: ‘Myths’ distort military’s image with pool of future recruits

Unsettling myths about the military are rising among recruit-age youth and “influencers” — parents, teachers, clergy and coaches — in part because increasingly they have no personal or family ties to the armed forces, said Lernes “Bear” Hebert, acting deputy assistant secretary of defense for military personnel policy.


Military Update

Pharmacy fee hikes Feb. 1 will drive more prescription business onto base

Tricare beneficiaries will see increases in co-payments for prescription drugs filled by mail order or at neighborhood retail outlets starting Feb. 1. The prospect of higher out-of-pocket costs at these venues is expected to drive more beneficiaries to use on-base pharmacies where prescription drugs will continue to be dispensed free of charge.


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.


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  • 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.


  • 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.

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