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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.


<br>VA

Veteran groups divide over tighter transfer rules for GI Bill

Two of the nation’s largest veteran service organizations hold opposing views on the Defense Department’s plan to tighten rules next year on the transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits to servicemembers’ spouses and children.


MILITARY UPDATE

Number of disabled vets to get tax refunds jolts law’s backers

The Defense Department and Internal Revenue Service announced this week that almost 10 times that number of disabled veterans — just over 130,000 — are due tax refunds under the 2016 law, which Congress passed to correct a long-tolerated flaw in tax withholding practices for disability severance pay.


MILITARY UPDATE

Conferees urged to reject Senate-passed Tricare fee increases

The Senate wants the higher Tricare cost-shares to apply, as the Department of Defense intended, to all current and future retirees. If the Senate language becomes law, DOD officials would reset fees starting in 2020.


MILITARY UPDATE

Congress, Pentagon step toward allowing far more shoppers on base

Defense Department officials have told Congress they conditionally support opening on-base shopping to disabled veterans, Purple Heart recipients and caregivers of severely injured veterans — changes to current law that would add at least a few hundred thousand weekly shoppers to commissaries and exchanges nationwide.


MILITARY UPDATE

Vet realtor pulls alarm on plan to fund ‘blue water’ Navy bill

The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s plan to pay for a bill to extend Agent Orange disability benefits to 90,000 “blue water” Navy veterans of the Vietnam War will not continue to shield all disabled veterans from a funding fee.


MILITARY UPDATE

Lump-sum ‘take rates’ projected for new blended retirement

In a recent report, government actuaries assume that 5.2 percent of retiring officers and 22.8 percent of retiring enlisted will be enticed enough by cash to accept deep cuts in retired pay. Here's what that could mean.


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  • Military Update

    Scandal-wounded Shulkin cites fight over privatization as factor in ouster

    In a New York Times commentary Thursday, David Shulkin said VA became “entangled in a brutal power struggle, with some political appointees choosing to promote their agendas instead of what’s best for veterans.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Expand Agent Orange-related health care? Shulkin says he would if he could

    VA Secretary David Shulkin suggests he favors expansion of Agent Orange-related health care and disability compensation to new categories of ailing veterans but that factors like cost, medical science and politics still stand in the way.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    New DOD task force eyed for merging exchange services, commissaries

    The three military exchange services and the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) would be merged into a single resale enterprise under a proposal backed by John H. Gibson II, the Defense Department’s new chief management officer, who has been tasked to make DOD business operations more efficient.


  • Military Update

    VA health data transfer to new electronic records system to be easier than DOD’s

    Rep. Phil Roe, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he was assured by VA Secretary David Shulkin that VA medical data won’t face the same transfer challenges as military patient data stored on AHLTA.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    Retention rules tighten on members not medically fit to deploy

    Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is concerned enough about strengthening the lethality of U.S. forces that he broke with tradition last month to impose a first-ever “universal retention policy” across the four service branches.


  • MILITARY UPDATE

    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

    Monitoring commissary patrons’ savings in an era of reforms

    Readers of last week’s column, which described a sharp decline in commissary sales, reacted with emails. Many blamed falling sales on a perceived narrowing of savings. Other criticized empty shelves and popular items out of stock.


  • Military Update

    Falling commissary sales are raising risks to shopping benefit

    Sales at on-base grocery stores have fallen 6 percent in the past year, 21.3 percent since 2012, leaving commissaries open to criticism that they’re losing relevancy as a military perk, or becoming too costly for taxpayers to support.


  • 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.


  • 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.

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