December 2, 2014

Sgt. Shaft caricatureDear Sgt. Shaft
I am a 74-year-old woman married to a retired Army officer for the past 11 years and before that I was married to an Air Force enlisted man for 27 years both times I was eligible and used Tricare. I will be divorced next year from my present husband and I was wondering how I could continue with Tricare for life benefits since TriCare is the only health care I have ever known for 37 years?

Sharon B
Florida

Dear Sharon
In order to continue your Tricare benefit after divorce, you must abide by what’s known as the “20/20/20 rule” under the law. This law states that after a divorce the spouse of a military member or military retiree must have 20 years of marriage, the Service member/retiree must have 20 years or more of service, and the marriage and service years overlap for 20 years. Without meeting this requirement, the Tricare benefit is lost for the non-military spouse. This means you will be covered by Medicare still but it will be without the Tricare supplement backing it up under Tricare for Life. The only way to get the Tricare back is to remarry another military retiree. You should check into Social Security retirement benefits to determine your greatest benefit from which previous spouse. You may want to research Medicare supplement plans to replace the Tricare portion of your coverage.

Shaft Notes
The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently held a hearing to explore how VA’s longstanding information technology security weaknesses may be allowing continued data manipulation among VA’s various computer systems.

As VA’s wait time manipulation scandal raged, America learned about data manipulation schemes that involved VA officials using scheduling software to “zero out” appointment wait times and VA electronic records being changed to hide veteran deaths.

A Government Accountability Office review released today details how VA’s failure to fully address known IT weaknesses puts the department’s information “at heightened risk of unauthorized access, modification, and disclosure.” The GAO report comes on the heels of news that VA will fail its annual cybersecurity audit for the 16th straight year.

The purpose of this hearing was to review the steps VA is taking to address its longstanding IT security weaknesses and identify who – if anyone – has been held accountable for VA’s failure to effectively deal with the department’s cybersecurity challenges.

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) joined a group of 40 Senate colleagues in supporting the Department of Defense’s (DOD) plan to update the Military Lending Act (MLA) and close existing loopholes in order to better protect soldiers and their families from abusive financial practices.  The letter, sent to U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, expresses strong support for the proposed new rule to help prevent lenders from charging excessive fees and taking advantage of military families.

Following a 2006 Pentagon report that found that “predatory lending undermines military readiness, harms the morale of troops and their families, and adds to the cost of fielding an all-volunteer fighting force,” Congress passed the MLA.  This law capped the annual interest rates for consumer credit to service members and their dependents at 36% while giving DOD the authority to define what loans should be covered.  The DOD’s 2007 implementing regulations narrowly included only three types of loans: (1) payday loans: closed-end loans with terms of 91 days or fewer, for $2,000 or less; (2) auto title loans: closed-end loans with terms of 181 days or fewer; and (3) refund anticipation loans: closed-end credit.

In the proposed changes to the rules implementing the MLA, first announced in September, DOD sought to close existing loopholes in the current MLA rule.  Today’s letter voices strong support for the proposed rule, arguing that the changes strike a better balance between protecting service members and their families while maintaining access to good credit.

As our service members are asked to take on even more tasks in defense of our nation, we should take every opportunity to protect them and their families here at home, especially from unscrupulous lenders,” the Senators wrote.  “We strongly support the proposed MLA rule and urge that the final MLA rule be similarly robust in enhancing protections for service members and their families, producing significant cost savings for DOD, and improving military readiness.”

Murray was joined by Senators Reed and Durbin, Mark Udall (D-CO), Levin (D-MI), Brown (D-OH), Hirono (D-HI), Manchin (D-WV), Warner (D-VA), Franken (D-MN), Baldwin (D-WI), Nelson (D-FL), Murphy (D-CT), Blumenthal (D-CT), Merkley (D-OR), Heinrich (D-NM), Warren (D-MA), Gillibrand (D-NY), Whitehouse (D-RI), King (I-ME), Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Udall (D-NM), Kaine (D-VA), McCaskill (D-MO), Shaheen (D-NH), Schatz (D-HI), Markey (D-MA), Bennet (D-CO), Coons (D-DE), Donnelly (D-IN), Feinstein (D-CA), Cardin (D-MD), Carper (D-DE), Wyden (D-OR), Heitkamp (D-ND), Tester (D-MT), Boxer (D-CA), Hagan (D-NC), Harkin (D-IA), and Schumer (D-NY) in signing onto the letter.  The signatories include every Democratic member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The comment period for the proposed rule, which was recently extended, ends on December 26, 2014.

Chairman Jeff Miller House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs recently released the below statement following VA’s announcement that Phoenix VA Health Care System Director Sharon Helman has been fired.

“VA will never regain the trust of America’s veterans and American taxpayers until all of the corrupt senior executives who created the biggest scandal in the department’s history are held accountable to the maximum extent under the law. Sharon Helman’s removal is a positive step, but there are still many more VA scandal figures who also must be purged from the department’s payroll in order for veterans and families to receive the closure they deserve.”

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