Military Minute

 

Upcoming Tricare Change Could Hurt Families

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A short sentence buried in a series of major Tricare reforms passed by Congress in 2016, set to roll out late this year, is causing alarm among military family advocates. They worry that the measure will block Tricare beneficiaries from accessing the healthcare they need.

Currently, military families can at any time switch members of their household from Tricare Prime (the system’s default, military clinic-based plan) to the plan currently known as Tricare Standard. That plan allows civilian-based care and self-referrals. Once users make the swap, they often are locked into the new plan for a year.

But new rules passed by Congress in 2016 include a requirement that families who want to use Tricare Standard, soon to be known as Tricare Select, go through an “open enrollment” period each year or automatically move into Tricare Prime. Missing the open enrollment period will lock users into the Prime plan unless they experience a “qualifying life event” (QLE) that allows them to move, according to the legislation.

Many military families currently report using the ability to swap from Tricare Prime, which is free, to cost share-based Tricare Standard as an “escape hatch” — to flee from what they see as inadequate care or being plagued by hassles and long wait times, officials with the National Military Family Association (NMFA) said.

For example, military spouses often switch to Standard so they can avoid giving birth at a military treatment facility and instead use a civilian hospital, NMFA said. Others make the switch for the ability to more easily access specialty care without first going through their primary care manager, a requirement under the Prime plan.

But the new law does not dictate what counts as a “qualifying event,” leaving it up to the Defense Health Agency, which oversees Tricare, to set the policy. And that has military family advocates worried. Although Tricare officials have not yet publicized the qualifications, the civilian health care industry has a set of reasons seen as “industry standard” — and pregnancy and care complaints are not among them.

“Commercial plans typically define QLEs as changes in household (e.g., getting married or divorced, birth of a baby or adopting a child), relocation or loss of health insurance. Without a QLE, you’re stuck with your Tricare plan choice until the next open enrollment — even if the health care you’re receiving doesn’t pass the smell test,” officials with the National Military Family Association noted in a recent post on their site. “We’re concerned that an annual open enrollment period may effectively trap military families in the MTF, regardless of the problems they experience with access or quality of care.”

Tricare users may have more than just grievances behind their reasons for wanting to switch plans, officials with NMFA said. Picking Tricare Prime over Standard means accessing the military treatment facility and being willing to jockey for appointments, both of which can involve major time commitments when compared to civilian, community-based care.

“There are several different reasons I can think of as to why a family might want to switch to Standard — and they might not want to wait six months to do so,” Karen Ruedisueli, a government relations deputy director at NMFA told Military.com. “It can even be as simple as a spouse gets a job and no longer has the time to devote to getting care at the MTF and navigating [Tricare] Prime.”

Ruedisueli said Tricare officials are working with NMFA and others for feedback on the changes, and she is hopeful that policy makers will take into account the reasons military families choose Standard over the free Prime plan as they write the new rules.

“This presents the perfect opportunity for DoD to understand why is it that some people want to pay out of pocket for medical care when you have this no-cost option,” she said.

— Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @amybushatz

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News

Hard-Hit Marine Class from Vietnam War Celebrates 50th Reunion

The 6/67 Memorial at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia commemorates The Basic School's sixth graduating class, which suffered more than 250 casualties, including 43 officers killed in Vietnam. (US Marine Corps photo)
The 6/67 Memorial at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia commemorates The Basic School’s sixth graduating class, which suffered more than 250 casualties, including 43 officers killed in Vietnam. (US Marine Corps photo)

In the fall of 1967, The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, finished training 498 twenty-something Marine second lieutenants. By the end of the year, nearly all were in Vietnam.

Before Christmas, the first of them was killed in action: 2nd Lt. Michael Ruane, of Mike Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, on Dec. 18, 1967. The TBS class that began in June 1967 (TBS 6/67) would have a casualty rate of more than 50 percent — the highest of any Marine officer class during the Vietnam War.

For those second lieutenants and their platoons, the pace was unrelenting. They would go past the wire — when there was wire — on daily patrols through terrain that ranged from paddies and dikes along the coast, through the scrub brush and elephant grass of the interior, and into the triple-canopy jungles of the high ground reaching into Laos.

The New York Times declared that “the era of big battles” had come to Vietnam in 1967. Le Duan, the real power in Hanoi, ordered North Vietnamese Army regulars into South Vietnam to support the Vietcong. The battles became bigger in 1968.

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Deputy Director Named for POW/MIA Agency

Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz (left) speaks with sailors during his May 2017 visit to Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC). The admiral was named deputy director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (Naval Sea Systems Command photo/Scott Curtis)
Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz (left) speaks with sailors during his May 2017 visit to Southeast Regional Maintenance Center (SERMC). The admiral was named deputy director of the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. (Naval Sea Systems Command photo/Scott Curtis)

The Pentagon has tapped Navy Rear Adm. Jon C. Kreitz to be the next deputy director for operations of the agency that searches for, recovers and identifies missing American war dead from around the world.

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, with a budget of $112 million, has the bulk of its operations based out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with about 400 personnel in Hawaii.

Army Brig. Gen. Mark Spindler has been the accounting agency’s deputy director at Hickam since September 2015. Fern Sumpter Winbush is the interim agency director out of Washington, D.C.

Congress mandated in 2009 that the Pentagon have the capacity to identify up to 200 MIAs a year by fiscal 2015 — a goal the agency has struggled with since then and after going through a Pentagon-‘mandated reorganization in recent years, aimed at improving efficiency.

According to the accounting agency, 110 identifications had been made this fiscal year as of Wednesday.

Among those are crew members who died in the battleship USS Oklahoma on Dec. 7, 1941, and whose remains were buried as “unknowns” at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific at Punchbowl.

In April 2015, with advances made in science, the deputy secretary of defense issued a policy memorandum directing the disinterment of all the 388 Oklahoma unknowns.

At least 70 identifications have been made from those exhumed remains, usually with DNA matches to relatives.

Kreitz enlisted in the Navy in May 1982 as a machinist’s mate. After a tour on the USS Nassau, he earned a Bachelor of Science in applied physics and received a commission through the Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Most recently he was president of the Board of Inspection and Survey in Virginia Beach, Va.

According to the accounting agency, 73,052 Americans remain unaccounted for from World War II, 7,745 from the Korean War, 1,608 from the Vietnam War, 126 from the Cold War and six from Iraq and other conflicts.

Seventy-five percent of the losses are in the Asia-‘Pacific, and more than 41,000 of the missing are presumed lost at sea.

(c)2017 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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News

Coast Guard: Missile Test Could Be Held Next Weekend

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor being fired during an exercise in 2013. (DoD photo)
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor being fired during an exercise in 2013. (DoD photo)

KODIAK, Alaska — The U.S. will conduct as soon as next weekend another test of a missile defense system meant to counter threats from North Korea.

The launch from Alaska’s Kodiak Island is scheduled to occur at the Pacific Spaceport Complex-Alaska, according to a U.S. Coast Guard notice. Mariners are advised to remain clear of swaths of ocean between Kodiak Island and Hawaii through the weekend.

U.S. Army soldiers are stationed temporarily at the launch complex for U.S. Missile Defense Agency testing of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, the Kodiak Daily Mirror reported.

The U.S. Missile Defense Agency successfully completed a Flight Test THAAD-18 operation from Kodiak earlier this month. That test “validated THAAD’s ability to intercept intermediate range ballistic missiles,” said Chris Johnson, U.S. Missile Defense Agency director of public affairs.

The FTT-18 test earlier this month included the launch of “two interceptors from two co-located launchers,” Johnson wrote in an email to the Kodiak Daily Mirror. “The first missile engaged the target. The second interceptor was launched to test operational procedures.”

A second test from the site, called the FTT-15, will test the system’s ability to intercept a medium-range ballistic missile within the earth’s atmosphere, said Leah Garton of U.S. Missile Defense Agency public affairs.

THAAD, which currently has a 100 percent success rate in 14 tests, uses a direct hit to intercept a target in its final phase of flight. THAAD systems have been placed in Guam and South Korea to counter missile threats from North Korea.

Copyright (2017) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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Air Force Reviewing Petition to Restore Rank of Vietnam-Era General

Major General John Daniel Lavelle (Air Force Photo)
Major General John Daniel Lavelle (Air Force Photo)

A controversial Air Force case dating to the Nixon administration may once again spur debate in Congress over whether to restore a disgraced general’s honor and rank.

The service has begun a review process that could lead to the posthumous restoration of two ranks to Maj. Gen John D. Lavelle, who was demoted and fired over alleged unauthorized airstrikes over North Vietnam, Military.com has exclusively learned.

Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson has agreed to review the case before an official recommendation is made. If approved, the petition would head to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis before potential White House approval and a future Senate committee vote.

“The package on Maj. Gen. Lavelle is still under review,” Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said on Tuesday. “It would be inappropriate for the Air Force to comment further since the Air Force will make a recommendation on the case, but is not the decision authority.”

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