February 6, 2017

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Inside this issue
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  DoD Readies Budget Requests
DoD is preparing a pair of budget requests, one to boost defense spending for the current fiscal year and another to fund the department in FY18.  The supplemental request is due to the White House by March first and the latter document by May 1.  Last month, we reported that the Administration's annual budget proposal would come much later than in past years (due 1st Monday in February).  The delayed submission is expected to impact the development of the annual defense policy bills which are normally compiled by the Armed Services Committees in late spring or early summer.        
SECVA Confirmation Hearing
The president's nominee to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr David Shulkin, got his turn in the hot seat on Wednesday as Senate lawmakers sought his views for the future of Veterans health care and the department overall.  Questioning touched on a broad range of issues including veteran's choices to seek private care, eliminating the claims backlog and ensuring employee accountability of VA employees.  Two key items gleaned from his confirmation hearing are: that Dr. Shulkin intends to be a strong advocate for Veterans, and, although he supports moving care into the community where it makes sense for the veteran, he does not believe in a wide scale dismantling of the VA system.  If confirmed, Shulkin pledged "to build an integrated system of care that would strengthen system within V.A that are essential for veteran well-being, and use services in the community that can serve veterans with better outcomes and value to the taxpayer."  Senate lawmakers are expected to confirm him for the position beginning with a nod from the Senate Veterans Committee early next week.
Coming soon to a Commissary near You
Private label products are offered by retailers under their own, in-house brand or under a brand developed by their suppliers.  After extensive research and surveying, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) has developed a store brand of their own.  DeCA has developed these brands to give patrons a chance to save money without sacrificing quality.  It takes time to develop and allow for a store brand to reach maturity, so the number of "Freedom's Choice" and "HomeBase" products will continue to grow much larger over the next four to five years.  According to their press release, the private labels, or store brands will begin appearing on commissary shelves in May.
Commissaries Savings Measurement Changes
This week, the Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) released new regional savings numbers for commissaries.  "Historically, DeCA measured savings globally, by comparing national prices at commissaries against average market prices for the whole country.  However, the cost of living varies by region.  To account for these geographic differences, Congress now requires DeCA to report on savings regionally, comparing prices with two-to-three commercial grocers, including supercenters, in the local area of each commissary in the United States."  Some AFSA members were quick to observe that changing the formula resulted in a much lower figure than the 30%+ savings figure touted by DeCA in past years.  This in turn, lowers the department's obligation to preserve current saving levels as directed by Congress a year ago.  Utilizing magical math could lead to a lesser benefit that shoppers may eventually reject.
Opt-In Training for BRS
This week DoD launched a new training program to inform eligible service members about their options under the "Blended Retirement System (BRS)."  The mandatory opt-in training is available on the common-access-card-enabled Joint Knowledge Online website, and through Military OneSource.  See the official DoD press release for more details. 
VA dental insurance pilot program extended for enrolled Veterans
Public Law 114-218 extended the VA dental insurance pilot program (VADIP) through 2021.  VADIP offers Veterans enrolled in the VA health care system, as well as beneficiaries and their dependents of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA (CHAMPVA), the opportunity to purchase discounted insurance from private dental insurers.  Coverage includes diagnostic services, preventive services, endodontic and other restorative services, surgical services and emergency services. Click here to learn more about the program. 
National Veterans Day Poster Contest
A clarification about VA's National Veterans Day Poster Contest announced on Monday; the competition is open to EVERYONE - not only for Veterans, VA employees, or Family Members.  Click on the link for submission requirements.