It’s that fun time of year. No, we’re not talking about the Super Bowl. It’s time to start assembling all your tax documents. If you received a withdrawal from your Thrift Savings Plan account or a taxable loan in 2014, your IRS Form 1099-R will be arriving soon in your mailbox. If you don’t receive it by mid-February, you can print out a copy at TSP’s My Account website.
In more uplifting news, disabled veterans newly hired by federal agencies are a bit closer to receiving paid sick leave to attend medical appointments. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed H.R. 313, the 2015 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act this week, sending it to the full House for a vote. Also this week, Sens. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., introduced similar legislation, S. 242, in the Senate.
While new federal employees begin their careers with no sick leave balance—they accrue it over time—the bill would give veterans with a 30 percent disability rating or greater 13 days of sick leave to use for medical treatment related to their injuries.
The National Treasury Employees Union strongly supports the legislation. “The Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act will eliminate the need for these newly-hired employees to be forced to take leave without pay for medical appointments, and does so without creating any new costs for agencies or taxpayers,” said NTEU President Colleen Kelley in a letter to the bills’ sponsors, Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.
Besides pushing for sick leave for veterans, Lynch also reintroduced a bill to allow the families of overseas federal contractors killed in the line of duty access to full death benefits if the deceased employee is unmarried with no children or other dependents. The Glen Anthony Doherty Overseas Security Personnel Fairness Act, named for the former Navy SEAL and C.I.A. security contractor killed during the September 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, would remove a provision in federal law that prohibits the families of overseas contractors killed in the line of duty from receiving full death benefits if the deceased employee is unmarried with no children. The bill is cosponsored by Congressman Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
“It is unacceptable that the Defense Base Act requires federal workers to take out an insurance policy before they are deployed overseas and accepts the payment of insurance premiums from those workers, but fails to provide death benefits to their families or estate solely based on marital and child status,” Lynch said.
In the Senate, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., reintroduced the Charlie Morgan Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act, which would extend veterans benefits to same-sex couples and their families regardless of where they live. The legislation is named after New Hampshire National Guard Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, died in 2013 after a battle with breast cancer. Her wife and daughter were initially ineligible to receive certain survivor benefits until the Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. Families in states where same-sex marriages are not recognized remain ineligible for certain VA benefits.
“No one who has served in uniform and fought for our country should be denied the benefits they’ve earned and deserve,” Shaheen said.
Not every legislative action on the Hill was about expanding benefits for federal employees. House lawmakers passed a bill to prevent the Office of Personnel Management from contracting with health plans that cover abortions. Rep. Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and 29 cosponsors introduced the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion and Abortion Insurance Full Disclosure Act, which stipulates that ‘‘None of the funds authorized or appropriated by Federal law, and none of the funds in any trust fund to which funds are authorized or appropriated by Federal law, shall be expended for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.”
The other big pay and benefits news this week surrounds the much anticipated recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. As lawmakers dive into the weeds on the issues, they may want to revisit the findings of a 2012 study by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, “Rebalancing Military Compensation.” According to CSBA’s Todd Harrison: “Service members at all stages of their career do not value the free TRICARE for Life benefit commensurate with what it costs DoD to provide.”
According to Harrison, “DoD could rebalance the allocation of resources to move funding from undervalued forms of compensation, such as free TRICARE for Life, to more highly valued forms of compensation, such as basic pay. Rebalancing the compensation system would reduce costs while maintaining or improving the perceived value for service members.”