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Key developments in the world of federal employee benefits: health, pay, and much more.

Aggressive Lobbying on Pay Issues, Veterans Suicide Prevention and More

Two major federal employee unions have gathered for their annual legislative conferences, and while their styles may be a bit different, one thing is clear: they are both hitting Capitol Hill aggressively on behalf of their members’ job security, resources, pay and benefits. One area of focus for the National Treasury Employees Union and the American Federation of Government Employees is repealing the across-the-board cuts from sequestration scheduled to return in October.

“If I meet one more politician who tells me we need to tighten our belts, I’m going to take my belt off and I’m going to whoop his ass,” said AFGE National President J. David Cox, in a speech to union members Monday.  

NTEU President Colleen Kelley was much less combative, but her message was similar: Sequestration has “shackled agencies in myriad other ways” in addition to hiring freezes, furloughs and decreased training, she said during that union’s conference last week.  “If Congress does not adequately fund our agencies, we will fail in our efforts to deliver on our missions, period.”

Other items on the unions’ agendas include: keeping the Homeland Security Department open past Feb. 27, when funding is scheduled to run out; obtaining ...

Prescription Drug Price Hikes, Pay Raises, Benefits in the 2016 Budget and More

These days it’s rare to find a benefits change that will both save the government money and help federal employees. But the Veterans Affairs Department on Wednesday touted a new service that does just that. More than 57,000 veterans are using an online tool that allows them to track the status of their prescription medications requested through the VA Mail Order Pharmacy, the department announced.

The prescription tracker – available through My HealtheVet -- was the idea of VA employee Kenneth Siehr. The tool is designed to save money by cutting down on calls to VA medical centers, and it earned Siehr a Securing Americans Value and Efficiency (SAVE) award in 2013.  

VA is planning further enhancements to the tracker, including images of the medicine being sent and a secure messaging alert to let veterans know when an order is mailed.

“VA prescription refill online is an excellent example of how one employee looked at the process of VA prescription tracking through the eyes of our veterans and came up with an idea that better serves veterans,” said Carolyn M. Clancy, VA’s interim undersecretary for health, in a statement.

Meanwhile, some participants in the military’s TRICARE health insurance ...

TSP 1099s Are In the Mail, Vets Sick Leave Bill Advances, Abortion Restrictions and More

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 ...

Paid Family Leave, Double Incentive Pay for a Stressful Job and More

The president’s annual State of the Union speech often addresses the role of government, broadly, and may even give a shout out to particular federal workers. But it rarely delves into specific federal pay and benefits issues, and this year was no exception. Obama did, however, make reference Tuesday night to one hot button proposal that would affect the federal workforce: paid family leave.

“Today, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Obama said.

He did not specifically mention civil servants, but they are among the workers who lack paid maternity leave. Last week Obama ordered agencies to change that, by advancing employees six weeks of paid sick time to care for newborn babies or ill family members. He asked lawmakers to pass a bill granting another six weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child.

Of course, it’s unclear if Congress will cooperate. Past proposals to give feds paid parental leave haven’t gotten very far. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has been offering bills along those lines since 2000; the House has passed the measure ...

Help for Vets, TRICARE Update, Pay Raise Prospects and More

Once again, helping veterans appears to be high on Congress’ priority list this year. (These things were tried in 2014 without success—perhaps second time around is the charm.)

On Wednesday, a bi-partisan group of House lawmakers reintroduced H.R. 313, the 2015 Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, which would give federal employees who also are disabled veterans 104 hours of leave for medical treatment during their first year on the job.

“It is unacceptable that our Wounded Warrior federal employees who are just starting out in the federal workforce are often faced with the difficult choice of having to take unpaid leave to attend their VA appointments or miss their medical visits,” said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, D-Mass., one of the sponsors.  

New feds begin their government careers with a zero sick leave balance, which makes it difficult for disabled veterans to keep medical appointments. The benefit would apply to those with a disability rating of 30 percent or greater. Senators John Tester, D-Mont., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., plan to introduce a companion bill in the Senate.

Earlier in the week, the House again passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, named in honor of the ...