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

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...

Mileage Reimbursement Hike, Retirement Savings Resolutions and More

With Republicans now in control of both chambers of Congress, federal pay and benefits will be much more vulnerable to attack. Cost-cutting proposals that previously died in the Senate will have a better chance of making it to President Obama’s desk, as one federal union leader pointed out after the election in November. Those proposals have already started pouring in, from across-the-board budget cuts to freezing congressional pay.

But putting aside that risk, 2015 is off to a solid start. Federal retirees received a 1.7 percent cost-of-living adjustment, and civilian employees are enjoying a 1 percent pay raise for the second year in a row, following a three-year pay freeze. Those who use their cars for work will get a bump in their mileage reimbursement rate as well. The General Services Administration last week increased the rate 2.7 percent to 57.5 cents per mile, The Washington Post reported. The increase comes despite dropping gas prices, the Post noted.

Most troops (aside from general and flag officers) rang in the New Year with a 1 percent salary boost, in addition to increases in basic housing and basic subsistence allowances. Indeed, more than half (51 percent) of middle...

Disengaged Employees, Lackluster Pay and More

It looks like 2014 will end with a whimper instead of a bang for federal employees, and that’s good news, considering what the bang might have been. Despite some 11th-hour brinksmanship, lawmakers approved and President Obama signed a $1.1 trillion spending plan for 2015. That means you can stop worrying about potential furloughs or a government shutdown before next fall, unless you work for Homeland Security, in which case you still have a reprieve until late February.  

The law allows for a 1 percent pay raise for federal employees and military personnel. While that’s probably not going to make anyone break out the champagne, it’s certainly better than the three-year pay freeze feds experienced prior to the 1 percent raise they got in 2014.     

The only folks who won’t see a pay increase are top political appointees and Vice President Biden. Lawmakers also froze their own salaries, so there’s some consolation in the fact that they didn’t reward themselves for an historically unproductive year.

Employee travel and conference spending also took a hit, but the biggest constraints fall on Homeland Security, a casualty of Republican furor over Obama’s executive action...

Overtime Pay Cuts, Pay Raises, Suicide Prevention and More

Many Border Patrol agents will soon receive smaller paychecks under a new law that will require significant changes to overtime pay. The House on Wednesday passed S.1691, the 2014 Border Patrol Agent Pay Reform Act, sending to President Obama’s desk a bill that aims to bring stability to the workforce and streamline the way agents are paid when they work extra hours.

The bottom line: Most border agents ultimately will earn less money under the revised system. The law aims to correct a situation that essentially allowed agents to double dip into overtime. Even the union supported it as a reasonable reform for a bloated system.

Government Executive’s Eric Katz explained the bill in September after it passed the Senate:  

The bill would allow Border Patrol agents to choose to work 100, 90 or 80 hours per two-week pay period. Employees who choose the 100-hour option would be paid 1.25 times their normal base pay, but would not receive any extra compensation for their overtime hours. Employees opting to work 90 hours per pay period would earn 1.125 times their normal base pay, while those who work 80 hours would simply earn their normal base...

Tapping Feds for Deficit Reduction, Autism Benefits, Roth TSP Contributions and More

The Congressional Budget Office has a few ideas for reducing the deficit. Seventy-nine, actually. In its most recent periodic analysis of policy options and their effect on the federal budget, CBO estimates the savings associated with all manner of things, from tweaking the tax code to cutting grants to state and local government. Few things seem to be off the table in this thought exercise, including benefits to federal employees. CBO’s table of options includes these scenarios with associated cost savings:  

  • Narrow eligibility for veterans’ disability compensation by excluding certain disabilities unrelated to military duties ($20 billion)
  • Restrict VA’s individual unemployability benefits to disabled veterans who are younger than full retirement age for Social Security ($16 billion)
  • Cap increases in basic pay for military service members ($24 billion)
  • Replace some military personnel with civilian employees ($20 billion)
  • Reduce the annual across-the-board adjustment for federal civilian employees’ pay ($54 billion)
  • Reduce the size of the federal workforce through attrition ($49 billion)
  • Introduce minimum out-of-pocket requirements under TRICARE for Life ($28 billion)
  • Modify TRICARE enrollment fees and cost sharing for working-age military retirees ($19 billion to $73 billion)

While CBO weighs the advantages of cutting benefits, the Veterans Affairs Department...