Feds Feed Families: Stateside Commissaries Serve As Collection Points

Posted on October 18, 2018

Commissaries are again serving as common collection points for 2018’s Feds Feed Families campaign, which began Aug. 10 this year, and continues through Oct. 15 at participating stateside military installations.

During this campaign, participating installations help collect items most needed by food pantries and then donate them to area food banks. 2018 marks the ninth consecutive year commissaries have participated.

“It started with the local area food banks just in the D.C. area. It was only for them,” explained Randy Eller, chief of the Defense Commissary Agency’s U.S. distribution, equipment, property and recycling division. “The Pentagon and all those people would participate, and they would put out boxes so people would donate. They got us interested, and we took it from the capital area and put it in every commissary we have in the United States.”

Overall, the Department of Defense collected 2.6 million pounds of grocery items for donation last year.

“For their part, commissary employees and patrons collected 1.5 million pounds, or 60 percent of the total DOD donation,” said Eller. “DeCA’s 2017 total increased by 480,000 pounds from 2016. We’ve got it down to a fine art now. After you get past the first couple of times it’s pretty smooth, and the stores are used to doing it.”

Once the items have been collected, installation officials work with their commissary to deliver the items to local food banks.

The most-needed items for donations include:

  • Canned vegetables – low sodium, no salt
  • Canned fruits – in light syrup or its own juices
  • Canned proteins – tuna, salmon, chicken, peanut butter and beans
  • Soups – beef stew, chili, chicken noodle, turkey or rice
  • Condiments – tomato-based sauces, light soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, salad dressing or oils
  • Snacks – individually packed snacks, crackers, trail mix, dried fruit, granola and cereal bars, pretzels and sandwich crackers
  • Multigrain cereal
  • 100 percent juice – all sizes, including juice boxes
  • Grains – brown and white rice, oatmeal, bulgar, quinoa, couscous, pasta, and macaroni and cheese
  • Paper products and household items – paper towels, napkins and cleaning supplies
  • Hygiene items – diapers, deodorants (men and women), feminine products, toilet paper, tissues, soap, toothpaste and shampoo

For more information on this campaign, go to the United States Department of Agriculture website.


-- By Mike Perron

Note: To see photos related to Feds Feed Families, go to 

Take Control Of Your Health By Planning Your Care

Posted on October 17, 2018

It’s always a good idea to plan for the unexpected. That’s why we carry umbrellas and have emergency flares in our cars. Planning ahead is an especially good idea when it comes to health care. “No problem,” you might say. “I have my advance directive filled out and ready to go.”

That’s a great first step in making sure your family and your health care team know the type of care you would want if you had a health crisis and could no longer speak for yourself. But if you’re a Veteran with a serious or chronic illness, you might need to take your planning some distance further. And that means thinking seriously about what you want and then talking it over with your health care team.

When you’re facing serious illness, you already have a lot to deal with. But it’s worth it to take a moment and ask yourself two very basic questions:

  • “What’s most important to me, now that I’ve got this illness?”
  • “What do I want from my life and from my health care?”

Different people want different things. And what matters to you, personally, in your life should guide your medical care. The treatments and services that you get should be built around what’s important to you – your values – and what you want to get from your health care.

What would you like your health care to help you do?

  • Ease your symptoms so you feel more comfortable?
  • Stay independent?
  • Cure an illness, or improve your quality of life when a cure is not possible?
  • Live longer?
  • Support your loved ones or caregivers?
  • Something else?

Think about it carefully. Then set up a time to talk with your doctor or others on your health care team about what really matters to you as you look ahead. Talk with them about your medical condition, what matters to you in your life, and how your health care might help you achieve your goals.

Make sure you bring your health care surrogate to the meeting. That’s the person who would tell your health care team what care you want – and don’t want – if you ever got too sick to speak for yourself.

If you become very seriously ill, there are treatments might or might not help you live longer, depending on your condition. All treatments have tradeoffs. It’s helpful to think through your options ahead of time so that you can make decisions that are right for you.

When you and your health care provider decide on a plan that will best support your goals, it will be written in your medical record. This plan can be updated at any time. If a crisis comes, your health care team will know what do, based on what you want.

For more information about setting health care goals and making decisions about treatments when facing serious illness, visit Health Care Ethics Resources for Veterans, Patients and Families. Or ask your VA health care team. They are here to help you.

Don’t Be Misled by False Medicare or Social Security Ads

Posted on October 16, 2018

Online and otherwise, there’s a lot of information out there, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell what sources are credible. With millions of people relying on Social Security, scammers target audiences who are looking for program and benefit information.

The law that addresses misleading Social Security and Medicare advertising prohibits people or non-government businesses from using words or emblems that mislead others. Their advertising can’t lead people to believe that they represent, are somehow affiliated with, or endorsed or approved by Social Security or the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Medicare).

People are often misled by advertisers who use the terms “Social Security” or “Medicare.” Often, these companies offer Social Security services for a fee, even though the same services are available directly from Social Security free of charge. These services include getting:

  • A corrected Social Security card showing a person’s married name;
  • A Social Security card to replace a lost card;
  • Social Security Statement; and
  • A Social Security number for a child.

If you receive misleading information about Social Security, send the complete ad, including the envelope, to:

Office of the Inspector General Fraud Hotline
Social Security Administration
P.O. Box 17768
Baltimore, MD 21235

You can learn more about how we combat fraudulent advertisers by reading our publication What You Need to Know About Misleading Advertising.

You can also report Social Security fraud to the Office of the Inspector General.

Forever GI Bill Changes The Way VA Reimburses For Tests, Certifications, and Licensing Exams

Posted on October 08, 2018

Do you need to take as the SAT, GRE, LSAT, a licensing certification, or even a journeyman or other employment-related test? Your GI Bill® can help you cover the fees, and the Forever GI Bill can make it a more useful option.

If you’re a Veteran or service member using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for your education and need to take a national test, certification, or licensing exam, beginning August 1, 2018 you’ll soon be charged the “true cost” of the test. Rather than being charged a full month of Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement benefits under the current practice, you’ll be charged entitlement relative to the actual cost of the test–a much better deal than being charged your full month’s entitlement benefits if the cost is below that amount. VA may reimburse a licensing or certification test up to a maximum charge of $2,000 for a single test.

In addition, this change to the law adds a new covered test. It adds a national test that evaluates prior learning and knowledge and provides opportunity for course credit at a college or university. Something else to consider: If you can hold off on taking the test, licensing certification, or exam until August 1, it will be a much better financial deal for you.

Prior to passage of the Forever GI Bill, students were charged an entire month of entitlement, regardless the cost of the test.

No matter how well you do on the test, certification, or exam, a new law passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last August changes the way you’re charged for those tests, certifications, or exams.

The new provision that changes the way Post-9/11 GI Bill students pay for their national tests, or certification and licensing exams is part of the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, known as the “Forever GI Bill.”

As you know, many of these tests, licenses and certifications can open new doors to employment. The types of jobs covered by the licensing and certification tests include mechanic, medical technician, attorney, therapist, computer network engineer, website developer, and many others.

There is no cap on the number of tests VA will charge to your entitlement, but you must have sufficient entitlement remaining to be reimbursed.

Whether you’re taking a test, exam, or certification to be a master electrician, a journeyman plumber, a lawyer, or a graduate student, they all fall under this new provision of the Colmery Act.

To see a list of the national tests, or certification and licensing exams, visit this page.

Start your education journey

If you haven’t explored your options to use your education benefits, you can start by visiting the GI Bill Comparison tool. You can see how to maximize your education value and look up the college, training school, or apprenticeship program you’re interested in attending. You can also see how much your GI Bill benefits will cover and if you’d have any out of pocket expenses.

If you have any questions, please call 1–888-GI-BILL-1 (1–888–442–4551). If you use the Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD), the Federal number is 711. You can also visit the GI Bill website.

As always, be sure to follow us on our Facebook and on Twitter @VAVetBenefits. These give you quick and helpful updates.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

Retiring from Active Duty? Take Action, Make an Enrollment Choice

Posted on October 05, 2018

When you retire from active duty, your TRICARE plan options will change. Retiring from active duty is a Qualifying Life Event (QLE). A QLE allows you to enroll in a new TRICARE plan or change your coverage options within 90 days of the life event. As a retiree, you’ll need to take action to enroll in a TRICARE plan if you want to continue to receive coverage for civilian care.

What actions do you need to take to continue TRICARE coverage?

First, update your information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). The next steps depend on which TRICARE plans you are eligible to use.

If eligible, you can reenroll yourself and eligible family members in TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select. Depending on the plan you choose, you’ll pay the single or family enrollment fee. There is no TRICARE Select enrollment fee for Group A retirees.

Depending on your eligibility, there may be other TRICARE plans for you and your family after retirement. Visit the TRICARE Plan Finder to learn about your options. For dental or vision coverage, you may also be eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program beginning in 2019.

When do you need to reenroll in TRICARE coverage?

If you want to keep TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select with no break in coverage, you must enroll within 90 days after your retirement date. If you don’t enroll in TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select within 90 days of retirement, you’ll only be eligible for care in a military hospital or clinic on a space-available basis. The effective date of coverage will be your retirement date.

If you enroll in a TRICARE plan more than 90 days after your retirement, your request will be considered a new enrollment. If you have a break in TRICARE coverage, you and your eligible family members can only receive care at a military hospital or clinic on a space-available basis until you have TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select coverage again.

Active duty service members pay nothing out of pocket and their family’s costs are minimal. However, depending on their TRICARE plan, retirees may see an increase in their enrollment fees, copayments, cost-shares, and other fees.

How do you reenroll in TRICARE coverage?

Understanding your TRICARE options will help you and your family make the best health care decisions. Learn more about your TRICARE plan options after retiring from active duty.

2019 FEDVIP plans and premiums are now available!

Posted on October 05, 2018

You can now review 2019 plan information, including plan brochures and provider networks, for all 14 FEDVIP carriers. A plan comparison tool is also available for you to research plans and premiums based on where you live. View up to three dental or vision plans side-by-side for easy comparison when selecting the right coverage for you and your family.

Make sure to check your eligibility to determine if you're eligible for dental coverage, vision coverage, or both.

Now Is The Perfect Time To Check On Your Retirement List

Posted on October 03, 2018

With every change of season, there’s usually a list of essential items that must be done. If you’re getting your house ready for winter, you are likely getting your furnace serviced and cleaning your gutters among other things. In the same way you’re getting your house ready for the colder months, we want to make sure you’re checking off items on another important list, your retirement list.

A healthy retirement checklist should include the following questions:

  1. Did you verify your earnings? — With a mySocial Security account, you can view your earnings history, confirm you have enough work credits to retire, and see estimates of what your benefits will be. Open or sign in to your account today!
  2. Do you know how much your benefit will be? — Our Retirement Estimatoris a great tool that provides you with immediate and personalized estimates based on your own earnings record. It provides the most accurate estimate of your future benefits.
  3. Do you have additional retirement income? — Social Security benefits only replace a percentage of your pre-retirement income based on your lifetime earnings. A healthy retirement plan also includes your savings and perhaps an employer-sponsored retirement plan or 401(k), especially if your employer offers matching funds on what you invest. If your employer doesn’t offer this type of plan, there are many other plans to help you save for retirement, such as solo 401(k)s as well as traditional and Roth IRAs.

To help you answer these questions, we recommend reading our publication, Your Retirement Checklist. It explains what you need to know before you apply, special circumstances that may apply to you, and other things you may want to think about.

Also, our retirement website has a wealth of resources to use when you’re planning for retirement. Check it out today and start crossing off items from your list.

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About Army Echoes

Army Echoes informs Retired Soldiers, surviving spouses, and their Families on changes to their benefits and entitlements, developments within the Army, and how they can continue to support the Army.