7 Things to Know About VA’s New
Visitors to VA.gov next month will see a new look for
the Department of Veterans Affairs website, one VA officials say will improve
beneficiaries' experience and increase the odds that they'll find the answers or
contact information they're seeking online.
Here's a bit more about the new setup to get web surfers up to
speed before the official launch on Veterans Day.
Preview of coming attractions. Secretary
Robert Wilkie told the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee last month that the
new site would debut on Veterans Day, and that it would be part of his goal “to
make accessing VA services seamless, effective, efficient, and emotionally
resonant.” Can't wait until Nov. 11? Don't worry: A version of the site is online
now at https://preview.va.gov.
A familiar feel. The
change comes exactly three years after the launch of Vets.gov,
which went live in 2015 in an effort to “streamline a Veteran's experience to
discover, apply for, track, and manage the benefits they have earned in one
place using any device,” according to a 2017 report to Congress from the U.S. Digital Service.
That site received more than 600,000 applications for health care and education
benefits from its launch to the time of the 2017 report, and lessons learned in
its construction informed the new VA site.
Picture perfect. Just
how related are the two platforms? Vets.gov and the new VA site both use
black-and-white images representing VA beneficiaries in and out of uniform. In
some cases, they're identical.
What changed? Like
Vets.gov, the new VA site no longer spotlights feature stories or uses large
photos to direct readers toward news on current events or hot-topic issues. As
Marty Jacobs, the executive director of VA's digital services team, told FCW for an Oct. 2 piece, “People don't
come to government websites to read things. They come to get a task
What else changed? More
links are available on the main page. The current VA site has three categories
displayed prominently (health care, benefits, and burials and memorials), but
other information is stored in drop-down menus that can be difficult to
navigate, especially on mobile devices. The new site has four featured areas
(health care, disability, education, and records), followed by a dozen clear
headers that take visitors to information on career and employment, pension,
home loans, and other benefits.
Getting personal. The
new setup also allows beneficiaries to register for their own online account,
which will enable them to create a personal page similar to an online banking
portal, Jacobs told FCW. This feature, already available at Vets.gov, will
allow the user to log on and receive personalized medical updates, check on
claims and appeals, view available balances for education-related benefits, and
read up on other individualized details.
What's next? A new tool designed to
improve the process for veterans to apply for increased disability compensation
is now in beta mode, meaning it's still undergoing tests prior to an official
launch. Beneficiaries can use the beta version to file claims, and provide
feedback on the process, here.
This Key Indicator Points to the
Largest Military Pay Raise in 10 Years
The Employment Cost Index (ECI) will be released at the end of
October. Brace yourselves: The number could result in another large pay raise.
When the administration's budget was released in February, there
was quite a buzz regarding the 2.6 percent military pay raise as it was the
largest raise in nine years. As the news cycled, the size of the raise became
the dominant theme in the press and on Capitol Hill.
Somewhat ignored was a current, detailed explanation as to why the
raise was so big. Per Title 37, Section 1009 of U.S. Code, the military pay
raise is intended to match the Employment Cost Index for wages and salaries of
private industry workers. The FY 2004 National Defense Authorization Act
established the ECI percent increase of the third quarter of the calendar year
as the metric for the military pay raise. For more details on ECI, see MOAA's
assessment of Military Pay Comparability.
The intent of tying military pay raises to private-sector wage
growth is to take the guesswork and fiscal wrangling out of the decision
process. As the national cost of labor goes up, so too should the military
paycheck. Disregard this for several years and it negatively affects not just
recruiting, but retention: When servicemembers hear about wage growth for their
civilian counterparts as their pay stagnates, it prompts the more skilled and
hirable individuals to look outside the fence … and walk.
Previous pay raise shortages from the early 1980s through 1999
resulted in a staggering 13.5 percent cumulative military-civilian
wage-increase gap. The impact to recruiting and retention was palpable, leading
Congress to increase raises above ECI between 2000 and 2010 when balance was
Other than three sour years (2014-2016) that netted a new 2.6
percent cumulative pay-raise shortfall, we have remained on par with ECI. But
it has taken some work.
In FY 2017, MOAA engaged Congress for support to disregard the
president's proposed 1.6 percent raise, which would have been the fourth
short-raise in a row. Thankfully, with support from the leadership of the armed
services committees, Congress passed the full 2.1 percent raise to match ECI,
netting an at-par raise for the pay tables but doing nothing to reduce the
cumulative 2.6 percent gap lagging from those earlier three years.
The FY 2018 NDAA saw another challenge when the secretary of
defense proposed a 2.1 percent raise (presumably to match the previous year's
raise), which was endorsed by the Senate. MOAA and The Military Coalition went
neck deep into the fray to raise awareness and garner support for the full pay
raise per the ECI. In conference, thankfully, the House and Senate agreed and
the 2.4 percent raise was signed into law. Of course, the result was the first
round of sticker shock: “The largest raise in eight years!”
MOAA and the Coalition again exerted efforts early on with the
Armed Services Committees to ensure the full ECI-based 2.6 percent raise made
it to the initial draft of the FY 2019 NDAA. The efforts were a success, the
House and Senate both agreed and the president signed into law resulting in … “the
largest raise in nine years!”
So, what's next? As we look at the information available from the
Bureau of Labor Statistics, the keeper of the ECI, we anticipate another bump.
The results for the third quarter of the calendar year will be out at the end
of October; they will inform the military pay raise target for FY 2020.
Balancing any enthusiasm, we note some indications the number
could go down. First, if the recent 10 years are any indication, the cumulative
effect between Q2 and Q3 has a net change of minus-0.2 percentage points, so
the straight math would indicate a potential for a drop. Second, as reported by Reuters on Oct. 5, “U.S. job
growth slowed sharply in September likely as Hurricane Florence depressed
restaurant and retail payrolls, but unemployment fell to a near 49-year low of
3.7 percent, pointing to a further tightening in labor market conditions.”
Either way, national labor costs need to inform military pay raises, the law
says so, and we will remain vigilant in this pursuit.
Rest assured we will put our full effort behind sustaining pay
comparability with the private sector as this is essential to recruiting and
retaining our all-volunteer force.
Foundation Seeks Military and Veteran Caregivers for Fellowship Program
The Elizabeth Dole Foundation is accepting applications for its
2019 Dole Caregiver Fellowship Program, in which about 50 military caregivers
will serve two-year terms supporting the foundation's advocacy and community
Interested applicants can read more about the program and fill out
an application at the foundation's website. Submissions will be
accepted until midnight Pacific time on Oct. 19.
The foundation is seeking applicants from these states and U.S.
territories: Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Washington
D.C., Guam, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Michigan,
Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota,
Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands,
Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
Dole Caregiver Fellows will provide local community leadership as
well as advocacy support at local, state, and national levels. They will advise
the foundation on upcoming programs and initiatives, and will represent Hidden Heroes at
events and through interviews, along with other support activities.
“The Dole Caregiver Fellows are the heart and soul of the
Foundation, ” said Sen. Elizabeth Dole, who launched the foundation in 2012. “In addition to
providing vital help to those who serve our country, the Fellows lend their
firsthand knowledge, skills, expertise, and personal experiences to our shared
The foundation offers multiple layers of support to the 5.5
million family members and others who care for wounded, ill, or injured
veterans. Alongside advocacy efforts, the group created the online caregiver
community HiddenHeroes.org in
2016, and has partnered with MOAA to build an online
caregiver resource guide.
For more information about the fellowship program or application
process, email email@example.com.