Legislation and Federal Policy
Adequate Funding for the Public Health Service
The Office of the Surgeon General and the USPHS Commissioned Corps get an awful lot accomplished with very little money. The Commissioned Corps receives an incredibly small amount of money, as compared to their sister services. In fact, they receive no training money. COA is trying to right this wrong.
Imagine if the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine had no funding to train and prepare for the next war. The lyrics of the USPHS March include a line that, “In the silent war against disease no truce is ever seen.” We must train and equip the men and women working every day to keep Americans safe from disease, prevent illness, manage our health systems, and provide rapid response to health emergencies.
The Office of the Surgeon General (OSG) currently receives funding from the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH). OSG does not have its own budget. Management of the Commissioned Corps is funded by the Service and Supply Fund and a per capita charge to each of the HHS Operating Divisions or agencies where PHS officers work.
Click here for COA’s letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. It requests language be included in the subcommittee’s appropriations report to require the Department of Health and Human Services to provide $34.5 million for the Office of the Surgeon General.
COA also submitted written testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee regarding the lack of training funds within the context of preparing the Public Health Service to respond to the Ebola outbreak.
State Personal Income Tax Information
Members of the COA Legislative Affairs Committee put together these tips to assist fellow members of the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS with understanding the various state personal income tax laws and regulations. COA recommends that each member follow the tax laws of his or her state(s) and consult with tax advisors or tax lawyers.
Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission
Established by the National Defense Authorization Act FY 2013, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) was charged with reviewing military compensation and retirement systems and offering ideas to modernize such systems. The MCRMC released its final report in January 2015.
Tobacco in the Uniformed Services
COA leads an ad hoc coalition of anti-tobacco organizations working to reduce tobacco use among the uniformed services. The coalition has been active on federal legislation and efforts within the various services, chiefly the Navy. COL Jim Currie drafted talking points regarding tobacco sales in exchanges and commissaries.
Here is a letter to the Navy Times regarding tobacco in the military. Here is a letter COA mailed to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus regarding tobacco sales in the military exchanges and here is a response from Secretary Mabus.
This letter was to the Senate Armed Services Committee in an attempt to reject language inserted into the House version of the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act to prevent the Secretary of Defense from ending tobacco sales in military exchanges and commissaries. The letter was co-signed by the American Heart Association, Action on Smoking and Health, and the American Dental Association.
COA also sent a letter to the Senate Committee on Appropriations regarding a provision to eliminate the five percent discount on tobacco products sold in the military exchanges. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois included that provision in the FY 2015 appropriations bill which was signed into law. COA later awarded Senator Durbin with the first COA Congressional Public Health Leader of the Year Award.
On November 16, 2014, Journalist Leslie Stahl read this letter on the CBS News Magazine “60 Minutes.”
The media coverage for the Public Health Service response to Ebola was the best coverage of PHS officers since the response to Hurricane Katrina. For example, here is a story by Lena Sun of the Washington Post about the deployments to West Africa. Still, many media outlets forgot to mention that PHS teams were tracing contacts throughout West Africa, staffing the Monrovia Medical Unit in Liberia, staffing the emergency operations centers back in Atlanta and DC, screening travelers at ports of entry, and serving as liaisons with state and local health departments.
This letter to the Army Times corrected its Pentagon source who credited the Pentagon with staffing the 25-bed Monrovia Medical Unit. Here is the COA Executive Director’s letter to the editor of the Army Times.
Access to the TSA Pre✓® Program
COA is working with the Division of Commissioned Corps Personnel and Readiness (DCCPR) to ensure that Public Health Service officers can get on the Transportation Security Administration’s TSA Pre✓® program for pre-screened travelers through airports. Members of the Public Health Service maintain Common Access Cards and require travel for routine federal work and to respond to health emergencies. We trust them to keep us safe and healthy. We should extend them the same TSA Pre✓® privileges afforded to the other uniformed services.
Click here for the COA letter to TSA Administrator John Pistole.
The Walt Disney Company
Thanks to efforts by COA, members of the Public Health Service are now eligible to purchase Disney Military Promotional Tickets. This took over two years to resolve but it worked. Click here for the letter COA sent to thank the Disney CEO. Click here for the Disney website with additional information about purchasing tickets.
Please remember PHS officers are eligible for all DoD-related Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs (see DoD Instruction 1015.10). Contact us if you believe you have been denied a benefit or discount you believe you should be able to access as a member of a uniformed service.
USO Access at Airports
Each of the United Service Organizations (USO) Centers operates independently of each other. Because of their congressional charter, the USO Centers focus on active duty and reservist members of the armed forces. Public Health Service officers are routinely turned away from accessing the USO airport lounges to rest when travelling to/from a domestic or international health emergency.
Here is COA’s letter to the USO President and here is their emailed response. The USO will examine their policies to determine whether they can include the Public Health Service as eligible for their airport lounges.
Military Pass from the National Park Service
The National Park Service offers a very generous pass to members of the military services and their dependents. Using the pass, they can access any national park for free. The same benefit is limited, however, to members of the armed services and not to NOAA and the PHS.
COA wrote this letter to the Director of the National Park Service in June of 2014. This response indicates the Military Pass was an effort to thank members of the military during a time of war. COA may weigh in on the reauthorization of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act when it gets renewed at the end of 2015.
Access to MWR Resources
Military bases have Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs for servicemembers and their families. Public Health Service officers, per DoD Instruction 1015.10, are authorized access to all MWR programs. Occasionally, some military bases reject PHS officers when they should not or they fail to recognize the Public Health Service as one of the uniformed services provided access to MWR programs.
North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles
A COA member was not able to convince the North Carolina DMV that he qualified to put the word “veteran” on his driver’s license. Unlike their sister services in the Department of Defense, PHS officers do not receive a DD Form 214 when they separate from the service. They receive instead a PHS-6134 or “Statement of Service,” which the Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes as the equivalent.
Other Letters from COA
The Washington Post published a letter to the editor from COL Jim Currie (ret.) regarding baseball player Ian Desmond’s efforts to quit smokeless tobacco.
Letter to New Mexico Treasurer concerning equitable tax treatment for PHS officers, July 2014
Letter to Social Security Administrator concerning additional credits for PHS officers, July 2014
Letter from Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration Aug 2014