source GAIA package: Sx_MilitaryTimes_M6201410310160063_5675.zip Origin key: Sx_MilitaryTimes_M6201410310160063 imported at Fri Jan 8 18:19:05 2016
Weeks after more than 1,000 voluntarily separating airmen learned they would not receive the medical benefits the Air Force had promised them, no solution to the problem is yet in sight.
The Air Force mistakenly issued six months of transitional medical benefits to roughly 25 percent of the 4,247 airmen who were approved for voluntary separation payments during fiscal 2014. The Air Force then revoked those Tricare benefits, causing tremendous confusion. In interviews with Air Force Times and in posts on Facebook pages, airmen have described getting mixed messages from Air Force officials on whether or not they would get extended medical coverage. Many are angry, because they made their decision to separate based in part on bad information about their access to medical coverage.
Some airmen found out they were not going to get medical coverage when they outprocessed in September, but according to posts on an unofficial Facebook page titled Air Force Retirement 2014, the problems date back to at least July.
One major who separated voluntarily told Air Force Times he received conflicting answers about his medical eligibility since April.
Airmen who leave the Air Force under the Voluntary Separation Pay program are not eligible for medical benefits after they leave the service, while airmen who are involuntarily separated are eligible.
The Air Force is getting hammered on social media by airmen who are angry that the service is being so uncommunicative about the mistakes. The Air Force first confirmed the problems the evening of Oct. 8, a week after Air Force Times first inquired about them, and at least several weeks after airmen began complaining.
In the Oct. 8 statement, the Air Force said it was "researching the specific impacts and will issue guidance to ensure airmen and families are not unfairly impacted."
In an Oct. 16 email to Air Force Times, in response to multiple inquiries about the status of that guidance and how the Air Force plans to make sure airmen are not unfairly impacted, the Air Force said officials are "aware of and actively working to identify any inconsistencies regarding benefits and separation program details."
"From inception, the multi-year strategy for force management programs was complex and dynamic in nature as the Air Force undertook broad measures to meet mission and budgetary needs," according to a statement provided by spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Karns. "However, given the complex nature described it would be unrealistic to expect perfection."
The statement said the Air Force will "assess each situation and always meet our stated commitment to our airmen through the most fair and equitable means. The Air Force's approach in all such cases is to work directly with impacted airmen and their chain of command prior to issuing general public guidance."
Some airmen have also said in online comments that they had actually used their mistakenly issued Tricare benefits before they were revoked, and are concerned that they might get stuck with a hefty bill. Air Force Times has asked what will happen to those airmen, but the Air Force has not answered that question.
The Air Force also has not answered questions asking when officials first realized there had been a mistake affecting more than 1,000 airmen, and why the service did not take immediate steps to resolve the confusion so airmen and their families would not be unfairly affected.
The Air Force's most recent "Pulse" update on its force management programs was posted online Oct. 1, but it contained no mention of the medical benefit mix-up. On Thursday, the Air Force posted the same statement it sent to Air Force Times earlier in the day under the headline, "Force Management Update: FY14 force management benefits and separation programs."