Legislative Newsletter Update 10 August 2009 

8/10/2009 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 




      
 

In this issue

  • President Obama: TRICARE and VA health benefits will be protected
  • Military Spouse Residency Rights Approved in Senate
  • House Resolution Offers Support for Army Community Covenant
  • Congress has left the building!



    President Obama: TRICARE and VA health benefits will be protected



    Although we keep getting assurances from Capitol Hill that health care reform legislation will not impact military healthcare, we reiterated our position to key lawmakers last week. 

    AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., sent a letter to 23 key players in health care reform on both sides of the aisle and in both houses of Congress reminding them of the unique role and reason for military and VA health care and why it should remain as it is and with no impact from any civilian health care reform. 

    We were reassured when President Obama called a small group of military-oriented reporters in for a White House interview last week to emphasize this point.  Syndicated columnist Tom Philpott and the Stars and Stripes ran articles quoting the President as saying this effort will not diminish TRICARE or VA health benefits for service families or retirees.

    "While his universal health care plan is still in flux, Obama is promising that none of the changes will affect Tricare or VA health services," according to Stars and Stripes.

    However, regardless of what the executive and legislative branches say, AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition are and will continue to be vigilant and engaged with the Hill to head off any parts of the ultimate legislation that would disadvantage our constituents.  That includes the presumption that in the fiscal 2011 DoD budget, there will probably be another attempt to increase fees and copays which we are already preparing to fight against.

    We have also prepared a letter for you to send to your members of Congress.  You are the grassroots soldiers in this fight, and you can send your message by clicking on the Contact Congress icon in the upper right corner of our webpage, www.ausa.org.  Enter your zip code and look for the prepared letter that says “Protecting Military/Veteran Health Care During Health Care Reform”.

    Like the troops in war, we remain vigilant, we are engaged with the lawmakers, we are watching for any disadvantage that might appear in the final bill proposals, and we will surge forward and fight vigorously to prevent any negative military-related provisions from inclusion in the legislation.  Ultimately, however, we need our best troops -YOU - to make your voices heard, so “Contact Congress” now!

     

    Military Spouse Residency Rights Approved in Senate


    Military spouses would get the same options service members now enjoy for choosing — and keeping — a state of residency under legislation approved July 23 by the Senate as part of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill.

    Introduced by Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the provision would allow military spouses to maintain residency in their home state regardless of military placement of their families.

    “Military spouses play a very important role in the success of our Armed Forces,” Sen. Burr said.  “But, even though military spouses frequently move in support of service members and the military, the law currently does not grant them the same residency rights as the service member.  This means that every time they move in response to military orders, they must change their license plates, voter registration and even file taxes in a different state than their spouse.  This just isn’t right.”

    Currently, service members have the ability to claim and maintain one state of residence, regardless of where military orders may send them.  The Military Spouses Residency Relief Act would extend similar rights to military spouses, easing the burden and headaches they now face. 

    Burr’s provision says a person’s absence from a state while they are accompanying a military sponsor cannot be used to deny their right to vote in any federal, state or local election.  Currently, a military spouse who moves to another state often is no longer considered a resident.

    On taxes, the proposal states that spouses — like service members — would not lose or gain residency in a state as a result of a military-ordered move.  This means a spouse could pay income tax in another state, a big benefit if the family’s previous state of residence had low or no state income tax; it also applies to personal property.  It would apply to tax returns beginning in the year the bill becomes law, so it would apply to 2009 taxes that must be filed in 2010.

    Spouses also could keep and renew driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations in a state where they previously lived.

    The House version of the defense bill does not include any military spouse residency provisions, but the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has endorsed similar legislation, so the House is unlikely to oppose Burr’s legislation being attached to the defense bill.

     
    House Resolution Offers Support for Army Community Covenant

    AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., recently sent a letter to Rep Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., in support of H.Con. Res. 170 (Supporting the Goals and Ideals of the Army Community Covenant).

    The Army Community Covenant is a formal commitment of support by states and local communities to Soldiers and their Families - active, Guard and Reserve. The Army Community Covenant is designed to develop and foster effective state and community partnerships with the Army working to improve Soldier and Family quality of life, while at their current duty stations and as they transfer from state to state.

    Rep. Whitfield’s proposed resolution would do three things: 

    (1) Supports and encourages Community Covenant signing ceremonies between local communities and the Armed Forces throughout the United States;

    (2) Encourages Americans to participate in or develop programs and services to support members of the Armed Forces and their families in their communities, especially during and after military deployments; and,

    (3) Resolves to take all necessary steps to support members of the Armed Forces and their families.

    Gen. Sullivan’s letter said, in part, “This important program recognizes the contributions of all service members and their families in this time of war and encourages communities across America to support the brave men and women who serve in our military.”

    “The goal of Community Covenant is to reach every corner of America by creating a Congressional Resolution that encourages every community to host their own Covenant signing ceremony and take steps to increase their support for our troops and their families.”

    “Since the initial Community Covenant signing ceremony in Columbus, Ga., in 2008, over 170 communities across America have conducted similar ceremonies.  Almost 400 mayors and over half the governors in the country have participated in such a ceremony.  Another 100 ceremonies are being planned.  Thousands have benefited from the many community-led programs that show support for our troops and their families.”

    H. Con. Res 170 has been referred to the House Armed Services Committee for action.

     
    Congress has left the building!

    Congress is out for the August recess.  What can we look forward to upon their return on 8 Sept?

    Health care reform should be at the top of the list.  Please be assured that AUSA and its Military Coalition partners are in the forefront, making sure that any civilian health care reform will not change or tax military health care.  We sent a letter, signed by 32 organizations, to every member of Congress that reminded them to “ensure that the unique identity and role of the military TRICARE and VA health delivery systems – including their non-taxable status – are preserved” in any new health care system the Congress may devise.

    Now that both the House and Senate have passed their respective authorization bills for fiscal 2010, look for the conference to begin that will iron out any differences.  The Association will lobby hard to ensure those provisions important to the military community will be in the final bill.

    The House passed the fiscal 2010 defense spending bill before they departed Washington.  The Senate is expected to take up their measure in September.  Hopefully, they will and the conference on that bill can be completed before the beginning of the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

    The same goes for the Military Construction and VA spending bill.  While the House’s version has already passed, the Senate’s has only been passed at the committee level.  It’s important that this bill heads to the President for signature before the new fiscal year begins.  

    Whatever happens, your Association will be here to monitor and report on all of the events on the Hill.

    Have a good August!  The Newsletter will resume on 14 September.