Legislative Newsletter Update 14 September 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

  • Letter to Lawmakers Provides Insight on Key Issues
  • Defense Spending Bill Passes Committee
  • Army Vice Chief of Staff Outlines New Modernization Strategy

    Letter to Lawmakers Provides Insight on Key Issues

    Negotiations which will resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill are currently underway.

    AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., wrote to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees to thank them for supporting important provisions in the bill and also provided them with his views on issues being negotiated.

    Gen. Sullivan expressed his appreciation that lawmakers included provisions that will increase end strengths, provide a 3.4 percent military pay raise, provide TRICARE coverage for “gray area” Guard and Reserve retirees, and other initiatives to improve conditions and benefits for wounded warriors and their families and caregivers.

    He also provided his views to the lawmakers on several key items of interest to AUSA and its members.  These include: 

    End Strength - AUSA very strongly supports the Senate provision that would authorize a 30,000 end strength increase beginning in FY2010, rather than waiting until FY2011.  We believe these additional troops are needed as soon as possible to ease operations tempo stresses on members and families and better meet the needs of commanders in the field. 

    Concurrent Receipt - AUSA very strongly supports the House provision phasing out the disability offset to military retired pay for all members whose service-caused illnesses and injuries forced their medical retirement from active service.  This plan was a key feature of the President’s defense budget submission, and AUSA urges its retention in the final Defense Authorization Act.

    Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) - AUSA very strongly supports the Senate provision that would end deduction of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from SBP annuities when the member’s death is service-caused.  Congressional leaders have repeatedly cited fixing this “widow’s tax” as a top priority, and AUSA believes aggressive action is essential to substantively address that commitment.

    TRICARE Fees - AUSA very strongly urges retention of Section 706 of the Senate bill as a “Sense of Congress” provision in the final bill.  This section acknowledges that military health care is a primary offset for the unique demands and sacrifices inherent in a military career, that career service members have earned coverage levels commensurate with that sacrifice, that much of defense health cost growth reflect readiness requirements that are a “cost of doing business” for the Defense Department, and that the Department can and should pursue a range of other options to reduce health costs and rather than seeking to impose large fee increases on military beneficiaries.  This statement of congressional intent provides a vital foundation for discussion on this important benefit issue.

    Reserve Retirement Age Credit for Post-9/11 Active Service - AUSA very strongly supports the Senate provision that would provide retroactive credit for active service since September 11, 2001 for the purpose of reducing the Reserve retirement age.  Current law authorizes a three-month reduction in the standard retirement age for each cumulative 90 days served on active duty, but credits only active service rendered since January 28, 2008.

    Military Parent Custody Rights - AUSA very strongly supports the House provision that would help protect the custody rights of military parents while deployed.

    Flexible Spending Accounts (FSA) - AUSA very strongly urges retention of Senate section 658 as a “Sense of Congress” provision in the final bill.  We are perplexed at the continued resistance of the Department to providing currently serving uniformed services beneficiaries the same FSA option afforded all other federal and corporate employees.  No one has greater need for dependent care than service members subject to frequent and extended deployments.  Thousands of Service families experience significant out-of-pocket expenses for dental care, eyeglasses and contact lenses, medication copayments, over-the-counter medications and more.  AUSA urges the Committees to pursue every possible effort to end the current discrimination against service members on FSA eligibility.

    Defense Spending Bill Passes Committee

    The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the Defense appropriations bill for fiscal 2010 last week. 

    If approved by the full Senate, the bill would provide $636.3 billion in new discretionary spending authority for DoD including $128.2 billion for overseas contingency operations.

    Military personnel accounts would receive $124.8 billion.  That would fund an active duty end strength of 1,425,000 and a reserve component end strength of 844,500.  It would also fully fund the Army’s request to grow its end strength by an additional 22,000 as well as sustain the “grow the force” end strength levels already reached by the Marine Corps and Army National Guard and reserve.

    Operation and Maintenance accounts would receive $154 billion which would fully fund key readiness programs critical to prepare forces for combat operations and other peace time missions including depot maintenance, training, spare parts, and base operations.

    Defense health programs would receive $28.3 billion.  Of that amount, a medical research fund would receive $50 million and a peer-reviewed Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program would receive $60 million.  The committee also appropriated $307 million to address the TRICARE private sector shortfall in fiscal 2010 as identified by the Department of Defense.

    Cancer research would receive $240 million.  The total amount is distributed as follows:

    --$150 million for the Breast Cancer Research Program
    --$80 million for the Prostate Cancer Research Program
    --$10 million for the Ovarian Cancer Research Program

    Procurement programs would receive $108 billion.  The bill:

    --Provides requested funding for procurement of UH-60 Black Hawk, CH-47 Chinook, and UH-72 Lakota helicopters;

    --Funds procurement of Future Combat System Spin Out equipment;

    --Funds the Army’s Family of Heavy Tactical Vehicles Program;

    --Reduces funding for the Army’s Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles due to program execution;

    --Funds the High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicle program;

    --Funds modifications for the Stryker vehicle fleet;

    --Funds the Bradley Fighting Vehicle modification program; and,

    --Fully funds the Abrams Tank modification and upgrade programs.

    Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has indicated that he would like the Senate to pass the bill by the end of September. 

    Army Vice Chief of Staff Outlines New Modernization Strategy

    The Army’s Vice Chief of Staff laid out details of the Army’s new modernization strategy at last week’s AUSA Institute of Land Warfare breakfast.  Included in the audience were many congressional staff members from key defense oversight committees as well as individual member’s offices.  

    Gen. Peter Chiarelli said that the priorities for the Army’s future manned ground combat vehicle will be survivability and mobility and will incorporate versatility in size, weight and power; and provide force protection.  The Army plans to field the vehicle in seven years.  Chiarelli said that “ten years is too long” a time to field a new capability and that the process can be accelerated by reviewing the program at the three key decision points.

    The vehicle will continue to emphasize interoperable networks.  “Every single soldier must have the capability to call off fires and avoid fratricide and civilian casualties,” Chiarelli said.

    The first iteration of the vehicle will be as an infantry carrier as the Army divests itself of the M-113.  The modernization program also incorporates Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles as required by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and will reset tanks, Strykers and Paladins while eventually phasing out the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.  The ground combat vehicle will succeed the canceled manned ground vehicle portion of the Future Combat Systems program.

    Chiarelli said that the Army “has not done this thinking [about requirements for the vehicle] in isolation”.  It has solicited input from industry, Congress, allies, sister services and academia and is also drawing on the lessons of eight years of war and today’s operating environment.  “We need your good ideas,” he said. He added the Army plans to hold “industry days” in October and November to receive those ideas.

    The Army remains heavily engaged across the world, Chiarelli said.  “We have more soldiers deployed today than at the height of the surge” in Iraq.  At the same time, “we are in the middle of BRAC” [base realignment and closure], and “we are moving over 250,000 soldiers and their families by Sept. 15, 2011.”

    The change from a division-centric Army to a brigade-centric organization is the key to the Army’s modernization program, Chiarelli said.  The change in structure also reflects the altered nature of warfare.  “Every soldier is looking at the enemy every day [on] the non-contiguous battlefield.”

    We will balance modernization and personnel costs,” he said, and it will be done in alignment with the department’s long-range spending plan and the Army Force Generation model.

    Having congressional staff members hear the details of the new modernization strategy is critical to the success of the program.  Congress’ decisions will have significant implications for Army funding requirements and future congressional oversight activities