Legislative Newsletter Update 18 May 2009 

5/18/2009 

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



       

In this issue:

  • Details Emerging on Obama’s Concurrent Receipt Plan
  • Military Voting Rights Examined
  • OUT: Future Combat Systems. IN: Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization



Details Emerging on Obama’s Concurrent Receipt Plan


AUSA has worked tirelessly to eliminate the deduction of VA disability compensation from earned military retired pay for all disabled retirees.  We are encouraged that the Obama Administration included an expansion of concurrent receipt in its fiscal 2010 budget submission to Congress.  The specifics of the plan are now coming out.

The Administration is asking that the ban on concurrent receipt be lifted for “Chapter 61” retirees – those medically retired for service-related conditions before they could complete 20 or more years of service. 

The President’s plan phases in full concurrent receipt for Chapter 61 retirees.

* On January 1, 2010, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 90% or 100% become eligible

* On January 1, 2011, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 70% or 80% become eligible

* On January 1, 2012, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 50% or 60% become eligible

* On January 1, 2013, all Chapter 61 retirees with a VA rating of either 30% or 40% will become eligible

* On January 1, 2014, all Chapter 61 retirees with any VA rating become eligible

While AUSA will continue to push STRONGLY for full concurrent receipt, we also recognize that any gains made towards our goal, especially in these tough economic times, is a win and great news for disabled retirees. 


Military Voting Rights Examined

Legislation designed to protect the voting rights of military personnel serving abroad was introduced last week by Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mark Begich, D-Alaska.  Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., introduced similar legislation in the House.  The Military Voting Pretection (MVP) Act would ensure absentee ballots are delivered back home in time to be counted and do not get lost on the way. 

"It is imperative that we put a system in place to ensure our troops serving abroad can participate in the democratic process.  It is because of their sacrifice that every American has the right to vote in free and fair elections; the least we can do is guarantee them these same civil rights.  The MVP Act is intended to do just that. It would dramatically improve the process for our men and women in uniform to help ensure every one of their votes matters," said Sen. Cornyn.

"Our troops are sacrificing overseas fighting to protect our freedoms, and shouldn't face another round of electoral obstacles greater than any other eligible voters. We know overseas military votes go uncounted, and we know how to help fix the problem.  The MVP Act is our opportunity for a bipartisan common-sense solution to protect the votes of our troops and ensure they are counted," said Rep. McCarthy.

Introduction of the legislation came after Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., revealed that two out of every five military absentee ballots in New York State were not counted in the last election.  According to data supplied by the New York State Board of Elections, Upstate New York military personnel stationed away from home requested 20,092 absentee ballots for elections in 2008.  However, only 11,866 were returned and counted.  Another 1,246 were returned but rejected for various reasons, including missing the deadline, missing a signature, or not being notarized.  In total, 40.96 percent (or 8,226) of the ballots requested were either not returned or were rejected.  And that’s just New York State!

Sen. Schumer, Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee which has jurisdiction over the voting process, will be evaluating several possible solutions this year, some of which are:

* Mandate that states allow military personnel to complete an application for an absentee ballot and submit it online or via fax – this will remove one of the transfer periods and cut up to 24 days off the process in New York State.

* Mandate that all absentee ballots sent to military personnel and their dependents be sent by postal mail at least 60 days prior to their due date.

* Mandate a single registration and absentee ballot application deadline.

* Grant emergency authority to the chief election official in the state would allow him or her to designate alternate methods for handling absentee ballots in times of a declared emergency.

* Accept ballot date and signature in lieu of postmark - Although voters may have mailed their ballot in a timely manner, the ballot envelope may not have been postmarked on that date.  By signing and dating the ballot the voter, under penalty of perjury, is certifying that their ballot was voted prior to the close of polls on Election Day.

* Provide the military’s voting assistance officers with enhanced training to better facilitate the election process overseas, and placing election information material in locations that soldiers frequently visit.

“It is unacceptable that bureaucratic snafus could prevent our troops from exercising the very rights they are fighting to protect,” Schumer said.  “This data provides only a snapshot of the problem, but it is enough to show that the balloting process for service members is clearly in need of an overhaul.  We have an obligation to make it easier, not harder, for our military to cast their ballots when they are away on active duty.”

 

OUT: Future Combat Systems. IN: Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization

The future of the manned ground vehicle portion of the Future Combat Systems (FCS) was a topic of a hearing held before the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee last week. 

Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Gen. George Casey, Jr., the Army Chief of Staff, said that the Army hopes to field a new fleet of combat vehicles in the next five to seven years.  The vehicles would replace the manned ground vehicle portion of the Future Combat Systems (FCS). 

The successor program, which is to be called Army Brigade Combat Team Modernization (ABCTM), will be asked to take over buying new vehicles — perhaps with wheels, not the rubber-band tracks of the FCS vehicles. 

The Army plan for combat vehicles would largely keep to the schedule of fielding the FCS manned vehicles.  Preliminary designs are to go to Office of the Secretary of Defense by Labor Day for review.

The Secretary and the Chief did not have estimates of the new program’s cost.

At the hearing Gen. Casey said, the new vehicles would include "lessons learned from the current fight."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in early April that he was canceling the $87 billion manned vehicle program.  He said a major reason he decided to cancel the FCS vehicles is because they didn't adequately protect against the road side bombs used by insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As reported by Congressional Quarterly, "I ultimately could not convince him [Gates] that we had taken enough of the lessons that we learned from the current fight and incorporate it into the vehicle program," Casey said after testifying.

Casey said he saw the cancellation of the FCS vehicles as "an opportunity, because we can go forward with a clean slate, build a vehicle that has the support of the department and Congress."

Army Secretary Pete Geren told reporters the service is "working through all the legalities" of canceling the original vehicles planned for FCS.

"The Army must rethink its modernization approach," Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said.  "Procurement dollars will be tighter as the Army faces high personnel costs."