Legislative Newsletter Update 29 June 2009 

6/29/2009 

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



      
 

In this issue

  • House Approves Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act
  • Fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization Bill Passes House
  • Amendment to Grow the Army Adopted by Senate



House Approves Disabled Military Retiree Relief Act


During AUSA’s recent meeting with the House leadership, Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said there could be "some light at the end of the tunnel" with regards to extending eligibility for concurrent retirement and disability pay to service-disabled members who were medically retired with less than 20 years of service. 

What Skelton meant by the “light at the end of tunnel” became clear when he introduced H.R. 2990, the Disabled Military Relief Act of 2009, which included a provision that would phase-out over five years the disability offset to military retired pay for servicemembers retired for disability (Chapter 61).  However, only the first year of the phase-out is funded.

The first three years of the five-year phase-out would end the offset for more severely disabled Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service:

* On Jan. 1, 2010, Chapter 61 retirees with less than 20 years of service and a VA rating of either 90 percent or 100 percent, or who are deemed “unemployable” by the VA, would become eligible.

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

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

Over the following two years, the offset would be eliminated for all remaining Chapter 61 retirees:

* On Jan. 1, 2013, Chapter 61 retirees with a VA rating of either 30 percent or 40 percent will become eligible. 

* On Jan. 1, 2014, Chapter 61 retirees with any VA rating become eligible.

Rep. Skelton said “The one group of retirees that have endured great hardship, but have been among the last to be embraced by reform, is the disabled retiree with less than 20 years of service.”

He added, “Many of these service members were on track to serve a full military career but were blocked from serving 20 years because of their disabilities.  It is this group of retirees that were disabled at younger ages and often with young families.  As a result, they are often the most financially stressed.”

AUSA, long-time champions of expanding concurrent receipt to Chapter 61 retirees as well as longevity retirees, is grateful Rep. Skelton found the necessary offsets to pay for this fix.  We were also pleased he acknowledged that while this legislation is an important step, it is an incremental step.  Because the fix is only funded for the first year, Congress will have to identify additional funding by Oct. 1, 2010 or the program will expire. 

“Congress has been working to find a way to permanently eliminate the disabled veterans’ tax for many years, but fixing this entitlement program is an immensely difficult task.  I am grateful to all of my House colleagues who have worked to find the budget offsets needed to provide this temporary fix for our veterans.  As we pursue this legislation, we will continue to do all we can to honor our country’s debt to our veterans and their families,” Skelton said.

 
Fiscal 2010 Defense Authorization Bill Passes House

On June 25, the House of Representatives passed their version of the fiscal 2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647) by a vote of 389 to 22. 

The measure authorizes $550.4 billion for Defense Department and national security programs within the Energy Department, along with $130 billion for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

The bill:

* Authorizes a pay raise of 3.4 percent for military personnel.

* Extends the temporary increase in the maximum number of leave days a service member may accumulate and carryover from one year to the next.

* Limits the collection of pay and allowance overpayments that result from administrative error.

* Requires a medical examination before a service member who has been deployed overseas in support of a contingency operation and diagnosed with either PTSD or TBI, can be involuntarily separated under other than honorable conditions.

* Authorizes servicemembers to designate three persons, including people that are not family members, to be provided transportation during any two month period to visit them while they’re hospitalized.  Additionally, for seriously injured service members who must travel for treatment, travel benefits are authorized so they may have a non-medical attendant assist them with the trip.

* Establishes a monthly compensation allowance for members with combat-related catastrophic injuries or illnesses so they can receive assistance with the daily activities of life from a non-medical attendant.

* Extends TRICARE eligibility to reserve members so they can receive full TRICARE coverage 180 days before they go on active duty.  Previously, reserve members were only eligible 90 days.

* Expands eligibility under the TRICARE dental program for the survivor of a service member who dies on active duty to correspond with their eligibility under the TRICARE medical program.

* Establishes an internship pilot program for military spouses to obtain employment with federal agencies in order to provide them with opportunities in careers that are portable as they move from station to station.

* Provides $50 million to assist local education agencies providing support to military children, with an additional $15 million for those heavily impacted by force structure changes and BRAC.

* Provides $11 million for facilities sustainment and recapitalization for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools (DODEA) to bring the funding up to 100% of the requirement for FY10. 

* Provides $1.95 billion for family housing programs. 

* Requires DOD to review the standards used to calculate the monthly rates for basic allowance for housing to determine if the current standards are meeting the needs of today’s military families.

* Authorizes an additional privately-owned vehicle to be shipped to non-foreign overseas locations to assist military families with transportation needs

* Increases the weight allowances for shipment of household items to be transported between assignments for service members in the grades of E-5 through E-9.

* Allocates $100 million to finance termination of the Future Combat Systems’ manned ground combat vehicle program, $327 million less than the president’s request for the program.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed their version of the defense authorization bill on June 25.  That bill is expected to go to the Senate floor for a full vote after Congress returns from its July 4 recess.  Once the Senate passes the bill, it will go to conference with the House to reconcile any differences. 

 
Amendment to Grow the Army Adopted by Senate

Even before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, AUSA championed for an increase in the Army’s end strength.  We pushed even harder to get the message to Capitol Hill once the wars began and the stress and strain on the troops became painfully apparent.

 In recent months, AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has worked closely with Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., to increase the Army’s end strength.  Now, their efforts have paid off.

In its mark-up of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment that authorizes the Defense Secretary to increase the Army’s active duty end strength by 30,000 above 2010 levels during fiscal years 2011 and 2012 if sufficient funding is requested in the budgets for those fiscal years.

“The number of deployed soldiers is set to rise through the rest of this year, and signs of stress in the force are all too evident," I am proud that the committee has decided to give the Army authority to grow, and call upon the Secretary of Defense to act immediately to do so.  Increasing the number of soldiers is an essential first step to easing the burden on the overall force," Sen. Lieberman said.

Gen. Sullivan said that he appreciated Sen. Lieberman’s diligence in getting the end strength authorization included in the bill and will continue to work with him to ensure Congress finds sufficient funding to pay for the increase.