Legislative Newsletter Update 7 December 2009 

12/7/2009 

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



      
 

In this issue:

  • AUSA on the Hill
  • The Bottom Line:  Military Health Care 
  • Senate Panel Hears Details on Afghanistan Troop Surge

★★★

 

AUSA ON THE HILL


AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., and Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper met with Rep. John Carter, R-Texas last week.  Rep. Carter represents the 31st Congressional District which includes Fort Hood.

Gen. Sullivan briefed Rep. Carter and his staff on the status of the AUSA Fort Hood Chapter Victims Fund which to date has collected more than $350,000 for the families of victims of the recent shooting at Fort Hood.

Gen. Sullivan and Rep. Carter also discussed other issues important to AUSA constituents.  Sullivan particularly urged Rep. Carter to support an increase in Active Component Army end strength to 700,000.  He also stressed the need to boost the defense and Army budget in the coming years to match increasing Army requirements.  Rep. Carter signaled his support of those and other AUSA issues.


THE BOTTOM LINE: MILITARY HEALTH CARE


AUSA spent much of this year fighting mass email traffic which warned of impending legislation that would cut TRICARE for Life benefits for military retirees.  Specifically, the emails said that President Obama and his Administration had placed a priority on cutting TRICARE for Life benefits to pay for other programs. 

The original email outlined options that were included in a report released by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in December 2008.  Budget options are put out by the CBO every two years regardless of administration.  They are not legislative proposals and they are not administration goals.  The CBO’s mandate is to provide the Congress with objective, nonpartisan, and timely analyses to aid in economic and budgetary decisions on the wide array of programs covered by the federal budget.

The latest version of this email changes the title and the introductory language but contains the same unfounded warnings.  Only this time, it is the health care reform legislation that was passed by the House and currently being debated in the Senate that will make these drastic cuts. 

The bottom line:  Options contained in the CBO report were flatly rejected by Congress.  TRICARE and TRICARE for Life were fully funded in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act signed by the President. The health care reform bill recently passed by the House and the version currently being debated in the Senate pose no threat to current health care benefits provided to military families, retirees or veterans. 

In fact, the House bill (H.R. 3962) states in Section 311 that "nothing" in the bill "shall be construed as affecting" authorities used by the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs to provide TRICARE programs or VA health care benefits.

AUSA closely monitors any issues related to health care whether it is active duty, retired, Guard, reserve or VA and takes immediate action as necessary.  AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has sent several letters to Congress on this subject and has discussed it with his many contacts on Capitol Hill.  However, it never hurts to reinforce his message.  Go to AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org, click on the “Contact Congress” button at the top of the page, enter your zip code, and then click on the AUSA-suggested letter, “Protecting Military and Veteran Health Care during Health Care Reform”.

While we are on the subject of military health care, the immediate threat to TRICARE is the Senate’s failure to pass legislation that would repeal the formula in Medicare/TRICARE payments to physicians.  The current flawed formula will force a 21 percent cut to physicians in January 2010 and a cumulative 40 percent cut over the next six years. 

The House already passed legislation that repeals the old formula and replaced it with one that offers a more stable system that ends the one-year fixes that have become more and more expensive. 

While Gen. Sullivan’s letters to the Hill carry a great deal of weight, your letters added to his will make an impact.  You know the drill – go to AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org, click on the “Contact Congress” button, enter your zip code and then click on the letter “Stop the 21 Percent Medicare/TRICARE Cut!”  Time is running out on this one.


SENATE PANEL HEARS DETAILS OF AFGHANISTAN TROOP SURGE


Following President Obama’s announcement that he was committing 30,000 more soldiers and Marines to Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered details of the plan to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee. 

They told the committee that the July 2011 date mentioned by the President in his speech was “when we expect the transition process to begin” in Afghanistan and not a time certain for withdrawal of American and allied troops. “We are not going to just throw [the Afghans] into the pool and walk away,” Gates said. 

Later in answer to a question, he said President Obama’s mentioning of the July 2011 transfer date was directed at the American public to show that the nation was not in an open-ended commitment to a military solution in Afghanistan and a prod the government of President Hamid Karzai. 

“We have to build a fire” [under the Afghan government] “to make the transfer,” Gates said.  Secretary Clinton said setting the date to begin transferring responsibility “will present a sense of urgency to the Afghan government.”

Secretary Gates said the administration will conduct “a thorough review of the strategy in December 2010” to determine “whether we will be able to meet that objective.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., as did others, wanted clarification.  “Transfer, not necessarily withdrawal.”  “That is correct,” Gates answered.  He said the date was chosen because that would mark the end of two years of increased American presence in Helmand Province, where the first forces were sent after Obama took office.

Gates pointed out the surge in Iraq lasted 14 months, not 18 as planned for Afghanistan, before the transfer of responsibility to the Iraqis began.  “I think there is much in common with the drawdown in Iraq.”

Mullen and the others described Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan as “the epicenter of extreme jihadists.”  He added the Taliban has made significant strides in 11 of Afghanistan’s provinces.  Across the 1,500-mile border, Gates said, “The Pakistan Taliban has become a real threat to Pakistan’s stability” with strong support from al Qaeda.

The chairman told the committee that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, would be receiving forces more quickly under the President’s plan than through the request he made earlier to increase U.S. presence there.

The increase in American forces and an additional 5,000 to 7,000 soldiers from allied nations will give the Karzai government “breathing space” and time to extend governance outside the capital and root out corruption, Clinton said.  She also said that includes certifying Afghan ministries are sending funds where they should be sent, strengthening the inspector general for Afghanistan and bolstering the Afghan major crimes task force.  “Frankly, [corruption] is not just an Afghan problem,” Clinton said.

Because of the large amounts of aid money flowing into in a very poor country Gates added, “We need to go back and look at how we are dispensing money” to the Afghans.

In addition to the increased military presence, Clinton said the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development were tripling their commitment of personnel to slightly less than 1,000 in Afghanistan.  She added other federal agencies, like the Departments of Agriculture and Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI are also increasing their commitment to the Afghanistan effort. “Our civilian commitment must continue even as our troops come home.”

Gates said the United States would not make the same mistake as it did in 1989 when the last of the Soviet Union pulled the last of its soldiers from Afghanistan, but was making a long-term commitment to work with the Afghan and Pakistan governments to maintain stability, develop both countries and grow their economies.

As he has said in the past, Gates said the goal is to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and also to roll back the Taliban’s influence.

In addition to increasing the size of the Afghan National Army to 170,000 by July 2011, Gates said efforts are also being made at the local level to have men there provide security in their communities.  The local security forces would be working with district and provincial officials and not warlords to re-enforce the rule of law and expanding governmental legitimacy, he said.  “I believe since I got this job we’ve been too focused on Kabul and not the provinces, the districts and tribes,” Gates said.  Adding, “One of the biggest challenges in recruiting for the army and police is getting them to leave their [home] areas,” having them remain in place would address that situation.

Mullen said that partnering with Afghan security forces has dramatically increased in recent months. He said that means American soldiers are operating away from their larger bases and in the communities with Afghan police and soldiers.

The American and allied troop increase now “is the best way to protect us now and into the future,” Clinton said.  

When it is through the United States will have about 100,000 soldiers and Marines in Afghanistan and the allies about 44,000.