Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
- Senate Panel Approves Policy Bill
- New Legislation Spotlight
SENATE PANEL APPROVES POLICY BILL
An AUSA salute to all those who heeded our call to action and contacted their senators about pay and health care issues being considered by the Senate Armed Services Committee as part of the defense authorization bill. We successfully fought back the Administration’s attempts to dramatically increase/enact fees for TRICARE/TRICARE for Life beneficiaries. However, we will remain in the alert mode until the bill is passed by the full Senate.
Our caution stems from remarks made by the Personnel Subcommittee’s ranking member Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., who said, "I think the administration has a good proposal. I know it is tough to go to a veteran’s organization and talk about increasing co-payments and fees, but TRICARE is, quite frankly, unsustainable.”
We could not disagree more. It shouldn’t be tough to go to an organization and talk about increasing fees; it should be tough to go to military retirees who kept their end of the bargain and talk about increasing fees.
We continue to strongly believe that Defense Department leaders should be held accountable to fix health program inefficiencies. Studies show that consolidation of budget oversight would save billions vs. having three separate service programs and multiple contractors.
In any event, we are paying close attention and will respond accordingly if there is any attempt to change the committee’s recommendation when the bill goes to the full Senate for a vote.
We are not so thrilled with the committee’s recommendation that the pay raise for military personnel should be only one percent as opposed to the 1.8 percent that would keep it in line with the Federal Employee Pay Comparability Act formula that calls for annual increases to at least equal private-sector wage growth. Since the 1.8 percent raise was included in the House-passed bill, this will have to be negotiated in conference committee and AUSA will strongly urge final passage of a 1.8 percent increase.
The committee also agreed to:
* Authorize active duty end strengths for the Army of 520,000;
* Amend the Uniform Code of Military Justice to limit the authority of a convening authority to modify the findings of a court-martial to specified sexual offenses;
* Authorize the payment of the Survivor Benefit Plan annuity to a special needs trust for the sole benefit of a disabled dependent child incapable of self-support because of mental or physical incapacity;
* Authorize $25 million in supplemental impact aid to local educational agencies with military dependent children and $5 million in impact aid for schools with military dependent children with severe disabilities;
* Add $732.2 million in Army operation and maintenance (O&M) funding to address readiness problems caused by fiscal year 2013 sequestration;
* Require the Secretary of Defense to personally approve any decision to cancel the deployment of a reserve component unit within 180 days of its scheduled deployment date when an active duty unit would be sent instead to perform the same mission, and requires the Secretary to inform the congressional defense committees and Governors whenever such a decision is made;
* Express the committee’s concern over unemployment of veterans and the cost to DOD of complying with state unemployment compensation requirements;
* Eliminate the requirement for continued certification for financial support in the case of a dependent granted a permanent ID card for permanent disability when the member or retiree providing the basis for dependency dies or becomes permanently incapacitated;
* Require the service secretaries to provide periodic notice to reserve component members who have earned early retirement credit;
* Direct the Secretary of Defense and Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to develop a coordinated, unified plan to ensure adequate mental health counseling resources to address the long-term needs of all service members, veterans, and their families; and,
* Reject the Pentagon’s request for a Base Realignment and Closure round in 2015.
What’s next: The bill will now go to the Senate floor for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has not given any indication of when that will occur.
NEW LEGISLATION SPOTLIGHT
Sens. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., have introduced legislation to help reduce the veterans disability claims backlog.
The Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act would require the Veterans Benefits Administration, an agency under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide veterans with accurate information for faster filing options.
Specifically, the bill would require the VA to track and post the average turnaround time for veterans when they are filing their claims. Filing claims online through the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program, instead of filing a paper claim, accelerates turnaround times and makes processing more efficient. The bill would require the VA to inform veterans that under current law, when they file a FDC, they are eligible to receive up to an extra year of benefits.
“While there is no single bill that will magically reduce the backlog, it is legislation like this that takes another positive step forward. Providing accurate information to veterans at the point they submit a claim will save time for both the veteran and the Veterans Administration, and ultimately help the VA adjudicate the claim efficiently. I appreciate the opportunity to work with Sen. Heinrich on this issue, and will continue to focus on ending the VA backlog," said Sen. Heller.