3 December 2012 Legislative News Update 

12/3/2012 

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 Takes Up Defense Authorization Bill
  • Senate TRICARE Amendment
  • General Sullivan Response to WaPo Editorial

★★★

SENATE TAKES UP DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL

With three weeks to go before the end of the 112th Congress, the fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill finally hit the Senate floor last Wednesday.  

The Senate has already addressed dozens of amendments with literally hundreds to go.  When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., realized that all of the pending amendments could not be debated in a timely manner, he invoked cloture.  This sets up a vote scheduled for tonight on whether or not to limit further debate and a vote later in the week on the final bill.  Accordingly, the Senate will have to compress debates and votes on scores of amendments into a few days.

We were disappointed when senators voted down the AUSA-supported amendment that would repeal a provision of law that deducts VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities.  Offered by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., the amendment would cost almost $7 billion dollars over 10 years which generated a budget point of order requiring a 60-vote threshold to waive.  It fell two votes short.  

Among the amendments that the Senate has adopted are those that would:

--Require the Defense secretary to establish a comprehensive suicide-prevention program, creating a position to oversee that and other behavioral-health efforts and ensuring that frontline personnel are receiving mental-health education. (Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.)

--Require a reduction in the backlog of pending veterans’ benefits.  This amendment, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would require the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs to submit a plan to Congress to decrease the current backlog of pending claims for veterans.

--Require a report on mechanisms to ease the reintegration into civilian life of members of the National Guard and Reserve following a deployment on active duty. (Introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.)

--Express the sense of the Senate that security operations in Afghanistan should be transferred to the Afghanistan government by mid-summer 2013 and that U.S. combat operations should end no later than Dec. 31, 2014.  (Introduced by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.)

--Expand autism care under Tricare, requiring the program to cover applied behavioral autism therapies prescribed by a doctor.  (Introduced Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.) 

--Report on how upcoming TRICARE contract changes will affect availability of TRICARE Prime, how that will affect beneficiaries, and how the Pentagon plans to help them find alternative care. (Introduced by Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.)

On Thursday, the Obama Administration released a Statement of Administrative Policy which indicated that if the President were presented with the bill in its current form, his senior advisers would recommend he veto the bill.

The Statement of Administration Policy objected to the bill’s prohibition on the transfer of military detainees from Guantánamo Bay to foreign countries and provisions in the bill that would prevent the retirement of Air National Guard and Reserve units.  The statement also encouraged lawmakers to adopt its requested TRICARE fee initiatives.

Overall, the bill would authorize $631.4 billion in discretionary funds for defense activities: $525.8 billion for the base Defense Department budget, $88.2 billion for the war in Afghanistan and $17.4 billion for Department of Energy and other national security programs related to nuclear safety.

Hopefully, by next week’s legislative update, we will be able to report that the bill has passed the Senate and is in conference committee. Details to follow.  

CALL TO ACTION!!

Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., are sponsoring an amendment to the Senate Defense Authorization Bill that would:

--Cap TRICARE pharmacy copays well below those proposed by the Pentagon for fiscal 2013; 

--Cap the annual percentage increase in future pharmacy copays to no more than the percentage increase in military retired pay; and, 

--Offset the lost revenue from these lower copays by requiring TFL-eligibles to try the mail-order pharmacy for one year for refills of maintenance medications

However, the Reed-Rubio-McCaskill proposal is encountering resistance from some senators and will be coming up for a vote within the next 24 hours!! 

This amendment actually saves more money than the DoD proposal, it has the unanimous endorsement of the 34 military and veterans associations of The Military Coalition, and surveys of beneficiaries show 97% prefer it to the higher copays proposed by DoD.

Please contact your senators using an AUSA/Military Coalition suggested-letter urging them to vote FOR this important amendment.  Click here, enter your zip code and then click on the letter titled, “Vote FOR Reed-Rubio-McCaskill TRICARE Rx Amendment.”

Your help is appreciated.  

AUSA PRESIDENT RESPONDS TO WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., responded swiftly to an editorial in today’s (Dec. 3) Washington Post which said that the President should veto the defense authorization bill if it does not contain significant TRICARE fee increases.

Sullivan said that Congress should not authorize Department of Defense (DoD) TRICARE fee increases because DoD has underspent its TRICARE budget in each of the last three fiscal years -  not the hallmark of a health care system that needs to increase the fees its beneficiaries pay.  Clearly military health care costs have not 'surged', if DOD can ask Congress for permission to move funds excess to Defense Health Program requirements for higher priority items,” Sullivan said.  

Unifying military health care delivery and incentivizing wellness programs will create savings and a healthier military force.

Sullivan sent a letter to the leadership of the Senate and the Armed Services Committee urging them to maintain their position of limiting TRICARE fee increases to no more than the annual military retiree cost-of-living increase. He again urged them to maintain the benefit that is a powerful incentive for top-quality personnel to serve careers despite the burdens that military service imposes on troops and their families.  

Sullivan has said time and again that “military personnel are not a faceless group, and they are not civilians – they are the one percent of this nation’s population that are willing to carry our colors into battle and to offer up their life in the process.  When they retire from the front line, they should be given the respect and dignity of a reliable benefits package.”

I know that we have already asked you once in this newsletter to contact your senators, but grassroot efforts are critical!  We have placed a letter on our “Contact Congress” link for your use.  Click here for that link.  The letter is titled, "Reject DoD TRICARE Fee Proposals.”