Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue
- Military Coalition Representatives Testify at Senate Hearing
- Pentagon Releases Details of Homeowner Assistance Program Expansion
- Ceremony Recognizes NCOs in Congress
Military Coalition Representatives Testify at Senate Hearing
Stress on the force, military pay, TRICARE fees and concurrent receipt were some of the topics discussed at a hearing held last week before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.
The subcommittee’s chairman and ranking member emphasized the panel’s great sensitivity to the stress of lengthy deployments on military families. Chairman Ben Nelson, D-Neb., said that “we have no higher responsibility than caring for wounded, ill and injured service members and their families,” while the top Republican, South Carolina's Sen. Lindsay Graham observed, “In no other war in American history have so few done so much for so long.”
LTG Michael Rochelle the Army’s senior personnel officer said “we see an increase in demand” in the near term for soldiers to be deployed. He also said that the ratio of “one year deployed for 1.3 years home” for the active force was “absolutely unsustainable” and the “one year deployed to three years home” for the reserve components was “equally unsustainable.” The key factor in reducing stress on soldiers and their families is to increase dwell time, he told the subcommittee.
But when lawmakers offered to provide more pay and bonuses if needed to support troops and their families, LTG Rochelle and the personnel chiefs from the other services declined to ask for more. In fact, when asked point blank if the Army needs more soldiers, Rochelle said, “I support the President’s budget, and so does the Army.”
Rochelle did say that discussions were underway in the Pentagon about “seeking authority to temporarily exceed’ that active-duty end strength of 547,400 to reduce the strain on the force but noted, “We first have to know what the Army will be asked to do and for how long.”
Also testifying at the hearing were representatives of The Military Coalition, a group of 35 military, veterans and uniformed services organizations of which AUSA is a member. Coalition co-chair Joseph Barnes called on Congress to raise military pay by 3.4 percent instead of the 2.9 percent proposed in the administration’s budget. He put the gap between military and civilian pay at 2.9 percent.
The Coalition’s other co-chair, Steve Strobridge, expressed the Coalition’s gratitude that the new defense budget didn’t propose any TRICARE fee increases, and urged the panel to include language in this year’s defense bill to acknowledge that career military people pay huge, in-kind and up-front premiums through decades of service and sacrifice. He also urged action to improve health care access for all beneficiaries, especially those with mental health needs.
The Coalition witnesses also expressed support for the President’s initiative to expand concurrent receipt, with the ultimate goal of ending the disability offset to retired pay.
Strobridge did take issue when another witness said that spouses of service members killed in combat don’t really need a pay increase.
The witness, offering testimony on behalf of a financial and retirement planning company, said that if a service member dies and leaves behind a 20-year-old spouse and one child, the spouse could expect to receive $2.7 million in military and veterans survivor benefits if Congress were to side with veterans groups seeking repeal of a law requiring one benefit to be offset by the other.
Strobridge immediately disputed the witness and asserted the need to end deduction of VA benefits from Survivor Benefit Plan annuities. “94% of the affected widows got only [minimal lump sum payments] that have been long since spent, and many now get less than $14,000 a year [from either DoD or VA],” he said. “You can add up how much that will eventually amount to over the rest of their lives and make it look like a big number, but it’s still only $14,000 a year.”
I think everybody in here would have a little problem living on that,” Strobridge said.
Repealing the law requiring a dollar-for-dollar deduction of VA benefits for service-connected deaths from military survivors’ Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity is a top priority of AUSA’s and the Coalition's.
Lawmakers have talked for years about increasing survivor benefits, but so far the only thing to change is that some survivors are receiving a $50 monthly allowance that will increase to a maximum of $100 per month over the next several years. That does not come close to making up for their average loss of $1,154 a month because their military survivor benefits are reduced dollar-for-dollar by what they get in VA survivor benefits.
You can help. Visit the AUSA website, www.ausa.org., click on Contact Congress, enter your zip code and then click on the AUSA-proposed letter, “End the SPB-DIC Offset.”
Pentagon Releases Details of Homeowner Assistance Program Expansion
One of the first acts of the 111th Congress was the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Included in the legislation was $555 million in funding for a program to help military personnel forced to sell their homes in the midst of the current real estate crisis.
The Pentagon recently released the much-anticipated Homeowner Assistance Program (HAP) expansion guidance. Here are the rules:
* Homeowners must have lost at least 10 percent between the purchase price and sale price of the home, and the home must be in an area that suffered at least a 10 percent decline in housing prices.
* The home’s value must not exceed a cap that ranges between $417,000 and $729,750, depending on location.
* The move must be farther than 50 miles.
* Homeowners under PCS orders or affected by base realignment and closure actions must have purchased the homes before July 1, 2006.
* BRAC homeowners must sell their houses, on the local market or to the government, by Sept. 30, 2012.
Reimbursement for losses:
* Wounded warriors, wounded defense or Coast Guard civilians and surviving spouses would receive a cash payment for the difference between their home’s sale price and 95 percent of its prior fair-market value.
* Those in communities where it is proven that the market declined because of a BRAC announcement would receive 95 percent of the home’s prior fair-market value.
* Other BRAC and PCS homeowners would receive up to 90 percent of the home’s prior fair-market value.
Government purchase/mortgage payoff:
* The government will buy the home only if the homeowner can’t sell it after 120 days on the market at a price deemed appropriate by the Army Corps of Engineers.
* Wounded warriors, wounded defense and Coast Guard civilians and surviving spouses unable to sell their homes will be able to sell to the government for 90 percent of the home’s prior fair-market value.
* For BRAC and PCS homeowners, the government would pay 75 percent of the home’s prior fair-market value.
There are three HAP field offices. To find out which one services your area and for more information, visit their website at http://hap.usace.army.mil.
Ceremony Recognizes NCOs in Congress
AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Ret., attended a ceremony held last week at Fort Myer, Virginia that recognized 10 members of the 111th Congress who have served as NCOs.
As part of the Army's celebration of the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey Jr. and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Kenneth O. Preston paid tribute to the 10 representatives in attendance, as well as four others not in attendance and three senators who served as NCOs.
Each congressman was given a token of appreciation from Geren, as well as a coin from Preston.
Preston thanked all the veterans in the audience. "[The] members of Congress who are here today began a lifetime of service to our nation as noncommissioned officers in the United States Army," Preston said. "As we celebrate 2009 as the Year of the Noncommissioned Officer, we all know that the noncommissioned officer corps was not formed overnight ... and our army today is the best Army in the world because of the competence of these mid-level leaders."
Gen. Casey opened up his remarks by thanking all NCOs present, and credited the NCOs he knew for helping him to become the officer he is today, and said he believed that all officers owe a debt to an NCO.
"Any officer out here will tell you ... that they are the officer that they are today, because there was a noncommissioned officer behind them every step of the way," Casey said. "To some extent, all of us stand on the shoulders of great noncommissioned officers, and it's especially appropriate to remember that today, as we honor these men."
Geren also gave credit to the honorees, as the lessons they learned as NCOs led them to dedicate their lives to serving the country, long after they stopped wearing the Army uniform.
"We recognize our honorees this evening because before they took the oath of office as members of Congress, they protected and defended the constitution of the United States as noncommissioned officers," Geren said. "At the front of every mission, here or overseas, you'll find a noncommissioned officer. NCOs lead the way in education, training and discipline, and they share their strength of character with every Soldier they lead, every officer they support and every civilian with whom they serve."
To see detailed infomation about these and other former soldiers serving in Congress, visit the AUSA webpage, /. Click on the Government Affairs link, then on "Army Veterans in Congress, 2009.