Legislative News Update 9 February 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:

  • New Legislation Spotlight - "The Military Retirees' Healthcare Protection Act"
  • AUSA Provides Testimony for Senate VA Hearing
  • AUSA President Meets with Washington State Delegation

New Legislation Spotlight - "The Military Retirees' Healthcare Protection Act"

Reps. Chet Edwards, D-Texas and Walter Jones, R-N.C., reintroduced the Military Retirees’ Healthcare Protection Act (H.R. 816), that, if enacted, would prevent the Defense Department from increasing health care enrollment fees and copayments.  It would also require the Administration to request future increases through Congress.

“I believe that keeping our promise of quality, affordable health care for military retirees is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.  It is right because our nation has a moral obligation to keep our promises to those who have kept their promise to defend our nation.  It is the smart thing to do because we cannot attract the best and brightest to fight our war on terrorism in the years ahead if they see us breaking faith with those who served in years past.  To win the war on terrorism, we must keep faith with our warriors,” said Edwards, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.

“This legislation is about offering protection for the men and women who are willing to protect our nation from its enemies, and keeping promises to those who have promised to put themselves in harm’s way when called upon,” Rep. Jones said.  “The families of our armed forces deserve consistent health care benefits.”

H.R. 816 establishes the principle that it is the responsibility of Congress, not the Pentagon, to establish when and by how much military health fees will be increased.  The bill would block the Pentagon from dramatically raising health care fees on military retirees by removing the Secretary of Defense’s current authority to make virtually unlimited increases in four specific areas:

-- Enrollment fees for retired members and survivors in TRICARE Prime, the military-managed health plan;

--Pharmacy copayments;

--Enrollment fees for the new TRICARE Reserve Select program that was implemented last year to maintain health coverage continuity for Guard and Reserve families; and, 

--Retiree and survivor copayments for inpatient care.

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., sent letters to Reps. Edwards and Jones last week to thank them for reintroducing this important legislation and offered any assistance the Association can provide to ensure this bill is passed.  You can help by sending a letter to your representative urging their support.  Go to the AUSA website, www.ausa.org, click on “Contact Congress”, type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”, and scroll down to “Support H.R. 816, the Military Retirees’ Health Care Protection Act.”

AUSA Provides Testimony for Senate VA Hearing

AUSA’s Vice President for Education, LTG Theodore G. Stroup, Jr., USA, Ret., provided testimony for a hearing held recently by the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. 

Stroup's testimony touched on many of AUSA’s veteran's legislative agenda items including support for advanced VA appropriations that would create timely and continuous funding.  We also support funding and manpower to eliminate the disability claims evaluation backlog and reopening enrollment in VA for all Priority 8 veterans.

The testimony encouraged Congress to consolidate and deconflict the MGIB and New GI Bill into one educational benefits program for active and reserve components.  “The coexistence of the MGIB alongside the New GI Bill is causing considerable confusion.  Benefits available in the MGIB such as pilot training, licensure/certification tests and distance (online) course work are not available in the New GI Bill, while a tuition reimbursement indexing mechanism, housing benefits, and a book stipend are available in the New GI Bill but not the MGIB,” his testimony stated.

AUSA also urged Congress to support:

--Full concurrent receipt for those with disabilities of 49 percent and below.  AUSA urges that the thousands of disabled veterans left out of previous legislation be given equal treatment and that the disability offset be eliminated completely. 

--A minimum of a 20 percent increase in Survivors and Dependents Educational Assistance (DEA) to match the increases in Montgomery GI Bill benefits Congress passed in 2008 as well as ensuring that the benefits in the DEA program be adjusted proportionally whenever Congress raises MGIB and New GI Bill benefits.

--An increase in the monthly stipend issued under the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) program to reflect the basic allowance for housing (BAH) payments under the New GI Bill.  VRE helps equip disabled veterans to transition back into the work force.


AUSA President Meets with Washington State Delegation

Staff from the offices of Washington State Representatives Norm Dicks, Rick Larsen, Adam Smith, Jay Inslee and David Reichert met with AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA Ret., last week during his trip to Fort Lewis. 

Gen. Sullivan gave the staff an overview of AUSA and how it tells the Army’s story.  The visit afforded the delegation the opportunity to hear Gen. Sullivan’s views on a variety of issues including Army end strength, military healthcare and the effect repeated deployments are having on the soldiers and their families.  Gen. Sullivan and the staff also discussed how they can work together to help the Army.