Legislative Newsletter Update 16 March 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 President: Manpower AND Equipment
  • Good News in a Bad Economy
  • New Legislation Spotlight

    AUSA President: Manpower AND Equipment

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., warned Congress last week to not revert back to the "gun vs. butter" debate of the past.

In a letter to key lawmakers, Gen. Sullivan advised that he was concerned manpower and people programs would be sacrificed to pay for weapons systems.

"The President’s recent budget blueprint highlights the Administration’s plans to reform the military’s weapon systems acquisition process.  The Association fully supports efforts to identify and eliminate waste, but we do not support “peace-dividend” proposals aimed at cutting manpower growth and people programs to pay for critical weapons programs.  Years of war have worn out our weapons and equipment, and they must be replaced," Gen. Sullivan wrote. 
"Likewise, modernization is a critical element in our ability to provide the equipment our service members need to fight the next conflict.  We must not revert back to the so-called "procurement holiday" that hobbled the Pentagon during the 1990s.  Critical decisions on major weapons programs were postponed or shelved, forcing the Pentagon to extend the service lives of existing systems." 

"Our soldiers placing their “boots on the ground” deserve to perform their wartime missions and training with fully capable weaponry and equipment.  In these times of tough economic pressures, we must not lose sight of our priorities nor should we have to make a false choice between end strength increases and weapons needs when both are vital to our Nation’s strong defense." 

Gen. Sullivan’s letter reflects his monthly message to AUSA's constituency.  His comments can be viewed in their entirety by visiting our website at www.ausa.org.  Click on the “from the president” link.

Good News in a Bad Economy

If there is any good news to be found in today’s dismal economic headlines, it is that the armed forces’ quality of recruit is continuing to rise and retention rates remain high.  Unfortuntately, as the problems with recruitment and retention fade away, the era of more bonuses for enlisting or staying in the services may be coming to an end.

That’s what Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., Chairwoman of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee told witnesses at a recent hearing.  “Recruit quality problems that had been of such great concern to this subcommittee just a few short months ago have virtually evaporated, with only a few exceptions -- and there are some.”

"During fiscal year 2005 through 2007, the recruiting environment had been difficult.  Relatively low unemployment, a protracted war on terrorism, and increased interest in college attendance all contributed to a reduced propensity for youth to serve and a reluctance for influencers to recommend military careers.  Recruiting and retention programs were under great stress and the services resorted to increased spending to keep the volunteer force on track.  Many of those funding increases were supported with wartime supplemental appropriations and the uncertainty of supplemental funds to support critical programs such as recruiting and retention had been a concern of the subcommittee," said Rep. Davis.

“Unfortunately, this bright picture has a dark side that cannot be escaped.  Budget managers will now begin to stop these programs for savings, and rightly so, because as recruitment and retention become easier, one must assume it can be done more cost-effectively.”

Curtis Gilroy, Director of Accessions for the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel, said some challenges still remain in recruiting: lack of high school diplomas, obesity, fewer influencers – parents, teachers, coaches – with experience in the military and fewer young people interested in serving in the armed forces.

He warned against deep cuts in recruiting and retention funds, especially now as this spending has been moved into the department’s base budget.  “Historically, when the economy weakens and recruiting and retention became less challenging, these programs have been ripe for cuts.  

LTG Michael Rochelle, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1 said that despite the challenges of protracted conflict, the Army once again exceeded its reenlisted recruiting and retention missions for fiscal 2008. 

He also said that in addition to the financial incentives in effective retention is the assurance that “soldiers and families will be cared for in a manner commensurate with their service and sacrifice.  That includes compensation.”

Rochelle was also asked about ending stop-loss and should the active Army grow beyond its authorized end strength of 547,400 soldiers.  “To your specific question, going forward, it depends upon the demand, and I can only say that since my time as the Army G-1, every estimate of declining demand has proven false,” he said

Rochelle said the Army was committed to ending stop-loss as soon as possible. “I can tell you that every time the Army re-employed, tightened or tinkered with -- that's a technical term -- stop-loss, I felt it in recruiting.  We don't like it.  We would be off it today if the demand permitted so. 

New Legislation Spotlight

Two pieces of legislation important to AUSA and its members have been introduced in the Senate.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., offered a bill (S. 535) that would repeal the law requiring a dollar-for-dollar deduction of VA benefits for service connected deaths from military survivors’ Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity.  

Veterans who die from a service injury or who were disabled before death are entitled to benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Some of these vets had purchased or qualified for life insurance offered by the Defense Department’s Survivor Benefit Plan.  The survivors of veteran who chose to buy that insurance have had the insurance benefit greatly reduced – or, offset by the VA benefit -- by as much as $1,200 a month.

Sen. Nelson’s bill mirrors H.R. 775, a bill introduced in the House by Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas and Henry Brown, Jr., R-S.C.

The other important bill, S.546, introduced by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., would extend eligibility for Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) to service-disabled members who were medically retired with less than 20 years of service and repeal the current restriction that limits CRDP eligibility to those with 50 percent or higher VA disability ratings.

Known commonly as “Concurrent Receipt,” current law prevents veterans classified as disabled by the VA from collecting both disability pay and retired pay, despite the fact that the men and women are eligible for both for different reasons.  For every dollar a veteran receives as disability compensation, a dollar is deducted from his or her retirement pay.  In some cases, this ban takes away a veteran’s full retirement pay, wiping away the benefits he or she earned in 20 or more years of service.  Sen. Reid’s legislation would end this unconscionable practice.

A statement released by Sen. Reid said, “It is simply absurd to deny disabled veterans every dollar they deserve.  Being compensated for disability and for years of good service are completely separate and one must not be held against the other.  We must keep the promise we make to every veteran by ensuring they receive all the benefits they earn.”

This legislation is a companion to a House bill, H.R. 303, offered by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.

Please let Congress know you support these important bills.  Visit the AUSA website, www.ausa.org., click on Contact Congress, enter your zip code and then click on the AUSA-proposed letters, “End the SPB-DIC Offset” and “Concurrent Receipt.”