Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
NO WAY TO DO BUSINESS
Even though Congress had over a YEAR to fix it, the 21 percent payment cut to physicians who care for Medicare and TRICARE patients went into effect today.
How did this happen?
In November 2009, the House passed a bill that would repeal the current formula and replace it with one that would offer a more stable system. Unfortunately, the Senate’s version stalled.
At the end of the year, Congress extended the effective date until the end of February to give them time to find a solution to the yearly problem. Unfortunately, that failed.
Last week, the House passed a temporary extension by voice vote, delaying the payment cuts by 30 days to 1 Apr. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked for a similar extension that was included in an unemployment benefits package; however, the legislation was blocked late last week by retiring Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Ky., who argued that its $10 billion price tag was too much of a burden on the already massive federal budget deficit. The Senate went home for the weekend with no solution or extension.
In response, the Centers for Medicare and Medical Services said all Medicare reimbursements filed by physicians will be held for the next 10 business days, effective today, Mar. 1. The 10-day hold will give Congress additional time to sort out this mess.
We need for you to contact your elected officials. Please go to the AUSA website, click on “Contact Congress”, type in your zip code beside “Elected Officials”, and scroll down to “Reverse the 21% Medicare/TRICARE Physician Payment Cut!”
Congress’ continuing games of last-minute budget “chicken” put millions of seniors and military families at risk.
COLLEGE/CAREER AID FOR MILITARY SPOUSES SUSPENDED
The Department of Defense abruptly suspended a program last week that offers grants to military spouses for college or career training.
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program gives qualified military spouses up to $6000 in tuition assistance to help them pursue portable careers. A message on the MYCAA website states, “Effective immediately, the MyCAA program is temporarily halting operations. We are reviewing all procedures, financial assistance documents and the overall program.”
AUSA, very concerned about the sudden shut down of the program, contacted the co-chairs of the new House Congressional Military Family Caucus to lend its support to efforts by the caucus members to determine the reason for the shut down of the program and what Congress can do to facilitate a restart of the program as soon as possible.
We will monitor this situation closely and continue to work with Congress for a solution.
ARMY LEADERSHIP: SOLDIERS AND FAMILIES TOP PRIORITY
Funding programs to support soldiers and their families is the Army's top priority in the new fiscal year, the service's secretary and chief of staff told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week.
Army Secretary John M. McHugh, said, "I found an Army clearly fatigued by nearly nine years of combat. But through it all, they are more resilient."
To sustain and improve that resilience, McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey, Jr. spoke for the need to improve soldiers' "dwell time" at home between deployments, as well as Army family support and mental health programs.
"We remain out of balance," McHugh said. "Our all-volunteer force is a national treasure. If we wish to sustain it, soldiers and their families must be our top priority. For those of us in the Army family, it is the top priority."
The Defense Department's Fiscal Year 2011 budget request includes $1.7 billion to fund what McHugh called "vital" family programs such as those to provide respite care and spousal employment, and to open some 50 child-care centers and seven youth centers.
"We sign up the soldier, we re-sign up the family," McHugh said. Casey agreed that keeping families happy is critical. "Keeping our families understanding that we really are committed to them over the long haul is essential to holding this force together," he said. The most important element for putting the Army "back in balance," Casey said, is to increase the time soldiers are home between deployments.
"What we continue to see across the force is the cumulative effects of these deployments," Casey said.
Army studies show two to three years of dwell time is needed to recover from one year of deployment. The Army has increased dwell time from 12 to 18 months and plans that by the end of next year all soldiers on active duty would have two years at home following one year of deployment.
“When you're only home for a year, you barely have time to finish your leave before it's time to go back. We've discovered that the difference between 18 months at home and 12 months is significant,” Casey said. He went on to say a two-year dwell time will be even more significant to help soldiers and families, and also to train units more broadly for various operations.
Casey and McHugh also discussed the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness program that began in October 2009 and is designed to balance and strengthen soldiers' physical and mental resilience.
Under the program, the Army increased its mental-health specialists-to-soldiers ratio to 1-to-600 -- though regulations require only a 1-to-700 ratio -- to provide treatment in combat theaters, McHugh said. Still, the Army is 600 mental health providers short of its overall requirement of 4,304.
"The way you get people to understand it's OK [to get treatment] is by acting like it's OK by providing that type of care," McHugh said. "I don't want to suggest we have this perfect; we don't. But it's something we work on every day and are improving every day."
The proposed budget also completes the realignment of bases ordered by the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment Act. According to Casey, the service is halfway through re-stationing that should be complete next year, affecting 300,000 soldiers and their families, but also improving their quality of life.
The budget also restructures the force to prepare for changing operational needs. Those changes include standing down some jobs, including 200 tank companies, and standing up others such as police and special forces, Casey said. "We are converting, retraining and equipping 150,000 soldiers for new jobs. This will be the largest organizational transformation of the Army since World War II, and we have done it while fighting two wars."
Another priority in the proposed budget is acquisition reform. "We have an Army that is strong in spirit, strong in ability and strong in results," McHugh said. "We need to recognize, too, that this is an Army that is tired, stressed and burdened by the inefficiencies of bureaucracy."
To that end, the budget would revamp the acquisitions process to improve how quickly equipment and services can be purchased and put into the hands of warfighters, McHugh said. Among other things, the reforms would add thousands of acquisitions positions to the service.
"The long pole in the tent is in bringing in more contract expertise," McHugh said, noting that the Army has brought 900 functions back in-house, created 4,000 positions and saved $40 million in the process.
The House Armed Services Committee also held their posture hearing last week with Secretary McHugh and Gen. Casey.
In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., discussed the size of the Army. “The Army expects to end FY11 with an end strength of 562,400 with the potential to grow to approximately 570,000 to compensate for the wounded warriors and other soldiers who are not deployable. This will ensure units are deploying to combat 100 percent filled.
“If all goes well, and the number of soldiers deployed to Iraq recedes and Afghanistan maintains a steady state, I hope that the Army will be able to provide units with a reasonable amount of dwell time between deployments. This dwell time is important as it gives them time to recover, and then to train to the full range of tasks required of them – something that I fear we’ve neglected over time.
“Therefore, I remain concerned that this temporary increase in end strength will not really solve the problem. We saw this before, when the Army began its temporary growth in 2005. In the end, we made that temporary growth permanent. That was the right thing to do. I remain concerned with the size of the Army as it remains in persistent conflict for the foreseeable future.”
AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., could not agree more. He said, “AUSA, however, has long said that the active duty component should have at least 700,000 soldiers and the increase should be fully funded in the base budget. We believe the Army National Guard needs 371,000 and that the Army Reserve should be manned at 215,000.
“These numbers, in our opinion, would allow us to reach the goal of dwell time at home of between two and three years for every one deployed for active component troops and five years for every one deployed for Reserve Component troops. Our troops need time to train and be with their families. We cannot continue to send the same troops into theater over and over without a break.
“The larger number of troops would also fill the brigade combat teams, and allow the schools and garrisons of the Generating Force to be fully manned.”