Legislative Newsletter Update 23 March 2009 

3/23/2009 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 



       

In this issue:


  • Billing Private Insurance for VA Service-Connected Treatment Off the Table
  • AUSA on the Hill
  • Outreach to New Members
  • Defense Secretary Announced End of "Stop Loss"

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    Billing Private Insurance for VA Service-Connected Treatment Off the Table


    After a carefully coordinated effort by veteran and military service organizations, including AUSA, President Obama has decided to remove from consideration the proposal to bill veteran’s private or employer-provided health insurance for Veterans Administration (VA) treatment of service-connected medical needs.

    AUSA signed a letter to the President that deemed the concept of third-party billing for VA service-connected health care as unacceptable and an abrogation of our government’s moral and legal responsibility to the men and women who have sacrificed so much for our freedoms.”   Implementation of the proposal bore a significant risk of increasing veterans’ private health care premium costs, maxing out lifetime care caps and decreasing availability of health insurance for veterans and their families.  More than that, however, it just was not the right thing to do, and AUSA and its counterparts successfully said just that.

    Fortunately, there is much good news in the proposed VA budget which is 10.3 percent higher than last year’s budget and is for the first time in history, higher than the Veterans Independent Budget created by advocacy groups.  This higher level of funding will go far in achieving AUSA veterans related goals including helping to assure quality care delivery and increased access for veterans, particularly for lower priority group veterans.


    AUSA on the Hill


    AUSA Government Affairs Director, Bill Loper, was in a veteran/military service organization meeting with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., when, to a standing ovation, she announced the President’s decision concerning VA third party billing.  The meeting was called by Speaker Pelosi to allow organizations to voice their priorities to her and senior congressional leaders that are particularly interested in military and veterans affairs. 

    Among the more than 20 members of Congress in attendance were Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.,  Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Mo.,  Budget Committee Chairman and Army veteran John Spratt, D-S.C., Ways and Means Committee Chairman and Army veteran, Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.,  Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner, D-Calif., and Appropriations Subcommittee on Veterans Chairman Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

    During the meeting, the organizations’ top priorities, including closing the pay gap, preventing healthcare fee increases, ending the SBP-DIC offset and many others were presented. 

    Rep. Skelton acknowledged that his committee will support the President’s plan to extend concurrent receipt eligibility to severely disabled retirees forced into medical retirement before attaining 20 years of service but cautioned that congressional rules on “mandatory spending will require him to ask other committees to volunteer mandatory spending reductions to pay for it.  He is concerned this will put the Armed Services Committee at a disadvantage because he will have to use up offsets that could be needed to reverse any TRICARE fee increases that might be in the budget. 

    Skelton’s comment is the first indication we’ve heard that the President’s budget might include TRICARE fee increases.  There was no mention of it in the fiscal 2010 budget blueprint recently released by the Administration.

    AUSA eagerly awaits the President’s formal budget submission to Congress and will take action immediately if it does include proposed TRICARE fee increases. 

    In any event, the Pelosi meeting was very productive.  She announced that this would be the first of a continuing series of meetings she will coordinate between the organizations and congressional leaders.


    Outreach to New Members


    Earlier in the day, the AUSA government affairs team delivered over sixty AUSA information packets to the offices of each new member of the 111th Congress, both representatives and senators.  The packets provided detailed information on AUSA legislative priorities, an overview and examples of AUSA publications and for the six new members who were once soldiers, a form to complete so they will appear in the next edition of “Once a Soldier”  Always a Soldier” book. 

     

    Defense Secretary Announced End of "Stop Loss"


    Defense Secretary Robert Gates approved an Army plan to “eliminate the use of stop-loss for deploying soldiers, starting with the Army Reserve in August.

    He said that about 13,200 soldiers were serving under stop-loss at the end of January.  “Our goal is to cut the number of those stop-lossed by 50 percent by June 2010 and to eliminate the regular use of stop-loss across the entire Army by March 2011.  We will retain the authority to use stop-loss under extraordinary circumstances.”

    In a press conference last week, LTG Michael Rochelle, the Army’s G-1, said, the Army National Guard will follow suit in September and the active Army in January.

    Rochelle said the Army will begin paying $500 a month to those now serving under stop-loss April 1 and will at a later date pay those who served under stop-loss since the beginning of the fiscal year, Oct. 1.  Congress appropriated $72 million for the payment.  Whether the monthly payment is taxed depends upon where the soldier served.  Most soldiers very often infantrymen in the E-4 and E-5 pay grades, serving under the policy were extended five to eight months.

    “This is great news for our families and our soldiers. Stop-loss has caused hardship on soldiers and their families,” he said.

    Rochelle said one reason the Army could stop using the policy is the success the service has had in recruiting and retention.  ”The Army has now reached its end-strength growth of 547,000 three years earlier” than originally projected.

    A second reason is the announced drawdown of forces in Iraq.  “With conditions changing in Iraq, a gradual restoration of balance between deployment and an increase in the size of the Army, we’ll now be able to begin weaning ourselves of stop-loss,” Gen. George Casey Jr., Army chief of staff, said in a statement.

    At the same time, he said the Army is working on an incentive program for soldiers to stay in uniform until the deployment ends.  “The policy is not written yet,” MG Gina Farrisee, director of military personnel management, said. “We currently do not offer extensions for the deployment.”

    Secretary Gates said, “It wasn't a violation of the enlistment contract.  But I believe that when somebody's end date of service comes up, to hold them against their will, if you will, is just not the right thing to do.”

    House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., said in a statement, “The Pentagon's announcement to end the use of Stop Loss is very good news for service members and their families. I'm glad a plan has been developed to end this policy and only wish its end could have come sooner.

    "Demands on our military have stretched and strained our forces, making it necessary to keep some service members in uniform beyond their commitment. This has imposed an extra burden of service on those affected by Stop Loss. Our national objective should be to avoid the use of Stop Loss when possible and to strictly limit the program's scope when it cannot be avoided.

    "I'm also gratified that the Department of Defense will begin to implement the Stop Loss Special Pay authorized by Congress to compensate those required to continue military service beyond their obligation.  This compensation shows our forces that the nation understands we have asked them to take on additional sacrifices and we are grateful for their service."