Legislative Newsletter Update 27 April 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:

  • COLA Watch
  • Call to Action!
  • Hearing Held on Veterans' Health Care Legislation
  • Senate Subcommittee Discusses Troop Readiness

COLA Watch

The Cost of Living Allowance or COLA for 2009 was 5.8 percent, the largest increase in 25 years.  However, the picture for 2010 is not so promising.  In fact, if the 2010 COLA were to be determined today, there would be no increase.

In general, a COLA is equal to the percentage increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for “urban wage earners” from the third quarter of one year to the third quarter of the next.  If there is no increase, there is no COLA.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that the CPI rose 0.2 percent in March.  Even with that small gain, it is still down 3.8 percent so far this fiscal year.  It will have to gain about 4 percent over the next six months for there to be a COLA increase. 

AUSA will continue to monitor the COLA as the year goes on.

Call to Action!

AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition need your help. 

Earlier this year, Reps. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas and Henry Brown, Jr., R-S.C., and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., introduced legislation 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.

The House bill, H.R. 775, currently has 192 co-sponsors while the Senate's, S 535, has 33.  We would like to drive up co-sponsorship and are asking that our members contact their elected officials and urge them to 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 letter, “End the SPB-DIC Offset.”

Your voice does make a difference. 

Hearing Held on Veterans' Health Care Legislation

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing last week on pending veterans' health care legislation.

--S. 801, the Family Caregiver Program Act of 2009, would establish a permanent program for the caregivers of disabled veterans, providing them with training and certification, access to VA health care and financial support, and new travel benefits.

--S. 734, the Rural Veterans Health Care Access and Quality Act of 2009, would improve health care staffing, enhance access to quality care, and provide travel benefits, for veterans living in rural and remote areas.

--S. 423, the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act of 2009, would promote timely and predictable funding for the largest health care system in the country, which has started 19 of the past 22 fiscal years without knowing its budget for the year.

Committee Chairman Sen. Daniel Akaka said, “VA must adapt to the changing needs of America’s veterans and their families.  These bills recognize veterans’ families as partners, allow veterans to receive the care they’ve earned, and make veterans’ health care funding more timely and secure.   I look forward to moving these important measures from the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to the President’s desk.”

 Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee’s ranking Republican said, "Yesterday's hearing marked a critical step forward in the Committee's consideration of important legislation, including the Family Caregiver Program Act (S.801), a bill I introduced with Chairman Akaka to strengthen support for family caregivers and attendants of veterans who make sacrifices to care for traumatically injured veterans.”

Markup of the bills is expected in May.

Senate Subcommittee Discusses Troop Readiness

Troop readiness and equipment was the subject of a hearing held before the Senate Armed Services Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee last week.

Subcommittee members were particularly interested in what the Army was doing to reduce the weight of a soldier’s gear operating at the high altitudes of Afghanistan. 

The Army’s Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli, said the Rapid Equipping Force (REF) “has been absolutely critical” in reducing weight by 13 to 23 pounds depending on what the soldier’s position was in the squad. 

The vice chief cited the lighter machine guns and armored plate carriers as key components in reducing the weight a soldier carries.  “The machine guns have already gone down range.”  He added the Army is also looking at lighter boots.  “Our job is to put out what the risk factor is” in using lighter equipment to commanders who will be using the gear as they deploy to Afghanistan.

Looking further down the road, as supplemental spending bills become a part of the past, Gen. Chiarelli said, “We’ve got to find a place for REF in the base” budget.”  He added that the Army also has to find a place in the base budget to pay for resetting equipment, a process that will take three to four years after combat operations wear down.

Chiarelli said the administration’s request for $83.4 billion in supplemental spending, largely to cover operations in Afghanistan and Iraq needs to be passed by July 1.  “Supplemental is critical for us for re-set.”

Chiarelli also said the Army is looking to field an all-terrain variant of the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles to Afghanistan in November.  He told the panel that MRAPs will play a role in operations in Afghanistan despite the rugged terrain.  He said that since MRAPs in some cases are going to units without experience in heavy armored vehicles that contractor support was necessary.  Citing the contractors’ work with aviation units and keeping helicopters flying, he said they “did a magnificent job for 7 ½ years” maintaining the aircraft.

“We’re making tough choices every day” on personnel, he said.  Noting the Army has reached its increased end strength of 547,400 early, there were still about 30,000 soldiers unavailable for deployments because they are in warrior transition units, or being held back because of the effects of repeated deployments or are serving in joint manning positions.

When asked about Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ plan to hold at 45 brigade combat teams rather than 48, he said that the decision will allow “us to thicken our forces,” which “is critical in January when we begin coming off stop-loss.”

Moving to shorter deployments is an Army goal, he said.  Nine-month deployments may be possible in two years if demand for forces does not increase.

If the Army adopted the Marine Corps’ seven-month deployment rotation, Chiarelli said 35 to 37 brigades would be needed to cover the missions.  He said 31 brigade combat teams on 12-month deployments are now used to cover mission commitments.