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AUSA scores TRICARE fees victory

Friday, June 01, 2012

The battle’s won. The war continues. AUSA scored a huge victory when the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee rejected the Defense Department plan to raise/implement TRICARE fees.

The members’ markup of the Fiscal Year 2013 Defense Authorization Bill expressed a "sense of Congress that career members of the uniformed services and their families endure unique and extraordinary sacrifices of the course of a military career and those decades of sacrifice constitute a significant pre-paid premium for health care during a career member’s retirement that is over and above what the member pays with money."

AUSA agrees!

The House bill will now go to the full committee for markup.

On the other side of the Capitol, fee increases were a topic during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.

Chairman Jim Webb, D-Va., told Defense Department witnesses: "I’ve said many times that I believe that whether there is a specific contractual obligation or not, when someone has served a full career, we have a moral obligation to provide them with lifetime medical care."

Adding, "You can’t renegotiate the front end once the back end is done. This is an obligation that has been made to people whose military careers are now done."

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., has written a letter to members of the Senate Armed Services Committee asking that they follow the House lead and reject the fee increases.

We will continue to watch that chamber closely.

 

AUSA on the Hill. Your Association has spent a great deal of time on Capitol Hill recently meeting with members of Congress and senior congressional staff.

AUSA Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper met with the House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif.; and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; as well as Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla.; Rep. Michael Conaway, D-Texas, and Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., to discuss sequestration as it pertains to the Defense Department budget.

Loper and representatives of several other coalition associations who attended the meeting were asked if they would consider sending letters to congressional offices urging that legislation be passed immediately that would end the possibility of sequestration occurring.

However, AUSA has already made its position on sequestration known thanks to a March letter Sullivan sent to key members of Congress.

Sullivan strongly believes that implementation of sequestration would severely damage the defense industrial base as a commercially viable enterprise, as a reliable and responsive provider of urgent wartime needs, and as a national strategic asset that is indispensable to the defense of the United States.

Further, he agrees with the Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta who described the implementation of sequestration as a "doomsday" scenario that would leave the United States essentially defenseless.

"It’s a ship without sailors. It’s a brigade without bullets. It’s an air wing without enough trained pilots. It’s a paper tiger," Panetta said, while Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter called it the equivalent of "assisted suicide for the DoD."

By the way, you can help by sending your own letter.

Visit the Legislative Agenda page on AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org, click on the "Contact Congress" link and then on the prepared letter "Stop Sequestration Now."

Loper also met with staff members from the office of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Murray serves as chairwoman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Loper discussed AUSA’s top legislative priorities with her military legislative assistant and provided some useful reference material that could be used as legislation is crafted.

AUSA Director of Family Programs Patty Barron joined Loper in an office call to meet with staff from the office of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., who is the co-chair of the House Military Family Caucus. A meeting with staff from the other co-chair, Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., followed.

In addition to Loper’s meetings, AUSA Vice President Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., attended a breakfast meeting with Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs concerning the need to support his new legislation, H.R. 3895, which would clearly exempt all veteran’s programs from sequestration should it occur.

Other congressional members in attendance included Reps. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio. Sullivan sent a letter of endorsement to Miller thanking him for introducing the bill and for his support of veterans funding.

We were pleased to learn that shortly after Swan’s meeting, the Office of Management and Budget announced that, in fact, the VA health-care budget would be exempt from sequestration.

Good news.

Now we can focus our resources on fighting sequestration as it pertains to the defense budget.

 

 

Retirement commission proposal gets budget committee backing. As you are well aware, AUSA vehemently opposes the Defense Department’s plan to raise/implement TRICARE fees for military retirees.

However, we are equally opposed to another proposal that seems to be gaining momentum.

The Defense Department is asking Congress to approve the creation of a special commission that would recommend changes in the military retirement system for future military personnel with Congress being allowed no amendment authority and expedited consideration to limit debate time.

The Defense Department’s formal proposal, sent to Congress on April 13, stipulates that the president and Congress can accept or reject the commission’s final plan in full and cannot modify it in any way.

The commission will work from a plan that will be provided by the Defense Department.

While we have not seen the DoD proposal, we can only assume that it will mirror the plan pitched by the Defense Business Board last year.

The group would scrap the traditional 20-year retirement for one that looks a lot like a civilian-style, tax-deferred savings plan in which troops with as few as 10 years of service would accrue some retirement.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., offered a budget plan that includes the commission proposal.

Specifically, Conrad’s budget plan would create a "workforce entitlement task force to analyze civil service and military retirement programs."

The plan goes on to state: "Military and civilian pensions are both out of line with pension benefits available to the average worker in the private sector, and in some cases, out of line with each other across different categories of federal employment."

There it is again – a comparison of the military profession to that of an average worker. So we will say it again.

Guaranteed retirement benefits are essential to recruitment and retention in both the Active Component and the Reserve Component.

Retirement benefits are a covenant with our soldiers.

Any erosion of retirement benefits, implied or actually promised, affects soldier morale and can leave retirees with the impression that they have been betrayed.

The retirement system must ensure that all of those who serve are properly compensated, retained, and encouraged to complete their careers.

We must ensure the benefits available to all retired soldiers and their families are commensurate with the increased demands and sacrifices they endure on active duty.

One argument offered for changing the current retirement system is the fact that only 17 percent of the force actually completes a full 20 years of service in order qualify for retirement.

Many ask if it is fair that a person who may have been deployed once and stays to retirement is eligible for a lifetime benefit while an individual who may have multiple deployments in a combat theater walks away with nothing.

When we acknowledge that military service conditions are unique and vastly different from civilian conditions, and the fact that only 17 percent of soldiers stay for at least 20 years under the current system, this speaks for itself about the arduousness of that career and the few people who are willing to endure that for a long time.

Also soldiers who leave service before a full career receive significant education benefits as a result of their service.

Sullivan sent a letter to congressional leadership reminding them that our position on this commission and on changing the military retirement system has not changed.

Add your voice to his. Go to the "Contact Congress" link which is under the Legislative Agenda page. Click on the AUSA-suggested letter "Reject the Military Retirement Commission Proposal."