AUSA testimony – chapter, member efforts addressed 2016 goals

AUSA testimony – chapter, member efforts addressed 2016 goals

Monday, January 30, 2017

As we head into the 2017 legislative cycle, here’s a recap of a very busy 2016.

Through meetings with key lawmakers and Pentagon leadership, AUSA successfully and tirelessly advocated for goals important to the Army and our members.

AUSA’s message to Capitol Hill, outlined in the 2016 resolutions, urged Congress and the administration to:

  • „ Stop Sequestration
  • „ Increase Army Budget
  • „ Increase Army Readiness
  • „ Improve/Protect Military Healthcare
  • „ Stop End-Strength Drawdown (with resources added)
  • „ Stop the Erosion of Benefits

In support of our message, we launched two significant, and ultimately successful, campaigns.

Through high-level meetings and correspondence, we urged members of Congress to back legislation that would limit reductions in the Army and Marine Corps, a pause we believed would allow the next president to assess land force capabilities and needs before deciding troop levels.

After an intense lobbying effort, elements of the bill were included in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2017.

Another campaign targeted a Senate provision that tied basic allowance for housing (BAH) to service members’ actual rent and utilities costs rather than a flat-rate stipend based on estimated housing costs within a zip code.

Additionally, for dual-military couples or housing sharers, the Senate wanted to divide BAH by the number of service members in domicile.

AUSA was strongly opposed to this provision and reached out to key members of Congress and staff urging that the provision be abandoned.

We prevailed. The provision was not included in the final bill.

We were also able to state our position on matters important to the Army and our members through Congressional hearings.

Testimony submitted to the Joint House–Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing applauded Congress for its efforts to improve veterans’ access to health care and, in particular, the efforts to address mental health issues.

We endorsed efforts to end the backlog of veteran disability claims, combat unemployment and homelessness and improve educational benefits not only for veterans, but also members of the National Guard and Reserve.

An important hearing on military health care held by the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee allowed us to present our views on the military health care reform proposals contained in the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request.

Our message to lawmakers: Military professionals earn unique long-term benefits called deferred compensation for risk and hardship endured during their careers and that the deferred compensation includes lifetime access to quality health care.

Our leadership also testified in hearings held to discuss proposed reforms to the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 and on force management levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Part of AUSA’s message to lawmakers in 2016: Military professionals earn unique long-term benefits called deferred compensation for risk and hardship endured during their careers. (Photo by Spc. Craig Philbrick)

The NDAA included other provisions that addressed AUSA goals.

The overall defense budget was increased to $619 billion of which $3.2 billion was earmarked for readiness stabilization, another top AUSA goal.

Increased ground training to address shortfalls that have contributed to accidents; increased operation and maintenance support for a larger force, including a rise for depot maintenance, facilities sustainment and modernization, as well as replenished depleted munitions inventories, will contribute significantly to readiness stabilization.

On the personnel side, Congress approved a pay raise increase of 2.1 percent for military personnel.

The higher raise matched the projected increase in private sector wages and would be the first time in six years the pay raise tops 2 percent.

While we held the line on increases in TRICARE fees and co-pays for current military personnel and retirees and establishment of an enrollment fee on TRICARE for Life, the NDAA did increase enrollment fees, deductibles, catastrophic caps, and co-pays for beneficiaries who join the military on or after Jan. 1, 2018.

These are concerns we will address with the incoming Congress.

Some of the other AUSA-supported health care-related provisions include improvements to access of urgent care services in both military medical treatment facilities (MTFs) and the private sector.

The law would ensure that covered beneficiaries have access to urgent care services through the health care provider network under the TRICARE program, without the need for preauthorization, in areas where no MTFs exist for those services.

The law also mandated expanded business hours on weekdays and weekends and implementation of a standardized appointment system in the military health system by Jan. 1, 2018.

AUSA and its leadership have been committed to ending sequestration since its inception in 2011.

Sequestration, with its indiscriminate, disproportionate reductions, puts the nation’s defense posture at serious risk. It deprives defense leaders of the funding certainty and the financial flexibility to properly structure, fund, and maintain our armed forces to meet evolving threats.

Sequestration will return in Fiscal Year 2018 if the law is not changed.

AUSA will continue to strongly advocate for its repeal with the incoming Congress.