AUSA weighs in on important issues affecting soldiers, families

AUSA weighs in on important issues affecting soldiers, families

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Where we stand. House and Senate conference negotiations on the fiscal 2017 Defense Authorization Bill will resume when Congress returns from the August recess.

Before they departed, House and Senate Armed Services Committee leaders held a closed-door meeting with members of outside panels who share jurisdiction on some of the provisions contained in the defense policy bills.

This gave those members the opportunity to share their views.

AUSA also weighed in.

A July 14 letter sent to the committees from AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition (TMC), a consortium of uniformed services and veterans’ associations, outlined the TMC’s position on issues important to its members and important to the military.

The Military Coalition represents more than 5.5 million currently serving, retired and former service members and their families and survivors.

Force levels

In accordance with AUSA’s long-standing position with regards to higher end strength – the House bill increases Army end strength by 5000; Army National Guard by 8,000 and Army Reserve by 7,000.

Although Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain fought to increase end strengths in his committee’s bill, he was ultimately defeated.

The coalition urges lawmakers to find a way to adopt the House increase.

Pay raise

AUSA and The Military Coalition believe that military personnel deserve the same annual raise as the average American’s, as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI).

The coalition supports the House-proposed 2.1 percent pay raise for 2017 and, again, thanks Sen. McCain for supporting a floor amendment to do the same in the Senate bill. Again, our hope is the final bill will include the full-ECI 2.1 percent raise.

Basic Allowance for Housing

The Senate’s version of the NDAA contains two proposals that would target nearly every service member in the coming years.

One would tie BAH to a service members’ actual housing costs rather than the flat-rate stipend. The other would unfairly penalize dual-military couples or those who share housing by dividing BAH by the number of service members in domicile.

Dividing BAH by the number of service members in domicile would unfairly penalize dual-service families of which 80 percent are in our enlisted force.

It would also disproportionately target women since approximately 20 percent of women on active duty are in dual-military marriages, compared to 3.7 percent of active duty men.

Recruiting and retention could suffer, as well as the culture and environment needed to keep our military open and welcoming to military families.

Military health care reform

AUSA and TMC have several concerns about both chambers’ proposals.

These include:

  • „ No fees should be increased until after improvements in care access and quality have been addressed.
  • „ Both the Senate-proposed fees and House-proposed fees for new entrants are disproportionately high.
  • „ TMC supports grandfathering provisions in the House bill. We do not believe any enrollment fee is appropriate for TRICARE Standard, but the House 2020 enrollment fee provision is preferable to the Senate provision.
  • „ No enrollment fees should be charged for active duty service members or their family members, as the House provision would do for entrants after Jan 1, 2018.
  • „ TMC supports the Senate provision making it explicit there should be no enrollment fee for TFL beyond the Medicare Part B premium.
  • „ Beneficiaries who live in areas where TRICARE has no provider network should have a reduced fee structure. They not only have no network choice, but they cost DoD less than Prime beneficiaries do.
  • „ The PPO network must be broader than the Prime network. It should not be limited to MTF localities, but include other areas where there are large populations of eligible beneficiaries.
  • „ Retired members residing in areas where Prime is offered should be allowed to enroll in Prime, whether or not MTF care is available for them.
  • „ SecDef should have the authority to reduce or eliminate fees for high-value services or medications, but Congress should reserve to itself authority to raise fees and cost-shares.
  • „ Any annual adjustments for any TRICARE fee should be based on the same COLA mechanism as military retired pay. Fees should not grow faster than income does.

Survivor benefits

The coalition letter commented on two other issues:

  • „ TMC is grateful to both chambers for not letting the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) authority expire. But military survivors deserve better than the status quo.

TMC is seeking House and Senate senior leadership support to provide non-HASC/SASC offsets to allow multi-year increases in SSIA amounts, in accordance with Congress’ originally expressed intent to continue increasing SSIA as a means of phasing out the unfair deduction of VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities.

TMC believes SSIA increases should not be funded by taking money from other military benefits (e.g., by raising pharmacy copayments). It should be the government’s responsibility – not military beneficiaries’ – to fund appropriate survivor compensation.

  • „ TMC urges the conferees to adopt the House provision to equalize SBP calculations for survivors of members who die on inactive duty training with those of members who die on active duty. The current formula treats reserve survivors unfairly.

When military service caused the death, survivor benefits should not be reduced simply because the member was on inactive duty training.

The fate of the defense authorization bill is uncertain.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter has raised serious objections about the bill.

In an 18-page letter to Congress, Carter laid out strong opposition to portions of both the House and Senate versions of the bill and warned a presidential veto is possible unless dramatic changes are made.