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Congress passes $1.1 trillion omnibus appropriations bill

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Finally, I am able to report a little bit of good news.

The Congress has passed an omnibus appropriations bill that will fund the government until September.

Tucked in the massive $l. l trillion bill is a provision to exempt medically retired personnel (Chapter 61 retirees) and survivor benefit plan annuitants from the under-62 COLA cut, but it does not include all under-62 military retirees.

So AUSA will continue to fight to exempt the rest of the under-62 retiree population and to do that we ask you help.

Many of you have already contacted your elected officials. It is imperative that they hear from more of their constituents.

Visit our website, www.ausa.org, click on the "Contact Congress" link, enter your zip code, and send the AUSA-suggested letter titled "Repeal the Military Retiree COLA Cut."

Included in the huge bill are appropriations for the Department of Defense ($486.9 billion), Military Construction/Department of Veterans’ Affairs ($158 billion) and ongoing military operations in Afghanistan ($85.2 billion).

The Defense Department will receive:

$128.8 billion to pay for 1,361,400 active duty troops and 833,700 members of the reserve component.

$32.7 billion for defense health and military family programs including increases of $256 million for cancer research, $125 million for Traumatic Brain injury and psychological health research, and $20 million for suicide prevention outreach programs.

$160 billion for operations and maintenance – $13.6 billion below the Fiscal Year 2013 enacted level. Within this amount, priority is placed on funding for key areas such as essential readiness programs to prepare troops for combat and peacetime missions, flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations.

$157 million for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response programs and an additional $25 million to expand the Sexual Assault Victims’ Counsel program to all the military services.

$63.0 billion for research, development, test, and evaluation of new defense technologies.

$92.9 billion for equipment and upgrades.

$2.8 billion for Defense Department dependent schools and

$45 million in unrequested funds for impact aid.

Also included is funding for a one percent pay raise for military personnel and a rejection of the administration’s proposal to raise/create TRICARE fees.

The bill provides $218 million in additional funding to ensure that service members are not paying higher out-of-pocket costs for their health care.

Military construction accounts would receive a net total of $9.8 billion for fiscal 2014. Of that, the Army will get $1.1 billion, $578 million, less 34 percent than the 2013 level, and $15 million, 1percent less than the request.

The Army National Guard would receive $315 million while the Army Reserve’s share would be $157 million.

The Army’s share of the $1.5 billion appropriated for housing will be $27 million for housing construction and $513 million for operations and maintenance.

The measure appropriates a total of $451 million for continued activities under the 1990 and 2005 base realignment and closure (BRAC) rounds.

Veteran’s programs would be provided $147.9 billion for both discretionary and mandatory accounts. This is $14 billion (10 percent) more than the fiscal 2013 level and $15 billion (10 percent) more than the president's request.

In addition, the measure provides the requested $55.6 billion in advance appropriations for fiscal 2015 for VA’s medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities accounts.

A continuing concern for appropriators is the backlog of veteran’s compensation claims for service-related disabilities.

To address this issue, the measure incorporates the Senate-proposed 10-point action plan to give the VA additional tools to address the backlog.

The plan includes $20 million more than the budget request to upgrade computer hardware; the requested $90 million for overtime claims processors; $10 million more than the request for training claims processors; and $12 million more than requested to support additional personnel to address the backlog at the Board of Veterans Appeals.

Since the Defense Authorization Bill was passed late last year, the next big hurdle will be extending the debt ceiling which should need to be dealt with in mid-February.

After that the president’s budget will hit the street in early March.

I suspect it will be filled with "great" ideas to stop the budgetary bleeding on the backs of soldiers and retirees.

However, AUSA will be ready to engage in the fight and will be working hard to get Congress to side with our fighting men and women and retain the benefits and compensation they have earned through service and sacrifice. Help us do so by renewing your membership and getting your friends and neighbors to join us in remaining the "Voice for the Army – Support for the Soldier."