House oversight plan identifies several AUSA-supported areas

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Oversight plan for House defense panel released. The House Armed Services Committee recently released its draft oversight plan for the 112th Congress.

AUSA was pleased to see that in many areas, the oversight plan agrees with our 2011 Resolutions. (To see all of AUSA’s 2011 Resolutions, go to http://www.ausa.org and click on Legislative Agenda). The plan identifies specific areas and subjects that will receive special attention for the next two legislative years including:


Force Protection

Force protection will continue to be emphasized as a high priority issue for special oversight. The committee will focus on areas having direct impact on the safety of military personnel engaged in the current operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Additionally, the committee intends to expedite the promulgation of policies and the fielding of technology and equipment that prevents and/or reduces combat casualties. AUSA 2011 Resolutions 11-15 (Soldier Modernization) and 11-16 (Weapons Systems Modernization)


Force Readiness

The committee will hold force readiness as one of its highest priorities and will continue rigorous oversight in this area, focusing not only on the readiness of deployed personnel supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but on the ability of the services to conduct full-spectrum combat missions should the need arise.

The committee believes that shortfalls in full-spectrum readiness have developed over time due to the challenges of increased operational tempo, insufficient equipment and personnel availability, and inadequate dwell time to allow for full-spectrum training.

They will continue their oversight of the DoD’s efforts to remedy these shortfalls and restore full-spectrum combat capability.

Additionally, the committee intends to monitor the services’ reset strategies to repair, recapitalize, and replace equipment used in ongoing operations and will also closely monitor progress toward complete reconstitution of prepositioned stocks. AUSA 2011 Resolutions 11-07 (Resourcing the Army); 11-08 (Manning the Force); 11-09 (Resetting the Force); 11-10 (Training for Army Readiness); 11-11 (Power Projection); and 11-12 (Special Operations Forces)


End Strength

The committee vigorously opposes the Pentagon’s plan to reduce the Army and Marine Corps’ end strength starting in 2015.

According to the oversight plan, the committee "rejects that assertion because this budget oriented focus misses the fundamental question that the committee will assess: What does the nation need in terms of manpower and the quality of that manpower to meet its current and future global military commitments?

"The announcement of such cuts as a cost-savings measure appears to be premature when both military services are heavily engaged in two wars; when neither the Army nor the Marine Corps have achieved their dwell time goals so necessary to sustain a military force whose personnel are under severe stress; when such reductions portend increased use of the reserve components who also have yet to achieve dwell time objectives; when the Army struggles to ensure full manning of forces deploying to combat theaters; and there is no evidence available to the committee that a smaller Army and Marine Corps would be adequate to meet future contingencies or the war fighting requirements of the combatant commanders.

"The committee will closely scrutinize proposed manpower reductions, and will also continue oversight to ensure that the armed services – active, guard and reserve – can sustain themselves while minimizing the negative effects of fighting two wars simultaneously and be adequately manned to fight future contingencies. Within this focus, the committee will examine closely trends in force structure requirements, end strength, recruiting, retention and compensation." AUSA 2011 Resolution 11-08 (Manning the Force), Point 1.


Military Health Care System

The Defense Department has been very clear in their intention to raise some TRICARE fees. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently, "With the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, we will propose reforms in the area of military health care to better manage medical cost growth and better align the department with the rest of the country.

"These will include initiatives to become more efficient, as well as modest increases to TRICARE fees for working-age retirees, with fees indexed to adjust for medical inflation. Potential savings from these initiatives could amount to nearly $7 billion over the next five years."

The committee said that it is "committed to a robust military health system which provides quality health care for service members, retirees, and their families."

On the subject of fees, the document states: "The cost of providing health care to military beneficiaries will be a particular focus for the committee during the 112th Congress. The committee will continue to explore strategies to improve the health status of beneficiaries and control cost growth within the military health care system with particular emphasis the role of preventive care.

Additionally, to ensure that the military health system is efficient and effective, the committee will conduct oversight activities on how the military health system should be organized, programmed, and resourced."

AUSA has fought any increases in TRICARE fees and co-pays for many years and will continue to do so. Should increases come, we will argue for modest increases based on grade and tied to a legitimate benchmark like the employment cost index (ECI) so that health care costs will not erode the value of retired pay.

We will also urge a positive program to incentivize wellness that rewards healthy living. AUSA 2011 Resolution 11-05 (Army Health Care), Point 1


Military Family Readiness

The committee will continue to focus on the needs of military families and to identify the programs and policies that can be developed or modified to improve their lives.

In particular, the committee will review and assess the adequacy and efficacy of current Department of Defense and military service family support programs to ensure these programs are reaching military families and meeting their needs. AUSA 2011 Resolution 11-01 (Supporting Soldiers and Families)

Mental Health

A continued principal focus of the committee during the 112th Congress will be to assess the adequacy and effectiveness of mental health services provided to members of the armed forces and their families.

Particular attention will be given, but not limited to, the suicide prevention efforts undertaken by each military service and the interim results of the longitudinal study by the National Institutes of Mental Health and the Army on suicide and mental health issues in the Army.

This issue will and should remain at the top of the list. An Army report released Jan. 19 indicated that soldiers killed themselves in greater numbers in 2010 than the year before, with suicides among reservists nearly doubling.

The think tank Rand Corp. estimated in 2008 that a third of those who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from probable traumatic brain injury, major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or some combination of the three. That would mean that more than a half million people are affected. These are staggering numbers. AUSA 2011 Resolution 11-05 (Army Health Care), Paragraph 5 and Points 4, 7, and 18


Wounded Warrior Care

Another issue that should be at the top of everyone’s list is the care of our wounded warriors and their families. The committee said that they will continue their efforts to assess the adequacy of the Department of Defense policies and programs for wounded and disabled service members and their families.

The committee will also evaluate the Department of Defense’s ability to integrate and coordinate the multitude of services and resources available to assist the wounded and disabled, not only from other federal agencies, but also from the private sector.

The congressionally mandated Department of Defense centers of excellence will be reviewed for opportunities to expand capabilities and make improvements. In addition, the committee will continue to closely monitor translational research and treatment advances in traumatic brain injury.

Particular attention will be focused on improvements to the disability evaluation system including the on-going Disability Evaluation System pilot with a view to ensuring the fairness, effectiveness, and efficiency of the program and to simplify the process for service members. AUSA 2011 Resolution 11-05 (Army Health Care), Paragraph 4 and Points 5, 14, 16, and 21.

The next few months will be interesting as the GOP-controlled House of Representatives clashes with a Senate and White House led by Democrats. We can only hope that the critical issues facing our Army transcend partisan bickering.

Be assured that AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., and his staff will be watching closely and will take immediate action when necessary.