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Sequestration erodes the Army’s capability to defend nation

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

The message to lawmakers at several recent Congressional hearings focused on the fiscal 2018 defense budget was simple: Sequestration and continuing resolutions have eroded the capabilities needed to defend the nation and its interests.

Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the 2018 defense budget is aimed at sustaining the Army and other services while promised growth must wait until 2019.

A one-year fix isn’t possible.

“It took us years to get into this situation. It will require years of stable budgets and increased funding to get out of it,” Mattis said in testimony.

In fact, Mattis said that he was shocked at the condition of military readiness when he returned to the Defense Department in January.

He noted, “While nothing can compare to the heartache caused by the loss of our troops during these wars, no enemy in the field has done more to harm the combat readiness of our military than sequestration.”

Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff, said the Army is addressing immediate needs.

“The Army has been forced to prioritize near-term readiness and now faces a shortage of critical capabilities and capacities in armor, air defense, artillery, and aviation. These deficiencies are made worse by manpower shortfalls in critical military specialties and training resource constraints.”

Mattis and Dunford’s bottom line: Lift Budget Control Act caps to allow increased defense spending, pass the 2018 budget “in a timely manner” to prevent lapses, and permanently revoke sequestration.

In his appearances before Congress, Army Chief of Staff Gen Mark A. Milley echoed the defense leaders’ concerns.

If the Army doesn’t get its funding on time and cannot plan ahead because the size of the budget remains uncertain, the slow steady progress it hopes to make will be disrupted. If the flow of funding is interrupted “we will eventually, in the not too distant future, have a hollow army and put soldiers at risk on the battlefield.”

Milley said the top funding priority is increasing the number of soldiers, a move authorized by Congress last year and now fully funded with the 2018 budget request.

In fact, he said that under-manning is the most serious issue facing the force, making it the highest funding priority.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, said the Army has 186,000 deployed soldiers today but only three of its 58 brigade combat teams are at the highest level of readiness.

The slightly larger 2018 budget is helping but at the current pace of spending the Army couldn’t fix its readiness shortfalls until 2020.

What’s in the budget?

The President’s budget request for fiscal 2018 proposes $607 billion in defense discretionary spending and $560 billion in non-defense discretionary spending for fiscal 2018.

The Army is seeking $166 billion, an amount that includes $28.9 billion in overseas contingency funding.

The base defense budget includes requests for a 2.1 percent pay increase for troops, seeks authority for a base closure and realignment plan starting in 2021, and increases investment in military construction and family housing.

It also provides for a pay increase of 1.9 percent for the civilian workforce, while at the same time planning for a 1.5 percent reduction in the Army’s civilian workforce.

The budget request also contains proposals that would alter TRICARE reforms enacted by the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act.

Provisions that apply only to those who enter service after Jan. 1, 2018, would “create a two-tier system that will confuse beneficiaries and require DoD to administer two separate benefit packages for almost 50 years until all the grandfathered beneficiaries reach Medicare eligibility,” stated an information sheet released by Defense officials.

The president’s budget request proposes to “eliminate the grandfathering of beneficiaries who entered active service before January 1, 2018,” and would treat all beneficiaries the “same way from the perspective of out-of-pocket costs.”

Other provisions would:

  • “Modestly” increase TRICARE prescription drug co-payments, phased-in over a 10-year period. Prescriptions would continue to be filled at no cost to beneficiaries at military treatment facilities.
  • Increase premiums, co-pays, deductibles and catastrophic caps annually based on the increases in health care costs as measured by the growth in National Health Expenditures (NHE) per capita, rather than retiree Cost-of-Living-Allowances (COLA).
  • Medically retired members and their families and survivors of those who died on active duty would be treated the same as active duty Family Members and have no participation fee and lower cost shares.
  • Reduce TRICARE enrollment fees by 50 percent for retired beneficiaries who are covered by other health insurance.

It’s important to remember that the president’s budget request is that – a request. As this goes to print, the House Armed Services Committee will mark up its version of the fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill.

The Senate panel’s markup will follow shortly thereafter.

AUSA and its leadership will closely monitor their progress and will weigh in when necessary.