Sullivan: Dangers of 'hollow Army' caused by sequestration

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Defense committee chairman: Army restructure ‘Tip of the Iceberg.’ In response to the Army’s announcement that it is reducing end strength and reorganizing brigade combat teams, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., said, "As damaging as they are, these cuts don’t begin to reflect the crippling damage sequestration will do to our armed forces and national security. The committee will carefully examine the implications of this initial restructuring, but we all must understand that this is only the tip of the iceberg, much deeper cuts are still to come. America learned the hard way that our pre- 9/11 military was too small. Now, even before sequestration, we are reducing the force to that same size and foolishly expecting history to teach us a different lesson. What lessons will we learn when sequester doubles these cuts in just a few months’ time?"

The Army plans to reduce the authorized endstrength of the active Army from 570,000 to 490,000 and the Army National Guard from 358,000 to 350,000 and will inactivate a total of 12 BCTs.

In a press conference last week, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said, "The reduction of 80,000 soldiers or 14 percent from the active component will be completed by the end of Fiscal Year 2017. Let me be clear, we are taking these actions as a result of the Budget Control Act of 2011. This endstrength and force structure reduction predates sequestration. If sequestration continues into Fiscal Year 2014, Army reductions to endstrength, force structure and basing announced today will be only the first step."

Later in the press conference, Odierno reiterated, "I want to emphasize that these reductions do not reflect reductions due to sequestration. Full sequestration could require another significant reduction in active, guard, and reserve force structure as much as 100,000 combined."

AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan said that "Congress must find an alternative to sequestration. Everyone needs to be reminded of history’s lessons, of the dangers of a hollow Army that is called to fight the first battle of the next war – but without enough manpower, training or weaponry to do the job – of an Army which then pays the price of unreadiness in the blood of too many soldiers killed or wounded while they train the hard way – during war not before it."

House approves TRICARE Prime legislation. Legislation (H.R. 1971) that would require the Defense Department to offer the TRICARE Prime managed health care option in places where the department plans to discontinue the program was passed by the House as part of the defense authorization bill.

Due to a policy change, more than 170,000 veterans across the country who live outside 100 miles of a military treatment facility will lose access to TRICARE Prime on Oct. 1, 2013.

Introduced by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the legislation would afford every affected veteran the opportunity to continue their enrollment in TRICARE Prime or move to TRICARE Standard, depending upon which plan best fits their needs.

Since there is no similar provision in the Senate’s version of the authorization bill, whether or not it is included in the final bill will have to be negotiated in the House-Senate conference committee.

Progress made on VA claims backlog. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced that an initiative they launched in April to expedite disability compensation claims decisions for veterans who have a waited a year or longer has cleared more than 65,000 claims – or 97 percent of all claims over two years old.

Allison A. Hickey, VA’s under secretary for benefits, said the success of this phase of the effort was due in part to the implementation of mandatory overtime for the Veterans Benefits Administration’s claims processing staff, as well as the support of physicians from the Veterans Health Administration, who expedited exams to provide medical evidence needed to rate the pending claims.

In response to the VA’s statement, Rep. Jeff Miller, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said "Any progress toward eliminating the backlog is welcome news. But we cannot forget that the department is still far short of its own backlog performance benchmarks for 2013.

"Additionally, one can’t help but question how the department was able to process most of its two-year-old claims in just 60 days. If two months was all VA needed to adjudicate these claims, why did the department let them sit for two years or longer? Furthermore, what will happen to the backlog once VA employees are taken off of mandatory overtime and returned to regular duties? Nevertheless, when it comes to evaluating VA’s success in combatting the backlog, the two most important numbers are zero and 2015. In other words, this problem won’t be solved unless the backlog is at zero by 2015, just as VA leaders have promised."

Miller’s statement echoed what many lawmakers have been saying. A bi-partisan letter from 160 House members to President Obama urged that he become more involved in resolving the disability claims backlog.

Sixty-seven Senators sent their own letter to the president.

The remaining two-year-old claims will be finalized in the coming days, officials said, except for those that are outstanding due to unique circumstances, such as the unavailability of a claimant for a needed medical exam, military service, vacation or travel overseas.