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Sullivan urges fight against budget, manpower cuts

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

AUSA on the Hill. AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., recently met with Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to discuss AUSA legislative and educational activities, the role of land power in national defense and the ongoing budget crisis and the impact it will have on the military.

Sullivan urged McKeon to fight against defense budget and manpower cuts explaining that "boots on the ground" are crucial to the success of our national security objectives. 

Sullivan’s letter in the April 11 Army Times (which he provided to McKeon) outlined his conviction that the end strength of U.S. land forces is inadequate to accomplish the national objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

His letter to the editor stated, "Units, soldiers and leaders have had multiple combat tours, equipment is being consumed at a rate far exceeding replacement plans, and the U.S. is not positioned to respond to threats to vital national interest elsewhere or to advance U.S. objectives."

Sullivan said that instead of reducing end strength, the Obama administration should commit to a "significant expansion of active duty land forces’ end strength far beyond the inadequate growth recently announced by creating an operational force of at least 700,000 soldiers drawn from the active Army, National Guard and reserve." 

Sullivan and McKeon agreed to keep in touch as the Fiscal Year 2012 Defense Budget moves forward.

Hearing spotlights AUSA/Military Coalition objectives. Representatives of The Military Coalition, a consortium of nationally prominent uniformed services and veterans’ organizations of which AUSA is a member, participated in a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on April 13.

The coalition provided testimony on key legislative objectives and goals important to AUSA and its members.

In his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., acknowledged Congress is taking a very careful look at budgets and spending levels and that the Department of Defense is not immune to spending cuts. 

He also reiterated his stance on the Defense Department’s proposals related to TRICARE fee increases.  

He said, "I have declined to support the administration’s proposed fee increase for military health care for certain military retirees.  I start from the presumption that lifetime health care for career military personnel is part of a moral contract between our government and those who step forward to serve.  In my view, they have earned this benefit to their years of service and it would be wrong to change that benefit after they’ve held up their end of a moral contract." 

The Military Coalition witnesses and AUSA agreed with Webb.  

We believe that:

All retired service members earned equal health care coverage by virtue of their service.

Means-testing has no place in setting military health fees.

Congress should direct DoD to pursue any and all options to constrain the growth of health care spending in ways that do not disadvantage beneficiaries.

TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for nondisabled retirees under 65 should not be adjusted based on health cost increases for the broader population, as proposed by DoD.

It should be Congress’ responsibility, not the Defense Secretary’s, to establish appropriate and stable parameters governing crucial career retention programs such as the healthcare package for currently serving and retired military members and their families and survivors.

A written statement submitted by The Military Coalition to the subcommittee touched on other issues including:

Military Pay – The coalition urges against short-sighted proposals to freeze or cap uniformed services pay raises below private sector pay growth, and recommends a 2012 raise of at least 1.6 percent to match Employment Cost Index (ECI) growth.

Military Retirement – The coalition strongly opposes initiatives that would "civilianize" the military retirement system and inadequately recognize the unique and extraordinary demands and sacrifices inherent in a military career. 

Reducing incentives for serving arduous careers of 20 years or more can only undermine long-term retention and readiness, with particularly adverse effects in times of war.  Simultaneously increasing compensation for those who leave short of fulfilling a career would only compound those adverse effects.

Continuity of Health Care – The coalition recommends that service-disabled members and their families receive active-duty-level TRICARE benefits, independent of availability of VA care for three years after medical retirement to help ease their transition from DoD to VA. 

We would also like to ensure National Guard and reserve members have adequate access and treatment in the DoD and VA health systems for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury following separation from active duty service in a theatre of operations.

Active Forces and Families – The coalition urges the Subcommittee to sustain or increase end strength as needed to sustain the war and other operational requirements and enhance dwell time for service members and families; and sustain adequate recruiting and retention resources to enable the uniformed services to achieve required optimum-quality personnel strength.

Family Readiness and Support – The coalition recommends that the Subcommittee encourage DoD to assess the effectiveness of programs and support mechanisms designed to assist military members and their families with deployment readiness, responsiveness, and reintegration. We would like to see child care availability expanded as well as family access to mental health counseling.

We also urge Congress to support opportunities for military spouses to further educational and career goals, such as the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program, and would like to see implementation of flexible spending accounts to enable military families to pay health care and child care expenses with pre-tax dollars.

Retiree Issues – A longstanding goal of AUSA’s is to fully eliminate the deduction of VA disability compensation from earned military retired pay for all disabled retirees. 

We would also like for Congress to phase out the VA disability offset for all Chapter 61 (disability) retirees. 

Ending the deduction of VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan annuities (SBP-DIC offset) is another top goal. 

National Guard and Reserve – The coalition recommends:  Authorizing early retirement credit to all guard and reserve members who have served active duty tours of at least 90 days, retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001; eliminating the fiscal year limitation which effectively denies full early retirement credit for active duty tours that span the Oct. 1 start date of a fiscal year; and, modernizing the reserve retirement system to incentivize continued service beyond 20 years and provide fair recognition of increased requirements for active duty service.

Legislation would aid veterans who use GI Bill. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind., chairman of the VA Economic Opportunity Subcommittee have introduced the AUSA-supported Restoring GI Bill Fairness Act of 2011 (H.R. 1383).

H.R. 1383 will temporarily authorize the VA to pay tuition and fees on behalf of eligible veterans attending non-public education and training institutions under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, in an amount that is the greater of $17,500, or the maximum in-state rate for undergraduate tuition and fees in effect on Oct. 27, 2010.

This temporary change would prevent students who have already enrolled in high-cost non-public schools from experiencing a reduction in tuition and fees paid by VA on their behalf due to changes made under Public Law 111-377, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act of 2010.

"I am pleased to introduce this legislation to restore fairness and to ensure that no current student veteran will see their tuition and fee payments reduced," Miller said.