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14 July 2016 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Thursday, July 14, 2016

WHERE WE STAND

House and Senate conference negotiations on the fiscal 2017 defense authorization bill are underway.  Lawmakers on committees that share jurisdiction on some provisions offered their views in a closed-door meeting with the leaders of the Armed Services Committee leaders.   

Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., said the meeting provided a “very fruitful discussion,” while his House counterpart, Mac Thornberry, R-Texas said the committees are “off to a good start.”

A letter sent to McCain and Thornberry as well as the top Democrats on the committees, Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., from AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition, outlined the Coalition’s position on many of the provisions contained in the defense policy bills.

The Military Coalition, a consortium of uniformed services and veterans associations, represents more than 5.5 million currently serving, retired and former service members and their families and survivors. 

The July 14 letter highlighted several key areas Coalition members thought warranted extra attention.

Force levels

In accordance with AUSA’s long-standing position with regards to higher end strength – the House bill increases Army end strength by 5000; Army National Guard by 8000 and Army Reserve by 7000.  Although Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain fought to increase end strengths in his committee’s bill, he was ultimately defeated.  The Coalition urges lawmakers to find a way to adopt the House increase.

Pay Raise

AUSA and The Coalition believes that military personnel deserve the same annual raise as the average American’s, as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI).  The Coalition supports the House-proposed 2.1 percent pay raise for 2017, and again, thanks Sen. McCain for supporting a floor amendment to do the same in the Senate bill.  Again, our hope is the final bill will include the full-ECI 2.1 percent raise.

Basic Allowance for Housing

The Senate’s version of the NDAA contains two proposals that would target nearly every service member in the coming years.  One would tie BAH to a service members’ actual housing costs rather than the flat-rate stipend.  The other would unfairly penalize dual-military couples or those who share housing by dividing BAH by the number of service members in domicile.

Dividing BAH by the number of service members in domicile would unfairly penalize dual-service families of which 80 percent are in our enlisted force.  It would also disproportionately target women since approximately 20 percent of women on active duty are in dual-military marriages, compared to 3.7 percent of active-duty men.  Recruiting and retention could suffer as well as the culture and environment needed to keep our military open and welcoming to military families. 

Military Healthcare Reform

AUSA and TMC has several concerns about both chambers’ proposals.  These include:

  • No fees should be increased until after improvements in care access and quality have been addressed.
  • Both the Senate-proposed fees and House-proposed fees for new entrants are disproportionately high.
  • TMC supports grandfathering provisions in the House bill.  We do not believe any enrollment fee is appropriate for TRICARE Standard, but the House 2020 enrollment fee provision is preferable to the Senate provision.
  • No enrollment fees should be charged for active duty servicemembers or their family members, as the House provision would do for entrants after Jan 1, 2018. 
  • TMC supports the Senate provision making it explicit there should be no enrollment fee for TFL beyond the Medicare Part B premium.
  • Beneficiaries who live in areas where TRICARE has no provider network should have a reduced fee structure.  They not only have no network choice, but they cost DoD less than Prime beneficiaries do.
  • The PPO network must be broader than the Prime network.  It should not be limited to MTF localities, but include other areas where there are large populations of eligible beneficiaries.
  • Retired members residing in areas where Prime is offered should be allowed to enroll in Prime, whether or not MTF care is available for them.
  • SecDef should have the authority to reduce or eliminate fees for high-value services or medications, but Congress should reserve to itself authority to raise fees and cost-shares.
  • Any annual adjustments for any TRICARE fee should be based on the same COLA mechanism as military retired pay.  Fees should not grow faster than income does.

Congress leaves town at the end of the week for an extended summer recess.  A final bill will not be unveiled until after Labor Day when they return.