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19 April 2014 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Saturday, April 19, 2014

weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session.

  

In this issue:

  • WE’RE HEARING

 

★★★

WE’RE HEARING:

--that key members of Congress have expressed their reluctance to make any sweeping changes to military pay and compensation until the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission completes its work in February 2015.  House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters last week that while military benefits are overdue for reform, his preference would be to wait until the Commission completes its work before making any significant policy changes.

“I think it needs to be a big approach; we need to look at the whole package,” McKeon said. “It’s much better to do it all at one time than to be hitting [troops] a little bit every year. After a while, it really hurts morale.”

Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the Armed Service’s Personnel Subcommittee agreed with the chairman.  Davis said in a recent hearing, “Our nation, as we know, is facing difficult economic times. With the threat of sequestration in F.Y. '16 and beyond, the department will be faced with making very difficult decisions.

“And if we do not make any changes to personnel costs, it will mean that there will be less sources for those who do remain in uniform to train and be prepared to win our nation's wars.

“That said, I also think that we need to take into account the work of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission to ensure that we understand the cumulative effects of all of these changes and the potential impact to the recruitment and the retention of the all-volunteer force.” 

In written testimony for that same hearing, AUSA’s President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., reiterated his firm belief that any changes to the military retirement system should be withheld pending the report of the Commission and not be made piecemeal.  Sullivan said that “any changes must apply only to those who volunteer after the changes are implemented.  Grandfathering of the currently serving force and current retirees is imperative.  Finally, any change must recognize the unique and extraordinary demands and sacrifices that military service requires.  The profession of arms is not equivalent to a civilian job.” 

--that the picture on the proposals contained in the FY15 Defense budget request will be clearer when the House Armed Services Committee starts the markup the 2015 defense authorization bill (H.R. 4435).  The markup is scheduled to start on April 30 and should be wrapped up by the full committee on May 7. 

--that the House Appropriations Committee has approved the FY15 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.  The measure contains funding to train and equip troops, provide housing and services to military personnel and their families, maintains base infrastructure, and funds veterans’ benefits and programs.  The legislation provides $71.5 billion in discretionary funding – a cut of $1.8 billion below the fiscal year 2014 level.  A statement released by the committee said, “This reduction will not negatively affect projects or services on which troops and veterans rely.  Instead, the bill provides less funding than the previous year for military construction, largely due to a lack of new need for such projects, while increasing funding for veterans programs by $1.5 billion.” 

The Veterans’ Affairs portion of the bill totals $158.2 billion, of which $64.7 billion would be discretionary funds. 

Members of both parties said the measure would help VA’s efforts to reduce its backlog of pending claims.  The bill also would include $173 million for the Veterans Benefits Management System, the department’s paperless claims system, and would continue existing claims processing reporting requirements.  The bill will now head to the House floor for consideration. 

Markup of the Senate’s version of the bill is expected around May 22. 

--that the Pentagon has released a detailed description of the impact budget caps could have on military capability.  The report, "Estimated Impacts of Sequestration Level Funding, states that, “The automatic reductions required by the budget agreement would impose significant cuts to Department resources that would significantly increase risks both in the short- and long-term. These cuts would be in addition to several reductions in planned funding that the Department has already absorbed. Over the past several years, planned DoD spending has already been reduced by taking actions that totaled almost $600 billion.  

The report says that “with the addition of projected sequestration-level cuts for FY 2016 through 2021, reductions to planned defense spending for the ten-year period from FY 2012 to 2021 will exceed $1 trillion.  If sequestration-level cuts persist, our forces will assume substantial additional risks in certain missions and will continue to face significant readiness and modernization challenges. These impacts would leave our military unbalanced and eventually too small to meet the needs of our strategy fully.” 

Follow this link to read the full report.   

--that TRICARE is now re-enrolling some in their Prime program.  The FY2014 National Defense Authorization Act provided beneficiaries dis-enrolled from TRICARE Prime due to the Prime Service Area (PSA) changes, a "one-time" election to continue in TRICARE Prime under certain conditions. 

To be eligible to make this one-time election to reenroll in TRICARE Prime, dis-enrolled beneficiaries must reside: (1) in a ZIP code that was a PSA as of Sept. 30, 2013, and (2) within 100 miles of a military medical treatment facility. 

At the end of the month, letters will be mailed to approximately 76,000 TRICARE beneficiaries advising them of their "one-time" enrollment option and the re-enrollment process.  Beneficiaries will have until June 30, 2014, to make their election.  Beneficiaries who choose not to re-enroll will not need to take any action.   

--that the House voted 219-205 on a budget plan Republicans say will balance federal spending with revenue within 10 years and would put the U.S. on a path to prosperity. The budget leans heavily towards national security over other federal spending.  Domestic programs would be reduced by $791 billion from fiscal 2016 to 2024, while defense spending would be $483 billion more than envisioned under current law.  The bill has absolutely no chance of becoming law.  The Democratic-led Senate doesn’t plan to consider a budget blueprint. 

--that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., is no fan of the DoD proposal to slash commissary funding.  At a recent hearing, Mikulski said, I don’t think we ought to cut the commissary budget. ... I think if we want to look at the stress military families are facing, we need to look at their activities of daily living and look at this holistically. ... [The commissary] is one of the most important tools you have for the health and well-being of the military and the garrisons in this country.”  Mikulski said at a time when thousands of junior troops and families use food stamps, it’s inappropriate to increase their grocery budget. 

“There’s the stress of being on the battlefield and there’s the stress of being a soldier.  We wonder why they smoke, why they overeat the wrong foods, why aren’t they eating kale and quinoa?  Why aren’t they at Whole Foods and watching Dr. Oz and being healthy?  They are just trying to get food,” Mikulski said. 

The DoD proposal calls for funding stores in remote areas and overseas out of the $400 million, while other commissaries would operate more like base exchanges, which receive no taxpayer subsidies.