21 January 2015 Legislative News Update

Association of the United States Army Logo - Eagle with Shield, Torch, Olive Branch
Wednesday, January 21, 2015

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




In this issue:

  • Storm Clouds Gathering?
  • General Sullivan's Remarks
  • HASC Chairman's Comments On Sequestration
  • Veteran Mental Health Legislation
  • The Retired Pay Restoration Act (HR 303)




STORM CLOUDS GATHERING?  In remarks made to troops on his farewell tour, outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said that, “The future of military compensation, including retirement and health care, will become a top political issue in a few weeks when a commission empaneled by Congress releases the results of its two-year study.”

“I think this will be as big an issue over the next year as there is, and it should be, because you are talking about that entire compensation package for all of you and your families.  I think this year will be the beginning, with those commission recommendations, of where we start moving forward on making some of these calls.”

Of course Hagel is talking about the same thing all of us in the defense world are discussing - the upcoming report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.  The report will drop on 1 Feb.

Hagel did stress the importance of grandfathering today’s service members under the existing retirement system.  “This country cannot afford you, all of you, being worried about your future retirement, your future benefits, your future pay — we want you focused on your job.  He continued, “We cannot sustain the current trajectory that we are on with the current system we have.  We’ve got to address this and we have to be honest about it and we have to deal with it.”

AUSA PRESIDENT GEN. GORDON R. SULLIVAN, USA, RET., addressed some of the issues raised by Secretary Hagel in a column this week in Breaking Defense.

Sullivan said that the budget needs to be stabilized.  “We need to drive a stake through the heart of sequestration so there is stability and certainty in the budget process.  The Army already was hurt by this budget-forcing gimmick that was supposed to be so terrible to contemplate that Washington’s political class was supposed to do everything to avoid it.”

He also stressed that now is the time for a true Total Force discussion:  “Unhealthy and unnecessary friction in the Total Force is a consequence of the larger budget pressures facing the Army.  We need to make certain the suboptimal decisions foisted on the Army’s leaders don’t damage the overall cohesiveness of what is shaping up to be a much smaller active, Guard and Reserve force.”

Sullivan urged that the Administration and Congress Stop Scaring People!  “Soldiers and their families are being worn down by constant discussion about cutting pay and benefits, to the point where the conversation might be more damaging than the outcome.  Soldiers and their families already have endured years of discussion about how rising personnel costs are hurting national security, and listened to proposals to cap pay raises, increase out-of-pocket expenses for housing and health care, and reform military retirement.”

Sullivan concluded his column by saying, “With ongoing budget cuts in all categories, at some point the nation needs to accept the reality that our most precious, capable, and flexible weapon system is people.  Training and professional development of Army leaders at all levels might well be the secret sauce which assures success on future battlefields.  Indeed, technology enables our warriors, but skilled and confident leaders will be needed to carry the day.”

HOUSE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN MAC THORNBERRY, R-TEXAS, told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute that the “problem with sequestration is not primarily about numbers and statistics.  It is about whether we have the capability to do what the nation needs and the times demand.  It is also very much about the increased danger that comes from diminished training, aging equipment, and a tempo of operations that stretches our people and their families too far.  It has to be fixed.  Even without sequestration, we have to make good decisions on our investments in people and technology.”  Hear, hear!

VETERAN MENTAL HEALTH LEGISLATION unanimously passed the House of Representatives this week.  Actually, it’s the second time it was approved.  The first time was at the end of the 113th Congress. 

The legislation, The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Bill would launch new community outreach efforts and recruit more psychiatrists to slow the nation’s estimated 22 veterans’ suicides each day.  It would also initiate a pilot program to repay student loans of psychiatry students, helping VA officials more quickly fill those specialty vacancies.

However, just as it did before, House members and supporters will have to wait for the Senate to move on the measure.  Last year, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked its passage, calling it redundant and rushed legislation.

This time though, the Senate could follow the House’s lead and quickly send the bill before the full chamber for a vote.  Since Coburn’s departure, no senators have publicly objected to the measure.

THANKS TO REP. GUS BILIRAKIS, R-FLA., for reintroducing the Retired Pay Restoration Act (H.R.303).

This bill, which AUSA has endorsed, would authorize the full concurrent receipt of retired pay and veterans' disability compensation for retirees with regular or Guard/Reserve retirements, regardless of disability rating. 

DID YOU KNOW that effective January 1, 2014, the Affordable Care Act required most Americans, including TRICARE beneficiaries and DoD employees, have minimum essential health care coverage, or pay a tax penalty for each month that you and the other individuals listed on your tax form did not have coverage during 2014? 

TRICARE has announced that if and your dependents are entitled to TRICARE or purchased TRICARE or Federal Employee Health Benefit (FEHB) Plan coverage, all you have to do to is “self-attest” you had coverage on your 2014 tax return.

Military beneficiaries who are only eligible for space available care in military clinics or hospitals do not have TRICARE coverage and would normally be subject to the tax penalty if they do not have minimum essential health care coverage from a non-DoD source.  However, those beneficiaries who are only eligible for “Space Available” care have received a special exemption from the tax penalty for tax year 2014.  These beneficiaries should document their status on Form 8695, Health Coverage Exemptions, and file it with their federal tax returns.