7 January 2016 Legislative News Update
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Thursday when Congress is in session.
An end-of-the-year review shows the Association of the U.S. Army was part of some major legislative successes in 2015. They included raising budget caps so the Army could get more funding, securing equal pay raises for soldiers and Army civilians, protecting military health care and commissary benefits, adequately funding dependent education programs, and improving suicide prevention and sexual assault prevention programs.
“AUSA works diligently with Congress, the Department of Defense and industry, and in alliance with our fellow military and veterans’ service organizations, to achieve our mission,” said the “Some Good News” report, which was prepared by AUSA’s Institute of Land Warfare. “While there is still much work to be done, we can report some success toward reaching our goals.”
Successes include securing a two-year reprieve from sequestration, the automatic budget-cutting process that hurts military readiness and requires wide cuts in programs. The sequestration reprieve and raising budget caps were temporary victories because the two damaging fiscal initiatives will be a threat again in 2018, making them issues AUSA will continue to fight.
Retired Lt. Gen. Guy C. Swan III, AUSA’s vice president for education, said the 2015 report covering the first session of the 114th Congress “demonstrates overall the role that AUSA plays in representing every American soldier and the dedicated civilians of the Department of the Army. AUSA is a voice for America’s Army, fostering public support of the Army’s role in national security.”
“There is still much work to be done, given today’s volatile national security environment that necessitates a focus on maintaining the readiness of the current force, development of the future force, sustainment of the all-volunteer force and enhancement of existing partnerships among industry, academia and the media,” Swan said. “Nevertheless, AUSA is pleased to outline the work that has recently been accomplished in working toward all of these goals.”
The association was also part of the effort to secure funding to develop and field equipment to enhance soldier survivability and combat effectiveness. Both the Apache helicopter and Stryker combat vehicle received funding to improve efficacy on the battlefield. The Humvee’s replacement, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, began production in late 2015.
Army civilian pay raise equality and soldier transition assistance were also successes in 2015. AUSA was part of an effort to ensure Army civilians received the 1.3 percent pay raise in tandem with military personnel. AUSA was able to compel Congress to fund soldier transition programs and establish a Job Training and Post-Service Placement Executive Committee within the current DoD-Department of Veterans Affairs Joint Executive Committee.
AUSA’s efforts also focused on retired Army personnel in efforts to protect TRICARE and Medicare benefits. The association worked with Congress to ensure doctors are paid a competitive fee for treating Medicare and TRICARE patients, and to develop a new system of paying doctors that should improve patient coverage. AUSA was also active in working with Congress to reject TRICARE for Life enrollment fees and increases in TRICARE fees and deductibles. The association notes there is still work to be done in this area.
AUSA was able to work on morale and welfare issues as well. The association insisted on funds to address the educational needs of military families; Congress responded by authorizing $30 million in DoD Impact Aid for schools educating large numbers of military-connected children, and authorizing $5 million to support local public schools educating military children with severe disabilities.
Commissary and exchange benefits were a hot issue in 2015. AUSA was part of an effort to successfully reject the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce the commissary subsidy and reduce store hours by adding $281.2 million to continue the current policy and requiring a “budget neutral” plan to hold the annual subsidy at its current level of $1.4 billion.
The association pushed for a fully funded suicide prevention program. Congress responded with the authorization of a DoD program that will coordinate its efforts with non-governmental suicide prevention organizations. Also, AUSA demanded a fully funded sexual harassment and assault response program. In 2015, Congress required DoD to establish an advisory committee on the investigation, prosecution and defense of sexual assault charges in the armed forces. Additionally, Congress required DoD to establish protections for members of the armed forces who intervene on behalf of victims; develop a plan to improve prevention and response to sexual assaults of male service members; and enhance sexual assault prevention training for commanders, administrators and instructors of ROTC units.