The Senate Armed Services Committee (SAC) is organizing itself to move forward with a busy agenda of defense policy issues and confirmations in the 115th Congress. As the new administration led by President Donald Trump takes over, the committee has made some significant changes in its leadership.
The top leadership will remain the same, with one-time presidential candidate and Navy veteran, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) remaining at the helm as chairman. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.), an Army veteran, will remain in place as the committee's ranking member. Five of the seven subcommittees have changed.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) will take over leadership of the SASC's new subcommittee on Cybersecurity. The new panel will oversee and legislate policies and programs relating to DOD's cyber forces and capabilities.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who was originally supposed to take over as the chairman of the Cybersecurity panel, chose instead to give up his seat as chairman of the Personnel Subcommittee and pass the gavel to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) in order to focus on his responsibilities as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs. Graham also chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism and would have required a waiver in the Senate in order to chair three different committee sub panels.
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) will turn over her chair of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Panel to Sen. Joni Erns (R-Iowa) and will chair the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Ernst is the first female veteran to serve in the Senate.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) will take over the Readiness and Support Subcommittee which focuses on military weapons modernization and development. He takes over leadership of the subcommittee from former Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, who lost her reelection bid last year.
The Airland Subcommittee will continue to be led by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), an Army and Iraq War veteran and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) will continue to chair the Seapower Subcommittee.
MOAA looks forward to working with the committee and its leadership on issues of importance to servicemembers and veterans and their families.
As the 115th Congress settles in, Republicans not only control both the Senate and the House, but also the White House for the first time in a decade. The GOP maintains control in the Senate by a margin of 52-48 and in the House by a margin of 238-194.
The Republican Steering Committee has approved Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas to return as the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. This will be his second term as Chairman, but there is a new raft of members on the committee because of retirements, primary defeats or runs for other office, including Randy Forbes of Virginia, Joe Heck of Nevada, Jeff Miller of Florida, John Kline of Minnesota, John Fleming of Louisiana, Chris Gibson of New York and Rich Nugent of Florida.
Democrats departed include Rep. Loretta Sanchez of California, the No. 2 ranking Democrat behind ranking member Adam Smith of Washington; Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who won her senate bid; Rep. Mark Takai of Hawaii, who died earlier this year; and retiring Rep. Gwen Graham of Florida. In total, the full committee is welcoming 16 new members - eight from each party.
A key change in HASC subcommittee leadership that affects MOAA's mission focus is the new leadership of the Personnel Subcommittee. Rep. Mike Coffman of Colorado's 6th congressional district replaces Joe Heck. Coffman is a military veteran who served in the Army and the Marine Corps in both an active and reserve capacity and now is in his 6th term. Susan Davis of California will remain as the Ranking Member.
Rep. Rob Wittman of Virginia will take over leadership of the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee. Wittman previously chaired the Readiness subcommittee and takes over for Randy Forbes who lost his primary election bid last year. Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut will remain the Ranking Member.
Joe Wilson of South Carolina, a long-time member of the Committee will take over on the Readiness Subcommittee with Rep. Bordallo of Guam remaining as the Ranking Member. Wilson is being replaced on the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee by Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York - a young rising leader in the House GOP. At 32 years of age, she is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress and is in her second term. Stefanik's home district includes the Army's Fort Drum. Rep. Langevin of Rhode Island will remain as the Ranking Member.
Mike Turner of Ohio will remain as the Chair of the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee as will Mike Rogers of Alabama on Strategic Forces, and Vicky Hartzler of Missouri on Oversight and Investigations.
MOAA looks forward to working with the leadership of the House Armed Services Committee as they begin their new terms.
1. Remove the sequester.
2. End disabled/survivor financial offsets and penalties.
3. Ensure TRICARE reforms sustains access to and performance of top-quality care.
4 Prevent disproportional TRICARE fee hikes and inordinate program changes.
5. End military pay-raise caps and restore pay comparability with private sector.
6. Guard against erosion of earned compensation and commissary benefits.
7. Sustain wounded warrior programs and expand caregiver support.
8. Credit Guard and Reserve call-ups for retirement purposes.
9. Improve and sustain spouse and family support.
10. Assure timely access to VA care and eliminate claims backlog.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act puts into law new requirements spanning many of DoD’s programs. Most notably, it will entail sweeping changes for the military health care system.
This newly signed legislation puts into law a number of MOAA’s priorities. Specifically, it:
* Secures a 2.1 percent military pay raise vs. the 1.6 percent pay raise proposed by the administration. The 2.1 percent pay raise matches the average American’s, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Cost Index.
* Stops the force drawdown and actually increases manpower levels, especially for the Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.
* Requires an array of reforms to improve beneficiaries’ access to timely and high-quality health care.
* Protects currently serving and retired beneficiaries from a variety of steep TRICARE fee increases proposed in the administration’s budget.
* Rejects a Senate proposal to cut housing allowances by $10,000 to $30,000 a year for dual-military couples and other servicemembers who share housing.
* Provides needed survivor benefit improvements: (a) extending the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) until May 2018 at $310 per month, and (b) increasing Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities for survivors of reservists who die during Inactive Duty Training, to match benefits provided for active duty deaths.
The long list of health care improvement requirements are aimed at addressing the systemic and chronic problems MOAA and others have highlighted with beneficiary access (appointments and referrals), quality of care, and safety and consistency of care.
They include changes in contracting, appointment and referral processes, and holding medical providers and commanders more accountable for productivity and consistency of beneficiary-centric care, especially in military facilities.
One major change affecting TRICARE Standard beneficiaries is that program will change, effective Jan. 1, 2018, to a preferred provider organization called TRICARE Select. Another big difference is all non-Medicare-eligible retired beneficiaries will be required to formally enroll every year in either TRICARE Prime or TRICARE Select, starting in 2018. Previously, only TRICARE Prime required a formal enrollment.
The Prime option, though largely unchanged, will be modernized such that the majority of referrals to specialists from primary care managers will no longer be required to go through a cumbersome pre-authorization process. Pre-authorizations for urgent care will also no longer be required.
All in all, MOAA believes the healthcare reforms required in the new law are very positives steps toward our goal of improving beneficiaries’ access to quality health care and elimination of administrative hassles beneficiaries have experienced too often.
Are you aware of the major issues and MOAA's legislative initiatives? Keep up to date on legislative action that affects you, your spouse, and your family, and then take action.
1. Ensure any TRICARE reform sustains top quality care.
Military health care recommendations from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission have the potential to stimulate major changes to military health care programs. MOAA will strive to ensure the problems with TRICARE are addressed in a systemic manner, programs that are working well are sustained, and problem areas are addressed to improve care, coverage, and readiness.
2. Prevent disproportional TRICARE fee increases.
A unique military health care plan is an essential offset to the arduous conditions in a military career. Any fee adjustment formula must recognize that military beneficiaries prepay very large premiums for their lifetime coverage through decades of service and sacrifice, and the country must have a higher obligation to them than what corporate employers demonstrate for their employees. To that end, a percentage increase in military beneficiaries' health care fees in any year should not exceed the percentage increase in their military compensation. MOAA adamantly will resist proposals to make military health care programs more like those offered by civilian employers and that add thousands of dollars a year to military beneficiaries' costs.
3. Sustain military pay comparability with the private sector.
Congress worked to improve military pay after previous pay raise caps caused retention problems. For 2016, the military pay raise was capped at 1.3 percent, 1 percentage point below the 2.3 percent private sector pay growth, as measured by the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Employment Cost Index (ECI). This is the third consecutive year of capping military raises below the statutory ECI standard, and the president's budget envisioned additional caps for six consecutive years. Past history with military pay raise caps shows they continue until they hurt retention and readiness. MOAA strongly objects to further planned pay caps. This unwise process generated retention crises in the 1970s and '90s. Sustaining pay comparability is essential to long term retention and readiness.
4. Block erosion of compensation and commissary benefits.
Protect against privatization, consolidation, reduction in services, or elimination efforts in commissary and exchange programs. Sustain funding support, and guard against diminution of this substantial benefit for active duty, reserve, and retired service members and their families and survivors.
5. Protect military retirement/COLAs.
Proposals to cap annual COLAs below inflation or to redefine and depress the Consumer Price Index for the purpose of geometrically depressing successive annual adjustments would break long standing statutory commitments to them. Accordingly, MOAA is gratified the FY 2016 NDAA repealed the final section of a COLA reducing law that was enacted two years ago for future military retirees. Under the repealed law, future military retirees would have had their annual COLAs capped 1 percentage point below inflation until age 62. MOAA was instrumental in repealing the COLA cap, with members sending more than 300,000 messages to Capitol Hill in just a few months. MOAA will continue to exert every effort to preserve the congressional intent, as expressed in the House Armed Services Committee Print of Title 37, U.S. Code, “to provide every military retired member the same purchasing power of the retired pay to which he was entitled at the time of retirement [and ensure it is] not, at any time in the future ... eroded by subsequent increases in consumer prices.”
6. Sustain wounded warrior programs and expand caregiver support.
A recent RAND Corp. study of caregivers found more than 1 out of 6 of our nation's 5.5 million caregivers are caring for post 9/11 veterans. Nearly 40 percent of these caregivers are under the age of 30 and will remain in the role of caregiver for decades to come. We must do more to support these caregivers who are providing an estimated $3 billion a year in services to our wounded, ill, and injured service members and veterans. Improvements to respite care, employment accommodations, and health care are a priority. Full time caregivers of severely disabled veterans from conflicts prior to Sept. 11, 2001, must be included in Caregiver Act services, support, and respite care. More must be done to ensure medical and benefit systems are providing continuity of care and coverage for wounded warriors of all services and components, including reasonable assistance, training, mental health and family marital counseling, and compensation for their dependent and nondependent caregivers. DoD and the VA have made progress toward increasing the number of behavioral health care providers, but timely access to qualified, appropriate mental health intervention and treatment remains difficult in many DoD and VA health care facilities. The shortage of mental health care providers results in increased referrals to civilian providers, many of whom have little knowledge or understanding of military culture and the unique needs of military families. Specialized training and military cultural awareness programs should be expanded for community providers to improve efficiency when working with service members and veterans and their families. The health and well¬being of the all-volunteer force has never been more critical. VA must have viable and effective systems of care and support that address all warrior physical, mental, and emotional issues, including managing pain, substance use, and complex trauma conditions. Senior commanders must continue to strengthen efforts to establish a command climate that eliminates stigma associated with seeking mental health care. Establishing a culture that encourages individuals to seek help as an act of strength rather than as a sign of weakness is central to transforming the willingness of service members to seek treatment.
7. End disabled/survivor financial penalties.
MOAA supports a plan to phase out the disability offset to retired pay for all disabled retired service members, with initial priority for those who were prevented from serving 20 years solely because they became severely disabled in service. MOAA will work with Congress, DoD, and the administration to advance this proposal as a further important step toward ending the offset for all disabled retirees. In addition, MOAA will continue to fight for full repeal of the deduction of VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) from Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities for survivors of service members who died of service connected causes. MOAA strongly believes when military service causes a service member's death, DIC should be paid in addition to SBP rather than being subtracted from it. To the extent funding cannot be obtained for immediate, full repeal, MOAA will seek interim steps to extend and substantially upgrade compensation for these most deserving survivors by supporting legislation to extend the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) beyond the current statutory expiration date of Oct. 1, 2017. Congress enacted SSIA as an interim means of easing financial penalties for survivors affected by the deduction of DIC from SBP. Since October 2008, qualifying surviving spouses have received gradually increasing monthly payments. The FY 2017 monthly allowance will be $310. It will be essential to include an extension provision in the FY 2017 defense bill to keep these survivors from experiencing a significant income loss.
8. Fix Guard/Reserve retirement.
Guard and Reserve families cannot be indefinitely burdened with irreconcilable tradeoffs between civilian employment, personal retirement planning, and family obligations. Operational Reserve policy requires reservists to serve one of every five years on active duty, though many already have served multiple combat tours equal to active force deployment cycles. Regardless of reemployment protections, periodic long term absences from the civilian workplace can only limit these service members' upward mobility and employability, as well as personal financial security. The new hybrid retirement plan (for service entrants on or after Jan. 1, 2018), composed of reduced retired pay and a matched 401(k) style system, will require robust financial education of all service members, including guard members and reservists, to protect their retirement interests.
9. Improve spouse and family support.
Preserve funding for family support; morale, welfare and recreation; exchange; commissary; and other critical support services and quality of life programs. Improve and enhance access to affordable, quality child care. MOAA recognizes the significance of continued crucial support of military family members bearing the brunt on the home front of over a decade at war. MOAA will work with Congress, DoD, and others in ensuring necessary family support and quality of life services across all components, installations, and communities. Military families with a special needs member face additional stressors. More must be done to enhance support services and health care for these families.
10. Assure timely access to the VA, and eliminate the VA claims backlog.
The VA must aggressively implement reforms to assure timely access to the quality care most enrolled veterans’ experience. Changes in leadership in some facilities, recruitment of separating DoD medical professionals, upgrades of clinical space, and an overhaul of the out of date scheduling system are needed. MOAA supports a comprehensive, strategic plan for VA health care delivery in the 21st century. The VA must double down on efforts to improve mental health care delivery and address the number of veteran suicides. The VA and DoD need to strengthen their collaboration in delivering long term medical and benefits counseling and caregiver support for catastrophically disabled veterans. To sustain VA services to the nation's veterans, two year funding across all VA accounts must be enacted. MOAA will continue to be watchful against any initiative that would force dual eligible beneficiaries, solely as a cost savings measure, to choose between the DoD and VA health systems.
If you have questions or concerns about MOAA's legislative goals please call the Member Service Center at 1-800-234-6622 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week new House Armed Services Committee Chairman, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), called for sequestration relief as one of his major priorities for the year, and warned Pentagon planners against proposing disproportionate cuts to military pay and benefits.
“The problem with sequestration is not primarily about numbers and statistics,” said Thornberry. “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…That fix has got to pass the House of Representatives, it’s got to pass the Senate, and it’s got to be signed into law by the president.”
The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 established automatic across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration and continues to place America’s national defense capabilities at great risk.
During the 2011 deficit reduction negotiations, the administration agreed to reduce the Pentagon’s budget by $487 billion over a ten year period. The later enactment of sequestration added $500 billion more in defense cuts.
The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 mitigated the spending cuts only in FY 2014 and 2015. Sequestration returns in full force in FYs 2016-2021 unless current law is changed. DoD will have to cut an additional $54 billion in FY 2016 and a total of $269 billion over the following five fiscal years.
The next two weeks promise to be a critical time for the military community. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) will release proposals to reform military compensation and health care in late January. The administration will roll out its FY 2016 budget proposal on 2 February.
Thornberry warned Pentagon planners against “nickel and diming [military] people to death” with proposals to cut military pay and benefits.
The Chairman expressed hope the MCRMC review could provide a forum for thoughtful discussion on the future of military compensation, as opposed to the yearly back-and-forth battles between Congress and the administration.
Thornberry’s comments indicate he may oppose burdening servicemembers, retirees, and families with a disproportionate share of budget cuts, but the ensuing debate will be the true litmus test.
President Obama did not directly address sequestration in his January 20 State of the Union address, but his February 2 budget proposal is expected to include a fix.
The administration’s FY 2016 budget proposal will be unveiled in less than two weeks.
What’s unclear is how the President might pay for budget relief. It could be through a combination of alternative spending cuts, closing corporate tax loopholes, and increasing the capital gains tax – all proposals laid out in his annual address.
Such a plan may collide with a fiscally-wary Republican-controlled Congress, but it could serve as an important starting point for negotiations.
Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel added urgency to repealing sequestration: “The progress we have made will quickly evaporate if sequestration returns in 2016. We need long-term budget predictability and we need the flexibility to prioritize and make the difficult decisions…we will not be able, this institution, to fulfill the commitments of the president’s defense strategies with the kind of continued abrupt, steep, large cuts that sequestration will demand.”
Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that sequestration’s across-the-board cuts must be avoided. Congress succeeded in passing a bipartisan proposal to temporarily avoid sequestration in FY 2014 and 2015. Agreement on a way to fund a new fix remains elusive.
The 114th Congress is now in office, and secretary of defense nominee Ashton Carter awaits confirmation. Many observers in the press are speculating what this turnover in congressional and Pentagon leadership means for the military community.
You can color me interested, too.
Carter is known within Pentagon circles as a reformer on acquisition costs, while incoming Armed Services Committee Chairs Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) also have signaled plans to tackle acquisition reform.
But acquisition will not be the only item these three will face.
There are several issues over the coming months that will drive the discussion. By Feb. 1, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) will issue its anticipated report detailing proposals to overhaul military compensation and personnel programs.
At the same time, the White House will release its FY 2016 budget request. The request must grapple with the budget caps established by sequestration that return in full force Oct. 1.
Somehow Congress will need to address the conflict between the budget submission, which is expected to exceed sequestration’s limits, and the caps established by the law.
Can Congress find cost-saving reforms in time? Acquisition reform can take years to yield savings. Sequestration’s budget rules limit where money can be cut to the point where Congress has forced itself to make the false choice between people programs or weapon systems. But infrastructure and weapons programs are political hot buttons that often generate “not in my backyard” cries from legislators.
What’s the quickest way to show savings in the accounting books? Draw down troop levels and shift personnel costs onto the backs of servicemembers and their families.
The next few months will include a flood of activity for the new secretary of defense, Congress, and MOAA, with political posturing and the formulation of defense bills. The question is whether the MCRMC recommendations will affect the FY 2016 defense bill process.
The first year of a new Congress provides greater opportunity to implement sweeping reforms. Legislators arrive in Washington emboldened by a sense of popular mandate in their first year, without the fear of an upcoming election.
It’s unlikely any MCRMC recommendations will be included in the White House budget submission, as budget planners have been working for months on the FY 2016 proposal. However, this won’t stop members of Congress from trying to include them in the defense bill markup process, especially if the proposals come with a blessing from Pentagon leadership.
That endorsement might come quickly. The Military Times already has reported Pentagon leaders plan to take a month to review the MCRMC recommendations and finalize a position for the new secretary — all in advance of the markup timelines.
MOAA’s biggest concern is that the new Congress will look at the Pentagon and the MCRMC proposals with the purpose of saving money or cutting the budget and will make decisions based on arbitrary budget caps, without considering how compensation and benefits are necessary to recruit and retain a high-quality all-volunteer force.
The bottom line: The next few months will be very busy, and we will need all hands on deck to make sure your voice on the pay and benefits needed to sustain the all-volunteer force is heard by legislators. We ask that you pay close attention to the report in early February and participate in MOAA’s grassroots efforts to ensure shortsighted budget savings don’t come at the expense of the health of the all-volunteer force.
An important update to the work by the 4th Branch to extend the provisions of the Bailey-Patton tax relief legislation to all eligible North Carolina retirees is discussed in a letter from the Federal Retiree Task Force of North Carolina Director Paul E. Sams. Click on download below to read.
The 4th Branch is a coalition representing military, federal, state and local public-service retirees working for fair and equitable treatment for all government retirees regarding taxation of earned retirement benefits.
Link: To learn more . . .