“Our team has analyzed issues of benefits and compensation common to servicemembers and veterans and their families and survivors. We plan to clearly communicate specific actions we will undertake this coming year to address concerns across these expansive topics,” said Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), vice president for Government Relations. “Please be sure to sign up for The MOAA Newsletter online for updates.”
[RELATED: Visit MOAA's Legislative Action Center]
Protect Your Health Care Benefit
Objective: Ensure any changes to the Military Health System sustain military-medical readiness and beneficiary access to top-quality care.
Overview: Access to quality health care is paramount for servicemembers and retirees and their families. MOAA continues to target our advocacy efforts at preserving a strong military medical system and keeping TRICARE effective and affordable for all beneficiaries who earned and rely on these health care benefits.
In recent years, servicemembers and retirees have carried the increased burden of paying more for their health care than most people think. The notion that these beneficiaries pay little to nothing for health care provides the fuel to raise TRICARE fees and copayments for lawmakers and administration officials to fund military readiness or other programs not directly related to health care or medical readiness.
The government should be doing more to stabilize and improve the TRICARE program and the Military Health System (MHS), rather than disproportionately shifting readiness costs to beneficiaries or enacting cuts to medical billets and health and research programs that provide essential operational support.
• Prevent disproportional TRICARE fee increases
• Stand down efforts to cut military medical billets and efforts to dismantle the MHS
• Stop cuts to the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, which provides education to uniformed health professionals, scientists, and leaders
Keep Military Pay and Benefits Strong
Objective: Sustain military pay comparability with the private sector and block erosion of compensation and non-pay quality-of-life benefits.
Overview: To support an all-volunteer force (AVF) essential to a strong national defense, our government must consistently provide our servicemembers with compensation commensurate with their service and sacrifice. Failing to do so has significantly eroded military pay and allowances, and adversely affected recruiting and retention. A steady and benchmarked military pay raise, tied to the Employment Cost Index (ECI) as called for in law, is the more stable approach to ensuring our troops are adequately compensated. Our uniformed services are in a war for talent in a diminishing recruiting pool, and maintaining pay, allowances, and improving quality-of-life programs and benefits are critical to national security.
• Ensure pay raises match the annual ECI index increase
• Protect housing allowances from programmatic changes that penalize military-to-military married couples and those with children
• Improve Defense Finance and Accounting Service quality and timeliness of support, and reduce existing backlog in services
• Protect commissary and exchange benefits and dividends which support military quality- of-life programs
• Approve flexible spending accounts for servicemembers in line with civilian employer programs
Support Military Families
Objective: Protect family support programs, and ensure military-provided services (housing, PCS, child care) are affordable, readily available, and meet quality standards.
Overview: Programs and services for military and veteran families are often the first to see cuts to staffing, quality, and availability when government funding becomes tight. These benefits are essential to ensure servicemembers are squared away and can focus on the mission. Additionally, military spouses play a vital role in a servicemember’s decision to stay in the military. When DoD prioritizes people first, it can retain a mission ready all-volunteer force.
• Improve comprehensive housing reform and accountability
• Improve accountability of contract movers and claims during PCS moves
• Create incentives to increase quality child care provider accessibility and capacity options
• Include military spouses as a target group for the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and improve occupational licensure transitions
• Preserve Parole in Place and improve paths to citizenship for servicemembers and families
Concurrent Receipt for All Retirees
Objective: End concurrent receipt penalties for military retirees.
Overview: Since 2004, Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments authorized the concurrent receipt of retirement pay and disability pay for those who retired with a rating over 50% by the VA. Unfortunately, those who retired with less than a 50% rating from the VA and those who did not reach the 20-year mark and were medically retired under Chapter 61 do not receive the compensation they deserve. Incremental improvements to concurrent receipt that include Chapter 61 retirees and those retired with a 40% rating is the next step to extending concurrent receipt to military retirees.
[RELATED: Understanding Concurrent Receipt]
• Approve concurrent receipt for Chapter 61 retirees
• Approve concurrent receipt for service-connected disabled retirees rated 40% and below
Support the Total Force
Objective: Achieve equity of benefits, protections, and administrative support for Guard/Reserve members consistent with their active duty counterparts.
Overview: National Guard and Reserve troops are an essential part of America’s national defense strategy. Over the past two decades, they have been used in an operational capacity, constantly serving on domestic and international missions to help protect our country. Despite conducting the same duties as their active duty counterparts, they are not receiving the same credit for their active time. To support our servicemembers in reserve components, changes must be made to reflect the total force mentality.
• Eliminate Guard/Reserve retirement pay processing delays
• Ensure timely health care benefit for Guard/Reserve retirees
• Expand Military Lending Act protections and support
• Expand GI Bill parity for their service
Better, Faster DoD/VA Services
Objective: Ensure timely access to service-earned benefits, and resist proposals to erode foundational services delivered through the VA and DoD.
Overview: MOAA believes in promoting national recognition and understanding of military service and how health care and benefits are earned through service in uniform, which are qualitatively different from “entitlement” or “social welfare” programs. While we recognize the fiscal pressures Congress is under, MOAA considers it our obligation as a leadership organization to do what is right for veterans and their families, and to do all we can to make them as whole as possible as they live out their lives once they take off the uniform. As such, we oppose decisions that erode foundational services and benefits delivered through the VA and DoD or decisions that degrade health care and benefits.
The honor, dignity, and respect of a veteran at the time of their burial is an essential component to these benefits, so resources should be provided to meet the demand of those seeking burials at cemeteries across the nation.
• Enhance suicide prevention programs and access to behavioral health care
• Assure appropriate health care and benefits for service-connected exposures
• Strengthen and preserve support services for servicewomen and women veterans
• Improve wounded warrior and caregiver programs
• Implement the VA MISSION Act and identify legislative improvements
• Preserve earned military-veteran burial benefits
Strengthen and Support All Uniformed Services
Objective: Support legislation, policies, and programs to enable the seven uniformed services to recruit, retain, and manage personnel.
Overview: During a 35-day government shutdown in January 2019, servicemembers of the Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and NOAA worked without pay. To sustain all services’ ability to perform missions critical to national security, lapses in appropriations or budget concerns should not affect earned compensation and benefits. Additionally, federal statutes that support the armed forces’ ability to grow and maintain their force should apply equally across the uniformed services, depending on mission needs.
The morale, welfare, and readiness of servicemembers are negatively affected by incidents of sexual harassment and assault. To foster a culture of trust with servicemembers, there must not only be confidence in the chain of command that it is safe to report a sexual assault or incident of harassment, but also the assurance that servicemembers see immediate administrative and legal justice.
• Sustain continuous and timely appropriations for whole of government
• Ensure the continuity of pay and benefits during lapses in appropriations
• Ensure authorizations and appropriations for the Coast Guard, Public Health Service, and NOAA Corps to meet expanding mission needs.
• Ensure implementation of sexual harassment and assault reporting programs through expanded protection of the safe to report program, and strengthen deterrence measures for sexual harassment prevention through command administrative actions for substantiated sexual harassment investigations
“In 2019, MOAA Government Relations will engage the 116th Congress early and often on issues of greatest importance to our members, the men and women in our uniformed services, their families, and their survivors,” says Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), vice president of Government Relations. “As military experience among members of Congress has declined over the years, with just over 17 percent having experience in uniform at the onset of 2019, these goals are instrumental to our efforts to inform and influence members of Congress and their staffs.”
The split political power between the two houses promises to bring new challenges and opportunities. Those cannot be addressed until the new Congress is sworn in and committee assignments have been finalized.
However, a first step in any new congressional session is to reintroduce legislation that was not passed in the previous legislative cycle. MOAA's national and grassroots supporters will work directly with members of Congress to ensure our interests are properly represented by proposed and reintroduced legislation. Here are the legislative action goals for 2019:
The Goal: Ensure any TRICARE reform sustains access to top-quality care.
Background: Access to quality care is paramount for all beneficiaries in TRICARE programs and VA Community Networks - regardless of location. Access has been enhanced by technology, such as the DoD-VA Electronic Health Record and the expansion of telehealth capabilities.
MOAA's Stance: Savings gained from reforms should benefit the health care system and beneficiaries. Military treatment facilities (MTFs) remain instrumental to an operational medical force, which is necessary to support a military ready force, and should continue to support beneficiary care to sustain medical training platforms.
Actions: Strengthen our partnership with Defense Health Agency (DHA) working groups and executive sessions. Engage the Military Coalition's Healthcare Committee. Continue to administer and drive results of MOAA's health care surveys. Closely monitor the new role DHA has for oversight of MTFs.
The Goal: Prevent disproportional TRICARE fee increases.
Background: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently introduced, as a potential option, TRICARE for Life enrollment fees and minimum out-of-pocket requirements as ways the federal budget could escape red ink. Independent of the CBO report (PDF), DoD and Congress have stated retiree health care costs are spiraling out of control, and beneficiaries do not pay enough for their health care. Based on DoD's own data, MOAA knows this is not true - the difference is attributable to rising institutional and readiness costs. Despite that, the report and the ongoing budget pressure have turned TRICARE For Life into a potential target for fee increases to offset readiness or other programs.
MOAA's Stance: Military retirees, through their service and sacrifice, have paid in full for their TRICARE For Life benefits. Congress - not DoD - should determine appropriate TRICARE fees.
Actions: Reverse or significantly decrease the 2018 TRICARE Prime copayment increases for grandfathered/Group-A beneficiaries. Modify fee structure to reduce out-of-pocket costs for successive specialty appointments, such as physical therapy or mental health care. Protect TRICARE For Life as a second payer to Medicare Part B.
The Goal: Sustain military pay comparability with the private sector.
Background: A residual 2.6-percent pay-raise gap still exists between servicemembers and private-sector civilians, attributable to three years of pay-raise caps. Political pressure to reduce costs might lead Congress to again cap military pay raises, widening the pay-raise gap between military and civilians.
MOAA's Stance: As the cost of labor increases across the nation, so too should the paychecks of our uniformed servicemembers. Adequate pay and allowances - including competitive raises - are key to recruiting and retaining an effective all-volunteer force. This issue affects all currently serving uniformed personnel and their families, and succeeding on this issue has a positive, far-reaching impact. Any pay raise set by the FY2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) must match the Employment Cost Index (ECI) increase of 3.1 percent -- anything lower will make the pay gap wider.
Actions: Maintain continuous, unified messaging to legislators and service leadership, advising annual military pay raises approved by Congress correlate with ECI to help overcome damage done by the three recent pay caps (2014-2016). Coordinate with The Military Coalition to address this wide-reaching imperative of support to those in uniform, and seek closure of the 2.6-percent gap as soon as feasible.
The Goal: Stop erosion of compensation and non-pay quality-of-life benefits.
Background: Other components of compensation are equally essential to recruiting and retaining the all-volunteer force. Political pressure to reduce costs could encourage Congress to reconsider the calculations for the basic allowance for housing (BAH), as it has done in recent years. First was an attempt to do away with BAH for dual-military families. The following year, Congress attempted to do away with the with-dependent rate BAH for those dual-military couples with children.
MOAA's Stance: Other pays and allowances are essential to shaping the force with the proper skill sets and experience. As the Blended Retirement System matures, these pays will become even more important to recruiting and retention.
Actions: Continue to oppose proposals to reduce compensation or undermine long-term retention. Assess progress of the Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation's review of Regular Military Compensation and potential changes to a salary system.
The Goal: End financial penalties for military survivors.
Background: Nearly 67,000 military survivors lose between $900 and $1,500 per month due to the widows tax. The widows tax is the amount of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payment offset by Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).
MOAA's Stance: SBP and DIC are two different payments for two different reasons. The offset should be eliminated, and DIC should be improved to align with other federal survivor benefits. Additionally, survivors' and dependents' educational assistance benefits should be increased.
Actions: Ensure legislation is introduced in the 116th Congress to address survivor benefits. Educate legislators, staffers, and other stakeholders about the inequities. Mobilize MOAA members and The Military Coalition to engage and press for legislation to be included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
The Goal: End concurrent receipt penalties for military retirees.
Background: Retirees with a 40-percent or lower disability rating and those with a 30-percent or higher disability rating who are forced to retire before completing a full 20-year military career, are prohibited from receiving military retired pay concurrent with VA disability compensation. Political pressure to keep budget costs down has remained the main threat to getting legislation passed to end these financial penalties.
MOAA's Stance: All eligible retirees should receive both retirement and disability compensation.
Actions: Ensure legislation is introduced in the 116th Congress to address Chapter 61 inequities. Educate legislators and congressional staff about the impact these financial penalties have on some of our most vulnerable retirees. Mobilize our membership and The Military Coalition to engage Capitol Hill.
The Goal: Achieve equity of benefits for Guard and Reserve members with their active duty counterparts.
Background: An operational Guard and Reserve is an essential component to the national defense strategy because they make up approximately 38 percent of U.S. uniformed manpower.
MOAA's Stance: Achieving pay and benefits parity with active duty forces is vital to recruiting, retaining, and sustaining forces for the Guard and Reserve supporting our nation's defense strategy.
Actions: Encourage Congress to advance equal pay and benefits for similar service by the Guard and Reserve relative to active duty troops. Build partnerships with federal agencies, such as the Department of Labor, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and state governors to expand and strengthen employer support for Guard and Reserve members. Appeal to The Military Coalition and its Guard and Reserve Committee to expand influence and reach in all areas affecting pay and benefits issues
The Goal: Strengthen DoD-VA collaboration and services to support wounded warriors and an expanding population of women veterans.
Background: Programs developed to support wounded warriors and their families and caregivers since Sept. 11, 2001, continue to be essential to readiness and the war-fighting mission of the future. Veterans who served in past and current wars still struggle to obtain needed benefits due to the lack of congressional action on key issues, particularly toxic exposures and their long-term impacts. The Pentagon has worked to forge collaborative relationships with other government and nongovernment agencies - most significantly the VA. Also evolving is a greater appreciation for the specific differences in health care and support for women veterans.
MOAA's Stance: Improving upon this collaboration will require investments in leadership, resources, and funding - to include oversight and reporting.
As we progress, DoD's and the VA's evolving systems must continue in sync and remain fully aligned to delivering seamless care and benefits.
Actions: Monitor the FY 2019 NDAA requirement for a review and assessment of DoD and service wounded warrior programs. Seek legislation forcing the VA to address known gaps in benefits to veterans. Involve the Military Coalition's Veterans Committee to expand influence and reach in all areas affecting veterans' issues. Engage and advocate on behalf of the VA - when needed - to ensure the agency is adequately resourced and equipped to deliver benefits to veterans without backlogs or delays. Preserve the integrity of and access to DoD and VA health systems for dually eligible beneficiaries.
The Goal: Ensure timely access to service-earned VA benefits.
Background: The veteran population of nearly 22 million is projected to decline in coming years. Demand for VA health care and benefits, however, steadily grows because of the aging and unique demographics of this population.
MOAA's Stance: Major health care and benefit system reforms have been implemented in recent years but require an ongoing commitment and investments to meet demand and ensure timely access. Continuing implementation will pose challenges to fund evolving technologies, infrastructure, electronic health records, full staffing at every echelon, and the various support systems that tie these efforts together. Further, political forces continue to threaten or erode the core VA health and benefit missions and foundational services.
Actions: Oppose efforts to use veterans' disability benefits compensation or other benefits to pay for VA system improvements and diminish or restrict access to service-earned benefits. Press DoD and the VA to achieve true interoperability of electronic medical, personnel, and benefits records to improve medical outcomes and delivery of benefits. Mandate DoD and the VA to develop protocols and establish a mechanism to address service-connected illnesses and environmental exposures and institute a framework for managing toxic exposures that might happen in the future.
The Goal: Protect military and veteran family support programs and policies.
Background: Congress and DoD recognize military and veteran family quality of life is critical to recruiting and retaining the all-volunteer force. Often, support programs for military and veteran families are the first to be cut when government funds become tight.
MOAA's Stance: It is necessary to update family support programs and policies to reflect the needs of today's military families. Spouse employment, children's education, special needs, commissaries and exchanges, and morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) programs are essential today. Adequate, affordable, and safe housing remains a concern for all military families, especially those in high-cost areas where options are limited.
Actions: Educate members of Congress and their staffers on the importance of military family readiness and issues affecting military and veteran families. Protect programming and subsidies essential to MWR and family readiness. Eliminate health and safety hazards in military base housing. Decrease military spouse unemployment and underemployment. Ensure quality of life and health of military and veteran families.
The above information was provided by MOAA via their Legislative Action Center, for more about MOAA's legislative advocacy mission, including how you can make your voice heard.
This week, MOAA had an exclusive preview of TRICARE's widely anticipated new dental and vision plans. This new insurance option for certain beneficiaries is set to be offered starting Jan. 1, 2019. The newly designed option was included in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act with the legislated start date of 2019. The later starting time is meant to allow for better planning and communication for this new plan, as it will be offered and administered through the Federal Employees Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP).
Here's the rundown on who is eligible for what. All TRICARE retirees and their families are eligible for both the dental insurance and the vision coverage. Active duty military families are only eligible for the vision coverage.
The FEDVIP dental program of offerings will replace the existing TRICARE Retiree Dental Plan, which is currently provided through Delta Dental. That program will sunset Dec. 31, 2018.
Here's what will be offered. The retiree dental plan and the new addition of a vision plan will allow for beneficiaries to make a selection from among several dental and vision carriers with a variety of benefit options. For example, in 2018 the FEDVIP program lists 10 dental carriers and four vision carriers (Delta Dental is included) with comprehensive dental and vision insurance at competitive group rates.
Eligible beneficiaries must choose their plan during TRICARE's open season, which is scheduled to be Nov. 12 - Dec. 10, 2018.
There will be no automatic transition for those beneficiaries currently enrolled in the TRICARE Retiree Dental Program. Beneficiaries will be required to enroll for coverage.
Enrollment and plan changes can only occur during the open season with the exceptions for those beneficiaries with qualifying life events (usually anything that necessitates a change in the DEERS system).
Here's the kind of coverage TRICARE beneficiaries will get with FEDVIP (besides more choices):
* no wait period for most dental services;
* no annual maximum benefit for some dental plans;
* regional and national dental networks;
* no deductible for some vision plans;
* no limit on brands for frames or contacts for some vision plans; and
* discounts on LASIK offered by some vision plans.
Beneficiaries are encouraged to start getting information and pre-enrollment communications through the website set up just for this program. The website, www.TRICARE.benefeds.com, will be up and running Feb. 1.
MOAA is working with the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the administration of the federal employees benefit programs, to provide input on communication and feedback on the website, anticipate challenges, and brainstorm solutions for this newly available program for TRICARE beneficiaries.
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 email@example.com.
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 . . .