VA Reform Bill Passed by Congress
Congress passed a $16.3 billion Veterans Affairs reform bill on 7/31/14, and the President is expected to sign. The rare bipartisan Senate vote (91-3) came after weeks of negotiation between House and Senate veterans affairs committees and just one day after the House approved the same measure by a similarly unusual 420-5 vote. The only “nays” were cast by a few conservatives who criticized the lack of offsets to cover the cost of the legislation. Among other provisions, the legislation would make it easier to fire senior VA officials for incompetence or poor performance, and allots $10 billion to expand private care options for veterans who face medical appointment wait times of more than 30 days or who live more than 40 miles from a VA health care facility. Officials will create a “veterans choice card” that patients can take to doctors outside the system, to receive care while the department picks up the bill. To be eligible, veterans will need to already be enrolled in the VA health care system or have served in a combat theater in the last five years. Another $5 billion will go towards hiring more clinicians and starting minor repairs of existing VA hospitals and clinics.
House Passes Defense Spending Bill with 1.8% Pay Raise
The House approved a 1.8 percent pay boost for military service members next year in its version of the Defense Appropriations bill. The final vote tally was 340 to 73. The 1.8 percent pay increase is in line with the House-passed Defense Authorization bill passed back in May. It is more than President Obama’s proposed 1 percent pay raise for military personnel in 2015, and the 1 percent boost currently in the Senate Defense Authorization legislation.
House Passes FY2015 NDAA
The House passed its version of the NDAA authorizing $521.3 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $79.4 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. This is consistent with the President’s budget and agreements reached last year under the Bipartisan Budget Act. Overall, the fiscal 2015 authorization drops defense spending $30.7 billion below current year spending for fiscal 2014.
The bill blocks most of the President’s proposed “cost-savings,” including compensation cuts, like proposed new and higher fees for TRICARE, Housing Allowance cuts, and reductions in Commissary operations. The bill also shot down the Pentagon request for another Base Reduction and Closure (BRAC) round, and supports a higher-than-requested pay raise of 1.8%.
On the Senate side, the Armed Services Committee completed its mark-up (S. 2289) and generally agrees with the House version, except the Senate bill supports just a 1% pay raise. The bill still needs to be considered by the full Senate, and then any differences in House and Senate versions will need to be ironed out in conference committee.
NAUS Testifies on Capitol Hill
NAUS Legislative Director Director Rick Jones presented testimony in April before the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on behalf of the National Military Veterans Alliance (NMVA). As Co-Chair of the NMVA Rick was asked, along with Mike Hayden, of MOAA and Co-Chair of The Military Coalition (TMC), to present the views of all the members of TMC and NMVA on military personnel issues addressed in the President's Budget Submission for fiscal year 2015.
Rick stressed the concerns that NMVA has about the DoD, under sequestration, being the target of 50 percent of the cuts when the Defense Budget is only 18 percent of the total budget. He also stressed the NMVA opposition to other DoD budget proposals which include a lower pay raise, increased out-of-pocket costs for housing, lower savings at the commissaries and increased TRICARE fees among others.
Testimony also asked Congress to end defense sequestration, calling the cuts in national security an unacceptable and an unnecessary risk to the nation.
Overall the members of the Subcommittee which included Chairman Joe Wilson (R-SC), Ranking Member Susan Davis (D-CA), Rep. Dr. Joe Heck (R-NV), Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) and several others, offered questions and observations which, for the most part, were very supportive of the positions offered by both Rick and Mike Hayden. Click here to see a video of the entire hearing. To read the entire prepared testimony click here.
Fundamental Changes to Retirement System Proposed
3/8/14 - Here we go - the Pentagon has delivered detailed proposals to change the retirement system to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission that call for fundamental change. The changes would preserve the current system’s defining feature of a 20-year, ‘cliff-vesting,’ fixed-income pension. But it would ultimately provide smaller monthly checks. To compensate for that, the new proposal would offer three new cash payments to be provided long before old age — a 401(k)-style defined contribution benefit awarded to all troops who serve at least six years; a cash retention bonus at around 12 years of service; and a potentially large lump-sum ‘transition pay’ provided upon retirement to those who serve 20 years or more. In a broad view, the new plan would lower the total economic value of the military retirement package. Details vary, but several options show a roughly 10 percent reduction in cumulative lifetime payments. Pairing that long-term reduction with the new cash payments is a strategic decision by Pentagon personnel experts, based on the “notion” that troops would prefer a plan that gives them more money up front to reduce the impact of smaller pension payments later in life. DoD "white paper" with proposed retirement system changes (pdf).
Congress Repeals Military Retiree COLA Cut
2/19/14 - NAUS was pleased to see the House and Senate act with speed and in unison to ensure veterans receive all the benefits they have been promised and have earned while fighting in the uniform of our country. First the House then the Senate approved legislation (S. 25) that would undo the cuts to military retirement pay enacted under the Bipartisan Budget Act (BBA), otherwise known as the Ryan-Murray budget deal. Passage in both chambers was overwhelming; 326 to 90 in the House and 95 to 3 in the Senate, and the President signed the bill over the President's Day weekend. The COLA restoration was "paid for" by extending sequestration cuts one additional year into 2024.
Many members of Congress came forward for repeal NAUS is grateful for this outpouring of congressional support in both chambers and to hear as well Defense Department’s leadership express opposition to the COLA cut. As a nation, we must honor the sacrifices our military men and women—and their families—have made at home and abroad. Our men and women in uniform face specific challenges when it comes to their own financial security. It can be difficult to save for retirement while serving abroad or to build equity in a home when relocating every few years. Having a COLA you can depend on and plan for is crucial to building financial security. As we move further into the new year, NAUS will continue its efforts to see that our government finds better ways to save money than to target veterans for budget savings.