Budget Agreement Cuts "Younger" Military Retiree COLAs
12/11/13 - In the budget agreement announced by Rep Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen Patty Murray (D-WA), military retirees under age 62 would receive an annual Cost Of Living Allowance pay increase that is 1% LESS than the rise in the consumer price index. For example, the 1.5% COLA for 2014 would be just 0.5% (retirees older than 62 will still receive the “full” COLA each year). This COLA reduction will be phased in over 3 years, starting next year (end of 2014). The agreement has yet to be voted on by Congress. NAUS joined other member organizations of The Military Coalition in a joint letter to Congress objecting to this COLA reduction. The letter, in part, states, “Currently serving members look at how they, their families, retirees, and survivors are being treated when making career decisions. If Congress arbitrarily cuts the retirement benefit for those who have served their country for over 20 years, there could be a lasting adverse impact on uniformed service career retention, and ultimately, national security.”
2014 COLA will be 1.5 %
10/30/13 - Military retired pay, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, SBP and VA Disability compensation payments will increase 1.5% in 2014. Active Duty pay raise is still TBD, with the Administration and Senate supporting just a 1.0% raise.
Are Cuts to Your Housing Allowance Coming?
8/14/13 - The Pentagon is looking at potential cuts to Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), an outcome of the recent Strategic Choices and Management Review which considered ways for the Defense Department to make the steep cost cuts mandated by budget sequestration. BAH pays nearly $20 billion annually to about one million service members. Cuts to BAH rates would reverse the Department’s successful multi-year effort following 9/11 which raised BAH rates to theoretically cover 100% of off-base rental costs for service members. Before 2002, BAH rates were set so service members were expected to cover about 20% of housing costs out of their own pockets. Requiring members to pay more for their own off-base housing could save up to $20 billion over 10 years according to rough estimates.
Lower Pay Raise OK Says Army Chief
7/30/13 - Army Chief of Staff GEN Ray Odierno said he favors the President’s and the Senate’s recommended 1% pay raise for active duty service members over the House’s 1.8% recommendation. He admitted this during a question and answer session hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. “That sounds like a little difference but it is a huge difference throughout the years,” Odierno said. “It’s billions of dollars ... three, four, five years from now. So we think what we can do is manage the pay raises at a bit lower level for a few years.” With inflation expected to exceed 1 percent this year, that means troops’ purchasing power will actually decline next year if pay is raised by only 1 percent. Odierno went on to say Defense leaders are “not looking necessarily at pay freezes,” but warned that “if we continue to have a higher level of pay raises, it is going to become really a problem for us.”
6/20/13 - The House passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), H.R.1960, in a 315-108 vote on 6/14. The NDAA authorizes $552.1 billion in spending for national defense and an additional $85.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations. The bill rejects the Pentagon plan to increase TRICARE fees or establish new enrollment fees for TRICARE Standard and TRICARE for Life.
In addition, a provision allowing retirees to keep TRICARE Prime access after October 1 when the DoD reduces the availability of Prime to retired beneficiaries was included. More than 173,000 beneficiaries could be helped by this measure. The McKeon position incorporates NAUS-endorsed legislation (HR 1971) introduced by Rep. John Kline (R-MN) to “grandfather” current beneficiaries who live more than 40 miles from a military clinic, hospital or facility.
The bill also prohibits DoD from proposing, planning, or initiating another round of BRAC – base closures.
It addresses growing concerns about sexual assault in the military by recommending several reforms:
- Removal of commanders’ authority to dismiss a finding by a court martial;
- Prohibit commanders from reducing guilty findings to guilty of a lesser offense;
- Minimum sentencing guidelines for sexual assault-related offenses;
- Allowance of permanent change of station or unit transfer for victims of sexual assault;
- Commanders may temporarily reassign service members who are alleged perpetrators of sexual assault;
- Provision of victims’ counsels to provide legal assistance to victims
In the Senate, the NDAA has been marked up by the Armed Services Committee. The Senate version currently also rejects the TRICARE fee cost hikes and new fees, but only includes a 1% pay raise as recommended by the Adminsitration.
Changes Proposed to Military Sexual Assault Laws
To address the problem of sexual assault in the military, House and Senate lawmakers are considering several potential legislative actions to further protect service members from sexual crimes. These provisions, which would change existing laws, some including the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), include:
- Establish dismissal or dishonorable discharge as the mandatory minimum sentence under the UCMJ for guilty parties convicted of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy, or an attempt to commit those offenses.
- Allow consideration of application for a permanent change of station or unit transfer submitted by a service member who is the victim of sexual assault.
- Authorize a Service Secretary to issue guidance to commanders on temporary reassignment or removal of service members alleged to have committed a sexual crime.
- Require Victims’ Counsels, who would be qualified and specially trained lawyers in each of the Armed Forces, to be made available to provide legal assistance to victims of sex-related offenses.
- Require the Secretary of Defense to assess the current role and authorities of commanders in the administration of military justice and the investigation, prosecution, and adjudication of offenses under the UCMJ.
- Add rape, sexual assault, or other sexual misconduct to the protected communications of service members with Member of Congress or an Inspector General.
- Direct the GAO to review implementation of the Air Force corrective actions recommended following the sexual misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base.
NAUS is open to potential legislative solutions to help the Services solve this serious problem. But some of the potential changes being discussed, particularly those changes to the UCMJ in a Senate bill that would limit a commander’s ability to decide how and when to bring service members to justice, award punishment, or grant clemency in extenuating circumstances for a particular crime, could have unintended consequences adversely affecting good order and discipline. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, GEN Martin Dempsey, USA, stated a very similar position in a recent letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, as did the Service Chiefs in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in June.
Other Information and Related Links:
DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office website: http://www.sapr.mil/
New “Safe HelpRoom” chat room: https://www.safehelpline.org/tour-helproom.cfm
Safe Helpline: 1-877-995-5247 and online at: https://www.safehelpline.org/
New York Times video featuring Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) discussing this issue: http://nyti.ms/11g9a9E
Special Needs Program Standardization
4/22/13 - The Defense Department is working to standardize the Exceptional Family Member Program that helps service members get access to special health care for their family members with chronic health issues or special needs who otherwise might face forgoing an assignment or having to cut short a deployment because of an inability to find such care. The program is now in the process of being standardized to make it easier for such families as they move from one assignment to another, regardless of location or Service. “Right now, each Service has its own program, so by having one policy and one set of procedures, it’s going to make it much easier for families,” Ed Tyner, DoD’s acting deputy director of community support for families with special needs, told American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel. The goal is to make sure no service member’s career is negatively affected by having a family member who requires special care. The 2010 Defense Authorization Act required the Department to move toward standardization. About 120,000 military family members are enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program.
Tuition Assistance (TA) Restored by Congress
3/22/13 - The Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard all decided to cut their Tuition Assistance (TA) Programs for the remainder of the year, announcing this with just a day or two’s notice in mid-March. NAUS President Klimp was outraged by the decision and readied for a fight to restore the cut in tuition assistance. In a letter to the Military Times, Klimp called the cut “a poor excuse to cut one of the most prized and important benefits earned in exchange for service in uniform.” NAUS also issued a NAUS CapWiz Alert to send the message to Congress that the cut would be detrimental to recruiting and retention efforts. WUSA Channel 9 TV, Washington, DC, interviewed NAUS President LtGen Klimp, USMC (Ret) about this and other issues regarding sequestration-related cuts affecting service members (see interview here). Within just a few days, Sen Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Sen Jim Inhofe (R-OK) offered an amendment to S 933, the Continuing Resolution bill to reset funding for the TA Program. The broadly-supported, NAUS-endorsed amendment was adopted by voice vote and made part of the final package, subsequently agreed to by the House and sent to the President for signature. No additional funding was provided, so there will have to be cuts in other areas to cover the costs.