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*Legislative Update 15 May 2015: Support Troops in Defense Bill

We have 1 Action Item today, at Issue 1 below 

 

 

Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see TELL CONGRESS TO SUPPORT TROOPSSenate bill slashes military compensation and benefit. Tell your elected officials to not to break faith with those who have served. (See Issue 1 below for the details and send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

At Issue 2. we see. RETAIL PHARMACY MAKING A COMEBACK? New proposal may give TRICARE beneficiaries more choice. A new pilot program creates a “preferred retail pharmacy.”(See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 3. we see IS CONGRESS LOOKING FOR FAST-TRACK AUTHORITY ON MILITARY RETIREMENT? Congress looks to make dramatic changes to your retirement benefit. In his May edition of the “The Bottom Line,” MOAA Director of Government Relations Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret) asks why Congress is trying to railroad retirement reform. (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 4. we see LOOMING CRISIS THREATENS VETS’ ACCESS TO CARE. Lawmakers demand VA fix barriers to health care under new program

When demand outpaces supply, officials struggle to pay for medical care. (See Issue 4 below for the detailsGF)

Collectively We Can and Are Making a Difference

 

FOR ALL, Please feel free to pass these Weekly Legislative Updates on to your group of Veteran Friends –

don’t be concerned with possible duplications – if your friends are as concerned as we are with Veteran issues, they probably won’t mind getting this from two or more friendly sources

 

ISSUES

Issue 1TELL CONGRESS TO SUPPORT TROOPS

 

May 15, 2015

Senate lawmakers completed their draft of the FY16 defense bill; unfortunately, several administration-proposed cuts to military compensation and benefits are included.

The draft includes the administration’s proposal to cap the active duty pay raise at 1.3 percent, below the 2.3 percent raise mandated by law. The cap would be the third straight year of pay caps below private sector wage growth.

The bill also includes increases in TRICARE pharmacy fees as well as reductions to housing allowances.

The bill follows the House’s lead of moving forward with a blended retirement plan. Unlike the House proposal, the Senate bill stops government contributions to 401(k) accounts after 20 years of service.

Both bills reject proposals to consolidate TRICARE and institute new fees for TRICARE For Life beneficiaries.

Neither the House nor Senate bill addresses sequestration, which sets unrealistic budget caps on defense planners. To circumvent the arbitrary budget ceilings, both chambers use DoD’s emergency war accounts to fund baseline operations.

Emergency war accounts are not subject to sequestration’s budget rules, but funding fluctuates drastically every year. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said using the accounts to fund the Pentagon’s base budget is “undermining basic principles of accountability and responsible, long-term planning.”

The budgetary shell game has led to a veto threat from the president. In a rare move, the ranking democrats from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) and Sen. Jack Reed (R.I.) voted against their own bills.

The top democrats cast their votes to push lawmakers to come up with a bipartisan solution to sequestration. “On both sides of the aisle, the first thing out of everyone’s mouth is ‘we should get rid of the sequester,'” said Reed.

In a press release after the bill was voted on, Reed said, “I am for a strong military and good government, and the two shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.”

“Cuts to pay and benefits are being driven because of one thing: sequestration,” said MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret).

Act now to tell your elected officials to reject the Senate’s attempt to balance the Relations, Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret).Act now to tell your elected officials to reject the Senate’s attempt to balance the budget on the backs of troops and their families.

Click on Act now here or above or go to Here is the Process: at the end of this Email to send messages to your Legislators. GF)

 

Issue 2. RETAIL PHARMACY MAKING A COMEBACK?

May 8, 2015

Lawmakers included a provision in the defense bill giving TRICARE beneficiaries more choice in their pharmacy options. The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the FY16 defense bill contains language giving military beneficiaries the option of using a designated “preferred retail pharmacy” to obtain medications.

The pilot will include maintenance medications, which after last year’s policy change, are currently only available at a military treatment facility (MTF) or by the home delivery program. The assumption is that by giving participating pharmacies the ability to buy medications at rates available to the federal government, retailers will pass the savings on to beneficiaries.

DoD will be responsible for identifying the regional area where the pilot will be conducted, as well as determining the participating pharmacy retailers. In order for selected pharmacies to receive federal pricing on medications purchased for beneficiaries, retailers will need to comply with DoD distribution and compliance requirements.

The pilot will be evaluated for government cost-savings, just as the home delivery program has provided. Skeptics are concerned that the distribution and compliance requirements may be costly for the pharmacies, and drive up the costs of prescriptions.

Enhancing health care convenience and access has long been a goal of MOAA.  “We are in favor of giving TRICARE beneficiaries more choices within their health care pharmacy options,” said MOAA’s Government Relations Deputy Director Capt. Kathy Beasley, USN (Ret.), “and we are hopeful that this pilot will demonstrate that retail pharmacies can be cost effective.”

If enacted, the pilot will run from May 1, 2016 to Sept. 30, 2018.

Issue 3. IS CONGRESS LOOKING FOR FAST-TRACK AUTHORITY ON MILITARY RETIREMENT?

May 15, 2015

By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)

After the House finished its work on the FY16 defense bill, you have to wonder why Congress is so intent on fast-tracking changes to the retirement system.

By now, you’ve heard the proposal: take the current 20-year, cliff-vested retirement benefit and convert it to a blended retirement system. Troops serving a full career get government contributions to a 401k in exchange for a reduced retirement pension. Troops who stay less than 20 years will have a portable benefit when leaving the service.

The proposal is an offshoot of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) recommendation to revamp military retirement. The change is prospective for future entrants.

What’s troubling about this is that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees are moving forward with these drastic changes without first getting input from the Pentagon. The day after the HASC approved changes to the military retirement system, the Pentagon asked for more time to review the proposal. Defense leaders won’t finish their review until the end of July.

In a letter to Congress, the White House also asked for more time to vet the change. “Given their complexity and our solemn responsibility …, we will continue working with the Commission to understand how the [blended retirement system] would affect the All-Volunteer Force.”

MOAA has been saying the exact same thing since the MCRMC released its report in January.

So why the rush? Some folks on the Hill think if Congress fails to put something on the books now before next year’s election, no one will support changing career military benefits.

But the last time Congress fast-tracked a change to the military retirement system, they didn’t heed the warnings of the Pentagon. The last major adjustment to the military retirement system was in the mid-80s when Congress passed REDUX.

Then-Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger adamantly opposed the change, warning Congress the new system would inevitably undermine readiness and retention and provide more of an incentive to leave.

A decade later, that prediction proved true. Congress had to repeal REDUX in 1999 because the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Congress the program was damaging morale and badly hurting retention of the mid-career non-commissioned officer and officer corps.

The biggest problem with fast-tracking changes to the military system is that any future corrections Congress will need to make will be subject to strict budget rules. Accountants consider reduced payments to retirement accounts as “savings.” If Congress has to revert to the current system (or some other change), bean counters will see the change as an increase on their books.

Let me be clear. MOAA supports a blended retirement system that can provide a portable benefit to those who leave voluntarily with less than 20 years of service. However, any change to the retirement system cannot put at risk retention of the highly experienced, mid-grade NCO or officer the services need to keep.

The bottom line : Change of this magnitude requires further study. Before fast-tracking changes to military retirement, Congress needs to hear what White House and Pentagon leaders have to say about the proposal. It’s mission critical we get this right from the start. Failure to do so could take years to correct and end up costing Americans more than just higher taxes.

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Issue 4. LOOMING CRISIS THREATENS VETS’ ACCESS TO CARE

May 15, 2015

At separate hearings this week, House and Senate lawmakers made no bones about their frustrations with VA officials’ implementation of a new program to provide veterans’ health care.

“There is no excuse for the plethora of problems the VA was having, and the transition [to the Veterans Choice Program] should have been much better, but it wasn’t,” said Chairman Johnny Isakson, (R-Ga.) of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

The Choice Program, the result of last year’s shocking report of lengthy wait times at VA centers, allows some veterans to receive care outside of VA facilities.

At the urging of MOAA and several partners in The Military Coalition, last month the VA changed eligibility criteria for the Choice Program. Veterans who live more than 40 miles away from the closest VA health care facility and have wait times of more than 30 days to see a VA physician are eligible. Previously, the VA used a straight-line determination to measure distance from a veteran’s home of record to the closest VA facility. Now the VA uses a more appropriate factor of driving distance. The change allows twice as many veterans to become eligible for the program.

The change underscores problems the VA has had with implementation of Choice Program.

Growing Pains

A unique mixture of demographic factors is leading to increased demand for VA services. Aging Vietnam veterans are using more services at increased costs. Successful marketing of the Choice Program has led to veterans who may have previously decided not to use the VA to seek care. The conclusion of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan is bringing in a new generation of Post-9/11 veterans to system. A growing number of women veterans, now 10 percent of the military, are seeking VA treatment.

Despite the growing pains, Deputy Secretary of the VA Sloan Gibson told lawmakers that the department has seen a 44 percent increase in authorizations for care since the Choice Program began in November.

Adding stress to the system is a 25 percent increase in non-VA care costs, like the Choice Program. According to Gibson, estimates for the total cost of the Choice Program now range between $4 billion and $34 billion a year.

As of April 30, the VA has spent just over $500 million of the $10 billion authorized for the Choice Act – a scant 5 percent. Of that, a little over $200 million has gone to pay for medical services for veterans.

Gibson insists the agency needs greater flexibility in contracting with community providers to address the expanded Choice Program and its associated costs.

Despite the frustrations with implementation of the Choice Act, most members of Congress and those testifying agreed that there has been significant progress in a relatively short period.

“We thank the Congress, the VA, and the HealthNet and TriWest contractors for their unrelenting commitment to making the program a success,” said Cdr. René Campos, MOAA’s deputy director of Government Relations.

Among the many provisions in the Choice Act, the law calls for a commission to study how to improve access and delivery of veterans’ health care for the 21 st century. MOAA joined other organizations to ask Congress to appoint members to the commission and give them sufficient time to do their work and present their findings.

The last commission on care was almost a generation ago. That commission created quality and performance benchmarks, and transformed the VA health system for veterans to receive routine primary care needs and specialized care for wartime disabilities.

The VA health care system is the largest integrated system in the country, with nearly 10 million veterans enrolled.

 

 

 

Here is the Process:  If the steps below are new to some, I recommend that you review all of the steps and then you might want to copy this process by high lighting all of the steps below.  Then click on “File” at the top of your screen, select “Print“, then click on “Selection” at the next display and then hit “Print“; or print the selected portion as you usually do this kind of task.

 

  1. Click here onhttp://capwiz.com/moaa/issues/  or copy and paste it in your browser to put you at the  “Legislative Action Center” screen.
  2. Scroll down under “Current Action Alerts” and click onAct Now on TRICARE, Pay, and Housing.
  3. At the next screen enter your Zip code if requested and/orhit “Go!” and/or scroll down to “Take Action”  and at “Compose Message” leave ‘Email‘ checked or check ‘Printed Letter‘  to send  Printed Letters instead of sending Emails if desired.
  4. If an  “Issue Area:”line appears just before the Editable Text: and doesn’t have an issue shown, click on the down arrow and select an issue; e. g., Military, Veterans Affairs, etc.(usually required on messages to our Senators)
  5. Scroll down to the  “Editable text” areaand edit/modify the text of the message if desired.
  6. Insert “Your Closing” (I show ‘Respectfully), and “Your Name” and fill in the rest of the mandatory {asterisked} SENDER INFORMATION. The “Phone”number is now required by some Legislators (it’s required if your Senator is from Arizona) .  Fill in the “Guest Type“, “Service“, “Rank“, “Component“, and “Status” if you want that information to show in your message (recommended).  You may be prompted to include a phone number if you try to send the message without entering your phone number. Don’t be concerned about entering a phone number. I haven’t  received return calls except on rare occasions to thank me for my interest in a particular piece of Legislation, at which time you can comment (pro or con) to the staff member on how the Senator stands on the issue.
  7. Check “Remember Me” (recommended) if you don’t want to have to re-enter all of your Sender Information the next time you send a message. You can always change your information or uncheck ‘Remember Me’ anytime in the future.
  8. Check ‘Yes‘ or ‘No‘ as to whether you want to have a copy of your letter sent to your Email Address (suggested at least for you initial efforts, and to see how your personal data is included in the message).
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 3 above, at the screen after hitting “Send Message” leave “Plain Paper Style” and “Word Processor (RTF)” checked unless you have another preference. Then left click on “Print Letter(s)” at the end of the “PRINT LETTER” screen. At the File Download” alert that appears next, click on “Open”. You can then edit and print or save the letter for editing, printing, signing and mailing.
  11. For Arizona residentsbecause of some current problems with contacting Sen Flake by Email,you will, see after hitting “Send Message” at Step 9 above, that “Printed Letter” is the only option  for getting your message to him. Step 10 above tells you how to do that.

 

 

 

 

That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!