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Summary of Issues
At Issue 1. we see MOAA PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON HOUSE DEFENSE BILL Where do we stand on the defense bill? Hear our take from MOAA President and CEO, Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret). (Click on MOAA PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON HOUSE DEFENSE BILL here or above to view and listen to the MOAA President’s comments. Turn on your speakers. GF) –There is no Issue 1 below—
At Issue 2. we see MILITARY HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL. House committee proposes major military health care changes. Proposals (mostly) grandfather current beneficiaries from TRICARE fee hikes. (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)
At Issue 3. we see HOUSE DEFENSE BILL ADDRESSES SURVIVORS, DIVORCES, DRAFT. House bucks administration’s proposals. After a marathon session, the House Armed Services Committee rejected proposals to cap the military pay raise and cut force levels. (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF)
At Issue 4. we see VETERANS BENEFITS. How the changes proposed will affect you. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved a massive bill to shore up accountability in the VA, expand health care access and upgrade benefits. (See Issue 4 below for the details. GF)
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
Issue 2. MILITARY HEALTH CARE OVERHAUL
April 29, 2016
In approving its version of the FY 2017 defense authorization bill this week, the House Armed Services Committee included big changes for the military health care system.
On the TRICARE fee front, the bill would apply a new fee structure similar to that proposed by the Pentagon for future service entrants, beginning in 2018.
However, the bill would grandfather currently serving and retired members and families against the large fee hikes proposed in the Pentagon’s FY 2017 defense budget.
Fee increases in future years would be indexed by COLA – the percentage increase in military retired pay rather than the (higher) health care inflation index proposed by the DoD. This is in line with MOAA’s and The Military Coalition’s recommendation.
The bill proposes no changes for TRICARE For Life or TRICARE Prime. It envisions changing the current TRICARE Standard program to a preferred provider system with flat-dollar copays for most doctor visits.
Retired members and families wishing to stay in this updated version of TRICARE Standard (which would be renamed TRICARE Preferred) would need to enroll annually (no enrollment is required at present). An annual enrollment fee of $100/$200 (single/family) will be required of currently retired members on TRICARE Preferred, but wouldn’t start until 2020 – once DoD demonstrates it has improved its capacity to provide timely access to quality care.
The most dramatic change would involve placing all military treatment facilities (MTFs) under the direction of the Defense Health Agency, effective Oct. 1, 2018, for purposes of unified policy, administration, and budgeting. MOAA has long supported this proposal based on the cost and inefficiency of building military health care programs around three separate systems for each of the services.
The bill also establishes a wide variety of requirements intended to enhance beneficiary access to care. This includes extended hours at MTF’s for primary care, providing urgent care until 11 P.M., and authorizing unlimited access to urgent care without a referral. The proposal also creates metrics for quality of care, wait times, provider-to-beneficiary ratios, and provider productivity.
In addition, the bill would authorize military facilities to sell durable medical equipment (e.g., hearing aids) at cost to family members of retirees.
All in all, MOAA supports the HASC’s balanced approach to reforming the military’s health care delivery system and especially appreciates the Committee’s rejection of the large fee increases proposed in the DoD budget.
Issue 3. HOUSE DEFENSE BILL ADDRESSES SURVIVORS, DIVORCES, DRAFT
April 29, 2016
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) followed the lead of the Personnel Subcommittee and rejected administration proposals to cap the military pay raise and cut force levels.
(Click on Personnel Subcommittee here or above for more detail. GF)
After a marathon session, the committee went on to include several other significant provisions in its version of the FY 2017 defense authorization bill on April 27, including the following:
Survivors: extends the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance by one year until Oct. 1, 2018, and keeps the monthly rate at $310. SSIA was established in 2008 to provide incremental relief to survivors affected by the “widows tax.”
Although MOAA is disappointed at the inability to increase the allowance, we’re relieved it won’t be allowed to expire. A one-year extension automatically creates pressure for further action, and committee leaders have pledged to work toward raising the SSIA and phasing out the offset.
The bill also changes the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) calculation for survivors of reserve personnel who die while serving under Inactive Duty Training (IDT) orders to the same (more favorable) method used for deaths on active duty. This is another MOAA-supported issue.
Former Spouses: changes the rules under the Uniformed Services Former Spouse Protection Act (USFSPA) by basing the amount of retired pay to be divided with a former spouse on the servicemember’s grade and years of service at the time of divorce; the change would not be retroactive, but would apply to divorces finalized after this change becomes law. MOAA has long supported this measure.
Women and the draft: requires both men and women reaching age 18 to register with the Selective Service. By a 32-to-30 vote, the committee decided the recent opening of all combat roles to women means they should no longer be exempt from draft registration.
Navy: increases Navy force levels by about 1,700 above the DoD budget request. The bill also changes the name of the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps.
The full House of Representatives is expected to consider the HASC mark in May.
Issue 4. VETERANS BENEFITS
April 29, 2016
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee approved a large omnibus package Thursday, which addresses a range of MOAA-supported initiatives.
A key health care section of the “The Veterans First Act” provides a plan to extend special Caregiver Act services for the full-time caregivers of catastrophically disabled veterans from the Vietnam era. Currently, benefits apply only to caregivers for Post-9/11 vets. But the benefits would not be triggered until two years after the VA certifies a successful upgrade of information technology systems to support the expanded services.
Caregiver Act services include training for qualifying caregivers, access to CHAMPVA health care, a stipend, and respite care.
The bill establishes an Office of [VA] Accountability and Whistleblower Protection and tightens disciplinary and removal rules for senior VA executives. It also would require the VA and DoD to jointly update guidelines for the management of opioid therapy for chronic pain in wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans.
The Senate Committee took a different approach than its House counterpart on a controversial cut to the housing allowance under the new GI Bill. The House adopted a 50-percent cut to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for future GI Bill benefit transfers to dependent children (current transfers would be grandfathered at the full rate).
The Senate instead aligned the BAH rate for all qualifying GI Bill users with the five-year cumulative five-percent cut to the rates established in the FY 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. GI Bill recipients would continue to get the same housing rate as active duty families at the E-5 with dependents rate.
Other items in the bill that address MOAA-supported goals include:
Strengthening administrative procedures for care for veterans in communities
Authorizing GI Bill eligibility credit for time spent in medical hold status
Creating a pilot program to reduce the appealed claims backlog
Allowing survivors who lost their spouses early in Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts (Sept. 11, 2001 – Dec. 31, 2005) up to five additional years to use their Fry Scholarship GI Bill benefits
Enabling Fry Scholarship users to participate in GI Bill matching by private colleges under the Yellow Ribbon program
Authorizing GI Bill benefits for involuntary Guard – Reserve call ups for “pre-planned and budgeted” operational missions
Enhancing research on the health effects of toxic exposures impacts on descendants
Enabling speedier payment of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) for active duty deaths reported by a military service
Honoring as veterans certain career members of the National Guard and Reserve
Panel Chairman Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) noted at the press conference for the bill, “When people look back at what Congress accomplished this year, the Veterans First Act will be at the top of the list.”
The bill must now be reconciled with a House veterans omnibus measure passed last November.
That’s it for today- Thanks for your help!