Legislative Update 19 June 2015: Defense Bill Passes, Despite Veto Threat

We have No Action Items today.



Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see COLA’S STEADY RISEMay’s Consumer Price Index released. (See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)


At Issue 2. we see DEFENSE BILL CLEARS SENATESenate defies veto threat. House and Senate to start defense bill conference next month. (See Issue 2 below for the detailsGF)

At Issue 3. we see CONGRESS SPLIT ON FUTURE OF COMMISSARYSenate bill could slash funding. Will you see prices increase? (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 4. we see TOP DOCS SQUASH PRIVATIZATION TALKSSurgeons general reject TRICARE Choice. Top military medical officials came out against proposals to privatize TRICARE. (See Issue 4 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 5 we seeAGENT ORANGE AIRMEN Airmen potentially exposed to Agent Orange now eligible for benefits. Thousands of Air Force veterans affected. (See Issue 5 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





May’s Consumer Price Index released

Follow the trends on MOAA’s COLA Watch.

(Click on  COLA’S STEADY RISE here or above to see the graph that shows we are 0.6% below the FY 2014 COLA baseline and nearly 2% behind last year’ CPI progress to date.



June 19, 2015

On Thursday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed its version of the FY16 defense bill, defying a veto threat from the administration. The 71-25 vote means the Senate has enough support to override the veto, should that occur.

The administration threatened to veto the defense bill because it exceeds budget caps put in place by sequestration. The bill attempts to circumvent the budget caps by funding base operations using special war accounts. War accounts are not subject to sequestration.

In a surprising move, lawmakers rejected the Senate Armed Services Committee’s recommendation to privatize commissaries. However, many of the committee’s original proposals remain in the final bill.

Although lawmakers submitted over 600 amendments, only a handful made it into the final bill.

Several significant amendments, which would have prevented further erosion to pay and benefits, never saw the light of day. Left out were amendments that would have granted a full active duty pay raise, blocked a five percent reduction to housing allowances, prevented further cuts to commissary benefits, and prohibited increased TRICARE pharmacy fees. We thank the senators who introduced these amendments.

The following table shows where we currently are with the House and Senate-passed defense bills:


What’s Next?

Now that both chambers have passed their respective versions of the defense bill, House and Senate lawmakers will go to conference to iron out differences. Leadership from the Armed Services Committees announced that they hope to complete their work before the August recess.

When conferencing begins, we will need your help. During this process, we’ll ask you to contact your legislators in support of the House version of the defense bill.

We sincerely appreciate all of our members who take the time to contact Congress. We need your effort and support to remind Congress not to balance the budget on the backs of the military.


Jun 19 2015

Published by Karen at 12:49 pm under Budget Battle, Legislation, NDAA,sequestration, White House –

The House and Senate have approved their versions of the defense bill, and they don’t see eye to eye on the commissary.

The Senate

The Senate unfortunately took aim at the commissary system in its version of the  National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Senate lawmakers cut $322 million from the commissary budget. A cut this big will lead to increased prices, reduced operating hours and days of operation, and a reduction in store staff.

Also tucked inside the bill was language allowing DoD to increase prices in stores to cover costs.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) sponsored an amendment to restore the $322 million funding and to strike language that would allow DoD to adjust commissary prices, but her amendment did not come to a vote.

Even though her amendment wasn’t voted on, as Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Mikulski rejected the commissary cut and provided full funding.

Civics 101: What does that mean?

Every year Congress works on two major types of legislation: authorization bills and appropriation bills.

Authorization bills tell federal departments (like DoD) and agencies what to do. Appropriations bills fund federal agencies. Appropriations bills distribute money to federal departments, agencies, and programs. These bills tell DoD how much they can spend and where the money will go.

Currently, the money for the commissary is in the Senate appropriations bill but the authorization to spend it is not in the Senate authorization bill.

The House

The House passed its version of the authorization bill in May. In it, House lawmakers rejected the cuts to commissary funding. The House defense appropriations bill included full funding for the commissary in the budget.

What’s Next? 

The Senate is currently working on its version of the defense appropriations bill. Once passed, it will go to conference where differences between the House and Senate bills must be resolved.

The defense authorization bill is also headed to conference. We are hopeful that funding for the commissary subsidy will be restored during this process.

Ultimately, without the funding, the cost of operating the commissary will slowly shift to you, the shopper.

MOAA thanks Senator Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Mikulski (D-Md.) for leading the charge to prevent privatization of commissaries.

If you are on social media, thank Senators Inhofe and Mikulski for fighting for commissaries. You can contact them here: Senator Inhofe @JimInhofe  and Senator Mikulski @SenatorBarb


June 19, 2015


The military’s top doctors told lawmakers they do not support proposals to privatize TRICARE. In Congressional testimony, senior military medical leaders addressed health care reforms recommended by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). The report, released earlier this year, recommended privatizing TRICARE and creating a new Joint Readiness Command.


Although the surgeons general all expressed appreciation for the time and effort put forward by the MCRMC, they were unanimous in rejecting the TRICARE privatization proposal. They cited several reasons for rejecting the proposal, including increased costs and the negative impact to readiness training.


Under the MCRMC proposal, known as TRICARE Choice, millions of TRICARE beneficiaries would move to commercial, private sector health plans. The plans, administered by the Office of Personnel Management, would be similar to those offered to federal civilians. According to the MCRMC, TRICARE Choice would give servicemembers and their families more choices in health care coverage. However, the commission says that military families would pay up to four times more in health care costs.


According to Army Surgeon General Patricia Horoho, TRICARE Choice “would negatively impact the readiness of our entire health care team and present financial challenges for active duty families and retirees.”


Having TRICARE compete with the private sector “would drive up administrative costs and significantly detract from the operational mission of our medical facilities,” said Air Force Surgeon General Mark Ediger.


“It is critical to understand that our direct health care system connects with the battlefield and exists to provide health readiness to our soldiers and their families,” said Horoho. “This is what separates us from the civilian health care system.”


This message echoes what MOAA President, VADM Norb Ryan, USN (Ret) told lawmakers in February. Ryan said that problems with TRICARE “can be addressed in a systemic manner without resorting to its elimination.”


The surgeons general also rejected the creation of a new Joint Readiness Command, saying that current and existing reforms are providing the desired changes. The surgeons general said the recent establishment of the Defense Health Agency (DHA) aims to standardize common or shared services between the three military medical commands, such as a joint Health Information and Technology service.


MOAA agrees, and has consistently said that the largest barrier to an efficient and highly reliable health care organization is the three-service system. Instead of creating a far-reaching command tasked with handling the entire scope of joint readiness,


MOAA suggests building upon the current DHA structure and establishing a unified medical command with a single budget authority, one that can reduce redundancies and produce cost savings. MOAA appreciates the time Congress is taking to analyze the MCMRC health care proposals before taking action, and supports initiatives that strengthen TRICARE for beneficiaries and sustains military medical readiness.


At the conclusion of the testimony, Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) emphasized Congress’s desire to improve TRICARE, saying they “look forward to continuing to work … to make TRICARE the premier health care provider in the nation.”



iJune 19, 2015

Earlier this year, a report by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine concluded that crews operating on C-123 aircraft during the Vietnam War were exposed to Agent Orange. In congressional testimony provided in May, MOAA recommended that Congress and the VA act on the IOM report.

The report found evidence that those who served aboard or worked on the C-123 aircraft associated with Operation Ranch Hand (ORH) were exposed to the herbicide, both during and after Vietnam, when many of the aircraft remained in service for aeromedical transportation and other missions.

The VA published an interim final rule on June 18 to allow veterans to apply for disability compensation and VA care for any of 14 presumptive medical conditions due to exposure to Agent Orange. The ruling applies to active Air Force and Air Force Reserve veterans assigned to specific C-123 units from 1969-1986 who have developed one of the Agent Orange conditions. (Click on interim final rule and 14 presumptive medical condition  here or above for more detail. GF)

In a press release, the VA said that “Air Force and Air Force Reserve flight, medical and ground maintenance crewmembers who served on the contaminated ORH C-123s are presumed to have been exposed to herbicides during their service, thus making it easier for them to establish entitlement for some VA benefits if they develop an Agent Orange-related presumptive condition. In addition, for affected Air Force Reserve crew members, VA will presume that their Agent Orange-related condition had its onset during their Reserve training. This change ensures that these reservists are eligible for VA disability compensation and medical care for any Agent Orange-related presumptive condition, and that their surviving dependents are eligible for dependency and indemnity compensation and burial benefits.”

MOAA recommends any Air Force veteran who served in a C-123 squadron during or after the Vietnam War contact a Veteran Service Organization that represents and assists veterans in the VA claims process.






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