Legislative Update 18 December 2015: Falling into the COLA Hole

We have No Action Items today.


Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see FALLING INTO THE COLA HOLE.  Inflation trend is depressing. When you look at the chart, it’s not pretty.(See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 2we see YOUR PERSONAL COST TO THE GOVERNMENTHow is the Pentagon counting your cost?. MOAA’s Director of Government Relations, Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret), adds up your cost to the government vs. the government’s cost to you in his December As I See It column. (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)


At Issue 3. we see CONGRESS KEEPS THE LIGHTS ONBudget deal reached. Bill provides government funding through next September.  (See Issue 3 below for the details. GF) 

At Issue 4. we see NEW VA RULING COVERS CAMP LEJEUNE CASES. Eight diseases linked to contaminated drinking water. Ruling will be applied to VA claims soon. (See Issue 4 below for the details. GF) 

At Issue 5. we see MOAA VETS HELP HEALTH COMMISSIONCommission on Care works to improve veteran health care. Find out how you can provide feedback. (See Issue 5 below for the details. GF) 

At Issue 6. we see WHAT’S AHEAD FOR 2016? What’s next after Congress tackled retirement reform in 2015?

Here’s MOAA’s take on challenges coming next year.  (See Issue 6 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





A deeper dive into red.

Unfortunately, it looks like the Consumer Price Index (CPI) is following the trend of the past few years by dropping significantly at the beginning of the fiscal year.

Last year’s October-to-January drop was particularly steep, and the slide is disturbingly similar for FY2016 so far.

The November CPI is 231.721, declining to 1.1 percent below the FY 2014 COLA baseline. Because there was not a positive COLA in FY 2015, the FY 2014 baseline is used.

The CPI for December 2015 is scheduled to be released on January 20, 2015.

Note: Military retiree COLA is calculated based on the CPI for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W), not the overall CPI. Monthly changes in the index may differ from national figures reported elsewhere.




By: Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret) Director, Government Relations

Strobridge, a native of Vermont, is a 1969 ROTC graduate from Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y. He was called to active duty in October 1969 and began his career as a Basic Military School training officer and commander and as a military personnel officer. He subsequently served as a compensation and legislation analyst at HQ U.S. Air Force and in the Office of the Secretary of Defense as director, Officer and Enlisted Personnel Management, with intervening assignments in Thailand and Germany.

His final assignment was as chief of the Entitlements Division at HQ U.S. Air Force, with policy responsibility for military compensation, retirement and survivor benefits, and all legislative matters affecting the military community. He is a graduate of the Armed Forces Staff College and National War College. 

Strobridge retired from the Air Force in January 1994 to become MOAA’s deputy director for Government Relations. In 2001, he was appointed as director of Government Relations and elected as cochair of The Military Coalition.

He retired from MOAA in April 2013 but was recalled as Government Relations director in September 2015.   


One way or another, it always ends up being about the money.

For years, Pentagon leaders have complained about personnel costs “spiraling out of control.”

MOAA’s rebuttal showed personnel and health care costs have been stable at a relatively constant 30 to 32 percent of the budget for the past 30 years.

Now the comeback from Capitol Hill is, “OK, it’s true the percentage of the budget has been constant, but the cost per person is well beyond where it used to be. What’s your answer to that?”

Yes, the cost per person has risen. But so has the cost of doing everything else. In particular, the cost per ship, cost per bomber, cost per personnel carrier … and cost per whatever unit of nut, bolt, service, and equipment … is what truly has skyrocketed.

For example, an aircraft carrier cost $6 billion in 2009, but the cost has now shot past $13 billion — a 117-percent increase in six years.

The big problems with the defense budget are contract inflation, gross oversight failures, and stunning accounting lapses on the part of those charged with managing defense programs of all kinds.

For decades, dozens of Government Accountability Office, Inspector General, and other reports have documented that DoD cost accounting systems are so flawed, they’re unauditable, with billions having gone unaccounted for. Massive cost overruns have been the rule rather than the exception. But the system goes unfixed.

So the bang for the procurement buck gets smaller quickly. But because the defense industry has built-in lobbyists with deep pockets, and because legislators with plants and jobs in their districts have vested interests in keeping even wasteful contracts alive, the target gets shifted to people programs.

There aren’t any big campaign contributions supporting people programs, so they’re easy to attack.  And DoD leaders have shown little hesitation in using numbers selectively to make it look like people are the problem.

One popular way has been to use the year 2000 as a starting point to measure cost growth — conveniently forgetting that was a retention low point brought on by more than a decade of pay, health care, retirement, and other cutbacks. The funding increases in subsequent years were needed to restore career retention incentives and improve readiness and quality of life.

Another favorite stratagem has been to pile every possible nickel into the calculation of “cost per troop” to drive that figure as high as possible.

For example, many such calculations include a present value for all future expected VA disability and health care costs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans — as if the troops were at fault for exposing themselves to combat.

They almost universally include a figure for PCS costs — as if there’s a benefit value in being required to move across the country periodically and be reimbursed less than it costs you and your family (without even counting issues like lost spousal income) to make the move.

The bottom line here is that many of the figures attributed as personnel benefit costs have nothing to do with compensation value for military people. An amputee would rather have his or her leg back than a monthly check from the VA. Military families would be far better off financially if the government never required them to move.

Military people understand the facts of life inherent in a military career. But they don’t expect to be handed a bill for their sacrifices.

There’s a massive difference between benefit value to the troops and the government’s inherent cost of doing military business.

Economists and budgeteers want to count every penny of what they see as your cost to the government.

What those exercises consistently fail to do is split out the government’s cost of readiness or acknowledge the flip side of the issue — the costs your service imposed on you and your family.


. December 18, 2015

Today, Congress was able to reach an agreement on a budget deal to keep the government funded for the next ten months.

The pending Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 includes funding for the following provisions, among others:

  • an active duty pay raise of 1.3%;
  • $32 billion for the Defense Health Program;
  • housing allowances for active personnel reflecting the 1% increase in out of pocket expense;
  • $86 billion for veteran benefits;
  • advance funding for all VA programs, and
  • permanent health care coverage for 9/11 first-responders.

MOAA is especially appreciative it provides advance appropriations for veterans benefit programs. That means, beginning in FY 2016, veterans and their families won’t see any break in their health care, disability compensation, survivor benefits, or GI Bill payments, even if congressional gridlock causes a federal shutdown.

Congress also passed a $622 billion package of business and individual tax provisions. The tax extender package includes extension of the expanded earned income tax credit, additional child credit and the American Opportunity tax credit for education expenses.

The President has expressed support for both bills, and it should be signed into law shortly.


December 18, 2015

After years of controversy and review, the Veterans Administration (VA) has finally issued a ruling that certain diseases incurred by people with past service at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, will be presumed to be service-caused.

VA investigators recently finished a study of medical conditions that could have been related to drinking water at Lejeune. They concluded contaminated drinking water at the base directly affected health conditions of roughly a million people – servicemembers, family members, and civilians stationed there during specific dates from the 1950s to the ’80s.

Specifically, they found eight different diseases are linked to contaminated drinking water at Lejeune:  kidney cancer, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, multiple myeloma, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease, and aplastic anemia.

As a result, the VA will now presume that any of those conditions experienced by people who served there were caused by that service.

The ruling applies to servicemembers, family members, and civilians with one of these conditions and who served at Camp Lejeune between August 1, 1953 and December 31, 1987. It also includes Reserve and National Guard members.

The new announcement doesn’t mean all claims for the affected diseases will be approved immediately or that there will be any retroactive approvals. The VA first has to issue an updated regulation, and the new rule will be applied to new disability claims.

The VA will put any pending Lejeune-related claims on hold until the new regulation is issued.

People who have submitted potentially eligible claims that were denied previously can resubmit claims for consideration under the new rules.

This is good and important news for many, many MOAA members and others. If you know of others who are potentially affected, please forward this information to them.

We’ll keep you posted when the VA publishes the updated regulations.


. December 18, 2015

This week, MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, CDR. René Campos, USN (Ret.), met with the Commission on Care to share the views and experiences of MOAA members using the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities in their communities.

In May of 2014, reports of waiting list manipulation at VA facilities led MOAA to urge the President and Congress to establish a high-level commission to examine VA health care delivery issues for the 21st century. This suggestion led to the passage of the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 (Choice Act) and the establishment of the Commission on Care.

The Commission is charged with providing recommendations to Congress on how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), locate health care resources, and deliver care to veterans over the next 20 years.

Last month, MOAA President Vice Adm. Norb Ryan, USN (Ret.), sent a letter urging the Commission to hear from veterans and their families about their needs and concerns, and the Commission has done just that.

On Monday, Campos provided commissioners recent testimonials of MOAA members using the VA health system. Most veterans are very satisfied with the quality of health care they receive, once they’re able to access the system.

A wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veteran told MOAA how helpful his VA medical center was in getting disability benefits and the health care he needed to ease his family’s transition out of the military.

But member inputs also highlight the confusing and inconsistent policies, procedures, and bureaucratic barriers they face in trying to access that care.

“The vets on the bottom of this avalanche of bureaucratic insanity are worse off than ever in their access to timely health care,” wrote an 80 year old female Vietnam veteran describing her frustration with the Choice Program.

Any reform of VHA must ultimately improve access and provide high quality and comprehensive care.

“The system must be designed to support and engage not only the veteran, but also their caregivers and family members. And it must be simple and easy to navigate,” said Campos.

The Commission wants to hear about your personal experiences and thoughts about VA health care. To share your views, click on the Veterans’ Voices tab on the Commission on Care website.

Issue 6. WHAT’S AHEAD FOR 2016?

December 18, 2015

2015 saw the biggest changes to the military retirement system in a generation. While the changes largely will affect only new recruits in 2018 and later years, Congress approved a major overhaul to military retirement in this year’s defense bill, cutting their future retired pay by 20 percent and asking them to help fund their own retirement via Thrift Savings Plan accounts.

2016 is already shaping up to be the year where every military beneficiary – past, present, and future – could see dramatic changes to their health care benefits.

Armed Services Committee leaders already tipped their hand in this year’s Defense Authorization Act.

NDAA report


As the report language indicates, nothing about the current system will be sacrosanct when lawmakers examine TRICARE – and neither will your wallet.

Proposals earlier this year recommended scrapping TRICARE altogether, forcing beneficiaries into plans similar to those of federal civilians, imposing significantly higher fees, and means-testing TRICARE and TRICARE For Life (TFL) benefits so beneficiaries with higher incomes would pay even more. All of those and others could be on the table again in 2016.

The question is: Are you prepared to protect your and your families’ interests?

MOAA members sent 420,000 emails to their elected officials in 2015. Your hard work helped avert even bigger military retirement cutbacks for future troops.

But now it’s about you and yours.

Proponents of big TRICARE/TFL fee hikes are hoping you’ll get tired of writing your elected officials and just accept the changes proposed by the Pentagon.

But if the answers you gave during MOAA’s recent survey are correct, your priority is on fixing the access and other problems many are having with TRICARE, and defeating proposals for disproportional fee hikes.

If that’s how you feel, we’ll need you to be more active than ever on these issues in 2016.

Some who have an interest in deterring your messages to Congress will try to discourage you by saying your MOAA-recommended tear-out letters, postcards, and emails don’t count much in legislators’ minds.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We’ve seen from years of experience – and direct feedback from legislators and their staffs – that volume of correspondence counts. When legislators get tons of mail on a topic, the vast majority aren’t going to ignore their constituents.

This isn’t just a “defending our rice bowl” issue. Sustaining a top-tier health care benefit for career servicemembers and their families is essential to long-term retention and readiness.

We’re going to be asking for a lot of activity from you in the months ahead. We hope you’ll stand with us as we continue to stand for you – and that you’ll ask your friends and relatives to get active, too.

National and state MOAA leaders will be Storming the Hill on health care and other issues in early April. Their office visits with legislators will be much more effective if legislators have received a barrage of constituent input.

Because of the coming holidays, this will be the final Legislative Update for 2015.

We wish you a happy – and safe and healthy – holiday season.

We’ll need all hands back and energized to take on the big health care challenges coming in the new year.