*Legislative Update 22 April: 2016:Panel Rejects Pay, Force Cuts

We have 1 Action Item today at Issue 2 below



Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see PANEL REJECTS PAY, FORCE CUTSProcess for defense bill gets rolling. House Subcommittee rejects DoD’s proposals on pay raise. (See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)

At Issue 2. we see TIME TO END THE MILITARY “WIDOWS TAX”. Repeal the SBP-DIC Offset. In his April As I See It column, MOAA Director of Government Relations Col. Steve Strobridge, USAF (Ret), says widows need relief from compounded losses. (See Issue 2 below for the details and to send messages to our Legislators. GF)

At Issue 3. we see VETERAN GROUPS TO COMMISSION: FIX, DON’T DISMANTLE VAVA Commission on Care finalizing its report to Congress. Leading veteran groups meet to share concerns on some health system proposals. (See Issue 3 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





April 22, 2016

On April 20, the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee approved its version of the FY 2017 defense authorization bill (H.R. 4909).

The Subcommittee’s mark differs significantly from DoD’s FY 2017 defense budget proposal, and provides some early optimism on the 2017 pay raise and commissary issues.

(Click on  DoD’s FY 2017 defense budget proposal,  here or above to see the details. GF)

Here’s how the bill addresses several issues of MOAA interest:

Force Levels: increases force levels above the DoD budget request by 20,000 for the Army; 15,000 for Army National Guard; 10,000 for Army Reserve; 4,000 for the Air Force; and 3,000 for the Marine Corps. Approves the DoD request to reduce Navy forces by 6,300.

Active Duty Pay Raise: rejects the administration’s proposal to cap the 2017 pay raise at 1.6 percent, and instead would provide servicemembers the same 2.1 percent pay raise experienced by the average American (as measured by the Employment Cost Index).

Commissary: allows DoD to implement variable pricing strategies and “house brand” products at commissaries nationwide, but specifies current patron savings and satisfaction must be maintained, benchmarks for those measures must be established, and quarterly reports must be provided to track progress. MOAA appreciates the Subcommittee’s extra efforts to preserve benefit value for patrons while pursuing system efficiencies.

Military Retirement: adopts a DoD proposal for flexibility in paying a continuation bonus between eight and 12 years of service for members under the new blended retirement system (taking effect in 2018), but does not include other DoD proposals to delay the onset of government Thrift Savings Plan matching until five years of service, increase the maximum government match, and extend matching beyond 26 years of service.

Uniform Code of Military Justice: adopts a long list of changes, including establishing new offenses involving use of government computers and credit card fraud, extending the statute of limitations for child abuse, and improving transparency of court records.

Impact Aid: provides $30 million in assistance for local schools serving significant numbers of military children.

The Subcommittee bill did not address military health care or extension of authority to pay a Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) to survivors affected by the military “widows tax.”  Subcommittee Chair Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) said both of those issues would be addressed next week during action on the bill by the full Armed Services Committee.

The full committee is set to take up the defense bill next Wednesday, and action by the Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to begin May 10.




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

April 22, 2016

No servicemember, active or retired, likes to contemplate their possible death.

But those with families do exactly that to shield their loved ones from the financial consequences of losing the head of household.

The significant majority of retiring members purchase the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) to provide their surviving spouse 55 percent of retired pay.

But what if the servicemember dies of a service-caused condition? Shouldn’t the spouse get something extra in that circumstance?

In theory, they do, because the VA provides Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) — currently a little over $15,000 a year — in such cases.

But there’s a catch: If the deceased servicemember had SBP coverage, the law requires DIC to be deducted from it.

That’s right — the SBP the retiree purchased gets cut by up to $15,000. For most enlisted retirees, that wipes out most or all of the survivor’s SBP.

Is the government entirely unfeeling about this? No, they kindly refund a pro-rata share of the member-paid SBP premiums (without interest) for the lost SBP amount.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) have introduced bipartisan legislation to end this so-called SBP-DIC widows tax and authorize payment of both SBP and DIC when military service caused the member’s death.

Nelson, a former Florida insurance commissioner, has said, “It would be illegal for any insurance company to say it wouldn’t pay on a life insurance policy because the policyholder had other coverage.”

That’s not the only irony SBP-DIC widows face. Several years ago, a court ruled dual SBP- and DIC-eligible survivors can receive both benefits — provided they remarry after age 57.

So — incredibly — current law punishes these survivors financially for remarrying before age 55 (they lose both SBP and DIC in that case) and also punishes them financially (by continuing the widows tax) if they don’t remarry after age 57.

Congress long has recognized the unfairness of the widows tax. Several years ago, Congress authorized a Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) as a partial rebate for SBP-DIC widows. The SSIA is $275 a month this year, and will rise to $310 next year, when it will make up for about 25 percent of the widows tax.

The intent, as expressed by previous House Armed Services Committee Chair Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) was to continue raising the SSIA as a means of eventually phasing out the widows tax.

But the authority to pay SSIA ends as of Oct. 1, 2017 — which means Congress has to act this year to keep SBP-DIC widows from losing the current $310 monthly allowance.

MOAA stormed the Hill last week to urge legislators to end the widows tax or, at the very least, extend and continue increasing the SSIA.

The vehicle to do that is the FY2017 defense authorization bill, which the House and Senate will be considering over the next month.

You can help protect these most deserving survivors by sending your legislators a MOAA-suggested message urging inclusion of a provision in the defense bill to end the SBP-DIC widows tax.


(Click on MOAA-suggested message here or above, or go to the “Here is the Process” section at the end of this Email to send your messages. GF)



April 22, 2016


The Commission on Care is wrapping up its report to Congress on how best to organize the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) for the next generation of veterans


With roughly two months left for the Commission to write its recommendations, MOAA joined several veteran organizations at a meeting with commissioners on April 18 to discuss the Commission’s work, but more importantly to convey what type of health system veterans want, need, and deserve.


The veterans panel offered stories, survey data, and viewpoints on four critical topic areas:


The role of the VHA


The role of non-VA (community care) health care providers


How veterans will need to access care in the future


How to strengthen veterans’ health care programs


MOAA reiterated many of the points outlined in a letter sent earlier this month disagreeing with some who say the VHA is “broken beyond repair.” MOAA acknowledged that the system is in need of immediate attention and reform, but urged the commissioners to find a way to fix the problems and not simply migrate the system to community-based services. MOAA is concerned such a move would lose the best aspects and most critical functions of the system, such as spinal cord and polytrauma care.


The group praised VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s MyVA transformation efforts, asking the commissioners to keep this in mind as they formulate their recommendations.“


The integration and coordination of care is critical in any health system,” said MOAA Deputy Director of Government Relations Cdr. René Campos, USN (Ret). “Not just veterans, but American medicine relies on VHA work, and these linkages are important, unlike any health system in the public sector.”


Campos reminded commissioners in the aftermath of the 2011 tornado in Joplin, Mo., and Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012, the VA was able to support thousands of displaced veterans to ensure continuity of medical care and benefits because of VA’s electronic health record.


Panelists talked about the importance of talking and listening to other veterans, citing a recent Veterans of Foreign Wars survey. The survey also showed quality of care, availability of appointments, travel distance, and cost as the top four reasons for veterans using VA health care.


“If you are going to eliminate the functionalities of the VA, you actually are reducing choice, not adding choice,” said Bill Rausch, Executive Director of Got Your Six.


Top VA leaders spoke to the commission later in the day, providing a progress report on changes in the health system to date. Many of these changes have had a positive impact on veterans care, such as: a new employee and leadership training program; one-day stand downs to reduce the backlog of urgent care appointments; real-time customer satisfaction feedback; and expansion of clinical hours to see more patients-all with a focus on care that is veteran-centric.


MOAA recognizes the tough job ahead for commissioners as they craft their report to the President and Congress. We greatly appreciate the significant amount of time commissioners gave to hearing our concerns and recommendations.


Here is the Process I recommend that you review all of the steps below 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 downunder “Current Action Alerts” and below Congress click on End the Military “Widows Tax”
  3. 3.If applicable, at the next screen scroll down to the TAKE ACTION NOW! lineand enter or confirm your Zip code and /or hit “Go!”
  4. 4. Orat that next screen under“COMPOSE MESSAGE” leave the “Message Recipients Delivery Method” as “Email” at your discretion, and then scroll down to “Issue Area” and select an appropriate issue; e.g. ‘Veteran affairs’
  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.
  7. 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 numberif 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Hit “Send Message”
  10. If Printed Letter was selected at Step 4 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.





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