*Legislative Update 6 May 2016: Act Now to Help Military Survivor

We have 2 Action Items today at Issues 1 and 2 below



Summary of Issues

At Issue 1. we see ACT NOW TO HELP MILITARY SURVIVORS Without action, survivors stand to lose thousands. Urge congressional leaders to find important funding for military widows. (See Issue 1 below for the details and to send messages to our Legislators. GF)

At Issue 2. we see TEN THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE DEFENSE BILL Ten important items legislators tucked into “must pass” bill. House Armed Services Committee members included a number of amendments in last week’s defense bill. We take a look at some of the ones that will affect you an d your family. (See Issue 2 below for the details and to send messages to our Legislators. GF)

At Issue 3. we see MOAA ANSWERS YOUR TOP QUESTIONS. What’s going on with concurrent receipt and the commissary? MOAA’s Member Service Center takes a look at frequently asked member questions. If you were forwarded this email, please click here to join MOAA and receive further communications. (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





May 6, 2016

Current law imposes a severe financial penalty of up to $15,000 a year on the surviving spouse of an active duty or retired member who dies of a service-caused condition. That’s because the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payable for the service-caused death is deducted from their servicemember-purchased Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity. This is known as the “widows tax.”

Recognizing the inequity, Congress authorized a Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) in 2008 as partial recompense for the SBP-DIC offset. Then-House Armed Service Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), expressed the intent to continue increasing SSIA and ultimately phase out the widows tax.

SSIA is currently $275 per month and will increase to $310 per month next year. But authority to pay it expires October 1, 2017. So unless Congress acts this year, survivors will lose over $3,700 per year.

The House Armed Services Committee found only enough mandatory spending offsets to extend the SSIA one more year in the FY17 Defense Authorization Bill. But military widows deserve more substantive relief.

You can help protect these survivors by sending your legislators a MOAA-suggested message urging House and Senate leaders to identify the necessary savings offsets to eliminate or phase out the widows tax as both chambers address the defense bill later this month. 

(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)




May 6, 2016

For 55 years, the annual defense authorization bill has been passed by Congress and signed into law.

The bill is a massive, 700-plus page document outlining a number of things from force levels for each service to how much you’ll pay for health care.

But as it goes through the amendment process, legislators tuck dozens of diverse requirements into the bill.

Here are ten things you need to know about amendments added to the defense bill during the House Armed Services Committee’s deliberation process:

  1. Troubled by the Pentagon’s acknowledgement that its proposed TRICARE network would only cover 85 percent of the beneficiary population committee chair Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) and Military Personnel Subcommittee chair Joe Heck (R-Nev.) put a provision in the bill to increase the coverage to 90 percent. But the Congressional Budget Office advised this change would exceed budget limits. So the chairmen’s proposed increase had to be withdrawn.
  2. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) included an amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense to help identify which members of the military are at high risk of suicide to aid in intervention efforts.
  3. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) asked for a report on providing acupuncture and chiropractic care for TRICARE retirees. This has been a longstanding MOAA legislative goal.
  4. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) called for the creation of a pilot program for TRICARE beneficiaries to get prescription maintenance medications at retail pharmacies. Drug manufacturers would pay rebates to DoD for medications, ensuring the government pays the lowest available price.

Currently, beneficiaries must use mail-order or visit a MTF to receive non-generic maintenance medications.

While this provision would give beneficiaries another option for service, there is nothing in the amendment requiring DoD or pharmacies to pass on savings to beneficiaries.

  1. Rep. Brad Ashford’s (D-Neb.) would direct DoD to provide Congress a report on the feasibility of authorizing commissary and exchange access for disabled veterans who received the Purple Heart.
  2. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) introduced – then subsequently voted against – his own amendment requiring women, as well as men, to register for the draft. The unusual move was done as a part of a broader questioning of DoD’s decision to open all combat positions to female servicemembers. The amendment did pass.

Earlier this year MOAA conducted an informational survey on the issue and found that, while many survey respondents were uncomfortable with female servicemembers serving in combat positions, most said – if the country was already heading in that direction – it would be consistent to have women sign up for the draft.

  1. Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) secured an amendment providing 14 days of parental leave for a servicemember whose civilian spouse gives birth.
  2. Reps. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) both introduced amendments to improve training for military sexual trauma.
  3. Rep. Rich Nugent’s (R-Fla.) amendment specifies National Guard dual status technicians (whose Guard positions also entail full-time federal civilian jobs) from being furloughed in the event of a government shutdown.
  4. Rep. Tim Walz’s (D-Minn.) amendment would require additional time before DoD could implement proposed efficiency initiatives (e.g., variable pricing and store brands) for the commissary system, out of concern for potential unintended consequences. The amendment failed on a voice vote after Military Personnel Subcommittee chair Heck articulated the various safeguards already included in the bill.

The Senate Armed Services Committee takes up its version of the annual defense bill next week, and the full House is expected to take action later this month (which is why we need your action now.)

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


May 6, 2016

Every week MOAA’s Member Service Center answers hundreds of emails and phone calls. Here are answers to a few of the most common legislative related questions recently asked:

  1. If there are newly imposed TRICARE for Life (TFL) fees will I be affected?

DoD’s FY17 budget proposed annual enrollment fees that would eventually reach 2 percent of retired pay for those who become Medicare-eligible on or after Jan. 1, 2017.

Under its proposal, beneficiaries already enrolled in Medicare on Jan. 1, 2017 would be exempted from the new fee. Chapter 61 (military disability) retirees and survivors of servicemembers who died on active duty also would be exempt from the new fee.

The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) rejected the proposed TFL fees in its version of the FY17 Defense Authorization Act. The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is scheduled to take up its version of the bill next week, and MOAA hopes the SASC will follow the HASC in resisting additional TFL costs.

  1. Wasn’t I promised free health care for life?

There is widespread discussion about the “free” part of that promise. MOAA believes many servicemembers were promised free health care for life by supervisors, retention officers, or NCOs based on the widespread availability of military hospitals and clinics across the country in the past.

In the late 1960’s, Congress changed the law to specify that retirees would be eligible for care “on a space-available basis” in military medical facilities. Still, MOAA has documented that some service retention brochures continued to tout “lifetime health care” as a career benefit long after that.

Regardless of whether the word “free” was explicitly used, MOAA believes that was how most members interpreted the lifetime health care promise – because their only experience as active duty members was with free care in military facilities.

Crunch time really came in 1996, when TRICARE was implemented at the same time DoD downsized and eliminated hundreds of military hospitals and clinics, and specified that care would be allocated by priority for (1) currently serving members and families, (2) retirees and family members under age 65 and (3) retirees and families over 65.

As a practical matter, that radically changed the availability of military health care and shut virtually all of the over-65s out of the military health care system. The resulting outcry over broken commitments led Congress to enact TRICARE For Life (TFL) as a supplement to Medicare in 2001. So current law does, in fact, authorize lifetime health coverage for career servicemembers and their families and survivors.

Regardless of what people believe they were promised (or, in many cases, actually were promised), it has been a long time since military people have been exempt from paying at least something for health care. Servicemembers and family members over 65 have been paying Medicare premiums since the 1960s. Even before TRICARE was implemented, care not provided in military facilities was covered by CHAMPUS, which entailed a deductible and 25 percent cost share.

So the days of hoping for free health care are gone. MOAA remains committed to resisting disproportional fee increases, and ensuring whatever fees are charged take appropriate account of the in-kind premiums career servicemembers and families paid “up-front” through decades of service and sacrifice.

MOAA will continue to oppose any TFL fees beyond the Medicare Part B premium.

  1. What is going on with the commissary? Is privatization coming?

Last year, instead of providing a plan to privatize the commissary, Congress wrote a provision into the defense bill requiring the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to achieve budget-neutrality for the commissary and exchange benefits no later than March 1, 2016. After the report, DoD was to begin pilot programs to achieve that goal – while also maintaining current levels of patron savings and satisfaction and product quality. The report is yet to be released.

MOAA and The Military Coalition supported these provisions, in full knowledge that making the program budget-neutral while still achieving the same levels of patron savings and satisfaction and product quality is functionally impossible.

However, the House version of the FY17 defense bill included a provision allowing DoD to implement variable pricing strategies and “house brand” products at commissaries nationwide – while still maintaining requirements to preserve current levels of patron savings and satisfaction. If this provision is enacted, commissaries will be able to use variable pricing to modify product prices, up or down, for up to five years (or more if it works to reduce requirements for tax dollar support).

Although the proposed provision still requires DoD to meet benchmarks for product quality and customer savings and satisfaction, variable pricing could change the way commissaries deliver those savings either within a market basket or by locality.

MOAA will continue to urge DoD and Congress to find efficiencies without reducing the value of this important benefit.

  1. What is MOAA’s position on privatizing the VA?

MOAA believes the VA system definitely needs improvements, but we disagree with those who would phase it out and move all veterans’ care to the private sector. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is a system with a unique and comprehensive mission, and is unlike any other health system in America today. Privatizing the VA would eliminate some of the best aspects of VA care, such as spinal and polytrauma care.

That said, the system is in need of immediate attention and reform. Part of that reform is ensuring qualifying veterans are able to access private sector care if they can’t get timely care in VA facilities.

MOAA has joined with several other veterans groups to urge the Commission on Care, a congressional commission tasked with strategically examining how to best organize the VHA for the next generation of veterans, to consider serious reforms rather than a total overhaul.

  1. Is concurrent receipt still a priority for MOAA?

Definitely. MOAA continues to support full concurrent receipt of both military retired pay and VA disability pay-regardless of the percentage of disability. This issue remains one of MOAA’s key legislative priorities, and our goal of full elimination of the offset is specified in MOAA’s Resolutions, under Resolution No. 6-Career Force Compensation and Retirement System.

Click on MOAA’s Resolutions here or above to see the details. GF)

There are currently three MOAA-supported bills on this issue.

Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) introduced the Retired Pay Restoration Act (S. 271). This bill would permit retired members of the Armed Forces who have a service-connected disability rated less than 50 percent to receive full concurrent receipt of both retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation, including Chapter 61 disability retirees with less than 20 years of service. The House companion to this bill is H.R. 333, introduced by Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga.).

Another MOAA-supported bill regarding concurrent receipt is H.R. 303, introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). This bill would authorize full concurrent receipt for retirees with regular or Guard/Reserve retirements, regardless of disability rating.

Members are able to see up to date bill status information and send letters of support through MOAA’s key bills webpage.

Click on  MOAA’s key bills webpage here or above to see the details. GF)

MOAA is committed to advocating for concurrent receipt until the offset is eliminated for all disabled retirees. We believe strongly in the principle that career military members earn their retired pay by service alone, and those unfortunate enough to suffer a service-caused disability in the process should have any VA disability compensation added to, not subtracted from, their service-earned retired pay.

The main challenge, as it is with so many of our legislative goals, is funding. Under congressional rules, the only way the Armed Services Committees can propose such fixes is by identifying equal spending cuts in other programs in their purview. That’s why it’s been so difficult winning further progress.

In all likelihood, progress will come as it has in the past – in increments rather than in one big change.

In that regard, MOAA’s top concurrent receipt priority is providing relief for severely disabled medical retirees with less than 20 years of service. Under current law, a 100 percent (non-combat) disabled medical retiree with 19 years of service still loses most or all of his retired pay to the disability offset.

We’re convinced the offset will be fully eliminated for all disabled retirees at some point. But the current budget environment poses a huge obstacle for the short term.


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 Military Survivors Need Your Support the first time through thid process, and click on Act Now to Block Harmful DoD Budget Proposals the second time through this process.
  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.
  11. Return to Step 2above  and repeat this process for the  second action alert: Act Now to Block Harmful DoD Budget Proposals or try clicking on it here..





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