FRA NewsBytes February 13 2015

FRA Newsbytes 02/13/2015

FRA Newsbytes 02/13/2015

In this issue:
NED Attends Bill Signing Ceremony
HASC Personnel Panel Reviews Retirement Commission Recommendations
FRA’s Full Month’s Retired Pay Bill Introduced
Senate Approves Secretary of Defense Nomination


NED Attends Bill Signing Ceremony
National Executive Director (NED) Thomas Snee attended the bill signing ceremony in the East Room at the White House for the “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act” (H.R. 203), which was sponsored by HVAC member Rep. Tim Walz (Minn.). The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that as many as 22 veterans commit suicide every day. This FRA-supported legislation is designed to improve the long-term mental and physical well-being of our veterans.
HASC Personnel Panel Reviews Retirement Commission Recommendations
The House Armed Services, Military Personnel Subcommittee held a hearing this week to review the 15 recommendations in the final report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). Members of the Commission testified on the recommendations. The hearing focused on the concern that only 17 percent of those who serve ever collect retainer pay and the fact that paying benefits to service members who serve less than twenty years will reduce benefits to those that serve 20 or more years. FRA has expressed concern about several of the Commission’s recommendations in statements to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees; the full commentary available on the FRA website at action.fra.org/testimony. In addition, NED Tom Snee is scheduled to testify on the MCRMC recommendations before the Senate Armed Services, Personnel Subcommittee on February 25.

Over the course of the last two weeks, members of the FRA Legislative Team met with Personnel Subcommittee staff from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, as well as staff from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. These off-the-record meetings allow FRA staff to provide the Association’s legislative agenda to key staff members on Capitol Hill.
FRA’s Full Month’s Retired Pay Bill Introduced
Representative Walter Jones (N.C.) recently introduced legislation (H.R. 454) authorizing surviving spouses (or other designated survivors) to retain the full month’s retired pay for the month in which a military retiree passes away. “The Military Retiree Survivor Comfort Act” was introduced at FRA’s request and seeks to ensure survivors are not unfairly burdened when overpayments occur.

The problem most often occurs when a military retiree dies late in the month. As survivors mourn and work to sort out the details of their loved one’s passing, there is sometimes a delay in reporting the death to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS). If the death report and other administrative details aren’t handled before the next retirement payment is processed, an overpayment occurs for the period between the retiree’s death and the end of the month. DFAS has the authority to recoup this overpayment directly from the survivor’s bank account with little or no warning, often creating financial and emotional hardship for the family.

Jones’ proposal would allow survivors to retain the full month’s retired pay for any month in which the retiree was alive for at least 24 hours. To offset the cost associated with this proposal, a provision of the bill would delay the first Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity payment until the month after the retiree dies.

Congress passed a similar law in 1996 allowing surviving spouses to retain veterans’ disability and VA pension payments issued for the month of the veteran’s death. FRA believes military retired pay should be no different. Members are urged to use the Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their Representative to support this legislation.
Senate Approves Secretary of Defense Nomination
Early this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee unanimously approved Ashton Carter to serve as Secretary of Defense. Full Senate confirmation of the nomination (93-5) followed promptly.

During his nomination hearing, Carter said that sequestration-driven budget caps could lead to a “significant risk” of rewriting the U.S. defense strategy and would imperil “extremely fragile” recent readiness gains. If military personnel costs keep rising amid flat budgets, it could lead to a “hollow force,” he added. Carter also predicted a “smaller and more efficient” military in the next five years.