FRA NewsBytes May 15 2015

FRA Newsbytes 05/15/2015

FRA Newsbytes 05/15/2015

In this issue:
Senate and House Continue to Work on NDAA
NED and FRA Staff Meet with New Marine Corps Sergeant Major
NED Attends White House Meeting on Military and Veteran Family Issues
Senate Panel Reviews Veterans’ Benefits Legislation
FRA Salutes Outstanding Sailors
Tomorrow is Armed Forces Day

Senate and House Continue to Work on NDAA
The Senate Armed Services Committee marked up its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in a closed session the day after its subcommittees completed their markup. The still unnumbered bill also contains a provision that would enable the Department of Defense (DoD) to transfer $38 billion from Overseas Contingency Operations funds to the base budget, allowing the DoD to exceed sequestration spending caps.

The text of the committee-approved bill is currently unavailable. According to committee staff, the bill accepted the first recommendation of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) final report, which creates a “blended” retirement system for future retirees. The current defined benefit plan for 20 or more years of service would be replaced by smaller defined benefit plan (from 40 to 50 percent of base pay). It also adds a new mandatory defined contribution plan known as a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which provides a one-percent employer contribution and an employee contribution unless the service member opts out. Any employee contributions would be matched by the employer up to five percent of pay, and under the Senate bill, the matching contribution would stop after 20 years of service. The plan would also provide a bonus determined by the military branch at 12 years of service if the service member signs up for four more years. The bill also authorizes the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) to modify the years of service required for retirement for particular occupational specialties in order to facilitate force shaping or to correct manpower shortages within an occupational specialty. Other important provisions of the committee-approved bill include the following:

  • Increasing pharmacy co-pays for retirees under age 65 except for prescriptions filled at Military Treatment Facilities (MTF);
  • Rejecting the administration’s requests for a TRICARE merger and a large increase in annual enrollment fees;
  • Rejecting the MCRMC plan to abolish TRICARE and replace it with a plan offered by commercial insurers;
  • Accepting the administration’s reductions to the active duty annual pay increase (2.3 percent vs. 1.3 percent), and BAH reductions to 95 percent of cost (currently 99 percent);
  • Allows SecDef to reduce end strength below that mandated in NDAA;
  • Rejecting the administration’s request to reduce commissary subsidies;
  • Enhancing confidential reporting options for victims of sexual assault by exempting sexual assault response personnel from mandatory reporting requirements under state law; and
  • Mandating a 7.5 percent cut in Office of Secretary of Defense funding and personnel for four years.

The House Defense authorization bill (HR 1735) is on the House floor and Representatives are debating 135 floor amendments. The House is expected to debate and vote on amendments and pass the bill later today. Once each chamber approves its version of the Defense Authorization bill, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences in the two bills, after which the final bill will be voted on by both chambers and, if approved, sent on to the President to signed or vetoed.
NED and FRA Staff Meet with New Marine Corps Sergeant Major
FRA National Executive Director (NED) Tom Snee and other FRA staff members met with Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald Green, an FRA Shipmate, at the Pentagon to discuss various legislative issues and other topics of mutual concern. NED Snee explained the FRA’s 2015 legislative agenda and the Association’s growing concerns about the impact of sequestration on the Defense budget. Further, NED Snee and Sgt. Maj. MC Green discussed the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) and current legislative action on the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
NED Attends White House Meeting on Military and Veteran Family Issues
FRA National Executive Director (NED) Tom Snee participated in meeting at the White House on military and veteran family issues with CEOs of 15 other military and veterans’ associations. Several of the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) were discussed and concern was raised that no enlisted personnel or women were appointed to the commission.

NED Snee expressed concern about the smaller than civilian sector annual pay increase in the FY 2016 Defense Authorization bill, along with the impact of proposed cuts to commissary and Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) on military families. Snee requested White House support for expanding the VA Caregivers program to include disabled veterans from before 9-11-01 (S. 657) and the “Final Month’s Pay” (HR 454) legislation, which would prohibit the DFAS process of recouping all retired pay for the month in which a retiree dies from military widow/widower bank accounts, then later sending the survivor a pro-rated check for the amount of the final month the retiree was alive. This recoupment is an extremely insensitive policy imposed by DFAS during a traumatic time for the survivor and the family. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support these proposals.
Senate Panel Reviews Veterans’ Benefits Legislation
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (SVAC) reviewed 12 pending legislative proposals pertaining to veterans’ benefits. Among the bills discussed at the hearing was the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (S. 681), which provides presumption for the “Blue Water Navy Veterans” for VA disability claims associated with exposure to herbicides used in Vietnam.

The sponsor of the Senate legislation, Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (N.Y.) testified about the bill, giving an impassioned plea for the committee to approve the legislation. FRA submitted a statement on many of the legislative proposals discussed at the hearing, with special focus on S. 681. The statement emphasized that many of these veterans are senior citizens and the time to help them is now! SVAC Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) indicated that the bill would be marked up, approved and sent to the Senate floor sometime in June. A copy of FRA’s statement is available on the FRA website (www.fra.org/testimony) and members are strongly urged to use the FRA Action Center (action.fra.org/action-center) to ask their legislators to support the “Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act” (S. 681) and its House companion bill (H.R. 969).
FRA Salutes Outstanding Sailors
FRA congratulates the Navy’s 2014 Sailors of the Year (SOY), who were meritoriously promoted to chief petty officers during ceremonies in the Washington, D.C. area this week. The week’s activities included an FRA-sponsored tour of the U.S. Capitol, a Capitol Hill luncheon for the SOYs and their families, and an advancement ceremony held at the U.S. Navy Memorial.

The finalists included:

CMC (SCW/EXW) Jimie Bartholemew, USN
2014 Reserve Sailor of the Year

SWC (SCW) Brenton W. Heisserer, USN
2014 CNO Shore Sailor of the Year

BMC (EXW/SW) Joe A. Mendoza, USN
2014 U.S. Fleet Forces Sailor of the Year

LSC (SCW/EXW/AW/SW) Blanca A. Sanchez, USN
2014 U.S. Pacific Fleet Sailor of the Year
Tomorrow is Armed Forces Day
On August 31, 1949, Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the Armed Forces into one department—the Department of Defense (DoD).