Report by Alternate N.E.C. Dick Perry
National Security Commission of the American Legion
Summary of Issues
At Issue 1. we see The Good, the Bad, the Ugly. The defense bill faces a final vote in the Senate this afternoon. It is expected to pass and head to the president for his signature. In his December edition of the “Bottom Line,” MOAA Director of Government Relations Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret) takes a close look at the mixed results of the bill and sorts out the good, the bad, and the ugly.. (See Issue 1 below for the details. GF)
At Issue 2. we see Spending Bill Includes Major Wins. An omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government in 2015 is expected to be approved by the end of the week. The measure includes major wins for our nation’s veterans and the commissary benefit. (See Issue 2 below for the details. GF)
At Issue 3. we see Survey Says: Military Morale Crashing. A new Military Times survey indicates troops are beginning to feel burned out, underpaid and unsupported by senior leadership (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
Issue 1. The Good, the Bad, the Ugly
December 10, 2014
By Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret)
Last week we reported on the FY 2015 defense bill and the results were mixed. When you look closer, the results could be considered good, bad, and potentially ugly
(Click on reported on the FY 2015 defense bill here or above for more detail from last week GF).
The good: When the Pentagon submitted its defense budget proposal last March, it contained recommendations to “slow the growth” of pay and benefits to the military community. Specifically, the Pentagon wanted to:
• Cap the active duty pay raise at 1 percent (vs. a 1.8 percent raise established in law)
• Increase out-of pocket housing costs by 5 percent over 3 years
• Reduce purchasing power at the commissary by 66 percent
• Radically overhaul the TRICARE benefit by consolidating TRICARE Prime, Standard, and Extra, increasing pharmacy fees, and implementing a means-tested TRICARE for Life (TFL) enrollment fee
Fortunately, Congress either rejected or significantly curtailed the Pentagon’s proposals. The final compromise blocked the consolidation of TRICARE systems and means-testing TFL enrollment fees while limiting the impact of the commissary, housing allowance, and pharmacy fee proposals to one year modifications.
The bad: 2015 marks a second year of pay caps below private sector wage growth. The last two pay raises are tied for the lowest raises in 50 years. With four additional years of pay caps included in the president’s 2014 budget submission, this isn’t a statistical anomaly, it’s the emergence of a disturbing trend.
Even though Congress limited changes in commissary funding, housing allowances, and pharmacy copays to one year, this could easily be perceived as support for chipping away atthese benefits.
The ugly: In two obscured sections of a joint explanatory statement of the defense bill, House and Senate Armed Services Committee members stated that they have not yet rejected DoD plans to further erode housing allowances or increase TRICARE pharmacy fees, and will again “commit to consider” these proposals next year.
But if sequestration returns, an even uglier scenario will be on the horizon. The joint statement goes on to say that if sequestration returns, “ DoD will need to make painful cuts and achieve substantial savings across its entire budget in order to avoid an unacceptable reduction in readiness.”
Unacceptable readiness can be the result of a variety of shortfalls in either inadequate training or equipment. But we must not lose sight that the erosion of pay and benefits in the past lead to poor recruiting and retention, resulting in unacceptable readiness issues. It appears we are heading down that path again.
The bottom line: To ensure we don’t go from good, to bad, to ugly, MOAA’s mission in 2015 will be to remind Congress that erosions to pay and benefits led to significant readiness problems in the past.
Issue 2. Spending Bill Includes Major Wins
December 12, 2014
In a bit of high tension on Thursday night, the House of Representatives narrowly avoided derailing a $1 trillion funding measure to keep the government open. With only hours before the government was set to shut down, Congressional leaders cleared a major hurdle before finalizing the agreement.
Part continuing resolution (CR) and part omnibus appropriation bill, the funding measure has been dubbed a “cromnibus” by Washington insiders.
The CR will keep the government running for a few days while Congress finishes an omnibus appropriations package funding 11 out of 12 federal agencies until October 1, 2015.
In a major win, the omnibus proposal includes two year advanced appropriations for VA benefit programs through FY 2016. These accounts include VA compensation and pensions, readjustment benefits such as the GI bill, and insurance and indemnities for survivors. This comes in addition to advance funding for VA health care, which MOAA helped secure in FY 2010.
The VA advanced appropriation effort was championed by Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who worked closely with MOAA and other service groups on the measure. The provision will ensure veterans and survivors benefit checks would continue in the event of a future government shutdown, and allow important VA research programs to continue unhindered by annual budget negotiations.
With House passage late Thursday, the bill is expected to clear the Senate in the next few days.The measure includes $554 billion for DoD, slightly less than what President Obama originally requested.
In another win for the military community the deal protects the commissary benefit. It restores $90 out of the $100 million in commissary funding originally cut by the defense authorization bill. This will help commissaries maintain adequate staff levels and operating hours.
Failure to pass a funding measure would have resulted in another short term CR, or worse, a government shutdown. CRs significantly reduce the ability of the services to provide necessary training, and place considerable stress and uncertainty on the active duty force.
On the budget deal, MOAA’s Director of Government Relations, Col. Mike Hayden, USAF (Ret) praised the inclusion of VA advanced appropriations, “We applaud Congress and especially Senator Mikulski for looking out for the best interests of our nation’s veterans. VA advanced appropriations will ensure veterans’ health care and compensation programs are not held hostage by future partisan budget debates.”
Issue 3. Survey Says: Military Morale Crashing
December 12, 2014
A recently released Military Times survey shows that troops are beginning to feel burned out, underpaid and unsupported by senior leadership.
These findings come from nearly 2,300 active duty personnel participating in a survey between July and August of 2014.
Only 56 percent of surveyed servicemembers indicated their quality of life is “good” or “excellent.”
This pales in comparison to the 91 percent of respondents in a similar 2009 survey.More than two thirds (70 percent) believe their quality of life will further decline in future years.
On senior leadership, only 27 percent viewed senior military leaders of having servicemembers’ best interests in mind.
More than half of respondents felt that way in 2009.Views on military compensation and health care have also dipped. In 2009, 87 percent of respondents indicated their pay and allowances were either good or great. In 2014 only 44 percent took the same view.
For health care, the numbers plummeted from 78 percent to 45 percent.
Despite the grim outlook, DoD officials continue to report that recruiting and retention remains high. But underlying problems are easily masked by the ongoing drawdown. This survey – echoed by similar surveys conducted by Blue Star Families and the Navy Retention Study – should serve as a bellwether for the health of the all-volunteer force.
These surveys highlight what MOAA has said for years: short-sighted cuts to compensation and benefits prove to be a slippery slope—once started, cuts historically continue until they damage recruiting and retention.
“It’s not surprising servicemembers would show increased signs of disappointment with current compensation,” said MOAA’s Deputy Director of Government Relations, Col. Mike Barron, USA (Ret). “2009 and 2010 saw the last pay raises that exceeded private sector wage growth. Those plus ups were critically needed to eliminate a 13.5 percent pay gap that existed between troops and their private sector counterparts. Since then, today’s active duty force has had two straight years of pay caps that represented the smallest pay raises in 50 years. Their health care benefit has been eroded with the elimination of Prime Service Areas and servicemembers will soon see out-of-pocket costs for their housing.”
High operational tempo and the uncertainty of the drawdown leave many servicemembers and their families wondering what tomorrow will bring.