RAO Davao City

United States Military Retiree Activities Office Davao City, Philippines

NDAA 2009 UPDATE 10 June 2008

Posted by Service Officer on June 10th, 2008

On 14 MAY the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) completed action on H.R.5658, the FY 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, and reported the bill to the full House for further consideration. Subsequently, on 22 MAY by a vote of 384-23, the House approved H.R. 5658 the FY 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). It may appears, on first look that the bill sent to the House floor by the HASC rejected the Pentagon and Task Force plan to steeply raise Tricare fees and prescription costs. However, unlike the Senate’s rejection of higher fees, there’s a serious wrinkle in the HASC version. Instead of outright rejecting the Pentagon plan, Personnel Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Davis (D-CA) decided that retirees could help cover the costs of Tricare by absorbing a one month, one percent reduction in their COLAs. In other words, Chairwomen Davis would have retirees pay for their Tricare benefits from their retirement pocket instead of their healthcare pocket. Subcommittee Ranking Member John McHugh (R-NY) objected to the plan and said he would find a more palatable alternative. According Tom Philpott’s Military Update column, Subcommittee Chairwomen Davis “shrugged off McHugh’s criticism, saying difficult choices had to be made.” NAUS Memo to House Members: Here’s a “less difficult” choice for our U.S. Congress: how ’bout getting your priorities straight. End “free health care for illegal immigrants” and keep the promise made to Americans who gave a lifetime to military service defending our country and our way of life.

 

The Committee good news is that it also approved a 3.9% pay raise for active duty forces, which is a half percent higher than the Administration requested. Rep. Thelma Drake (R-VA) successfully added an amendment to see that military pay raises are at least a half-percentage point higher than the Employment Cost Index (ECI) through 2013. Other provisions would:

• Lower premiums paid by drilling reservists who enroll in the Tricare Reserve Select (TRS) program;

• Bar any TRICARE or pharmacy fee increases for FY2009.

• Establish a new preventive health program, which now includes Tricare for Life beneficiaries.

• Bar studies of commissary privatization through 2013.

• Require DoD recommendation on selling beer and wine in commissaries.

• Direct DoD recommendation on opening commissaries to disabled veterans with VA ratings of 30% or greater.

• Direct DoD plan to simplify Guard/Reserve duty status categories.

• Authorize Reservists who retired with 20 years of active duty to switch to Reserve retirement if that provides greater retired pay, as of JAN 09 (no retroactive payment).

• Authorize recomputation of Guard/Reserve retired pay following at least two years of recalled active duty .

• Extend Guard/Reserve income replacement authority through 2009.

• Authorize a pilot program to exempt certain preventive care (e.g., mammograms, colonoscopies, vaccinations) from TRICARE copays and deductibles (Note: original reports indicated that Medicare-eligibles would be excluded, but Committee leaders resolved that problem).

• Authorize chiropractic care for all active duty members (but not family members, retirees or survivors).

• Restore SBP to survivors of members who died on active duty, but whose SBP was switched to children (when children attain majority or if remarriage ends).

• Include the Mail Voucher program (H.R.1439) as an amendment to provide free mailing privileges for family members to send mail and packages to their loved ones serving in combat areas.

Unfortunately, three key initiatives were offered but rejected or withdrawn during the mark-up. The Committee majority rejected:

• Rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Thelma Drake (R-VA) to repeal the SBP/DIC offset. This was blocked on a procedural ruling that it was not allowed under the budget resolution guidelines;

• Rejected an amendment from Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) to lower Guard and Reserve retirement age retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001; and

• In the face of these rejections, Rep. Joe Kline (R-MN) withdrew his amendment for full concurrent receipt to all disabled retirees.

The House defense authorization bill also includes language that would halt construction of replacement hospitals for Walter Reed Army Medical Center until the Defense Department demonstrates that it can deliver world-class health services. Language inserted in the bill would prohibit construction from going beyond the foundation stage until lawmakers are satisfied with the design of a new hospital at Fort Belvoir in Fairfax County and expansion of the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. Hopefully there will be a sense of urgency, which will spur the Senate to complete action and approve their version of the NDAA and allow a conference to be completed before Congress recesses in October for elections. [Source: NAUS Weekly Update 16 & 23 May 08++]

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