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Archive for the ‘Legislation News’ Category

Clay Hunt veterans suicide prevention act passes in Senate, will head to White House

ClayHunt

February 3, 2015 – Legislation designed to help combat suicide by U.S. military veterans passed in the Senate 99-0 on Tuesday, setting the stage for it soon to become federal law.

Approval of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was lauded by veterans and suicide prevention groups as a victory that will save lives. The legislation is named after a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and later took his own life in 2011.

“We are extremely grateful for the Senate passing this bill and all those who have worked so hard on it. While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” said Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt, in a statement. “No veteran should have to wait or go through bureaucratic red tape to get the mental health care they earned during their selfless service to our country. While this legislation is not a 100 percent solution, it is a huge step in the right direction.”

The Senate bill calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a one-stop website to serve as a source of information for VA mental health services, address a shortage of mental health care experts by allowing VA to recruit them through a student loan repayment pilot program, expand how long veterans can seek mental health care services at VA to better address conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The bill also calls for an evaluation of all VA mental health care and suicide prevent practices to determine what is working and make recommendations on what is not and for the department to establish a new peer support pilot program designed to help service members who are leaving the military access VA mental health care services.

The legislation had backing from Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and dozens of other members of Congress. A similar bill passed in the House on Jan. 12.

The bill had broad support on Capitol Hill last year, but was blocked from a vote by a single retiring politician, Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.). The fiscal conservative objected to it on the grounds that it would add $22 million in federal spending — less than a quarter of the cost of a new fighter jet. Coburn is no longer on Capitol Hill, however, allowing the vote in the Senate to proceed.

 

 

The Final Report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission

January 29, 2015 – The Final Report of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission presents the findings and recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. These recommendations ensure the long-term success of the All-Volunteer Force, enable the quality of life for members of the Uniformed Services, and improve the fiscal sustainability of the compensation and retirement systems.

PDF Link: MCRMC-FinalReport-29JAN15-HI

Executive Summary taken from report: MCRMC-FinalReport-29JAN15-Exec Summary Only

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25 Issues To Watch In the Coming DoD Budget

25 Issues To Watch In the Coming DoD Budget

January 28, 2015 – 25 Issues To Watch In the Coming DoD Budget

Defense News staff 5:18 p.m. EST January 27, 2015
On Feb. 2, the Pentagon will submit its fiscal 2016 budget request to Congress. Defense News reporters teamed up with budget analytics firm VisualDoD to highlight the most important issues to watch.

Issue: Return of the caps
Context: The Ryan-Murray budget agreement kept 2014 and 2015 funding fairly stable. But without a new deal, DoD’s 2016 budget will revert to the 2011 Budget Control Act sequestration caps. The question is: how will DoD prepare?
Possibilities: Be on the lookout for proposed force structure changes, discrete personnel reductions, major program delays or deferments, and plus-ups in specific areas in anticipation of multi-year sequestration.

Issue: Congress and sequestration
Context: Unless Congress acts this year, tens of billions will be cut from all non-exempt accounts within the budgets of the Defense Department and other national security agencies next year.
Possibilities: A few weeks into the new congressional session, only members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees are even talking about sequestration. The next move resides with the leaders of the House and Senate Budget committees, who will craft a 2016 budget resolution that could raise spending caps.

Issue: Congressional powers
Context: There was much shock and debate last year when the congressional defense panels blocked just about every major budget-cutting plan the Pentagon and White House proposed.
Possibilities: Expect a sequel. Thornberry last week delivered a meaty defense of the legislative branch’s constitutional powers, arguing the country’s founders wanted Congress to judge the executive branch’s plans — and, oftentimes, change them.

Issue: Living without OCO
Context: As the overseas contingency operations (OCO) budgets shrink, recent attempts to fund base requirements out of OCO will be increasingly difficult to pull off, even as the growth of operations and maintenance (O&M) and personnel costs puts pressure on investment.
Possibilities: Look at the percentage of the procurement, research and development, personnel and O&M. Are there changes in composition by service or account? What are the possible changes in the composition of R&D by budget activity and/or defense technology area? How will OCO be used?

Issue: New program starts
Context: In the 2014 budget request, DoD added about 60 new budget lines. The 2015 version added around 100 lines back into the budget. Based on comparisons with previously anticipated new starts (the budget documents identify about 30 future procurement programs), most expected programs were funded, but some at reduced levels and some not at all.
Possibilities: New funding lines might reflect a particular focus. How well will they track with new starts anticipated in the 2015 budget? Look for whether future procurements in the 2016 budget show a shift in some plans to the right. Also watch for patterns or emphasis in the types of programs funded.
Service Spending
Service spending (Photo: Defense Department via VisualDoD)

Issue: UAV funds
Context: The last fighter pilot has not been born yet and the services have tried to pare back UAV spending in recent years. The Navy has taken some heat for a relatively unambitious set of requirements for the Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) program. Will that continue — or will cost and personnel pressures push the services to expand existing UAV programs or shift to the next generation of tactical combat-capable drones?
Possibilities: Look for changes in the mix of types or numbers of proposed UAV procurements and R&D. That includes the fate of the Global Hawk and the mission for the UCLASS. Will other unmanned underwater and ground programs receive increased focus?

Issue: Cyber, IT spending
Context: Rapid growth in cyber spending has been a market mantra. The coming “IT New Entrants” has been talked about relentlessly.
Possibilities: Look for major increases or decreases, overall or internal shifts (by line item, service or title) into discrete cyber/IT lines. Are there clear purchasing priorities in technology or delivery terms, such as buying equipment or services? Do non-traditional DoD players gain share by virtue of evolving DoD requirements?

DoD WSU Obama
Wartime spending

Issue: Classified spending
Context: According to VisualDoD analysis, DoD classified spending has steadily grown as a percentage of the DoD budget, from about 5 percent in 2001 to a steady state around 10 percent projected in 2019. Classified budgets contain the seeds of future technological leaps. However, they also represent long-term, high-overhead contracts that are generally tilted toward entrenched players instead of newcomers.
Possibilities: Watch the absolute classified amounts by service and title and budget authority, along with growth as a percentage of overall spending.

Issue: Tactical aviation changes
Context: Delays and cost overruns in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program have fueled a debate about the affordability of 5th- versus 4th-generation fighter aircraft. Debate remains vigorous about the F-35′s suitability for various missions, such as close-air support and air dominance.
Possibilities: DoD might hedge fighter inventories with further 4th-generation buys, following Congress’ inclusion of EA-18G advance procurement. Will increasing plans for F-35 buys stay on track or get hindered by recent technological issues? Will A-10s be put on the chopping block again only to be revived late in the year?

Issue: Missile defense
Context: Despite general technical progress, missile defense investments remain politically contentious. How will missile defense budgets — particularly for ground-based missile defense — fare versus previous congressional priorities?
Possibilities: DoD could incorporate congressional changes from 2015 or propose new initiatives. Ground-based plans could be affected by the overall budget environment.

Issue: Long Range Strike-Bomber
Context: Little is known about the bomber, largely a black program. The Air Force intends to procure 80 to 100 bombers at a price of $550 million each.
Possibilities: Will we see more budget details revealed in the “white” portion of the budget this year? And if so, will it be enough to give confidence that the program is protected as the Navy ramps up the Ohio-class replacement program?

Issue: KC-46A Tanker
Context: After a brutal fight in the latter half of the 2000s between Boeing and Northrop, the Air Force finally selected the KC-46A design for its next-generation tanker. The first flight of a full-up tanker model is expected in the spring.
Possibilities: There have been technical delays, and Boeing’s margin is shrinking. Costs on the program are going to be very closely monitored by Congress.

Issue: A-10 Warthog
Context: A venerable plane best known for its 30mm cannon, the A-10 is beloved by troops on the ground for its ability to get in close during firefights. However, the service spend most of last year trying to retire the plane in the face of Congressional opposition.
Possibilities: The Air Force is expected to move to retire the plane once again this year. But with Congress keeping it afloat, that simply may not happen.

Issue: Global Hawk and U-2
Context: The U-2 spy plane and the Global Hawk high-altitude unmanned system have been at odds for the last several budget cycles. After years of the Air Force trying to end work on Global Hawk in favor of the U-2, the service flipped last year; Congress has allowed neither plane to be retired.
Possibilities: Does the Air Force stick with its plan to retire the U-2, or does it flip again and support the manned plane? Or does it try and find money enough for both in the budget?

Issue: Navy Department’s topline
Context: The department’s 2016 budget request was scheduled a year ago to rise to nearly $159.5 billion, or $11.5 more than the $148 billion asked for in 2015.
Possibilities: That $159.5 billion figure could change.

Issue: Navy shipbuilding and aircraft plans
Context: These always see some year-to-year tweaking, but the service is expected to stick to last year’s 2016 plans: two submarines, two destroyers, and three littoral combat ships.
Possibilities: Congress provided money in 2015 to buy about half another LPD amphibious transport dock — a ship the Navy did not request — and the remainder could be included in the 2016 request. Year-to-year aircraft procurement figures are likely to be altered to some degree, but no major changes are expected.

Issue: Aircraft carrier George Washington
Context: The 2015 budget envisioned canceling the carrier’s nuclear refueling overhaul and inactivating an air wing, but Congress vehemently denied the requests, instead directing the Navy to refuel the carrier and keep the planes.
Possibilities: The restored funding is likely to appear in several areas, including ship overhauls and aircraft requests. Procurement in 2016 of MH-60R multimission helicopters from Sikorsky, for example, was canceled, blamed on the air wing being dissolved, so look to see whether those aircraft have been restored.

Issue: Navy weapons procurement
Context: These accounts also took a big hit in 2015, when the Navy dramatically reduced buys in favor of supporting the ship and aircraft accounts. Congress took note, however, and restored some of the weapons funding.
Possibilities: Look to see whether the Navy again reduces its requests — possibly figuring Congress will add them back in — or asks for the weapons straight up.

Issue: Navy five-year plan
Context: The new future years defense plan (FYDP) now extends to 2020, and several new programs could begin to appear — chief among them the LX(R) amphibious ship replacement program. Research and development funding for the Ohio-class replacement program also is expected to have an increasing effect on the budget, as construction funding for first ship is expected to be included in 2021.

Issue: Army and Marine force structure vs. vehicles
Context: Despite budget turbulence, the Army and Marine Corps have pledged their commitment to the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, with buys of 49,000 and 5,500 respectively.
Possibilities: Congress could opt to compare the JLTV requirements and proposed Army and Marine force structure cuts to determine if JLTV requirements have decreased proportionally.

Issue: Army active-reserve force structure and aviation
Context: Shrinking budgets and continued mobilization of reserve troops have fueled debates over a greater role for reserve units, which are cheaper, replacing active units, which respond quicker to crises. Meanwhile, the Army — to reach sequestration funding levels — wants to move attack helicopters from the reserve to the active component to replace retiring armed reconnaissance helicopters and send utility helicopters to the reserve.
Possibilities: What budget language will be included in relation to force mix? How will the budget requests for aviation programs have changed?

Issue: Congress and cyberspace
Context: Some argue the military lacks what it needs to fight and win in cyberspace, and that it should be given jurisdiction domestically or new authorities to lure cyber talent from the private sector.
Possibilities: Will Congress provide DoD with new authorities to aid its acquisition of cyber talent? Will it create ways for Cyber Command teams to legally coordinate with civilian agencies during peacetime? Could it create an entirely new service dedicated to cyber?

Issue: GOP priorities
Context: No one doubts Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the chairs of the Armed Services committees, and their allies want to increase defense spending. But what about House and Senate leaders?
Possibilities: Just a few weeks ahead of the next Pentagon budget request, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are talking about a list of issues. But not defense spending. GOP sources say the leaders care more about deficit reduction than increasing defense spending.

Issue: Regular order
Context: Due to partisan squabbling over amendments and process in the Senate, annual defense spending bills haven’t exactly sailed to passage before the start of recent fiscal years.
Possibilities: McConnell says that squabbling will end under his leadership. But Democrats already are complaining about his handling of their amendments on the Keystone XL Pipeline bill. These disputes have escalated quickly and taken down other bills before.
Aaron Mehta, Joe Gould, Christopher P. Cavas and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

House Chairman Pledges Not to Rush Big Military Pay Changes

House Chairman Pledges Not to Rush Big Military Pay Changes

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Jan. 27, 2015 – 3:44 p.m.

By Connor O’Brien, CQ Roll Call

The House Armed Services chairman said he could foresee quickly moving legislation on changes recommended in a military compensation and retirement study that enjoys broad support, though he promised not to rush through major changes.

Without discussing specific changes he might endorse, Texas Republican Mac Thornberry reiterated Tuesday that changes proposed by the congressionally mandated panel tasked with finding ways to overhaul the military’s compensation and benefits package deserve careful consideration. The panel is expected to issue its report later this week.

“There may be some things that they propose that we could do relatively quickly,” Thornberry told reporters. He has said recruitment and retention should be the primary driver of military compensation changes.

“I don’t want to rush to it,” he cautioned. “On the other hand, if there are things that people, you know, pretty much understand the consequences of, pretty much agree to, then we can do some of it now and maybe some of it later.”

In a cautious approach to the politically charged issue of military pay and benefits, Thornberry has expressed a preference to wait for the report and not rule anything in or out just yet. “I think we’ll need to look and see what they propose,” he said. “I don’t think necessarily we ought to have to look at it as an all or nothing proposition.”

The nine-member commission includes military and political heavy hitters such as former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, and former House Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Steve Buyer of Indiana.

Thornberry said he has yet to see the commission’s report. While he has met with some of the members of the commission, he said their discussions focused more on process than on specific recommendations they might make.

“I had a brief meeting last week with some of the commissioners,” Thornberry said. “I have not seen anything in writing and even that meeting got interrupted by votes.”

The newly minted Armed Services chairman said his discussion with commissioners led him to believe they share his general approach on the issue of compensation changes.

“When they started this, they looked at what sort of pay and benefits were effective in achieving their intended goals and which ones were not,” Thornberry said. “They did not go into it with an attitude of ‘OK, where can we cut money?”‘

“And I think the way they looked at it was exactly the right way to look at it,” he added.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon is set to release its proposed budget next week. Officials are making pay and benefit proposals that would save an estimated $18.2 billion over the next five years, including slowing the growth in basic allowance for military housing, consolidating Tricare healthcare plans, implementing annual fees for Tricare for Life coverage and additional changes to pharmacy co-pays. The budget is also likely to include a 1.3 percent military pay raise.

Thornberry reiterated his view — also shared by Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain — that changes in retirement pay should include individuals currently serving in the force. The fiscal 2013 defense policy law (PL 112-239) that created the panel also barred it from making recommendations that would alter monthly retirement payments for current service members and retirees.

Commission members are set to testify on the findings and recommendations at a House Armed Services hearing on Feb. 5, a week after the report is released.

“This was a congressionally created commission,” Thornberry said. “They need to come, explain their recommendations and their reasoning, and then depending on what they say, then we figure out where we go from there.”

Megan Scully contributed to this report.
Source: CQ News

VA Choice Card Fact Sheet

VA Choice Card Fact Sheet

Veteran Affairs On August 7, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (“VACAA”). Technical revisions to VACAA were made on September 26, 2014, when the President signed into law the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2014. The Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) goal continues to be to provide timely, high-quality health care for Veterans.

Section 101 of VACAA requires VA to establish a temporary program (“the Choice Program”) to improve Veteran’s access to health care by allowing eligible Veterans to use eligible health care providers outside of the VA system (non-VA care). Sections 102 and 103 of VACAA are also discussed in the document of the following hyperlink HERE .

The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 Highlights

Capitol-SenateThe Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 was negotiated and completed between the Senate and House of Representatives July 28, 2014.

The bill highlights requirements on how to improve access and quality care for veterans, how to expand VA’s internal capacity to provide timely care to veterans, how to resolve real accountability for incompetent or corrupt senior managers and the requirement to improve educational benefits for veterans and dependents.

According to current CBO estimates, the bill would result in nearly $17 billion in spending over a 10-year period, with 10-year offsets totaling roughly $5 billion, making it less expensive than previous VA reform packages passed by the House and Senate. Read the highlights of The Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 here .

Bipartisan Budget Act

american-beauty-patriotic-drawing-illustration-peter-art-print-poster-galleryA provision in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 penalizes current and future military members who have served our nation for over twenty years.  Specifically, it cuts the annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for uniformed service retirees by 1 percentage point a year until age 62.

The cuts will have a devastating and long-lasting impact. An E-7 retiring at age 40 today would experience a loss of $83,000 in purchasing power.

Congress is considering a fix in the upcoming appropriations omnibus.  NCOA has pledged to support Senate Bill S.1950, the Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Pay Restoration Act of 2014.  Read NCOA’s letter to The Honorable Bernie Sanders, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs here .

Legislative News

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NCOA Testifies before Congressional Committees of Veterans Affairs

Senator Bernie Sanders, Chairman Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, welcomed H. Gene Overstreet to present NCOA’s 2013 Legislative Agenda to the Senate and House Committees on Veterans Affairs on February 28, 2013. Chairman Miller of the House Committee on Veterans joined in formally greeting the assembled Veterans Panel.

Chairman Sanders expressed appreciation for the work of organizations on behalf of veterans, their families, and survivors across America. He stated, “The knowledge each of your organizations gain from their daily interactions with veterans is an invaluable resource for members of these committees and the Congress as a whole, as we address the issues that are so important to our nation’s veterans and their families.” Among issues he addressed:

• Need to find innovative solutions for processes – veteran claims

• Noted implementation of the Veteran Benefit Management System was underway

• Mental health there is no “one size fits all” treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD and other conditions

• Noted VA and VSO organizational activities and programs that reach out to returning veterans

• Observed that outreach is particularly important to women veterans

• Noted that while VA is exempt from Sequestration he is committed to stopping future cuts. Not allow balancing the budget on the backs of veterans

• Facilitate veteran employment programs: including translating military skills to civilian job opportunities, employer tax credits for hiring veterans, extension of VOW to Hire Heroes Act

• Stop the Chained CPI attempt to restructure the formula used to calculate the annual COLA and its negative impact on veteran and their survivor benefits

• Expressed regret that VA and DOD have stopped developing an Electronic Data and Health Record

Chairman Miller likewise greeted the panel members expressing appreciation for their representation of America’s veterans. The Chairman expressed the appreciation that Congress had exempted the Department of Veterans Affairs from budget sequestration. He noted that he shared many of the concerns expressed by Chairman Sanders. Among other issues he addressed:

• Reported that he and Ranking Member Michaud would introduce legislation to fund entire veterans budget one year in advance

• That today’s veterans face enormous challenges

• Veterans must have access to effective behavioral health care, as well as the need for advance treatment of the physical and the mental wounds which they suffer from

• Ensure an adequate budget for veterans in the coming years

• Continue to ensure a workable veteran claim process

• Access to quality health care for all veterans

• Likewise expressed concerned on ceasing development of the Electronic Data and Health Record

NCOA President Gene Overstreet recognized and congratulated Chairman Sanders on his appointment as Chairman, Senate Committee of Veterans Affairs, and the appointment of Ranking Member Michaud on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. He expressed the

Associations respect for the leadership of former Chairman Patty Murray of the Senate Committee and Ranking Member Bob Filner from the House Committee. Their advocacy for Veterans, their families and survivors within their respective committees are legends in the veteran’s community.

President Overstreet noted that the two committees have not only listened to veterans and veteran service organizations but have translated concerns into action to effectively meet veteran needs. He commented:

 “The nonpartisan advocacy of your committees on behalf

of veterans continues to be the driving force

to successful legislative action.”

The Association’s legislative priorities were addressed as

Priority #1

Adequate funding and employee accountable utilization of resources for the Department of Veterans Affairs remains NCOA’s top concern for all VA program elements. That the VA Budget will continue to be protected by your efforts from SEQUESTRATION OR ACROSS THE BOARD CUTS to meet national deficit reduction requirements.

Priority #2

Ensure resources for fully integrated Implementation of the Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) to meet VA goals of completed processing within 125 days with a 98% error rate.

Priority #3

Ensure VA provides timely access for all veterans including those living in rural America to quality programs that equally provide the full array of services for their physical and mental health requirements.

Priority #4

Expand existing VA legislative entitlements to benefits equal to those offered other federal beneficiaries.

Specific legislative recommendations were presented in the NCOA Formal Statement for inclusion in the Congressional Hearing Record. The NCOA Statement may be reviewed in its entirety at

Briefing on hill 2013 002

Lastly, Mr. Overstreet formally challenged all Committee members in the NCOA Statement to remain leaders and advocates for the Armed Forces and all Veterans in their role as voting members of the United States Congress. He noted their leadership role should be the advocacy that strengthens the All Volunteer Force and maintains the needed AMERICAN institutional support system that cares for those who have borne the battle, their widows and orphaned children for however long care is needed. The Nation has a responsibility regardless of cost to those who have defended and preserved the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans.

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