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NCOA President and National Commander Testifies before Joint Committee on Veterans Affairs

Vince Patton Testifies

March 9, 2017 – Washington DC

Today NCOA President and National Commander MCPOCG Vince Patton, III testified before a joint committee on Veterans Affairs.  MCPOCG Patton highlighted NCOA priorities and thanked the committee for all of the hard work they have done for our veterans.  You can read NCOA’s written testimony here.  Other Veterans Service Organizations that presented at today’s hearing included the Association of the United States Navy, American Veterans, Gold Star Wives, Non Commissioned Officers Association, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, National Guard Association of the United States, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, and Vietnam Veterans of America.

NCOA ELECTS MCPOCG VINCE PATTON (Ret), PRESIDENT; OSTROWSKI SELECTED AS NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

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Vincent W. Patton, III, NCOA President and National Commander

NCOA ELECTS MCPOCG VINCE PATTON, USCG (Ret), PRESIDENT;

OSTROWSKI SELECTED AS NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Organization revamps leadership for new strategic vision

Las Vegas, NV, July 19 – The Non Commissioned Officers Association (NCOA), the voice of enlisted personnel in the Armed Forces, Active Duty, National Guard, Reserves, and Veterans (separated and retired), named former Master Chief of the U.S. Coast Guard Vincent W. Patton III as President of the 56,000 member strong organization.  The Board of Directors also unanimously selected BMCS Jon Ostrowski, a 30 year veteran of the USCG Reserve as Executive Director.

MCPOCG Patton, a 30 year veteran of the USCG and the first African-American selected as the service’s senior-most enlisted ranking, will lead the organization’s ambitious strategic plan for growth and expansion over the next several years.

“I have been a member of the NCOA since 1976, and proud to continue my involvement with this great organization whose motto is ‘Strength in Unity,’ supporting and being an advocate on benefits and entitlements for the enlisted personnel of our armed forces, active, retired, reserve, veteran and family members,” said Patton at the NCOA’s Annual Business Meeting and Awards Tribute in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Patton served as the eighth Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard from May 1998 to October 2002. As the service’s top senior enlisted leader and ombudsman, he was the principal advisor to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, his directorates, and the Secretaries of Transportation and Defense, with primary focus on quality of life issues, career development, work environment and personnel matters affecting over 40,000 active duty, reserve enlisted, and civilian personnel service wide.

The Board of Directors also selected BMCS Jon Ostrowski as Executive Director.  BMCS Ostrowski was serving as NCOA’s Director of Government Affairs in Washington, DC, and was responsible for the inclusion of the amendment for representation on military panels for enlisted personnel.  Since his retirement in spring 2015, Ostrowski has served to represent NCOA on the Joint Leadership Council, Commonwealth of Virginia; the Military Coalition; and AAFES Exchange Retiree Advisory Council, United States Army.

“With our new leadership team, NCOA is extremely well positioned for our strategic agenda.  These leaders know and understand enlisted personnel, their needs, and how NCOA will lead our ranks in to this new era of warfare,” said NCOA Chairman of the Board Sgt Maj Paul Siverson, USMC (Ret), “the NCOA Board of Directors is proud to further spearhead improvements for our enlisted personnel and return the Association to its rightful home in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC.”

The NCOA’s mission is to improve the lives of enlisted personnel in all military branches. The organization has embarked on an ambitious plan to expand services to veterans returning home, support the children of enlisted personnel, and assure that enlisted personnel are represented among decision-makers in the nation’s capitol.  Most recently, NCOA successfully included enlisted representation on panels considering major changes to military policies over health care in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act.

The Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process

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Statement from VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald

On the Need to Reform the Veterans’ Appeals Process

Last week I presented to the Senate Veterans Affairs’ Committee the way forward for the important transformation of the Department of Veterans Affairs—what we call MyVA.  We aim to improve our care and services to all Veterans. In order to do that, I made clear that we would need Congress’ help in legislating a fair, streamlined, and comprehensive process for new appeals, as well as providing much needed resources to address the current pending inventory of appeals.  I look forward to working with all stakeholders to design an appeals process that better serves Veterans.

VA will need legislation and resourcing to put in place a simplified appeals process that enables the Department to resolve the majority of our appeals in a reasonable timeframe for Veterans.

The appeals process we currently have set in law is failing Veterans—and taxpayers. Decades worth of law and policy layered upon each other have become cumbersome and clunky. Most importantly, it is now so antiquated that it no longer serves Veterans well as many find it confusing and are frustrated by the endless process and the associated length of time it can take to get an answer.

In 2012, VA made the commitment to end the disability claims backlog. It took too long for Veterans to receive a decision on their claim. Our commitment has resulted in transformational change. The disability claims backlog has been driven down to fewer than 82,000, from a peak of 611,000 in March 2013. At the same time, we have fully transitioned to a paperless, electronic processing system, eliminating 5,000 tons of paper a year.  Last year, we decided 1.4 million disability compensation and pension claims for Veterans and survivors – the highest in VA history for a single year and that comes on the heels on two previous record-breaking years of productivity.

As VA has become more efficient in claims processing, the volume of appeals has increased proportionately. While it remains true that 11-12 percent of Veterans who receive a disability rating file for an appeal, more processed claims means more appeals. This is VA’s next challenge.

The current pending inventory of appeals stands at more than 440,000 and is estimated to grow rapidly. Right now, Veterans who file an appeal wait an average of three years for appeals to be resolved by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and an average of five years for appeals that reach the Board of Veterans Appeals’ (Board), with thousands lasting much longer. That’s unacceptable.

We are applying lessons learned from the transformative change that allowed us to reduce the disability claims backlog. Like our work with the claims processing, the appeals process will need changes in people, process and technology. Upgraded technology will make changes to our mail system and paper records, and incorporate some efficiencies in the way appeals are managed and processed.  Retraining and increased staff will be necessary.  But they will not be enough.  We must also look critically at the many steps in the current complex appeals process used by VA and by Veterans and their advocates to design a process that better serves Veterans.

A new appeals process would provide Veterans with the timely and fair appeals decisions they deserve, and adequate resourcing that permits the VBA and the Board to address the growing inventory of appeals.

 

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NCOA Testifies to Armed Services Committee for Personnel on SBC-DIC Offset

December 9, 2015 – Washington DC

Jon Ostrowski SBCDIC Hearing

 

 

 

 

 

Today Jon Ostrowski, Director of Government Affairs for NCOA testified before the Armed Services Sub-Committee on Concurrent Receipt of Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) and  & Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC).  Watch the hearing here.

View written testimony NCOA SBP-DIC Statement to HASC (12-9-2015)

VA Makes Changes to Veterans Choice Program

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WASHINGTON, December 1, 2015 – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today announced a number of changes to make participation in the Veterans Choice Program easier and more convenient for Veterans who need to use it. The move, which streamlines eligibility requirements, follows feedback from Veterans along with organizations working on their behalf.

“As we implement the Veterans Choice Program, we are learning from our stakeholders what works and what needs to be refined,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “It is our goal to do all that we can to remove barriers that separate Veterans from the care they deserve.” To date, more than 400,000 medical appointments have been scheduled since the Veterans Choice Program went into effect on November 5, 2014.

Under the old policy, a Veteran was eligible for the Veterans Choice Program if he or she met the following criteria:

  • Enrolled in VA health care by 8/1/14 or able to enroll as a combat Veteran to be eligible for the Veterans Choice Program;

  • Experienced unusual or excessive burden eligibility determined by geographical challenges, environmental factors or a medical condition impacting the Veteran’s ability to travel;

  • Determined eligible based on the Veteran’s current residence being more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility.

 Under the updated eligibility requirements, a Veteran is eligible for the Veterans Choice Program if he or she is enrolled in the VA health care system and meets at least one of the following criteria: 

  • Told by his or her local VA medical facility that they will not be able to schedule an appointment for care within 30 days of the date the Veteran’s physician determines he/she needs to be seen or within 30 days of the date the Veteran wishes to be seen if there is no specific date from his or her physician;

  • Lives more than 40 miles driving distance from the closest VA medical facility with a full-time primary care physician;

  • Needs to travel by air, boat or ferry to the VA medical facility closest to his/her home;

  • Faces an unusual or excessive burden in traveling to the closest VA medical facility based on geographic challenges, environmental factors, a medical condition, the nature or simplicity or frequency of the care needed and whether an attendant is needed. Staff at the Veteran’s local VA medical facility will work with him or her to determine if the Veteran  is eligible for any of these reasons; or

  • Lives in a State or Territory without a full-service VA medical facility which includes: Alaska, Hawaii, New Hampshire (Note: this excludes New Hampshire Veterans who live within 20 miles of the White River Junction VAMC) and the United States Territories (excluding Puerto Rico, which has a full service VA medical facility).

 Veterans seeking to use the Veterans Choice Program or wanting to know more about it, can call1-866-606-8198 to confirm their eligibility and to schedule an appointment.  For more details about the Veterans Choice Program and VA’s progress, visit: www.va.gov/opa/choiceact.

The Military Coalition Response to MCRMC Recommendations

The Military Coalition Response to MCRMC Recommendations

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March 6, 2015 – Today the TMC has produced a unified response among the member associations to the Congress.  Attached you will be able to read the response.

Click here to read: The Military Coalition MCRMC Recommendations

Obama wants to strip funding from veterans’ medical choice program

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February 3, 2015 - President Obama’s 2016 budget blueprint proposes rolling back a program that gives veterans the right to receive faster care outside of the long waitlists at the troubled Veterans Affairs medical system.

Obama signed the Veterans Choice Program into law in August following months of partisan wrangling on Capitol Hill that finally led to a compromise measure to overhaul the agency.

The Veterans Choice Program was a key GOP provision in the deal.

Authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the measure provides “choice” cards to veterans that can be used to obtain medical care at designated facilities outside of the VA system.

But Obama announced Monday he’ll send a legislative proposal to Congress that would allow the VA to raid the program’s funding, now set at $10 billion.

Obama, in his fiscal 2016 spending blueprint, said the money is needed “to support essential investments in VA system priorities in a fiscally responsible, budget-neutral manner.”

 

Obama has requested a nearly 8 percent boost in funding for the beleaguered VA in 2016, for a total of $70.2 billion in discretionary spending.

Democrats have pushed for additional money for the VA to pay for new hospitals and more doctors, but Republicans contend that waste and mismanagement are the primary problems facing the VA, and the Choice Program gives vets a chance to escape the dysfunction by allowing them to receive outside medical care.

Veterans groups were angered by the move to divert funding from the program, noting that Obama had touted the legislation to reform the VA in the months leading up to the November election and did not express opposition to the choice cards.

The program was funded to last until 2017 but would end sooner if money is diverted, critics said.

“That money was specifically allocated by him for the choice program,” Dan Caldwell, the legislative director for Concerned Veterans for America, told the Washington Examiner. “What that would do is cause the choice program to be a lot shorter and to inevitably serve fewer veterans.”

But in a conference call with reporters on Monday, officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs defended the move. They said the choice program was underused, and that many of the 8.6 million veterans who received cards said they would rather obtain care at VA facilities.

“What we are getting … is that they are looking for more care within the VA system,” Helen Tierney, assistant VA secretary for management and the VA’s chief financial officer, said.

But veterans groups say the choice program rollout has been hindered by red tape, including a requirement that those who receive a choice card call the VA to determine whether they are actually eligible to use it.

Officials at the VA said they don’t know how much money they would like to shift from the program. Tierney said the VA has made “a tremendous number of calls to veterans,” and that the use rates are “much lower than anticipated.”

Tierney, however, said she did not know the specific use rates.

Republicans on Capitol Hill denounced the move and said they’d reject it.

“The president’s idea to reallocate a portion of Veterans Choice Program funding to other areas of VA is a complete non-starter, which I will not support,” House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R-Fla., said. “When a near-unanimous Congress worked with President Obama last year to create the choice program, we made a promise to veterans to give them more freedom in their healthcare decisions. I will not stand idly by while the president attempts to renege on that promise.”

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

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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.
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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?

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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.

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