by CAPT Marshall Hanson, ROA Director of Legislative Affairs
The National Defense Authorization Act, H.R.2647, conference report has been released and was passed by the House on Thursday, 10/8, with a vote of 281 to 146. The Senate is expected to vote on this measure this week.
While there is good news with many provisions that were included, there is also disappointment. The Senate provision, Sec. 660, for the correction on earlier retirement of Reserve Component (RC) members was not included. Eligibility for a 90 day reduction from age 60 for 90 days of support for a contingency operation remains only after Jan. 27, 2008. The reason given was that there was no offset for the cost in mandatory budgeting. ROA will continue to work this issue and is already in discussion about tactics with other Reserve associations. Rather than facing the ongoing roadblock in the House Armed Services Committee, the plan is to work with the staffers on the Budget committee to get dollars included in next year's budget resolution.
Included in the bill is the anticipated access to TRICARE Reserve Select Health Care for Gray Area retirees. Section 705 amends Chapter 55 of title 10, United 16 States Code by inserting a new section 1076e permitting access to TRICARE Standard for retirees and their families who are under age 60. Also included is continued coverage for families should a member die while under coverage. The secretary of Defense has yet to determine premiums, but eligibility began on 1 October 2009. An initial enrollment date will be announced at some time in the future, but coverage would be retroactive. Individuals wishing to begin TRS starting on 1 October 2009 need to ensure that their health provider is TRICARE eligible, and the retiree will need to pay the medical expenses subject to reimbursement (save your receipts). ROA reminds members that choosing retroactive coverage will obligate the member to retroactively pay six to eight months of premiums (covering the time between October and the futute enrollment period) estimated at a cost about $645 a month for families, or $170 monthly for single members.
Section 577 directs the establishment of procedures for absent uniformed services voters and overseas voters to request and for States to send voter registration applications and absentee ballot applications by mail and electronically.
The bill includes a 3.4 percent pay raise, which will be retained but if the Defense Appropriation bill chooses the 2.9 percent level recommended in the President's budget, it will be paid "out of hide" from other Pentagon budgets. Section 611 extends for one-year certain bonuses and special pay authorities for Reserve forces.
Section 511 permits continuation of reserve component members on active duty during physical disability evaluation following mobilization and deployment. Section 641 authorizes transition assistance for reserve component members injured while on active duty. Under Sec 513 the military secretary can now set policy for additional legal assistance for RC members, where before it was determined by the secretary of Defense.
Section 702 extends TRICARE coverage from 90 days to 180 days to RC members and their families who have been alerted prior to mobilization.
Section 703 enhances transitional dental care for RC members separated from active duty, improving access to dental facilities, and may also include eligibility for treatment at VA facilities if agreements are developed by DoD. More information will be shared once policy is updated by the Pentagon.
Section 708 requires that the secretary of Defense issue guidance on person to person mental health assessments related to contingency operations, which will affect RC members who return home and aren't directly supported by military facilities. Section 728 is again requesting a report from the defense secretary on providing an employer stipend in lieu of TRICARE health coverage as an option to Guard and Reserve members.
Section 709 extended a restriction on increasing TRICARE standard inpatient fees through Sept. 30, 2010. This was in response to a proposed fee increase by DoD, which had a negative reaction by a number of military and veteran associations. ROA wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense disagreeing with this fee increase. The Military Times wrote an article referencing to this letter.
Selected Reserve End Strength authorized by Section 411 is 358,200 (+5600) for the Army National Guard of the United States; 205,000 (NC); for the Army Reserve 65,500 (-1200) for the Navy Reserve; 39,600 (NC) for the Marine Corps Reserve; 69,500 (+2100) for the Air Force Reserve; 106,700 (-56) for the Air National Guard; and 10,000 (NC) for the Coast Guard Reserve. Section 418 allows an over-variance of 2 percent above authorized end strengths.
Reserve Component representatives will be allowed by Sec. 594 to sit on the Military Leadership Diversity Commission. Section 1802 specifies that Reserve Component members under federal orders may sit on military commissions; and clarifies rules and improves trial procedures. Section 564 includes representatives from the RC community on the DoD Military Family Readiness Council.
It appears that Sec. 643 will permit individuals who accumulate 20 years of active service while in the Selected Reserve to elect to receive non-regular (Reserve) Retirement. This will permit officers O-6 and above to keep promotions who would have insufficient active duty time in grade if an active duty retirement was mandated. Active duty members who have completed 20 years of service can also serve at least two years in the RC and choose a non-regular retirement.
The bill includes $6.9 billion to address equipment shortfalls for the National Guard and Reserve. Section 105 authorizes $600 million to the Reserve Components for procurement of equipment.
Fighter Gap: Congress will not permit the Air Force to retire legacy fighter aircraft until 30 days after it receives the Combat Air Forces Restructuring plan. Section 1075 places restrictions on transferring A.F. personnel including members of a Reserve Component until after the report is received. The conference report includes a "Sense of Congress" that the Department of the Navy should take all appropriate actions to provide resources to minimize the impact of the shortfalls in strike-fighter inventories.
Section 137 places a restriction on the retirement of C-5 aircraft, maintaining an active inventory of 111 airframes until certain conditions are met, including a report on retiring C-5 aircraft that assesses impact on A.F. Reserve and Air National Guard.
The Navy is given authority to down-select to one variant of the Littoral Combat ship and block buy 10 over the next five years. Research and development for future ships is being provided $2.2 billion. USS Enterprise is being inactivated and the bill permits a temporary reduction to ten aircraft carriers until FY15. $6.7 billion is provided for Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles.
The Army will be funded $2.45 billion for the communications network and spin out equipment sets that will continue from the terminated Future Combat Systems program. It also provides full funding for most Army programs including AH-64 Apache, UH-60 Blackhawk, UH-72 Lakota, OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, and CH-47 Chinook helicopters; M1 Abrams tank and M2 Bradley infantry vehicle modernization; and Patriot air defense missiles.
Section 1247 requires a report on the impact on Defense of DoD drawdowns, including the ability of Reserve forces to respond to domestic emergencies. The Government Accountability Office has been tasked to assess the QDR process to ensure that it is following the law, and an eight Congressionally appointed member panel will independently review the QDR and produce output that Congress needs to make informed national security-related decisions.
The Senate will vote to either accept or reject the Conference Report. No amendments are permitted to change its content. It is expected to pass.
More details about the NDAA will be included in the December issue of ROA's The Officermagazine.