Wednesday, May 18, 2011

HASC Mark-up of NDAA Completed

In the early morning hours of May 12, the House Armed Services Committee completed the mark-up of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Next week this bill is scheduled for a vote by the entire House Chamber.

It was a marathon session that lasted from 10 am on Wednesday to past 3 am the next morning. Despite a number of amendments and some intense debate, the final version of the bill was approved by the whole committee with a 60 to 1 final vote.

The House version of the bill provides $690 billion for the Department of Defense and national security activities. The base budget is $553 billion for the Department of Defense with another $119 billion for overseas contingency operations.

A pay raise of 1.6 % was included in the HASC version of the NDAA.

A manager’s package of approximately 16 amendments was presented en bloc. It offered non-controversial programs and received quick approval. Included were provisions on employment for Wounded Warriors, sexual assault programs, training of returning service members, and money to combat the challenge of service member suicides.

Another en bloc package was offered containing amendments dealing with PTSD studies, the Yellow Ribbon Program, selective service, autism, online school programs and related personnel issues which was included in the final committee mark-up.

The marked up bill did authorize pre-separation individual behavioral counseling, including for those whose orders are not 90 days in length. It also authorizes Guard and Reserve access to mental health assessments during unit training or assemblies. Language was included to amend the Service Members Civil Relief Act to improve custody protections of deployed active and Reserve service members.

The first cuts to the armed forces end strengths were included in the mark-up of the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The Army is looking at a drawdown of 7,200 and the Navy a cut of 2,921. The Air Force could expect an increase of 600.

The Reserve Component end strength remains unchanged except for the Navy Reserve with a suggested increase of 700 and the Air Force Reserve with an increase of 200. The Navy and Air Force Reserves’ increases are for traditional reservists, but each faces cuts to full time staff (FTS): -311 for the Navy Reserve and -330 for the Air Force Reserve. Additionally, the USAFR would gain 57 military technicians (miltechs). The Air National Guard is looking at increasing its FTS by 249 and miltechs by 115.

The HASC’s version of the NDAA would allow the Department of Defense (DoD) to increase TRICARE fees for retirees under the age of 62 by $2.50 a month for individuals and $5 a month for families for Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. The legislation would cap DoD’s ability to increase fees in the future by limiting any prospective increases to the same percentage as cost of living increases in military retirement and social security annuity. Indexed fees would change in October but would use any increase from the beginning of the year. The legislation also prevents individuals after Oct. 1, 2012 to continue with U.S. Family Health Plan while under Medicare and TRICARE for Life.

Although the exclusion of the U.S. Family Health Plan was requested by DoD to save defense dollars, this proved to be phantom savings. Instead, those dollars became an offset used to pay for a provision to ease the Survivor Benefit Plan/ Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset for 57,000 surviving military spouses. In the final mark-up, the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance would be raised to $163 by fiscal 2013, $200 in 2014, $215 in 2015, $282 in 2016 and $314 for fiscal 2017 using DoD requested dollars.

As written, the bill does not stop the DoD's proposed increases in TRICARE's prescription copayments. The current copayment of $3 for generics, $9 for brand name and $22 for non-formulary medications at retail pharmacies would rise to $5, $12 and $25 respectively. To offset these increases, the Pentagon would eliminate the $3 copay for generic drugs provided through home delivery. Mail order brand names would remain at $9, but non-formulary prescriptions would also go up to $25.

Faced with a lack of a mandatory dollar offset, an amendment on early retirement was not introduced. ROA will work to get it into the Senate NDAA. The Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) correction to the Fiscal Year Reserve retirement deployment credit correction was never included in the NDAA language. Nor was there any mark-up to expand concurrent receipt to Chapter 61 medically retired service members with less than 20 years of service.

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