Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Iran's Threat

The Defense Education Forum of the Reserve Officers Association hosted a program March 24 on Iran and its threat to Israel and other neighbors.

The theme of this program evolved quickly with Iran labeled the premier threat to United States security. To believe otherwise is to take our eye off the ball. The program delved into Iran’s intentions, potential means, a threat analysis, and our response options. The paragraphs that follow are a snippet of the discussion that occurred at this program:

Iran has announced its intentions:  to expand its hegemony to the Middle East and the world. They wish for a Caliphate based in Iran to run it and violent jihad is the methodology to achieve it. Direct links exist between Iran and various terror groups around the world – Hezbollah, Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood. They believe that mayhem is required to create the environment for the coming of the 12th Imam – the Mahdi. The current unrest in the Middle East and North Africa creates an unusual opportunity for Iran to infiltrate and influence the creation of new governments throughout the region.

The means to create the mayhem has been missing, but if Iran achieves nuclear weapons ability, everything changes. In addition to Iran expanding the range of its medium missiles it is developing and may even have longer range missiles. One scenario in which Iran could attack the United States is a nuclear launch from a seaborne platform off our coast, which would detonate high in the atmosphere. The result would be an electro magnetic pulse (EMP) that would destroy much of infrastructure and which some have estimated would result in the death of 9 in ericans within one year.

In Iran, we face an Islamic leadership who pose a direct threat with coming ability to destroy Israel and America. A vigorous response is required -- but what should that response be?

Israel is defending itself by broadening its defensive ability against Iranian and terror based group’s rockets and missiles. The systems are referred to as the Iron Dome for short range defense;  David’s Sling against medium and short range rockets; Arrow 2, a system that has been successfully tested against the intermediate threat, and Arrow 3, which is an exo-atmospheric interceptor. If Iran achieves a working nuclear weapon, Israel will consider it a threat to its existence.

Iran has a long history of working with terrorist groups, and clear links have connected it to Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaida and others. Iranians have trained terrorist forces for years and continue to do so. Using the Shiite indigenous populations of various countries has been their modus operandi (Iran is a Shiite Moslem country; most of the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, are Sunni Moslem. Relations are typically very strained between the two sects but for purposes of working together to achieve Islamic hegemony in the world, there appear to be areas of cooperation).

Iran has extended its reach into the Western hemisphere with Hezbollah cells in the United States and a growing friendship with Venezuela, which may in the near future provide them with a base for activities – and perhaps a base for missiles that could reach the United States.

Iran, for years, had a covert nuclear program in violation of international norms.  Repeatedly since their nuclear program was discovered in 2002 other infractions have come to light. They continue to evolve their nuclear program and may well have as yet undiscovered conversion and enrichment facilities. A “war in the shadows” through use of assassination of nuclear scientists and cyber attacks such as the Styx virus, may have slowed the evolution of their nuclear program, but they haven’t stopped it. If they achieve nuclear weaponry history shows that they will almost certainly proliferate it to their friends be they countries or terror groups. If Iran goes nuclear, the clamor from other Sunni Arab countries to also have nuclear weapons will increase.

So what can be done? Sanctions are one method. Iran is almost totally dependent on its energy sector for exports. Limitations on it and Iran’s ability to import refined gasoline would bring tremendous pressure on the government. Already unemployment is 15 – 20 percent with a much greater percentage of the population underemployed. Inflation is high – 20 percent – and could get very much higher. Subsidies are being cut by the Iranian government and dissent against the religious leaders is growing. A restless young Iranian population seems poised to assert itself.  Sanctions are not a silver bullet – but perhaps are silver shrapnel. Many Middle Eastern countries have in some way followed the sanctions endorsed by the international community, although not perfectly. Big violators of the sanctions have been China and Turkey, and traditional trading routes and partners have been hard to sever.

A key country to watch for Iranian influence is Iraq. Saddam Hussein was an enemy of Iran and fought a lengthy war against them in the mid 1980s. The current regime in Iraq is Shia – and the majority of the people are Shia – and it may well be unduly influenced by Iran.

Support for Iran dissidents is another method of undermining the current Iranian regime.   One approach that had merit was direct monetary support to the Green movement. This was stopped a couple of years ago as being too provocative and now efforts are being aimed at studies and reports by think tanks.  But is there oversight of the use of our money?  Is there oversight of Voice of America broadcasts?  Strong assertions are made that the Green movement has not been crushed and that we should actively support it.  It was suggested that we should also support Syrian dissidents and that the fall of Syria would be a huge blow to Iran. Of all the roughly 8 -10 revolutions going on now in the Middle East, the one location we know would result in a more friendly attitude toward Israel and the West if its current regime fell is – surprise – Iran. In all the other countries now engaged in some level of instability and even revolution, we have no idea what the ultimate outcome will be. 

Another method to get at Iran is to encourage the divestiture of assets of entities that have anything to do with Iran. Many of our countries universities and their foundations have holdings in companies that do business in Iran. An example of such a company is Hyundai. Many U.S. pension funds have assets with an Iranian connection.  Efforts to get them to divest have been largely unsuccessful.   

Many believe that our efforts are totally unsatisfactory and cannot bring about democratic change in Iran. Indeed, some feel that an “Iran lobby” is hard at work in U.S. policy circles and has thwarted more aggressive action against the Iranian regime.  Ideas for dealing with Iran seem to be in short supply and even our labor unions have not been supportive Iranian labor leaders. Many leaders think a deal can be struck with Iran, but Iran has long history of deception and delay that makes this doubtful.

Iran, in addition to nuclear weapons, is likely to have stores of biological weapons and perhaps chemical weapons. Countries such as North Korea and Pakistan are believed to have shipped WMD to Iran, but indications are that many of these weapons or their technology originated in Russia and China. And this raises the question – why are China and Russia engaged in assisting Iran? The obvious answer seems to be that they will do anything to harm the United States. A less obvious answer might be that Putin feels he is buying off an Iranian jihad against Russia by supplying it with weaponry and other technology. 

The international community has engaged in diplomatic and economic activity action against Iran. To date, it has not engaged in military or informational action against Iran.    Many feel that engaging in military activity would incite Iranians and bring a nationalistic fervor to the forefront should a direct conflict with Israel or the U.S. come about. Iran is a master of the information “spin” game; it is time for the West to also engage on this front. We have been shamefully quiet in our denunciation of the Iranian regime and its cruelty to its people. What we say is important – we should be naming the dissidents that are in danger (it protects them) and naming the perpetrators of the violence against the people of Iran and indicating that they will be held accountable.

Iran is a very unique country and enemy. It is a country with a cause. They see themselves as a movement; they believe they have a manifest destiny to have a global influence and ultimately will achieve global dominance. With the exceptional increase in Moslem populations throughout the world and with similar substantial increases in the economic heft of Moslem nations, the West is facing demographic and economic challenges as never before. Having an Iranian ideology emerge as the leader of the Islamic world would be a disaster.

We probably do not have an overarching strategy for dealing with Iran and we need one.   It is clear that diplomacy and economic sanctions should continue and be ratcheted up.   The military option is the least desirable although it should not be taken off the table.  Indeed, a clear message should be sent to Iran that it cannot act with impunity in the region and threaten it neighbors and that military force remains a viable option and that the days of our not considering military action are over. We must step up our informational campaign against the regime and be willing to denounce the barbarism of its leaders. We must learn from the lessons of the past that when a leader and a country overtly declare their intentions, we should listen, absorb, and action rationally in our defense and that of the future of the world.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reserve Forces Policy Board Meets, ROA Attends

The Reserve Forces Policy Board, which recently marked its 60th anniversary and is the longest continually-serving Board at the Pentagon, held its annual meeting March 21. Chairman William Greenberg conducted the meeting with assistance from his new Military Executive, Maj Gen James Stewart (USAFR).   

The program featured remarks from Secretary for Reserve Affairs Dennis McCarthy; a report from each service’s policy board; a briefing from the Military Child Education Coalition; a comprehensive review of the future role of the RC; and discussion about how the Board might get involved in determining the RC future.

Highlights of remarks by Secretary McCarthy:
-  We are at a point of transition. Last ten years have been marked by war and mobilization. Big changes coming – we will not be mobilized for combat in anywhere near the numbers of the past decade.
-  Report by his office on the Future of the RC was completed 1 February and is pending at the Undersecretary level and has not been transmitted to the SecDef. It went through over twenty drafts and was ultimately concurred in by 23 of 24 entities.  
-  He noted RCs have received much of their recent funding through Supplemental appropriations but that in the near future, these would go away and all funding would be from the baseline budgets – and funding would be tight. Some concern was expressed by attendees that budget pressures would force a rethinking of the “Train, Mobilize, Deploy” paradigm of recent years and a return to the old “Mobilize, Train, Deploy”. Essentially, this would harm the concept of an enduring operational reserve and begin a return to viewing the RC as a last resort or strategic reserve. 
-  Big question is how much the AC will provide in resources toward the deployability of the RC. A smarter training strategy was encouraged, and he shared that not all units would have 100% of equipment (sharing would be a necessity), and that a “buy less, buy the best” strategy may gain momentum. 
-  Accessibility of the RC is a large issue. In short, before the services and COCOMs will want to expend large resources on the RC, they need assurances that the RC is accessible when needed. This will necessitate amendment of Title 10 to augment the ability of the Secretary of Defense to mobilize RC personnel for up to 270 days in circumstances short of a national emergency.  
-  The Secretary praised employers for their support of the RC. He acknowledged their were some problems but that overall the employer support had been superb.

Major General Stewart briefed on the recent changes in the NDAA2011 changing the statutory underpinnings of the RFPB. Highlights include:
-  Board no longer reports through the Assistant Secretary for Reserve Affairs, but directly to the SecDef.
- The scope of the Board’s duties remains roughly the same – it is “an independent advisor to the SecDef to provide advice and recommendations to the Secretary on strategies, policies, and practices designed to improve and enhance the capabilities, efficiency, and effectiveness of the reserve components.”

Mr. Bob Smiley of the OSD-RA office provided a further briefing on the Future of the RC report:   
- Seven options regarding future roles of the RC were included in the McCarthy report.  Among the conclusions were: (1) prevailing in the future will require the RC to serve in an operational capacity as a ready and available force; (2) we have to keep the faith with RC members, their families and employers; and (3) the RC adds considerable value to the Nation’s defense capacity.

Conclusion
The omnipresent issue at the meeting was funding. It is highly likely that funding will begin to be cut back for FY12 and by FY13 funding issues could be severe as supplemental appropriations disappearing and the services funding activities from their baselines. This will doubtless have an impact on the RC both in terms of equipment, facilities, and personnel. Two critical issues for the near term welfare of the RC are: (1) full funding commensurate with their role as an operational reserve, and (2 ) that they are viewed as accessible when needed. The latter will require statutory amendment which DoD is pushing to permit SecDef limited mobilization authority (up to 270 days) and for possible use in domestic emergencies.

Monday, March 28, 2011

DADT Repeal Implementation Update

The Department of Defense (DOD) and military services have been conducting training for a little over a month on implementation of the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.  Each military service is writing its own training slides with a focus four principles: leadership, professionalism, discipline and respect. 

The Army plans to complete training for 565,000 active duty soldiers by July and 567,000 Guard and Reserve by August.  The Navy will complete training by the end of June, Marine Corps by May 31, and Air Force by summer. Depending on the length of time it takes to accomplish certification, which includes a 60-day Congressional review period, training could potentially continue beyond the established time frames. The Coast Guard is also receiving training, but little information is available. One blog post suggested that this is a non-issue for the USCG.

The training itself is designed for three groups, including (1) the experts, such as chaplains, recruiters, lawyers, human resources,  and so on; (2) commanders, leaders in DOD, military and civilian; and (3) the force at large.

Beginning March 1, Secretary Gates receives regular progress reports every two weeks from each of the services.

According to the “Support Plan for Implementation: Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” report (available below) there is one special consideration, to Chaplains, who "may not be required to engage in practices contrary to their religious beliefs."

The new policy will be enforced under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It remains unclear if there will be some type of tracking on anti-gay incidents.

Furthermore, it remains blurred as to what may happen to conscientious objectors to DADT repeal. For example, according to the Navy slides (available below) and a Washington Post article, “Consistent with the new policy, the slides also remind sailors they may not be discharged early for opposing the repeal of ‘don't ask, don't tell.’ Early discharges will be granted ‘when in the best interest of the Navy.’”

Gay and lesbian service members will not be granted any more benefits than a fiancĂ© would be given. According to a Military.com article, “Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) remains on the books and the military will continue to follow it after repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is fully implemented.”

The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel will hold a hearing Friday, April 1 on the repeal.

Some of the informational items that DOD and the services are dispensing including training slides are provided below:

Repeal of DADT pamphlet
USN Slides, FAQs and Vignettes
USAF Slides
USA Slides
USMC Video Message
Support Plan for Implementation: Report of the Comprehensive Review of the Issues Associated with a Repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (short) (long)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DEF Program Provides Update on Afghanistan Progress

DEF and the Institute for the Study of  War (ISW) co-sponsored a program on the current security situation in Afghanistan March 16 at the Minuteman Memorial Building.

Featured on the program were LTG (Ret) James Dubik (moderator), Dr. Kim Kagan (President of ISW), Peter Bergen (CNN commentator and author), and LTC Joel Rayburn, who recently returned from service in Afghanistan.

Dr. Kagan noted that a tremendous counterinsurgency campaign had been launched against the Taliban and its allied entities over the past half year with many positive results: the regaining a substantial territory, the capture or killing of numerous enemies, and the degrading of the their resources.

The ultimate goal, panelists explained, is to be sure that Afghanistan will no longer be a platform for international attacks or a source of instability in the area.

It is likely that we will see an increase later in the spring of attacks and offensive operations by the Taliban – but that should not necessarily be the metric to determine success. Most Afghans are not friendly toward the Taliban, but they need a reason to believe in the central government of President Karzai. There is a need to increase the accountability of the central government and to demonstrate that it is a stable, enduring system. This is possible – 60 percent of Afghans support the U.S. effort and two-thirds believe their country is headed on the right path. In fact, it is likely we are moving toward a strategic partnership with Afghanistan much like we have with South Korea.

Afghan National Security Forces have advanced sufficiently that several provinces have now been turned over to their control. If they continue to build in numbers and ability, it will be a reflection of the success of the central government to delivery of the three things the people want most: order, security, and justice. The standards achieved may not reflect Western standards but a system must come into being that is “Afghan right.”

Major challenges to success in Afghanistan include: US domestic politics and support for the war, the political and economic situation in Pakistan (it has high inflation, anti-American feeling, and is the home of many of the leaders/sympathizers of the Taliban movement), and continued stability in relations between India and Pakistan. Should those challenges not be met, the impact on Afghanistan could be devastating.  

It appears the U.S. is on target for troop withdrawals later in the summer.  Afghan security forces are gaining in their ability to provide security, the central government is making some headway in demonstrating it can maintain order, and the enemy has been deprived of personnel and terrain. The overall outcome is the defeat of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but it is also clear from history that staying engaged over the long term is critical to achieving lasting peace and stability in the region.

Budget Debate & Defense Appropriations Update

The country is still operating under a continuing resolution (CR) which will expire April 8.  The CR cuts an additional $6 billion in overall discretionary spending. This three-week spending extension permits further negotiation on a spending bill for the balance of Fiscal Year 2011.

The House passed the extension on Tuesday by a vote of 271-158, with a total of 54 Republicans voting against the CR. The Senate passed the measure Thursday by a vote of 87-13 with nine Republicans and four Democrats opposing the measure.  This was an increase of "no" votes, as certain elected officials voted in protest over the short duration of the three-week extension.

As noted last week, these short extensions are having a negative impact on availability of funding for the Department of Defense.

Both the House and the Senate are in recess, returning to their states and districts for a contingency week.  Next week, Congress will return for three more weeks  to resolve budget differences before taking a two week recess on either side of Easter.  It is hoped that the FY-2011 budget will be resolved then because in May, Congress needs to begin work on the FY-2012 budget.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Renewed Focus on Afghanistan on Capitol Hill

With Gen. David Petraeus’ return to Washington, the congressional spotlight shifted from the budget to Afghanistan last week.

General Petraeus testified before the House Armed Services Committee March 16 on progress in Afghanistan.

Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) asked the General, “What is your view on the advisability of the House of Representatives passing a resolution…that would call for the removal of all U.S. forces from Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2011?  Specifically, how do you believe our troops would view such a measure and how do you believe the Taliban and al Qaeda would view such a measure?”1

Gen. Petraeus responded, “The Taliban and Al Qaeda obviously would trumpet this as a victory, as a success. Needless to say it would completely undermine everything our troopers have fought so much for and sacrificed so much for.” He continued, “So…this would close the door on the very, very hard-fought effort and end a mission that I think is seeking to achieve a very, very important security objective of our country as well as of our allies…And what it would do in the region, of course, would be of really incalculable consequence as well.” 

The House voted on H.Con.Res.28 (House Concurrent Resolution), which was introduced by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) to direct the President to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year, the following day. The resolution failed by a vote of 321 to 93, with a slight increase from 2010 in those favoring withdrawal. Congressman Kucinich cited public backing and affordability as reasons for once again introducing the resolution.

One Democrat that voted against, Rep. Howard Berman (Calif.), said the resolution is based on language in the War Powers Resolution which allows Congress to call for the return of troops when they are fighting without congressional authorization, which doesn’t apply to the authorized fighting in Afghanistan. He also stated the administration needs time to allow its withdrawal strategy to work, at least through spring.2

The Afghanistan debate is just in its beginning stages and will likely heat up more once the budgets are dealt with.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

ROA testifies on Defense health program efficiencies

ROA legislative director CAPT Marshall Hanson testified before the House Armed Services Military Subcommittee on Military Personnel at a hearing on health care reform this morning. The testimony followed a hearing held the day before where Pentagon representatives talked about their recommendations for change.

-ROA Written Testimony
-Hearing: 'Military Health System Overview and Defense Health Program Cost Efficiencies: A Beneficiary Perspective'
-ROA Current Issues: TRICARE

CAPT Hanson testifies on health care reform.
In addition to addressing changes to the retiree medical fees, ROA spoke about issues affecting serving Reservists. ROA advocates efforts that would ensure a continuity of health care and discussed including eligibility for the Continued Health Benefit Plan, ensuring that all Guard and Reserve being detached from active duty are eligible for TAMP, and reviewing premium levels for TRICARE Retired Reserve. In the written statement, ROA recommends TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) eligibility for members in the Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). It is felt by some Reserve leadership that once some of these gaps are fixed, more Guard and Reserve members will subscribe to TRS.

ROA spoke about a DoD proposal to increase TRICARE Prime fees for families by $60 dollars a year ($30 for individuals). ROA's position is that it the change is acceptable, based on the logic that it is better to have a small increase now, rather than big increases later. ROA emphasized in its statement that the most important point of the hearing was to establish a process involving Congress, the beneficiary associations, and DoD in determining acceptable rates.

CAPT Hanson also said that the suggested increase to TRICARE retail pharmacy copayments of two to three dollars was not excessive, but he also said that initial prescriptions at retail sites should be exempted. Increased copayments are intended to encourage TRICARE beneficiaries to use the mail order system for maintenance drugs. If DoD’s proposal is accepted, mail order generic drugs will have zero copayment and copayments for branded drugs will not be increased.

DoD has proposed that future rate increases be determined on an index which will structure automatic annual increases. ROA questioned the Pentagon’s plan, accepted a suggestion that would align any increase percentage to the increase in a retirees pay, but also suggested that there is a need to explore other indices should a COLA basis not be accepted.

While DoD did not recommend increases for TRICARE Standard or TRICARE for Life, ROA included preemptive language in its written testimony, as the association is concerned that the Pentagon could suggest fee increases in future years.

When asked about tiering TRICARE fees to rank, ROA pointed out that Reservists only make 25 to 30 percent of active duty retirement pay, and that it would be unfair to charge both components higher fees based on rank. When asked for efficiency savings, ROA mentioned mobilization readiness and the savings that could be found with Reserve dentists and doctors treating Guard and Reserve members readying for activation. ROA also pointed out that just as TRS provides Reservists exportable health care, making them an attractive hire to smaller businesses, the active retiree health care allows smaller companies to afford to employ military retirees, helping this nation’s economy. Asked if TRICARE costs are high because beneficiaries go to doctors of their own choosing, ROA pointed out that the big cost was not patients going to doctors, but to emergency care.

Introducing the 112th Congress' Senate Armed Services Committee

Chairman Carl Levin
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) is one of the main committees that ROA works with on military personnel issues including end strength and preparedness, retirement, education, military voting, health care and other areas. ROA also works with SASC via The Military Coalition and the National Military and Veteran Alliance.

The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) have not changed. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) remains the Chairman and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) the Ranking Member.

Sens. Levin and McCain worked together on passage of the Levin-McCain Weapons Acquisition Reform Act in 2009 to address system-wide problems in the Department of Defense’s acquisition system. Chairman Levin promotes cost controls of procurement for the military and led the charge for the most recent round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

Ranking Member John McCain
The subcommittees and their chairmen include the following:

•    Airland – Chairman Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.)
•    Emerging Threats & Capabilities – Chairman Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)
•    Personnel – Chairman Jim Webb (D-Va.)
•    Readiness & Management Support – Chairwoman Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
•    Seapower – Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
•    Strategic Forces – Chairman Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

Freshmen senators on the committee include: Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio).

SASC Links:
-Full committee membership
-Subcommittee members
-Hearings

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Military, OSD, and congressional leaders discuss key Guard and Reserve issues

House National Guard & Reserve Components Caucus members, OSD officials, the Reserve Component Chiefs, and Senior Enlisted Advisers were in attendance at the ROA co-sponsored House Reserve Component Caucus Breakfast to discuss key National Guard and Reserve issues today.

Secretary Dennis M. McCarthy, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs, was the keynote speaker and the first to take the podium. Secretary McCarthy, noting we are entering a period of transition after a decade of mobilization and combat, posed the question: What’s next for the Guard and Reserve Component? In this new period of transition, he explained his top three priorities are resetting equipment, growing an “innovative and efficient” force, and managing the personnel transition from high to low optempo. He also explained that the Reserve mission over the next 10 years will require a new set of authorities, and that limiting leaders to acting only in times of crisis compromises the nation’s safety and security.

The Service Chiefs were then invited to give their top three priorities. Collectively, the Chiefs stressed the importance of the following:
• Through a fiscally responsible strategy, recapitalize and modernize the total force with modern equipment and facilities.
• Fully fund family readiness and support programs.
• Fully fund and support the training, education and professional development of Guard and Reserve Members.
• Improve a continuity of health care.

Also discussed was the urgent need for Congress to pass a budget and appropriate defense funds.

Reps. Duncan D. Hunter (R-Calif.), a captain in the Marine Reserve and the first Iraq and Afghanistan veteran in Congress, and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), a retired Army National Guard command sergeant major and the highest enlisted man ever in Congress, urged the associations in attendance to continue to educate lawmakers and the American public about defense spending and the effects of policy decisions. They closed by expressing their commitment to working with associations and across the aisle to resolve the budget and support the Operational Guard and Reserve.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Data Shows Congress Overlooking Reserve Sacrifice Prior to 2008

Fixing early retirement—the concept whereby Reservists and Guardsmen can subtract time from age 60 when they would otherwise begin drawing their reserve retirement—has been at the front of ROA’s advocacy agenda for a while.

We had a huge win in the January 2008 National Defense Authorization act, which established early retirement of 90 days for every consecutive 90 day period of active duty. However, the one major flaw in the law neglects the operational reservists who mobilized prior to that date.

Newly acquired data supports backdating early retirement to 2001. Those who served prior to 2008, when the law was established, assumed a higher risk and took more casualties.

Between 2001 and the date the law took effect, 82 percent (926 deaths) of National Guard and Reserve deaths had already occurred. Yet Congress is overlooking this early sacrifice by not correcting the early retirement statute to include those serving prior to 2008.

As of today, 5,931 brave Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The active duty force comprises 55 percent of the total force and has experienced 79.6 percent (4,722) of the total deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Reserve and National Guard forces make up 45 percent of the force, and make up 19 percent (1,134) of the total casualties.

32,050 U.S. service members have been wounded due to combat actions in Iraq and 10,543 in Afghanistan (42,593 total). Active duty personnel comprised 34,121 (80%) of those wounded, and 8,472 (20%) were Guard/Reserve personnel.

* Casualty data was garnered from the Defense Manpower Data Center
Casualties:
Afghanistan:
Prior to Jan 2008:
Guard: 62
Reserve: 41
Regular: 372
After Jan 2008:
Guard: 82
            Reserve: 32
                        Regular: 891
Iraq:
               Prior to Jan 2008:
                        Guard: 443
                        Reserve: 380
                        Regular: 3112
               After Jan 2008:
                        Guard:  53
Reserve: 31
Regular: 384

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Funding Shortfall faces Department of Defense

The Continuing Resolution (CR) process is impacting the Department of Defense, delaying training, procurement, and maintenance. ROA, along with other military and veteran organizations, has signed letters asking both the House and Senate Appropriations committees to pass a defense appropriations for Fiscal Year 2011 to provide funding stability until October 1.

Unable to come to a funding agreement for the balance of the year, Congress is looking to do short extensions. The current  two-week CR runs out March 18, with the House and Senate in disagreement as to funding levels. Key to the debate are reductions in FY-2011 spending, with the Senate Democrats proposing a $6.5 billion reduction for the balance of the year, while the House Republicans would like to seek a $57 billion reduction. In test votes in the Senate, both proposals failed to pass. 

With an apparent congressional impasse for the near future, no long-term funding is expected, and a series of two-week extensions will hurt the armed forces. The Hill newspaper reports those extensions will affect or have already caused the following:

-Delay in awarding of contracts for planned work on new submarines and destroyers;
-Army letting go 300 workers at maintenance facilities;
-Army shutting down work on the Stryker mobile gun system and delaying purchase of Chinook helicopters;
-Air Force cutting flying hours by 10 percent and reducing purchases of Reaper unmanned aircraft;
-Air Force being unable to retire 22 C-5As that are in the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard.

"The readiness of our forces is beginning to be threatened as flying hours and steaming days are reduced, exercises and training events are canceled, equipment is foregoing much-needed maintenance," said Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), Appropriations Committee chairman at a hearing in early March.

"Secretary [of Defense] Gates, Admiral Mullen, and other military leaders have repeatedly and clearly warned us about the dangers of failing to pass a full-year defense funding bill,” warned Sen. Susan Collins (R-Main) on the Senate floor following the hearing.  “It is hurting our national security and harming our readiness… In no time in recent memory has Congress failed to pass a Defense Appropriations bill.”

A direct affect on the Reserve Component is that orders will not be cut for periods outside of the continuing resolution  period.  The Air Force Reserve is already disapproving any requests for Annual Tour (AT), Active Duty For Training (ADT), Active Duty for Special Works (ADSW) and unit-funded School tours that start after the end dates for existing continuing resolutions. Improvements and maintenance to Reserve training facilities and National Guard Armories could also be postponed.

Even with authorization to spend at last year’s levels, DoD is being impacted. Even if a continuing resolutions is passed for the balance of the year keeping spending at 2010 levels, this is $23 billion less than the President’s budget. Secretary Gates has warned that the military will not be able to meet its responsibilities if Congress sticks with the CR funding level of $526 billion, and instead needs a full defense appropriation of $549 billion.

The challenge of a tightening budget will have an effect on defense budgets which will no longer grow, but will begin to recede. While the 2012 presidential budget is for $553, touted as a $22 billion increase over FY-2010, $73 billion was shifted from the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) funds to the base budget, which is a de facto cut of $51 billion. One way or another, the Pentagon will have to learn to fulfill its missions with fewer dollars.

Introducing the 112th Congress’ Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee

Former Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee (SVAC) Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) has decided to step down in order to serve as Chairman of the Indian Services Committee, but he will remain a Committee member. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is the new Chairwoman. Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) continues as the Ranking Member.

Chairwoman Murray, the first woman to serve on the SVAC, represents the 670,000 veterans of Washington, and her father served in World War II. Some of the issues she has focused on include ensuring implementation of the Caregivers Act of 2010, enhancing quality of care and access for veterans diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and attending to wounded warrior and female veteran issues. In addition, Murray serves on the Senate Appropriations subcommittees on Defense and Military Construction & Veterans Affairs. ROA has worked with the senator on employment and education issues.

SVAC Chairwoman Patty Murray (D-Wash.)
Ranking Member Burr, whose state has the highest population of military spouses, has introduced several bills in support of spouses and families and joined the Military Family Caucus. He also helped pass a provision for the Post-9/11 GI Bill that allows transferability of benefits. Additionally, he serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Unlike the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, the SVAC does not have subcommittees.

The membership of the SVAC remains largely the same. Three senators no longer on the Committee include Roland Burris (D-Ill.), Arlen Specter (D-Penn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). New members include Sens. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.).

While Moran and Boozman are newly-elected senators, Moran has served on the HVAC and subcommittees on Economic Opportunity and Health, and Boozman, who replaced 2010’s Minuteman of the Year awardee Blanche Lincoln, has served on the HVAC and was the Ranking Member of the Economic Opportunity subcommittee. While the Reserve and Guard community lost a strong advocate in Lincoln, Boozman has a history of supporting veterans and has worked with ROA and The Military Coalition in the past.

Continuing members for the majority include Democratic Sens. John D. Rockefeller, IV (W.V.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jim Webb (Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and Mark Begich (Ak.). On the minority side, continuing members include Republican Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), Mike Johanns (Neb.), and Scott Brown (Mass.). Finally, there is one independent, Sen. Bernard Sanders (Vt.).

In 2010, ROA submitted testimony to the SVAC on presumptive eligibility for veterans of Vietnam and other conflicts and improvements to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. All ROA testimony can be found at www.roa.org/testimony.

SVAC Links:
-Upcoming/Past Hearings
-Committee Jurisdiction
-Legislation referred to the Committee

Monday, March 7, 2011

ROA Responds to TRICARE Fee Proposals

In the past month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Center for American Progress (CAP) have proposed raising TRICARE fees to bring health care costs under control.

Gates’ proposal, contained in the 2012 Department of Defense (DoD) budget, calls for raising annual TRICARE contributions by more than 11 percent, leading to savings of $424 million over the next five years. The CAP proposal goes further, calling for a $120 enrollment fee for family members, $500 deductible for working-age retirees, and nixing continued benefits for gainfully-employed veterans.

ROA legislative director CAPT Marshall Hanson explains ROA’s reaction to the two proposals:

Regarding the DoD proposal…

The proposed fee increase was more "modest" than ROA anticipated. While labeled by some associations as a 13 percent increase, it is such an increase after over 10 years without changes to TRICARE Prime enrollment fees. As this increase is a $30 annual increase for individuals, and a $60 annual increase for families, ROA does not find this part of the proposal excessive. Of concern is the indexing of this enrollment fee on an annual basis.  DoD has not yet identified a specific index, using a 6.2 percent annual increase as a basis for budgeting. 

At this point ROA has no comment on indexing without knowing more specifics, although ROA is reviewing possible indices, seeking what might be the best to use for military retirees. A Medicare-based index penalizes those retirees under age 65 as they don't suffer the same ailments as retirees in the older group. Furthermore, ROA has never supported an indexing based on a commercial comparison because of the differences between military and private health plans. A better understanding of DoD's health care costs and what is driving up the expense is needed.

Although retired, in earlier times these beneficiaries have accepted risks and made sacrifices in their past military careers that have not been asked of the remaining 99 percent of the nation’s population. TRICARE fulfills an on-going promise by the government for continued health care to those who have served or are serving.

ROA’s concern is finding a fair and equitable approach where retirees won’t be overburdened.  Sustaining these health care benefits for the next generation of retiree is key.

And the CAP proposal…

ROA is on the record of not supporting income means testing as a method of determining health care fees, especially if based on gross income or vice military retirement. 

CAP proposes to:
Limit double coverage for working-age retirees above a certain income level
• Create incentives to reduce overuse of services
• Establish fair procedures to regulate future cost sharing

ROA doesn't view TRICARE as double coverage, and concurs with other associations that this benefit provides retirees an opportunity to seek employment.  ROA sought TRICARE Reserve Select for drilling Reservists because health care became exportable and makes the applicant more attractive to employers. The same logic needs to apply to retirees. Also of note, in today's economy is that working age no longer tops out at age 65.

CAP also proposes to:
• Increase cost sharing to encourage responsible use of Tricare for Life benefits

TRICARE for Life-eligible retirees are paying monthly premiums and are already being means tested; no additional fees should be included beyond Medicare Part "B" for TFL coverage.

The issue of reining in TRICARE spending at DoD will loom large in budget debates in the coming months, and ROA will continue to monitor and participate in discussions to ensure productive and fair solutions are reached.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

ROA Member ADM Papp Testifies on Coast Guard Budget

The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, ADM Robert J. Papp, Jr., who is also an ROA member and Minuteman Hall of Fame awardee, testified before the House Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation regarding the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget.

This year the Coast Guard actually saw an increase of 1.8 percent over the current FY-11 Continuing Resolution level.
 
According to the written testimony, the Reserve Training account would increase by 2.4 percent and there would be a military pay increase of 1.6 percent. In addition, the budget would grant $20 million to rehabilitate military housing which has a current backlog of more than 40 prioritized shore facility improvement programs.

The most controversial item discussed was the proposed decommissioning of the Polar Sea heavy icebreaker, which has significant engine failures and has not been operational since June 2010. The plan would replace it with the Polar Star, which is undergoing a service life extension program and would be operational in 2013. The Commandant stated that there would be a gap, but there is already a gap and since resources are scarce it is better to invest in the Polar Star rather than the Polar Sea.

Congressman Jeff Landry (D-La.) suggested that the Coast Guard should look into leasing industry heavy icebreakers. And Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) expressed great concern that the Fleet Mix Analysis still has not been shared with the subcommittee, despite the request being issued more than 13 months ago.