TREA Washington Update Newsletter (7/3/2018)

July 3, 2018
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TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
July Will be Busy When Congress Returns

Congress is in recess this week for what the House of Representatives calls a “district work period” and the Senate calls a “state work period.” When they return next week they have a lot on their plates for the last three weeks of July. They will be in recess during the month of August.

The bills we are carefully watching are the fy2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the fy2019 Defense Appropriations bill, and the fy2019 Military Construction/VA bill – referred to in Washington as the MilCon/VA bill.

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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019

The NDAA authorizes the activities of DoD for the next fiscal year. The Defense Appropriations bill provides the money for DoD’s activities in the new fiscal year, and the MilCon/VA bill provides funding for military construction and for the programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs which have not already been funded by the two-year appropriation that .

As we have reported in the past, both the House and Senate have passed their versions of the NDAA. The next step is to form a conference committee made up of members of the House and Senate, who will work out the differences in the two bills and come up with a single bill that will then be sent back to each body for a final vote. Once they both pass the bill it will be sent to the President for his signature.

Both bills would give active duty personnel a 2.6% raise in FY2019 and both would increase the number of active duty personnel each of the services is authorized, although there are differences in the numbers which will have to be reconciled.

The biggest difference between the two bills as far as personnel issues go is a provision in the Senate NDAA which would raise health care costs for retirees under the age of 65.

Last year’s NDAA allowed those who entered the military service before January 1, 2018, to keep the TRICARE fees which were in existence at that time. However, anyone who entered after that date were subject to a new TRICARE fee structure which increased their health care costs. The Senate bill would eliminate the “grandfathering” of those in the service prior to January 1 and throw them into the new TRICARE fee structure, thus also raising their health care costs.

It is important to note at this point that retirees over the age of 65 will not be affected by this change.

However, those under age 65 will see significant increases in enrollment fees for both TRICARE Prime and TRICARE Select. Those in TRICARE Select will also see their annual deductible double.

TREA is strongly opposed to the Senate provision.

The House has voted to start the conference committee and it has named the members it will send to the committee. The Senate has not yet voted to start the conference committee and therefore has not named its committee members. However, leaders in both the House and the Senate have said their goal is to come up with a compromise bill by the end of July.

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FY 2019 Defense Appropriations Bill

This is the bill that provides the money for the items that the NDAA authorizes. Defense is the single largest spending bill, making up 52 percent of all the cash that Congress will approve this year. It’s also by far the most popular spending bill, even among staunch fiscal hawks – which means it’s often used to help provide money for things other than defense which might not otherwise make it through the Senate.

The House has passed its version of the appropriations bill but the Senate lags behind. Its version of the bill has made it through the Appropriations Committee but it must now go to the Senate floor for debate and a vote.

One item of interest in the Defense Appropriations bill concerns commissaries. The Pentago recently made a decision to sell beer and wine in defense commissaries. Senate defense appropriators want to know why hard liquor was not included in that decision. They are requesting a report detailing why distilled spirits were left out and whether the Pentagon will reconsider that decision. The report accompanying the defense bill states that “roughly half of states legally sell distilled spirits in grocery stores,” and that “the Department should have explored this option to further improve customer convenience at all military commissaries.”

Like the NDAA, once the Senate passes its Defense Appropriations bill, they must begin a conference committee with the House to work out the differences between the House and Senate bills and come up with one bill which will be sent back to both bodies for a final vote.

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FY2019 Military Construction/VA bill

As its name indicates, this bill funds both military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs. One thing that is unique regarding the VA is that in 2009 Congress authorized two-year funding for parts of the VA. It subsequently included more VA functions so that now it provides advanced appropriations for three of the four Veterans Health Administration (VHA) accounts: medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities; and for three mandatory VA benefits programs within the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA): compensation and pensions, readjustment benefits, and veterans insurance and indemnities.

The advanced appropriations for these VBA and VHA accounts were authorized to prevent potential delays in the delivery of care and benefits to veterans that may arise in the event of a funding lapse.

The MilCon/VA bill would boost discretionary funding for veterans to receive care from non-VA community providers while the Veterans Choice Program — which is funded through mandatory appropriations — winds down.

Appropriators approved the MilCon-VA measure before Congress passed legislation to replace the Choice program with a single discretionary program allowing eligible veterans to seek community care. That measure also provided funding to extend the Choice program until the consolidated program takes effect.

Appropriators may have to provide a significant increase in future funding to pay for community care under the new program. Appropriations Committee members have said they’re ready to provide discretionary funding for the new program once it’s in place.

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