27 June 2003
The Honorable Duncan Hunter
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
U.S. House of Representatives
2120 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Dear Mr. Chairman:
The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), the premiere A watch dog@ organization in maintaining and improving the quality-of-life for enlisted Sailors, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen, is grateful to you and the Armed Services Committee for your efforts to protect and improve the interests of service-members in the FY2004 National Defense Authorization Bill.
There are many initiatives the Association supports that appear in both the House and Senate bills. The attached matrix highlights the Association= s recommendations concerning selected differences between the House and Senate-passed bills. Several priorities merit special mention:
It is critical that beneficiary education and support be improved and made available for Standard beneficiaries. Providers must be educated and recruited, adequate compensation provided to attract and retain providers, and accountability established to determine if the program is adequately implemented. Access problems for Standard beneficiaries must be thoroughly documented and properly resolved. FRA is particularly grateful for both chambers= including much needed initiatives to address health care access shortfalls for TRICARE Standard beneficiaries.
The Association also strongly endorses the Senate proposal for fee-based TRICARE participation by the Selected Reserve, and the subsidy of mobilized Guard/Reserve members= premiums for employer- provided health coverage. FRA believes such members= families should not have to suffer disruption of their health coverage in addition to the sacrifice associated with the service-member= s absence. The Senate proposal offers an important step in the right direction.
End Strength and Force Structure
The Association believes the ever-increasing operations tempo has already significantly over-stressed a downsized force, which bodes ill for longer-term retention and readiness. The Administration= s transformation initiatives notwithstanding, the Association agrees with the House Total Force Subcommittee that today= s mission requirements demand a larger force. To this end, FRA strongly endorses the House proposals to increase end strength and establish minimum force structure requirements.
Uniformed Services Pay Raise
FRA strongly supports the Senate-proposed raise for 2004, to ensure every service-member receives an annual increase at least equal to what the average American receives in his or her pay check. FRA believes it is essential to maintain a common pay table for all uniformed services, including Public Health Service and NOAA officers, who take the same oath and serve under similar conditions as their brothers in arms. We also urge conferees to adopt the Senate plan to restore private sector pay growth as the standard for military raises in years beyond 2006. History teaches that failure to maintain pay comparability can lead to significant retention and readiness challenges. The Association cannot accept a statutory standard that requires capping military raise levels below that of the average American.
Concurrent Receipt of Retired Pay
and Veterans Disability Compensation
The Association very much appreciates the substantive efforts of both bodies to alleviate the unfair retired pay penalties imposed on disabled retirees. Last year= s Combat-Related Special Compensation authority was a step forward, but all concerned recognize it as a A beachhead.@ Many inequities remain, including the omission of combat-disabled Reserve retirees from last year= s authority and the lack of relief for those with severe duty-related disabilities that were not incurred in combat. FRA strongly supports full concurrent receipt. With both chambers overwhelmingly on record in support of this principle, we urge the conferees to build on last year= s effort with another significant step toward achieving this goal.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of these recommendations.
JOSEPH L. BARNES
National Executive Secretary