Newsbytes June 14, 2024

In this issue:
NDAA Moves Forward
Joint Hearing on Caregivers
House Passes MilCon/VA Appropriations
Flag Day
FRA NHQ Closed on Wednesday “Juneteenth”

NDAA Moves Forward in House and Senate
As Newsbytes goes to press, the House is expected to pass its version of the FY 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-HR 8070) and send it to the Senate for further consideration. The bill provides the following:

  • No TRICARE fee increases
  • Authorizing annual pay increases of 19.5% for E-1 through E-4, 13% for E-5, and 4.5% for other active-duty personnel
  • Increasing the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to 100% of regional housing costs and expanding eligibility for the military’s Basic Allowance for Subsistence stipend
  • Repealing the 180-day delay for retirees obtaining employment at DoD
  • Providing members of the Guard and Reserve access to the TRICARE dental program at no cost
  • Increasing the threshold for the Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) to 200% from 150% of federal poverty guidelines
  • Reviewing bonuses and retention allowances for military childcare workers
  • Authorizing DoD to quickly hire military spouses and keep them employed during changes in duty stations
  • Helping military spouses gain and retain employment by making it easier for them to transfer professional licenses between states
  • Enhancing funds ($766 million over the budget request) for barracks renovations

The 1008-page bill complies with the spending limits set for national security programs under the June 2023 debt-limit deal (Public Law 118-5). Representatives offered 1,357 amendments to the bill, but the House Rules Committee only allowed 350 amendments to be considered. Unfortunately, the concurrent receipt amendment was not allowed to be considered. The White House has expressed opposition to the pay increases above 4.5% that are requested in the Administration’s budget proposal. The bill will now go to the Senate for further consideration.

As Newsbytes goes to press, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) began marking up its version of the FY 2025 NDAA in a closed session. Details on the SASC markup will be available in next week’s Newsbytes.

Once the House and Senate approve their versions of the NDAA, a conference committee will be appointed to resolve the differences between the two bills. This final bill will be submitted to both chambers of Congress, and if the House and Senate approve the bill, it will be sent to President Biden to be signed into law or vetoed.

SVAC and Aging Committee Have Joint Hearing on Caregivers
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a rare joint hearing to examine services and support for veterans and their caregivers through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Topics included pending legislation to expand veterans’ home and community-based programs and strengthen VA caregivers and long-term care programs. The joint hearing heard from a caregiver on her experience with the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers (Caregivers Program) and its restrictive regulations that went into place in 2020. Her husband’s combat injuries resulted in a 100% permanent and total disability rating by the Veterans Benefits Administration in 2016, but after a reassessment in 2021, they were dropped from the program.

A caregiver who had taken care of her disabled veteran husband for nearly 20 years stated that, “Before the regulations went into effect, I felt supported, and I had assurances that I would be able to navigate his care successfully. Once those regulations passed, we were dismissed from the Caregiver Program. We feel like we’re in a purgatory situation here where we just don’t know what the next iteration of these regulations will look like.”

The caregiver and her husband were dismissed from the program as a direct result of the restrictive eligibility requirements, despite his condition remaining the same. Legislators questioned her on the impact of being discharged and its effect on her family. She underscored the uncertainty it has created in addition to the financial impact of a “significant portion” of their income going away.

Meredith Beck, the National Policy Director for the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, stressed that the legislation would help improve veterans’ and family caregivers’ access to home and community-based care. Beck highlighted a provision in the “Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act” (H.R. 8371) that would increase the amount VA can spend on a veteran’s home-based care from 65% to 100% of the cost of nursing home care: “I have caregivers watching right now who are waiting every single day to ensure that they are able to get the services they need in the home to keep the veterans they care for in their home. Those are individuals who have long-term ALS, MS, severe traumatic brain injuries, and without the removal of that cap, they will potentially have to move to a nursing home.”

Congress expanded the Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras—successfully including language in the bipartisan VA MISSION Act of 2018. However, in 2020 VA defied Congress’ intent and the concerns of FRA, veterans, and caregivers by enacting regulations that narrowed the program’s eligibility to veterans with a 70% or higher service-connected disability rating and those with an inability to perform an activity of daily living without assistance each and every time the activity occurs.

Legislation has been introduced to address this issue: the “Senator Elizabeth Dole 21st Century Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act” (H.R. 8371).

Members can weigh in on this issue at:

House Passes MilCon/VA Appropriations
The House passed its first appropriations measure (H.R. 8580) to fund military construction and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The House passed the legislation 209-197, despite a veto threat from the White House, as it moves ahead with an aggressive plan to pass all 12 annual spending bills before the August recess. Four Democrats voted in favor of the measure, while two Republicans opposed it. The bill provides $147.5 billion in FY 2025 funding, which is $6 billion less than the current level. Its $18 billion for military construction is a $718 million cut.

An adopted amendment would restrict the VA from carrying out a Biden administration rule that allows veterans to have greater access to abortion counseling and abortions in certain circumstances. Another adopted amendment would block the VA from implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives and block access to gender-affirming care, among other measures. The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

Flag Day
Flag Day is a holiday celebrated on June 14. It commemorates the adoption of the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777, by resolution of the Second Continental Congress. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation that officially established June 14 as Flag Day, and in August 1949, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday.

FRA NHQ Closed Wednesday for “Juneteenth”
The FRA NHQ will be closed Wednesday in celebration of “Juneteenth.” Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrated annually on June 19 to commemorate the ending of slavery in the United States. The day was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021.

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