June 30 2017

In this issue:

NED Meets with VA Secretary

NDAA Approved by SASC and HASC

NHQ Closed on Independence Day



NED Meets with VA Secretary

National Executive Director (NED) Thomas Snee and Veterans' Services Officer (VSO) Chris Slawinski met with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin this week  to discuss veteran's issues that are on FRA's legislative agenda. Snee thanked Dr. Shulkin for passage of the recent VA accountability legislation as well as the progress he is making with the electronic health records issue. NED and the secretary discussed the Agent Orange Blue Water Navy issue. Snee urged the secretary to help these veterans by implementing a regulation to provide a presumption for disability claims filed at the VA, related to exposure to the Agent Orange herbicide. 


Snee expressed his concern and the association's opposition to provisions in the proposed budget that eliminates the Individual Unemployability benefit payments to retirement-age disabled veterans.  Under current policies, the Individual Unemployability program allows the VA to award payouts at the 100-percent disabled rate to veterans who cannot find work due to service-connected injuries, even if they are not deemed 100-percent disabled. The administration has proposed stopping those payouts once veterans are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits.


NED and the Secretary also discussed the need for improving the appeals process for disability claims and expanding the VA Caregiver program to all catastrophically disabled veterans. Currently the program only applies to veterans disabled after September 11, 2001. 


NDAA Approved by SASC and HASC

The Senate Armed Services Committee approved its version of the FY2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) after SASC subcommittees marked up their portion of the unnumbered bill. Unlike the committee and subcommittee work on the House side, the Senate subcommittee and full committee markups are set to be closed sessions (only staff and legislators are allowed in the room). The Senate bill does not include any provision to improve concurrent receipt. The text of the committee bill is not yet available, but staff has indicated that the bill includes the following provisions:


• Increasing pharmacy co-pays for certain retirees to generate funding to extend the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance for widows and widowers under the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) 

• Authorizing a 2.1 percent  annual active duty pay increase

• Adding $25 million for impact aid to public schools with large military population

• Prohibiting active duty wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images

• Allowing reservists who are eligible for FEHPB to purchase TRICARE Reserve Select

• Increasing flexibility for military families in the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) process


The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) also marked up the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA-H.R.2810). Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry said the bill increases Defense funding more than what was requested by the administration because of increasing threats around the world. The increase request is also due to the urgent need to fix the readiness problem by repairing and rebuilding the military. The Chairman claims that more than 50 percent of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft are not combat ready. 


The HASC markup includes:   


• No TRICARE fee increase or pharmacy co-pay increase 

• A larger than requested annual active duty pay increase (2.4% vice 2.1%)

• Authorizing mobilized Reserve Component members to receive pre-mobilization and transitional TRICARE health care

• Prohibiting the Secretary of Defense from further reducing the basic allowance for housing (BAH) below the current level for service members residing in Military Housing Privatization Initiative (MHPI) housing

• Enhancing OTH discharge review for Vietnam combat veterans presumed to have PTSD

• Adding $30 million for impact aid to public schools with a large military population

• Prohibiting active duty wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images

• Reimbursing military spouse for state licensure arising from relocation to another state


The House bill (H.R.2810) does not include any provision to extend the SSIA and any improvements for concurrent receipt. Both the House and Senate version violate the spending caps of the Budget Control Act (BCA), which sets strict caps on both defense and non-defense spending. Members of both parties revile the BCA and have in the past managed to make short-term compromises such as lifting the caps for a couple of years at a time. No such agreement applies to FY2018 NDAA.


In related news, the House Appropriations Committee, Defense Subcommittee (HAC-Def.) marked up its FY2018 spending bill. The unnumbered bill includes $1 billion more than the request for additional end strength and fully funds a 2.4 percent pay raise for the military.  The bill contains $34 billion for base requirements ($150 million more than the FY2017 level and $267 million more than the requested amount) for the Defense Health Program to provide care for our troops, military families and retirees. As Newsbytes goes to press, the full House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to markup the still unnumbered bill. Typically, these three events (HASC, SASC, and HAC-Def markups) are separated by several weeks of deliberations and negotiations. But with the White House budget delivery in late May, months behind the normal operating schedule, congressional committees are scrambling to catch up and finish work before the extended August recess.


The full committee markups will go to the full chamber for amendments, debate and approval. Once the House and Senate complete their versions of the FY2018 NDAA, the two chambers will appoint a conference committee made up of senators and representatives to resolve differences between the two bills. The resulting bill will then have to be approved by both chambers and sent to President Trump for signature or veto. 


NHQ Closed on Independence Day

FRA's National Headquarters (NHQ) offices will be closed on Monday, July 3, and Tuesday July 4 in observance of Independence Day. NHQ staff would like to wish all FRA Shipmates a fun and safe 4th of July.

If you would like to hear a recorded version of NewsBytes, dial 1-800-FRA-1924 (ext. 112)

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