The following letter has been sent to FY 2005 National Defense Authorization Act conferees

27 July 2004


The Honorable John Warner
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services
U.S. Senate
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Fax: (202) 224-6295

Dear Mr. Chairman:

The Fleet Reserve Association (FRA), the most senior and leading enlisted organization in The Military Coalition (TMC), is grateful for the opportunity to comment on the Armed Services Committees= efforts to continue protecting and improving quality- of-life programs for service members and their families as contained in the Senate and House versions of the FY 2005 Ronald Reagan National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

FRA is appreciative of the initiatives appearing in both bills, including an across-the-board 3.5 percent pay increase for military personnel. This provision alone sends a positive message to our men and women in uniform at a time when troop and family morale is of the utmost importance.

The attached matrix is provided for your consideration. It is similar to that submitted by The Military Coalition; however, the recommendations made by FRA are meant to raise awareness of several items of special interest to enlisted men and women of the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard; active, reserve, and retired.

They are as follows:

Uniformed Services Survivor Benefits Plan (USSBP)

FRA was instrumental in encouraging Congress to adopt the USSBP in 1972. While it has proven to be a much better program than its predecessors, some imbalances remain. The current language provides an annuity of either 55% or 35% of a member= s covered retirement pay for surviving spouses. The 35% annuity comes when the survivor attains the age of 62 or older. Currently, it is estimated that more than 85% of survivors are in receipt of annuities at the 35% level. FRA strongly supports the House provision that phases out the 35% offset over three-and-a-half years beginning in September 2005. It also includes an open enrollment period that is more inviting than its Senate counterpart to enlisted service members, who initially declined participation. Much of the declination came as a result of the dramatic loss in compensation when the enlisted service member retires - nearly two-thirds of his or her active duty pay. FRA also supports Section 643 of the House version that offers the means to pay for the initiative.


FRA supports the Senate proposal for fee-based TRICARE participation by the Selected Reserve. Last year= s NDAA authorized a one-year pilot program, yet the Defense Department failed to implement the program. The Senate language would improve unit readiness and enhance recruitment and retention by providing access to TRICARE for all Guard and Reserve members and their families for a modest annual premium. The proposal is most important to junior reserve enlisted personnel who are married and have children. Many are just beginning a career in the civilian sector and require financial assistance to afford health care for themselves and their families.

End Strength and Force Structure

The ever-increasing operations tempo has already signi-ficantly over-stressed a downsized force, which bodes ill for future retention and readiness goals. FRA agrees with the Senate that today= s mission requirements demand a larger force and supports the House provision increasing the Marine Corps by 9,000 personnel over a 3-year period (FY 2005-07). The Association, however, is concerned with the Navy= s desire to decrease its end strength levels by 10,400 personnel (7,900 active duty and 2,500 reservists). Such a major reduction on top of the downsizing of the forces in the last decade will present a major problem for the Navy to maintain adequate readiness and meet an increased commitment in protecting the Nation= s sea lanes and lending support to our ground forces.

Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay for Military Firefighters

FRA strongly endorses Sec. 620 in the House bill authorizing enlisted military firefighters= eligibility to receive Hazardous Duty Incentive Pay (HDIP). Under current policy, civilian firefighters working side-by-side with their military counterparts are authorized additional pay in their federal paychecks as compensation for the risks involved in their employment. Military firefighters are not so entitled, but there should be no doubt these men and women rate special consideration in the performance of their duties. The House section has the support of the Defense Department as well as the major enlisted organizations.

Full Replacement of Damaged Household Goods

FRA is adamantly opposed to Sec. 1065 in the House version of the NDAA, which prohibits the Defense Department from fully implementing the new program for the movement of household goods for military personnel. Instead, the House is requiring Defense to submit a complete evaluation of the results from the 14-site initiative phase. The household goods move process has been the subject of many demonstrations, pilot programs and studies over a several-year period. Defense has used the information gained from previous efforts to design the new program, which it is ready to implement. Important customer service improvements, such as full replacement value reimbursement for lost or damaged goods, cannot be implemented until the start of the new program.

According to an FRA survey conducted in 2000, service members incurred an average of $2,270.13 in out-of-pocket expenditures related to PCS moves, for which they were not reimbursed. Seventy-six percent of the participants were enlisted personnel who did not have the disposable income to replace damaged and lost household items. FRA believes service members and families should not be denied these improvements while the moving industry continues to enjoy a flaccid requirement to provide good service and the responsibility that goes with a sound business regimen.

Secretary of the Navy Title Change

FRA strongly endorses Sec. 901 in the House version of the NDAA to change the title of Secretary of the Navy to Secretary of the Navy and Marine Corps. This change would enhance the role of the Marine Corps as an equal member of the Armed Services in the eyes of our citizens, while giving the secretarial office a title that better reflects its oversight responsibilities. The recent participation in Operation Iraqi Freedom proves again the Corps merits recognition as a separate armed force not submissive to any other military service.

Concurrent Receipt of Retired Pay and Veterans Disability Compensation

Last year= s language addressing concurrent receipt was a tremendous step forward, but many inequities remain. FRA strongly supports full concurrent receipt. Until then, the Association endorses language accelerating implementation of full concurrent receipt of retired pay and VA disability pay for 100 percent disabled military retirees.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of the Association= s position.


JOSEPH L. BARNES National Executive Secretary



The Honorable Duncan Hunter Chairman, Committee on Armed Services U.S. House of Representatives 2120 Rayburn House Office Building Washington, DC 20515Fax: (202) 224-6295