May 26 2017


In this issue:
FY2018 Defense Budget Request has TRICARE Fee Increases
VA Budget Request Rollout Decreases Some Benefits   
Chairman of JCS Re-appointed
Memorial Day Observances


FY 2018 Defense Budget Request has TRICARE Fee Increases
The President's budget request includes $639 billion for discretionary spending authority for the Department of Defense (DoD), which is a $52 billion increase above FY 2017 DoD budget. Most of the increases go to modernization and force readiness. 

The proposed budget would increase some health care fees. During the previous year, Congress passed substantial TRICARE Reform that merged TRICARE Standard/Extra into TRICARE Select. Among the changes, service members entering the military after January 1, 2018, would have to pay higher out-of-pocket costs for health care. But current service members and retirees were grandfathered into the new TRICARE program without any cost increase. These changes are supposed to go into effect January 1, 2018. The DoD request proposes new TRICARE changes that will lead to higher out-of-pocket costs, including: 

  • Elimination of the grandfathering provision, directly causing higher out-of-pocket   costs for all working age retirees; 
  • Premiums, co-pays, deductibles and catastrophic caps for beneficiaries younger than age 65 would dramatically increase annually, based on increases in health care costs measured by the growth in National Health Expenditures; 
  • Increasing co-pays, deductibles and the catastrophic cap for currently covered TRICARE Standard/Select families; 
  • Increasing pharmacy co-pays for retirees younger than age 65, including a new co-pay for mail-order generics that are currently available with no out-of-pocket cost; and 
  • Allowing larger annual increases to TRICARE out-of-pocket fees that would impact all working age retirees and currently covered TRICARE Standard/Select families. Their participation fees, deductibles, co-pays and catastrophic cap would have higher annual increases. 

The budget also calls for a smaller than expected pay raise for active duty (2.1%) even though the current statute calls for an increase equal to civilian pay increases (2.4%). The budget request does nothing to change scheduled reductions to Base Allowance for Housing reimbursements. The budget request asks for another Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) commission. The commission is empowered to make a list of bases to close and gives the House and Senate an up or down vote only. 

In addition, the U.S. Coast Guard budget (part of the Department of Homeland Security) does not provide the same increase as the Navy and Marine Corps budget request. FRA appreciates the administration's effort to increase spending for the DoD, but will emphasize the USCG plays a critical role in national defense. The Coast Guard needs the same percentage funding increase as the other Sea Services Adequate funding for the Coast Guard is essential to morale, family readiness and service-wide Coast Guard readiness. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center on our website to ask their legislators to oppose these TRICARE fee increases and to urge them to provide adequate funding for the Coast Guard.  

VA Budget Request Rollout Decreases Some Benefits   
FRA ADVP Brian Condon and FRA NVSO Chris Slawinski attended the annual Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) FY 2018 budget briefing. The budget request includes a 3.7 percent increase over FY 2017. The White House proposed $186.5 billion budget for VA operations next year:

  • Provides $13.2 billion for medical care outside the VA, through the FRA-supported VA Choice program (13 percent increase). 
  • Increases mental health care by $473 million; and
  • Delivers $505 million for gender-specific health care services for women veterans (7 percent increase). 

The budget request also trims some VA benefits. Veterans receiving benefit checks from the VA would have their annual cost-of-living-adjustment reduced or "rounded down" to the next dollar, which was VA policy from the late 1990s until 2013. The VA has estimated it would save $20 million in FY 2018 and cost individual veterans no more than $12 per year.

The proposed budget eliminates the Individual Unemployability benefit payments to retirement-age veterans, a move expected to save $3.2 billion next year alone and $41 billion over 10 years. 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 number of program recipients has tripled since 2000, reaching almost 339,000 in FY 2016.  The Administration has proposed stopping those payouts once veterans are eligible for Social Security retirement benefits. The argument is that the practice amounts to "the duplication of benefits." It would impact more than 225,000 veterans currently receiving this benefit. Members are urged to use the FRA Action Center on our website and ask their legislators to oppose the cuts to veteran benefits.  

Chairman of JCS Re-appointed
Press reports indicate that Marine General Joe Dunford will be nominated for a second term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force General Paul Selva will be nominated for a second term as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Dunford served as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs since September 2015. The Joint Chiefs chairman serves a two-year term that may be renewed. Dunford's reappointment must be confirmed by the Senate.

Prior to becoming Joint Chiefs Chairman, Dunford served as Marine Corps Commandant, the service's top officer. Dunford also served as assistant commandant from 2010-12 as well as the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan from 2013-14. He was first commissioned in 1977.

Memorial Day Observances
National President Donald Larson will represent the FRA during Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery Monday, May 29. FRA will join other national leaders in honoring the men and women who have died while serving their nation, by laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown. FRA Branches from the East Coast Region's Central Liaison Committee are sponsoring a ceremony at the U.S. Navy Memorial on Memorial Day. Many FRA members will also participate in Memorial Day ceremonies all across the country, paying tribute to America's fallen heroes.

On Saturday, May 27 and Sunday, May 28, shipmates from the D.C. area and members of the FRA Headquarters will staff an information booth at Rolling Thunder, the annual motorcycle tribute held at the nation's Capital. The event was established to show the country and the world that Vietnam POWs and MIAs are not forgotten.

FRA NHQ will be closed on Monday, May 29, in observance of Memorial Day.
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