May 27, 2016
Senate lawmakers are close to finalizing their version of the FY17 defense authorization bill.
This year's bill includes several proposed changes to housing allowances. For new entrants after Jan. 1, 2018, and upon the first PCS after that date for those already serving, basic allowance for housing (BAH) would be calculated using the servicemember's actual housing cost or the BAH rate, whichever is less. The bill also proposes dividing the normal BAH rate by the number of BAH-eligible occupants, meaning dual military couples or roommates could receive a significantly smaller allowance.
BAH for E-5 and below on sea duty would also be eliminated.
The committee also included proposals to change family leave policies. Servicemembers that are primary caregivers would receive six weeks of leave. Secondary caregivers would receive three weeks. This parental leave would be in addition to six weeks of convalescent leave allowed for a servicemember who gives birth.
Senate lawmakers made several changes to TRICARE. In addition to what MOAA previously reported, the committee included provisions:
- establishing Prime only in areas with Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs);
- changing the name of TRICARE Standard to TRICARE Choice;
- giving the Secretary of Defense the authority to adjust prescription copays after 2025;
- allowing the Secretary of Defense to eliminate copays for telehealth services;
- keeping copays at the FY16 rate for chapter 61 medical retirees and survivors whose sponsors died on active duty;
- authorizing the treatment of veterans and civilians in MTFs as needed to maintain operational skills; and
- directing DoD to create a program to improve quality of care in MTFs.
The bill also makes changes to active duty promotions and pay. Promotion boards would be able to identify up to 20 percent of selectees as “top performers” to go to the top of promotion lists, and the services will be authorized to give continuation pay to eligible servicemembers with eight to 12 years of service.
Additionally, the service secretaries will be able to designate specialties to allow officers to serve up to 40 years.
Finally, the bill reduces tenure on the temporary disability retired list from five years to three years and requires an independent assessment of SBP and the feasibility of commercial alternatives.
See the table below for a comparison of key issues between the House and Senate version of the defense bill:
The Senate plans to vote on the defense bill after the Memorial Day holiday. Afterwards, House and Senate lawmakers will begin their work ironing out their respective differences in conference committee.
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