Ten Things You Need to Know About the Defense Bill

May 6, 2016

For 55 years, the annual defense authorization bill has been passed by Congress and signed into law.  

The bill is a massive, 700-plus page document outlining a number of things from force levels for each service to how much you'll pay for health care.  

But as it goes through the amendment process, legislators tuck dozens of diverse requirements into the bill. 

Here are ten things you need to know about amendments added to the defense bill during the House Armed Services Committee's deliberation process:  

1. Troubled by the Pentagon's acknowledgement that its proposed TRICARE network would only cover 85 percent of the beneficiary population committee chair Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) and Military Personnel Subcommittee chair Joe Heck (R-Nev.) put a provision in the bill to increase the coverage to 90 percent. But the Congressional Budget Office advised this change would exceed budget limits. So the chairmen's proposed increase had to be withdrawn. 

2. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) included an amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense to help identify which members of the military are at high risk of suicide to aid in intervention efforts.  

3. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) asked for a report on providing acupuncture and chiropractic care for TRICARE retirees. This has been a longstanding MOAA legislative goal.  

4. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) called for the creation of a pilot program for TRICARE beneficiaries to get prescription maintenance medications at retail pharmacies. Drug manufacturers would pay rebates to DoD for medications, ensuring the government pays the lowest available price.  

Currently, beneficiaries must use mail-order or visit a MTF to receive non-generic maintenance medications.  

While this provision would give beneficiaries another option for service, there is nothing in the amendment requiring DoD or pharmacies to pass on savings to beneficiaries. 

5. Rep. Brad Ashford's (D-Neb.) would direct DoD to provide Congress a report on the feasibility of authorizing commissary and exchange access for disabled veterans who received the Purple Heart.  

6. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) introduced - then subsequently voted against - his own amendment requiring women, as well as men, to register for the draft. The unusual move was done as a part of a broader questioning of DoD's decision to open all combat positions to female servicemembers. The amendment did pass. 

Earlier this year MOAA conducted an informational survey on the issue and found that, while many survey respondents were uncomfortable with female servicemembers serving in combat positions, most said - if the country was already heading in that direction - it would be consistent to have women sign up for the draft.  

7. Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) secured an amendment providing 14 days of parental leave for a servicemember whose civilian spouse gives birth.  

8. Reps. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Mike Turner (R-Ohio) both introduced amendments to improve training for military sexual trauma.  

9. Rep. Rich Nugent's (R-Fla.) amendment specifies National Guard dual status technicians (whose Guard positions also entail full-time federal civilian jobs) from being furloughed in the event of a government shutdown. 

10. Rep. Tim Walz's (D-Minn.) amendment would require additional time before DoD could implement proposed efficiency initiatives (e.g., variable pricing and store brands) for the commissary system, out of concern for potential unintended consequences. The amendment failed on a voice vote after Military Personnel Subcommittee chair Heck articulated the various safeguards already included in the bill.  

The Senate Armed Services Committee takes up its version of the annual defense bill next week, and the full House is expected to take action later this month (which is why we need your action now.)


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