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April 6, 2012

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Base Closures Coming. Defense officials want to close excess facilities through another round of Base Realignment and Closures (BRAC) despite Congressional resistance.
Bills of Interest. Legislators have recently introduced several bills of interest to the military community. Please send MOAA-suggested messages urging your legislators to sign on as bill cosponsors.

Base Closures Coming
Defense officials say they’ll ask Congress to approve another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) for 2013 and 2015.

The combination of significant DoD budget cuts and an impending force drawdown, they say, will leave the military with excess facilities at home and abroad, so they want to eliminate excess to help contain costs.

But Congressional leaders have been cool to that plan, to say the least.

To begin with, closing facilities and relocating jobs hurts local economies. At a time when the nation’s economic recovery is already shaky and we have continued high unemployment, legislators are even more resistant than usual to closing or downsizing military facilities in their home states and districts.

That inherent reluctance is why Congress developed special rules to consider BRAC proposals. It starts with appointing a nonpartisan BRAC committee to make recommendations on closures, and ends with a requirement for a congressional “yes or no” vote on the whole proposal, without any changes.

But the most recent round of base closures (begun in 2005) left a particularly sour taste in legislators’ mouths, as several haven’t gone smoothly, and projected savings have been slow to materialize.

For all those reasons, most congressional leaders say they’ll fight to keep from having another BRAC round.

But that’s not the end of the story, because Pentagon officials are making plans to start closing some facilities with or without the consent of Congress.

Because of the publicity surrounding the four BRAC commissions over the last 20 years, many overlook that the Pentagon doesn’t need congressional approval to close installations with fewer than 300 civilian personnel.

The law also lets the Defense Department close larger bases, as long as it gives Congress advance notice and Congress doesn’t act to block the closure.

So the seeds are being sown for a potentially significant confrontation, depending on how large a list of closures may be sought, and whether Congress has the collective will to bar some or all of them.

Bills of Interest
Legislators have introduced several bills of interest to the military and veterans community. MOAA supports the following bills:

S. 2241 (Sen. Murray, D-WA) would require the VA to provide beneficiaries easy-to-understand information about schools approved for GI Bill use so students know in advance a school’s record on such things as average student debt incurred, transferability of credits earned, veteran enrollment, and job placement rates.

S. 2149 (Sen. Webb, D-VA) would require schools participating in VA and DoD educational assistance programs to meet the same educational standards currently required for federal Pell Grants. It also would require schools with a minimum number of student veterans to provide counseling and establish a complaint resolution process for them.

H.R. 3279 (Rep. Reyes, D-TX) would make family caregivers of certain veterans with a serious illness eligible for comprehensive assistance and support services from the VA. Current law limits eligibility to caregivers of veterans with a serious “injury”.

H.R. 3895 (Rep. Miller, R-FL) would protect VA health care programs from automatic cuts under “sequestration” legislation that could be triggered next January, if Congress fails to reach an agreement to reduce the national deficit.

H.R. 4341 (Rep. Stivers, R-OH) would create a working group to better shape the policies and practices of TRICARE relating to military children.