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November 30, 2012

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Senate Votes “No” on SBP-DIC, “Yes” on Others. Check out what Senate amendments have been adopted vs. rejected on the Defense Authorization Bill, and what key amendments are still pending.
Veto Threat Letter Urges TRICARE Fee Hikes. The administration is still trying to convince Congress to stick it to you on TRICARE fees.

Senate Votes “No” on SBP-DIC, “Yes” on Others
After working all day Wednesday and late into the night Thursday, Senators continued Friday, working their way through a long list of amendments to the FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill (S. 3254).

One major disappointment came Friday morning, when the Senate voted to reject Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-FL) amendment to end the deduction of VA survivor benefits from military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities.

Nelson articulately spoke of the need for this fix, and more senators voted for it than voted against it. The problem is that the proposal would cost almost $7 billion dollars over 10 years, which generated a budget point of order against it for violating the budget control act passed last year.

It takes 60 senators to override a budget point of order, and the 58-to-34 vote fell two votes short. Eight senators abstained or otherwise absented themselves from this crucial vote. So the 54,000 widows and widowers affected by this terrible inequity will have to wait at least another year – again.

Here’s a summary of amendments adopted by the Senate so far:

TRICARE coverage for autism: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) amendment would provide TRICARE coverage for necessary behavioral health services for military children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and other developmental disabilities. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) led a significant behind the scenes effort to ensure military children with other developmental disabilities were included in this amendment. MOAA and The Military Coalition fought successfully to include children of all currently serving uniformed services members (USCG, USPHS and NOAA initially were excluded) and children with other developmental disabilities besides autism. Because of budget constraints, the amendment provides authority only for FY2013, so it will have to be renewed next year.

Guard-Reserve reintegration: Sen. Ron Wyden’s (D-OR) amendment would require the Pentagon to study the adequacy of reintegration mechanisms for Guard and Reserve members returning from deployment.

TRICARE Prime: Sen. Dean Heller’s (R-NV) amendment would require a Pentagon report on how upcoming TRICARE contract changes will affect availability of TRICARE Prime, how that will affect beneficiaries, and how the Pentagon plans to help them find alternative care.

Transition Assistance: Sen. Rob Portman’s (R-OH) amendment would require a Pentagon report on standardizing service practices in issuing educational transcripts for service training so separating members can get consistent educational credit for that training from civilian education institutions.

VA claims backlog: Sen. John Cornyn’s (R-TX) amendment would require the VA to provide Congress a plan to partner with state and local entities to reduce the VA disability claims backlog.

Mental health counseling: Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-OK) amendment would require DoD and the VA to develop a plan to ensure a sustainable flow of qualified counselors to meet the needs of servicemembers, veterans and family members.

There are more than a hundred amendments remaining to be addressed before Senate leaders hope to finish the defense bill on Monday.

Veto Threat Letter Urges TRICARE Fee Hikes
On Thursday, the White House issued a letter threatening to veto the FY2013 Defense Authorization Bill over various Senate-approved provisions.

Among the 19 specific objections listed in the letter was the Senate’s failure to include the administration proposal to double and triple a variety of TRICARE fees, including new enrollment fees for TRICARE For Life (TFL) and TRICARE Standard, big increases in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees and the Standard deductible, tripling of pharmacy copays and means-testing TFL and Prime fees.

“The administration strongly encourages the Senate to adopt its requested TRICARE fee initiatives that seek to control the spiraling DoD health care costs while keeping retired beneficiaries share of these costs well below the levels experienced when the TRICRE program was implemented in the 1990s,” the letter said.

“The projected TRICARE savings of $1.8 billion in FY2013 and $12.9 billion through FY2017 are essential for DoD to successfully address rising personnel costs. DoD needs these savings to balance and maintain investments for key defense priorities.”

Horse hockey.

MOAA’s research shows military personnel and health care costs today comprise the same share of the defense budget (about one-third) that they have consistently over several decades.

A DoD request to Congress earlier this year acknowledged that, contrary to DoD claims, military health care costs actually have been declining. The hard fact is that DoD costs have been $3 billion less than expected over the last three years, and that total has been reprogrammed away from the health care account for other purposes.

If defense and administration officials were serious about reducing DoD health costs, they’d be focusing on correcting their own mismanagement and gross inefficiencies that have wasted billions of taxpayers’ money.

Rather than working to bring DoD’s antiquated and fragmented health care oversight and delivery structure into the twenty-first century, they continue trying to foist the bill for their mismanagement onto military beneficiaries who already have sacrificed more for America than any others.

By refusing to go along with that, Congress has recognized what Pentagon and White House leaders won’t – that military beneficiaries aren’t the culprit here.