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Here's What's In, What's Out of the Finalized Defense Bill

Here's What's In, What's Out of the Finalized Defense Bill
Sailors work together aboard the USS Constitution earlier this year in Boston. Lawmakers have pushed ahead with plans to award service members a 3.1 percent raise, the highest increase in 10 years. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Alec Kramer/Navy)

After months of deliberations between House and Senate lawmakers, Congress unveiled its conference report of the FY 2020 defense authorization bill Dec. 10. The $738 billion defense bill authorizes everything from pay and benefits for servicemembers and families to the size of the force.

 

MOAA secured many important provisions for servicemembers and their families in this year’s conference report, which passed the House of Representatives on Dec. 11 by a vote of 377-48.

 

Here’s a look at some of the measures included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

 

[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Senator to Vote for the NDAA]

 

What’s In

Pay raise

Congress approved a 3.1% military pay raise, effective Jan. 1, 2020. The raise matches the administration’s request and is the largest pay increase for troops in 10 years. A 3.1% increase equates to an annual raise of $1,200 for an O-3 with 10 years of service.

 

TRICARE

Congress approved no new fees or pharmacy increases in 2020. Previously agreed upon increases for medical and pharmacy copays will take effect in January 2020.

 

Medical Billets

MOAA’s extensive efforts on the medical billet reduction issue paid off with a provision that addresses concerns regarding both medical readiness and beneficiary access to high quality care. The provision prohibits DoD and the services from reducing medical end strength authorizations until they complete a series of steps:

  • A review of medical manpower requirements of each military department under all national defense strategy scenarios
  • An analysis of affected billets together with mitigation plans to address potential gaps in health care services
  • The creation of metrics to determine TRICARE network adequacy;
  • The establishment of outreach plans for affected beneficiaries, including transition plans for continuity of health care services.

 

Survivor Benefits

After more than 40 years, Congress finally approved elimination of a financial penalty more than 65,000 military survivors face, known as the “widows tax.” Eliminating the widows tax has been a top legislative priority for MOAA for decades. Earlier this year, more than 150 members from around the country came to Washington, D.C. to participate in MOAA’s annual Storming the Hill event. One of the main topics MOAA members raised with their elected officials was eliminating the widows tax. According to the conference report, the offset will be phased out over a three-year period.

 

Guard and Reserve

Members of the National Guard and Reserves have reasons to celebrate the bill’s release, as well. Servicemembers serving on 12304B orders will now have this time count toward their active duty time to lower the age when they receive their retirement pay.

 

Steps in the right direction were taken to standardize a service record for members of the reserve component, unfortunately the legislation does not specify the DoD to use the DD214. In the wake of the suicide crisis, the National Guard received the authorization for a suicide prevention pilot program to expand the existing efforts.

 

Medical Malpractice

The NDAA contains significant improvements to addressing non-combat related military medical malpractice by directing DoD to develop a regulation for negligent malpractice to be addressed through the military legal system. Although this is not a repeal of the 1950s era “Feres Doctrine,” it provides a form of redress for servicemembers who have suffered from medical malpractice to address negligence. The NDAA conference report will authorize a payment up to $100,000 by DoD judges.

 

[RELATED: MOAA Supports Bill That Would Allow Servicemembers to Sue Over Military Medical Malpractice]

 

Spouse and Family

Military families can expect to see expansions to spouse employment resources such as an increase to $1,000 for licensure reimbursement as well as expansions to the My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) program for Coast Guard spouses and those who rank out of eligibility during their degree program.

 

In the most comprehensive military housing reform since 1996, the bill includes a robust tenant bill of rights and responsibilities, ensures medical costs and relocation expenses are covered by landlords, formalizes a dispute resolution process, and ensures a proper work order system and complaint database are in place along with a number of other provisions correcting gaps and negligence in the MHPI system. Additionally, Congress is asking for a closer look at the capacity of childcare centers on post and streamlined hiring to ensure they are properly staffed.

 

What’s Out

Concurrent Receipt

Ensuring concurrent payment of retirement and disability benefits to medical retirees with less than 20 years of service has been a longtime MOAA priority. Colloquially known as “Chapter 61” retirees, this group of veterans see their retirement pay offset by the disability benefits they receive through the VA, an injustice that sets up a fight for MOAA in the coming year.

 

[RELATED: Understanding Concurrent Receipt]

 

The Border Wall

Rather than authorize funds for constructing a barrier at the southern border, conferees opted to shift the question of border wall funds to appropriators rather than set up a long fight to get the NDAA passed. Without this provision removed, the path to passage is likely to be smoother.

 

“Overall, this defense bill is a big win for servicemembers and their families. We thank Congress for its bipartisan work and for continuing its 58-year streak of producing a final defense bill for the president,” said Col. Dan Merry, USAF (Ret), MOAA vice president of Government Relations.

 

After passing the house, the conference report must now be approved by the Senate before it is sent to the president’s desk for signature.

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About the Author

Amanda Meyers

Amanda Ingrid Meyers is the director of research and analysis for Government Relations, where she develops and supports MOAA’s advocacy efforts through research. She conducts social and policy research, and evaluating organizational and programmatic efforts and outcomes.