MOAA’s president and chief executive officer outlined the progress made by MOAA on several advocacy initiatives in a recent podcast interview, covering issues faced by the active force, veterans, and retirees.
Many of those issues share a common starting point, Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, USAF (Ret), told Bill Hodges, the host of Veterans Corner Radio, in an interview that went online Oct. 12.
“One of the biggest challenges, when we go to Congress and we advocate … you need to recognize that probably less than 15% now of our congressional leadership has any military service at all,” Atkins said. “I spend a lot of my time, literally, just educating congressional leaders about the military, about the compensation packages, about earned benefits, and their job as congressional leaders to insulate those earned benefits from any erosion over time.”
Atkins outlined the status of several of those education efforts:
Health Care Costs
The cost and availability of quality health care remains a core concern for servicemembers past and present, and their families, Atkins told Hodges, an enlisted veteran and honorary member of MOAA’s Sun City (Fla.) Chapter. That’s why MOAA has paid careful attention to early discussions surrounding the next generation of TRICARE contracts, known as T-5, and what those deals could mean for your benefits.
“There could be a potential for enrollment fees to go up,” Atkins said. “There could be a potential for copays to go up. There could be a potential for the networks to collapse, because there’s really not enough providers out there.”
Atkins highlighted two facets of the work being done to ensure earned benefits for veterans suffering the effects of exposure to Agent Orange and similar toxins.
First, the efforts by MOAA and others to secure passage of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019 have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in benefits to veterans who served in the waters off Vietnam, and survivors.
Second, work continues to secure language in the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act to add three conditions – bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s-like symptoms – to the list of Agent Orange “presumptive diseases.”
As with many legislative battles, the key concern for some hesitant lawmakers has been the cost of providing the benefit, Atkins said.
“It’s not about dollars. It’s about quality of life – the fact that our nation had promised to take care of them for their service commitments,” Atkins told Hodges. “And now we’re negating that support we promised these servicemembers over time.”
Strength of the Force
The ability to recruit new servicemembers is “a looming strategic imperative for our nation,” Atkins said, outlining troubling societal trends that could make achieving end strength goals challenging for all services.
Of the more than 20 million Americans in the target age range for new recruits (17-22), only about a quarter qualify for service, Atkins said, and only about a tenth of those qualified have a propensity to join the ranks.
Even if that small pool of talent can be used to fill the force, retaining those members requires compensation on par with the civilian sector – an issue MOAA has fought for over many years.
“If you’re not going to compensate our servicemembers in some sort of parity with their private-sector counterparts,” Atkins said, “then you know where they’re going to go … where the compensation is better.”
About the Podcast
Veterans Corner Radio is available through multiple podcast services. Hodges also can be heard on local radio stations, including WSCQ-FM in Sun City Center, Fla. More information is available at the show’s Facebook page.