We all miss the opportunity for in-person meetings on Capitol Hill with our legislators and their staffs. This annual event has been popular with our Chapters and Councils, as well as our Board of Directors and the MOAA staff.
The big event this year is Advocacy in Action, the new name for our annual legislative push on Capitol Hill.
Last year, due to the pandemic, we were forced to pivot our engagement to virtual platforms — this gave us an opportunity to include others in these meetings over the month of May. Not quite a bright silver lining, but it did give many others the opportunity to be part of our advocacy mission from home and helped generate over 19,000 letters spread out over every congressional office — all 535! Our members conducted 253 meetings in virtual platforms — on top of those letters and phone calls — to ensure 100% contact.
Our topics this year address those who are currently serving, veterans and recent retirees, and members of the National Guard and Reserve forces.
Topic 1: Comprehensive Toxic Exposure Reform
This focus on comprehensive toxic exposure reform highlights those currently serving, veterans, those recently retired from active duty, and the Guard and Reserves. When most people hear about toxic exposure, they think of Agent Orange and Vietnam, and we work that, too. However, there is a significant lack of awareness of the current toxic exposures for those in uniform today and since 9/11.
Among one of the more notable and impactful exposures are from the burn pits and other fires during the Gulf War in Afghanistan and Iraq. Additionally, there are exposure risks from firefighting chemicals and contaminated drinking water, to name a few.
We seek the basics: expanded health care for those who were exposed, the creation of an advisory council, and to reauthorize the Agent Orange authorities which expired in 2015. This issue hits more than the servicemembers — it is a direct impact to the families who are or will be the caregivers.
Topic 2: TRICARE Young Adult Parity
There is a glaring disparity between commercial health care plans that cover adult children to age 26 and TRICARE, which requires a separate premium for young adult coverage. In 2013, TYA monthly premiums were $152 for Standard and $176 for Prime; today, those monthly fees are $257 and $459 respectively, which is an unsustainable curve, charting a course for TYA plan failure.
The Health Care Fairness for Military Families Act of 2021 (H.R. 475), sponsored by Reps. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), would expand TRICARE eligibility to young adult dependents up to age 26. Learn more about the legislation at this link.
Military kids face unique challenges — the average military kid will move six to nine times during their school years and experience repeated family separations. Yet, current law leaves military kids transitioning to adulthood without the same health care protections afforded to families with commercial plans. Ensuring health care access and affordability is particularly important during the current pandemic.
As COVID-19 impacts higher education pathways and makes it more difficult for young adults to find jobs, we must ensure military families who have sacrificed so much in support of our nation have the same health care protections for their young adult children as their civilian counterparts covered by commercial plans.
Topic 3: Basic Needs Allowance
This proposed allowance would address our servicemembers and their families who are most vulnerable to food insecurity and are finding it difficult to make ends meet. The subsistence allowance would be provided automatically to servicemembers whose gross household income (not including their Basic Allowance for Housing, or BAH) is below 130% of the federal poverty line. This recurring struggle was exacerbated by COVID-19 layoffs.
While a small number of servicemembers qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), many do not because their BAH is considered income. These families turn to food pantries instead: The Armed Services YMCA reported a 400% increase in grocery demand at their food pantries on and near military installations during the pandemic.
(A note for those reaching out to their legislators: This issue is intended to be a “leave-behind” issue, to be supported by upcoming publications and other materials. However, if you have personal examples or are in a military district with many servicemembers, feel free to touch on this if time permits.)
Upcoming online materials will have all the information you need to start making appointments and garnering support from your legislators on these important issues.
Please remember our entire Government Relations staff, along with The Military Coalition and other partners, continues to work MOAA’s other legislative priorities throughout the year.