Leading up to the 2020 presidential election, MOAA asked the candidates for their views on a range of topics in an effort to educate members before they cast their ballots. President-elect Joe Biden offered his perspective on these issues, and as Inauguration Day nears, it’s worth reviewing those statements.
While MOAA pursues its legislative agenda for 2021 and beyond, our Government Relations team will continue to communicate with key agency staffers and new officials coming into the administration, seeking support in areas of critical interest to military members past and present, their families, and survivors.
Here are some of the incoming president’s statements to MOAA members last year, and a look at how they align with MOAA’s advocacy mission.
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On the Budget
His Words: Asked about the defense budget, then-candidate Biden said, “At a time when we’re winding down our main combat efforts from the last two decades, we need to make smarter investments in our military. We can maintain a strong defense and protect our safety and security for less. The real question is not how much we invest — it’s how we invest.” He also pledged that his administration would “never balance the budget on the backs of military men and women and their families.”
MOAA Recommends: The COVID-19 pandemic, and the government’s response to it, will create new financial realities in the coming years. But any changes to military spending, notably in the provision of earned benefits, must be accompanied by a full, transparent accounting of how the moves will improve products and services for those involved, not just help the bottom line. MOAA urges the incoming administration to continue its outreach efforts to all veterans and military advocacy groups on these topics, fostering strong communication and allowing MOAA and other groups to express the concerns and challenges faced by its membership.
On Military Pay
His Words: “We need to ensure that our military pay raises keep pace with increased costs of living,” then-candidate Biden said. “In my administration this will be a high priority. We must keep faith with the men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving their country.”
MOAA Recommends: Pay raises for servicemembers have been at a 10-year peak, and at least in the near term, the Employment Cost Index (ECI) should dictate yearly increases near those levels. Ensuring the raises remain linked to ECI – learn more about that process here – is one of MOAA’s prime advocacy efforts in Congress; the administration should support this effort, but also weigh in on ensuring the overall compensation package remains strong enough to maintain the all-volunteer force.
On Military Families
His Words: “Despite consistent pay increases in recent years, some military families are still struggling to make ends meet, and even report food insecurity, lack of quality child care, and poor financial health,” then-candidate Biden told MOAA, adding that he would back legislation to “provide an additional allowance for military families living below the poverty line.”
MOAA Recommends: The 13th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation addressed some of these issues – and showed how far the DoD needs to go in facing down food insecurity in the ranks. The administration must work to keep this issue and others facing military families – then-candidate Biden proposed improvements to military child care and housing programs in response to MOAA’s questions, for instance – from slipping off the national radar.
On Veteran Benefits
His Words: Then-candidate Biden told MOAA he “would commit to always providing high-quality care for veterans with service-connected disabilities” and “expand the list of presumptive conditions to ensure that no veteran who experienced a TBI or had exposure to burn pits or other environmental toxins goes without access to VA health care and benefits.”
MOAA Recommends: MOAA has continued its efforts to ensure veterans receive quality health care they’ve earned, and that the VA provides timely benefits and services as science confirms connections between toxic exposure and medical conditions. While the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) expands long-deserved benefits for tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans, the administration and incoming VA leadership must work to live up to another statement made to MOAA by then-candidate Biden: “We must never again have an Agent Orange-like crisis.” Additionally, the pandemic-caused claims backlog must be addressed. The number of backlogged claims have doubled since the pandemic started, and while this is not VA’s fault, the VA must use all available resources to help veterans get their claims accurately adjudicated.
On DoD Medical Benefits
His Words: “The Department of Defense should not begin any transition of beneficiaries and retirees until further review and data are gathered to ensure that the health care capacity and capabilities of the civilian infrastructure in nearby communities can support a transition,” then-candidate Biden told MOAA. “In order to ensure continuity of care, individuals’ needs should be assessed to make sure that any such transfer does not lower the quality of their health care. In light of the ongoing pandemic and the support that military medical personnel have been providing to communities across the country and overseas, I would also conduct an assessment to ensure that any reductions in medical personnel positions are still supportable.”
MOAA Recommends: The above statements track with MOAA’s ongoing efforts to protect the health care benefits of military retirees and family members in the face of proposed reductions in service at dozens of military treatment facilities (MTFs) and of 18,000 DoD medical billets. The FY 2021 NDAA put both of these measures on hold, but work remains to reinforce these benefits in the wake of COVID-19 and in the face of impending budget pressures. As with other issues outlined above, the administration can assist in these efforts by making them a priority in budget preparation and ensuring any changes to benefits are transparent and based on thorough study.