A key step in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) process came Sept. 23, when the House voted 316-113 to pass its version of the bill. Senate Armed Services Committee leadership filed their version of the NDAA the day before; that chamber must now complete its floor amendment process and vote on its version before the chambers can conference the bill to resolve differences between the versions.
As the NDAA moves forward, tensions are rising on Capitol Hill as lawmakers work to prevent a government shutdown by passing its usual stopgap measure called a continuing resolution and dealing with the debt ceiling extension that expires this week. At the same time, Congress must resolve a $1 trillion-dollar infrastructure bill and an even larger $3.5 trillion-dollar social and environmental bill. The rest of 2021 is sure to be filled with fireworks.
Here are some highlights on the House and Senate versions of the NDAA, which includes many MOAA-backed improvements to military pay and benefits programs.
A 2.7% military pay raise is included in both the House and Senate bills, and some lawmakers have noted the increase does not keep up with inflation. This raise remains tied to the Employment Cost Index (ECI) but fails to address a pay gap of 2.6% when pay raises fell below ECI in 2014-2016.
“The 2.7 percent pay increase for our military service members is simply not enough,” said Navy veteran Rep. Mike Garcia (R-Calif.) on the House floor. “For the average junior enlisted personnel member, this translates to roughly $1.80 a day more for their service. This is unsatisfactory, especially given the gap between military pay and their civilian counterparts is currently at an all-time high.”
Garcia is on the House Appropriations Committee and plans to work with Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), chair of the appropriations defense subcommittee, to address the pay raise in conference negotiations. This issue is heightened as many lawmakers are concerned over reports of rising housing costs, travel camp tent cities for PCSing families at Fort Hood in Texas and Joint Base Lewis-McCord in Washington, and military families using food banks on installations.
Basic Needs Allowance
Provisions from the Military Hunger Prevention Act are included in both versions of the NDAA this year and will authorize a new allowance for families that fall within a band of the local poverty line. The House version is stronger than the Senate version at this time.
This Advocacy in Action topic is likely to progress through the NDAA conference. In a show of support for this issue, House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) wore a face mask that stated “End Hunger Now” during consideration of the NDAA and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) from the same committee asked House Armed Services Committee leadership to address a pay raise for junior enlisted next year.
The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) version of the NDAA contains directive report language addressing two of MOAA’s key issues.
- Pharmacy Tier 4/Non-Covered Drugs: The committee report directs the Defense Health Agency to establish an appeals process for coverage of TRICARE Tier 4/non-covered drugs, a MOAA goal since Tier 4 was implemented.
- Pharmaceutical Manufacturing: MOAA played a key role in raising awareness on U.S. reliance on overseas suppliers, including adversarial nations such as China, for prescription drugs even before the COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on that issue. The SASC report directs DoD to assess the feasibility of establishing a pilot project to increase the capacity of the U.S. to manufacture active pharmaceutical ingredients to enable combat readiness and protect the health of the armed forces.
MOAA-supported TRICARE eligibility expansions, TRICARE Young Adult parity and National Guard/Reserve coverage, did not make it into the House or Senate NDAA versions but will remain priorities next year.
Both NDAA versions would help military families gain equity with their federal civilian counterparts, expanding parental leave, both primary and secondary to 12 weeks for the birth or adoption of a child and the long-term placement of a foster child.
The House version updates regulations to ensure approved parental leave is not terminated upon the death of the child for whom the leave was taken. Alternatively, the Senate version provides for the creation of a new leave category – bereavement leave – which would allow two weeks of leave to be taken at no charge upon the death of a spouse or child.
Guard and Reserve Pay Parity
Like the House version, the Senate includes a fix for incentive pay parity with the reserve component. MOAA has long pushed for this effort and applauds both chambers for including provisions to support reservists and the National Guard.
Servicemembers with special proficiencies like aviators, aircrew, parachutists, and many more will expect a pay increase once implemented.
Arlington National Cemetery
DoD may soon publish eligibility changes for ANC that would dramatically reduce the benefit of those currently eligible and for future servicemembers. The draft rule could be published in late fall. The House version of the NDAA requires a joint report from DoD and the VA on the next national cemetery and voices concern over those who would be forced to change long held plans and choose a different cemetery or cremation.
An amendment in the Senate is expected from SASC member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who shares the concern of reducing this benefit.
NDAA language in the House and Senate indicates selective service will grow to include women this year. The final report from the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service recommended women should register for selective service.
Although MOAA remains committed to protecting the all-volunteer force and not returning to the draft, the report highlighted many important recruiting challenges. For example, the commission estimated 70% of 18-to-26-year-olds in the U.S. cannot meet the physical and psychological standards for service and provided important perspective to sustain and improve benefits for the all-volunteer force.
Military Justice Reform
The final NDAA is likely to address disturbing trends in rates of sexual harassment and assault through accountability measures and notable personnel and capacity shortfalls in the investigatory and legal functions. Provisions adding sexual harassment as a punishable offense, creating specialized military prosecutors, and placing decision authority to refer a case to courts-martial with a military prosecutor are likely for inclusion into the final version of the NDAA.
DoD recently held a press conference that addressed many of the DoD’s Independent Review Commission’s recommendations, but also indicated that it could take until 2027 to complete civilian hiring actions.
The Next NDAA
In addition to the health care priorities mentioned above, MOAA plans to continue its efforts on the following issues as part of the NDAA process in the coming years.
‘180 Day Rule’: Title 10 restricts a retiring military member from becoming a DoD civilian with a 180-day “cool off period.” It is a frustration for hiring officials and retiring servicemembers. Although there are exceptions to the rule for some industrial activity positions, the proposal to lift the restrictions for all GS-13 level positions and below will need to build support next year.
[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Repeal the ‘180-Day Rule’]
Concurrent Receipt: The House Rules Committee recently found the Major Richard Star Act (H.R. 1282/S. 344) could not be submitted as an NDAA amendment because there was no identified way to pay for concurrent receipt for the 48,000 combat-injured veterans it would support. The bill must have a majority support to proceed in the House next year.
Sens. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) will submit the Star Act as an amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA later this month; it remains important for you to reach out to your lawmakers and ask them to sign onto H.R. 1282 and S. 344., as co-sponsors (121 in the House, 52 in the Senate) will carry over to the next legislative session.
Child Care: Finding accessible, affordable child care continues to be an issue for military families. Lawmakers in the House recognize this and included an expansion of a pilot program offering financial assistance to in-home child care. The House version of the NDAA also requires DoD to report on the efficiency of the in-home child care licensing process and a study on the feasibility of offering drop-in child care options for spouses with servicemembers who are deployed or away on extensive training.
While these are welcome steps, this issue will require further improvements in future years and will remain one of MOAA’s ongoing advocacy priorities.
Military Spouse Employment: As military spouse unemployment rates continue to hover above 22% (likely higher post-pandemic, as estimated in a survey conducted by the National Military Family Association), lawmakers have proposed several initiatives to continue working toward providing spouses with more opportunities for employment.
The House version of the NDAA requires a report on the status of the existing interstate compacts for military spouse licensing reciprocity, and the Senate version includes a $4 million increase to DoD efforts to continue the development of interstate compacts. Additionally, the House version requires a Government Accountability Office report on employment discrimination against military spouses in the civilian job market. The Senate version also establishes a pilot program to provide spousal employment through a fellowship program.
As with the child care measures noted above, these steps are in the right direction but don’t represent a fix for this ongoing issue. MOAA plans to continue its work on behalf of military spouses in future NDAA processes and other legislative avenues.
Next Steps for the NDAA
The Senate will complete its floor amendment process in the coming months and vote on its version of the NDAA. The schedule will likely be busy, with lawmakers also seeking to avoid a government shutdown. Visit MOAA’s Advocacy News page for regular updates on this process.
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