Key House and Senate committees have marked up their chamber’s versions of the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), adding several MOAA-backed provisions early in the legislative process.
While the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) had not published its bill text as of Aug. 3 after completing its markup the week of July 19, the subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) have released their markup reports and associated bill texts after wrapping up work the week of July 26. The full HASC is scheduled to complete its markup Sept. 1, after Congress returns from the August recess.
Here is what MOAA knows about the FY 2022 NDAA, and how you can help keep pressure on lawmakers to ensure key improvements remain in the legislation or are added in the coming weeks:
IN: Basic Needs Allowance. Provisions of the Military Hunger Prevention Act, one of MOAA’s three Advocacy in Action issues this year, appear in both the House and Senate versions of the NDAA. This legislation targets young military families with multiple dependents who are living within a band of the poverty line and have had to rely on food banks across military installations. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates around 10,200 servicemembers would benefit from the allowance – an estimate that came before the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a shortage of child care capacity and soaring military spouse unemployment.
The Military Hunger Prevention Act would authorize a Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) of about $400 a month for military families that fall within a band of the poverty line and remove the stigma of having to ask for help or apply for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps). MOAA members engaged their senators and representatives to get us this far, and engagement is still important to ensure this legislation is not removed during the NDAA conference.
[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmaker to Help Young Military Families]
MOAA Board Member Rear Adm. Tom Jurkowsky, USN (Ret), laid out the importance of BNA as part of a recent commentary at CapitalGazette.com: “Food insecurity is clearly an injustice and one that the Military Officers Association of America has identified as one of its top advocacy issues this year. MOAA welcomes the Military Hunger Prevention Act as an important step in ensuring military families can meet their most basic needs. The bill should be prioritized for inclusion in the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.”
IN: Parity of Special and Incentive Pays. The Senate bill summary includes the requirement for parity of special and incentive pays for servicemembers of the reserve and active components. This provision seeks to clarify and expand language from the FY 2021 NDAA allowing DoD to pay the reserve component at a monthly, but lower, rate than the active component.
The bill summary suggests this parity – a goal of MOAA and The Military Coalition, a group of associations representing more than 5.5 million members of the uniformed services community – could finally be considered, but without the language available, the exact scope of the incentive pays remains in question. Passage of this provision is far from certain as the House has not included a similar provision in their marks.
IN: Stopping Medical Billet Cuts. MOAA’s ongoing work on the medical billet cuts issue succeeded in continued oversight efforts by the HASC. The markup by the committee’s military personnel (MilPers) subcommittee includes a provision that would further halt military medical billet cuts for another year following the enactment of the FY 2022 NDAA and require a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the analyses used to support any reduction or realignment of military medical manning.
IN: Stopping “China Rx.” MOAA has repeatedly raised concerns about U.S. reliance on overseas prescription drug manufacturing and active ingredient production. The HASC MilPers mark would require DoD to provide a congressional briefing on the production of critical active pharmaceutical ingredients including the development of a domestic production capability.
IN: Better Mental Health Care. Improving access to mental health care for military families was one of MOAA’s top priorities this year, and the HASC MilPers mark includes two reporting requirements addressing this issue: One directs DoD to assess the impact of TRICARE copay increases on utilization of mental health visits, while the other requires DoD to review options for improving recruitment and retention of mental health providers in the military health system.
OUT: Fixing TRICARE Gaps. Legislation addressing TRICARE parity gaps – for young adult dependents and National Guard and Reserve servicemembers – is not included in the draft bill. Expansions to TRICARE eligibility comes with a steep price tag, and finding a “pay for” is a challenge. While MOAA strongly supports addressing TRICARE parity issues, we will oppose any effort to fund these fixes by increasing out of pocket costs on beneficiaries or cutting other military/veterans programs. Military families and retirees should not be expected to fund parity fixes to the military health care benefit.
IN: Better BAH. MOAA has received feedback from currently serving families regarding difficulties finding acceptable, affordable housing following increases in the rental market nationwide. The HASC MilPers mark directs DoD to provide a report to assess current Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) rates, particularly for rural areas where previous studies did not meet sample size requirements.
IN: Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) Advisory Council. The MilPers mark establishes guidelines to create an advisory council to provide feedback to DoD on ways to improve the EFMP. Council members will include servicemembers with an enrolled family member, spouses, an adult dependent, a representative from the Defense Health Agency, and others, according to the mark. MOAA supports this effort to keep the armed services’ leadership informed by having military families with lived experience provide guidance on the best ways to provide high-quality and consistent support.
IN: Servicemember Parental Support. MOAA recognizes the importance of legislation increasing flexibility and support to military families who choose to become parents and enhancing physical, mental, and psychological health and well-being during a stressful period. Providing parity in benefits with the civilian federal workforce is critical for military recruitment, readiness, and retention. The HASC MilPers mark expands parental leave to 12 weeks for qualified servicemembers, including the long-term placement of a foster child. Additionally, it updates regulations to allow continuation of approved parental leave upon the death of the child for whom the leave was taken.
IN: Military Child Care Improvements. Finding affordable, accessible child care continues to be a primary concern for military families. The MilPers mark allows for expansion of a pilot program providing financial assistance for in-home care. The subcommittee has also requested reports on in-home child care licenses – how many have been applied for and been granted, how long the process takes, and what can be done to improve the process – and the potential of expanding community relationships and partnerships to expand child care availability.
Lack of child care is one of the main barriers to military spouse employment, and MOAA supports efforts to expand current programs and create innovative solutions to the child care crisis.
OUT: Concurrent Receipt Reform. It is very disappointing to see the Major Richard Star Act (S. 344/H.R. 1282) has so far not been included in this year’s NDAA. This legislation would authorize receipt of VA compensation and medical retirement pay, without offset, for those injured in combat and forced to medically retire. With support from over 52 senators and 114 House members as of Aug. 3, this legislation has strong backing to make incremental progress on the enduring concurrent receipt problem.
The next step is a floor amendment to the NDAA. Increasing support for this legislation in the House is still necessary in order to waive the “pay for” rule to achieve the next win on concurrent receipt.
[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Support the Major Richard Star Act]
MOAA will continue to engage with Congress, the executive branch, and other important stakeholders as the FY 2022 NDAA makes its way through the legislative process to ensure the issues most important to the uniformed services community remains at the forefront of this year’s bill.
MOAA Looks Out For You
MOAA is committed to protecting the rights of servicemembers and their families. Lend your voice and support these efforts today. Because the larger our voice is, the greater our impact will be.