The latest step in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) process offers a clearer picture of what MOAA priorities will make the bill’s final version, what fights will continue in upcoming sessions, and where MOAA needs your help in pressing legislators to include much-needed reforms.
The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) finished marking up its version of the NDAA in the early hours Sept. 2 – a 14-hour session with a record-high 780 amendments introduced that resulted in a 57-2 committee approval. While the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) completed its markup of the NDAA earlier this summer, bill text from both committees is not publicly available, and limited changes could come via floor amendments and the conference process before the bill is finalized.
Pay Raise: Both the House and Senate versions include a 2.7% military pay raise. While MOAA is happy to report this raise remains tied to the Employment Cost Index (ECI), it fails to address when pay raises fell below ECI in 2014-2016, resulting in a pay gap of 2.6%. This shortfall is increasingly important for servicemembers’ families who face soaring costs for rent, extremely high spousal unemployment rates compounded by the lack of with DoD child care capacity, and growing out-of-pocket PCS costs. Making up the 2.6% shortfall remains a problem for Congress to correct.
Basic Needs Allowance (BNA): This Advocacy in Action topic has overcome several obstacles thanks to MOAA member engagement. Pending any surprise outcomes from the NDAA conference, BNA will be included in the final NDAA. This provision supports young military families with multiple dependents who have struggled with food insecurity - many relying on food banks on or near installations. Members of the HASC and SASC have included language from the Military Hunger Prevention Act in both versions of the NDAA.
Reserve Component Pay Parity: There are provisions in the House and Senate versions providing parity for National Guardsmen and Reservists for aviation and hazardous duty incentive pays. The move comes as 2020 marked the largest mobilization of the reserve component since World War II; it shows great progress on improving benefits for the stretched force, though Congress still must address further reform of the component’s complicated duty status.
Medical Billet Reductions: The House version of the NDAA contains a provision extending the halt of proposed medical billet reductions for a year after the bill’s passage. Maintaining quality medical care is more important than ever. Recent medical personnel deployments to local hospitals, the uncertainty around COVID-19 variants, and the plan to cut children’s hospital outpatient service reimbursements (a threat to network participation/access to civilian care) are all areas of concern for MOAA.
Arlington National Cemetery: The House bill includes ANC language that voiced concern over those who could be forced to a different cemetery and required DoD and the VA to submit “a joint report on the location of the next national cemetery.” The amendment, approved with unanimous consent via the “En Bloc” process, comes amid concerns over proposed eligibility changes. This impactful report language signals intent from Congress to DoD to continue the benefit of full military honors like those provided at Arlington. MOAA has reached out to staff at ANC and the draft eligibility changes are still on track to be published (as directed in the 2019 NDAA) in the late fall of 2021. Stronger language is still required for congress to intervene. MOAA continues to advocate for language that would require DoD and the VA to maintain current eligibility standards at ANC until the next location is operational.
The NDAA language was submitted by Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) and supported by work from Reps. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and Marc Veasey (D-Texas) as well as members of the For Country Caucus. MOAA members have made a significant impact on Congress through letters and calls to their representatives and senators; it remains important to ask your senators to include the ANC language in the final NDAA.
Parental Leave and Child Care: The HASC included language to expand parental leave to 12 weeks for qualified servicemembers, including the long-term placement of a foster child. MOAA and The Military Coalition submitted a letter to HASC and SASC leadership supporting legislation like this to bring parental leave rights of servicemembers in line with those of the federal sector and many civilian employers.
The House bill would expand the pilot program for in-home child care and requires a report on the status of license applications for in-home care providers, including numbers applied for and granted, length of the process, and recommendations for improving the process.
Impact Aid: The House bill would authorize $50 million to support local educational agencies with military dependent students and an additional $20 million to support military children with severe disabilities.
Military Justice Reform: The House and Senate will update the Uniformed Code of Military Justice this year and address disturbing trends in rates of sexual harassment and assault, and notable personnel and capacity shortfalls in the investigatory and legal functions identified by DoD’s independent review committee. 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. There are also provisions that would authorize commanders to provide victims with results such as general officer letters of reprimand, relief for cause evaluations and separation actions that result from an incident of harassment or assault.
There are provisions that differ between the Senate and House on military justice reform, with the Senate proposing a wider role for special military prosecutors. MOAA will continue to follow this reform closely through the conference process.
Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) Open Season: An amendment submitted by Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) would authorize an SBP Open Season for VA-rated service-disabled retirees who withdrew prior to the "widows tax" repeal in 2020, allowing them to catch up on any missed premiums. The open enrollment period, as defined in the adopted amendment, would begin the day the NDAA took effect and end Jan. 1, 2023.
[ENDING THE WIDOWS TAX: MOAA President Reflects on Making the Repeal a Reality]
Selective Service Enrollment for Women: The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service recommended to Congress last year that women should register for selective service. This year, that provision is likely to be included in the final NDAA. With only 20% of 18-to-21-year-olds in the U.S. able to meet the physical and psychological standards for service, it is difficult to ignore half of the population in the event of a national emergency. MOAA remains committed to protecting the all-volunteer force and not returning to the draft.
Concurrent Receipt: The Major Richard Star Act, a piece of concurrent receipt legislation supported by more than half the Senate and nearly 120 House members, is a pending NDAA floor amendment. The Star Act amendment is timely, as the news is replete with tragedies in Afghanistan, leaving many veterans thinking of sacrifices and those we lost. Servicemembers forced to retire because they were injured in combat – like Maj. Richard Star, USAR, who passed away earlier this year – had their retirement pay reduced for every dollar of VA disability compensation they were awarded.
Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) are expected to propose the Star Act as an amendment; contact your lawmakers and ask them to support this effort:
[TAKE ACTION: Ask Your Lawmakers to Support the Major Richard Star Act]
TRICARE Young Adult: Legislation that would expand TRICARE eligibility to young adult dependents up to age 26 (military kids lose TRICARE coverage at age 21 or 23 if a full-time college student.) to bring TRICARE in line with commercial plans, another of MOAA’s Advocacy in Action topics, did not make it into the SASC or HASC bills. Military kids face extraordinary challenges throughout their childhoods – as they transition to adulthood, we must ensure they have the same health care protections as their civilian peers.
Learn more about the next stage of this legislative fight, including MOAA’s work with the National Military Family Association, at this link.
Now that both the HASC and the SASC have passed their respective versions of the legislation, the bills will be voted on in each chamber. However, no dates have been released for when these votes will take place.
The coming weeks and months will be critical as key legislators work to pass this pivotal piece of legislation. Floor amendments and a conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the NDAA are the next steps for this bill in the legislative process.
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