NDAA Update: House Tackles Pay Raise, End Strength, Medical Billets, and More

NDAA Update: House Tackles Pay Raise, End Strength, Medical Billets, and More
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By MOAA Government Relations Staff


The House Armed Services subcommittees have completed their work on the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – annual legislation addressing all manner of defense-related topics, including several of MOAA’s legislative priorities.


Work on the bill continues the Senate, and reconciliation in full committees of the House and Senate is pending. The subcommittee markups and hearings are good indicators of what the final NDAA likely will include.


The following are some highlights from the House subcommittees:  


End Strength

Service chiefs have described a very challenging recruiting and retention environment where the propensity to serve is in decline and only 23% of 18-to-21-year-olds can meet the physical and mental standards for service.


[TAKE ACTION: Tell Congress to Protect Our All-Volunteer Force and Maintain Our Professional Advantage]


The markup by the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel recommends the following active duty personnel authorizations for FY 2023 – all down from the previous year except for the Navy and new Space Force.

  • Army: 473,000, down from 485,000.
  • Navy: 348,220, up from 346,920. (The president’s budget called for reduction to 346,300),
  • Air Force: 323,400, down from 329,220.
  • Marine Corps: 177,000, down from 178,500.
  • Space Force: 8,600, up from 8,400.


Pay Raise

The personnel subcommittee’s markup includes a 4.6% military pay raise, in line with the Employment Cost Index (ECI). This should be seen as the minimum relative to the statute; MOAA has heard concerns from both House and Senate leaders that 4.6% may not be enough.


MOAA has proposed including the 2.6% pay raise residual gap from 2014 through 2016 to boost the annual pay to 7.2%. We will continue to monitor the House and Senate to see if they will do more for our eight uniformed services.


[TAKE ACTION: Urge Your Legislators to Ensure Uniformed Services Pay Keeps Up With Inflation]


The bill also requires the secretary of defense to do a thorough assessment on military pay and compensation programs.


Military Health Care

As part of its continued oversight of the military health system, the personnel subcommittee recommends a three-year extension to the limitation of reductions and realignment of military medical personnel and a report on military medical workforce requirement, progress on filling persistent vacancies and the feasibility of increasing civilian positions to address shortages.


[RELATED: Top Officer Sounds the Alarm Over Proposed Military Medical Cuts]


The markup also includes several provisions to address mental health access challenges, including increased opportunities to grow the number of mental health professionals and expanded license portability for providers delivering nonmedical counseling, as well as requiring the Government Accountability Office to review TRICARE’s alignment with mental health parity laws.


Military Housing

Calculation methods for the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) have proven unable to keep pace with the housing market, both for homeowners and renters, especially in the wake of the pandemic. This year’s mark requires DoD to report on the efficiency and accuracy of the current system used to calculate BAH.


A separate report is required to study barriers to homeownership for servicemembers, including down payments, concerns about home maintenance, and challenges selling a home.


Spouse Employment

As military spouse unemployment continues to hover in the 22% to 24% range, entrepreneurship remains a transportable option, allowing spouses to keep a career on the move. This year’s NDAA introduces an expansion of the licensure reimbursement program to include expenses associated with business licenses and business-related fees incurred during PCS moves.


The mark also directs DoD to convene a roundtable of private entities to discuss issues and barriers to hiring military spouses, as well as language to standardize performance measures of the Military Spouse Employment Partnership program.


Child Care

Finding affordable, accessible child care is a nationwide issue, and for military families, it’s exacerbated by frequent moves. This year’s mark directs the secretary of defense to conduct a study to determine if compensation for DoD and Coast Guard child development center employees is competitive with similarly trained and qualified public elementary school employees for areas with long waiting lists.


Additionally, the mark expands authorized assistance for providers of child care services, to include financial assistance and free or reduced-cost child care services, which may have a positive impact on military spouse employment. The mark also includes authorization of travel payments (up to $500 for CONUS moves; $1,500 for OCONUS moves) for servicemembers in need of child care support during a PCS move when unable to enroll their children within 30 days of arrival at the new duty station.


[RELATED: Here’s Why Taking the Military Family Lifestyle Survey Matters]


A report on the feasibility of expanding the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood (MCCYN) program, which is an effort to expand access to community-based and family child care, will ideally expand the number of accredited providers near an installation.


Military Hunger Prevention

The FY 2022 NDAA established the Basic Needs Allowance, which provides financial assistance to military families who fall below 130% of the federal poverty guidelines based on household size, to help combat food insecurity faced by thousands of junior enlisted families. However, the final NDAA language allowed the service secretaries to determine whether BAH should be included in the calculation of gross household income.


[RELATED: Ask Your Lawmakers to Support the Military Hunger Prevention Act]


This year’s mark includes a provision to exclude BAH from the calculation for all.


Suicide Prevention

Suicide rates across the DoD continue to rise at an alarming rate. A shortage of personnel from reductions to end strength will likely exacerbate the problem where troops must do more with less.


[RELATED: Here’s Why Proposed Personnel Cuts Threaten the All-Volunteer Force]


To help combat these concerns, the House personnel subcommittee included authorization for two weeks of temporary duty (TDY) each year for wellness to attend a seminar or retreat, including outdoor events with nonprofit organizations to improve resilience and psychological wellness.


Recent spikes in suicides such as those reported among the crew of USS George Washington (CVN-78) and a similar cluster in Alaska have drawn the attention of the media and Congress. The concerns in the Artic over poor quality of life and morale contributed to the Army’s decision to reorganize forces and reactivate the historic 11th Airborne Division in Alaska.


The final NDAA likely will include provisions requiring the armed services to notify Congress on any further clusters or spikes in suicide. Although training, reorganization, and reporting can support some suicide prevention efforts, previous efforts have failed to reverse the trend.


Looking ahead, DoD will conduct an independent review commission to examine the suicide rates. As endless studies, reports, and training initiatives are proposed, MOAA will continue to advocate for improving the quality of life for servicemembers and their families, and to allow access to counseling and care.


Barracks Privatization Report

In an environment where the Military Privatized Housing Initiative has been plagued with scandals, lawsuits, and investigations, the mark calls for a report on the feasibility for privatizing barracks – a red flag that MOAA will follow closely.


[RELATED: Senate Hearing Offers Few Answers on Housing Problem]


As the NDAA process continues towards full committee and conference you can follow developments at MOAA’s Advocacy News page.


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