With a lame-duck session for Congress on the horizon, MOAA is closely tracking progress in two areas: full funding of the government and the FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
It’s been 26 years since Congress managed to pass a full budget before Oct. 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Another failure to do so this year means federal operations – to include DoD, the VA, and other programs affecting those in the uniformed services – continue at current spending levels. On Sept. 30, Congress passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government through Dec. 16.
While the passage of a CR is better than a government shutdown, it doesn’t provide funding needed for the annual pay raises, quality health care coverage, and quality-of-life or new programs to enhance the lives of servicemembers and their families.
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The annual funding bill is a magnet for other priorities such as continued pandemic response and further aid for Ukraine, so the process will likely be contentious. However, there is support for wrapping it up before another CR is required: “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the House and Senate appropriations committees and passing a final 2023 spending package by the December 16th deadline,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
The House passed its version of the NDAA in July, and the Senate is still working on its version. The NDAA is considered must-pass legislation and has been signed into law for 61 years in a row. With just 25 days left when the 117th Congress is in session, there’s a lot of work remaining.
The Senate hopes to take up its version of the NDAA after the November elections. Over 900 amendments were submitted, but just 75 have been included in a manager’s package so far. Committee staff will “pre-conference” the bill with a goal of achieving an 80% to 90% solution by the midterms and resolving any outstanding disagreements among the chairs and ranking members of the Armed Services committees. The SASC adopted the HASC’s version of the NDAA and then added to the bill as an indicator of the intent for rapid passage.
MOAA is focused on ensuring inclusion of the following priorities in the FY 2023 NDAA:
DoD is facing a recruiting crisis, and improving the quality of life for servicemembers and their families through better pay and benefits, and investment in living conditions, is sorely needed. When it comes to personnel, there are no shortcuts. Budgeting for fewer servicemembers today will lead to expensive retention bonuses tomorrow. The decline in the propensity to serve is a threat to the all-volunteer force that recruiters and bonuses will not easily correct.
Both versions of the NDAA include a 4.6% pay raise for military servicemembers. The combination of inflation and high rates of military spouse unemployment has left military families struggling to secure basic needs. MOAA supports the provision of inflation bonus pay to servicemembers making less than $45,000 a year.
As we eagerly anticipate the rollout of the Basic Needs Allowance designed to support junior enlisted families facing food insecurity, MOAA urges the inclusion of two provisions: the exclusion of the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) in the eligibility calculation, and an increase from 130% to 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. These moves will ensure this program will reach the families who need it most.
DoD has implemented another temporary BAH increase for high cost-of-living areas; however, the NDAA must include authorization to review and modernize the current BAH calculation method, and consideration must be given to restoring BAH to 100% of housing costs – it’s been set at 95% since 2019.
MOAA remains concerned about the impact medical billet cuts and “right-sizing” military treatment facilities (MTFs) will have on beneficiary access to care. We support Sections 721, 745, and 780 of the House NDAA, which would require congressional notification before modifying the scope of services provided at an MTF, extend the report date for the Comptroller General’s analysis of proposed military medical billet cuts, and halt medical billet cuts for three years, requiring additional reporting from DoD.
Throughout the 117th Congress, MOAA has worked to raise awareness of widespread mental health care delays within the military health system. We strongly support provisions that would expand behavioral health programs offered at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (House Section 767), establish pre- and postgraduate internship programs for psychologists (House Section. 769) and establish a scholarship for service pilot program for civilian behavioral health care providers (SASC Section 746).
A revised TRICARE Dental Program (TDP) construct outlined in SASC Section 701 is intended to address network quality problems by introducing competition among carriers. MOAA appreciates the intent to improve the TDP, but we remain concerned about the potential impact on monthly premiums and other unintended consequences. If this provision is included in the FY 2023 NDAA, we urge Congress to monitor implementation to ensure premiums and cost shares remain affordable for all military families.
With the TRICARE for Kids Coalition, MOAA continues to work on behalf of families with special medical needs. We strongly support SASC Section 704, which would require TRICARE to provide Prime beneficiaries undergoing a PCS with a streamlined referral process for specialty care, a MOAA goal outlined in our testimony at a House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee hearing in February 2020.
The recent cut to the TRICARE pharmacy network remains a top priority for MOAA. We have been pursuing a fix via an amendment to the Senate version of the NDAA. Unfortunately, an amendment from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) that would have required TRICARE to maintain network agreements with independent pharmacies was not included in the manager’s package.
Several members of Congress have sent inquiries to the Defense Health Agency requesting information about the impact on pharmacy access. We continue to pursue this issue with lawmakers to urge the DHA to reverse this cut to the pharmacy network.
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Both the Senate and House versions of the NDAA include authorizations of Impact Aid, which supports schools near federal installations that are impacted by lost tax revenue. A provision to establish a pilot program to hire special education coordinates at child development centers (CDC) with high numbers of military children enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program will provide much-needed support to families facing additional challenges finding child care. The NDAA will also direct a study on the compensation of CDC employees as compared to that of primary educators in the local area.
Concurrent Receipt and the Major Richard Star Act
Missing from the pre-conference NDAA is any language dealing with concurrent receipt, and notably the Major Richard Star Act, which focuses on supporting combat-injured veterans.
In the year after our disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Star Act grew significant support, with over two-thirds of Congress – 331 House members and 67 senators, as of Oct. 25 – signed on as co-sponsors.
Continuing to grow co-sponsors will set the stage for a showdown over this popular legislation in 2023. The bill corrects an unjust offset – the reduction of DoD-provided retirement pay (for years of service) for every dollar of VA disability compensation (for lifelong injury). These are two different pays for two different purposes, and combat-injured retirees are entitled to both.
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MOAA continues to engage with Congressional staffers, DoD leadership, and other stakeholders to urge lawmakers to pass a budget resolution and the FY 2023 NDAA before the end of the year. Join MOAA’s efforts and use the Legislative Action Center to ask your senators to protect pay and benefits for servicemembers, their families, and survivors.
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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.