BATTLING INSIDE THE BELTWAY
Federal Legislative Update
Representative Vern Buchanan to Receive Legislative Achievement Award - David L. Harris, Commander of Florida’s Veterans of Foreign Wars announced the selection of United States Representative Vern Buchanan (R-FL13) as the recipient of its Legislative Achievement Award. In announcing this selection, Mr. Harris, Vietnam War veteran, lauded Mr. Buchanan’s service to members of the Armed Forces, veterans and their families. “We are deeply indebted to Congressman Buchanan for his work on legislation improving the quality of life of active and reserve service members, military retirees, veterans and their families. We are especially gratified that as freshman member of Congress that he sought a seat on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Last year, our number one legislative priority was the passage of a new GI Bill. We are gratified that not only was Mr. Buchanan an early and active supporter of the Post 9-11 GI Bill; he worked tirelessly to get his more senior colleagues to support this critical legislation. This bill guarantees the newest generation of veterans a quality college education. As a veteran of the Air National Guard, understands the challenges facing Guards members, Reservists and their families. We appreciate his efforts in working towards the passage legislation modernizing the reserve retirement system. Mr. Buchanan led the effort to secure an early appropriation for the construction of the Jacksonville and Sarasota National Cemeteries which will now open two years ahead of the original schedule.”
VA to Begin Enrolling Category 8 Veterans - One of the VFW’s legislative goals was secure sufficient fund to reopen VA Health Care to non-service connected veterans with incomes higher than $29,000. The VA announced plans this week to begin partially opening up the health care system to new Category 8 veterans by increasing the income threshold by about 10 percent. New Category 8 veterans -- those with incomes above a geographically adjusted amount of approximately $29,000 -- have been prevented from enrolling in the VA system since January 2003. Last year after an intense lobbying effort on the part of the VFW National Legislative Committee, the 110th Congress gave VA an extra $375 million in funding to begin opening up the system. VA is expected to begin enrolling these veterans in June.
Reserve Retirement Bill Introduced - Another long standing priority of the VFW has been reform of the Reserve Component Retirement System. It has been our position that given the essential role played by members of the Reserve and National Guard, they should receive credit for all active service in the Global War on Terrorism. Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) introduced H.R. 208 on Tuesday to amend Title 10, United States Code, to ensure that members of the Reserve Components who have served on active duty -- or performed active service since 9/11 in support of a contingency operation or in other emergency situations -- receive credit for such service in determining their eligibility for early receipt of retired pay. This measure will expand the provision included in the FY08 National Defense Authorization Act that allows members to receive retirement pay earlier than the normal age 60 by three months for every 90 day served on active duty after Jan. 28, 2008. The VFW resolution addressing this issue can be found at http://www.vfw.org/index.cfm?fa=caphill.levele&eid=4047. Action Needed: Contact you members of Congress and ask them to sign on as a cosponsor of H.R. 208. To contact your elected official, go to: http://capwiz.com/vfw/dbq/officials/.
Who is Going to Pay for the Bailout? - In previous editions, we have talked about the current economic situation and its impact on the active and reserve troops, veterans and retirees and families. As we see what could be trillions upon trillions of dollars going towards bailouts and economic stimulations some of our most important benefits could be threatened. A document published by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in December 2008 is reason for concern. At the present time, this document is nothing more than what we used to call in The Pentagon a “What If Drill”. Nevertheless, this paper this ‘think piece’ “Budget Options: Volume 1, Health Care” provides “115 options for reducing (or, in some cases, increasing) federal spending on health care, altering federal health care programs, and making substantive changes to the nation’s health insurance system.”
Those options range from authorizing private sector workers to purchase coverage under the federal civilian health plan to raising the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and raising Medicare Part B premiums by 40 percent.
Many of the proposed courses of action merit vigilance:
• Authorize a $500 annual health care allowance for active duty families but charge them 10 percent of the cost of care and impose a fee for them to use military hospitals and clinics.
• Change TRICARE For Life so it would not cover the first $525 of Medicare-eligible military beneficiaries annual cost-share and cover only half of the next $4,725. This option also would impose charges for those who use military hospitals and clinics.
• Raise TRICARE fees for military retirees under age 65 to more than double the current rates. Annual enrollment fees for TRICARE Prime would be $550 (single) and $1,100 (family). TRICARE Standard deductibles would be raised to $350 (single) and $700 (family) plus an annual enrollment fee of $50 (single) and $100 (family), plus additional charges for those who use military facilities.
• End VA health care eligibility for veterans in categories 7 and 8 (nondisabled vets above certain income levels).
• Reopen VA health care enrollment to category 8 veterans for five years.
This is not a new drill, both CBO and at the White House Office of Management and Budget have had TRICARE in their cross hairs for years. In the past, the Congress killed any changes to TRICARE whether they were recommendations from the Administration or internal, i.e., CBO. However, this year the calculus is different, if the Democrats accept unconstrained deficit spending to pay for "New Deal II", we are ok. If not, we will have a battle. Historically, we have never lost a benefit previously granted, but, we were never operating in this type of economic environment.
The guy we have to watch is Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Tom Daschle whose mission will be the development and enactment of some form of National Health Care. Obviously, he will have to sell this one to The Congress which shouldn't be hard task, because, the Democrats ran on the health care issue. My forecast is that under some form of National Health Care, the only folks that will remain as TRICARE beneficiaries will be active duty personnel and mobilized reservists. TRICARE/TRICARE for Life will effectively go away for retirees and dependents.
We are going to have play good defense during the 111th Congress. I see little expansion of benefits. The VA Appropriation will probably be a flat line. There will be zero growth or worse in DoD quality of life accounts. Forget about anymore movement on the concurrent receipt or SBP/DIC fronts for the near term.
A basic message to President-elect Obama and the Congress is that this country is at war and that the burden of this war and conflicts past are borne the veterans and military communities. We didn’t create this economic train wreck should we pay the bill for the excesses of Wall Street and poor public policy that created this mess.
State Legislative Update
Special Session of the Florida Legislation Grappling State Budget Shortfall - At this writing the Florida Legislature is working to balance the 2009 budget as mandated by the Florida Constitution. It is anybody’s guess as to how this effort will impact Florida’s budget. Next month, we discuss this the Special Session and our legislative priorities for the Regular Session of the 2009 Florida Legislature.