Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of talk about the many ways that Washington is breaking faith with military families. Just in the last month, we learned that in 2014 the military will receive a pay increase of only 1 percent – the lowest such pay raise since the creation of the all-volunteer force. At the same time, we were told that cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases to military retiree pensions will be reduced starting in 2016. And just last week we learned the stateside commissaries may be eliminated in the next three years. These blows came at the end of a year in which military families watched as the programs and services they depend on were threatened by budget cuts. Under these circumstances, it’s understandable that military families feel that they are the big losers in Washington’s epic budget battles.
Fortunately, there were a few bright spots for military families in 2013. Both the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) included provisions to support military families and improve their quality of life.
As a parent, I was particularly pleased to see the NDAA provides a total of $30 million to assist public schools educating large numbers of military-connected children. Even better, the spending bill passed by Congress restored $65 million in Department of Education Impact Aid funds that had been cut by sequestration. These funds are used to compensate school districts for the loss of tax revenue due to the presence of a federal activity or federally connected students (like military kids). These two provisions mean public schools educating military children will receive much-needed financial support in 2014.
In 2013 some retiree families learned that they would no longer be eligible for TRICARE Prime because of the elimination of some TRICARE Prime Service Areas. This change struck many military family members as unfair and disruptive, and Congress agreed. The NDAA offers a one-time opportunity for those families to opt back in to TRICARE Prime. We have not yet received any information from TRICARE about how this policy will be implemented.
The NDAA recognized families of service members in Special Operations Command have unique needs that may not always be met by regular family support programs. To address these needs, Congress authorized $5 million to develop support programs dedicated to those families.
We were gratified to see Congress take on the issue of suicide among service members and military families in the NDAA. Our Association has long been concerned about suicides among military family members. We have heard reports the numbers may be increasing, but currently there is no data on the numbers, the causes, or how they can be prevented. We recommended Congress call for a study on this issue and were especially pleased to see this request included in the NDAA. The legislation also called for enhanced suicide prevention efforts for members of the reserve component.
Finally, we were pleased to see that the NDAA included provisions to care for wounded service members, their families and caregivers, and survivors. DoD was directed to improve assistance for Gold Star spouses and other family members in the days following the death of a service member. The legislation also aims to support wounded service members as they transition out of the military and seek civilian employment by providing additional information about disability-related employment and education protections in Transition Assistance Programs. Congress also directed DoD to provide service members’ medical records to the VA in an electronic format.
In 2014, our Association will continue to fight for programs and services that support service members and their families.
What issues are important for you and your military family? Let us know – and let your Members of Congress know too!
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