Tag Archives: sequestration

Some are All Talk…We’re Not!

Girl-with-Yellow-Ribbon“Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We fight to protect the programs and services that allow them to meet the challenges of military life and maintain readiness. Our Nation’s leaders cannot ignore the promises they made to those currently serving as they prepare to shape the force of the future.”

Each year, the National Military Family Association develops our Legislative and Policy Priorities list. We don’t do it in a vacuum. We incorporate the concerns we’ve heard from military families. We listen to what our volunteers are telling us from the field. We look at gaps in legislation that has already been passed. We dust off some issues that we’ve promoted for years. We beat the drum on the need for sustaining the programs military families use that work. We seek advice from our Board of Governors and other experts.

This year we paid special attention to the uproar on social media when the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for retired pay was reduced by one percent, as well as when military families were impacted by sequestration and the government shutdown. We heard you loud and clear! Our military families and their service members never fail to answer the call. In return, our government has promised to provide them with the resources to keep them ready. You asked Congress to #KeepYourPromise, and in our priorities, we ask Congress and Department of Defense (DoD) to do just that.

We ask Congress and DoD to guarantee, and sustain, the resources necessary to safeguard the readiness of military families. Like protecting the commissaries, where savings are such an important part of compensation. And ensuring access to high quality health care and preventive health care services. Our families are still healing from over a decade of war – they need medical and non-medical counseling readily available. Our kids have served, too – make sure the schools they go to thrive with help from Impact Aid and DoD grants and supplemental aid. Although the wars are winding down, don’t forget the wounded and their caregivers, who still face the uncertainties of their recoveries or the new realities they must deal with as a family.

There are some areas where the readiness of our military families can be improved and refined. We need more forward motion on standardizing programs for families with special needs across the Services. Enhance the spread of information about tools to help military spouses with education and employment. Some families need to be better equipped to react to the stresses of military life that can result in domestic abuse, child abuse and neglect, and sexual assault. Help them negotiate the confusion of installation, State and Federal agencies. Our survivors need to be able to receive all the benefits they are entitled to – end the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation offset to Survivor Benefit Plan. And how can we better prepare those families who are facing an end to their military service, through their choice or the government’s, while they are still serving? How do we help them negotiate a successful transition to civilian life?

I’ve just given you a quick overview of our priorities’ statement – the Association Legislative and Policy Priorities for for 2014. It gives us a starting point. By no means do we limit our advocacy to these few issues. We expand on it for our statement to the Armed Services Committees. We refine it when necessary to shine a light on a specific issue or policy. Read it over and let us know what you think. And please know that we are always ready to address issues affecting military families as they arise. We fight for you and for all military families.

What would you tell Congress and DoD are most important? What’s your military family story about one of the issues we’ve outlined above?

kathyPosted by Kathleen Moakler, Government Relations Director

Finding the Silver Lining: Military Family “Wins” in 2013

army-dad-with-babyOver 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!
Click here to find contact information for your Representative or Senator.

eileenPosted by Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director

Losing the Budget Battle Does Not Mean We’ve Lost the War

son-says-goodbye-to-dadSomething happened last week that made military families stand up and say “Don’t you dare!!” That something was the budget deal that provides $6 billion in “sequestration relief” for DoD out of the wallets of our youngest military retirees. As word about the deal spread into the military community, the sound you heard was “Enough!”

What followed was a #KeepYourPromise campaign on Twitter, storm the Hill visits by military associations, and letters and calls to Congressional offices all aimed at persuading Congress to reject the proposed cap on Cost of Living Allowances (COLAs) for military retirees under age 62. Despite all the best efforts, the budget bill passed the Senate on December 18.

What should military families do now?

  1. Say Thank You: While too few Members of Congress showed they understood the damage the budget deal would do to the military community, several did and stepped up to fight the COLA cap. They will be our allies in our continued fight, so please send them a thank you letter or email.
  2. Stay Engaged: Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and several other Senators who voted in favor of the budget deal are on record saying they want the Committee to look for ways to eliminate the cap—count those statements as proof that the grassroots efforts were noticed.
  3. Hold Them Accountable: Military families need to help us remind Members of Congress who said they hoped they could find a way to eliminate the cap to do so. Ask your Member, especially if he or she is on the House or Senate Armed Services Committee, to encourage the Committee to take up this issue as soon as possible. If your Member voted for the budget deal, give them a chance to make things right.
  4. Expand Your Outreach: Tell your story to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. The commission’s website has a comments section for military families and Commission’s recommendations will be taken seriously.
  5. Keep Telling Your Story: Start each letter to your Member of Congress with “I’m a proud military family member and I VOTE in your state/district.” Enlist your family and civilian friends in this fight to help Congress understand the service and sacrifice of our military families and the need for our Nation’s leaders to keep the promises they made.
  6. Don’t Give Up! The Senate vote this week was only the opening skirmish of a fight we can win if we continue to work together and make our voices heard.

The military spouses who founded our Association walked the halls of Congress for several years before it passed the DoD Survivor Benefit Plan. The elderly retirees who were once denied military health care once they became eligible for Medicare spent almost a decade mobilizing their peers, their associations, and their Members of Congress before getting TRICARE for Life. It took our Association almost eight years to see Congress pass and DoD implement the WIC Overseas program for military families. Our past successes prove that we can do so again IF WE DON’T GIVE UP!

Currently Serving and Retirees – Pay Cuts Affect Us All

Balance-Budget-on-Backs-(2)With the proposed Ryan-Murray budget deal being voted on this week, military retirees are being urged to let their Congressional Members know how the Cost-of-Living-Adjustments (COLA) cap on military retired pay will adversely affect them over the course of their retirement. But this is only one part of the Congressional attack on compensation aimed at both the currently-serving and retirees.

Let’s not forget that the other deal announced recently — the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (NDAA) — inflicts some pay pain on those currently-serving, which will translate to more pain when they retire. Our active duty service members should be getting a 1.8 percent pay raise, but the NDAA provides only a 1 percent raise.

And, oh by the way, in 2014, retirees will receive their full 1.7 percent COLA. The phase-in of the reduction in the COLA for retirees ages 62 and under, called for in the budget bill, doesn’t start until 2015 and will happen over 3 years. Projections on active duty pay call for smaller raises than the civilian wage increase during that time. So even if the phase-in of the reduced retired pay goes into effect, those currently serving will probably receive a few smaller pay increases than retirees. And remember, smaller active duty pay raises translate into lower retiree pay when that active duty member retires.

Congressional decisions are spreading the pain to all military people in a way disproportionate to the rest of the Nation. We firmly believe the changes in pay and retirement should not have been done piecemeal by Congress without waiting for the recommendations of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, established to study compensation and retirement.

We can’t talk about the harm to one group of our community without talking about the damage long term to the folks serving now if they’re denied the pay raises equal to civilian wage growth. The families of our future retirees are getting a double whammy–one punch is the lower pay raise now and the other is the lower retiree COLAs in the future. At least there will be a catch-up for the retirees when they turn 62. There’s no catch-up on active duty pay losses.

Let’s make our leaders understand the effects these deals AND continued sequestration are having on all military people.

Let Congress know that budgets should not be balanced on the backs of those who have already given so much. Despite the urgency on the budget bill, we need to focus on the effects to entire life cycle of service – from currently serving to retired. Write your Members of Congress and let them know how you feel.

And, on another note, with these hits to military families’ wallets, commissary savings become even more important! We continue to urge the Department of Defense to preserve the commissary system and the savings it provides.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Get the Facts on the 2013 Government Shutdown

do-not-disturb-congress

Our Association has been tirelessly demanding Congress does its job. As part of our #EndSequestration campaign, we stormed Capitol Hill and took your concerns to the ears of our Nation’s lawmakers.

At 12:00am on October 1, 2013, those very same lawmakers shut it down.

No deal. The government shut down.

What does this mean for you and your military family?

Our Association is bringing all the facts to you on our website. While information is always changing, and new information is coming to the surface, we are working around the clock to make sure your questions, comments, Facebook messages, and tweets are answered!

If you want to know how the government shutdown will affect you, and get the most up-to-date information, visit our government shutdown page or join in the conversation on our Facebook page.

The Lesser of Many Evils

govt-shutdownMy, how expectations have fallen in recent years!! When I started working for the National Military Family Association in the mid-1990s (yes, I’m old and feeling older by the minute), I learned about budget cycles, fiscal years, and the requirement that appropriations bills for a new fiscal year should be signed into law BEFORE THE YEAR STARTED on October 1. I was also told that, even if Congress didn’t get all the appropriations bills passed on time, the expectation was that Members of the House of Representatives and Senate would never want to put our military at risk by failing to provide the authority and the money on time to protect our national security.

Why is passing a Defense budget on time so important? If an appropriations bill isn’t passed by the start of a new Fiscal Year (FY), the Department of Defense (DoD) must face the possibility of several evils. One evil is a Continuing Resolution (CR), which funds the government at the previous year’s level for a certain period of time. Continuing Resolutions are bad because they don’t account for different priorities in the current year and so too much money might be available for things that aren’t needed anymore, but not enough for current needs. Also, the money is only allocated for the period covered by the Continuing Resolution. That means agencies only get a portion of their whole budget and no long-term projects, such as construction, can be started.

Contrary to the expectations we used to have about DoD getting its funding bill on time, DoD has had to operate under a CR for at least part of the year for all but one of the last five years. FY 2010 was the last time DoD had its appropriations at the beginning of the year. This year, DoD didn’t get an appropriations until March 26—halfway through the fiscal year!

I’ve talked a lot in this space about the evils of sequestration—and I’ve heard plenty from military families about its effects. Another Continuing Resolution will continue sequestration AND make it more difficult for DoD to put limited money where it’s most needed.

But as bad as the evils of Continuing Resolutions and sequestration are, we’re coming close to a situation where a CR is actually the lesser evil. If Congress can’t pass—and the President sign—a CR by midnight, September 30, the government will shut down. The military hasn’t been affected by a shutdown in a while—it could operate during the last one in 1996 because its funding bill had passed. But, we’ve come close to a shutdown in recent years and military families are understandably concerned about what might happen next week. How did we get in a situation where temporary funding—the lesser of many evils—is seen as the best our Nation’s leaders can do?

We’re gathering information about what resources will be available for military families in case of a government shutdown. Military families want to know whether their service member will be paid on time and where they will go for help if they don’t get paid. We’re asking whether military hospitals will be open or whether their civilian doctors will still treat TRICARE patients. Military families want to know whether their commissary, child care facility, or DoD school will be open. Be sure to check our Government Shutdown web page for regular updates and resources.

What do you want to know about a shutdown? We’ll ask and keep you informed.

How Are Military Families Doing? What Researchers Are Discovering.Posted by Joyce Wessel Raezer, Executive Director

Sequestration adds stress to military families: Association meets with DoD officials

Sequestration adds stress to military families:Association meets with DoD officialsShortly after the new Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, arrived at the Pentagon, he told his staff that he wanted to reach out to military and veterans organizations. As a result of that request, I recently spent two days at a Pentagon roundtable meeting with Secretary Hagel, senior Department of Defense (DoD) officials, and twenty-one other military and veterans organization leaders. I appreciate Secretary Hagel’s early outreach and the opportunity his roundtable discussion provided for me to ask many of the questions military families have been asking us about sequestration, support for military families, and what lies ahead for our military community.

Secretary Hagel shared his opinion that the tough budget realities facing DoD would not change. He asked how DoD can effectively work with military and veterans organization to expand the services and support our service members and military families need. This was an important discussion for a new Secretary of Defense to have with the organizations in the room and, I hope, with many others in the future. Partnerships and collaborations are important, but we also need to talk about the unique obligation our government, through the Department of Defense, has to support and sustain military families during times of war and peace.

We remain a nation at war. Our all-volunteer force, making up less than one percent of the nation, has made extraordinary sacrifices for our country. Military families are navigating new uncertainties: unpredictable deployment schedules; downsizing; worry about how the stress of separation and reunion will affect family relationships; and concern that the foundation of support families have come to rely on will disappear.

The reality of sequestration adds to the stress of military families. Will the military be able to retain mental health counselors and will civilian mental health providers continue to care for our families to the extent needed? How will DoD address the consequences of civilian employees furloughs on the delivery of support services? Will child care services be available for school-aged children who suddenly have fewer school days? Will families be reimbursed for out-of-pocket costs made in anticipation of a deployment only to learn the deployment has been cancelled? Will DoD have robust resources for the families affected by suicide or sexual assault? Does DoD have the funding and capacity to meet the mandated requirements of the new transition assistance program to effectively prepare transitioning families?

Our Association’s highest priority is to fight for military families. We will fight to ensure programs and benefits critical to the wellbeing of military families are authorized, funded, and implemented to maintain their readiness and allow them to meet the challenges of military life. We will fight to protect families from destructive budget cuts. We will fight to relieve the emotional stress of military families as service members respond to crises worldwide.

What budget cuts are you most concerned about?

Joyce RaezerPosted by Joyce Raezer, Executive Director at the National Military Family Association