Final NDAA Readied for House, Senate Passage

This bulletin was cross-posted from HQAFSA.org, the official website for the Air Force Sergeants Association Headquarters. It has been posted here for your convenience. Visit HQAFSA.org for more updates!

House and Senate conferees have concluded their work of compiling a final FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The bill conference report was filed late last night and is being readied for final approval by the House and Senate. According to a House Armed Services press release, the bill authorizes $552.2 billion for base national defense and $88.5 billion for Overseas Contingencies Operations. This is $1.7 billion above the President’s budget request, and is an incremental step to address the $46 billion decrease when considering where the President proposed national defense would be for FY13 in last year’s budget. The bill is not yet available for viewing, but here are seven items we have confirmed are in the bill:

1. Military Pay: The FY13 NDAA authorizes a 1.7 pay increase and extends bonuses and special pay for our men and women in uniform.

2. TRICARE Pharmacy Copays: The bill restates the firmly held sense of Congress that access to quality health care services during retirement is a benefit earned though prior service to our nation. It rejects a number of Administration proposals to increase some TRICARE premiums and establish new TRICARE fees. Congress felt these proposals went too far and they were not included in the bill. The FY13 NDAA will allow modest increases in TRICARE pharmacy co-pays in 2013 followed by a cap on pharmacy co-pays beginning in 2014 and beyond that would allow fees to rise by no more than the annual retiree COLA. Originally proposed by the House, costs associated with this action would be offset by a 5-year pilot program that requires TRICARE for life recipients to obtain refills of maintenance drugs through the TRICARE mail-order program.

3. Commission on Military Pay: Early this year, the Administration proposed a special commission to study military pay & compensation using a BRAC-style approach. Using this process, Congress would only have the option of voting for or against the recommendations of the commission, and organizations like AFSA would likely have little chance to weigh-in on behalf of Air Force enlisted members. The bill includes the special commission, but left out the “fast-track” approval process—a big win for all who serve in uniform!

4. Abortion: The FY13 NDAA retains the overall prohibition on federal funding for abortion but would include rape or incest in the exemption.

5. Suicide Prevention: The bill requires DOD to develop a comprehensive policy on the prevention of suicide among service members. It also requires the Secretary to establish a position within the Office of the Secretary of Defense that would be responsible for overseeing all suicide prevention and resilience programs of DOD and the military services.

6. Conscience Clause for Servicemembers and Chaplains: The bill requires the Armed Forces to accommodate the moral principles and religious beliefs of service members and chaplains and restricts adverse personnel actions because of those beliefs.

7. Aircraft: The bill allows continued funding of various airframes and related systems but permits the Air Force to continue with a number of previously announced aircraft divestments, transfers, and retirements. It stops the retirement of 26 C-5A aircraft, until DOD completes a comprehensive study of air mobility requirements. Also it requires the Air Force to maintain an additional 32 C-130 or C-27J tactical airlift aircraft, beyond the Air Force’s new plan, to meet the Army’s requirement of 40 dedicated aircraft to support Time Sensitive / Mission Critical direct support airlift.

As stated above the House and Senate must still approve the bill before it is presented to the President. We are told the House could vote on the measure as early as tomorrow (Thursday). And even if Congress approves the bill, there is still the specter of a presidential veto looming out there. At least three times this year the Office of Management & Budget—official spokesperson of Administration policy—said presidential advisors would recommend he veto the bill if items like higher TRICARE fees were not included in the bill. Without question, the decisions on TRICARE and the pay and benefits commission contained in this bill are big wins for AFSA. We couldn’t have done it without the grass roots involvement of our membership and I offer my heartfelt thanks for all your hard work.

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