AFSA HQ Newsletter – March 7th

This newsletter is produced and released on a weekly basis by AFSA HQ. To read the full newsletter, as well as archived entries, visit the AFSA On Call Newsletter section of www.hqafsa.org.

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LEGISLATIVE & OTHER NEWS

113th Congress; 2nd Session; March 9-15

  • Senate: In Session – contact lawmakers via DC offices
  • House: In Session – contact legislators via DC offices
  • Capwiz: open 24/7/365 – communicate with Congress at any time on any subject

FY2015 Budget Plan Revealed

President Obama delivered his FY2015 budget proposal to Congress on Tuesday but many of the specific details will not be released until Friday or early next week, here’s a quick look at what is known about his overall plan.

  • Spending:  The president’s plan request $3.901 trillion in total federal spending for FY2015—$495.6 billion specifically for the Pentagon’s base budget which is well within levels agreed to in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013.  The Air Force stands to receive slightly more than $109 billion of that in the coming year which we are told is sufficient to support a smaller force and protect the Air Force’s top recapitalization priorities: the KC-46A Pegasus, F-35A Lightning II and the Long Range Strike Bomber.
  • Personnel:  The Air Force will become smaller under the Administration’s budget proposal as overall end strengths decline from 503,400 personnel to 483,000 next year.  The active duty component would bear much of that loss by shedding roughly 16,700 of its current 327,600 personnel.   Reserve forces would be reduced about five percent as well, from 70,400 in FY2014 to 67,100 next year but Guard loses would be minimal.  They plan to lose just 400 of their current 105,400 personnel.  Other documents we have seen say these changes would return the force to levels seen a decade ago, and many of the reductions are driven by the cancellation of weapons systems like the A-10 aircraft, headquarters reductions, and a rebalancing of aircrew-to-cockpit ratios.  Fluctuations in the total number of available personnel are expected to continue over the next several years but the Air Force projects an end strength of roughly 479,000 (308,000 active-duty troops, 67,000 reservists and 104,000 guardsmen) by FY2019.
  • Pay Raises:  No surprise here; DoD requested  a 1 percent pay raise for service members in 2016 & 2017, followed by a 1.5 percent increase in 2018 and a 1.8 percent pay raise in 2019.  However, General and Flag officers would not receive a pay raise in 2015.
  • BAH:  Over the next few years, DoD plans to scale back Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) subsidies so they end up covering 95% of average housing costs incurred for a particular area.  Subsidies for renter’s insurance subsidy would be eliminated.  When and if this particular part of the budget plan is enacted, rates of change will vary by area and may take time to become visible if they are at all.  DoD was quick to point out that current service members will not see an immediate drop in BAH payments and built-in rate protections will keep rates steady for most service members. DoD would achieve the reductions by capping annual BAH increases, thereby allowing actual costs to rise above going housing rates.
  • TRICARE:  DoD wants to scrap many current programs including Prime, Standard and Extra and replace them with a single, fee-based plan where costs to the beneficiary are determined by the location care is received.  They also seek to add new fees for retirees who use military treatment facilities (MTFs) and establish enrollment fees for future TRICARE for Life beneficiaries.  Other proposals would raise copays, catastrophic caps and deductibles as well as increase pharmacy copays for nearly everyone who uses TRICARE’s Retail or Home Delivery benefits. Active-duty service members would continue to get their care for free but that may not be the case for their dependents.  Family members could only receive free care if that treatment is received at a military clinic or hospital.  Otherwise they would be subject to copays for specialty care, urgent care and emergency room visits with civilian providers.
  • Commissary:  The budget proposal includes a 3 year plan to reduce the annual $1.4 billion commissary subsidy by $1 billion. Overseas facilities and those in remote locations will continue receiving direct subsidies but the remainder would be, in essence left to “fend for themselves.”  DoD plans to save money here not by closing facilities, rather by reducing the amount of savings service members can achieve by shopping there verses on the local economy.  Specific details have not been announced but we understand what they have in mind would wipe out two thirds of the potential savings service members can get by using their commissary benefit.
  • BRAC:  Last but not least, no element of the president’s budget proposal is more “dead on arrival” than his call for another Base Realignment and Closure commission (BRAC) round in 2017.  Many in Congress were quick to voice their opposition to stateside base closures well before Tuesday’s budget release.

No military personnel issues are more sacrosanct than pay and benefits which is why many of the proposed changes above are so disturbing.  Our view?  Adequate pay to include reimbursement for housing costs, healthcare, and commissary benefits serve as powerful incentives to entice someone to first volunteer, let alone give up 20 or more years of their youth to the Nation just to be eligible.  Despite acknowledging this long-term commitment, DoD has reintroduced plans, some of them rejected by Congress in the past, to force military service members, retirees, dependents and survivors to pay more out of their pockets for their housing, healthcare and food.  We regard efforts like these which force those who serve and sacrifice the most, to sacrifice even more, as a supreme breach of faith.  It denigrates the years of service and sacrifice required of career military and their families, and they will likely dissuade future generations, who may consider civilian employment far more rewarding and safer than military service.

Bear in mind, these are just proposals and past history suggests Members of Congress are likely to reject many of them.  However, this latest threat to earned military benefits is serious and your AFSA advocates will be working with our friends in Congress to prevent these ideas from gaining traction.  Members can get involved now by urging their elected representatives to speak out against and oppose these changes.

In the end our greatest concern is that the continued erosion of pay and benefits could lead to the end of a professionally-led, all-volunteer military that for 41 years and over 12 years of nonstop war has served the American public extremely well.  We know many of you believe likewise.

VA Funding

One area of the federal government that would receive an increase in funding should president’s budget be approved is the Department of Veterans Affairs.  VA is asking Congress for $163.9 billion to deliver its benefits and programs.  That’s an increase of about $10.1 billion over the department’s funding for the current year.   Roughly $68.4 billion of the overall total is discretionary funding; $56 billion for VA medical care, another $1.6 billion to help end Veterans’ homelessness, and $1 billion to create the Veterans Job Corps.  The remaining $95.6 billion goes toward VA’s mandatory programs, including disability compensation and pensions for Veterans.

LEADERSHIP THOUGHTS

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.”  – President Dwight D. Eisenhower


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This newsletter is produced and released on a weekly basis by AFSA HQ. To read the full newsletter, as well as archived entries, visit the AFSA On Call Newsletter section of www.hqafsa.org.

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