Thursday, April 23, 2015

Military Legislative News

A summary of this week's legislative news that pertain to the military and military retirees - lick on the link for the full stories from Military Times.

House panel backs major military retirement overhaul.
House lawmakers will back a dramatic overhaul to the military retirement system as part of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill, including a 401k-style investment plan and an end to the 20-year, all-or-nothing retirement model.
Plans call for the new retirement system to be in place by October 2017. They come despite concerns of some veterans groups that the commission recommendations won't entice enough troops to stay to or past the 20-year mark.

House Armed Services Committee leaders also will mandate better financial literacy training for troops, improved access to child care on military bases and consolidate the current 30 Reserve component duty statuses to six.

Those moves are all aspects of recommendations made earlier this year by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission.

Senate to follow House's military retirement overhaul.
Senate Armed Services Committee leaders say they are ready to move ahead on military retirement reform this year, following the lead of their House counterparts.

Committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he expects some version of a new 401(k)-style military retirement system to be included in his panel's draft of the annual defense authorization bill later this spring.

"We've been working closely" with the House, McCain said. "We're basing our plan on the recommendations of the (Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization) Commission, and we feel comfortable with that."

The new plan as drafted by the House committee and compensation commission would replace that with an automatic federal contribution of 1 percent of troops' basic pay to their Thrift Savings Plan account, plus additional matching contributions of up to 5 percent of basic pay.

Service members also would receive a lump-sum "continuation pay" if they stay beyond 12 years, and still would draw traditional retirement pay if they reach 20 years of service. However, the payout at 20 years of service would be reduced from the current 50 percent of active-duty pay to 40 percent, which has raised concerns among some outside advocates who worry about retention of senior military members.

VA secretary calls House budget plan too small, harmful.
VA Secretary Bob McDonald on Tuesday blasted a $1.4 billion shortfall in the House's budget proposal for fiscal 2016 as "inadequate" to maintain his department's reform and outreach efforts.

"It will cause veterans to suffer," he told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. "It means fewer veterans will get care."

Last week, the House subcommittee that oversees the VA budget offered its first draft of the department's fiscal 2016 spending blueprint, a $163.2 billion plan that they touted as another healthy increase.

But the plan would trim veterans health care programs by $690 million and cut the department's request for construction spending by half. McDonald called those plans "unacceptable" despite the other funding boosts in the plan.

He said the health care cuts represent "the equivalent of over 70,000 fewer veterans receiving care," while the construction cuts will stop four major medical center projects and six other cemetery expansion efforts.

McDonald was on Capitol Hill to lobby not only for that extra fiscal 2016 money but also for permission to shift another $1 billion from emergency funds approved last summer to finish the controversial VA medical center construction project in Denver, which has seen its price tag balloon in recent years.

Originally projected around $800 million, the overdue Denver project is now expected to cost closer to $1.7 billion and take another two years to complete. Congress needs to OK the funds transfer by mid-May or risk even higher costs.

Lawmakers support 2.3% military pay hike, but quietly.
A key House committee is quietly backing a 2.3 percent military pay raise next year, a full percentage point higher than what the Pentagon requested.

But the House Armed Services Committee appears intent on not making a big deal about it — and the lack of strong supporting language could leave troops' paychecks lighter.

Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, committee chairman, said his committee's draft of the 2016 defense authorization bill will not include any language regarding the military pay raise.

Instead, the committee will tacitly abide by a law on the books for years that ties the military raise to average increases in private-sector wages.

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