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Washington Update for week of October 1st, 2018

TREA "The Enlisted Association" Washington Update

 

 

TREA "The Enlisted Association" Washington Update

 

 

Congress Passes Money for Defense Department -- President Signs the Law

 

 

Last Friday President Trump signed the bill that contained the FY2019 defense appropriations legislation, making it the last of the three bills TREA views as vital to all military personnel each year to be signed into law. The bill includes money for 2.6 percent pay raise, the largest boost to active duty pay in nearly 10 years, and also funds increases in troops, equipment and weapons for the 2019 fiscal year. (Note: the active duty pay raise has nothing to do with the cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for military retirees and veterans' disability payments. The COLA is calculated using a formula that is set in law and is supposed to compensate for lost purchasing power because of inflation. Ironically, however, at this time the COLA looks like it will be around that same 2.6 percent when it is finally determined.)

The bill was part of what Congress called a "minibus" appropriations measure because it also contained funding for the departments of labor, health and human services and education. With the signing of the bill, fears were laid to rest that the government might shut down prior to the mid-term elections in November. Several times this year, the President threatened a veto of spending measures if Congress didn't include significant funding for a southern border wall, which could have triggered a shutdown. But in the middle of last week Trump said he would sign the bill and thereby keep the government open.

The other two bills we work on each year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the MilCon/VA bill, which funds the VA, had already been signed into law.

The "minibus" bill that contained the FY2019 defense appropriations also included a continuing resolution to fund departments that aren't covered by the minibus appropriations bill until Dec. 7. This will avoid a partial government shutdown, at least until then. The fy2019 appropriations bills that have become law will fund about 70 percent of the federal government. The remaining 30 percent will be covered until that Dec. 7 date.


 

 

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Army Fails to Meet Recruiting Goals

 

 

The largest-in-ten-years pay raise for active duty personal that will be coming in fy2019 couldn't have come at a better time. Last week the Army announced that it has fallen short of its fy2018 recruiting goals. According to a report in the New York Times, " The Army hoped to bring in about 76,500 new soldiers this year. But with the fiscal year ending this month, it is still 6,500 troops short, even after spending an extra $200 million on bonuses and lowering standards to let in more troops with conduct or health issues."

An Army spokesman described the situation this way: only 1 in 4 of the 17- to 24-year-olds in the nation are actually qualified to enlist, and of those, only 1 in 8 have a propensity to enlist.

While the official word is that this is nothing to panic over... for the most part. The Times article still called it "a sign of growing cultural and economic changes that, if not addressed, could hollow out the Army from within."

The irony here is that along with the 2.6 pay raise in the NDAA that Congress passed, it also authorized an increase in military personnel. While we don't have figures from the other services on their recruiting efforts for fy2018, if the Army fell short this year, how will it add even more personnel in fy2019?  We shall see.

 

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No Health Care Increases in Legislation This Year

 

 

Although the Senate wanted to raise health care costs on under-age 65 military retirees this year, in the end the attempt failed and there were no in increases in any legislation this year. That means most of the existing TRICARE Prime and Select fees will not go up in fy2019. The few that will be adjusted will go up based on the size of the retiree COLA.

We want to be clear that TRICARE for Life is not at all affected.

Retirees under age 65 will recall the TRICARE fee structure changed Jan. 1, 2018, to require much higher co-pays. Those increases will stay in place. For example, TRICARE group A retirees will continue to pay $41 for specialty appointments and $29 for primary care appointments. 

 

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Hunger in the Military? Yes, Hunger in the Military

 

 

This news is not going to help Army recruiting. According to a report released earlier this year by the Military Family Advocacy Network, hunger is a real problem for some military families. According to a survey they did of over 5,600 military veterans, active duty members and families last year, about 15 percent of military and veteran family respondents face "food insecurity," the policy language used to describe people who worry about how they are going to feed their families or afford food.

Dealing with military food problems is complicated because it involves larger topics such as pay and allowances.

Military personnel are eligible for the government's primary food assistance program called SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - commonly called "food stamps." But that program, too, is difficult to change because it is part of the Farm Bill that Congress deals with each year, totally separate from either of the defense bills.

No doubt it is the young, first term enlisted personnel who are dealing with the hunger issue. So in addition to recruiting, we wonder if retention is also suffering.

 

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