Dear Mr. Matthews:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding proposed changes to military benefits. I appreciate hearing from you about this issue.
I have the deepest respect and gratitude for American servicemembers and their contributions to our national security. Our brave men and women make incredible sacrifices so that we may live in peace and safety here at home, and I believe strongly that the U.S. government should support our servicemembers even in times of fiscal restraint. As your United States Senator, I have consistently advocated for fair compensation for American military personnel.
In the past year, I have introduced, cosponsored and voted for a variety of legislation in support of our active and retired servicemembers and their families.
Helping Veterans Transition to Civilian Life
· S. 1104, the Veteran Transition Assistance Program Audit Act of 2011, which would improve the effectiveness of programs that provide job training, benefits and transitional services to veterans.
· S. 951, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, which would provide the job skills training that veterans and severely injured members of the Armed Forces need when entering the workforce.
· S. 1540, the Help Veterans Own Franchises Act, which would provide a business-related tax credit for a percentage of the fees incurred by a veteran for the purchase of a franchise.
· S. 411, the Helping Our Homeless Veterans Act of 2011, which would authorize the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to collaborate with state or local government agencies and nonprofit organizations to expand and improve housing services and related outreach for veterans.
· S. 745, a bill to protect certain veterans who would otherwise be subject to a reduction in educational assistance benefits.
Improving Mental and Physical Health Services for Servicemembers and Veterans
· S.AMDT. 1253, which would allow members of the reserve components to continue to receive pay, benefits and reintegration services such as physical and mental health evaluations following an extended deployment.
· S. Res. 202 and S. Res. 455, designating June 27, 2011, and June 27, 2012, respectively, as “National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Day.”
· S. 1018, the Defense Sexual Trauma Response Oversight and Good Governance Act, which would increase the number of full-time Sexual Assault Response Coordinators and Victim Advocates within military units, provide for the inclusion of sexual assault prevention and response training in professional military education and first responder courses, and entitle all members of the Armed Forces and their dependents who are victims of sexual assault to legal assistance and confidentiality.
· S. 1798, the Open Burn Pit Registry Act of 2011, which would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to establish an open burn pit registry to ensure that all members of the Armed Forces who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals caused by open burn pits while deployed are able to obtain information regarding this exposure.
· S. 1629, the Agent Orange Equity Act of 2011, which would extend presumptive coverage for herbicide-related medical conditions to certain Vietnam veterans, called blue water veterans, who served up to 12 miles off shore.
Ensuring Fair Compensation for Servicemembers and Veterans
· S. 855, the Pay Our Troops Act, and S. 724, the Ensuring Pay for Our Military Act, both of which would guarantee that service members receive their pay and allowances in the event of a government shutdown.
· S. 344, the Retired Pay Restoration Act of 2011, which allows service-disabled veterans to collect both military retired pay and disability compensation.
· S. 260, a bill to repeal the requirement for reduction of survivor annuities under the Survivor Benefit Plan by veterans' dependency and indemnity compensation.
· S. 2112, the Space-Available Act of 2012, which authorizes transportation on military aircraft for active duty, reserve, and retired members of the Armed Forces and their dependents on a space-available basis.
Supporting Military Families
· S. 697, the Military Spouse Job Continuity Act of 2011, which would provide a tax credit to servicemembers’ spouses to ease the heavy burden placed on our military families when they are required to move across state lines.
· S. 842, the Military Spouse Employment Programs Evaluation Act, which would require the Department of Defense to report annually on the results of military spouse employment programs (became law as part of the NDAA for 2012).
Supporting the National Guard and Reserve Component
· S. 3354, the Transition Assistance Advisor Act, which would create a Transition Assistance Advisor program to assist members of the National Guard in each state in accessing benefits and health care, discovering employment and educational opportunities, and obtaining information on other services available to members of the National Guard and their families from federal, state, and local agencies;
· S. 866, the Reserve Retirement Deployment Credit Correction Act, which would allow servicemembers to collect retirement pay three months sooner than the sixty year eligibility age for each ninety days of active duty performed in two consecutive fiscal years.
· S. 1025, the National Guard Empowerment and State-National Defense Integration Act of 2011, which would promote the Chief of the National Guard Bureau to a position on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, enhance the National Guard’s capacity to prepare for and respond to domestic emergencies, and authorize funding for the State Partnership Program (became law as part of the NDAA for 2012).
Recognizing Veterans’ Service
· S. 1348, the Veterans Day Moment of Silence Act, which would direct the President to issue an annual proclamation calling on the people of the United States to observe two minutes of silence on Veterans Day in honor of the service and sacrifice of veterans throughout the history of the nation.
Finally, I have consistently voted in favor of pay raises for servicemembers. For a compilation of resources available to servicemembers and veterans, please visit my website.
The Department of Defense (DOD) is under intense pressure to reduce its expenditures. In January 2012, the DOD released a proposal to reduce future spending by $487 billion over the next decade, as required by the Budget Control Act of 2011. This proposal includes general recommendations for changes to military personnel policies. In February, the Obama Administration released its budget request for the 2013 fiscal year, which outlines specific proposals for changes to the military’s compensation, health care and retirement systems. Although military compensation currently accounts for approximately one third of the DOD’s budget, the administration’s proposal would derive only about ten percent of the required spending cuts from these programs. The Administration’s budget request has not yet been debated through the appropriations process in the Senate.
The Department of Defense’s budget request does not propose pay cuts for military personnel. In 2013 and 2014, the DOD proposes increases in basic pay of 1.7 percent per year, equivalent to the Employment Cost Index and similar to the expected growth of pay in the private sector. In an effort to control costs, the rate of pay increases would decrease gradually beginning in January 2015. The budget request also proposes that the basic allowance for housing (BAH) and the basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) be increased annually beginning in January 2013 based on a “by location” housing market analysis and a food cost index, respectively. The average increases in 2013 are expected to be 4.2 percent for the BAH and 3.4 percent for the BAS.
Military Health Care
The military’s budget for health care for servicemembers, retirees and their dependents exceeded $50 billion in 2011, amounting to nearly ten percent of total defense spending. This is partially attributable to the increase in eligible beneficiaries and the expansion of care over the past several years. In addition, the amount that beneficiaries pay for Tricare has not kept pace with the costs of care, as healthcare costs in both the military and civilian sectors have increased more rapidly than overall inflation.
In order to reduce the growth of military health care costs while maintaining benefits, the DOD has examined several changes to the military’s health care system. According to the DOD, these proposed changes would not affect active-duty servicemembers or their families. In addition, medically retired servicemembers and survivors of those who died on active duty would be exempted from all proposed changes.
· Tricare: Under the proposed changes, military retirees under age 65 would pay additional enrollment fees to participate in the Tricare program. The DOD has proposed a tiered approach to fees based on retired pay, under which senior-grade retirees would pay more than junior-grade retirees. All retirees would continue to pay lower fees than comparable civilian equivalents.
· Tricare-For-Life: Military retirees ages 65 and older would pay a new enrollment fee to participate in the Tricare-for-Life program. The same tiered approach proposed for Tricare would be used for Tricare-for-Life. The resulting fees would be well below comparable civilian equivalents.
· Tricare Prescription Drug Plan: Tricare beneficiaries would be encouraged to use generic medications and mail-order prescription services through increased pharmacy co-pays.
On May 24, 2012, the Senate Committee on Armed Services passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2013. This bill does not authorize the establishment of enrollment fees for Tricare Standard or Tricare-for-Life. Please be assured that I will have your concerns in mind when the NDAA comes before the full Senate for consideration.
Rather than proposing specific changes to the military retirement system in its 2013 budget request, the DOD requests that Congress create a commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the military retirement system within the context of overall military compensation. The proposed commission would determine whether there are cost-effective changes that should be made to the current military retirement system. The DOD recommends that all current military personnel and veterans be grandfathered into the existing system — that is, any changes to retirement benefits would affect only future recruits.
I am gravely concerned about any proposal that would reduce retirement compensation for our servicemembers. Our servicemembers and their families make enormous sacrifices, and our Nation is committed to supporting them after they have completed their service. The current military retirement system is also an important incentive for the recruitment and retention of servicemembers, and changes to this system may undermine the future of our Nation’s all-volunteer force. For these reasons, in 2011 I sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, urging him not to undertake any detrimental changes or reductions in military retirement system. I also wrote a Letter to the Editor of the New York Times, available here, emphasizing the sacrifices made by our servicemembers and their families and the importance of upholding our commitment to them.
Based on the administration’s request, the current Senate version of the NDAA for FY 2013 bill would establish a Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission “to review elements of military compensation and retirement benefits to ensure the long-term viability of the All-Volunteer Force, enable a high quality of life for military families, and to modernize and achieve sustainability of the compensation and retirement systems, while grandfathering current service members and retirees.” The bill is currently under consideration by the full Senate.
I understand that some of the proposed changes to military compensation, health care and retirement benefits would have a significant impact on our retired servicemembers and their families. As your United States Senator, I believe strongly that we must not balance the budget on the backs of American servicemembers and their families. As the Senate considers reductions in defense spending, I will work to identify areas in which spending can be reduced without compromising our national security or undermining our commitment to our servicemembers.
Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. When the NDAA or other legislation regarding changes to military benefits comes before the full Senate for consideration, please be assured that I will have your concerns in mind. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future about this or any other matter of importance to you.
For more information on this or other issues, I encourage you to visit my website, http://casey.senate.gov. I hope you will find this online office a comprehensive resource to stay up-to-date on my work in Washington, request assistance from my office or share with me your thoughts on the issues that matter most to you and to Pennsylvania.
United States Senator