TREA Weekly Newsletter Update (9/26/2018)

September 26, 2018
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 Inside this issue
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
TREA “The Enlisted Association” Washington Update
For Military Personnel and Veterans: Two Down and One to Go
Each year there are three bills in Congress that military people and veterans are especially interested in: the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the defense appropriations bill, and the MilCon/VA bill which, simply put, authorizes programs and funds the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This year, Congress actually looks like it will accomplish passing all three by the end of this fiscal year, which ends this coming Sunday. The NDAA passed a few weeks ago and last week President Trump signed into law the fiscal year 2019 Military Construction-VA spending bill as part of a three-bill appropriations package.

That legislation included $1.75 billion in discretionary money to pay for the new VA Mission health law. However, lawmakers say the Trump administration has kept them in the dark about the cost of the new law on veterans’ health care, a looming long-term expenditure that could complicate future budget negotiations.

The VA MISSION Act is meant to give veterans more flexibility to seek subsidized health care at private facilities outside the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also changed the program’s funding, leaving it to lawmakers to provide discretionary money each year rather than relying on an automatic, or mandatory, cash stream. That led to a debate over how much the new law will cost in fiscal 2019 and beyond, and how the legislation will be carried out. The administration hasn’t sent Congress a formal cost estimate, according to the joint explanatory statement appropriators released with a bill funding the program.

The members of Congress on the House and Senate appropriations committees still haven’t received details from the administration on the department’s plan to carry out the new law. That means lawmakers aren’t sure if the $1.75 billion, based on a Congressional Budget Office estimate, will be enough to pay for the program until the end of fiscal 2019, or how much the program will cost in later years.

Even if the spending measure has enough money for the program until the end of fiscal 2019, lawmakers will have to determine how much the new law will cost in future years. And that’s important because if more money is needed than has been appropriated or projected to be appropriated to pay for the VA MISSION Act, Congress will either have to borrow more money to pay for it or cut other existing programs because right now it refuses to raise taxes to pay for new programs.

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Defense Appropriations Bill Still Not Finished
The third bill we are waiting for is the defense appropriations bill. This year it was combined with three other federal departments: Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education.

Although the Senate has passed the final version, the House is still working on passing it. By the time you read this the vote could have already taken place – or not. They may wait until Friday.

There’s been controversy and uncertainty about the bill because President Trump had not stated he would sign the bill since Congress has not appropriated money to pay for his border wall. Earlier today, however, House Speaker Paul Ryan said he had spoken with the President and he believes he will sign the bill.

This is critical because if the President refuses to sign the bill we could have a government shut-down beginning on Monday. If he signs the bill, that means about 70% of the government will be funded for the entire 2019 fiscal year and Congress will finish the other 30% after it returns following the November elections. So stay tuned.

 

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What Congress didn’t Do – Thankfully
This year in a way, at least from our standpoint, it’s almost as important what Congress didn’t do in the two defense bills and the VA bill than what it did do. What it didn’t do is raise health care costs for military retirees as the Senate had wanted to do.

It also didn’t authorize a test program that would have allowed military retirees to take Medicare Advantage instead of Tricare for Life. TREA believes this was very dangerous because had the test been allowed, and had it been deemed successful in the eyes of DoD and Congress, it could have led to the end of Tricare for Life and military retirees being forced to take Medicare Advantage. The fact is, Tricare for Life, in almost all instances, is a better plan than Medicare Advantage.

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Blue Water Navy Bill Still up in the Air
As of Tuesday afternoon this week, the fate of the Blue Water Navy Bill that would give Vietnam era Blue Water Navy veterans the presumption of exposure to Agent Orange remains unclear. The bill is being held up in the Senate, largely because of opposition to the bill by the Department of Veterans Affairs. If the bill is eventually passed, it seems unlikely that will happen by the end of this week. Once we get into October all the members of the House who are not retiring will be back home campaigning for re-election, together with one-third of the members of the Senate who are also up for re-election.

The Blue Water Navy Bill will still be alive until this end of this year so there will still be a chance for the Senate to pass it before then. We are closely watching this and we encourage you to contact your own Senators and urge them to support and pass the Blue Water Navy Bill this year.

(H.R.299 – Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017)

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