MOAA LEGISLATIVE ALERT - July 19, 2018
BIG CHANGES TO POST 9/11 G.I. BILL: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
By: Mike Barron, Director of Currently Serving and Retired Affairs, Government Relations
The Pentagon on July 12 announced significant changes to the transferability of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill. The initial news triggered a number of concerned questions from service members and spouses. Here's what you need to know:
What is the new eligibility requirement? Effective July 12, 2019, servicemembers desiring to transfer their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit to a spouse or child(ren) will need to do so no later than their 16th year of service. Prior to this announcement, there were no restrictions on when servicemembers could transfer educational benefits to family members. The requirement for the servicemember to have at least six years of service to apply for transfer remains in effect.
Why make this change? Congress gave the Pentagon the authority to control changes in the transferability policy when they passed the law in 2008. The transferability option was viewed by Congressional leadership at the time as an important retention tool for the services to retain top talent. A key part of the legislation: With every proposed change to the policy, DoD has to notify Congress of their intentions and the reason behind the change. DoD must also provide advance notice to the currently serving force - in this case one year from the date of notification.
Who is affected? All currently serving members of the uniformed services and their families.
On July 16, the Navy took this change a step further. Effective immediately, any sailors and naval officers who can't serve four additional years is ineligible to transfer the benefit, according to a Navy administrative message. This affects Navy personnel ineligible due to their time in grade as well as those with an impending medical retirement.
The Navy is the only service so far to issue even tougher guidelines, according to a Military.Com report. The Navy policy does not affect Marines.
What should I do? Decide your actions based on your career time in service and your personal family situation. For example, if you are a servicemember (not in the Navy) with 16 or more years of service, and you are considering transferring your benefit, you should do so before the new policy takes effect on July 12, 2019. Bottom line, regardless of where you are in your career, if you are considering transferring the benefit to one or more of your dependents, it's best to do so now, before the new rule takes effect.
According to DoD, the servicemember can make later adjustments, such as percentage amounts among dependents, or between spouse and children, but only after they have transferred the benefit. Servicemembers can also transfer the benefit back to themselves if their family situation changes.
You can find more information on MOAA's website as well as other information regarding the Post 9/11 G.I bill on both the DoDand the service websites as well as at your local installation education center.
What is MOAA's position? MOAA has concerns with this change in DoD policy. Here is the official response from our President and CEO, Lt. Gen. Dana Atkins, USAF (Ret):
DoD's announcement to limit the transfer of earned Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits is the first attempt to restrict use of an education tool popular with military families.
At its inception, lawmakers insisted upon the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits as a way to recruit and retain America's best and brightest. Transferability, coupled with an additional service requirement, became one of the cornerstones of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The option to transfer GI Bill benefits is particularly valuable for military officers, many of whom already have collegiate and advanced degrees.
While we appreciate DoD announcing the policy change won't take effect until 2019, MOAA believes the unilateral change to cut off transferability will likely have a compounding, negative effect on recruiting and retention over time. As military families continue to serve during the longest period of sustained conflict in American history, we question the timing of this change and will seek to learn the VA's role and the interest level of Congress.
CONGRESS PUTS HALT TO MASSIVE VA FUNDING BILL
By: Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)
Just when you think the coast is clear to move out on the recently passed VA MISSION Act - the historic bill MOAA's been working on for over two years - lawmakers put a halt on funding the massive health care reform bill over a dispute on how to pay for VA health care going forward.
A House and Senate conference committee was set to meet July 12 on a fiscal year (FY) 2019 “minibus” spending package for the departments of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Energy and the legislative branch, but the meeting was canceled before members could come together to work out differences between the Senate and House bills.
“It's all about funding the VA,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters following the meeting's cancellation. “Do we break the caps? Do we prorate everything else, cut other veteran programs to fund this? We've got a shortfall, and we need to work it out.”
Up until this point, the minibus was expected to move rather quickly through the process and be finalized well before the August congressional recess. At the heart of the dispute is how to pay for the $1.6 billion bridge funding required to keep the ailing Choice program operating for another year, until a newly consolidated and streamlined VA community care program can be put in place - a move needed to prevent disruption in veterans' care. The new community care program is expected to expand access to health care and provide more options for veterans, whether they seek care in the VA or through private community providers.
The $1.6 billion shortfall is a small fraction of the larger VA MISSION Act, which is expected to cost around $52 billion. While the MISSION Act provided partial funding for Choice through May 2019, no agreement has been reached on the source of that funding for the remainder of FY 2019 and beyond.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, voiced his disappointment with the delay in a statement following the cancellation: “We do our veterans no favors when we make promises to them that we cannot keep. Our veterans made a commitment to our country, and the very least we should do is keep or country's commitment to them.”
MOAA agrees lawmakers need to keep our country's commitment to those who serve. Lawmakers in both chamber overwhelmingly voted to pass the VA MISSION Act. Now it is time to set aside differences and reach agreement on how to pay for the bill so it can move forward for full implementation.
If an agreement is not reached, the shortfall for VA health care will increase from $1.6 billion in FY 2019 to $8.67 billion in FY 2020 and $9.5 billion in FY 2021.
While there has been no signal from appropriators to reschedule the conference meeting, negotiations continue behind the scenes. MOAA and other VSOs are engaging with staffers on Capitol Hill to quickly achieve a favorable resolution - one that does not require cutting other VA health care programs or veterans' benefits to pay for these shortfalls.
MOAA FIGHTS CUTS TO USPHS RANKS
By: James F. Naughton Jr.
MOAA joined members of The Military Coalition to speak out against a White House proposal to slash the ranks of the commissioned corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.
The plan, as part of a broader effort to reshape the federal workforce, calls for capping the number of commissioned corps to 4,000 officers. Currently, USPHS has about 6,500 officers. The change, if enacted, would result in a 40 percent reduction in the number of officers in the commissioned corps. The plan also would require officers to begin their careers in hard-to-fill areas or to deploy to public health emergencies at least every three years.
Instead of reducing the size of the federal workforce, those eliminated billets would convert to civilian positions within the Department of Health and Human Services. Policy makers assume federal civilians cost less than commissioned officers do.
Cutting the number of commissioned USPHS officers isn't a new idea. In the 1990s, in an attempt by lawmakers to eliminate both the USPHS and NOAA corps, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked convert the two agencies to civilian ranks. The study said USPHS officers don't meet the same readiness and sustainability standards as the military, and having civilians performing the same jobs could save the government as much as 22 percent in personnel costs.
MOAA successfully advocated against the proposals, highlighting the important national security work both services provide.
An important oversight in the 20-plus-year-old GAO study is that it failed to account for the fact that uniformed service officers don't receive overtime pay. In 2017 alone, following hurricanes in Texas and the Caribbean, federal civilians deployed to provide disaster relief racked up over $120 million in overtime pay.
Since that 1990s report, Congress has continued to align the USPHS corps' readiness standards to those of the military, and USPHS officers deployed to medical emergencies across the globe.
At its heart, the administration's proposal to cut the ranks of USPHS officers operates under the flawed assumption that they will be able to do more with less.