June 19, 2015 Share this on: Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Pinterest Bookmark and Share
Inside this issue
  Update: FY16 Defense Funding & Spending  
 
The process of passing legislation is arduous in and of itself, let alone for something as critical as the Defense Appropriations Bill (funding) or the National Defense Authorization Act (spending).  In recent years the President's Budget (PB) has been submitted late and Congress was prolific at disagreeing the country into Continuing Resolutions, commonly referred to as a CR.  The cry around the beltway was to restore "regular order" where PB's are on time and congressional committees did their work early in the year so as to facilitate enough time for passage of bills and the all-important conferences between the two chambers.  So where are we now?
 
NDAA:  Far better in comparison to the CR-riddled past half decade, the 114th Congress is actually ahead of schedule even in comparison to regular order.  Both the Senate and House have authored bills, both have passed them in committee, and both have passed the full floor in each chamber.  Usually not until after the August recess, what looms ahead is the conference between them where version differences are resolved, or outright eliminated; important to know is the fact that no new amendments or provisions are to be introduced in conference. 
 
Approps:  Unfortunately, partisan politics may jeopardize this "must pass" legislation.  In fact it already has. The biggest point of contention centers on Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account levels.  Republicans have increased OCO funding.  Democrats are concerned that this tactic is a work-around to sequestration imposed levels.  Democrats aren't necessarily against the increase as long as it is matched in other sequestration sectors, but that's not happening, thus the impasse.  In order to vote on passing the actual bill, a procedural hurdle (cloture) must first be voted and passed with 60 senators in agreement.  That failed June 18 by a vote of 50-45, so debate continues.
 

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  "Odd Couple" Champions Commissary  
 
Regardless if you're familiar with the 1970's version or the 2015 reboot, the TV sitcom The Odd Couple immediately conjures images of contradicting characters Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.  Parallel to that pairing, one would not immediately associate staunch Republican Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) with proud Democratic Senator Barb Mikulski (D-MD) on many issues.  However, given the importance of commissaries as part of non-pay compensation, the two came together for what AFSA believes is a very common sense amendment to the Senate Armed Service Committee (SASC) version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
 
The Inhofe-Mikulski amendment defers any privatization action until a full analysis is conducted.  The amendment passed by voice vote as the full Senate debated, and subsequently passed their NDAA 71-25.  Although there remains language in the Senate version of the NDAA that concerns us, a key element moving forward is the fact that both House and Senate Appropriations Committees restored the proposed $322 million cut to Commissary funding.  We now turn our focus to the conference between the HASC and SASC as that last critical step before sending it to President Obama for signature into law.
 
Related specifically to the commissary issue is AFSA's membership in The Coalition to Save Our Military Shopping Benefits.  Along with some of our VSO friends, many business partners outside the Veterans community that AFSA would not otherwise partner with also belong to this group.  We invite you to check them out: Save Benefits.
 

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  AFSA Meets with Defense Health Agency  
 
Your AFSA is a member of The Defense Health Agency (DHA) Working Group.  In a regularly scheduled meeting with AFSA and other VSO's earlier this week, DHA talked about various changes in policies and updates on the upcoming NDAA.
 
  • Previously unable to, all military treatment facilities (MTFs) are now capable of receiving electronic prescriptions from civilian doctors.Contact your local military pharmacy for specific instructions.
 
  • DHA is also implementing a new system designed to ensure beneficiary's issues are handled with one phone call.  These changes are based on last year's NDAA provision about access in the military MTF's.  The system is still in its beginning stages but you should experience appointments, including referrals, being handled in shorter times.
 
  • The change in policy to lactation services (breast feeding) that was published as of June 5 will be retroactive to December 2014.  If you paid for a pump or any counseling after the December date you can file a claim for reimbursement through Tricare. More information and direction can be found at: Breastfeeding 

  
 

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  C-123 Crews and Agent Orange Exposure  
 
The C-123 "Provider" was a military cargo aircraft used in Vietnam to deploy what is commonly referred to as Agent Orange.  After the Vietnam War they were used despite residue unknowingly left in those aircraft.  It is estimated that more than 2,000 Reserve crew members, flight nurses and maintenance workers were exposed between 1972 and 1982 in missions using these former "spray birds."
 
At a Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing in late January, Secretary Bob McDonald indicated that the VA, which had previously denied such claims, might change its mind in the wake of a January report.  AFSA CEO Rob Frank endorsed the action in testimony before the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees in mid-March. Earlier the Institute of Medicine concluded that C-123 Reservists were likely exposed to dangerous levels of dioxin, the toxic chemical in Agent Orange.   
 
Information on specifics like how to file a claim and the policy change can be found at: C-123
 

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