National Guard February 2011 : Page 14

WASHINGTON UPDATE The latest Capitol Hill news from the NGAUS legislative staff By Richard M. Green Our Broader Goals Z Make retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, the program that provides retirement pay ear-lier for time deployed, and eliminate the fiscal year requirement for qualifying duty. National Guard Empowerment Z Authorize a three-star vice chief of the National Guard Bureau; and Z Authorize a permanent seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the NGB chief. Recapitalizing the Air Guard Z Implement Total Force concurrent and balanced procurement for both flying and support missions, and commit to the timing and locations of aircraft basing; and Z Program aging Guard fighter aircraft for the Service Life Extension Program to ensure continued combat capability. Modernizing the Army Guard Z Continue to provide robust funding for Guard equipment and the National Guard and Reserves Equipment Account; and Z Develop and implement a fixed-wing recapitalization plan. Modernizing Guard Facilities Z Provide robust military construction funding to assure modern and functional training and mobilization facilities; and Z Fully support an increase of Guard and Reserve Initiative funds to provide flexible options for critical infrastructure projects. NGAUS strategic priorities encompass most of the legislative objectives approved by association members. HIS COULD BE a very interesting year. The Republicans control the House. The Democrats control the Senate. And the two political parties have different ideas on how to govern as the nation deals with a continuing economic mess. The National Guard has done well lately in Congress. Equipment has flowed. Benefits have improved, especially in health care and education. But that momentum might slow with pressure to reduce federal spending. That won’t stop the NGAUS legislative staff from aggressively pursuing the objec-tives our members adopted at our confer-ence last summer in Austin, Texas. While NGAUS is fortunate to have many allies on the Hill, the Senate and House Na-tional Guard caucuses will continue to serve as our primary go-to friends. And this year, we have some new faces leading the caucuses. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., ( “Conversation,” January 2011 maga-zine ) who served in the Air Guard, is now co-chair of the Senate caucus. Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., are co-chairs of the House caucus. Hunter is a former Marine. Walz is a retired Army Guard command sergeant major. We’ll take with us to the Hill this year the theme that the Guard is Right for America . The Guard represents the affordable, flex-ible combat and domestic-response force that is a real value in difficult economic times. Since the early 1990s, and especially since Sept. 11, the Guard has demonstrated that it is a first-team member of the Total Force, ready to take on any mission if pro-vided the proper resources. With all of this in mind, NGAUS has established the following strategic priori-ties. They encompass most of our legislative objectives and focus on the initiatives we believe are in the best interests of the Guard. Early Retirement Z Provide an incentive for continued service beyond 20 years by authorizing retire-ment pay one year earlier for every two years served after 20; and T Effectively promoting these priorities requires a full court press by all Guard stakeholders. Our grassroots presence and combined voice can make us successful. We can’t expect to get everything on our list, but we should expect to pursue each one with vigor and confidence. The Guard today is better than ever. We have a good and cost-effective product to sell. Contact your senators and representative by phone, fax, letter, personal visit or by using our Write to Congress feature at www. ngaus.org. Let them know how a strong and ready National Guard is Right for America . 14 | Na tional Guard

Washington Update

Richard M. Green

The latest Capitol Hill news from the NGAUS legislative staff<br /> <br /> Our Broader Goals<br /> <br /> THIS COULD BE a very interesting year. The Republicans control the House. The Democrats control the Senate.<br /> <br /> And the two political parties have different ideas on how to govern as the nation deals with a continuing economic mess.<br /> <br /> The National Guard has done well lately in Congress. Equipment has flowed. Benefits have improved, especially in health care and education. But that momentum might slow with pressure to reduce federal spending.<br /> <br /> That won't stop the NGAUS legislative staff from aggressively pursuing the objectives our members adopted at our conference last summer in Austin, Texas.<br /> <br /> While NGAUS is fortunate to have many allies on the Hill, the Senate and House National Guard caucuses will continue to serve as our primary go-to friends.<br /> <br /> And this year, we have some new faces leading the caucuses. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., ("Conversation," January 2011 magazine) who served in the Air Guard, is now co-chair of the Senate caucus.<br /> <br /> Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., are co-chairs of the House caucus. Hunter is a former Marine. Walz is a retired Army Guard command sergeant major.<br /> <br /> We'll take with us to the Hill this year the theme that the Guard is Right for America.<br /> <br /> The Guard represents the affordable, flexible combat and domestic-response force that is a real value in difficult economic times.<br /> <br /> Since the early 1990s, and especially since Sept. 11, the Guard has demonstrated that it is a first-team member of the Total Force, ready to take on any mission if provided the proper resources.<br /> <br /> With all of this in mind, NGAUS has established the following strategic priorities. They encompass most of our legislative objectives and focus on the initiatives we believe are in the best interests of the Guard.<br /> <br /> Early Retirement <br /> <br /> •Provide an incentive for continued service beyond 20 years by authorizing retirement pay one year earlier for every two years served after 20; and<br /> •Make retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001, the program that provides retirement pay earlier for time deployed, and eliminate the fiscal year requirement for qualifying duty.<br /> <br /> National Guard Empowerment<br /> <br /> •Authorize a three-star vice chief of the National Guard Bureau; and <br /> •Authorize a permanent seat on the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the NGB chief.<br /> <br /> Recapitalizing the Air Guard<br /> <br /> •Implement Total Force concurrent and balanced procurement for both flying and support missions, and commit to the timing and locations of aircraft basing; and<br /> •Program aging Guard fighter aircraft for the Service Life Extension Program to ensure continued combat capability.<br /> <br /> Modernizing the Army Guard<br /> <br /> •Continue to provide robust funding for Guard equipment and the National Guard and Reserves Equipment Account; and<br /> •Develop and implement a fixed-wing recapitalization plan.<br /> <br /> Modernizing Guard Facilities<br /> <br /> •Provide robust military construction funding to assure modern and functional training and mobilization facilities; and<br /> •Fully support an increase of Guard and Reserve Initiative funds to provide flexible options for critical infrastructure projects.<br /> <br /> Effectively promoting these priorities requires a full court press by all Guard stakeholders. Our grassroots presence and combined voice can make us successful.<br /> <br /> We can't expect to get everything on our list, but we should expect to pursue each one with vigor and confidence.<br /> <br /> The Guard today is better than ever. We have a good and cost-effective product to sell.<br /> <br /> Contact your senators and representative by phone, fax, letter, personal visit or by using our Write to Congress feature at www. ngaus.org. Let them know how a strong and ready National Guard is Right for America.<br /> <br /> NGAUS strategic priorities encompass most of the legislative objectives approved by association members.<br /> <br /> Gates Raises Possibility of 'Modest' TRICARE Fee Hikes<br /> <br /> When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates outlined last month (Newsbreaks, page 20) how the Pentagon would save $78 billion over the next five years, he mentioned "modest increases to TRICARE fees for working age retirees."<br /> <br /> It's a subject Gates has addressed before. He noted that many recipients of the benefit are employed full time and choose to forego employer health plans.<br /> <br /> "This should not come as a surprise, given that the current TRICARE enrollment fee was set in 1995 at $460 a year for the basic family plan and has not been raised since," he said in his remarks delivered Jan. 6 at the Pentagon.<br /> <br /> Meanwhile, insurance premiums have gone up dramatically, Gates said, adding that a federal worker now pays about $5,000 annually for a basic family plan.<br /> <br /> NGAUS understands Gates' concern over increasing health care costs, but service members are not like other government employees.<br /> <br /> The idea of premium hikes has been tried in the past, but has hit a stone wall in Congress each time, including three times during the administration of President George W. Bush.<br /> <br /> A similar suggestion in 2009 generated immediate opposition from veterans groups, including NGAUS, which forced the current administration to quickly back away.<br /> <br /> Gates said the fee increases could save nearly $7 billion over the next five years. The plans will be included in the fiscal 2012 Pentagon budget request, which could be released the middle of this month.<br /> <br /> New House Personnel Chairman Introduces National Guard Bills<br /> <br /> Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., the new chairman of the House Armed Services personnel subcommittee, introduced legislation last month related to the National Guard. The bills have been referred to the House Armed Services Committee.<br /> <br /> The complete texts of the bills are available on www.thomas.gov.<br /> <br /> One of Wilson's bills is H.R. 179, which would allow Guard and Reserve retirees under the age of 60 to receive full TRICARE benefits.<br /> <br /> Also, under H.R. 180, money given to the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (related story, page 32) from federal agencies other than the Defense Department would not count toward the 75 percent federal contribution to the program that helps atrisk teenagers turn their lives around.<br /> <br /> Finally, Wilson introduced H.R. 181, which would make Guardsmen and Reservists eligible for early retirement pay if they served on active duty overseas since Sept. 11, 2001. This issue is one of the top priorities of NGAUS.<br /> <br /> The current law makes eligible only those who served since the law was enacted in 2008.<br /> <br /> Lawmakers Tell Air Force: Not So Fast on 'Plane Grabs'<br /> <br /> Congress now will know if the Air Force plans another "plane grab" from the Air National Guard like the one it attempted last year.<br /> <br /> The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed into law Jan. 7 requires the Air Force secretary to submit to Congress a written agreement between the involved parties that details any plan to transfer aircraft from one component to the other.<br /> <br /> Besides the number and type of aircraft involved, the agreement must include the transfer's impact on manpower, funding responsibilities and how the reserve component will be affected.<br /> <br /> Also, the Air Guard director is allowed to weigh in, as is the commander of the Air Force Reserve.<br /> <br /> This is in response to an attempt by the Air Force last spring to remove 11 C-130 aircraft from Air Guard bases around the country and put them with an active-component unit at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark. That unit's old aircraft were to be retired.<br /> <br /> The plan was stopped when NGAUS brought it to the attention of Congress. Instead, a plan was worked out to temporarily loan the aircraft to the wing in Arkansas.<br /> <br /> A NGAUS analysis of the entire NDAA can be found in the Legislative Action Center at www.ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> President Signs Health Care, Education Aid Bills into Law<br /> <br /> The president last month signed into law two bills affecting National Guardsmen that passed during the "lame duck" session of Congress before Christmas.<br /> <br /> New legislation would make the deployment-based early retirement program retroactive to Sept. 11, 2001.<br /> <br /> One is the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act that creates a $4.2 billion fund to pay medical expenses for first responders who suffered ill effects from the toxic dust at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001. This includes National Guardsmen who responded, as well as fire, police and other first responders and people who later helped clear rubble from the World Trade Center site.<br /> <br /> It's named for a New York City policeman who died from ailments attributed to his work at the site. Obama said he was honored to sign the bill, which also reopens a compensation fund for people who were victims of the attack.<br /> <br /> The president later signed into law the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Improvements Act. This law closes gaps in the original bill that inadvertently left out some Guardsmen and Reservists who were called into service after the terrorist attacks, but were not on Title 10 active duty.<br /> <br /> The law, which was pushed heavily by NGAUS from start to finish, also expands the original bill's benefits.<br /> <br /> TRICARE Premiums Unknown For New Young Adult Program<br /> <br /> Children of military families are eligible for TRICARE health care coverage until the age of 26, but the premium costs for the program that will start in the spring are not yet established.<br /> <br /> The 2011 National Defense Authorization Act that established the program requires that the rates cover all the costs.<br /> <br /> Tom Philpott, author of the Military Update column that appears in many newspapers, said last month that unofficial estimates range from $1,400 to $2,400 annually, or from $116 to $200 per month.<br /> <br /> A spokesman for TRICARE Management Activity (TMA) says the "full-cost premiums will be based on the historical cost of TRICARE claims" for someone of a similar age.<br /> <br /> The Young Adult Program from TRICARE matches a requirement in the health reform act passed last year in Congress that requires health insurance companies to cover children until the age of 26 on the plan of the person's parents.<br /> <br /> The law had been that children were dropped from their parents' coverage at age 19 unless they were in college, which extended the coverage to age 23.<br /> <br /> Congress extended this new benefit to military families, but with the caveat that families pay the premium. Otherwise, about $300 million would have been added to the Pentagon's growing bill for health care.<br /> <br /> TMA says the Young Adult Program will be available in the spring and will be made retroactive to Jan. 1.<br /> <br /> Young adults who are eligible for coverage and have had health bills since Jan. 1 are encouraged to keep track of costs so bills can be submitted later.<br /> <br /> Members Send Record Number Of Letters to Congress in 2010<br /> <br /> Early retirement and health care were the dominant issues as NGAUS members sent a record number of letters to lawmakers last year through the Write to Congress feature at www.ngaus.org.<br /> <br /> Almost a quarter of the 108,961 communications sent through the association's pipeline to Capitol Hill concerned the effort to reduce the age National Guardsmen become eligible for retirement pay.<br /> <br /> Nearly as many wrote to reverse a planned 25 percent reduction in Medicare/ TRICARE physician payment rates, which would have reduced doctor acceptance of government medical programs.<br /> <br /> Other issues stimulating significant member communications included adding Title 32 service to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, TRICARE for "gray-area" retirees, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter modernization and elevating the National Guard Bureau chief to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.<br /> <br /> Most of the letters were triggered by NGAUS Legislative Alerts distributed just before key hearings, floor debate or votes.<br /> <br /> NGAUS believes the timing and volume of communications is making a difference, but to maintain the momentum, association members will have to send even more letters this year.<br /> <br /> Association members in Georgia (14,479), Tennessee (11,809) and Texas (8,146) sent the most communications through the Write to Congress feature in 2010.<br /> <br /> Complete 2010 Write to Congress statistics are available at www.ngaus.org/writetocongress.<br /> <br /> The timing and volume of letters sent through the Write to Congress feature on the NGAUS website are making a difference.<br /> <br />

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