Troops Win Legislative Victories With New Defense Budget Deal
Congress has struck a tentative deal on the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill, at least at the committee level, and lobbyists for veterans and servicemembers groups seem to have one some important victories, sources say.
According to the Military Officers Association of America – one of the key lobbying organizations in Washington for career military and retirees – the deal contains the following provisions:
A 1.7 percent increase in base pay
The defeat of a drastic increase in TRICARE pharmacy copays proposed by the Obama Administration: Copays are capped at $17 per brand-name medication for 2013, and future increases are pegged to retirement pay increases. The Administration wanted to raise the current copay from $12 to $26, and then to $34 per medication over the next four years.
The Obama Administration also wanted to eliminate access to medications not on the current TRICARE formulary altogether. The Defense deal Congress reached this week ensures they will continue to be available, though for a $44 copay. That is substantially more expensive than the current $25 per medication, but “better than not having them available at all,” say MOAA sources.
The co-pay for mail-order generic medications remains at zero. The Administration wanted to reinstate a $9 copay for generics by 2017, but was unsuccessful in getting this included.
The bill does impose new obligations among TRICARE for Life beneficiaries: They must try using cheaper military pharmacies or mail-order for refills for at least a year, beginning, most likely, in March in 2013. After one year, beneficiaries can opt to revert back to the retail pharmacy system. Congress hopes the savings from this arrangement will offset the cost of the lower copays to the taxpayer.
The law also makes it easier for wounded medically-retired veterans to collect Combat-Related Special Compensation for those with combat-related disabilities. Those affected will see an increase in CRSC payments effective 1 January 2013.
Additionally, active duty service members will be getting a 3.8 percent increase in their housing allowance next year, on average, though allowances at some locations will actually decline.
Active duty servicemembers are also receiving an increase in basic allowance for subsistence. The new rates:
Enlisted: $352.27 per month
Officers: $242.60 per month
In other developments, the new Defense Authorization Bill makes same-sex marriages legal on military bases if they are legal in their respective states. However, military chaplains cannot be required to participate in marrying same-sex couples.
The bill also authorizes TRICARE to pay for abortions, if the patient is a victim of rape or incest.
Furthermore, the law also requires the military to discharge convicted sex offenders, and requires military officials to retain closed reports of sexual assaults for up to 50 years, in order to support disability claims against the government and possible prosecution of perpetrators, subject to the statute of limitations.