Action in Congress

Jan. 1, 2007

Draft, Anyone

Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.) promised to introduce in the new Congress legislation to resume a military draft, despite stiff opposition to the idea by Defense Department civilians, military leaders, and a majority of lawmakers—including the leaders of Rangel’s own Democratic Party.

Rangel claims the invasion of Iraq would not have occurred had conscription been in place, thereby exposing the sons of decision-makers to the dangers of war.

Rangel showed apparent disregard for the benefits of an all-volunteer, professional military, also saying, “I don’t see how anyone can support the war and not support the draft.”

Rangel’s chances of success are considered microscopic.

Veterans Vanishing on Hill

The proportion of Congress made up of military veterans continues to fall. When the new Congress convened this month, the percentage of veterans had slipped below 25 percent.

Six veterans were newly elected, but this does not offset the veterans who retired or lost their seats.

Thirty years ago, only about 25 percent of lawmakers weren’t veterans.

Fixing Damaged Goods

By March 2008, service members who report household goods damaged or lost in shipment to new assignments are to receive full replacement value (FRV)—not a reimbursement amount based on the item’s depreciated value.

Congress set the deadline in the 2007 defense authorization act signed Oct. 17.

Air Force Col. Steven L. Amato, director of passenger and personal property for the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command, said FRV might take effect sooner, perhaps by November 2007, if DOD can get its Families First plan to re-engineer the personal property program.

DOD is the moving industry’s largest customer. Officials have worked for more than a decade on Families First, a comprehensive plan to improve quality of moves, reduce claims, and quicken claim payments. But a drumbeat of complaints over low reimbursements sparked Congress to order a change in formula.

About a fifth of military moves result in damage claims, and damage to personal goods tops the list of military move complaints.

Under FRV reimbursement, if a moving company loses or destroys an item the service member will get a new one. Exceptions will be made for cars, motorcycles, and boats, because replacements of equal value are easy to find.

Where’s the Money

The military surgeons general said they would use a provision in the 2007 authorization act to increase stipends for student physicians and dentists under the military Health Professions Scholarship Program. (See “Action in Congress: Medical Recruiting Incentives,” September 2006, p. 34.) Soon after authority to raise the stipend was enacted last October, however, the service medical departments reviewed their budgets and couldn’t find the money to support the higher stipend.

Congress, it seems, had not funded the change.

The only current plan to raise the HPSP stipend is a 2.2 percent cost-of-living increase next July.

Military Coalition Priorities

In early December, The Military Coalition, an umbrella group of three dozen service associations and veterans’ groups including the Air Force Association, was preparing to unveil its legislative priorities for the first session of the 110th Congress.

TMC co-chairman Joseph Barnes, also of the Fleet Reserve Association, said some issues certain to top TMC priorities include:

Tricare costs: Protecting beneficiaries from whatever hikes in Tricare fee and co-payments that are proposed in the 2008 defense budget presented to Congress in February.

Force expansion: Particularly of ground forces, to relieve the strain on service members and families resulting from lengthy and repeated tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

SBP reforms: Two long-sought changes to the military Survivor Benefit Plan. One would end a dollar-for-dollar offset in SBP payments that spouses see when they also qualify for Dependency and Indemnity Compensation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. A second change would move forward from Oct. 1, 2008 the effective date of a “paid-up rule” for premiums for retirees who reach age 70 and have paid premiums for at least 30 years. (See “Action in Congress: Left on the Shelf,” December 2006, p. 21.)

Concurrent receipt: More progress on the concurrent receipt issue so that additional numbers of retirees with disabilities are able to receive both VA disability compensation and military retirement.

Promises to Keep

In the last Congress 172 House members—all but three of them Democrats—pushed a major package of initiatives for service members and veterans called the New GI Bill of Rights for the 21st Century. Some of its provisions were enacted as parts of other legislation. Now, with Democrats in the majority, analysts expect the effort to be renewed.