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Hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee - Health Care to Retired Service Members


Location: Washington, DC

Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today chaired a hearing of the Personnel Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services to receive testimony on active, reserve, and civilian personnel programs. Senator Webb has questioned the administration's proposed TRICARE fee hikes that would begin in fiscal year 2013, particularly for those who are covered under TRICARE For Life.

"I've said many times that I believe that whether there is a specific contractual obligation or not, when someone has served a full career, we have a moral obligation to provide them with lifetime medical care," said Senator Webb, who served as Secretary of the Navy and as the first Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs.

Jo Ann Rooney, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, and Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and Director of TRICARE Management Activity, both concurred with that principle.

Senator Webb agreed with the assertion of Robert Hale, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer, that the DoD must develop a comprehensive package in terms of the costs of health care, training, and equipment. However, he took exception with DoD's plan to increase costs for retirees who have already completed a career of military service.

"You can't renegotiate the front end once the back end is done," Senator Webb said, referring to the proposed TRICARE fee hikes. "This is an obligation that has been made to people whose military careers are now done."

Citing the chart below, Senator Webb also raised concerns about the costs that military retirees incur when they are required to enroll in Medicare Part B at age 65 in order to obtain TRICARE For Life coverage.


"For a retired servicemember who wants TRICARE For Life, a DoD benefit, they are required to sign up for Medicare B," said Senator Webb. "When we summarize the cost of TRICARE For Life, we don't take the cost of Medicare Part B and apply it when you are looking at the health care costs inside DoD, right?"

"That's correct," said Woodson.

Rooney also confirmed to Senator Webb that the Department of Defense will continue to reduce or eliminate flag and general officers to meet the reduction goal by 2016. Senator Webb held a hearing in September 2011 to address the disparate levels of general and flag officers among the services.

View the cost per enrollee in the military health care system here.
View retiree and spouse TRICARE cost proposed increases for FY17 here.

Opening Statement
Senator Jim Webb
Chairman, Personnel Subcommittee
Senate Committee on Armed Services
Hearing on Active Component, Reserve Component, and Civilian Personnel Programs

March 28, 2012

The Subcommittee meets today to receive testimony from the Department of Defense on military and civilian personnel programs contained in the administration's National Defense Authorization request for fiscal year 2013 and the Future Years Defense Program. I'm pleased to have Senator Graham by my side again this year as this subcommittee's ranking member.

With us today are senior Department of Defense leaders, with whom we will discuss not only DOD personnel policy issues, but specific budget items in furtherance of our Subcommittee's oversight responsibilities, which I take very seriously.

Our witnesses are:
* The Honorable Jo Ann Rooney, who is the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness;
* The Honorable Robert Hale, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer for the Department of Defense;
* Mr. David L. McGinnis, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs; and
* The Honorable Jonathan Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs and the Director of the TRICARE Management Activity.

Virtually every leader in the Department of Defense who testifies before the Armed Services Committee addresses the importance of their personnel. In just the last few weeks, for example, we heard:

* "The Strength of Our Army is Our Soldiers."
* "As we move forward, the Department is committed to our most important asset--our Sailors, Marines, civilians and their families."
* "The individual Marine is our greatest asset."
* "The hallmark of our success as an Air Force has always been, and will remain, our people."

We agree! Taking care of our military and civilian personnel and their families is the priority for this Subcommittee, and there are a number of military and civilian personnel policy issues on our radar this year, including:
* The Administration proposal to reduce military end strength by more than 120,000 personnel by the end of Fiscal Year 2017. Past experience tells us that this cannot be accomplished through attrition alone. Many service members who have served multiple combat tours will be asked to leave the military, even though they want to remain in the ranks. This Subcommittee will seek to provide the Services with the force management tools needed to reduce end strength in a responsible manner while keeping faith with those who have sacrificed so much. We also want to ensure that the Services have robust transition programs to assist service members and their families as they leave the active duty military.
* The Defense Department has just released a proposed policy change that will open more than 14,000 positions to women at the conclusion of the congressionally required notification period in a few months. We are encouraged that the Services are continuing to explore the possibility of opening additional specialties and positions to women.
* This Subcommittee will continue to monitor the implementation of the Secretary of Defense's decision to eliminate, reduce, or reallocate 140 general and flag officer positions and 150 Senior Executive Service positions.
* The Subcommittee remains concerned about the number of service member suicides, and will continue to monitor Service suicide prevention policies and programs.
* Sexual assault prevention and response remains a priority for this Subcommittee. Last year, we enacted a number of legislative provisions to assist victims of sexual assault. Secretary Panetta has announced that he will have additional proposals this year, some of which will require legislation. We stand ready to work with him on this very important issue that concerns us all.
* Our National Guard and Reserves are an integral component of our military forces. As an operational reserve, the Reserve Component is an economical force multiplier, providing flexibility and access to valuable capabilities resident in the National Guard and Reserves. This Subcommittee will continue its effort to ensure that there is adequate legislative authority for optimal use of the operational reserve.
* The Total Force includes military personnel, DoD civilian employees, and contractor personnel. This Subcommittee will continue to press the Services to include civilians and contract personnel when addressing total force requirements.
* This Subcommittee remains committed to the care and treatment of our wounded warriors and their families. We feel that the Integrated Disability Evaluation System is an improvement over the legacy Disability Evaluation System, but it is still too bureaucratic and time consuming.

This Subcommittee faces a very clear challenge this year as we address the need to control the increasing costs of personnel programs. As the Air Force Chief of Staff stated during a hearing last week: "Among all the other challenges facing us, the reality of fewer members of the armed forces costing increasingly more to recruit, train, and retain for promising careers is, I think, the monumental defense issue of our time."

The total personnel-related base budget in the Department's fiscal year 2013 request, including the costs of providing health care to service members, their families, and retirees, amounts to $168 billion, or about 32 percent of the overall DOD base budget. However, while we must achieve savings in our defense programs, we need to do this in a way that does not unfairly impact military benefits for a force that is serving, and has served, so well during more than 10 years of combat operations.

Our task is even more difficult this year because of the funding limitations imposed by the Budget Control Act passed by Congress last year. To comply with this act, the Administration has proposed several major actions to reduce military personnel costs, including end strength reductions of more than 120,000 military personnel, limiting pay raises beginning in 2015, establishing a BRAC-like commission to conduct a comprehensive review of military retirement, and increasing health-care fees for military retirees. Each of these proposals warrants careful consideration. I am particularly, but not exclusively concerned about the impact of increased health-care fees for retirees.

There is no greater responsibility for Congress and military leaders than to care and provide for our service members and their families. Our military - Active, Guard, and Reserve -- is still engaged in the longest sustained period of major conflict in our nation's history. We look forward to learning more about the programs and priorities the Department has emphasized to make certain that, despite today's fiscal challenges, our service members, civilian personnel, retirees, and their families will continue to receive the support and benefits they have earned commensurate with their service.

I look forward to your testimony about the personnel, overall health, and budget status of our military. As always, I encourage you to express your views candidly and to tell us what is working well and to raise any concerns and issues you may want to bring to this Subcommittee's attention. Let us know how we can best assist our service members and their families to ensure that our military remains steadfast and strong.

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