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Hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee - Markup of H.R. 5136, the FY11 National Defense Authorization Act


Location: Washington, DC

"The Subcommittee will come to order. Good morning, we are here to markup the Military Personnel Subcommittee portion of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. The mark before members is another chapter in the Subcommittee's continuing efforts to improve the quality of life for our service members and their families.

"As the nation enters the ninth year of war, it is becoming painfully apparent that the extraordinary high operations tempo has exacted a high penalty on our service members and their families. Although we have done much to improve existing programs and initiate new solutions, the demand to further enhance personnel and family support programs remains great. I am pleased to report that this mark responds to the many challenges that have been presented to the Subcommittee in ways that are both responsive and responsible.

"Thankfully, the Subcommittee did not have to deal with the dramatic increases to TRICARE fees and premiums previously proposed by the Department of Defense. Secretary Gates has made clear his concern about the increasing costs of health care and the subcommittee remains willing to collaborate with the Department of Defense and the organizations that represent our military personnel and their families to explore fair and equitable proposals to control significant cost growth.

"I appreciate the support of Mr. Wilson, the ranking member, in working together on this mark. Some of the highlights of the bill include:

* Continued support for increased end strengths for the active Army and Navy to meet the demands of current combat operations, to include an additional 7,000 personnel for the Army should the Army decide that the additional forces are needed.

* A 1.9 percent pay raise, which is 0.5 percent higher than the President's budget request. This is the 12th consecutive year of pay raises above ECI and this raise will further reduce the gap between military and private sector pay raises from a high of 13.5 percent during fiscal year 1999 to 1.9 percent.

* The Subcommittee's recognition that two critical combat zone compensation benefits had fallen behind in value due to inflation since the last adjustment in 2004. The mark increases both hostile fire pay and family separation allowance to restore the buying power of the two pays.

* New initiatives to complement our "Year of the Military Family' effort to create more robust family programs in the fiscal year 2010 bill. This year the mark includes: new lapel buttons to pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of military spouses and children; a pilot program to provide military spouses with career counseling to take advantage of personal skills to meet the requirements of jobs needed by the military community; a provision to restore basic allowance for housing payments for dual military couples serving on sea duty; a one-time cash payment to assist severely wounded warriors to resettle caregivers providing aid and attendance care; and the authority for TRICARE beneficiaries to extend health care coverage to dependent children up to age 26 so that TRICARE beneficiaries would have the same ability to extend coverage to dependent children as that provided under health care reform.

* Over the past several years, the subcommittee has maintained a focus on sexual assault and harassment, and remains committed to significantly reducing the military's rate of incidence of both. The mark includes 27 provisions to adopt the full range of recommendations by the Defense Task Force on Sexual Assault in the Military Services. These initiatives improve sexual assault prevention and response by the Department of Defense in the areas of strategic direction, prevention and training, response to victims, and accountability. The Task Force was a historic examination that changed the landscape of thinking on sexual assault in the military and the package of legislative proposals in the mark is worthy complement to that effort.

* Thanks to the initiative of Chairman Skelton, the mark includes a pilot program that provides the guidelines and structure needed to explore what will be necessary to extend the careers of officers to provide new opportunities for education and career broadening assignments.

* The growth and restructuring of the force at installations around the nation has had an impact on the local communities that support them. Therefore, the mark includes an authorization of $50 million in the Department of Defense Impact Aid program, and additional $15 million for local educational agencies directly impacted by force structure changes and BRAC.

"The Subcommittee continues to be frustrated by direct spending barriers that prevent us from making progress on issues such as concurrent receipt of military retired pay and VA disability, the widow's tax on the survivor benefit program annuity, and reform of retirement for reserve members. Unfortunately, the Committee, and specifically the Military Personnel Subcommittee, does not have the mandatory offsets that would be required to achieve the large scale solutions for any of those proposals. We continue to seek the mandatory offsets that will allow the Committee to respond to Member interests in these areas.

"We were able to identify some limited direct spending offsets that allowed the Subcommittee to address some of the smaller direct spending issues that have frustrated the Subcommittee for several years. These issues included:

* Equity in disability benefits for combat wounded reservists.

* Health care for reservists entitled to retired pay before age 60.

* A guarantee that reserve wounded warriors will receive credit for early retirement.

"I appreciate the contributions of all the members of this Subcommittee, and Committee, in developing our mark. While we could not accommodate all the requests that were brought before our Subcommittee, we were able to accommodate a sizable number of them. This is a good mark and I appreciate the support and cooperation of the ranking member, Mr. Wilson."

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