VENICE AREA CHAPTER 

P.O. Box 1495, Venice Florida 34284-1495

An Affiliate of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) and The Florida Council of Chapters (FCOC)   MOAA and its Affiliated Chapters and councils are nonpartisan

MOAA LEGISLATIVE ALERT - August 16, 2018

PRESIDENT TRUMP APPROVES PAY RAISE FOR TROOPS, NO TRICARE FEE INCREASES
 
President Donald Trump on Monday afternoon approved H.R. 515, the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. The President signed the legislation in front of huge crowd at Fort Drum, N.Y. 

"There is no better place than right here at Fort Drum to celebrate its passage. No better place," Trump told the cheering crowd, which included many uniformed service members. "After years of devastating cuts, we're now rebuilding our military like we never have before. Ever. Because we know that to survive, and having that survival of our freedom, it depends upon the might of our military." 

The last time Congress passed a defense bill this early was over 20 years ago with the FY 1997 NDAA. 

"The NDAA is a great example of bi-partisan support for our military," said MOAA President and CEO Lt. Gen. Dana T. Atkins, (USAF Ret.). "Our Congress, and president, by signing this bill into law, recognize the selfless service of those in uniform by providing a proper pay raise and housing allowances. They also recognize the need to increase troop strength to support Secretary Mattis' National Defense Strategy."

The legislation includes a 2.6 percent increase in basic pay for troops, which President Trump described as "the biggest increase in a decade." 

President Trump also highlighted "$11 billion for military construction, including family housing." 

"Every day the military is fighting for us, and now we are fighingt for you, 100 percent," Trump told the troops.

Related reading: 

17,000 MOAA Members Rallied Together to Prevent TRICARE Fee Increases

Here's What Military Families Need to Know about the NDAA

Here's How the FY 2019 NDAA Aids Military Spouses

Other highlights of the FY2019 NDAA include:

Authorization for active duty end-strength increases over FY 2018 levels for each service to put them better in line to meet the requirements of the National Defense Strategy (485,741 in the Army, 331,900 in the Navy, 186,100 in the Marine Corps, and 325,720 in the Air Force).

No increases to TRICARE fees.

No reduction to the basic allowance for housing.

Progress on modernizing the 38-year-old Defense Officer Personnel Management Act to provide more flexible options to the services.

Authorization for $40 million in DoD supplemental impact aid and $10 million in impact aid for severely disabled military children.

Eligibility expansion for Special Victims' Counsel services to victims of domestic violence and other aggravated violent offenses.

Establishment of a new punitive article on domestic violence in the Uniform Code of Military Justice; and
authorization for military judges and magistrates to issue military protective orders.


GET A GLIMPSE INSIDE VA’S MAJOR OVERHAUL
By: Cmdr. René Campos, USN (Ret)

Do you remember the VA MISSION Act- the massive, most comprehensive health care reform bill passed out of Congress in over 25 years and signed into law by President Donald Trump on June 6? 

VA has quietly begun working on implementing these major changes but recognizes it can't do so without veterans' help.  

VA wants to know what questions veterans have about the VA MISSION Act as VA moves forward in rolling out these huge health system changes.

While MOAA and other veteran service organizations (VSO) have started working with VA to implement the legislation, veterans are central to making the transformation smooth and in helping the department meet the very tight deadline mandated by Congress. 

Passage of the VA MISSION Act signaled Congress' readiness to implement major changes in VA's health care system - seen by some congressional leaders as long overdue reform. 

One of the most significant changes veterans will see in the next few months is the elimination of the Veterans Choice Program, established in 2014, to provide temporary relief and help VA rebuild internal capacity to reduce long wait times for veterans seeking health care. A new, streamlined community care program will replace Choice and consolidate multiple community care programs currently managed by VA into a single program.  

A few other major changes veterans can expect to see are:

the expansion of VA's comprehensive caregiver support program, opening up the program to eligible pre-9/11 veterans;
veterans and their doctors will be able to decide the best option on where the veteran should get their care, whether inside VA or in the community;
more telehealth programs; and,
walk-in health care services with local community providers.
What would normally take three to five years to implement such massive system changes, Congress gave VA one year from the enactment of the MISSION Act to replace the Choice Program and two years to implement the caregiver program expansion.

Last week, VA provided MOAA and other VSOs a little peek under the tent as to the rough timelines the department is working under to combine and implement the new community care program and walk-in care services over the next year. Here's generally what we know:  

Phase 1, June - October 2018.  Build the operating structure, access and eligibility criteria, new veteran care contract agreements, and new competency standards for community providers; and, draft regulations.
Phase 2, November 2018 - February 2019.  Complete and test the operating structure and elements initiated in Phase 1; continue rollout of the new community care provider network; begin educating and training VA staff; and, finalized regulations.
Phase 3, March - June 2019.  Transition and begin operation of the new walk-in care and community care program; continue educating VA staff; continue rollout of new community care provider network; begin using new competency standards for community providers; publish regulations; and, end the Choice Program.
So here's what MOAA needs from you.  

We need you to send us your questions about the VA MISSION Act that you want VA to answer and communicate to veterans now and throughout the implementation of the system reforms.  

To help get you started, here are a couple questions MOAA has already provided to VA we think veterans will want to know:

How can veterans expect VA to communicate with them as progress is made in implementing the MISSION Act and how can veterans provide feedback throughout the process?
What does walk-in care mean and will I be charged for getting this care outside of my VA medical center?
Now, what questions are on your mind?  

Please send your questions to legis@moaa.org and we will share your questions with VA as well any communication and marketing materials as they become available.

WILL THE ADMINISTRATION WEAKEN OVERSIGHT OF PAYDAY LENDERS WHO PREY ON TROOPS?
By: James F. Naughton Jr.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering changes to how it enforces the Military Lending Act, a move that could make it easier for payday lenders to prey on servicemembers.

Payday lenders often seek out young servicemembers “in a panic to find financial resources to fulfill their immediate needs (emergency travel, car payments, overdue bills, etc.), or to make an impulse purchase spurred by aggressive push marketing, without fully considering the financial ramifications of taking out a loan that is not predicated on their ability to repay,” according to the Defense Department. Many of the men and women who volunteer to serve in the military enlist immediately after graduating from high school. Understandably, they have limited experience in financial matters, have little to no credit history, and are easy targets. 

Since 2011, enforcement of the MLA has provided over $130 million in relief to military families. 

But now, according to internal documents shared with NPR and other news outlets, the agency tasked with enforcing the MLA is looking to dial back its monitoring efforts. 

 [ACT NOW: Send a MOAA-suggested message urging the White House to reconsider this proposal.]

This agency is called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and it's interim head is Mick Mulvaney, who was appointed by President Trump. According to news reports, the agency says it lacks the legal authority to provide proactive oversight of the payday loan industry; as a result, the administration is looking into reducing oversight while continuing to investigate individual complaints of abuse.

Mulvaney says the agency would still intend to ask Congress for the legislative authority to resume proactive enforcement. However, NPR reports, “It is unclear if Congress would do that to spur the CFPB to return to its previous level of enforcement.” 

Despite providing some financial training to servicemembers, DoD says “a significant number of servicemembers, especially in the lower ranks of enlisted personnel, still fall victim to easy credit widely available around bases or online. Education does not trump the marketing of these loans and the easy availability of quick cash with few questions asked.”

Weakening oversight of the MLA will have a negative impact on readiness. Unregulated predatory lenders represent a serious danger to national security because a servicemember experiencing debt-related stresses may be less focused on the mission - potentially compromising not only his or her safety, but also that of the entire unit. It can cost servicemembers security clearances, letters of reprimand, loss of promotions, or even separation from the military.

The MLA, originally sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.), and Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), provides servicemembers and their dependents with protections from predatory lending practices. Congress tasked the Defense Secretary to survey troops, financial counselors and legal assistance attorneys to determine the impact and prevalence of high-cost loans in the FY 2013 defense bill.

DoD worked with federal regulators to study the issue and developed a number of protections for servicemembers and their families, including:

A 36 percent cap on the annual interest rate charged for covered credit products -including credit cards - referred to as the Military Annual Percentage Rate.
Holding creditors responsible for providing military borrowers with additional disclosers, including a statement that they should seek other options than high-cost credit - to include financial counseling and assistance from the Military Aid Societies
Prohibiting creditors from requiring servicemembers to submit to arbitration or waive their rights under the Servicemember's Civil Relief Act (SCRA)
Expanding the definition of “consumer credit' covered by the MLA and bringing any closed- or open-end loans within the scope of the regulation, with the exception of loans secured by real estate or a purchase-money loan (including loans to finance the purchase of a vehicle). 

The actions of these predators must be regulated, and the federal government must have authority to provide necessary oversight.