MOAA Stands Up For Military Beneficiaries at Senate Hearing

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Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Government Relations Director Col. Steve Strobridge (USAF-Ret) testified against capping military pay raises and imposing dramatic TRICARE fee hikes at an April 17 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.

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MOAA Government Relations Director Col. Steve Strobridge (USAF-Ret) testified at April 17 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.

When someone says that to me, I answer, ‘If the military deal is so great, are you willing to pay what they did to earn it? Would you sign up to spend the next 20 years being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever the next fight is?' Strobridge said.

Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) Government Relations Director Col. Steve Strobridge (USAF-Ret) testified against capping military pay raises and imposing dramatic TRICARE fee hikes at an April 17 hearing before the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee.

The hearing was the first for new subcommittee Chair Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY), as well as for new subcommittee members Sens. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Angus King (I-ME).

Gillibrand noted the challenges the committee faces, and noted her particular interest in ensuring implementation of new therapy requirements for beneficiaries with autism, and with addressing the problem of sexual assault in the military. On the latter issue, she challenged a DoD witness who recommended relying on the chain of command to “maintain good order and discipline.” “The current chain of command has 19,000 sexual assaults per year,” Ayotte bristled. “That’s not good order and discipline.”

At the outset of the hearing, Ranking Minority Member Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) noted, “I’m very interested in TRICARE,” noting costs have increased from $19 billion in 2001 to $49.4 billion for FY14. “To the beneficiary community, I certainly want to listen to your concerns,” he said. “…but I’m looking for sustainability.”

Strobridge addressed that concern, noting that DoD health cost growth peaked in 2002-2003 and has been declining ever since – with less than 1 percent cost growth in FY12, and further decline in FY13. He also noted DoD has diverted $2.5 billion in surplus funds from the healthcare account to other needs over the last three years. Strobridge stated the “exploding cost” claim is built on a 10-year-old data point.

Strobridge took issue with assertions that military retirees pay far less for health care than civilians do, calling such statements “aggravating” to the military community.

“When someone says that to me, I answer, ‘If the military deal is so great, are you willing to pay what they did to earn it? Would you sign up to spend the next 20 years being deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, or wherever the next fight is?’” Strobridge said.

Strobridge called the proposal to means-test TRICARE Prime and TRICARE For Life fees “patent discrimination against the military,” noting no other federal retiree has his or her health benefits means-tested. “Under that perverse system, the longer and more successfully you serve, the worse your benefit.”

Later in the hearing, Strobridge engaged in dialogues with Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) on ways DoD can cut costs with raising fees or affecting quality care delivery, with Sen. Kaine on means-testing and past experience with budget-driven benefit cuts, and with Sen King on the nature of the military “contract” and what currently serving people are told about what benefits they can expect as retirees.

The Senate web site contains a video of the hearing. A few notes about the video:

a.    The video doesn’t start immediately. Use the scroll bar to scroll 16 minutes and 15 seconds (16:15) into the video, which is the start of the hearing, with the first panel of defense witnesses.
b.    The discussion on the sexual assault issue is at the 45:25 mark.
c.    The second panel of military association witnesses begins at the 1:17:00 point on the scroll, with remarks from Sen Gillibrand and the statements of Strobridge and three other Military Coalition witnesses.
d.    Dialogue between Strobridge and Sen Ayotte, Sen Kaine, and Sen King begins at 1:50:20.

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About MOAA:
Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) is the nation’s largest officers association with more than 380,000 members from every branch of service, including active duty, retired, National Guard, Reserve, and former officers and their families and survivors. MOAA is a nonprofit and politically nonpartisan organization and an influential force in promoting a strong national defense. MOAA represents the interests of service members and their families in every stage of their lives and careers, and for those who are not eligible to join MOAA, Voices for America’s Troops is a nonprofit MOAA affiliate that supports a strong national defense. For more information, visit http://www.moaa.org.

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