What’s in the FY15 NDAA for Military Families?
The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 was signed by the President on December 19, 2014 and contains:
- a lower pay raise than called for by law (1% vs. 1.8%)
- a cut to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) of 1% for military families who move to a new location next year
- an increase of $3 to pharmacy co-pays
- a cut to the commissary funding by $100 million
But truth be told, Congress did listen to us. When we said to Congress, wait for the results from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC), they did. Yes, Congress legislated much what Department of Defense (DoD) asked for in its budget proposal, BUT they chose to make those cuts apply to 2015 only, rather than the next five years.
This compromise bill contains significant threats to the financial stability of military families. But the hard choices Congress needed to make to finalize this bill pale in comparison to the continued threat of sequestration. While we have had a minor reprieve with the Balanced Budget Act in 2014 and 2015, the full strength of the cuts will loom again in 2016. Continued sequestration will require further cuts, not just to pay and benefits, but also to the size of the military force, family support programs, and the training and equipment our service members need to do their jobs.
The cuts to benefits weren’t the only provisions in the bill to affect military families.
The bill contains several military family friendly provisions:
- Directs DoD to carry out a pilot program to enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education for military children in public schools. (sec. 233)
- Calls for DoD to develop an improved method to report and collect information on domestic violence incidents involving service members (sec. 544)
- Makes it easier for DoD to assist service members in obtaining professional credentials (sec. 551)
- Directs DoD to enhance information provided to service members and veterans through the Transition Assistance Program on the post-9/11 G.I. Bill and federal financial aid (sec. 557)
- Asks DoD to develop procedures to provide contact information of transitioning service members to state veterans agencies to help them make a smoother transition from military service to civilian life (sec. 558)
- Provides $25 million to local school districts serving large populations of military children, with an additional $5 million for schools serving military children with special needs (sec. 561)
- Allows DoD to employ non-United States citizens as teachers in DoD overseas dependents’ school system to teach foreign languages when a US citizen is not available (sec. 564)
- Allows the Advisory Council on Dependents’ Education (ACDE) to provide advice on the running of DoD’s stateside schools (DDESS) in addition to the overseas schools (DoDDS) (sec. 565)
- Provides protection of child custody arrangements for parents who are members of the Armed Forces by amending the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to provide that if a court renders a temporary custody order based solely on the deployment or anticipated deployment of a service member, the court shall require the reinstatement of the prior custody order upon the return of the service member from deployment, unless the court finds that reinstatement is not in the best interest of the child. The provision would also prohibit a court from considering the absence of a service member by reason of deployment, or the possibility of deployment, as the sole factor in determining the best interest of the child (sec. 566)
- Calls for improved consistency in data collection and reporting in DoD suicide prevention efforts for members of the Reserve Component and for military family members (sec. 567)
- Calls for improved data collection on DoD efforts to reduce underemployment of military spouses and close the wage gap between military spouses and their civilian counterparts and for a report on the effectiveness of military spouse employment programs within 1 year (sec. 568)
- Mandates an independent study of the mental, behavioral, and psychological health challenges facing forces in the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and the effectiveness of its Preservation of the Force and Families Program (POTFF) (sec. 586)
- Tells DoD to ensure voter assistance offices are conveniently located for service members (sec. 592)
- Authorizes the payment of the Survivor Benefit Plan annuity to a special needs trust created for the benefit of a disabled dependent child incapable of self-support because of mental or physical incapacity (sec. 624)
- Calls for annual mental health assessments for members of the Armed Forces (sec. 701)
- Eliminates day limits in provision of mental health services, removing a potential barrier to receipt of mental health care and eliminating limits that do not exist for other types of medical and care. (sec. 703)
- Grants DoD the authority to provide TRICARE coverage for emerging health care services and supplies, such as lab tests (sec. 704)
- Provides breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling under TRICARE (sec. 706)
- Requires beneficiaries be notified of changes to TRICARE benefits 90 days before they take effect (sec. 711)
- Calls for a report on efforts to treat infertility of military families (sec. 729)
- Calls for a report on women’s health care services for female service members and other beneficiaries assessing access to care, scope of available care, and availability of specialty care, with a special emphasis on maternity care. The report should also analyze whether quality measures facilitate expected outcomes.
Congress also included significant new provisions on military justice and sexual assault. We will have an overview article next week on those sections.
What happens next?
It will take time for DoD to develop and implement policies and procedures. Also on the horizon is the upcoming report of the MCRMC’s holistic study of military compensation and retirement (due in February). Our National Military Family Association (NMFA) Government Relations staff and advisors have developed a strategy to evaluate the possible effects of the Commission’s recommendations on the well-being of military families.
While we are disappointed with the provisions of the NDAA that negatively impact military paychecks, there are some wins for military families as well. NMFA will be watching to see how these provisions are implemented by DoD. We will continue to work to ensure military families have what they need for a successful military life.