From Pay to Health Care, Here’s What’s In the New NDAA For Military Families
Congress is getting ready to vote on and send President Trump the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (FY21 NDAA), the annual legislation that encompasses — and authorizes funds — for nearly every aspect of your military life. As we do every year, NMFA has spent the last twelve months advocating for military families so elected officials understand your military family challenges and the solutions you need from the NDAA . On Friday, Dec. 3, Congress released its Fiscal Year 2021 NDAA conference report, outlining what the final bill will look like.
Here’s what made the cut for military families – and what didn’t.
The FY21 NDAA includes a three percent pay raise for service members.
Separation Pay Starts Earlier: Separation pay will begin earlier for families dealing with a service member onboard a ship still in-port and unable to leave before or after a deployment. For families who have to deal with these extended separations during COVID-19, this is particularly good news.
ECHO Expansion: For medically high-needs military families, TRICARE’s Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) currently offers 16 hours per month of respite care for caregivers. The FY21 NDAA will double that to 32 hours per month. While it’s not the 50 hours per month we advocated for, it’s still a major improvement. Right now, ECHO families have to use at least one other ECHO service to be eligible for respite care; the FY21 NDAA removes that restriction.
How good is ECHO, anyway? The FY21 NDAA requires that DoD look at respite care programs provided through state-based Medicaid waivers as well as those provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs for caregivers. NMFA hopes this report, due in 2022, will show where ECHO is working – and where it’s falling short.
Your Dental Is Not Changing: Your dental coverage will still be provided by TRICARE Dental and the transition to FEDVIP has been cancelled. NMFA will continue to push Congress to ensure that military families have the coverage they’ve been promised and that previous problems that plagued the TRICARE Dental system are not repeated.
EFMP Is Being Standardized: The FY21 NDAA establishes programmatic standardization of the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) across the service branches, from application to assignment and case management. While the Marine Corps EFMP program has long been considered the gold standard, it’s unclear how this program will be successfully modeled across all branches. NMFA will monitor the changes to ensure that all EFMP families are getting the best services possible – not just a universal median.
The FY21 NDAA addresses assignment coordination and ensures that families will not be denied an assignment or location without reason. The bill also provides for EFMP attorneys like those used by Marine Corps EFMP families — a win for EFMP family advocates who have been calling for their inclusion in EFMP management across all branches.
More Funding for EFMP Kids in Public Schools: The FY21 NDAA provides $10 million in funding for public schools heavily impacted by military children with severe disabilities. There’s also an additional $10 million that can be used at the discretion of the Secretary of Defense for school districts with higher concentrations of special needs military children. This is an unexpected win for EFMP families and for their school districts, particularly those near San Diego, Virginia Beach, and the National Capital Region.
The FY21 NDAA also requires an evaluation of school districts and the impact of funding on the ability to serve high- and special-needs military kids, something NMFA has consistently asked for.
DoDEA Starting A Virtual High School Pilot Program: DoDEA plans to launch a four-year pilot that would expand eligibility for its virtual high school program to currently ineligible military dependent children. Preference will be given to those who live in rural areas and homeschoolers, and each participant will only be allowed to take two courses in an academic year.
School Districts Factored Into Basing Decisions: Military family readiness will now be factored into new base or rebasing locations. That includes the availability of Head Start, universal Pre-Kindergarten programming, and access to high quality, affordable child care, among other factors.
The FY21 NDAA prioritizes child care issues as families face wait lists at CDCs and unaffordable civilian care across the country. A study to address the extreme imbalances between child care supply and demand is included along with providing military construction dollars for new Child Development Centers (CDCs) in Hawaii, Alaska, and Korea.
New Discounts and Fee Assistance Programs Available: Families with two or more children enrolled in a CDC may be eligible for a discounted rate, and all the Services’ child care fee assistance programs will be modeled after the Army’s program.
24-Hour Care is Coming: There’s also good news for families looking for after hours child care. While the Navy and Air Force already have 24-hour child care facilities, the other service branches do not. DoD plans to make 24-hour child care available for any service member or DoD civilian who works rotating shifts on an installation where it’s deemed feasible.
Priority Housing for In-Home Child Care Providers: Priority for certain military family housing will go to families in which the spouse agrees to provide FCC-certified in-home family day care. This priority will only go into effect when there’s a shortage of child care employees at local CDCs. If you’re interested in being a certified FCC child care provider, go to your local CDC to learn more about the program and how to get started.
MILITARY SPOUSE EMPLOYMENT
Continuing Education Now Included Military Spouse Employment: Military spouses can now count continuing education costs towards the $1,000 recertification and licensing costs that the DoD will cover when your family PCSs across state lines.
Help for Surviving Kids: Congress provided much-needed support to military dependent children who have lost both parents/guardians. The legislation ensures DoD provides Casualty Assistance Officers when a surviving spouse dies to guarantee the dependent children’s guardian is aware of the benefits they are entitled to and removes the burden of reapplying for benefits from them.
For all that the FY21 NDAA does well, it fails to address military family hunger. Food insecurity has become a national crisis as the coronavirus rages on. While one in ten Americans is food insecure, that number rises to one in eight military families, according to recent survey data by the Military Family Advisory Network.
No military family should go hungry, and Congress missed a chance to ensure they wouldn’t. While it was not included in the FY21 NDAA, NMFA will continue to press for inclusion of the Basic Needs Allowance in the FY22 NDAA and the removal of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) calculations in the next Farm Bill.