The final, nearly $700 bill FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which shapes Department of Defense (DoD) policy each year, was passed by Congress and signed into law by the President on Dec. 12th. However, the legislation exceeds spending caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act and there is no clear plan yet from Congress on how to pay for this NDAA. IAVA always closely watches its development because it affects benefits that servicemembers and veterans receive. The following are successes or items of interest for IAVA members:
- Military Pay Raise. 2.4%, the largest pay raise since 2010.
- End Strength. The active and reserve military will be increased by 20,300 (Army: 8,500; USAF: 5,800, Navy: 5,000, USMC: 1,000)
- Suicide Prevention/Mental Health. IAVA led a successful effort to remove a provision from the NDAA that would have established an oath to be taken by transitioning servicemembers to combat suicide. Although well-intentioned, the provision had the potential to increase suicides. The NDAA also includes a requirement for mental health assessments to follow physical exams required for transitioning servicemembers, and an extension of the suicide prevention program for the National Guard and Reserve.
- Burn Pits. An IAVA-backed provision was included to require the VA to coordinate efforts related to burn pit-related diseases and effective treatments for those diseases. While this provision is a step forward, we will continue to fight for more resources to address burn pit related issues. IAVA will continue fighting to established a center of excellence to better understand the health effects associated with burn pits and treat veterans who became sick after exposure.
- Women servicemembers. Authorizes DoD to financially support and partner with nonprofits on memorials and museums that highlight women servicemembers.
- Intimate Media Sharing. The “PRIVATE Act” – strongly backed by IAVA – updates military law to prohibit the sharing of intimate media by military members without the subject’s consent and provides new legal authority to prosecute offenders.
- Military Sexual Assault. Requires new sexual assault training for many new recruits and Special Victims Counsels, and updated information in Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office reports on military sexual harassment and military sexual assault.
- Other Than Honorable Discharges. Expanded processes – supported by IAVA – for vets with Other Than Honorable or “bad paper” discharges to use in attempting to change their discharge if it was affected by post-traumatic stress or a related condition.
- Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). A priority for IAVA, SIVs available to Afghans who served U.S. forces in sensitive capacities are increased from 11,000 to 14,500.
- Transgender Troops. IAVA was successful in blocking a provision to ban transition-related health coverage for transgender troops after opposing a like-minded proposal that would have banned transgender troops from serving at all.
- Employment. A new database, to be available to states and employers, will be created containing all unclassified military training records that may be applicable to civilian employment, civilian licensing or certification requirements.
Overall, this year’s NDAA contains many IAVA wins, and as always, we’ll keep fighting for improvement in the lives of our military and post-9/11 vets. We’ve got your back!