IAVA’s legislative team was busy this week with hearings, Congressional member meetings, a testimony and a press conference. But perhaps the biggest news was a major victory for veterans when a retirement measure IAVA helped lead on was included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed the House and Senate.
Under the NDAA’s “blended retirement” provision, instead of retirement payouts only for the one in five service members who serve at least 20 years, the new plan would give almost all troops who serve more than two years some benefits upon separation from vested 401(k)-style investments into their Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) accounts.
Additionally, the NDAA included several other pieces that IAVA led on and supported. Those included new DoD and VA executive positions to prioritize job training for transitioning service members and provisions to help ensure transitioning veterans continue to receive the best medications and care when they leave military service. The bill also continues vigorous oversight of and makes improvements to programs to protect troops from sexual assault – also strongly supported by IAVA. The bill also includes a military pay raise of 1.3 percent.
As of now, President Obama has threatened to veto the defense bill. Rest assured, IAVA will do all we can to protect the IAVA-supported provisions and work with our House and Senate colleagues on presenting the president with a bill he will sign should he follow through on his initial threat.
Going back earlier in the week, IAVA’s Legislative Team members Elizabeth Welke, Ben Young and I participated in a press conference with Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) in support of their Military Family Stability Act (S.2137), which provides up to six months of geographic stability either before or after a service member’s permanent change of station report date. The bill also enables military spouses to complete a degree, certification or licensing grant program within the six month period upon moving to their next duty station.
Also, IAVA Legislative Associate Lauren Augustine testified before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee in support of veterans healthcare and benefits legislation. Although several other Veteran Service Organizations were on the panel, Augustine received the lion’s share of the questions from the senators. In addition to legislation being considered that day, Augustine underscored IAVA’s top priority of combating suicide among troops and veterans and called for new action to ensure the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act — which IAVA led the fight to pass into law earlier this year — is being implemented appropriately.
Additionally, IAVA followed with interest the testimony of Gen. John Campbell, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, before the House and Senate Armed Services committees on the need to adjust troop levels to respond to the growing strength of ISIS and al Qaeda. He has presented options to revise the president’s plan to reduce forces after 2016 from the current level of approximately 9,800 to an embassy-based force of 1,000, but did not provide details on his recommendations. We will continue to monitor this matter.
To round out the week, the IAVA Legislative Team received excellent receptions in nine congressional offices, where they underscored the need for hearings to review the Clay Hunt SAV Act, improve healthcare for women veterans, ensure VA accountability, preserve Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and ensure continued care for 9/11 First Responders. The IAVA Team will continue this valuable outreach to push toward success for our member priorities.