Welcome to September – the end of the federal fiscal year and the beginning of a very busy time for legislators.
It has been just over a year now since the PACT Act became the law of the land. This law expanded VA benefits for service members who were exposed to the toxicities of Burn Puts, Agent Orange, and other dangers. And how has it worked out?
I saw a TV interview showing that 4.4 Million veteran PACT Act claims had been filed by the end of July. What I do not know, is how many had been anticipated and what resources had been made available to manage the many claims, but in any case, it is a whole lot. VA is working hard to accomplish the processing and decisions, but the workload is enormous while service members with the exposure need to wait on their individual cases. Processing claims is one thing, but it is another to provide the benefits. Providing the benefits involves both skilled people delivering the services and paying the costs of those services. That is quite a demand at the end of the fiscal year!
And also welcome to September and to the resumption of congressional sessions. As I wrote a month ago, the House and the Senate had both passed versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and that is quite an improvement over last year. Now comes the hard work of reconciling the versions for passage and signing. It may seem demanding, but this comes along every year.
MOAA at the national level is lobbying on our behalf as they always do so well. Last month, I called on you to visit the MOAA Advocacy Section and use their suggested letters for submission to our congresspeople and senators. Time to do it again! (MOAA Legislative Action Center (quorum.us)
On another matter, we have local elections coming soon. This would be a good time to become more aware of the integrity of our election processes and maybe contribute your time and participation to elections. County election commissions always need new poll workers, and they offer training. The political parties are also training election poll watchers. It is important work for our communities, and this is an appropriate time to become knowledgeable and involved as we move toward our national election cycle in another year.
Well, it is the Dog Days of August; and for Congress, it means it is time for the annual August Recess. Our Representatives and Senators escape the heat and humidity of Washington to come home. They are here among us measuring the minds and priorities of constituents and getting some deserved vacation. As we deserve some time off, so do they. Let them get refreshed for the high-paced days of September when the Federal Budget priorities press on them.
2023 is not an election year – which must be less pressing for them. Most of the MOAA Legislative Action items remain constant through the year, but this is a good time for us to get educated beyond the items we hear about all year: Basic Allowance for Housing for those serving now and the Tricare benefits and pharmacy availabilities. What else? A visit to the MOAA Legislative Action Center will bring other items to mind, and there are plenty more. If you receive the Military Officer Magazine, on page 13 of the August issue there is a QR code which your smart phone can scan and take you to the registration page of the MOAA Legislative Action Center. Registering will bring you text about advocacy issues and actions you can take. I did that, and it worked fine. From within the Center, you can communicate your concerns to our representatives and senators in a quick and easy way.
Another thought for August is that you may meet a representative or senator at a public event. Whatever you wish to say, it is effective to tell them that you are a member of MOAA and support MOAA initiatives for the benefit of our uniformed people and families. It is good to keep the MOAA name in their eyes and ears.
Arlington National Cemetery (ANC), which is managed by the Department of the Army, was not a component of the July presentation, but chapter members can still play a role in advocating for expanding this well-respected resting place. MOAA has joined forces with the Military Coalition, which represents over 5.5 million members to champion H.R. 1413, The Expanding America’s National Cemetery Act. Under this legislation, an existing NCA-run cemetery would be transformed to provide full military honors with in-ground interment as ANC reaches capacity and legislation to restrict burial eligibility continues to advance. Please support H.R. 1413 by contacting your legislators or accessing the MOAA Legislative Action Center (https://moaa.quorum.us).
Who would know and appreciate what life is like as an elected member of Congress? Everybody wants to convince you of things that matter, and it could all become a blur. If you would begin with something like “I am a local member of MOAA, and what is important is …” How effective it would be for them to return to Washington in September and remember that lots of MOAA members care about specific issues.
As July ends, both the House and the Senate have passed the annual National Defense Appropriation (NDAA) in their individual forms. The House version H.R. 2670 passed on 14 July, and the Senate version S. 2226 passed on 27 July. Come September the struggle begins to reconcile differences and pass the NDAA by 30 September. Will they make it? They have not been on time since FY97.
I hope you met Grey Kidwell at our July MOAA Meeting. He represents Senator Marsha Blackburn’s office, and hopefully has her ear. It is wonderful that he visited us for lunch and heard about many of our concerns.
Every Tuesday morning, I attend a breakfast group with a rich mixture of people including some retirees, some veterans, and some who did not wear our country’s uniform. This week, the subject came up of supplemental medical insurance, and there were a lot of opinions expressed. One very important lesson is that Tricare for Life is the Cadillac of plans, and those of us with Tricare all agreed on how valuable it is and how there is nothing in the insurance marketplace to rival it.
As I have been retired from the Navy for almost 20 years, the discussion gave me pause to reflect on Tricare and on my own prescriptions. It used to be that the mail order prescriptions were available at no cost and shipped post-paid. Some bright mind near Washington decided about 2018 that there should be a small co-pay to save the government some money – the plan surely costs plenty of money. Then the co-pay has increased about two times since then. Surely, we have noticed, but compared to our civilian friends it remains a bargain even as that bright mind has chipped away at our benefit. Have we all noticed?
The July issue of Military Officer includes a story on page 18 that is worth our time to read – especially as we pass the 50th Anniversary of the All-Volunteer Force. One paragraph begins: “Cutting benefits after they have been earned betrays the social contract that underpins the all-volunteer force…” This chipping away is a kind of ‘death by a thousand cuts.’ The article then connects to the current matter of missing recruiting goals.
The FY2024 budget request does not include any proposal to increase the co-pays, but it is an issue that raises it’s scepter every year. We should always be alert.
It is July, and the whole congressional scene goes quiet as their vacation comes in August. This is not a time for us to let our attention to advocacy matters go dormant. I notice again that the mail-in postcards are not in the July issue; however, you can just as easily make use of the MOAA Legislative Action Center in order to let your legislators know how you feel on issues. MOAA | Legislative Action Center (quorum.us)
The office of Senator Marsha Blackburn has appointed Grey Kidwell as a regional representative in Middle Tennessee. I have invited Grey to attend our July meeting, and he will be with us. I am hoping to learn more about him and his activities soon. Meanwhile, plan to attend our meeting on 25 July at Operation Stand Down. Do greet Grey and make him welcome. See you then!
Hello, Everyone. “Never Stop Serving,” we say in MOAA. When it comes to legislative matters, it means that we never stop paying attention. I am writing on the 79th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings in Normandy. Have you made the pilgrimage yet? If not, it is a Bucket List item. Visiting Point du Hoc, Pegasus Bridge, and the cemeteries will rivet your attention.
You surely watched the struggled negotiations about extending the federal debt limit. Without political comment, we are reminded that all the legislative activity of Congress has a financial aspect. Note this: even though the Budget was passed some months ago and governs through the end of the fiscal year – that is 30 September – there was not sufficient federal debt capacity to enable the Budget to operate the government through the end of the fiscal year.
This means that we had TWO fiscal crisis moments this year: one was to get a deficit budget passed and another to enable that budget to be supported by additional debt. Lest we think that all is settled and well for the summer, remember that another budget process will be working in September.
If you have thoughts on the budget process, this is an outstanding time to communicate that to our representatives and senators. The most recent issue of Military Officer magazine did not include the postcards to mail to our members of congress, and I don’t know why. It isn’t as if there was nothing to communicate.
Here is something to communicate… The COLA projection for the upcoming fiscal year is only 3.1%. That is down from 8.7% last time and 5.9% the time before that. Is inflation reduced to the point where 3.1% makes sense? COLA is tied by law to the Employment Cost Index (ECI) that is tracked and published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. COLA at that level for us who are mostly retired and for those still in uniform means a net pay decrease, and the 3.1% level means a net decreased standard of living for those in uniform and their households who are struggling through the demands they meet every day. The 3.1% is just a projection as of now but watch for the matter to be engaged as we move through the budgeting process in September.
Watch also for whether and how the MOAA initiative to restore Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to the authorized but unpaid 100% level.
Once again, it is always a good time to communicate to those who represent you.
Enjoy a wonderful summer! And come to our monthly luncheon meetings.
The last week of April brought lots of state leaders to MOAA HQ in Alexandria where they participated in Advocacy in Action (AiA) visits to congressional officers. They met with representatives and senators when they could, but Congress was in session so those people had votes to cast. Often the AiA visitors met with leading staffers.
There were two big issues to communicate. Those issues were the restoration of Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to the 100% level and correcting the disaffiliation of thousands of pharmacies with our benefits. A month ago, I asked you to get the tear-out letters from the April issue of Military Officer Magazine and send them in. You may remember that there were two identical sets. If you responded to my recommendation, leadership people like the majority leaders and Speaker would receive those letters – then receive the AiA visitors – then a second set of letters. Repetition and piles of mail help them to know what is important to us as MOAA members in general and their own constituents in particular. I hope you did so. I did, and it was easy.
The May issues has mail-in postcards. The creative technology people at MOAA created a way to have those post cards pre-addressed to our Tennessee representatives and senators and even with our own return addresses. They just need signatures and stamps. The primary issues this month is to work up solutions to the issues of limited space at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC). There are about 1/3 of a million burials there now, and space is not unlimited. The need for a second location cannot be put off forever, and MOAA is advocating for planning and development.
As of now, there are some 155 veteran’s cemeteries at the federal and state levels. We have some of them here in Tennessee – 7 if I count correctly. As this month ends, we will have our own Memorial Day observance at the Tennessee State Veterans Cemetery near Pegram. Come out for it, and let the wonderful work done there remind you that the solution to eventual filling up of ANC is an important matter for us to discuss and press for future solutions.
Please send in those postcards, and save the addresses for letters you may want to write now and in the future. If you run into a representative or senator, be ready to express what is important to you. We are all advocates for the interests of each other.
Hello, Everyone. I had to make a surprise trip to the United Kingdom that lasted far longer than anticipated. It related to the terminal illness of a close friend who was a retired Surgeon Captain from the Royal Navy. We had been neighbors in both England and Connecticut. I also conducted his burial before returning to Tennessee.
Reflecting on that time, what I learned is how very much better we who are retired relate to our service than the British forces do. When they retire, they are almost forgotten and have little to show for it than their pension. There are no matching programs like the VA provides for medical care or disability. Veterans and retirees are also not held in esteem in the community at the level we enjoy in the USA. In this case, I discovered that there is no decedent affairs situation available and there are nothing resembling veterans’ cemeteries or the many VA benefits.
It reminds me of something that few of us remember. When we retire as officers, we are still members in our services with our duty being the retired list and the potential to be recalled. If that were not true, we could not receive our retirement pay – which is actually delayed pay for our services. A long list of other benefits accrues for us with our retired ID being the key to accessing it. In the Royal Navy, you just retire and are gone and your health care reverts to the National Health Service. It is a wholly different situation in the UK, and we should value what we have here in the USA.
Back in the Fall, I wrote about the Federal Budget which finally passed in late December. When we think of legislative advocacy, the financial aspects are never far away. A proposal in a December 2022 CBO Report received significant attention on social media in recent weeks as it suggested reducing VA benefits for veterans with higher incomes – an affluence test -- enough that it was raised and rebuked during VA Secretary Denis McDonough’s press conference on 23 March.
Shortly after the CBO Report was released, MOAA wrote how the CBO options include potential cuts to military spending, veterans’ benefits, and TRICARE. The CBO Report is published at the start of each new Congress for the past 12 years, provides lawmakers with options to reduce the deficit through spending cuts and ways to increase revenue. The nonpartisan CBO has no say in political objectives and is simply fulfilling its mandated mission to provide these advisory reports. The CBO Report is important to congressional members, because only 18% of Congress has ever served in uniform.
While the notion of means-testing VA disability pay is concerning, no legislation to that effect has been offered in either chamber nor has the proposal been a part of any administration budget plans.
MOAA’s vigilance and dedication on these issues, and any others that may seek to decrease or eliminate service-earned entitlements, are codified in our motto, "Never Stop Serving." MOAA’s mission is clear: To preserve and protect earned benefits for our uniformed services, veterans, their families, and surviving spouses through advocacy, leadership, education, and service.
Advocacy-in-Action Week comes at the end of April. Within that week, MOAA leaders from around the country will visit congressional leaders on Wednesday 26 April as part of the annual meeting of Council and Chapter Presidents.
Electronic Voting for Active Duty (Discussions ongoing with TN Secretary of State).
Medical Cannabis (SB1104/HB1441) – (Bills were not advanced – issue is dead for 2023).
Restoration of the Second Free Auto License Plate for 100% Disabled Veterans (SB1162/HB0700)
Identify and Implement Processes/Procedures on Veteran Hiring (Discussions underway with TN Department of Veterans Services on how to proceed).
Other Important Veterans Bill of Interest:
Veterans Bill of Rights (SB376/HB446) Focuses on six key areas:
Access to Jobs
Access to Mental Health Services
Access to Degrees, Certifications and Occupational Licenses
Access to Housing
Access to Healthcare
Annual Reports and Recommendations
We ask all Chapter members to reach out to their state legislators and ask that they support this piece of legislation. It has the capability to provide extensive support to veterans in the state.
MOAA National Advocacy in Action Priorities :
Restore Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to 100% - currently only 95% of housing costs are covered.
Reverse TRICARE Pharmacy Cuts – the TRICARE retail pharmacy network shrunk nearly 25% recently due to contract changes by the Defense Health Agency
Please go to the MOAA Web Site (https://moaa.quorum.us) to support action on the following National issues:
Support Concurrent Receipt (Major Richard Star Act) (Bill needs to be reintroduced).
Oppose TRICARE for Life Fees (discussions now underway – need your voice).
Support the Expanding America’s National Cemetery Act (Ask for protections to be included in FY2023 NDAA).
Fix the TRICARE Young Adult Coverage Gap (Support co-sponsorship of The Healthcare Fairness for Military Families Act (HR1045)).
MTC Legislative Update for February 2023
The chapter’s Legislative Liaison, CDR Ted Edwards, USN, Retired, is out of the country and unable to complete his monthly report. The following information has been compiled to inform members about the status of state and Federal legislation.
Regrettably, icy weather caused the cancellation of the annual Veterans Day on the Hill slated for February 1, 2023. The event is organized by TNVET, a compilation of various statewide veterans’ groups, with the primary purpose of supporting and advocating for legislative bills that TNVET member organizations formulated and approved. The four key legislative bills proposed for this year follow:
Electronic Voting for Active Duty (Montgomery County Pilot Program).
Restoration of the Second Free Auto License for 100% Disabled Veterans.
Identify and Implement Processes/Procedures that Document that the State is accomplishing its “Hiring Qualified Veterans Within Departments” process.
A review of legislative bills filed by the 113th General Assembly on Feb 3, 2023 with the subject of “Veterans” found at Tennessee General Assembly Bills By Subject (tn.gov) indicates that there are 12 bills which have been filed by legislators from the Tennessee House and Senate. One filing for HB0700 and SB1162 increases from one to two, the number of free plates for Purple Heart and disabled veterans. Other bills cover topics ranging from a Veterans’ Bill of Rights to waivers to knowledge tests for temporary commercial learner’s permits to lifetime enhanced handgun carry permits for retired veterans. If you would like to comment on the proposed bills or advocate for the TNVET proposals, please locate your respective legislators at Find My Legislator - TN General Assembly.
On the Federal level, MOAA’s Legislative Action Center found at MOAA | Legislative Action Center (quorum.us) allows you to send messages to Federal legislators on critical topics affecting the entire military community to include dependents and surviving spouses. More detailed information about the respective advocacy efforts for each group can be found at MOAA | Action Center (quorum.us). Please review this critical information and advocate today!
MOAA remains a highly effective lobbying group at the state and Federal levels because of your continued engagement. Please lend your voice and insights to legislation being proposed and submitted which impacts everyone in our cherished military community.
MTC Legislative Update for January 2023
Happy New Year to all of us in the Middle Tennessee Chapter. We begin another year of good fellowship and support of our uniformed services in their many aspects of our national life.
January 3rd at Noon Eastern Time is the turnover time for our Representatives and Senators. Things in Washington are unsettled as I write, but they will get resolved so that Congress can get working on its many responsibilities. Across the Potomac River in Alexandria, our MOAA Legislative Advocacy people continue their work of serving our membership and families in real time. The January issue of Military Officer magazine always articulates the Mission Advocacy priorities for the year, and please do take time to read it. Reading it will alert your attention to ideas and initiatives that we discuss in the whole of 2023.
Here is an important quote about how we cooperate to align with “strategic enablers” that serve veteran health needs. The source is the new VA Undersecretary for Health, Dr. Shereef Elnahal. “Partnering with VSOs (Veteran Service Organizations), states, and advocates, and interagency cooperation.”, page 15. All such groups have priorities that differ and yet align toward the larger picture of the meeting needs of the greater uniformed services community. The PACT Act recently passed and all manner of legislative support for the VHA reaches us individually as we need them, and they support all who look to organizations like MOAA for leadership. Watch for news on these items all year long in this column.
Our chapter is closely aligned with Operation Stand Down Tennessee. OSD TN is opening a third location on January 9th in Columbia to deliver more services in Middle Tennessee. Their Grand Opening will be January 18. Our close relationship with OSD TN is a shining example of how we continue to serve long after hanging up our uniforms.
Finally, on page 41 is a wonderful article about our Chapter President, LtCol Karon Uzzell-Baggett, USAF (Retired). Take care to read it twice. It shows how we never stop serving and how after our uniformed service finishes, we then find new ways to serve. Additionally, pages 64-65 of the same edition feature an outstanding article on the Surviving Spouse Liaison for our chapter and the council, Mrs. Patricia Bergquist. She is a true warrior when it comes to fighting for military members and their families
With the new year I begin serving as the Legislative Affairs Officer. This brings me to the beginning of a role that I have not served before. With that beginning and to make contacts that will serve us, I have written to Congressman Green and to our two senators to make contact with their staff members that relate to uniformed service matters.
Congressman Green’s staffer for uniformed services matters has been most helpful, and we have meet by Zoom. He will be keeping me informed of matters, and he will also welcome correspondence from us about our concerns. The senators have been less so.
Our MOAA Military Officer monthly magazine has a large section to let all of us know of initiatives and legislation activity. Let that reading be a primary way for you to be informed even as it lags behind reality through the publishing process. The annual National Defense Appropriation Act (NDAA) legislation passed in December, and of immediate importance to us is the 5.9% raise in retirement pension benefits and a raise in the prescription medications co-pay for those who use Express Scripts pharmacy.
What you can do to help me serve you better is to tell me which of many matters most interest you. And you can always write to your congressman to address your concerns – TN-07. What other districts are related to our Chapter membership? Good wishes to all of you.
MTC Members Participate in TNVET 2022 Day on the Hill
On 2 February 2022 hundreds of Veterans descended on the TN State Capitol in support of a number of legislative initiatives important to veterans.
MOAA was very well represented at the event with four Chapters (Fort Campbell Chapter, Memphis Chapter, Middle TN Chapter, and the Stones River Chapter) in attendance. MTC was represented by (pictured above from left to right) CDR (Ret.) Ted Edwards, USN; COL (Ret.) Doug Minton, USA; Lt. Col. (Ret.) Karon Uzzell-Baggett, USAF; LTC (Ret.) Thad Vann, USA; and LTC (Ret.) Mike Patenaude, USA. Not shown but very much present was COL (Ret.) Sam Whitson, USA who was in session as a State Representative.
Tennessee Veterans (TNVET) has completed work on their website and it is now ready for public consumption.
As a reminder our Chapter is associated with TNVET as the a result of our belonging to the Tennessee Council of Chapters, MOAA (TN CoC).
TNVET is currently composed of 12 state veteran organizations, who have join forces in a cooperative effort address the legislative needs of veterans, active duty military and their families. These members represent all the branches of the military service. The focus and goal is to work with legislators of the State of Tennessee to develop and support legislation that addresses the needs and issues of those who have served or are serving in our United States military forces.
As a reminder to our members, The Military Officers Association of America, and the Middle Tennessee Chapter as an affiliate, are Section 501 (c) (19) organizations. This allows contributions to be tax exempt. We are prohibited from advocating for issues that may represent one political platform over another or supporting a candidate for elected office. To this end, we limit our chapter advocacy to MOAA supported national issues and veteran and military issues at the state level that do not represent one political platform.
To protect our status, we want to ensure any literature from our chapter complies with these limitations. We provide some printed materials at our meetings and occasionally include handouts from our presenters. If an individual member wishes to provide material of interest at one of our meetings, we request an emailed copy of these materials by the last day of the preceding month, so our board has time to review.
2021 Veterans and Military Legislation from the 112th General Assembly
The attachment below comes from a database prepared by the state legislature to provide updates on bills. The description of each bill is created when the bill is generated, but doesn't always reflect what is going on with amendments, which may make the bill vary significantly.
What gets most of our veteran bills left in a committee at the end of the year is the dreaded "fiscal note". A fiscal note comes from the Comptrollers office and assigns an estimated cost of the bill (how much the state would lose, or gain, in revenue). These estimates can be pretty enlightening at what they consider the cost to be, even with input from the affected Department.
In almost every case, if there is a fiscal note which the governor has not funded on a bill, it stands little to no chance of passing.
For further study of a specific bill, go to Tennessee General Assembly Search (tn.gov) and type in the bill number (ie SB 1183 our bill for VA leave time). When the bill page comes up, look at the amendments and fiscal note pages for further information.
The Middle TN Chapter Board and Membership has a mandate to always remain politically nonpartisan as an affiliate organization of MOAA National. As such, we do not support or oppose any candidate for political office. We will periodically provide notice that a member is continuing to serve by running for office; however this is not to be construed as an endorsement of his or her political views.
Normally during this time frame each year we would organize visits to our elected officials when they are home during Congressional break and when the TN State Legislature is out of session. However, this being an election year we are unable to accomplish these tasks without being drawn into the election fray.
So, while the Chapter cannot become actively involved in supporting a candidate, we whole heartedly support the individual involvement of our members on a personal basis. An informed and active electorate is important to the success of our state and nation, so it is up to each of us to become informed on the issues and to vote and encourage all that you know to do so as well.