AFSA's Legislative Key Issues: Our Main Focus
The Air Force Sergeants Association has many key issues within legislation that we either fight strongly for, or in opposition of. This page will serve as a way for those interested to learn about the issues at hand, the background of the issue, and AFSA's position on the issue.
- SBP-DIC: repeal the law that reduces military Survivor Benefit Plan annuities by the amount of an survivor benefits payable under the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation program
- Concurrent Receipt: repeal the law that reduces military retirement pay, paid by the Department of Defense, by the amount of service-connected disability compensation received from the Department of Veterans Affairs, for those disabled military retirees whose disability rating is less than 50 percent
- Military Pay: ensure Congress follows the law regarding military pay raises determined by the ECI to close any gaps in military-civilian pay
- Military Resale Stores: ensure Congressional action protects and enhances the benefit and any and all savings produced through various moves now and in the future is put back into the benefit for further enhancement
SURVIVOR BENEFIT PLAN - DEPENDENCY AND INDEMNITY COMPENSATION | Printable .PDF version.
Issue: Congress should repeal the law that reduces military Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuities by the amount of any survivor benefits payable under the VA Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) program.
Discussion: AFSA believes SBP and DIC payments are paid for different reasons. SBP is purchased by the retiree and is intended to provide a portion of retired pay to the survivor. DIC is a special indemnity compensation paid to the survivor when a member's service causes his or her premature death. In such cases, the DIC payment should be added to the SBP the retiree purchased, not substituted for it. It's also noteworthy as a matter of equity that surviving spouses of federal civilian retirees who are disabled veterans and die of military-service-connected causes can receive DIC without losing any of their purchased federal civilian SBP benefits.
In the case of members killed on active duty since October 7, 2001, a surviving spouse with children can avoid the dollar-for-dollar offset by assigning SBP to the children. But that forces the spouse to give up any SBP claim after the children attain their majority -- leaving the spouse with less than a $14,500 annual annuity from the VA. Those who give their lives for their country deserve fairer compensation for their surviving spouses.
The October 2007 report of the Veterans Disability Benefits Commission urged elimination of the offset for all SBP-DIC widows. In 2008, Congress acknowledged the inequity in law, authorizing a modest Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance (SSIA) for SBP-DIC widows to begin phasing out the offset. In June 2009, Congress increased the SSIA monthly payments to $150 in FY 2014 with a continued increase to $310 by FY 2017. The press release announcing the SSIA increase said, “This legislation is the latest step in our continuing effort to eliminate the so-called “widow’s tax.” The FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) made the SSIA monthly payments permanent at the current rate of $310 with cost-of-living adjustments starting in 2019. Additionally, in the past several years, the Senate repeatedly has passed Senator Bill Nelson's, D-Fla., amendment to repeal the SBP-DIC offset in its version of the NDAA, only to have the provision dropped in final negotiations with the House.
AFSA Position: AFSA supports a full repeal of the DIC offset to SBP. Even in today’s budget-constrained environment, the elimination of the “Widow’s Tax” must be viewed as a funding priority.
Key Bills/Status: In the 115th Congress, Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., has introduced H.R. 846, the “Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act”, and Sen. Bill Nelson II (D-FL) has introduced S. 339, the “Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act of 2017”. Both bills would eliminate the SBP-DIC offset.
CONCURRENT RECEIPT | Printable .PDF version.
Issue: Congress should repeal the law that reduces military retirement pay, paid by the Department of Defense (DoD), by the amount of service-connected disability compensation received from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), for those disabled military retirees whose disability rating is less than 50 percent.
Background: For many years, the law stipulated that a citizen could not be “paid twice” for the same disability/service. The result was a one-for-one reduction in military retirement pay for every disability dollar received from the VA. However, since 2003 Congress has incrementally provided full concurrent retirement and disability pay (CRDP) for VA service-connected disability levels of 50 percent and higher. Currently, disabled military retirees with a disability rating of less than 50 percent, and also those who were medically retired with less than 20 years of service (Chapter 61), are not eligible for CRDP. Over the past several years, members of both houses of Congress have introduced legislation calling for full CRDP, only to see their legislation dropped before inclusion in the annual defense bill. In the past few years, Senator Harry Reid, D-Nev., amended the Senate’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with a CRDP provision, only to see the measure dropped in the House-Senate NDAA Conference.
Discussion: AFSA believes, and past congressional action on this matter affirms, that military retirement pay is provided to service members who have honorably served over a designated period of time. Also, VA disability compensation is paid for the physical or mental harm that was done to a service member during his/her period of service. There is no logical reason why one payment is reduced because a veteran is receiving the other. In recent years, Congress has taken steps to incrementally eliminate this reduction, with those rated 50 percent and higher now receiving all of their retirement pay from DoD and all of their VA service-connected disability compensation. However, the job is not yet done.
AFSA Position: It is time for Congress to take the final step toward removing this inequity by providing full retirement pay and full disability compensation (CRDP) regardless of service-connected disability level—for longevity retirements and for those that resulted from medical retirements (Chapter 61).
Key Bills/Status: In the 115th Congress, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., has introduced H.R. 303, the “Retired Pay Restoration Act,” which would provide full CRDP for disabled retirees rated less than 50 percent disabled. Rep. Sanford D. Bishop’s, D-Ga., H.R. 333, the “Disabled Veterans Tax Termination Act,” covers those disabled retirees addressed by H.R. 303 and also would provide full CRDP for Chapter 61 retirees who served less than 20 years. Sen. Dean Heller introduced S. 66, “Retired Pay Restoration Act” which would accomplish the same as H.R. 333—full CRDP for all disabled retirees.
MILITARY PAY | Printable .PDF version.
Issue: Congress must act to stop reductions in military pay raises and to ensure relative comparability with private sector wages. To do otherwise particularly harms enlisted members and their families.
Background/Discussion: Philosopher and writer George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." At the advent of the All-Volunteer Force (AVF) in 1973, national leaders determined that an AVF could only successfully support the quality recruiting and retention that would be required if the military pay tables were redesigned to roughly parallel the wages of civilians with similar education, experience, and skills. However, since then, as economic challenges have arisen (most often as the result of government policies and decisions), national leaders have used military pay caps and cuts to quality-of-life programs to cut spending. History has shown that his is unwise, somewhat callous decision which directly penalizes those who serve at unlimited liability and do so much to make freedom possible. When our national leaders do this, it strongly suggest that George Santayana was right.
Throughout the 1970s, such pay caps were enacted, resulting in serious retention and readiness deficits. In 1981 and 1982, significant catch-up pay raises were enacted to try and undo the harm of previous decisions, to reestablish approximate "pay comparability," and to maintain the success of the AVF. So how, in light of those lessons, did national leaders then act? They continued capping military pay raises over the next decade and a half. By 1999, AFSA and our Military Coalition partners urged correction, citing a 13.5 percent gap that had grown between military pay and private sector wages (as measured by the Employment Cost Index (ECI)--and the resultant serious retention and readiness problem.
Over the next several years, Congress took action by approving raises one-half percent over the ECI until it was satisfied that we had finally gotten it right—for military members and for the AVF. Current law calls for annual military pay raises equal to the annual ECI measurement—unless the President uses executive authority based on an economic crisis or national emergency. However, should it choose to do so, Congress can vote to override such decisions. In the recent years, legislators have passively acquiesced to the Executive Branch which has cut military pay raises.
AFSA Position: We contend that the current formula provides pay raises that are neither excessive nor unwarranted. By receiving the already-modest pay raises, military members are at least able to minimally cope with current conditions in the nation's economy. When Congress doesn’t authorize a full pay raise the impact of annual cut pay raises below ECI comparability negatively compounds each year throughout military service and for the rest of their lives for those who serve full military careers. Such decisions have the effect of trying to solve government-caused economic problems by harming military members, their spouses, and their children. They should not be called on to pay that price. Congress must fight for annual military pay raises that at least ensure comparability with private sector wages. Moreover, we urge the members of Congress to consider the bold move to make these annual military pay raises "Must Pay" based on the current ECI-paralleling formula. Our nation's defense and the willingness of those who serve would benefit by such a legislative effort.
Key Bills/Status: Currently the president's budget for FY 2019 proposes a 2.6 percent pay raise as required by law.
MILITARY RESALE STORES | Printable .PDF version.
Issue: AFSA maintains that military commissaries and exchanges provide an extremely valued, non-compensation benefit that contributes to the financial wellbeing, a sense of community, and readiness of military members and retirees of all components, and their families and survivors. Congress should repel all attempts to reduce, eliminate, or devalue these programs.
Background: In 2017, the commissaries received $1.2 billion in appropriated funding, which makes it possible keep the stores running while providing groceries to patrons at-cost, plus 5%. In addition, the exchanges regularly receive several millions of dollars in appropriations – primarily to support the provision of goods to those serving in the actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, and surrounding areas. Commissaries sell goods at cost plus 5 percent. Exchanges are tax-free department stores that provide minimal discounts on department store-type products and fund profits into military support programs. Together, commissaries and exchanges have total annual sales of around $20 billion.
Discussion: In recent years, the Administration has relentlessly targeted the military resale system, the commissaries in particular. Repeatedly they have asked Congress to approve funding cuts, policy changes, privatization, and system combinations that would clearly erode the benefit. In each case, the Administration has done so in an effort to reduce spending on these military personnel-related programs. Fortunately, to date Congress has resisted all such attempts.
Military exchanges operate essentially at a profit to provide a tax-free department store that offers products at a small discount. Each year, millions of dollars of the money that passes through the exchange registers are earmarked to support morale, welfare, and recreation (MWR) programs. If they did not do so, these programs would either go away, be greatly reduced, or Congress would need to appropriate equivalent funds. In any such case, beneficiaries would suffer.
Surveys consistently affirm that military commissaries are among the highest valued non-pay benefits. Commissaries are particularly important to enlisted members and their families due to the lower enlisted pay scales. The Defense Commissary Agency shows year after year that the commissary benefit is a great, cost-effective benefit program that allows military members to save up to 30 percent annually on their grocery bills.
Both the exchanges and the commissaries provide the great, important side benefit of providing tens of thousands of jobs, many of which are filled by military family members who move from base to base with their military sponsors. Any reduction in the resale stores would have the collateral impact of a reduction in these important jobs.
This year, the Administration’s FY 2019 Budget proposal asks Congress to again allocate $1.2 billion in funding, which would keep it in line with recent years. However, this number is still becoming smaller when looking back over the total for previous budgets. We believe that continuous military resale store cuts would result in the very destruction of these important benefit programs. We have urged Congress to stop any unnecessary short-sighted effort to save money at the expense of military members and their families. In its final report in 2015, the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) affirmed the importance of the commissary and exchange benefit to the health and wellbeing of the All-Volunteer Force. While they called for consolidation of some administrative functions, the Commission contended that nothing should be done to reduce the current saving and benefit levels provided by the very important military resale system.
AFSA Position: We agree with the MCRMC that the value and availability of the military resale stores should not be reduced. The benefit must remain an “earned benefit,” one unique to those who have served, their family members, and their survivors. Congress should resist all attempts to cut funding for this benefit program as a tool to help correct national budget problems (which have clearly resulted from political decisions). Military exchanges and commissaries are not the cause of either the budget deficit or the national debt, and should be left alone for those who serve.
Key Bills/Status: Currently the House and Senate are working out difference between their versions of the FY 2019 NDAA. The House version includes several provisions regarding the commissaries and exchanges, including one to allow more veterans to have access to shopping privileges, and a study to determine whether a merger of the two entities would be successful and beneficial.