By Scott Maucione
A prominent military advocacy organization is calling on President-elect Donald Trump to work with Congress to end sequestration and focus on issues directly affecting military personnel and their loved ones.
In an open letter to Trump, the National Military Families Association reminded Trump that budget cuts caused by sequestration have “closed commissaries, furloughed medical clinics, put health care benefits in jeopardy, and taken valuable dollars from critical readiness training for service members.”
Sequestration will return to create across-the-board cuts on defense and domestic spending in 2018 unless Congress can repeal the Budget Control Act or come to a budget deal.
“Having the administration and the Congress run by the same party certainly should make it easier to hold them accountable for moving forward to end sequestration and come up with a budget agreement that recognizes the needs of our military… conceivably it should be easier to come up with that kind of deal, but there’s no excuse now, folks,” Joyce Raezer, executive director of NMFA, told Federal News Radio.
That’s not all NMFA is asking of the new president. The organization, which is part of the broader Military Coalition made up of 36 military associated groups, is pushing Trump to pay attention to all military family-related issues.
“Military life in and of itself comes with a lot of uncertainty… it’s the job of the administration to say ‘Where in this uncertain environment can we insert more certainty for families?’ Where an administration can make a difference is things like pay, ensuring those regular pay raises are consistent with what’s in law in terms of parity with private-sector wage increases [and] ensuring good access to quality health care,” Raezer said.
Congress heeded some of NMFA’s calls in its 2017 defense authorization bill.
Among the provisions in the House version of the bill is a 2.1 percent increase for active-duty military personnel, said committee staffers. That number is a 0.5 percent increase compared to the 1.6 percent raise for service members President Barack Obama requested in his budget back in February.
The 2.1 percent increase would be the largest raise for service members in at least three years.
That increase might not make it into law, however. The White House threatened to veto the NDAA based on the way the House bill diverts money from war funds to fund the pay increase.
Both the House and the Senate bills add increased costs to TRICARE customers as well. The House version puts new premiums on active-duty military families.
“The goal is to see the changes in structure and function be rolled out and evolve in the next two to four years,” said House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee Chairman Joe Heck (R-Nev.). “Potential increases in enrollment fees and deductibles will be put into place because we will have increased access and increase the product.”
NMFA advocates for a complete overhaul of TRICARE, but Raezer said the reforms can’t just be efficient for the government.
“They have to actually enhance the patient experience. They have to enhance access, they have to enhance quality,” Raezer said.
Raezer said NMFA has not heard a response from the Trump team, but will continue to advocate for their issues.