U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan Serving Wisconsin's 1st District

U.S. Congressman Paul Ryan Serving Wisconsin's 1st District

U.S. House of Representatives

Veterans & Military

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Veterans & Military

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All Americans owe a debt of gratitude to our country’s bravest individuals – those who have served and given their lives in defense of freedom and liberty. The passage of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill reiterated a Congressional commitment to provide for the needs of the nation’s veterans and their families. As a country, we must remember the sacrifices of our veterans and their families who have bravely served our nation, and I remain committed to providing the best care possible for them and uniformed service members.

Veterans in the House-passed Budget

The House-passed budget reaffirms a commitment to the men and women in uniform and ensures that national security remains the government’s top priority. While acknowledging that defense spending needs to be executed with effectiveness and accountability, the budget recognizes the sacrifices that veterans and their families have made to ensure the continued security of our nation and provides funding to afford the best care possible for the services and benefits earned by veterans through their selfless military service. The total funding level of $145.730 billion is about $9 billion higher than the Veterans Administration’s fiscal year 2014 level in its most recent budget request. Veterans are, and will remain, the highest priority within this budget.

National Defense Authorization Act of 2014

Representative Howard “Buck” McKeon, Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services, introduced H.R. 1960, the House version of the NDAA for FY2014, on May 14, 2013. On June 14, 2013, H.R. 1960 was passed in the House—with my support—by a bipartisan vote of 315 to 108. On that same day, the Senate Armed Services Committee passed their version of the NDAA, S. 1197, by a vote of 23 to 3. Through a series of negotiations, portions of each version were merged for consideration by both chambers of Congress.

This resolution authorizes and prioritizes funding for the Department of Defense and other select national security programs within the Department of Energy for FY 2014. It authorizes more than a $552 billion in spending for national defense.  Additionally, it authorizes more than $80 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations.  Importantly, this bill complies with the House-passed budget, which funds national defense at pre-sequester levels while reducing overall spending by complying with the Budget Control Act cap.  On December 12, 2013, the NDAA for FY2014 came before the House for a vote and was passed—with my support—by a bipartisan vote of 350 to 69.  The Senate passed the NDAA for FY2014 on December 19, 2013, and President Obama signed this agreement into law on December 26, 2013.

Congress must never forget its promises to our troops, our veterans at home, and the families of all who serve. Our troops overseas must be provided with the tools they need to successfully complete their mission.  Further, we must also work to ensure our veterans and the families of all service members receive the care, and services they need in a timely, convenient, and efficient manner.  Keeping these concerns in mind, the NDAA for FY 2014 enables the President to use his authority to give the troops a 1 percent pay increase in 2014 and rejects proposals to increase fees or create new fees under TRICARE.  Additionally, this resolution includes bipartisan reforms to enhance prevention and prosecution of sexual assault.  It also expands religious freedom provisions for chaplains and servicemen to include beliefs and expression of beliefs.

The Bipartisan Budget Act

On October 15, 2013, Senator Patty Murray and I stood up in our respective chambers to offer a motion to create a bicameral conference committee to negotiate a federal budget by December 13, 2013.  Rather than continuing the trend of budgeting by brinkmanship with short-term spending bills, Senator Murray and I recognized the need for long-term bipartisan solutions to our nation's most pressing fiscal problems.  On October 16, 2013, the motion to go to conference was adopted by unanimous consent in the House and Senate.

After nearly two months of deliberations among the members of the bicameral conference committee, Senator Patty Murray and I introduced the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 on December 10, 2013.  This is the first time since 1986 that a divided Congress has produced a bipartisan budget resolution.  The Bipartisan Budget Act will provide $63 billion in sequester relief—split evenly between defense programs and other domestic priorities—in exchange for over $80 billion in savings elsewhere in the budget, resulting in over $20 billion in deficit reduction, all without raising taxes.  Additionally, it preserves 92 percent of the Budget Control Act's (BCA) sequester cuts, or approximately $770 billion of the original BCA sequester savings, but does so by cutting spending in a smarter way.  It eliminates waste by ending the distribution of government checks to criminals and the deceased, puts an end to favoritism by cutting corporate welfare, and it makes real reforms to some of the true problems of autopilot spending.  And, it will also prevent another government shutdown this year.

There are those concerned with changes made to military retirement benefits as part of the agreement.  This agreement implements a modest change to the cost-of-living adjustment for working-age military retirees.  I believe the federal government has no greater obligation than to keep the American people safe.  And, it must take care of the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line.  To meet our obligations to our service men and women, we must make sure their long-term benefits are on a sound, financial footing.

Several top military leaders have argued we need compensation reform.  The Secretary of Defense and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are aware of the need to address unsustainable legacy costs related to pension and healthcare benefits, which they state are impacting military readiness.  The bipartisan agreement responds to this concern by implementing changes to the military's retirement program—a program which roughly 17 percent of military personnel eventually qualify for.

For example an individual who enlisted at age 18 and retired at 38 as a Sergeant First Class in the Army would see approximately a 6 percent overall reduction in lifetime retirement pay because of the COLA reduction—that is, he would receive about $1.626 million in lifetime retirement pay instead of $1.734 million—for 20 years of military service, while also being able to continue earning an additional income in another capacity from age 38 to 62.

This new calculation remains far more generous than that of a civilian retiree, who receives absolutely no COLA before the age of 62, and keeps the military retiree in a far better position than the civilian retiree because we owe a debt of gratitude to our military retirees.

While there may be slightly lower increases in annual retired pay for young retirees, this agreement ensures that when they reach normal retirement age, they will receive a "catch-up" adjustment.  From then on, their retirement benefits will be fully protected from inflation.  Furthermore, this provision does not affect any benefits provided to veterans in compensation for disabilities suffered as a result of their service. There are no changes made to disability-compensation benefits and no changes that would impact their Department of Veterans Affairs-provided medical care.

The Bipartisan Budget Act came before the House for a vote on December 12, 2013, and was passed by a vote of 332 to 94.  On December 18, 2013, it was passed by the Senate and on December 26, 2013, President Obama signed the Bipartisan Budget Act into law.

S. 25 Changes to the Bipartisan Budget Act

S. 25, the South Utah Valley Conveyance Act, contained a provision that would amend Section 403 of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 to clarify that the reduction in the cost of living adjustment (COLA) applies only to members of the armed forces who joined the military on or after January 1, 2014, and would be effective beginning December 1, 2015.  S. 25 was passed in the House on February 11, 2014 by a vote of 326 to 90, and on February 12, 2014, the Senate passed S. 25 by a vote of 95 to 3. 

Unfortunately, this bill undermines one portion of the Bipartisan Budget Agreement, which Senator Patty Murray and I introduced on December 10, 2013, in an effort to represent the common ground between the budget resolutions passed in the spring of 2013 by the House and Senate.  While I am glad S. 25 keeps compensation reforms for federal employees and billions of dollars in commonsense cuts, it also takes a step back on military compensation reform.  The Department of Defense (DOD) budget is getting slashed.  It has been cut so deeply because of the sequester that we are short-changing our troops in the equipment they need and hindering their readiness. 

The Bipartisan Budget Agreement freed up money to be put toward training and modernization by implementing changes to the military's retirement program—a program which roughly 17 percent of military personnel eventually qualify for.  In February 2015, a commission will be giving Congress a report that details how to adjust military compensation.  For this reason, the military compensation reforms would not begin until December 2015.  If the changes were to be implemented, an individual who enlisted at age 18 and retired at 38 as a Sergeant First Class in the Army would see approximately a 6 percent overall reduction in lifetime retirement pay because of the COLA reduction 20 years of military service, while also being able to continue earning an additional income in another capacity from age 38 to 62.  This calculation remains far more generous than that of a civilian retiree, who receives absolutely no COLA before the age of 62, and keeps the military retiree in a far better position than the civilian retiree because we owe a debt of gratitude to our military retirees.

Our military leaders—and the math—have been clear: compensation costs are hollowing out the Pentagon's already limited budget.  The Bipartisan Budget Agreement freed up money to be put toward training and modernization.  By rolling back these reforms, S. 25 puts our troops at risk as it takes away over $6 billion from military readiness.  For example, these savings could be used to maintain the A-10 program, a program used to protect our nation's ground combat troops that will likely be cut.  Regrettably, this bill sidesteps the tough choices facing the Department of Defense budget rather than making them.  I am open to replacing this reform with a better alternative, but as someone who is pro-military and gravely worried about our nation's defense budget, I cannot support kicking the can down the road.  Accordingly, I voted against S. 25.

Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations

With the Bipartisan Budget Agreement signed into law, members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees introduced the Fiscal Year 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill on January 14, 2014.  This legislation combined the twelve individual spending bills that typically fund programs within the federal government at the level consistent with the Bipartisan Budget Act.  It also ensures that medically retired armed forces personnel and survivor benefit plan recipients receive their full pensions.  Additionally, it provides no new or additional funding for the Affordable Care Act—commonly referred to as Obamacare.  It was passed in the House on January 15, 2014—with my support—by a vote of 359 to 67.  On January 16, 2014, it was passed by the Senate, and on January 17, 2014, President Obama signed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill into law.

H.R. 357 – GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013

The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill has helped ensure that veterans who have served since September 11, 2001, are able to attend public universities and further their education.  Since its enactment, Congress has passed legislation to update and improve these benefits for veterans.  H.R. 357, the G.I. Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, addresses issues that veterans have faced when trying to attend a public institution that may be outside of their legal state of residence.  Due to the variety of residence laws used by states, a veteran may have difficulty establishing residency in a new state upon returning home from service abroad.  Since the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill only covers tuition equal to the in-state rate of public institutions, many veterans who have not yet established residency in a new state have been left to cover the additional cost of the out-of-state rate with funds other than their G.I. benefits.  This bill, among other things, would require public institutions to give all veterans, who have been discharged within the last three years, in-state tuition rates as a pre-condition for receiving education benefits through the G.I. Bill.  In a true bipartisan effort, the House voted unanimously to pass H.R. 357 on February 3, 2014.  H.R. 357 has since been referred to the Senate for further action.

Integrated Electronic Health Records (iEHR)

In an effort to streamline the transfer of health records from the Department of Defense (DOD) to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Deputy Secretaries of DOD and VA directed the development of an integrated Electronic Health Record (iEHR), which would provide both departments with the opportunity to reduce costs and improve interoperability and connectivity. However, in February of 2013, the DOD and VA announced that they would focus on interoperability using existing technological solutions rather than building a single integrated iEHR.  Accordingly, the NDAA for FY2014, which was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, included a provision directing the Secretaries of the DOD and VA to modernize their electronic health records (EHRs) by December 31, 2016, and ensure that their respective EHR systems are able to share all records.  The bill also included language requiring the DOD and VA to report to Congress on the progress of these initiatives.  Given the backlog of claims currently pending in Wisconsin, I will be sure to vigilantly monitor the continued implementation of the program and its effects on the veterans that have bravely earned their health benefits and are owed a seamless transition to civilian life.

Supporting our Veterans

The brave soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines who have served our country have made tremendous sacrifices on behalf of our nation. While streamlining Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs budgets is critical to the fiscal wellbeing of our nation, Congress must not lose sight of the promises that it has made to our troops, our veterans at home, and the families of all those who serve. Our troops overseas must be provided with the tools they need to complete their mission and return to their families as quickly and as safely as possible. Further, we must also work to ensure that our veterans and their families receive the care and services they need in a timely, convenient and efficient manner. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the 113th Congress to ensure that these goals are fully met.  

Additional Information

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