President’s Column – Daniel J. O’Connell

Let me begin by wishing you a Happy New Year. It’s hard to believe it’s already 2013. It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that there was real concern about what would happen when 2000 rolled around!

One of the issues we always deal with is the length of time between when we write the Advocate and when you receive it. Obviously it takes time to print and mail it so we try to keep our information as up to date as we can, but it is often the case that events take place after production is in process and we’re not able to be as current as we would like.

We have delayed this issue of the Advocate a little bit because the Senate has been working on passing its version of the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and we wanted to let you know what happened with it. The NDAA is one of two bills that must pass each year for the activities of the Department of Defense. The other is the National Defense Appropriations Act.

The Authorization Act authorizes DoD to do things or instructs it not to do things, while the Appropriations Act funds the activities that the Authorization Act allows. It is the Authorization Act that Congress has used to block the Pentagon from raising TRICARE fees for most of the past seven years and it is what will determine TRICARE pharmacy fees this year.

The House passed its version of the 2013 Authorization Act months ago while the Senate took until December to pass their version. Our “From the Hill” column fills you in on the important details of the Senate’s version of the NDAA. However, after the Senate passed its version a conference committee with the House was held to work out the differences between the two bills. Once they complete that the final bill is sent to the President for his signature and then it becomes law.

In areas where there are differences between the two bills it is impossible to know what will be in the final version until the conference committee finishes with it. So keep that in mind when you read what the Senate did. That is not the last word.

Regarding the Appropriations Act, Congress was not able to pass any appropriations bills to fund the Federal government before the beginning of the 2013 fiscal year on October 1 of last year. Because of that they passed what is called a “continuing resolution” that funds the federal government, including the Department of Defense, through the end of March this year. That means one of their first items of business this year will be to pass a funding bill for the remainder of the fiscal year. What a way to do business!

Finally, whatever happens, you need to be aware that we are in for a major battle this year. There is major pressure growing to cut back on military benefits, including health care, COLA’s, commissary benefits, and there is even talk about military pay being too high. Here are just a few of the headlines that have appeared in the press just before we went into production:

  • “Time to Rein in TRICARE”
  • “Escalating Military Pay Under Scrutiny”
  • “Are Servicemembers Over Compensated?”

We think this kind of talk is outrageous and we will fight to stop these threatened cuts to military benefits. But we can’t do this alone. We need your continued help and support. This year could be the most disastrous we have faced in at least a decade if we don’t win the battles that are coming our way.