| FRA Today – August 2013
NED Perspective 3
Return to Table of Contents 4
Shipmate Forum 5
On & OFF Capitol HILL 7
Retiree/Veterans Issues 8
Active Duty Issues 8
New FRA Life Members 14
Membership Matters 18
FEATURE: Protecting America’s Waterway: USCG Marine Science Technicians 21
Candidates for FRA National Office 27
Looking for… 35
News from the Branches 37
Auxiliary of the FRA News 39
Grassroots Advocacy Making a Difference
As Congress works to develop a spending plan for FY 2014, lawmakers have a lot to consider. They are wrestling with the constrictions of sequestration and seeking a variety of ways to trim spending, including increasing fees and reducing benefits for military personnel and retirees. (See the NED Perspective column on page 5 and the overview of the FY 2014 National Defense Authorization Act on pages 12 and 13 for more details.) As a grassroots legislative advocacy organization, FRA’s primary goal is to ensure the enlisted perspective is heard on Capitol Hill and, in the current budget climate, it’s more important than ever for shipmates to be engaged with their elected officials.
It’s easy to communicate your concerns to your senators and representative with FRA’s online Action Center at www.fra.org. This easy-to-use feature offers pre-written letters (or you can write your own) on a variety of legislative concerns that can be sent with the click of a button. If you don’t have a computer or Internet access, the information in FRA’s Communicate With Your Elected Officials booklet will be very helpful to you. This free directory of lawmakers is available by calling Member Services staff at 1-800-FRA-1924 or e-mailing Teresa@fra.org.
FRA members are the lifeblood of our organization and the very foundation of our grassroots advocacy on behalf of enlisted service members. Please make your voice heard today!
As a general rule, FRA Today does not publish book reviews, but I’m exercising my editorial privilege to make a rare exception this month. I recently read a great book that I think will be appealing to many shipmates, particularly those who served aboard submarines, as divers and/or corpsmen.
Shadow Divers: The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
by Robert Kurson
Reading like a great fiction novel, this true tale follows the six-year journey of John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, two deep-water wreck divers who discover an unidentified World War II U-boat submerged in 230 feet of frigid water off the coast of New Jersey. No historian, expert or governmental agency had any record of a U-boat being sunk in these waters and the two divers leave no stone unturned to identify the vessel and pay tribute to the men who died with her. This fascinating story explores each character’s background and how it influences their never-give-up approach to solving the mystery. And, as the story unfolds, it also reveals these two unlikely partners’ growing respect for one another, their connection with the German crewmembers and their commitment to bring closure to these men and their families.
Lauren Armstrong is FRA’s Director of Communications and serves as the Managing Editor of FRA Today. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission
A special commission to review military compensation, retired pay and other benefits was authorized in the FY 2013 National Defense Authorization Act and the recently named members will begin work soon. The mission of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC) is to evaluate pay, retirement and various benefit programs and make recommendations for reducing costs.
The legislation establishing the commission marked the culmination of efforts by the Department of Defense (DoD) to reform retirement benefits. This issue was addressed by the 11th Quadrennial Review of Military Compensation (QRMC) and was the focus of a July 2011 report entitled “Modernizing the Military Retirement System” by a Task Group from the Defense Business Board (DBB).
Issues cited in the report included “findings” that the current retirement system was designed for an era when life spans were shorter, pay was not competitive and second careers following military service were rare. In addition, 17 percent of active duty and Reserve personnel receive retirement benefits — making the current system seemingly “unfair” to the remaining 83 percent. The DBB argues that the current program is too expensive, particularly during a period of shrinking defense spending following a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bottom line: The retirement system is seen as unfair, unaffordable and inflexible; and should, according to the DBB and other critics, be replaced with a program where all future serving personnel accrue benefits, similar to a civilian-type retirement thrift savings plan (TSP).
In response, FRA defends the retirement system as a major part of the military benefit package and a significant draw for personnel to complete careers of 20 or more years of service. We also weighed in with the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (which failed to identify an alternate plan to mandatory “sequestration” cuts), the Secretary of Defense, during congressional testimony and interaction with key oversight committees and others in top leadership positions to express FRA’s strong opposition to “civilianizing” the military retirement plan. Military service is unique and less than 1 percent of the population is shouldering 100 percent of the responsibility for national security, and the importance of benefits to sustain the All-Volunteer Force via adequate recruiting and retention levels cannot be overstated.
Despite these concerns, DoD continued to press for reform and a plan similar to the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process was proposed: Once submitted, Congress would only be allowed an up or down vote on the proposals, in effect bypassing congressional oversight committees. This plan was included in the DoD 2013 Budget, however, the House and Senate versions of the 2013 NDAA differed on this issue, resulting in establishment of the aforementioned commission with a broader mandate. It’s important to note that the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will have important oversight responsibilities with regard to the recommendations put forward by the MCRMC and that FRA and other organizations will have an opportunity to address anticipated proposals impacting benefits.
Specifically, Sec. 671 of the FY 2013 NDAA addresses the establishment of the MCRMC and tasks the panel to ensure the long-term viability of the All-Volunteer Force; maintain a reasonable quality of life for service members and their families to foster successful recruitment, retention and military careers; modernize and achieve fiscal sustainability for compensation and retirement systems. The MCRMC’s recommendations must include a proviso that retirement benefits remain unchanged for those entering service before enactment of the FY 2013 NDAA and the legislation also prohibits anyone who worked for a veterans’ service organization or military-related association within one year of the Commission’s establishment from serving on the panel.
The Commission is to conduct public hearings and the Secretary of Defense’s recommendations to the Commission are due within nine months of the Commission’s establishment. Recommendations will be based on consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security regarding the Coast Guard. A report detailing findings and conclusions is due to the President no later than 15 months after the Commission establishment date.
FRA will be closely tracking the Commission’s work and weighing in at every available opportunity. As DoD and Congress struggle to find alternatives to the additional $52 billion in sequestration cuts (scheduled to take effect on October 1, 2013), everything is a potential target for the budgetary axe. Track what’s happening and communicate regularly with your elected officials via the FRA Action Center at www.fra.org.
Joe Barnes is FRA’s National Executive Director and Chairman of the National Committee on Legislative Service. A member of Navy Department Branch 181, he is also an advisor to the National Committees on Budget and Finance and Future Planning.