Senators follow Legion TRICARE suggestion

American Legion National Commander Jimmie L. Foster is generally pleased with a Senate committee's version of the fiscal 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) - the nation's military budget. On the evening of June 16, the Senate Armed Services Committee approved a measure that included a Legion-endorsed statutory limitation on TRICARE fee increases, beginning in 2013. TRICARE is the health-care plan for members of the armed forces, military retirees and military families.

According to the proposed legislation, TRICARE premiums could be increased on a percentage basis not to exceed the percentage increase in military retirement pay which, in turn, is tied to the government's annual cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA).

"The American Legion has stated publicly that a modest increase in TRICARE fees is reasonable, but only if it is line with the COLA," Foster said. "It is good to see that the senators agree with us."

The Senate committee also gave its OK for a modest increase in TRICARE Prime enrollment fees for fiscal 2012, before the statutory limitation goes into effect. Currently, an individual TRICARE recipient pays $230 a year for coverage. The family health plan premium is $460. These fees would rise to $260 and $520, respectively. Co-pay for medications would also go up, but only by $2 or $3, depending upon the drug.

Another Legion-favored provision of the Senate's version of the NDAA is an authorization for the armed forces to develop training programs to help prepare transitioning servicemembers for civilian employment.

"Unemployment is chief among the problems facing returning warriors, especially reservists and National Guard members, and The American Legion - through its career fairs and small business workshops - has been working hard to help them meet the challenge," Foster said. "It is heartening to see the senators favoring the funding of job training for post-military life. This has great promise."

The Senate committee-approved defense budget also calls for a 1.6-percent military pay raise. "This is good news, too," Foster said. "Naturally, The American Legion endorses pay increases for the most deserving of our citizens - the men and women who protect our freedoms."

The NDAA now goes to the full Senate for consideration on the floor and a vote. After that, it must be reconciled with the recently passed House version of the bill before it can be enacted.