Last month, I wrote about the annual process of preparing for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which funds our armed forces operations and all matters related to it in the new fiscal year that begins 01 October. Days after submitting for our newsletter, I read that all the congressional budgeting work has not been completed on time to start a new fiscal year since FY1997. Yikes! That is why all the continuing resolutions appear in the Autumn resulting in pressure right before the Christmas Congressional Recess.
The many concerns that MOAA advocates all relate beyond their initiatives to the needs for funding those initiatives. NDAA is involved in all of them including salaries and benefits for both active and retired personnel.
Writing this before Memorial Day and our ceremony at the Middle Tennessee State Cemetery, it is wise to keep alert about the situation at Arlington Memorial Cemetery as it begins to fill up to capacity and for the national cemetery benefit that some of us anticipate. The House Armed Services Committee included report language in last year’s NDAA for a joint DoD and VA report on the Arlington issue, with unanimous consent, only to have it rejected by the Senate. Outreach to your elected officials, especially to our Senators Blackburn and Hagerty, will help improve the chances for the Expanding America’s National Cemetery act to be included in the FY 2023 NDAA. Summer and into September are the times to make those communications happen.
We honored Tennessee veterans on Memorial Day but following up on this is the task to ask your lawmakers to honor our military families by preserving this earned benefit and allowing veterans to keep their long-held plans for a final resting place. The VA will soon need to generate more burial spaces of honor near the Capitol Area.
Last month, I quoted Senator Tester of Montana with his term “the message machine.” Let’s all learn how to be vocal on that message machine and let our presence, concerns, and interests be known in Washington. Your copy of the MOAA Military Magazine is including form letters to send out, so please put stamps on them and send them out. The MOAA website in the Advocacy section has engines for creating messages to support matters that you care about and get them delivered to members of Congress.
And here is a quote from Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma about the current budget quandary from the June issue of Military Officer on page 11: “Inflation is the new sequestration, and we’ve got to confront it.” What he is pointing out is that the current high inflation rate will need to be accommodated but that demands are being elevated for personnel and equipment; that is, DOD has a strategy to cut personnel end-strength while at the same time there is a need for R&D and development of new systems – all during the inflationary period. Add to that the threats of Eastern Europe and Taiwan and there is a significant problem in the hands of our lawmakers.
MTC Legislative Update for May 2022
This is the time of year when the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the coming year takes shape so that it can be enacted before the end of FY2022 in September. A whole lot goes into the NDAA, and MOAA has been advocating for a 4.9% raise in uniformed pay. That seemed quite ambitious until the inflation report came out at 8.3% a few weeks ago – so that 4.9% is actually a net loss. There are a lot of competing priorities and the pressure of planning deadlines. Beyond those pressures, this is also an election year for Congress with accompanying campaigns to wage and demands on their time.
The primary elections are open for early voting as I write for the May issue, but the election itself is held right at the start of the month. With all the redistricting that always follows the US Census and surely a change of districts for some of us, we quickly hear about the candidates who are nominated for us in anticipation of November elections. As they get their campaign strategies together, this is the opportune time to write to them and talk with them if you have an opportunity.
Congress generally takes vacation time in August, but when they reconvene, there is a lot of time pressure to get things done before 30 September when FY2022 ends. There are only 11 days in that period when both houses will be in session. Continuing resolutions will probably follow until the NDAA, and other budget matters are passed. That period may not be the best time to community with those busy legislators and their staffers, so NOW is very opportune. Take time to speak up after having thought through what you value and composed effective ways to say it.
Are you playing in the Message Machine? Do your Washington folks and candidates know what matters to you? Here is a wonderful quote in the current Military Officer magazine (p. 28) that comes from Senator Jon Tester of Montana: “If you’re unhappy with what we’re doing, make sure you’re cranking up the message machine out there. Because this isn’t going to happen unless veterans are talking.” Whatever your favorite “this” is, now is the time to say it.
On April 19, 2022, Gov. Lee signed into law a bill that will ensure Tennessee veteran spouses and families can rightfully obtain federal survivor benefits they may qualify for when COVID, or other pandemic, is a contributary cause in the veteran’s death. The bill, as proposed by the veteran organization “Tennessee Veterans” (TNVET), was a collaborative between TNVET, TN legislators and the TN Medical Association. The bill (HB2220/SB2306) carried by Rep. Jason Hodges (Clarksville/Montgomery County) and Sen Heidi Campbell (Nashville/Davidson County) passed by unanimous vote in the state legislature.
I do hope you read and took to heart and action the matter of ensuring that your family will have your DD-214 and VA Determination Letter readily available when you die. Just this month came another instance to observe how busy family members become at the time of a death and how much of their time and energy are engaged in their grief. Even so, there is that 72-hour deadline to make sure that your veteran paperwork is shown to whoever would sign the death certificate. Please take action to accomplish this task.
Posters are beginning to appear around the area for the upcoming elections. Most of us have deployed during our service careers, so most of us should realize how long the mail took to seek an absentee ballot, receive it, and get it back before election day. When I was deploying, that process would take more than a whole month. Accomplishing this in the mail has not gotten any better.
TN House Bill HB1649 and Senate Bill 1511 authorizes Montgomery County to research and develop and test technologies that would allow members of the armed forces and employees and their eligible dependents who are voters in that county but stationed outside of the USA to vote by means other than by mail. This is a one county test that if successful can be rolled out for the entire state (think National Guard and Reserves in addition to active duty.) The bills have been deferred to Summer Study and to the Elections and Finance Subcommittee.
Please note that Congress schedules a period for members to be back in their districts each year to meet with constituents. This month from April 11-22 our congressional members will be in Tennessee with much of their time devoted to campaigning. This is an opportunity for you to meet them in person and speak your concerns about military matters. Please take effort for some face time with them. It is more convenient to do that this month than usual. Those facing election will be very receptive and attentive in an election year.
MOAA has a new initiative to lobby Congress with the Major Richard Star Act that needs your prompt attention. The April issue of Military Officer arrived and includes tear-out letters to the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate. Our members can simply tear them out and mail them off or check their email for another option.
Do you know where your DD-214 and VA Disability Determination Letter are? More importantly: Do your family survivors know?
Working through the Tennessee Legislature are House Bill HB-2220 sponsored by Rep. Hodges and Senate Bill SB-2306 sponsored by Sen. Campbell – matching bills with two numbers. They are to require the officials who sign death certificates to inspect our veteran paperwork before signing death certificates. The pressing issue is that the certificate must be signed within 72 hours, and there is no option to delay the signing while family members look for your paperwork. Death certificates can be amended after signing, but it is a slow and arduous process. The death certificate is needed to process SBP and DIC claims, so those benefits get delayed if the death certificate is wrong or delayed.
What has made this especially important in our Covid Crisis is how many death certificates are simply attributed to Covid without reference to any service-connected health matters.
There is a simple task before each of us: Make copies of those two documents for not only your surviving spouse but also for children. Put them in a sealed envelope and have them keep those copies. Think about copies for ready access entrusted to a close friend or even your attorney.
The point is that the copies are needed quickly. Your spouse and family members will become very busy quickly and could have difficulty locating your filed paperwork to make the 72-hour deadline. If several family members have the documents, somebody will be able to retrieve them quickly.
If your time comes outside of Tennessee, different states and countries will each have their own systems and deadlines – another matter but one where ready access can help move a solution along.
This may seem like a very direct article, but it is important to get this matter right. It is not easily solved after the fact, so take this little errand to heart and get the errand done.
The Decennial Census specified in the Constitution was taken in 2020 with the allocation of congressional districts taking effect for the 2022 elections. There was no impact on Tennessee representation with the number of seats in the House of Representatives remaining at nine. What does impact us is the redrawing of district boundaries in our chapter’s area. Some of our members will find themselves in a redrawn district and with a different member of congress after the upcoming elections.
New legislative boundaries were approved by the Tennessee Legislature. Some maps have been published but not with sufficient boundaries that would let us figure out what district we will vote within. Surely those maps will follow so be aware of what is coming for the November elections and then who will be elected to represent you beginning 3 January 2023. Immediately close to us is that Williamson County will be split between 2 districts and Davidson County for 3 districts. More will be coming our way on that subject, so watch this space.
The Census results also drive redistricting at the state level for our 99 representatives and 33 senators. Watch for more news coming after the Governor has signed the enabling legislation.
MTC members(6) joined 11 members of other TN MOAA Chapters and nearly 175 members of other veterans organizations in attending the “TNVET Veterans Day on the Hill” in Nashville on 3 February. This is an annual event organized by TNVET to connect veterans’ groups with our elected leadership to seek their support for a number of legislative initiatives that impact veterans. A complete description of the issues discussed with 2022 legislators can be found at 2022 Legislation – Tennessee Veterans (tnvet.org). The day of our visitation was the last day to introduce bills in this legislative session, so this list will be revised to include bill numbers as soon as they are available.
One of the major legislative initiatives that we are discussed is a test trial of online voting for deployed members of the uniformed services. That trial would occur in Montgomery County. Many states have engaged such deployment voting with West Virginia taking the lead. The intention is to work out a system for Tennessee before the federal level gets engaged so that Tennessee does not need to create a system out of nothing to catch up. There will be more news on this as the year passes.
On the Federal level, MOAA has unveiled a new legislative action center, which can be found at MOAA | Take Action Center (quorum.us) . This new site lists active legislative campaigns and offers a deep dive into key advocacy issues and how to engage with lawmakers. Please make use of this capability to share your views with our Federal legislators.
Ted Edwards, CDR USN (Ret.), Legislative Liaison
MTC Legislative Update for January 2022
CRDP and CRSC OPEN SEASON
Military retirees who are eligible for both Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) and Combat Related Special Compensation (CRSC) can choose which entitlement they prefer to receive during Open Season, which runs Jan. 1-31, 2022.
If you are eligible to participate in Open Season, you should have received a letter detailing the benefits of each entitlement by mail earlier this month. Along with the letter, you'll receive an Open Season Election Form, which allows you to choose the type of payment you wish to receive. Federal law prohibits receiving both CRDP and CRSC.
Forms should only be submitted if you are making a change, if you wish to keep receiving your current benefit you don't need to respond.
MOAA’s NEW LEGISLATIVE ACTION CENTER
If you frequently engage with your lawmakers on issues key to MOAA’s mission, first please accept the sincere appreciation from everyone at MOAA – your efforts are critical to our success protecting and expanding the earned pay and benefits for the uniformed services and veteran communities.
Second, you may notice some changes at the Legislative Action Center As well as on individual “Take Action” messages. The new MOAA system is designed to make it even easier to reach out to your lawmakers on these issues, as well as track what MOAA is engaging on in the halls of Congress.
New MTC Legislative Affairs Liaison
Good Folks of our Middle Tennessee Chapter:
With the new year I begin serving as the Legislative Affairs Officer. This brings me to the beginning of a role that I have not served before. With that beginning and to make contacts that will serve us, I have written to Congressman Green and to our two senators to make contact with their staff members that relate to uniformed service matters.
Congressman Green’s staffer for uniformed services matters has been most helpful, and we have meet by Zoom. He will be keeping me informed of matters, and he will also welcome correspondence from us about our concerns. The senators have been less so.
Our MOAA Military Officer monthly magazine has a large section to let all of us know of initiatives and legislation activity. Let that reading be a primary way for you to be informed even as it lags behind reality through the publishing process. The annual National Defense Appropriation Act (NDAA) legislation passed in December, and of immediate importance to us is the 5.9% raise in retirement pension benefits and a raise in the prescription medications co-pay for those who use Express Scripts pharmacy.
What you can do to help me serve you better is to tell me which of many matters most interest you. And you can always write to your congressman to address your concerns – TN-07. What other districts are related to our Chapter membership? Good wishes to all of you.
CDR Ted Edwards, CHC, USN (Ret)
MTC Members Participate in TNVET 2022 Day on the Hill
On 2 February 2022 hundreds of Veterans descended on the TN State Capitol in support of a number of legislative initiatives important to veterans.
MOAA was very well represented at the event with four Chapters (Fort Campbell Chapter, Memphis Chapter, Middle TN Chapter, and the Stones River Chapter) in attendance. MTC was represented by (pictured above from left to right) CDR (Ret.) Ted Edwards, USN; COL (Ret.) Doug Minton, USA; Lt. Col. (Ret.) Karon Uzzell-Baggett, USAF; LTC (Ret.) Thad Vann, USA; and LTC (Ret.) Mike Patenaude, USA. Not shown but very much present was COL (Ret.) Sam Whitson, USA who was in session as a State Representative.
Tennessee Veterans (TNVET) has completed work on their website and it is now ready for public consumption.
As a reminder our Chapter is associated with TNVET as the a result of our belonging to the Tennessee Council of Chapters, MOAA (TN CoC).
TNVET is currently composed of 12 state veteran organizations, who have join forces in a cooperative effort address the legislative needs of veterans, active duty military and their families. These members represent all the branches of the military service. The focus and goal is to work with legislators of the State of Tennessee to develop and support legislation that addresses the needs and issues of those who have served or are serving in our United States military forces.
As a reminder to our members, The Military Officers Association of America, and the Middle Tennessee Chapter as an affiliate, are Section 501 (c) (19) organizations. This allows contributions to be tax exempt. We are prohibited from advocating for issues that may represent one political platform over another or supporting a candidate for elected office. To this end, we limit our chapter advocacy to MOAA supported national issues and veteran and military issues at the state level that do not represent one political platform.
To protect our status, we want to ensure any literature from our chapter complies with these limitations. We provide some printed materials at our meetings and occasionally include handouts from our presenters. If an individual member wishes to provide material of interest at one of our meetings, we request an emailed copy of these materials by the last day of the preceding month, so our board has time to review.
2021 Veterans and Military Legislation from the 112th General Assembly
The attachment below comes from a database prepared by the state legislature to provide updates on bills. The description of each bill is created when the bill is generated, but doesn't always reflect what is going on with amendments, which may make the bill vary significantly.
What gets most of our veteran bills left in a committee at the end of the year is the dreaded "fiscal note". A fiscal note comes from the Comptrollers office and assigns an estimated cost of the bill (how much the state would lose, or gain, in revenue). These estimates can be pretty enlightening at what they consider the cost to be, even with input from the affected Department.
In almost every case, if there is a fiscal note which the governor has not funded on a bill, it stands little to no chance of passing.
For further study of a specific bill, go to Tennessee General Assembly Search (tn.gov) and type in the bill number (ie SB 1183 our bill for VA leave time). When the bill page comes up, look at the amendments and fiscal note pages for further information.
The Middle TN Chapter Board and Membership has a mandate to always remain politically nonpartisan as an affiliate organization of MOAA National. As such, we do not support or oppose any candidate for political office. We will periodically provide notice that a member is continuing to serve by running for office; however this is not to be construed as an endorsement of his or her political views.
Normally during this time frame each year we would organize visits to our elected officials when they are home during Congressional break and when the TN State Legislature is out of session. However, this being an election year we are unable to accomplish these tasks without being drawn into the election fray.
So, while the Chapter cannot become actively involved in supporting a candidate, we whole heartedly support the individual involvement of our members on a personal basis. An informed and active electorate is important to the success of our state and nation, so it is up to each of us to become informed on the issues and to vote and encourage all that you know to do so as well.