The House and Senate have both passed their own versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, and there are significant differences between the two of them. Both sides will need to work quickly in conference to deliver a final version before the end of this fiscal year, and AUSN has identified a number of provisions and amendments that we believe should be in the final bill. Below is the full text of the letter AUSN submitted to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees:
Dear Chairman Inhofe, Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Reed, and Ranking Member Thornberry,
Now that the House and Senate have both passed versions of the fiscal 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, significant work remains to be done on both sides to get a final bill completed before Oct. 1. The Association of the United States Navy thanks you for your hard work in getting to this point, and we urge all sides to work together to get it over the finish line.
As an organization that keeps watch over legislation and policies that impact our Navy and Coast Guard, we at AUSN are keenly interested in a number of provisions in both versions of the NDAA. As such, we would like to indicate our support for certain provisions in both bills, and urge their inclusion in the final bill.
In the House bill:
Feres Doctrine: We support the amendment setting aside the Feres Doctrine in order to give servicemembers the ability to seek compensation for medical malpractice.
Electronic Health Records: We support the amendment setting a requirement for the Department of Defense, Coast Guard, and Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a comprehensive enterprise interoperability strategy within 180 days.
Reduction of Medical Billets: We oppose any and all reductions in medical billets proposed by the White House. These are essential positions that are difficult to replace.
Broadband Access: We support an amendment to provide broadband access to military medical facilities and families that are located on remote military installations.
Military Health System: We support an amendment to add cultural competence and diversity to the strategy for recruiting mental health providers.
Hearing Loss: We support a provision (p. 102) that would call for a report on hearing loss protection measures in use during combat and training, and would direct the Secretary of Defense to study hearing changes in servicemembers.
PTS Treatments: We support a provision that would call for the Secretary of Defense to brief lawmakers on new drug therapies to treat post-traumatic stress (p. 163) and for the Defense Department to create a monitoring program for the prescription of drugs treating PTS.
Newborn TRICARE Coverage: We support an amendment to study extending the level of TRICARE health coverage for parents with a newborn child.
Health Care After Sexual Assault: We support a provision (p. 164) that would require a report on expanding TRICARE benefits to those who have suffered sexual assault or harassment.
TRICARE Drug Therapies: We support a provision (p.167) calling for a study on whether TRICARE restrictions on access to drug therapies are appropriate.
Opioids: We support an amendment requiring a report on opioid first fill guidance, and an amendment that would establish a University Affiliated Research Center focused on reducing opioid dependency.
Suicide Prevention: We support an amendment that would authorize assistance for deployment-related support beyond the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program. We also support a provision (Sec. 725) that would aim to better measure the success of prevention efforts, and an amendment that would require an assessment of the availability of spiritual resources to counter suicide.
Spousal Employment: We support a provision (Sec. 624, p. 155) that would increase to $1,000 the allowance to help spouses transfer state work credentials, and to explore the possibility that this figure is still too low. We support several amendments that would further assist in greater spousal employment.
Complaint Database: We support a provision (Sec. 2820) that would create a public database to lodge complaints about housing units, as well as require an annual report on privatized housing conditions.
In the Senate bill:
Regional Medical Hubs: We support a provision (Sec. 715) that would establish four regional medical hubs to support combatant commands.
Dietary Supplements: We support a provision (Sec. 716) that would require that dietary supplement usage be included in the Electronic Health Record (EHR) system.
Nursing Assistant Training: We support a provision (p. 210) that would authorize a family member to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) under TRICARE.
PFAS Exposure: We support provisions (Sec. 318-319) that would deal with contamination caused by PFAS/PFOS firefighting foam.
In both bills:
We are encouraged that both the House and Senate included strong provisions and amendments dealing with toxic exposure, and urge that they be included in the final bill. We also encourage language that would call for greater attention to traumatic brain injury (TBI), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), mental health care, lead screening in private housing, the Base Allowance for Housing, PFAS contamination, and the Special Victims’ Counsel. We believe that language addressing lead-based paint in military housing is good, but it should be expanded to include toxic conditions such as mold and fungus — military families should not be allowed to suffer exposure to any toxic conditions in their living quarters.
We thank the members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees for their diligent work on these bills, and we hope Congress will come together to create a final bill before Oct. 1, 2019 that will address all of these issues above. Our Veterans have given so much for this country, and it is our duty to make sure they get the very best care and benefits.
RADM Christopher W. Cole, USN (Ret.)
Chief Executive Officer
Association of the United States Navy