When lawmakers this month struck a deal over the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), they all but gave the final OK to a series of proposals for military families that we've been talking about for a few months.
Once the bill gets the president's signature, the whole thing will be signed, sealed and delivered -- literally. And that's why although they aren't law just yet, we're confident enough this thing is in the bag to give you a rundown of what new military family proposals did and didn't make it into law as part of the 2019 NDAA.
Look for these 2019 NDAA Military Family Measures
New dental plan options for active-duty families. Right now, active-duty families can buy the Tricare dental plan through United Concordia. Starting Jan. 1, however, military retirees will purchase a dental plan through the Federal Dental and Vision Insurance Program (FEDVIP) after Congress last year ordered Tricare's retiree dental plan to shutter. Both groups are also newly able starting late this year to purchase vision insurance through FEDVIP.
The 2019 NDAA orders active-duty families to be given the option of purchasing a dental plan through FEDVIP. Unlike the Tricare system for military retirees, Tricare's dental program for active-duty families isn't going anywhere. This new rule just gives active-duty families more options. Given the woes United Concordia has caused military families and providers, this will likely be a welcomed option.
SGLI is automatic during combat deployments. Don't want Servicemembers Group Life Insurance (SGLI) coverage during a combat zone deployment? Sorry. You've got it anyway after this bill is signed. Coverage will be automatically bumped up to the full amount when a service member is deployed to a combat zone.
Protecting DoDEA students from sexual harassment. Right now, schools on military bases run by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) are exempt from the federal Title IX law, which includes rules about how to handle sexual assaults at schools. This new proposal not only requires DoDEA officials to establish protective policies that mirror Title IX, it also requires them to create a database for tracking students who commit those assaults.
Space-A for P&T service-connected disabled veterans. Veterans with a service-connected disability who have been rated permanently and totally disabled, known as P&T, will be newly able to fly Space Available. But there are a few caveats. First, they won't get priority over any other passenger, which means there could be very long waits for flights to popular spots. Next, the bill specifically says the Defense Department or its contractors do not need to make special concessions or alterations to their aircraft to make them accessible for those users. In other words, if you're a P&T veteran who uses a wheelchair, they don't need to provide special accommodations for you.
Commissary and MWR access for more veterans. We get a lot (and I mean a LOT) of email from veterans wondering why they don't have commissary access. A new provision included in this bill gives Medal of Honor and Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war and veterans with any service-connected disability the ability to shop at the commissary and use MWR facilities, including military lodging ... for a fee. That fee will be calculated in the coming months, and the benefit will start in early 2020. It will be in addition to the five percent surcharge already charged to all shoppers on all orders.
Employment help for military spouses. A series of military spouse employment help proposals were OK'd. One expands military spouse noncompetitive hiring to all government agencies. Another orders the DoD to drum up ways to remind eligible spouses that the My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) scholarship program exists.
Then there's a new report ordered on how military moves affect spouse employment. Next is a rule allowing temporary clearances for military child care employees who are otherwise caught up in a background check backlog. Finally, a report will look at ways to make it easier for spouses to run their small businesses on base.
We get a lot of emails asking about a licensure fee rebate that was part of this original series of proposals. That idea is still awaiting action since it must be considered by a different committee and is not part of this bill. Keep waiting, y'all.
Report on mother and infant mortality rates in the military health system. Lawmakers want a report within 180 days on mother and baby deaths in the military health system and at Tricare providers, compared with the larger U.S. rate. They also want the Pentagon to include recommendations for reducing that rate.
Expanding Military OneSource. Early this year, the DoD decided to push into play an expansion to Military OneSource that allows veterans and their families to use the service, including the free non-medical counseling, for a full year after they get out. This measure puts that decision into law.
These 2019 NDAA Military Family Proposals Didn't Pass
Free birth control. Right now, Tricare requires co-payments for birth control received from a retail pharmacy or through mail order. This would have required all covered birth control to be free. Lawmakers ultimately said "no." This isn't the first time they've rejected this. It was first considered in 2015.
Increases to retiree Tricare Select fees starting now. A Senate proposal would have bumped to 2019 a plan that increases costs for retirees using Tricare Select. That plan was rejected.
Gold Star access cards. Rather than mandate base access cards for some families of the fallen that advocates said discriminated against those who lost a service member to a training accident or other non-combat death, lawmakers instead gave the OK to a plan to simply "establish procedures" to get these families on base when they want to visit. The plan that covered only Gold Star families was rejected.
Flexible maternity and paternity leave. A House provision would have let parents split their paternity or maternity leave instead of taking it in one big chunk. That was cut from the final bill.
Spouse Transition Assistance Program (TAP) pilot. This proposal would have let military spouses not only attend whatever TAP classes they darn well pleased, but also allowed them to fully participate in every aspect. It was not included.