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Personnel, War, Readiness Priorities of Authorization Act

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2002 -- The National Defense Authorization Act for 2003 funds the military portion of the global war on terror and the continuing transformation of the U.S. military to face the threats of the 21st century.

President Bush signed the bill into law Dec. 2 during a ceremony at the Pentagon. The act actually allows DoD to spend money released under the 2003 National Defense Appropriations Act, which Bush signed Oct. 23.

Under the two bills, service members will receive at least a 4.1 percent pay raise beginning Jan. 1, 2003. Many mid- level NCOs and officers will receive a pay jump of between 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent.

The bills call for an increase in the basic allowance for housing to cut out-of-pocket expenses to 7.5 percent. The bill puts elimination of this financial inequity to service members on course for fiscal 2005.

The act also deals with the hot button issue of concurrent receipt. Currently, military retirees who receive Department of Veterans Affairs disability payments have their retired pay reduced dollar-for-dollar by the VA payment.

The act authorizes an enhanced special compensation for military retirees who "incurred a qualifying combat-related disability." The retiree must have received the Purple Heart for the injury or have a service-connected disability of 60 percent or higher incurred as a direct result of combat or training for combat.

Other personnel portions of the act include a National Service Plan. The new program encourages volunteers to enlist in the military and serve 15 months on active duty, followed by either an additional active-duty period or 245 months in the Selected Reserve. If time remains on service commitments, it may be spent on active duty, in the reserves or serving in organizations such as the Peace Corps or Americorps.

Those who qualify may receive one of the following incentives: $5,000 payable after completing the initial 15 months of active duty; repayment of student loans up to $18,000; an education allowance at the Montgomery GI Bill monthly rate for one year; or an educational allowance of one-half the Montgomery GI Bill rate for three years.

The act continues special pays and bonuses for active duty and reserve personnel and expands special pays given to high-demand military specialties. It also increases the bonus awarded to prior-service personnel.

The act makes medical improvements a high priority. The legislation calls on the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs to share assets, especially in regards to pharmacy benefits.

Congress continues to improve the TRICARE program. The legislation expands TRICARE Prime Remote to cover dependents who remain in remote locations when they cannot accompany sponsors. An example of this is a dependent who stays in a remote location while a spouse is assigned to Korea on an unaccompanied tour.

Congress also expressed concern over the stability of the TRICARE provider networks. Many providers complain that claim processing takes too long. Under the legislation, the requirements for TRICARE and Medicare will be the same.

The budget supports an active-duty end strength of 1,389,700 with the Army set at 480,000, the Navy at 375,700, the Marines up slightly to 175,000 and the Air Force pegged at 359,000. The overall strength of the reserve components is unchanged from fiscal 2002 at 864,558.

The legislation expands the size of the service academies from 4,000 to 4,400 students beginning in the 2003-2004 school years.

In the authorization act, the legislators say they "believe that active-duty end strength needs to be increased in the long term."

The act authorizes $7.3 billion for counterterrorism programs throughout the services. Much of this is channeled into biological warfare defense and chemical and biological detection, protection and decontamination.

The programs also cover the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program. The Senate and House approved $417 million for this counterproliferation activity.

The act directs DoD to set up National Guard civil support teams in all states and territories. The teams provide medical and technical advice in the event of a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction.

In readiness accounts the act fully funds President Bush's request of $78.4 billion. This covers such items as steaming days, flying hours, tank miles and depot maintenance.

Modernizing the force is a large part of the budget. In aircraft the bill authorizes 23 F-22 Raptors this year and 27 in fiscal 2004. The act also funds $3.4 billion for Air Force-Navy research on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.

The act allots $3.7 billion for 12 C-17 Globemaster III air transports. The act also provides funds to upgrade F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft.

The Army's Comanche helicopter program will receive $910 million for engineering and manufacturing development.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cancelled the Army's Crusader artillery system. The act authorizes DoD to shift funding from that program to other indirect fire programs. A total of $673 million will be split among six promising technologies.

The act authorizes two new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and close to $1 billion for research and advance procurement for Navy aircraft carriers.

The authorization act can be a grab bag of initiatives. Included in this year's budget are calls for DoD's senior- level Joint Requirement Oversight Council to study missile defense programs and report on their progress before the programs may be fielded.

Also included is authorization to create the new positions of undersecretary of defense for intelligence and assistant secretary of defense for homeland security.

It also exempts the military from portions of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Provisions allow service members to train more realistically at their stations while expanding buffer zones around training areas.

Finally, the 2003 budget buys the Army's last Abrams tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles. The request funds $376.3 million for 103 tanks and $397 million for 138 Bradleys. In a sign of things to come, the budget authorizes $788 million for the Stryker Armored Vehicle and $759 million for research on the Army's Future Combat System.

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