National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017: An Overview of Provisions That Matter for Military Service Members and Veterans

By Spring 2017 M-VETS Student-Advisor Anne Kidd

On December 23, 2016, President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 (“FY17 NDAA”). The NDAA is an annual occurrence and is one-half of the federal budgetary process for the Department of Defense.

Background. At the most fundamental level, executive agencies in the federal government require two laws to operate: (1) an authorization law, which delineates what the government is allowed to do and may also recommend funding required to do those things, and (2) an appropriations law, which permits the release of funding to agencies to actually go and do those things.  If one fiscal year ends without these laws in place, Congress may pass a Continuing Resolution (CR), which allows the government to continue doing what it has been doing at the same level of funding.  As we saw in 1995, 1996, and again in 2013, without an appropriations law or a CR in place, the federal government shuts down.

Why should you care?  “Defense-related” programs authorized by the NDAA include personnel programs that directly impact pay and benefits, including allowances, bonuses, insurance, and healthcare, for all active duty military service members and military retirees.

What do you need to know?  The following is just a sampling of the provisions in the FY17 NDAA:

Military Pay. For those of you who are still in active duty service, the FY17 NDAA authorized an across-the-board pay raise of 2.1% for service members, effective January 1, 2017. However, you should note that the rate for Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) is funded and regulated separately, so you should check the BAH for your Military Housing Area to see if any changes were enacted for 2017 that will otherwise impact your overall pay.  You can do this at: http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/bahCalc.cfm.

Also: The NDAA directs the DOD to move to a single pay system no later than January 1, 2018, which represents an attempt to treat BAH as compensation rather than an allowance.

TRICARE Reform. The FY17 NDAA permits DOD to establish TRICARE Select, which will be a self-managed, preferred-provider network to allow freedom of choice for eligible beneficiaries. Additionally, fees will increase for TRICARE Prime retirees and family members through increased annual enrollment fees and additional cost sharing fees (e.g., copays).

Healthcare Reform. The FY17 NDAA provides for expansion in access to urgent care in military and private facilities.  Also, the FY17 NDAA requires Military Treatment Facilities to increase primary care services through expanded hours of operation.

Family Leave. Primary caregivers in the military services will be permitted to take 12 weeks of leave following the birth of a child, including up to six weeks of medical convalescent leave and secondary caregivers in the military services may take up to 21 days of leave.  Additionally, the FY17 NDAA permits primary caregivers in the military to take six weeks of leave following adoption of a child and secondary caregivers will be able to take up to 21 days of leave.

UCMJ Reform. The FY17 NDAA authorizes an overhaul of the UCMJ, including significant procedural reforms at all levels of the litigation process from pretrial through appellate hearings, expansion and/or introduction of defined offenses, and revisions to punitive measures.  The goal of procedural changes is to improve transparency in the system.

Recruiting and Retention Incentives. The FY17 NDAA includes new or revised recruiting and retention incentives for certain critical positions in the military.

Civilian Pay. President Obama extended the 2.1% pay raise for military service members discussed above to all civilian employees in the federal government (not only those in the DOD).  Additionally, the Office of Personnel Management adjusted the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) for various localities in 2017.  General Schedule (GS) pay tables can be accessed at: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/2017/general-schedule/. Note that these pay tables reflect adjusted COLA, but do not reflect the 2.1% pay raise.

Administrative Leave Restrictions. The FY17 NDAA restricts the amount of time all civilian personnel (not only those in the DOD) may be placed on paid administrative leave.

Sources:

Staff Sgt. Jannelle McRae, Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act Impacts on Airmen (Dec. 28, 2016), available at http://www.militaryspot.com/news/fiscal-year-2017-national-defense-authorization-act-impact-airmen.

Statement by the President on Signing the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 (Dec. 25, 2016), available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/23/statement-president-signing-national-defense-authorization-act-fiscal (noting the President’s concern with revisions to the Administrative Leave Act).

Letter from the President, Alternative Plan for Locality Pay (Dec. 8, 2016), available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/08/letter-president-alternative-plan-locality-pay.

Leo Shane III, Obama signs defense bill that authorizes pay raise, more troops, MilitaryTimes (Dec. 23, 2016), available at http://www.militarytimes.com/articles/ndaa-17-obama-signs.

Committee on Armed Services, NDAA, H.R., https://armedservices.house.gov/hearings-and-legislation/ndaa-national-defense-authorization-act

Conference Report to Accompany S. 2943, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, H.R. Rep. 114-840 (Nov. 30, 2016), https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CRPT-114hrpt840/pdf/CRPT-114hrpt840.pdf.