Sandwiched in between recesses and party conventions, a conference committee selected from the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will meet to iron out differences between the House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill. Among issues to resolve are the following:
Military Widows Tax. Survivor Benefit Plan annuitants, most of whom are widows, currently face a 36 percent slash in their annuities at age 62. The House would phase this out over three and a half years, while the Senate would stretch it out over 10. In addition, the House would create an open enrollment period for retirees and charge no more than 4.5 percent of the designated amount of retired pay. The Senate version would require all back payments since the retiree first became eligible, plus interest.
CRDP (Concurrent Receipt). The Senate would authorize some 30,000 disabled military retirees who are rated 100 percent totally and permanently disabled to begin collecting full Concurrent Retirement and Disability Payments on January 1, 2005. This action would replace the present 10 year phase-in currently in effect. The House version of the authorization bill has no provision.
Guard/Reserve Health Coverage. The Senate would authorize permanent health care coverage for members of the Selected Reserve and their families, with premium payments required during times they are not mobilized. When mobilized, they would have an option of having the government pay part of their premiums for civilian employer coverage. The House would conduct a three-year test for members who either are unemployed or do not have employer-provided coverage.