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Congress, advocates wary of panel’s proposals

Congress, advocates wary of panel’s proposals

None of the major changes outlined in the new military compensation report released Thursday can become law without congressional action, and so far lawmakers are viewing the massive document as a conversation starter, not a blueprint.

That’s fine with outside advocates, who are warning not to rush the complex proposals for overhauling military retirement and health care.

“This is going to take a couple of years of hearings and analysis to do right,” said Norb Ryan, president of the Military Officers Association of America. “What we don’t want to see is them mess up anything by moving too quickly on changes.”

Both the House and Senate Armed Services committees will hold hearings next week with officials from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, the launch of what both congressional panels say with be a lengthy review of military pay and benefits.

The report includes 15 recommendations, including an end to the 20-year, all-or-nothing military retirement system in favor of a 401(k)-style investment plan. Commissioners also are pushing to dismantle the military health care system in favor of a new health care allowance program for troops.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said on Thursday the committee’s review will focus on how those changes would affect recruiting and retention, noting that “the services must compete with the private sector for talent.”

Neither he nor Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. — who oversees the committee’s personnel panel — offered comment on the specific proposals. Heck’s counterpart on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said the recommendations underscore the need for reform, but he also declined to weigh in on specifics.

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