MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Recent changes with the 2020 NDAA and how they impact you

Jessica Manfre

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is an annual piece of legislation which gives authority and funding to the United States Military. While it is a detailed body of work that doesn't make for light reading, it should be read. This legislation is filled with items that impact the military family directly.


It addresses military pay

The 2020 NDAA provided a 3.1% pay raise to military service members. This pay raise was the biggest one to be received in the last decade and was reflected in the first paycheck received by service members of 2020. The bill also extended specific bonuses and special pay. One of the big take-aways of this bill is the focus on supporting not just the member, but the military family as a whole.

Military spouse education and employment

Within the bill there are increases in support of professional licensure for spouses. With the new 2020 bill, spouses are currently eligible for up to $1000 in reimbursement for licensure costs accumulated when moving. This is twice the amount that was authorized in last year's bill. It also addresses license portability by giving authorization to the Council on State Governments to research ways to create reciprocity across state lines.

The bill also extended opportunities for spouses for education. The My Career Advancement Account program is an example of this, as it is a valuable resource for military spouses. It offers up to $4000 in assistance for licensure, certification, or an associate's degree in a field that is portable. The eligibility for this is limited to E-1 through E5, W-1 through W-2, and O-1 spouses. The initial pilot program had it available to all spouses but rising costs and enrollment forces restrictions in who can utilize this benefit. In this bill language, Coast Guard spouses were also included even though they fall under the Department of Homeland Security.

Military housing reforms

One of the key elements of this bill is that it addresses the issues within military privatized housing. The bill created new accountability for these companies by enforcing quality assurance measures. It also increased the number of required inspections. This bill provides an additional $301.8 million dollars to make sure that each housing office has the vital personnel it needs to ensure military families are taken care of.

One of the tools that will be utilized going forward is a way to assess and evaluate for risks within military housing. This includes things like mold and lead. It also allows for the BAH to be withheld from the private housing entity until issues or disputes are solved. Another key piece is that it forces transparency by requiring these entities to disclose repairs or issues prior to lease signing. There will also now be a required Tenant Bill of Rights and minimal livable standards established.

Military family needs

The NDAA also authorized $15 million for the STARE BASE program, which is a DOD youth program. It is an American military educational program for grades K-12 that teaches science and math in hands on ways. It was created to tackle the low rates of readiness in these subjects by implementing a program that makes math and science fun and interactive. To learn more about this program and to see if it's located in your area, click here.

One of the chief concerns outlined in the 2018 Blue Star Families survey was that 72% of military families cannot find reliable childcare. An amendment was included in the NDAA for 2020 that creates more coordinator positions on bases to assist with childcare and extends childcare hours for families.

Another key piece to this legislation is that it created the ability of military service members to sue under administrative claims for medical malpractice by a military provider. Although there was existing legislation for under the Federal Tor Claims Act, the United States itself was immune. After countless hearings within congress over a decade, this amendment passed within the NDAA. If a service member sustains injury or death they can file a claim and receive up to $100,000 as long as they file it within two years.

Surviving spouses receive relief

Finally, one of the biggest parts of the 2020 NDAA is the elimination of what is known as the "widows' tax" in phases. For multiple decades surviving families have not received their full benefits as they deserve, even though they paid into the benefit programs. This is a piece of legislation that has been debated and fought over for almost twenty years. Finally, change is coming and it will be finalized by 2023.

If you'd like to look through the 2020 NDAA, you can find it here. Fair warning, it is 1119 pages long. However, a pro tip is to utilize the search ability within the document to enter terms that you want to specifically read about. This will bring you exactly where you need to go. Happy reading!

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.