Carmelita M. Jones
2020-2021 National Legislative Ambassador
Our nation has a long-standing obligation to provide for the needs of those who have sacrificed and are still sacrificing to protect the precious freedoms and liberties we all enjoy. We are in the home stretch of this Program Year with only five months to go. Stay focused! Our voices matter and we can make a difference. The best is yet to come in 2021.
The VFW is one of the most respected voices in Washington, D.C. and within local governments across America. The location of our VFW Washington National Legislative Office allows us to monitor all legislation affecting veterans, alert VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and to actively lobby Congress and the Administration on veterans’ issues.
As veterans’ advocates, the VFW and its Auxiliary with a combined strength of 1.5 million members, help shape public perception, and influence our elected representatives to pass legislation that supports our veterans. We have been called to serve and have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference in the lives of our veterans and their families through our advocacy efforts. Many of our heroes who served us unselfishly, came home with both seen and unseen injuries that changed their lives forever. It is our duty and obligation to ensure that they are not forgotten and receive the care they were promised and deserve. Our ultimate mission is advocating for them and their family members’ wellbeing, as they must continue to carry the burden of serving our great nation in its time of need.
2021 VFW ACTION CORPS
Stay on top of current VFW legislative priorities and initiatives through your VFW Action Corps email subscription. You will receive the VFW Action Corps Weekly in your inbox every week which will keep you up-to-date on the most recent legislative initiatives affecting veterans. If you are not yet a member, now is the time to JOIN the VFW Action Corps!
MAJOR LEGISLATIVE VICTORIES IN 2021
National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2021 (H.R. 6395): Congress passed the override of President Trump’s veto of the NDAA on the 11th hour on December 31, 2020. It included the addition of the three presumptive diseases (bladder cancer, hypothyroidism and parkinsonism) due to exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.
Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 (H.R. 7105): On January 5, 2021, President Trump signed into law this comprehensive veterans’ legislation. It is the culmination of more than two years of bipartisan work, with input from our veteran service organizations, dozens of Senators and members of the House and our partners at the VA. It combines more than 34 separate bills to address veterans’ needs across a wide range of benefits and services. The enactment of this veterans’ legislation package satisfies a number of VFW resolutions and legislative priorities regarding women veterans’ health care, disability assistance and memorial affairs and economic opportunity issues.
SBP-DIC Offset Phased Elimination: This VFW-supported legislative initiative is also known as the “Widow’s Tax Elimination Act.” This January 2021, began the first phase of the “Phase-Out of Reduction of Survivor Benefit Plan Survivor (SBP) Annuities” as directed by last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY 2020. Surviving spouse SBP annuity payments issued by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service will be reduced (offset) by no more than two-thirds of the amount of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) issued by the Department of Veterans Affairs, rather than by the entire amount of DIC, even though eligible surviving spouses will continue to receive the full amount of DIC from the VA. In accordance to the law passed by Congress, the SBP-DIC offset will be fully eliminated on January 1, 2023.
2021 VFW PRIORITY GOALS
The VFW Priority Goals for 2021 were published last month! It is the overarching position paper which identifies the major policy goals of the VFW that enables us to speak in a “unified” voice for our veterans and their families to effect changes that improve their quality of life. It will help guide your discussions and correspondence with our lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
The goals are broken down into six major areas that affect our veterans, service members and the security of our nation: budget; health care; disability assistance and memorial affairs; education, employment and transition assistance; military quality of life; and national security, foreign affairs and POW/MIA. Following are brief overviews of the issues included in each area:
- BUDGET: Congress must pass and appropriate the funds needed to take care of our veterans and defense programs. NEVER reduce veteran’s benefits to pay for another veteran’s benefits. DO NOT balance the federal budget on the backs of our veterans, service members and their families.
- HEALTH CARE: Improve and strengthen VA health care programs for our veterans to treat health conditions (mental health, toxic exposures, etc.) associated with injuries sustained during their service, and provide gender-specific care for women and minority veterans. Preserve the integrity of the VA healthcare and TRICARE for all veterans.
- DISABILITY ASSISTANCE AND MEMORIAL AFFAIRS: Improve and streamline the implementation of the modernized appeals process, extend the Persian Gulf War disability compensation eligibility beyond 2021, add hearing loss, tinnitus, TBI and other health conditions associated with toxic exposures. Increase burial allowances to account for inflation and include spouses’ information on all head stones.
- EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND TRANSITION ASSISTANCE: The period of moving from active duty to civilian life can be challenging for some transitioning service members. Leaving a structured life in the military and moving to an entirely different atmosphere brings with it many difficulties. Finding a new job, moving away from base, going back to school, or leaving friends and comrades are just some of the issues service members face during the military to civilian transition. Open pathways and provide support in accessing transition information and resources to re-integrate veterans into civilian life and their communities.
- MILITARY QUALITY OF LIFE: Military families make tremendous sacrifices for America. We owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay for all they and their families sacrifice to serve our nation. They deserve our best efforts to provide them with quality of life choices. They need help dealing with stress attributable to separations and a range of war-time conditions. We must ensure that we are meeting the quality of life needs of our military and their families. However, while we can never fully compensate them for their service, there are things that we can do to improve their quality of life and lighten their load.
- NATIONAL SECURITY, FOREIGN AFFAIRS and POW/MIA: We must bring home our missing and fallen heroes from ALL wars to provide closure to their families. In addition, we must provide necessary funding for readiness support and training, health care and quality of life programs for our volunteer force who guards our nation and protects our precious freedoms we hold dear.
With all the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions to safeguard our own health and those we serve, I challenge and encourage all of us to keep our focus on finding things that we “can” do, rather than what we “cannot” do! We must have the passion and grit to overcome the challenges we face during these trying times to continue to make a difference in the lives of our veterans and their families. Please continue the phenomenal job that you continue to do each and every day by “Honoring our Mission to Serve Veterans!”