2020-2021 National Legislative Ambassador
United with One Voice for Our Veterans!
We are in the home stretch of this Program Year with only three and a half months to go. Stay focused! The VFW and its Auxiliary are continuing their ongoing efforts to ensure that veterans receive the right benefits and the right care at the right time to maximize their ability to achieve success after their service. Please continue the great work you are doing with your concerted efforts to focus on what we CAN do instead of what we CANNOT do. Our voices matter and we make a difference!
VFW Legislative Conference
The VFW just completed its virtual Spring 2021 Legislative Conference March 1-3, 2021. Following is the summary of the four VFW Legislative Priorities which were discussed with all of our Congressional Lawmakers during our “virtual” march on Capitol Hill:
- Veterans’ Benefits:
- Toxic Exposure: This is a major concern during military service. It is currently the number one VFW legislative priority. Thousands of veterans are suffering from the ill effects of toxic exposures and deserve health care, compensation benefits and justice. Although there has been some notable progress achieved over the past two decades, veterans who suffered illness due to toxic and environmental exposures have yet to receive the recognition and benefits they deserve. The men and women exposed to these hazards cannot continue to suffer from the ill effects of toxic exposure while they wait for additional legislation to be passed each time a new issue is identified.
Congress must pass a comprehensive reform bill to cover diseases associated with toxic (environmental and airborne) exposures, rather than address these issues piecemeal as they continue to surface over time.
- VA Disability Claims Attributed to the Three Agent Orange Presumptive Diseases (Bladder Cancer, Hypothyroidism and Parkinsonism): The VA is in the process of developing guidance to address this change since the inclusion of these three presumptive diseases into law in December 2020. However, we were informed that some guidance has recently been addressed to Service Officers informing them to process these claims at this time, even though they will be temporarily placed in a “hold” status and not adjudicated until the additional VA guidance is available.
- Add Presumptive Diseases: The VA has not included hypertension and MGUS (Monoclonal Gammopathy of Undetermined Significance) as presumptive diseases although these conditions were scientifically associated with Agent Orange more than two years ago. In January 2020, VA indicated that they are relying on two internal VA studies, the Vietnam Era Health Retrospective Observational Study (VE-HEROeS) and the Vietnam Era Mortality Study. In December, VA announced the studies will not be available until mid-2021.
Thousands of veterans suffering from the ill effects of these diseases deserve health care, compensation benefits and justice. Congress must intervene and enact legislation to address this issue.
- Veterans’ Health Care:
- Telehealth: The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated veterans’ access to VA healthcare, especially in rural areas. Telehealth gives the veteran an option to receive VA care closer to home, in a setting that feels like a doctor’s office, offering both the technology and privacy for veterans to connect with their VA care team through a video visit. It allows VA to provide services that do not require hands-on exams, such as counseling for mental health and nutrition; and selected primary care and social work visits.
Through ATLAS (Accessing Telehealth through Local Area Stations), the VFW has worked with the VA and Philips North America to leverage VA’s Anywhere-to-Anywhere initiative to expand telehealth options for veterans who live in rural areas. Establishing these points of care closer to veterans’ homes allows for reducing obstacles and increasing access to healthcare. The VA plans to expand the ATLAS initiative to more sites nationwide by 2023. Assistance through the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 will provide the financial grants for these VFW Posts to coordinate services to veterans and their families utilizing the ATLAS pods.
- Suicide: Veterans total 13.8 percent of adult suicides in the United States, with an average of 17.6 veterans and service members who die by suicide every day, according to the VA 2020 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report. Of those veterans, only six are actively enrolled in VA. Reports have also consistently indicated veterans ages 18-34 are the most likely to die by suicide. The COVID-19 pandemic chipped away at suicide protective factors. However, it is too soon to tell how housing, food, and financial insecurities from loss of employment, loneliness increased by isolation, and other compounding issues from the pandemic affected mental health and suicide-related behaviors.
- Women Veterans: They comprise approximately 10 percent of the veteran population and are the fastest growing cohort within the veteran community. They remain 2.1 times more likely to die by suicide than non-veteran women. VA has made progress in gender-specific health care for women, but more is needed. VA must ensure it addresses privacy concerns, expands women-specific substance abuse treatments and programs, increases VA staff cultural training, eliminates harassment and assault and makes other improvements to women veterans’ health care.
- Economic Opportunity:
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced dire economic consequences in the United States. It is no surprise that veterans have not been spared this harsh reality. The unemployment rate for veterans has nearly doubled from 3.1 percent in 2019 to the current rate of 5.5 percent. Unemployed veterans would greatly benefit from a relief package that would provide job training resources for high-demand vocations so they can reenter the workforce.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is comprised of three administrations:
- National Cemetery Administration (NCA)
- Veterans Health Administration (VHA)
- Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA)
Each administration has its own budget and provides different services to veterans. The VBA is the largest of the three and oversees the delivery of compensation and pension benefits, the GI Bill, vocational rehabilitation, housing and business loans, and the broadly defined transition assistance program, which is shared with the Departments of Labor, Department of Defense, and Homeland Security.
Congress must enact legislation that would establish a fourth administration in the VA which will exclusively address and focus on the economic opportunity benefits for veterans.
Congress must also pass the recently introduced Veterans Economic Recovery Act (HR 637 and S 134) which would create a rapid retraining program to provide veterans whose military skills do not match up with those required in the civilian community and enable them to find work in high-demand occupations.
- Military Personnel and Retirement:
The VFW has long argued that Department of Defense (DOD) retired pay and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) service-connected disability compensation are fundamentally different benefits, earned for different reasons. Military retired pay is earned by 20 or more years of service in the United States Armed Forces, allowing retirees to maintain their standard of living while attempting to enter the civilian job market for the first time in the middle of their prime working years. Service-connected disability compensation is a benefit meant to supplement a veteran’s lost earning potential as a result of the disabilities he or she incurred while in service.
However, military retirees who are less than 50 percent service-connected disabled are required to offset their retiree pay with the amount of VA disability compensation they receive. Also, Chapter 61 retirees who were medically retired with less than 20 years of military service, face the same dollar-for-dollar offset.
Congress must pass the Major Richard Star Act, which would enable Chapter 61 veterans discharged due to combat-related injuries to be entitled to DOD longevity payment and VA disability compensation without offset.
For an in-depth look at the VFW Legislative Conference Priorities, please visit the VFW Auxiliary National Website Resources under the Legislative Program: https://vfwauxiliary.org/resources/
MARK YOUR CALENDARS
Our VFW National Commander-in-Chief Hal Roesch’s testimony before the special joint hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs has been scheduled for Thursday, March 18, 2021 at 10:00 a.m. (EDT).
For the first time in history, leadership from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) will address Congress virtually.
Commander-in-Chief Roesch is prepared to discuss the VFW’s top priorities for 2021. These key legislative priorities include:
- Toxic Exposures and Other Environmental Hazards
- Veteran Economic Issues
- Veteran Claims and Benefits
- Underserved Veteran Populations
The House Veterans Affairs Committee will livestream this year’s testimony at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvI8xjyh45-XAJbfPcjUdbQ. Look for the hashtag #VFWDC2021 to follow the conference on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Visit vfw.org for all legislative conference updates.
CALL TO ACTION:
Our heroes have answered their nation’s call in its time of need. Many have returned home with seen and unseen injuries that have changed their lives forever. It is our duty and obligation to see that they are cared for and not forgotten.
We have been called to serve and have had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make a difference. The work is not finished. However, each of us can carry on, knowing in our hearts that through our efforts, we gave our service, respect and our undying appreciation to those who were willing to pay the ultimate price for our liberties and freedoms.
Our challenge in the few months remaining in this Program Year is to seize the moment and leave no unfinished business on the table. Let’s finish strong, knowing that through our efforts we have reached out, touched lives and made a difference. If not us—who else could or would have stepped up to make it happen?
HONORING OUR MISSION TO SERVE VETERANS