Action Corps Weekly – December 11, 2015
In This Issue:
1. Women Veterans
2. House Health Subcommittee Hearing
3. House Hearing on Accountability
4. VFW Wants “Widow’s Tax” Eliminated
5. Senate Committee Advances Key Bills
6. COLA Relief Bills Introduced
7. VA Expands A/O Ship List
8. Troop Level Stays Constant in Afghanistan
9. MIA Recovery Update
1. Women Veterans: This week, four state commanders who are women veterans – one from each of the VFW’s four conferences – traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with VA and Department of Labor leadership and congressional staff to discuss ways the federal government is addressing the needs of women veterans. The group is tasked by Commander-in-Chief John Biedrzycki to identify barriers that are unique to women veterans when they access their earned health care and benefits. Based on these meetings, and the group’s input, National Legislative Service will launch a survey in the coming weeks to gather direct feedback from women veterans, which will assist in developing the VFW priority goals necessary to eliminate any existing barriers.
2. House Health Subcommittee Hearing: On Tuesday, National Legislative Director, Ray Kelley, testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health on legislation that authorizes certain leases on the West Los Angeles VA Campus, and land conveyances and sales of other property. The lease agreement for the West LA campus provides guidelines for the development of housing and services for homeless veterans on the campus and ensures all leases provide some level of support or services for veterans in the community. The land conveyances allow VA to give an unutilized community living center to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, so it can begin using it for veterans’ long-term care needs, and gift an unutilized building to the Danville Community College, reducing maintenance costs for VA. Lastly, Congress provides VA the authority to sell Pershing Hall, a Paris hotel that is currently owned by VA. To hear the VFW’s position on each of these bills, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=osnau_t-Lsg&feature=youtu.be.
3. House Hearing on Accountability: On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing on actions taken by VA to hold wrongdoers accountable. During the hearing committee members discussed VA’s inability to fire federal employees who have committed malfeasance or have been the subject of adverse investigations by the VA Office of the Inspector General. Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson testified that firing bad employees should not be the sole purpose of accountability. Gibson assured the committee that he reviews disciplinary actions recommended for senior executives and ensures that punitive actions fit the offense. To read the hearing testimony, visit: http://veterans.house.gov/witness-testimony/the-honorable-sloan-gibson-0.
4. VFW Wants “Widow’s Tax” Eliminated: It is a longtime VFW goal to eliminate the dollar-for-dollar offset that denies some 63,000 surviving military spouses from concurrently receiving Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) payments from the Defense Department, and Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Similar to life insurance, SBP is purchased by military retirees in order to provide up to 55 percent of their retirement pay to surviving spouses. DIC is a modest indemnity compensation benefit of $1,254 per month that VA pays to surviving spouses whose loved ones died from a service-connected wound, illness or injury. Despite the two payments being paid for two different reasons from two different federal departments, all monthly SBP retirement payments are first offset by the $1,254 DIC payment. In testimony this week before the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee, the VFW called it the ultimate government insult to financially penalize surviving spouses just because their loved ones died on active-duty or from a service-connected wound, illness or injury after they retired.
5. Senate Committee Advances Key Bills: On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a markup to amend and advance several pieces of legislation that the VFW strongly supports. The Veterans Homeless Programs, Caregiver Services and Other Improvements Act of 2015 (S. 425) served as an omnibus, including the language from bills that would expand the VA comprehensive caregiver support program to veterans of all eras, make it easier for survivors to apply for benefits, allow Fry Scholarship participants to participate in the Yellow Ribbon program, expand the definition of a homeless veteran to include those fleeing domestic violence, and restore GI Bill benefits to veterans affected by unexpected school closures, among other things. The committee also advanced S. 290, the Increasing the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability to Veterans Act of 2015, which would eliminate pensions for senior VA employees convicted of serious crimes. These bills now head to the full Senate for consideration. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for future updates. To watch a webcast of the markup, visit: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/business-meeting-markup-12092015.
6. COLA Relief Bills Introduced: As a result of a negative change to the Consumer Price Index (CPI), VA and Social Security benefits are scheduled for no annual increase for 2016. The CPI fell slightly this year due to a significant decrease in gasoline prices. Health care, housing, and food prices all rose this year, however, creating a significant hardship for many disabled veterans and seniors. To solve this problem, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) have introduced S. 2251 and H.R. 4144, the Seniors and Veterans Emergency (SAVE) Benefits Act, which would provide a one-time payment of $581 to VA and Social Security beneficiaries. The VFW thinks this legislation is critical to ensuring that the benefits many veterans rely on keep up with the cost increases they have been experiencing. This week, the VFW sent letters to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees, urging swift passage of the SAVE Benefits Act. We encourage all VFW members to contact their Senators and Representatives to request their support of this important bill. To find your legislators, click here:http://capwiz.com/vfw/dbq/officials/.
7. VA Expands A/O Ship List: VA has expanded its list of Navy ships whose crews may be eligible for disability compensation as a result of potential exposure to the defoliant Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. The new additions include the survey ships Sheldrake and Towhee, attack transport ship Okanogan, submarine rescue ship Chanticleer, destroyers Frank Knox and James E. Kyes, and transport ship General W. A. Mann. VA also expanded the dates of eligibility for sailors who served aboard the destroyer Fechteler, and extended possible presumptive status to sailors who went ashore from the guided missile cruiser Dewey or attack transport ships Pickaway or Paul Revere. VA pays disability compensation to veterans or survivors for 14 medical conditions associated with Agent Orange exposure. Learn more at: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/shiplist/index.asp.
8. Troop Level Stays Constant in Afghanistan: Instead of reducing U.S. troop strength to 1,000, the president decided to keep 9,800 American forces in Afghanistan through 2016. The commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, Army Gen. John Campbell, called it a huge decision because of the signal it sends to the international community, which has 40 nations contributing troops to the effort to stabilize a country that still has significant threats within its borders. The decision gave the Afghan people more confidence, Campbell said, “that the international community would stay with them. There was some unpredictability there. If the U.S. stays, everybody stays. If the U.S. had left, probably everybody would have left.” Read more at:http://www.defense.gov/News-Article-View/Article/633404/troop-level-decision-continues-to-resonate-campbell-says?source=GovDelivery.
9. MIA Recovery Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced burial updates for two soldiers, and the identification of remains of a third. Returned home are:
– Army Sgt. Robert C. Dakin, 22, will be buried with full military honors on Dec. 12 in his hometown of Waltham, Mass. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, when he was lost fighting near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea on Dec. 12, 1950. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/tabid/10159/Article/632648/soldier-missing-from-korean-war-accounted-for-dakin.aspx.
– Army Sgt. 1st Class Billy D. Hill, 21, of Wichita, Kan., will be buried with full military honors on Dec. 17, in Killeen, Texas. Hill was assigned as a helicopter gunner on a UH-1D that was shot down on Jan. 21, 1968. He was assigned to the 282nd Aviation Company, 14th Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group, 1st Aviation Brigade. Read more at: http://www.dpaa.mil/NewsStories/NewsReleases/tabid/10159/Article/633635/soldier-missing-from-vietnam-war-accounted-for-hill.aspx.
– Identified is Army Pfc. David S. Burke, 21, of Summit County, Ohio, who was lost fighting in North Korea on Nov. 27, 1950. He was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, and will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be announced.