1. VFW Elects New National Leadership: The 118th VFW National Convention ended Wednesday in New Orleans with the election of Keith E. Harman as the new VFW commander-in-chief for the year 2017-2018. During his acceptance speech, the Delphos, Ohio, native spoke of the relevance of the nearly 1.7 million members of the VFW and its Auxiliary, that, “every member of our great organization has walked the talk, and every member of our great Auxiliary has lived the fear of having a loved one downrange.” He said he is proud to be part of an organization that exists to take care of veterans, service members and their families, and that he is honored to lead it. His theme for his year is “Service not Self,” and his goals are to end sequestration, to fully fund the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, to demand better leadership, management and accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs and to help reduce the veteran suicide crisis to zero. Also elected were Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence of Alamogordo, N.M., and Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief William J. “Doc” Schmitz of Corning, N.Y. Read more here.
2. Funding Agreement Reached for Choice Program and VA: On Monday, the VFW asked its members and supporters to call their Representatives and demand they vote “NO” on S.114, which called for the gradual privatization of Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) health care. The troubling bill would have sent billions of dollars into the private sector, using veterans’ benefits to pay for it. Plus, it would have put no new resources into VA to address critical infrastructure and staffing shortages. This call to action worked and the House voted down S.114. Congress will soon pass legislation that would fix the funding shortfall of the Choice Program, make urgently needed improvements to VA’s health care system, improve hiring and training for VA doctors and authorize VA to enter into 28 leases for medical facilities. This could not have been accomplished without direct support of VFW members, its supporters and partner veterans’ organizations who also took part in the fight against VA privatization. Stay tuned for future action alerts in our fight for veterans’ rights.
3. VFW Lauds Unanimous House Passage of Forever GI Bill: On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives showed unquestionable, bipartisan commitment to America’s student veterans by voting 405-0 to pass H.R 3218, known as the Forever GI Bill. The VFW salutes the House for their unanimous support to improve veterans’ educational benefits. The vote proves that no matter the political party or ideology, our elected officials are taking care of those who have worn our country’s uniform. Strongly supported by the VFW and a coalition of veterans organizations, including VFW’s strategic partner, Student Veterans of America, H.R. 3218 addresses current gaps in Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility and coverage. It ensures more veterans and their surviving family members have an opportunity to pursue their educational goals, such as Purple Heart recipients who do not have the requisite three years of active service; veterans attending schools that close abruptly through no fault of the veterans; and thousands of involuntarily activated National Guardsmen and Reservists. It also eliminates the 15-year, use-or-lose limitation, which means veterans truly have a lifetime to use their GI Bill. The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced its version of H.R. 3218. The bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate. The VFW urges its members and supporters to contact their Senators and ask them to pass this vital legislation. Contact your Senator.
4. Veterans Legislation Roundup: This week, the House advanced several VFW-supported veterans bills to improve benefits and services. On Monday, the House passed H.R. 2006, the VA Procurement Efficiency and Transparency Act, which would encourage efficiency and transparency in VA’s procurement processes by mandating high-level parameters for how the department calculates its savings through competition when awarding procurement contracts; H.R.1690, the Department of Veterans Affairs Bonus Transparency Act, which would require VA to submit an annual report to Congress regarding performance awards provided to regional office directors, medical center directors, service network directors, and senior executive staff; and H.R. 282, the Military Residency Choice Act, which would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to permit the spouse of a service member to elect to use the same residence as the service member for purposes of taxation and voting, regardless of the date they were married. Today, the House also passed: H.R.2772, the VA Senior Executive Accountability Act, which would improve transparency by requiring VA to inform Congress about where senior executives are being moved; H.R. 3262, the Grow Our Own Directive: Physician Assistant Employment and Education Act of 2017, which establishes a pilot program to provide educational assistance and training as VA physician assistants for certain former members of the armed forces with medical or military health experience; H.R. 95, the Veterans’ Access to Child Care Act, which would make VA’s pilot program for child care a permanent program at VA for veterans who are receiving regular mental health services or other intensive health care services from VA and serve as the primary caretaker of a child; and H.R. 873, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Act, which would authorize the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation to establish the National Global War on Terrorism Memorial as a commemorative work in the District of Columbia.
5. VFW Participates in Congressional Opioid Roundtable: The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hosted a roundtable discussion on the country’s opioid epidemic and what the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing to assist veterans struggling with opioid addiction. Discussion participants included Chairman Phil Roe, Ranking Member Tim Walz and the all committee members, KellyAnne Conway, VA providers, VA researchers, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Center for Disease Control, Drug Enforcement Administration, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, law enforcement officials and other veteran organizations. The two-hour meeting allowed for in-depth conversation concerning addiction therapy research and how VA can implement best practices focused on patient-centered care with their providers. Chairman Roe also brought to light some of his concerns outside the medical scope of opioid addiction regarding the economic implications of drug abuse, particularly in rural areas already suffering from economic problems. The discussion ended with proper ways to move forward with addiction therapy and alternative methods of treatment. Committee members as well as VA expressed the desire to invest more into research for methods such as acupuncture, possible medical marijuana and telehealth options. At its 118th national convention in New Orleans, the VFW passed a resolution calling on the federal government to fund research on the use of medical cannabis. Learn more about VA’s opioid safety initiative.
6. VFW Hosts Panel Discussion on Women Veterans: The VFW hosted a panel titled, “Women Veterans: Strong and Growing” during its national convention in New Orleans. The panel included three members from the women’s committee, as well as Kayla Williams, the director for VA’s Center for Women Veterans. The panel took questions from members regarding VA health care for women. The attendees included both men and women, and grew to five times the attendance size of the 2016 women’s panel. Since 2008, the VFW’s female membership has grown by 421 percent. Read more about what the VFW is doing for women veterans and see video of the panel discussion.
7. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of the remains of six Americans who had been missing in action from WWII and Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Navy Fireman 1st Class Elmer T. Kerestes, 22, of Holding Township, Minn., will be buried July 29 in Holdingford, Minn. Kerestes was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Kerestes was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Kerestes.
— Army Cpl. Edward L. Borders, 20, of Harrisburg, Ill., will be buried July 29 in his hometown. Borders was a member of D Battery, 82nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion (Automatic Weapons), 2nd Infantry Division. Borders’ unit, part of Support Force 21, provided artillery fire support for South Korean forces from Changbong-ni. On Feb. 11, 1951, Chinese forces launched a massive counter offensive, forcing the support force to withdraw. Borders could not be accounted for after the unit reassembled in Wonju on Feb. 13. A list later provided by the Chinese reported that Borders died while being held as a POW. Read about Borders.
— Navy Yeoman 3rd Class Edmund T. Ryan, 21, of Wilbraham, Mass., will be buried August 2 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Ryan was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Ryan was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Ryan.
— Army Cpl. Glen E. Kritzwiser, 19, of Piketon, Ohio, will be buried August 3 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Kritzwiser was a member of Battery C, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. Kritzwiser’s unit, part of Support Force 21, provided artillery fire support for South Korean forces from Changbong-ni. On Feb. 11, 1951, Chinese forces launched a massive counter offensive, forcing the support force to withdraw. Kritzwiser could not be accounted for after the unit reassembled in Wonju on Feb. 13. He was later reported to have been captured by the Chinese and died while being held at Camp #3, a prisoner of war camp near Changsong, North Korea. Read about Kritzwiser.
— Marine Reserve Pvt. Alberic M. Blanchette was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Blanchette’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance. Blanchette was killed on the first day of the battle. Interment services are pending. Read about Blanchette.
— Marine Pvt. Joseph C. Carbone was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Carbone’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance. Carbone was killed on the first day of the battle. Interment services are pending. Read about Carbone.