In this Issue:
1. VA Secretary Now Supports Dropping IU Cut
2. VFW Testifies on the President’s Budget
3. VFW Testifies Before Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee
4. Veterans Legislation Passes the House
5. Senate Holds Veteran Caregiver Hearing
6. Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services
7. Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium
8. MIA Update
Download a PDF version of this week’s Action Corps Weekly.
1. VA Secretary Now Supports Dropping IU Cut: During a hearing of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on Wednesday, Senator Dean Heller (R–Nev.) challenged Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin to explain why the Administration would propose a cut to Individual Unemployability (IU) benefits and expressed concern that disabled veterans would be significantly impacted by the proposal. After hearing from the VFW and veterans, “it became clear that this would be hurting some veterans and this would be a take away from veterans who can’t afford to have those benefits taken away and I’m really concerned about that,” Shulkin responded, “I’m not going to support policies that are going to hurt veterans.” “The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is pleased to see that Secretary Shulkin no longer supports this devastating cut to Individual Unemployability benefits,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy, “We have made progress in defeating this ill-advised cut. It shouldn’t have been proposed to begin with. Balancing budgets on the backs of veterans is something the VFW will never tolerate.” Read the full statement here.
2. VFW Testifies on the President’s Budget: On Wednesday, VFW National Legislative Director Carlos Fuentes testified in strong opposition to a provision in President Trump’s budget proposal, which would cut up to $22,000 from the annual compensation of severely disabled veterans who receive Individual Unemployability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Fuentes expressed the VFW’s support for continued focus on expansion of VA health care, expediting benefit claims and appeals decisions, mental health awareness, and ensuring VA is ready and able to care for women veterans. Fuentes also discussed VA’s need for additional funds for major construction projects and urged Congress to authorize 27 leases, most of which have been awaiting authorization since 2015. Watch the hearing and read the testimony.
3. VFW Testifies Before Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee: On Thursday, VFW Associate Director Pat Murray testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs in support of legislation regarding improvements to the GI Bill. The bill would enhance the GI Bill for Purple Heart recipients, Fry Scholarship recipients, reservists activated without benefits, and students affected by recent school closures. Numerous other bills discussed with the Senate committee would expand benefits and services for veterans. In recent weeks, the VFW has collaborated with our VSO partners to put forth a list of GI Bill improvements we would like to see passed in order to strengthen it and ensure its success long into the future. Watch the hearing and read the testimony.
4. Veterans Legislation Passes the House: On Tuesday, the House passed the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017, which will be signed into law during a White House ceremony next week. This piece of legislation creates a new streamlined and efficient process to remove, demote or suspend any VA employee for poor performance or misconduct with a concrete shortened timeline, while still protecting employees’ due process rights, and provides them with the right to appeal the action. It will also provide expanded protections for whistleblowers and will specifically bar VA from using this removal authority if the employee has an open whistleblower complaint/case with the Office of Special Counsel. The House also passed H.R.2372, VETERAN Act, on Thursday. This piece of legislation amends the Internal Revenue Code to specify that, for the purpose of determining eligibility for the premium assistance tax credit under the American Health Care Act of 2017, a veteran may not be treated as eligible for coverage under certain Department of Veterans Affairs health insurance programs unless the individual is enrolled in the program.
5. Senate Holds Veteran Caregiver Hearing: The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on Wednesday regarding veteran caregivers. Chairman Susan Collins and Ranking Member Bob Casey hosted panels consisting of Senator Elizabeth Dole, founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, and Ryan Phillippe, an actor, director and writer, followed by a second panel with representation from the RAND Corporation, veterans and caregivers. Much of their discussion focused on expanding caregiver benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs to veterans and their families who served before Sept. 11, 2001. Current law only provides benefits to eligible veterans and their families who served after 9/11. There was also a heavy focus on the need to include and expand respite care for caregivers –– or as they were typically referred to during the hearing –– hidden heroes. While most veteran caregivers who are eligible for benefits through VA receive health care coverage through CHAMPVA, Ranking Member Casey discussed the need to expand Medicaid and VA healthcare access for caregivers, as a study published by RAND Corporation shows many hidden heroes struggle with their own mental health, in part due to a lack of respite care, and are in need of mental health counseling for struggles with depression, addiction and other issues. Watch the hearing and read the testimony.
6. Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services: On Tuesday and Wednesday, the VFW attended the quarterly meeting of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS). Created in 1951 by then Secretary of Defense George C. Marshall, DACOWITS provides advice and recommendations to the Secretary of Defense on matters and policies relating to the recruitment, retention, treatment, employment, integration, and well-being of women in the armed forces. This meeting’s topics included: assignments to key development positions; pregnancy and parenthood survey data; gender integration; physiological gender differences; and an update on the “Marines United” situation, provided by Brigadier General William H. Seely III and attended by Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps General Glenn M. Walters. Learn more about DACOWITS.
7. Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium: Today, VFW Director of National Security and Foreign Affairs Sarah Maples spoke at the 30th Annual Joint Women’s Leadership Symposium (JWLS) Air Force Day in Norfolk, Va. The JWLS is the largest gathering of service women worldwide. Each year it brings together service women and men, leaders, decision makers, and policy influencers to address global, military challenges and encourage and strengthen the leadership development of women from all five armed services. This year’s theme was “Charting Your Course, Navigating Your Future!” and focused on opportunities and insights for those who serve in the military, while exploring options and providing tools for their future. Addressing over 140 airmen, Maples focused on how to ensure future policies protect and support the advancement of women in the military.
8. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of six Americans who had been missing in action from WWII and Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Mr. John D. Armstrong, 24, of Hutchinson, Kan., will be buried June 17 in his hometown. A former U.S. Navy Reservist, Armstrong was training with the Flying Tigers at Kyedaw Airfield, a British Royal Air Force airfield outside of Toungoo, Burma, in 1941. Armstrong was killed in a midair collision during a training flight on Sept. 8, 1941. Read about Armstrong.
— Navy Fireman 1st Class Charles W. Thompson, 19, of Weaubleau, Mo., will be buried June 17 in his hometown. Thompson 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. Thompson was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Thompson.
— Army Sgt. 1st Class Harold P. Haugland, 22, of Belgrade, Mont., will be buried June 17 in Bozeman, Mont. Haugland was a member of Company D, 15th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, part of the 31st Regimental Combat Team deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The RCT was attacked by an overwhelming number of Chinese forces in late November 1950. Haugland could not be accounted for by his unit at the end of the battle and was reported missing in action as of Dec. 2, 1950. Read about Haugland.
— Army Pvt. Walter F. Piper, 21, of Williamstown, N.J., will be buried June 17 in his hometown. Piper was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Piper was reported missing in action on Feb. 13, 1951, after his unit was attacked by Chinese forces in the village of Hoengsong, an area known as the Central Corridor in South Korea. Read about Piper.
— Army Cpl. Edward Pool, 22, of Paso Robles, Calif., will be buried June 19 in Portland, Ore. Pool was reported missing in action on Nov. 30, 1950, while serving with 31st Heavy Mortar Company, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division. His unit was part of the 31st Regimental Combat Team deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Pool could not be accounted for after several days of intense fighting. Read about Pool.
— Army Cpl. Edward L. Borders was a member of Dog 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. Interment services are pending. Read about Borders.
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