In This Issue:
1. VFW Shares Concerns with President
2. Camp Lejeune Exposure Update
3. TRICARE Contract Start Date Delayed
4. Legislation Impacting Veterans Clears the House
5. HASC Sequestration Hearings
6. SASC Hearing on Marine Scandal
7. DOD Releases Service Academy Report
8. VA Seeks Under Secretary for Benefits
9. MIA Update
Download a PDF version of this week’s Action Corps Weekly.
1. VFW Shares Concerns with President: VFW National Veterans Service Director Ryan M. Gallucci met with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and senior administration staff at the White House today to share the concerns of America’s largest and oldest major war veterans organization. Gallucci discussed what the VFW sees as the future for veterans’ health care, to include consolidation of VA’s community care programs. Gallucci focused on the VFW’s recent “Our Care 2017” report, which shows that many veterans choose to utilize their earned VA health care benefits even when they have other options in the community. However, Gallucci recognized that today VA has far too many purchased care programs, which are confusing to veterans, only exacerbating health care access issues. The VFW is calling for a single, easily-understandable community care program so that veterans can access their earned health care benefits where and when they need them, serving as a complement to the VA health care system. Gallucci also echoed VFW Commander-in-Chief Brian Duffy’s support for the president’s proposal to reverse the impact of sequestration on the Department of Defense in the FY 2018 budget – one of the VFW’s top legislative priorities since the arbitrary budget policy took effect in 2011. Gallucci also expressed the need to expedite claim decisions and to ensure veterans who suffer from toxic wounds receive the care and benefits they deserve. The VFW views this as the start of a positive dialogue to ensure that the Trump administration lives up to its promises to provide for our service members, veterans, and their families.
2. Camp Lejeune Exposure Update: For years the VFW has worked with Congress and VA to establish a streamlined disability compensation process for veterans who suffer from health conditions associated with exposure to toxic water at Camp Lejeune. This week, VA began to implement a rule which established a presumptive service-connection for veterans, reservists and guardsmen exposed to contaminants in the water supply at Camp Lejeune from Aug. 1, 1953, through Dec. 31, 1987, who later developed one of the following eight diseases: adult leukemia; aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes; bladder cancer; kidney cancer; liver cancer; multiple myeloma; non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; and Parkinson’s disease. If you are an affected veteran and would like assistance with a VA claim, please contact the VFW. Find a VFW Service Officer near you.
3. TRICARE Contract Start Date Delayed: Yesterday at a Military Health System MSO/VSO Executive Council meeting, the Defense Health Agency announced that they will delay the transition of the TRICARE contract from Oct. 1, 2017, to Jan. 1, 2018. The new contract reduces TRICARE from three regions –– North, South and West –– down to East and West, with Humana managing TRICARE Region East and Health Net managing TRICARE Region West. This delay aligns the rollout of the new regions and contractors with the transition to TRICARE Select, which will replace TRICARE Extra and TRICARE Standard, in order to reduce disruption for TRICARE beneficiaries. Other topics discussed during the meeting included the initial rollout of the Department of Defense’s new Electronic Health Record at Fairchild AFB, Wash.; an update on the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences which now has the authority to grant undergraduate credit and degrees; and an update on the National Capital Region Academic Health and Readiness System.
4. Legislation Impacting Veterans Clears the House: Three bills impacting veterans were passed by the House of Representatives this week. H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act, would prevent veterans who need help only to manage their finances, and are not a threat to themselves or others, from being banned from owning firearms. Under current federal laws and regulations, needing even a minor amount of assistance that would require appointing a fiduciary forces veterans to be placed on the federal list of people banned from owning a firearm. The bill would require determination from a judge or magistrate stating the veteran is a threat before the veteran could be put on the list. H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, would strengthen the authority granted to the secretary of Veterans Affairs to discipline and fire employees at VA while still protecting the rights of those workers. It would also strengthen protections granted to whistleblowers. Lastly, H.R. 1367 would improve the authority of the secretary of Veterans Affairs to hire and retain physicians and other employees. Section three of this bill was a direct collaboration between congressional staff and one of this year’s VFW-SVA Legislative Fellows. All of this legislation is actively supported by the VFW and will now go to the Senate for consideration. Continue to follow the VFW’s Action Corps Weekly for updates.
5. HASC Sequestration Hearings: The House Armed Services Subcommittees held several hearings this week on the impact sequestration and continuing resolutions have had on the military services. The Army, Marine Corps and Navy all testified on the impact budget cuts and budget instability have had on modernization and readiness. Across the board, the services testified that instability caused by continuing resolutions and budget caps are forcing the services to choose between current readiness and future modernization efforts, causing shortfalls in maintenance and other key areas, and inhibiting their ability to effectively plan to meet current and future threats which results in increased risk for service members and our nation. The Air Force is set to testify on Thursday next week.
6. SASC Hearing on Marine Scandal: On Tuesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the Marine Corps’ ongoing investigation into the “Marines United” website scandal. Acting Secretary of the Navy Sean J. Stackley, Commandant of the Marine Corps General Robert B. Neller, and Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Ronald L. Green testified on steps the Marine Corps is taking to identify and punish Marines who participated on the site, which shared nude photos of female Marines and included comments that advocated the denigration, harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault of these women. General Neller also testified that the Marine Corps was reviewing their recruit and officer candidate training to determine how they can address this as a Marine-culture topic from the beginning of a Marine’s career. The open hearing was followed by a closed session to discuss more details of the ongoing investigation. View the hearing webcast.
7. DOD Releases Service Academy Report: On Wednesday, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its Annual Report on Sexual Violence and Harassment at the Military Service Academies for the academic program year 2015-2016. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 required the department to produce an annual report on the effectiveness of policies, training, and procedures at each of the three Military Service Academies (MSAs). The report analyzes MSA performance in the areas of sexual assault prevention, response, retaliation, and sexual harassment. This year’s report shows that, while MSA cadets and midshipmen experience unwanted sexual contact at a rate lower than their civilian college student counterparts, the numbers have increased. 12.2% of women and 1.7% of men experienced unwanted sexual contact in the last year, which is a significant increase compared to the previous academic year’s percentages of 8.2% for women and 1.1% for men. The report also shows that cadets experience sexual harassment at a rate higher than their active duty counterparts. Going forward, DOD will focus on increased prevention efforts. Read the full report.
8. VA Seeks Under-Secretary for Benefits: On Wednesday, VA announced that there will be a commission to identify the best candidate for the position of under-secretary of benefits from a pool of applicants. The under-secretary is responsible for nearly 22,000 employees located at 56 regional offices. More than 4 million veterans and 500,000 dependents receive benefits administered by this part of VA. Benefits that the under-secretary would be responsible for include education, home loans, life insurance and disability compensation. The commission, with yet-to-be-appointed members, is expected to make a recommendation by late April. The recommendation goes to the president for consideration and any candidate would then have to be confirmed by the Senate.
9. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of five Americans who had been missing in action from WWII and Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Mr. Maax C. Hammer, Jr., 25, of Cairo, Ill., will be buried March 21 in Carbondale, Ill. Hammer, formerly in the U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve, was among a small group of American pilots training with the Flying Tigers to battle Japanese forces invading China in 1941. Hammer was killed during a training mission on Sep. 22, 1941, when his plane crashed near Toungoo, Burma, after a heavy rainstorm. Read about Hammer.
— Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. John D. Mumford, 22, of St. Petersburg, Fl., will be buried March 23, in his hometown. Mumford was a P-51C “Mustang” pilot assigned to the 318th Fighter Squadron, 325th Fighter Group, 15th Air Force. On June 6, 1944, Mumford flew escort for B-17 “Flying Fortress” bombers on their mission to bomb and destroy a German occupied airfield at Galati, Romania. Following the bombing, the formation was attacked by German fighters. Mumford pursued two German fighters before crashing near present day Novi Troyany, Ukraine. Read about Mumford.
— Navy Fireman 1st Class Charles R. Casto 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. Casto was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Interment services are pending. Read about Casto.
— Army Cpl. Billie J. Jimerson was a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. In late November 1950, his unit engaged with enemy forces near Anju, North Korea. Jimerson could not be accounted for after the battle and was declared missing in action as of Nov. 28, 1950. Interment services are pending. Read about Jimerson.
— Army Pfc. Robert E. Mitchell was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. On Sept 6, 1950, North Korean forces penetrated the Naktong Bulg portion of the Pusan Perimeter near Am-sin, South Korea, and engaged with Mitchell’s unit. Mitchell could not be accounted for after the battle and was declared missing in action. Interment services are pending. Read about Mitchell.