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1. Veterans Want VA Fixed, Not Dismantled: President Trump announced Monday the creation of a White House Office of American Innovation to “bring together the best ideas from government, the private sector, and other thought leaders to ensure that America is ready to solve today’s most intractable problems.” One of the new office’s targets is to fix an old problem — the Department of Veterans Affairs — and the VFW wants to be part of the solution. “The VFW prides itself in evaluating what works at the VA and in identifying what needs to be fixed,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy. “Veterans turn to VA for the high-quality, individualized care they provide, but there is always room for improvement, especially in the areas of information technology, scheduling, data analysis, and access to quality care out in the communities.” The VFW recently released the results of its sixth nationwide survey of veterans, a copy of which was delivered to every congressional office earlier this month during the VFW’s National Legislative Conference, and the results of which were personally discussed with the president on March 17. The purpose of OUR CARE 2017: A Report Evaluating Veterans Health Care, is to continue to evaluate the impact of the Veterans Choice Program, which was enacted in 2014 in response to the VA’s crisis in access to care. “The most important takeaway is the overwhelming majority of respondents said they want to fix, not dismantle the VA health care system,” said Duffy, who believes the VA is on the right track, but that much work remains, such as the need to hire more doctors, hold wrongdoers accountable, improve customer service, and to make VA’s programs and systems more user-friendly.
2. VFW Testifies on VA Health Care: On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss 10 bills pending before the subcommittee. VFW Legislative Associate Kayda Keleher expressed the VFW’s strong support for mental health retreat programs for recently discharged female veterans, expanding child care services to veterans accessing health appointments, as well as homeless veterans utilizing employment services, extending coverage for newborn children, and authorizing VA to provide adult day care services at State Veterans Homes. Subcommittee members discussed health care eligibly for veterans who received administrative discharges for a minor infraction but do not have access to needed VA health care. The subcommittee also considered a bill to ban smoking in and around VA medical facilities, which has been a VA legislative proposal for several years. Click here for more information or to watch the hearing.
3. VFW Testifies on Veterans Affairs Budget: On Wednesday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs held a hearing to discuss VA’s budget for fiscal year 2018 and advance appropriations for fiscal year 2019. VFW National Legislative Service Director Carlos Fuentes urged the subcommittee to join the VFW’s campaign to end sequestration which has limited our nation’s ability to provide service members, veterans and their families the care and services they have earned. Fuentes also discussed the need for increased funding for VA’s capitol infrastructure needs so VA can build and expand its facilities and expand access to care for veterans. The VFW’s Independent Budget co-authors Disabled American Veterans (DAV) and Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) also testified and discussed the Independent Budget’s recommendations to properly fund VA health care and benefits. Click here to listen to the hearing or read the testimony.
4. Veterans Appeals Roundtable: The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs hosted a roundtable discussion about modernizing the appeal process for veterans’ disability benefits. The VFW along with other Veteran Service Organizations, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Government Accountability Office, and members of the subcommittee, discussed pending legislation that would streamline process. Key features of the legislation include a one-step appeals process to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals, a faster “no additional evidence” lane at the Board, improved notice letters for veterans claims, and effective date protections for veterans regardless of which appeal option they choose. Continue to follow the VFW Action Corps Weekly for more updates on this legislation.
5. VFW to Testify In Support of Blue Water Sailors: On April 5, 2017, the VFW will testify in front of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. While the testimony will concern a total of six bills, this is the first testimony in the 115th Congress on H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017. Those veterans who served in the U.S. Navy during the war in Vietnam are impacted by an arbitrary and capricious decision by VA to not be included under presumptive coverage unless they were operating on land or inland water ways. This decision prevents veterans who suffer from the same conditions as other Vietnam veterans from receiving care for these conditions and ending this exclusion is a major priority for the VFW. You can watch the testimony, which will start at 10:30 a.m. EDT, by clicking here.
6. National Vietnam War Veterans Day: The president signed into law this week a VFW-supported bill that officially designates March 29 as National Vietnam War Veterans Day. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., to recognize the service and sacrifice of a generation of American patriots. March 29 marks the anniversary of when combat forces departed South Vietnam in 1973, even though some troops remained until their final departure in 1975. According to Department of Veterans Affairs, there were 8.7 million Vietnam Era veterans, with 3.4 million deployed downrange. There were 47,434 combat deaths, 10,786 in-theater deaths, and 153,303 non-mortal woundings, which also include casualties from the ill-fated SS Mayaguez rescue attempt in 1975. The number of unaccounted-for Americans from the war is 1,614, of whom 1,260 are MIA in Vietnam, 298 in Laos, 49 in Cambodia, and seven in China.
7. VFW Supports GWOT Memorial Bill: The VFW Washington Office hosted a press conference Tuesday to announce the introduction of H.R. 873, the Global War on Terrorism War Memorial Act, which is a necessary first step toward the building and placement of a GWOT Memorial in Washington, D.C. The VFW-supported bipartisan bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass. Gallagher is a Life member of VFW Post 2037 in Green Bay, Wisc., and Moulton is a member of VFW Post 2005 in Marblehead, Mass. GWOT Memorial Founder and Executive Director Andrew Brennan is a Life member of VFW Post 3945 in Pittsburgh, Pa. VFW supports the creation of a GWOT Memorial by the passage of Resolution 302 at the 117th VFW National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
8. VFW Meets Russian POW/MIA Delegation: The VFW met twice this week with a Russian delegation from the U.S.-Russia Joint Commission on POW/MIA Affairs, and their Ministry of Defense. The commission’s purpose is to help break down bureaucratic barriers in order to help determine the fates of American and Russian MIAs from World War II through the end of the Cold War. It was formed in 1992 by then Presidents George H.W. Bush and Boris Yeltsin to help thaw superpower relations around a humanitarian issue. The delegation’s agenda included research at the National Archives as well as working group meetings with Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency officials. They also visited the U.S. Naval Academy and laid a wreath at the grave of Capt. John Paul Jones, who post-American Revolution would be made a rear admiral by Empress Catherine II of Russia.
9. VA Now Lists Burial Times Online: VA announced this week that there will be an online listing of burial times for all VA cemeteries. The move, which will cover the 168 facilities operated by VA directly, will allow those who wish to attend the funerals a more centralized location for information related to the funeral. Attendees will be able to search by either the location of the funeral or by the name of the veteran being buried, and updates will be provided hourly. To visit the website, click here.
10. Arlington Faces Future Burial Issues: On Wednesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs held a hearing to discuss current operations and concerns with shrinking space for future burials at the Arlington National Cemetery. Currently, Arlington is estimated to reach capacity around the year 2040 unless more space is added or eligibility is changed. This means a veteran from the 1991 Gulf War who lives to normal life expectancy would not have the option of being buried at Arlington. The Army and subcommittee members are looking for ways to keep Arlington open for new burials beyond 2040. Options discussed include: costly expansions, some of which would be annexes not physically connected to Arlington; changes of eligibility for burial in Arlington, which range from restricting eligibility for military retirees to reducing the amount of eligible veterans to those who have earned certain valor awards such as the Medal of Honor and service members who were killed in action. The VFW is working closely with Congress to find the best solutions that keep the integrity of ANC intact and honors the lives those who have worn our nation’s uniform. Click here for audio of the hearing.
11. Continuing Resolution Spells Disaster for DOD: The Chiefs of Staff of the Army and Air Force, Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps are set to testify next week to the House Armed Services Committee on the impacts a year-long continuing resolution would have on the Armed Services. In advance of the hearing, the Navy and Air Force released documents outlining the potential damage, including grounding of air wings, an extended civilian hiring freeze, elimination of permanent change of station moves in the continental U.S. for the remainder of the fiscal year, cancellation of 4th quarter Reserve drills, and munition shortfalls. Tune in Wednesday, April 5, at 10 a.m. EDT to watch the hearing live by clicking here.
12. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of 11 Americans who had been missing in action from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Mr. Peter Atkinson, 25, of Berkley Springs, West Virginia, will be buried April 8 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Atkinson, a former U.S. Army Air Corps Reservist, was among a small group of American pilots training with the Flying Tigers at Kyedaw Airfield, outside of Toungoo, Burma, in 1941. In preparation for battling Japanese forces invading China, the pilots engaged their Curtiss P-40 single-seat aircraft in aggressive training and mock battles. On Oct. 25, 1941, Atkinson’s plane disintegrated while participating in one of these training flights. Interment services are pending. Read more here.
— Navy Seaman 1st Class Murry R. Cargile, 21, of Robersonville, North Carolina, will be buried April 7 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Cargile was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Cargile was one of 429 crewmen to be killed in the attack. Read more here.
— Navy Seaman 2nd Class Vernon N. Grow, 25, of Redding, California, will be buried April 7 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Grow was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Grow was one of 429 crewmen to be killed in the attack. Read more here.
— Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Robert E. Moessner, 24, of Scranton, Pennsylvania, will be buried April 5 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. On April 18, 1944, Moessner was serving as a bombardier on a B-24 departed Kwelin, China, on a sea sweep. After making two passes over a Japanese merchant ship and escorting destroyer, Moessner’s plane came under heavy fire and was then shot down over Hong Kong harbor by Japanese fighters. Survivors reported that Moessner went down with the aircraft. Read more here.
— Army Sgt. Homer R. Abney, 24, of Dallas, will be buried April 7 in his hometown. Abney was a member of Company A, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when his unit was engaged in heavy fighting with Chinese forces on the road from Kunu-ri to Sunch’on, North Korea — later named “The Gauntlet.” After several days of fighting, his regiment declared Abney missing on Nov. 30, 1950. Read more here.
— Army Cpl. James T. Mainhart, 19, of Butler, Pennsylvania, will be buried April 8 in his hometown. Mainhart served with Company I, 31st Infantry Regiment, 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. Mainhart was among 1,300 members of the RCT killed or captured in enemy territory. He was reported missing as of Nov. 30, 1950. Read more here.
— Army Sgt. Donald D. Noehren, 23, of Harlan, Iowa, will be buried April 3 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Noehren was a member of Headquarters and Headquarters Service Company, 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. While conducting a delaying action against Chinese forces south from the Ch’ongch’on River to Kunu-ri, North Korea, his unit encountered heavy fire and continuous enemy mortars. Noehren was captured during the withdrawal and was declared missing in action as of Nov. 30, 1950. Read more here.
— Air Force Capt. Robert R. Barnett, 32, of Gladewater, Texas, will be buried April 7 in Austin, Texas. Barnett was a B-57B pilot with the 8th Bomb Squadron. While on a strike mission over Laos, Barnett’s aircraft reportedly crashed with no parachutes seen. The hostile threat in the area prevented a search and rescue mission and Barnett was declared killed in action on April 7, 1966. Read more here.
— Navy Seaman 1st Class Monroe Temple was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Temple was one of 429 crewmen to be killed in the attack. Read more here.
— Marine Corps Reserve Capt. James W. Boyden was a member of the Marine Torpedo Bombing Squadron 233, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force. On Feb. 14, 1944, Boyden piloted his Grumann torpedo bomber on an experimental mission to destroy enemy shipping in Simpson Harbor, New Britain. As part of the last wave of bombers, Boyden’s aircraft encountered intense anti-aircraft fire and was one of six bombers to fail to return from the mission. Read more here.
— Army Cpl. William R. Sadewasser served with Headquarters Battery, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, as 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. Sadewasser was among the more than 1,000 members of the RCT killed or captured in enemy territory. He was reported missing as of Nov. 28, 1950. Read more here.