VFW Action Corps Weekly – October 2, 2015
In This Issue:
1. Congress Extends Important VA Programs & Funds Denver VAMC
2. House Passes NDAA
3. Senate Holds Hearing on Toxic Exposures
4. VA Implements Choice Program Expansion
5. Bill for Federal Employees Who Are Disabled Veterans Advances
6. VA Partners with Walgreens to Offer Flu Vaccines
7. Army Hypocritical to Dismiss Green Berets
8. VA Approved Prudential’s Profiteering Plan
9. Two Korean MIAs Identified
1. Congress Extends Important VA Programs & Funds Denver VAMC: This week, Congress passed legislation to extend a number of programs and authorities that were due to expire this year, including mental health counseling for women veterans, vocational rehabilitation benefits for severely injured service members, programs to reduce homelessness among veterans and authority to operate the Manila VA Regional Office. The legislation would also authorize VA to spend nearly $1.7 billion on the Denver medical center construction project, which would allow VA to complete construction and avoid a second shutdown. The bill now awaits the president’s signature.
2. House Passes NDAA: On Thursday, the House passed the conferenced version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2016. The Conference Report sets guidelines for $611.9 billion in national defense spending, including $89.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding. The conference report includes a 1.3 percent pay increase for service members along with provisions the VFW has supported, including a reform of the retirement system which would provide a 5 percent government matched Thrift Saving Plan (TSP) for all service members who serve between 2 and 26 years. The Conference Report would also repeal COLA minus one, which would have reduced retirement benefits for working age military retirees. It also includes continuation pay to incentivize service members to serve more than 12 years. The report does not include provisions to reduce the basic allowance for housing (BAH) for married service members, privatization of commissaries and a recalculation of BAH for VA benefits – provisions the VFW has opposed. It still includes a graduated 5 percent reduction of BAH for service members over a five-year period, which the VFW will work to reduce or eliminate. To read a summary of the Conference Report, visit:https://rules.house.gov/sites/republicans.rules.house.gov/files/114/PDF/114-CRHR1735-SxS.pdf.
The president has warned that he would veto the Conference Report if it were to clear the Senate because it utilizes OCO spending to fund defense programs above budget caps on federal discretionary spending. The Conference Report now awaits consideration by the Senate, which failed to move a military and veterans appropriations bill earlier this week due to concerns over budget caps. The VFW encourages its members and supporters to contact their members of Congress and urge them to put political differences aside to re-evaluate outdated budget caps and ensure defense and veterans programs are fully funded. The VFW strongly believes that Congress must also end the threat of sequestration which has already reduced our military’s operational readiness and negatively impacted America’s ability to meet her obligation to the brave men and women who have worn our nation’s uniform.
3. Senate Holds Hearing on Toxic Exposures: On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “Examining the Impact of Exposure to Toxic Chemicals on Veterans and the VA’s Response.” The Committee explored ideas to improve the way VA handles various toxic exposures, including Blue Water Navy, burn pits, Camp Lejeune and effects on veterans’ descendants. In his remarks, Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) stressed the importance of developing a standardized system that would allow VA to grant benefits for toxic exposures, stating, “It’s very important that we have a thorough examination of what it takes to get to a presumptive conclusion that a disease or a disability has been caused by a [toxic chemical] association and that it be as scientific as it can be so it’s absolutely, unequivocally clear.” Ranking Member Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Senator Jerry Moran (R-KS) spoke in support of their bill, the “Toxic Exposure Research Act of 2015.” This VFW-endorsed legislation would direct VA to research the effects of toxic exposures on the children and grandchildren of veterans. Ensuring that all veterans who were exposed to toxic chemicals in service get the benefits they deserve is a top priority for the VFW. To read the full transcript and watch a webcast of the hearing, click here:http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/exposures09292015.
4. VA Implements Choice Program Expansion: As a result of recent legislation, VA has expanded eligibility for the Choice Program to any veteran enrolled in the VA health care system. Eligibility was previously limited to veterans who enrolled in VA health care before August 1, 2014. VA intends to make more expansions to the Choice Program in the near future. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly to learn about changes as they occur. To learn more, visit: http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/23201/va-implements-the-first-of-several-veterans-choice-program-eligibility-expansions/.
If you have used the Choice Program and would like to share your experience with the VFW, please take a couple minutes to complete our Choice Program Survey. Your participation helps the VFW hold VA accountable for delivering the timely access to high quality care veterans have earned and deserve. To take the survey, please visit: https://www.research.net/r/VFWChoiceSurvey3 or http://www.vfw.org/VAwatch/.
5. Bill for Federal Employees Who Are Disabled Veterans Advances: On Monday, the House passed a bill which would grant disabled veterans hired by the federal government 104 hours of sick leave upon being hired. The leave would be for those who have a VA disability rating of 30% or higher, for the sole purpose of attending medical appointments and would expire after 12 months on the job. Veterans benefiting from this law would continue to accumulate sick leave under existing rules, but this extra time would ensure veterans have enough leave as they start their careers to make their medical appointments. The Senate passed a similar version of this bill and differences will need to be worked out before the bill can become law. For updates on this bill, stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly.
6. VA Partners with Walgreens to Offer Flu Vaccines: This week, VA announced a partnership with Walgreens drugstores to provide flu vaccinations for veterans enrolled to receive VA health care. This is a no-cost program for these veterans as Walgreens will bill VA for services. Family members and those enrolled only in Tricare are not eligible for this program. For more information on the program or to find a local Walgreens, visit: http://www.ehealth.va.gov/immunization.asp.
7. Army Hypocritical to Dismiss Green Berets: One article said the two Green Berets who helped a young Afghan boy who was being sexually abused by a local police commander should receive medals; another called them vigilantes. What worries VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki Jr. is how the conflicting messages are being interpreted by an Army that’s still at war– an Army that still needs to recruit and retain soldiers after the fighting is done.“The Army made examples out of former Capt. Daniel Quinn and Sgt.1st Class Charles Martland,” he said. “The hypocrisy of what happened is had the pedophile been Taliban or Al-Qaida, both would have been applauded for helping the Afghan people, but since it occurred inside the fence by a so-called friendly, the two soldiers were instead accused of overstepping their bounds and putting their team and mission in jeopardy.” The VFW is now backing congressional efforts that call for Defense Secretary Ash Carter to overturn the Army’s decisions. Read more at: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2015-Articles/Army-Hypocritical-to-Dismiss-Green-Berets/.
8. VA Approved Prudential’s Profiteering Plan: Unsealed documents reveal that VA agreed to how Prudential could disperse death payments, and that the insurance giant may have aggressively trained its staff to put company interests ahead of grieving families in the payout of those Servicemembers and Veterans Group Life Insurance benefits. The 3,600 pages were ordered released as the result of a motion filed by the VFW to force Prudential to unseal documents related to a class action lawsuit, which was resolved in December 2014 in a near $40 million settlement that alleged Prudential failed to pay death benefits in the manner required by law. Prudential was required to disclose all but 16 documents, which now makes the VFW suspicious of what’s still being kept from the public, because what has been disclosed paints a picture of institutional greed with the government’s approval. “Prudential initiated this program for the money that could be gained, not to help grieving military families — and the VA knew all about it,” said VFW National Commander John Biedrzycki Jr., who called for an independent investigation and for the SGLI and VGLI contracts to go to another insurance provider. Read more at: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2015-Articles/VA-Approved-Prudential%E2%80%99s-Profiteering-Plan/.
9. Two Korean MIAs Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains belonging to two Army soldiers who had been missing in action from the Korean War. Both will be buried with full military honors on a date and location yet to be determined. Returned are:
– Pfc. Frank Worley, 21, of New Hanover County, N.C., was declared missing in North Korea on Feb. 12, 1951. It was later learned he had been captured, but died in captivity. He was assigned to Battery A, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.
– Cpl. Robert P. Graham, of San Francisco, was declared missing in North Korea on Feb. 13, 1951. It was later learned he had been captured, but died in captivity. He was assigned to Company A, 13th Engineer Combat Battalion, 7th Infantry Division.