VFW Action Corps Weekly – October 27, 2017 In This Issue: 1. Congress Authorizes COLA Increase for Veterans 2. Take the VFW Survey on TRICARE 3. VFW Testifies on VA Health Care, Choice Program 4. VFW Testifies on VA Overpayments and Debt Management 5. VFW Attends Blue Water Agent Orange Roundtable 6. Filipino Vets Awarded Congressional Gold Medal 7. House National Guard and Reserve Caucus 8. VA Women Veterans Summit Webinars 9. Senate Committee Advances BVA, NCA, Enterprise Integrations Nominees 10. MIA Update Download a PDF version of this week’s Action Corps Weekly. 1. Congress Authorizes COLA Increase for Veterans: On Wednesday, the Senate passed H.R. 1329, the Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2017. This legislation would increase the rates of VA disability compensation, dependency compensation for surviving children and spouses, as well as the clothing allowance for veterans. This increase is based on the yearly cost-of-living adjustment increase that Social Security recipients receive, which is determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index. Earlier this year, the House passed H.R. 1329, which now waits President Trump’s signature. Once signed into law, the expected 2 percent increase will become effective on Jan. 1, 2018. 2. Take the VFW Survey on TRICARE: Last year’s National Defense Authorization Act contained a number of changes to TRICARE, most of which take effect Jan. 1, 2018. The VFW believes service members, veterans and their families must be able to voice how these changes will impact them. To ensure your views and preferences are heard, the VFW has developed a survey to gauge our members’ awareness of these changes and how they will affect beneficiaries. The data collected will be used to advocate for policy and legislative changes that are based on the needs of TRICARE beneficiaries. Take the survey. 3. VFW Testifies on VA Health Care, Choice Program: On Tuesday, the VFW testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on pending health care legislation. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin testified for VA. The VFW discussed the future of VA’s Choice Program and consolidating community care programs. Other legislation included topics such as organ transplants, nursing homes, sexual trauma and suicide. Watch the hearing or read the testimony. 4. VFW Testifies on VA Overpayments and Debt Management: The House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing this week to discuss how VA can effectively prevent and manage overpayments. VFW National Legislative Service Deputy Director John Towles offered the VFW’s position on the issue and highlighted several common-sense steps that could be taken by VA to prevent and properly manage overpayments, including ensuring that the contact information VA is using to notify veterans of overpayments is up-to-date; clarifying the eligibility for a debt waiver; outlining in easy-to-understand terms the steps that should be taken to request a payment plan for legitimate overpayments; ensuring that VA suspends all recoupment efforts once a veteran appeals a debt recoupment decision; and ensuring that regional office and debt management staff are trained to conduct proper due diligence, and are better trained in VA’s debt management and collections procedures and protocols. View the hearing and read the testimony. The hearing begins at the 17:38 mark, and VFW testimony begins at the 41:00 mark. 5. VFW Attends Blue Water Agent Orange Roundtable: On Wednesday, the VFW attended a roundtable with nearly a dozen veteran and military service organizations, congressional staffers, and veterans impacted by Agent Orange. The roundtable focused on the need to expand presumptive coverage for an estimated 90,000 veterans, as the needed legislation awaits congressional action. The VFW has testified in support of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017 several times and is working with VA and Congress to ensure benefits are expanded to Blue Water Navy veterans without eroding other veteran benefits. Additionally, the VFW continues to reaffirm its support for these veterans through the annual adoption of a resolution at the VFW National Convention calling for expansion of Agent Orange presumptive benefits to Blue Water Navy veterans. Stay tuned to the VFW Action Corps Weekly for more updates on this vital topic. 6. Filipino Vets Awarded Congressional Gold Medal: The service and sacrifice of Filipino veterans from World War II were honored this week with the highest award Congress can provide: the Congressional Gold Medal. It was awarded to recognize the collective efforts of some 250,000 Filipino soldiers who served honorably in an active duty status between July 26, 1941, and Dec. 31, 1946, under the command of the U.S. Army Forces in the Far East within the Philippine Commonwealth Army, the Philippine Scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, recognized guerrilla units, the New Philippine Scouts, the First Filipino Infantry Regiment, the Second Filipino Infantry Battalion (Separate), and the First Reconnaissance Battalion, including those commanding or serving as U.S. military officers or enlisted soldiers. Passage of the legislation, sponsored by U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.), accomplishes VFW Resolution 305, which was passed at the 116th VFW National Convention in Pittsburgh. Previous military recipients of the Congressional Gold Medal have been the Tuskegee Airmen, Women Airforce Service Pilots, the 65th Infantry Regiment, Doolittle Raiders, Montford Point Marines, Native American Code Talkers, and the 100th Infantry Battalion, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the Military Intelligence Service, among many others. Read more about the presentation and how to obtain a replica of from the U.S. Mint and watch the Wednesday ceremony. 7. House National Guard and Reserve Caucus: On Tuesday, the VFW attended a National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus at the House of Representatives. Director, Army National Guard, Lt. Gen. Timothy J. Kadavy and Chief of Army Reserve Lt. Gen. Charles D. Luckey, spoke about how the Total Force Policy is changing the demands on the reserve component. Both generals also addressed questions regarding how this change could impact employment of National Guard and Reserve members in the civilian/corporate sector and some of the limitations of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), the federal law that establishes rights and responsibilities for uniformed service members and their civilian employers. 8. VA Women Veterans Summit Webinars: In August, Hurricane Harvey forced the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to cancel the majority of events scheduled for their National Women Veterans Summit held in Houston, Texas. Consequently, VA will be hosting live webinars for discussions and panels that were cancelled. The webinars will be available to watch and/or livestream from VA’s website beginning Oct. 23. Topics to be covered will include employment, health care, local and federal resources and more. Learn more and see the webinar schedule. 9. Senate Committee Advances BVA, NCA, Enterprise Integration Nominees: On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs voted to advance the nominations of Melissa Sue Glynn to serve as VA assistant secretary for Enterprise Integration, Cheryl L. Mason to be chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA), and Randy Reeves to be VA undersecretary for the National Cemetery Administration (NCA). The nomination hearing was held on Oct. 4, 2017. Nominees now await confirmation by the full Senate. Watch the hearing, which starts at the 14:20 minute mark. 10. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced identifications of remains and burial updates of seven American servicemen who had been missing in action from World War II and the Korean War. Returning home for burial with full military honors are: — Army Staff Sgt. Michael Aiello, 35, of Springfield, Ill., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Oct. 28 in his hometown. Aiello was a member of Company G, 401st Glider Infantry Regiment (GIR). Attached to the 325th GIR for Operation Market Garden in September 1944, Aiello’s unit battled German forces in a dense forest in the Netherlands, known as Kiekberg Woods. During four days of intense battle, the Americans incurred many losses, including Aiello. Read about Aiello. — Army Pfc. Richard A. Lucas, 17, of Monmouth, N.J., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Nov. 2 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Lucas was assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Lucas’s unit was located in defensive positions in the area of the Chongchon River, northeast of Kujang, North Korea, when enemy forces launched a large-scale attack on Nov. 25, 1950. Intense fighting separated the battalion from the rest of the regiment and Lucas was reported missing in action on Nov. 26, 1950. Read about Lucas. — Army Pfc. Walter C. Hackenberg, 22, of Snyder County, Pa., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Nov. 2 in Middleburg, Pa. Hackenberg was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, when Chinese and North Korean forces attacked his unit west of Chorw’on, South Korea, in April 1951. The American troops were able to hold the line, but Hackenberg could not be accounted for at the end of the battle. He was declared missing in action as of April 25, 1951. Read about Hackenberg. — Navy Shopfitter 3rd Class Francis L. Hannon was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Hannon was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Interment services are pending. Read about Hannon. — Marine Corps Pfc. Arnold J. Harrison was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. On Nov. 20, 1943, Harrison’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll against stiff Japanese resistance. Over several days of intense fighting, approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed. Harrison was killed on the first day of the battle. Interment services are pending. Read about Harrison. — Army Sgt. 1st Class Lester R. Walker was assigned to Battery B, 82nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division. On Sept. 3, 1950, Walker was attached to Task Force Haynes in the vicinity of Changnyeong, South Korea, when he disappeared. Based on a lack of information concerning his status, the U.S. Army declared him deceased and his remains non-recoverable. Read about Walker. — Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Donald E. Eichschlag was assigned to Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. In November 1950, Eichschlag’s unit fought against repeated attacks by Chinese forces in the area surrounding Yudam-ni, North Korea. Eichschlag was reported to be killed in action on Nov. 28, 1950 during the fight over Hill 1250. Interment services are pending. Read about Eichschlag.