Action Corps Weekly – October 30, 2015
In This Issue:
1. Joint Hearing on DOD/VA Interoperability
2. Senate Holds Hearing on Mental Health
3. Bipartisan Budget Deal Clears House
4. Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act Passes Congress
5. TRICARE Young Adult Premiums Going Up
6. Pay & Benefits Uncertainty Tops New Family Survey
7. Gulf War Illness Research Update
8. Monuments Men Receive Congressional Gold Medal
1. Joint Hearing on DOD/VA Interoperability: On Tuesday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Information Technology (IT) and the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a joint hearing on the interoperability of DOD and VA electronic health care records. During the hearing DOD and VA assured committee members that they would meet interoperability goals for 2015. The Government Accountability Office testified that fully interoperable health care systems are still years away. Committee members discussed the need for a more seamless transfer of health care data between the departments and private sector health care providers. To view a video of the hearing and read the testimony, visit: https://oversight.house.gov/hearing/18424/.
2. Senate Holds Hearing on Mental Health: On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, “VA Mental Health: Ensuring Access to Care.” The hearing followed the release of a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that clearer guidance on mental health access policies and wait time data is needed at VA. A representative from GAO testified on the report, stating that VA’s policy of calculating wait times from the “preferred date,” a date determined by the VA scheduler when the appointment is made, often does not accurately reflect the wait time perceived by the veteran. This corroborates a concern that the VFW has consistently expressed that the wait times reported by VA do not match those actually experienced by veterans. GAO recommended that VA reevaluate the way it calculates wait times. The VFW believes that it is critically important that VA accurately report wait times to ensure that veterans are receiving timely care. Another topic included in the hearing was VA’s inability to hire providers quickly due to cumbersome federal hiring regulations. To watch a webcast of the hearing, click here:http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/va-mental-health-ensuring-access-to-care10282015.
3. Bipartisan Budget Deal Clears Congress: On Wednesday, the House of Representatives passed a newly announced two-year budget deal with a vote of 392 to 37, the Senate followed suit early Friday morning with 64-35 vote. The deal was the result of negotiations between congressional leadership and the White House. It would increase the Budget Control Act budget caps that were established in 2011 by providing an $80 billion budget increase divided equally among defense and domestic accounts over the next two years. Although the deal fails to permanently repeal sequestration, it does provide DOD and VA two years of budget predictability near the president’s requested levels, which would improve the administration’s ability to carry out a strong national defense strategy and fully support service members, veterans and their families. The deal would also fix the social security disability insurance shortfall, reduce the Medicare Part B premium increase for this year for those expecting an increase, and raise the debt limit. The bill now heads to the President for his signiture. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates on this important bill.
4. Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act Passes Congress: On Monday, the Senate unanimously passed the Wounded Warriors Federal Leave Act, legislation strongly supported by the VFW. Having already passed the House, the bill now heads to the president’s desk for signature. Once it becomes law, it will provide federally employed disabled veterans with 104 hours of “Wounded Warrior leave” during their first year of employment that may be used to seek care for their service-connected disabilities. The VFW thanks Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), as well as Representative Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), for their leadership on this issue and their bipartisan effort in securing the passage of this important bill.
5. TRICARE Young Adult Premiums Going Up: This week, DOD announced significant premium increases for the TRICARE Young Adult program. Under the new rates, effective January 1, 2016, TRICARE Young Adult Prime will increase from $208 to $306 per month and TRICARE Young Adult Standard will increase from $181 to $228. The program, which began in 2011, allows adult children of TRICARE beneficiaries to receive coverage until age 26. One of the statutory requirements when the program was created was that it remain cost-free to taxpayers. The rise in premiums represents a higher than expected usage rate of the program. These increases do not affect other TRICARE beneficiaries. To find out more, click here:http://www.tricare.mil/Costs/HealthPlanCosts/TYA.aspx.
6. Pay & Benefits Uncertainty Tops New Family Survey: Military pay and retirement benefits changes are the top two concerns of the just released Blue Star Families’ 2015 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. The uncertainty in budget and continued opportunity to serve in uniform has created a theme of “eyes on the exits,” said Cristin Orr Shiffer, the nonprofit group’s deputy director of research and policy, in a Military Times article. The VFW-supported survey, now in its sixth edition, surveyed almost 6,300 military service members, spouses and veterans. Regarding obstacles to financial readiness, respondents cited uncertainty in military life, spouse employment, and benefits uncertainty and changes as their top three concerns. 75 percent of spouses reported that being a military spouse negatively impacted their ability to pursue a career. On the upside, 87 percent of respondents reported the military did prepare them to be a leader in the civilian workplace and community, and 97 percent felt pride in their accomplishments during their service. Download the survey at: http://www.bluestarfam.org/resources/military-family-lifestyle-survey.
7. Gulf War Illness Research Update: The Department of Veterans Affairs War Related Illness and Injury Study Center currently has several research studies that may be of interest to Operation Desert Shield/Storm veterans and non-deployed Gulf War Era veterans at their East Orange, N.J., medical campus. If you are a veteran from the 1990-91 era, or if you have Gulf War Illness or would like to know more about the research, please call 1-800-225-5170 or visit their Gulf War Research page at: http://1.usa.gov/1LpLQ2o.
8. Monuments Men Receive Congressional Gold Medal: On Oct. 22, four of six surviving members of the Monuments Men were present in the U.S. Capitol to receive the Congressional Gold Medal for their World War II service to find and secure priceless pieces of art that at the time were being plundered by Nazi Germany. Once 350-men strong from 14 allied countries, the Monuments Men were a little-known band of art curators, scholars and architects until a movie by the same name was released last year. The Congressional Gold Medal is the nation’s highest civilian honor. Read more about the presentation here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/politics-government/congress/article41044539.html.