VFW Action Corps Weekly – September 29, 2017 Happy 118th Birthday, VFW! In This Issue: 1. VA Secretary Testifies on Veteran Suicide 2. VA Authorization Act 2017 3. DOD Releases IFR for TRICARE Select 4. House Veterans’ Affairs Heath Care Hearing 5. Dunford Confirmed for Second Term 6. Women in Defense 7. Army Surgeon General Meeting 8. Get Your Annual Flu Shot 9. MIA Update Download a PDF version of this week’s Action Corps Weekly. 1. VA Secretary Testifies on Veteran Suicide: On Wednesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss Suicide Prevention Month and VA’s #BeThere campaign, which encourages veterans and their families to reach out and offer support to someone who may be struggling with mental health conditions. During the hearing, Secretary Shulkin declared that VA wants to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals to ensure veterans have timely access to mental health care. Shulkin identified the VA’s long hiring process and bureaucratic human resources requirements as barriers to hiring more high quality mental health care professionals. The VFW is submitting testimony identifying the great work of VFW members across the world who have participated in mental wellness events. Also, the VFW urged VA to expand its “press 7” initiative to all outpatient clinics and VA Vet Centers. In its testimony, VA announced the opening of a third Veterans Crisis Line call center in Topeka, Kan., to ensure veterans who are in crisis and press 7 when calling a VA Medical Center can speak to someone who can help. Learn more about the #BeThere campaign. Participate in the VFW’s Mental Wellness Campaign. Watch the hearing, which begins at the 16:57 mark. 2. VA Authorization Act 2017: This week, the House and Senate unanimously passed the VA Authorization Act 2017. This bipartisan piece of legislation reauthorizes 20 programs within both the Veterans Health Administration and Veterans Benefit Administration for fiscal year 2018, such as the Homeless Women Veterans and Homeless Veterans with Children Reintegration Program; the Specially Adapted Housing Program; and authorizes VA to keep the Manilla VA Outpatient Clinic and Regional Office open for an additional year. The bill also provides technical clarification for the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017 regarding housing stipend calculations and the restoration of benefits for veterans who were enrolled in schools that closed abruptly. See the full list of extensions authorized in this bill. 3. DOD Releases IFR for TRICARE Select: On Thursday, the Department of Defense (DOD) released its Interim Final Rule (IFR) for implementation of the transition to TRICARE Select, set to occur Jan. 1, 2018, and the changes to TRICARE as a whole as mandated by the FY17 National Defense Authorization Act. The IFR lays out how DOD’s Defense Health Agency intends to carry out the changes, including the change from a fiscal year to a calendar year cycle of billing, auto enrolling individuals in 2018 from TRICARE Standard and Extra into the new Select program, and restricting the ability to change plans to an open enrollment season or a major life event. Additionally, DOD has proposed to change billing procedures for current active duty family members and retirees by replacing Standard and Extra’s requirement to pay a percentage of services billed to a flat rate cost-share calculated by using average TRICARE Standard and Extra beneficiary expenditures. The VFW opposes this change, because it will raise costs for individuals in lower cost markets. Read the DOD press release and the full Federal Register announcement. 4. House Veterans’ Affairs Heath Care Hearing: On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss 10 bills pending before the committee. The hearing focused on women veterans health, Veterans Health Administration data collection, organization and transparency, pharmaceuticals for service members transitioning into the Department of Veterans Affairs, billing issues, Veterans Treatment Courts and access to service dogs. The VFW submitted testimony in support of a bill to improve VA’s hiring and retention authorities to ensure it is able to quickly hire high quality doctors, provide increased access to VA medical care for women veterans, expand availability of Veterans Treatment Courts to ensure justice-involved veterans are not wrongfully punished for instances related to their service-connected conditions, and several other important bills. Read the VFW’s statement or watch the hearing. 5. Dunford Confirmed for Second Term: The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford to a second two-year term as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The general was the Commandant of the Marine Corps when President Obama nominated him to become the new chairman in May 2015. He officially took over on Oct. 1, 2015, upon the retirement of his predecessor, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey. President Trump nominated him for a second term in May 2017. As chairman, he is the highest ranking officer in the U.S. military, and he serves as the principal military advisor to the president and his administration. 6. Women in Defense: On Wednesday, the VFW attended the annual Women in Defense Conference. Keynote speakers included VFW Life member and first female COCOM Commander Gen. Lori Robinson, who talked about homeland defense, civil support and security cooperation; and the Honorable Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force (SecAF), who spoke about the status of the force. Addressing a key VFW priority, SecAF stated, “If we have to go through sequester…we would break this service. We need to move beyond the Budget Control Act.” See Gen. Robinson’s presentation. 7. Army Surgeon General Meeting: On Thursday, the VFW participated in an MSO/VSO meeting with the Surgeon General and Commanding General, United States Army Medical Command, Lt. Gen. Nadja West. Presentations were provided on the health readiness of the force, access to care metrics, force development, research, behavioral health, and the National Defense Authorization Act requirement to administratively align military medical treatment facilities under the Defense Health Agency. The VFW provided feedback on beneficiary and service member concerns. 8. Get Your Annual Flu Shot: Now through March 31, 2018, all VA-enrolled veterans can receive their free annual flu shots at their local Walgreens or Duane Reade pharmacies. While this immunization program is limited to VA patients, Walgreens can provide flu shots to most VFW members and their families through other coverage programs, such as TRICARE, Medicare and most insurances. Locate your closest Walgreens or Duane Reade. 9. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced identifications of remains and burial updates of 13 American servicemen who had been missing in action from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Returning home for burial with full military honors are: — Army Pfc. Charlie H. Hill, 31, of Williamsburg, Ky., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Sept. 29 in Augusta, Mich. Hill was a member of Battery D, 15th Anti-aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Self-propelled Battalion, 7th Infantry Division. In late November 1950, his unit was assembled with South Korean soldiers in the 31st Regimental Combat Team on the east side of the Chosin River, North Korea, when his unit was attacked by Chinese forces. Hill was among more than 1,000 members of the RCT killed or captured in enemy territory and was declared missing on Dec. 2, 1950. He did not appear on any POW lists and the Army declared him deceased on Dec. 31, 1953. Read about Hill. — Marine Corps Pvt. Joseph C. Carbone, 20, of Brooklyn, N.Y., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Sept. 30 in his hometown. Carbone was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division. His unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance. Carbone was killed on the first day of the battle. Read about Carbone. — Army Sgt. Thomas E. Zimmer, 19, of Milwaukee, Wis., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Sept. 30 in his hometown. Zimmer was stationed with Battery A, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 31st Regimental Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division, on the east side of the Chosin River, North Korea, when his unit was attacked by Chinese Forces. After heavy fighting, his unit was forced to withdraw to Hagaru-ri. Zimmer was unaccounted for after the battle and was reported missing as of Dec. 6, 1950. He did not appear on any POW lists and the Army declared him deceased on Dec. 31, 1953. Read about Zimmer. — Navy Fireman 1st Class Walter B. Rogers, 22, of Bison, S.D., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Oct. 2 in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. Rogers 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. Rogers was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Rogers. — Seaman 1st Class Milton R. Surratt, 21, of Greenville, S.C., whose identification was previously announced, will be buried Oct. 6, in Mauldin, S.C. Surratt was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Surratt was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Surratt. — Marine Corps Reserve 2nd Lt. Elwood R. Bailey was a pilot assigned to Marine Fighting Squadron 223 (VMF-223), Marine Aircraft Group 23, (MAG-23). On Aug. 24, 1942, Bailey engaged his F4F-4 Wildcat in air-to-air combat with Japanese Military Air Forces over Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. He failed to return to base and was declared missing in action on the assumption that he had been shot down. Interment services are pending. Read about Bailey. — Marine Corps Reserve Pvt. Charles A. Drew was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Drew’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance. Drew was killed on the first day of the battle. Interment services are pending. Read about Drew. — Marine Corps Pvt. John M. Tillman was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division. Tillman’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll on Nov. 20, 1943, against stiff Japanese resistance. Tillman was killed on the first day of the battle. Interment services are pending. Read about Tillman. — Army Air Forces Tech Sgt. John S. Bailey was a member of the 38th Bombardment Squadron, (Heavy), 30th Bombardment Group, stationed at Hawkins Field, Helen Island, Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Islands. On Jan. 21, 1944, Bailey’s B-24J bomber crashed shortly after takeoff. Interment services are pending. Read about Bailey. — Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Homer A. Spence was a member of the 96th Fighter Squadron, 82nd Fighter Group. On July 20, 1944, Spence flew his P-38J on a bomber escort mission targeting Memmingen Airdrome in Germany. On the return flight, his aircraft was seen diving into the clouds and there was no further communication from him. Interment services are pending. Read about Spence. — Army Cpl. Donald L. Baer was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, which was engaged with enemy forces in and around the city of Taejon (now Daejon), South Korea. On July 19, 1950, enemy forces initiated a large-scale attack on the city. Baer could not be accounted for after the battle and was declared missing in action as of July 20, 1950. Interment services are pending. Read about Baer. — Army Maj. Stephen T. Uurtamo was a member of Headquarters Battery, 82nd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Automatic Weapons Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, which was engaged in persistent attacks with the Chinese forces near the Ch’ongch’on River in North Korea. On Nov. 30, 1950, the unit was forced to withdraw south along the Main Supply Route, known as “The Gauntlet.” Uurtamo could not be accounted for after the withdrawal and was declared missing as of Dec. 1, 1950. It was later determined that he had been captured and died at a POW Transit Camp. Interment services are pending. Read about Uurtamo. — Army Pfc. Leroy W. Bryant was a member of Company C, 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. On Feb. 6, 1951, Bryant’s unit was tasked to determine the location and strength of enemy forces in the town of Yonghyon-ni, South Korea. They were attacked by enemy forces and forced to withdraw. Bryant could not be accounted for after the attack and was declared missing in action. Interment services are pending. Read about Bryant. Do you know someone who wants to help us fight for veterans? Sign up new veterans’ advocates today. As always, we want to hear your advocacy stories. Email the VFW to share your stories or photos with us. Missed last week’s issue? Read it here.