Legislative Newsletter Update 14 December 2009 

12/14/2009 

Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's 
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published 
every Monday when Congress is in session. 



      
 

In this issue:

  • AUSA on the Hill
  • Senate Must Pass Medicare Part B Legislation
  • Military Construction/VA Spending Bill Included in Omnibus Legislation


★★★

AUSA ON THE HILL


AUSA Vice President for Education, LTG Theodore Stroup, USA, Ret., and Director of Government Affairs, Bill Loper met with Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., to present his copy of the AUSA publication "Once a Soldier...Always a Soldier" which devotes two pages to each member of Congress who once served in the Army.  Rep Rooney is one of six new members of the 111th Congress who was added to the book's newest edition. 

Rep. Rooney served on active duty for four years in the Judge Advocate General's Corps at Fort Hood and taught constitutional and criminal law at the United States Military Academy.  He is an advocate for many of the issues that are important to AUSA. 

Rep. Rooney has been a strong supporter of the advanced appropriation process for the Veterans' medical system.  He is deeply concerned about the need for diagnosis and treatment for soldiers with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and traumatic brain injury.  He is also supportive of legislation that will end the SBP DIC offset for survivors that will provide assistance dogs for wounded veterans and that will provide concurrent receipt of retirement and disability compensation for all disabled longevity retirees and medical retirees. 


SENATE MUST PASS MEDICARE PART B LEGISLATION


Under current law, the annual increase in the Part B premium cannot exceed the annual COLA provided through Social Security.  Therefore, in years such as this one where there is no Social Security COLA, about 75 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will not see a Part B premium increase.

However, the current law does not cover all Medicare beneficiaries.  Approximately, 25 percent of beneficiaries aren’t protected by this provision, including:

* new Medicare enrollees;
* beneficiaries with 2008 incomes greater than $85,000 ($170,000 for couples), and;
* State Medicaid programs paying on behalf of their dual eligible beneficiaries.

Also, because 75 percent of beneficiaries won't have any premium hike, current law forces an extra Part B hike on this other 25 percent to keep pace with actual growth in Medicare expenditures.

The House passed the Medicare Premium Fairness Act (H.R. 3631) lin September that would bar any 2010 Part B premium increase for any Medicare beneficiaries.  However, we are still waiting for the Senate to pass the legislation.  The bill has been sitting in the Finance committee since September. 

Unless the Senate acts quickly, the higher Medicare Part B premium increase will go into effect on January 1.  Please send your Senators a letter urging immediate action on H.R. 3631.   Go to AUSA’s website, www.ausa.org, Click on the “Contact Congress” link, enter your zip code, and then click on the letter "Pass the Medicare Premium Fairness Act (H.R. 3631) Immediately."


MILITARY CONSTRUCTION/VA SPENDING BILL INCLUDED IN OMNIBUS LEGISLATION

Last week, Congress passed the conference report for the fiscal 2010 omnibus appropriations bill.  The Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) appropriations bill was part of the package.

The bill provides $53 billion in discretionary funding for the VA and $56.6 billion for mandatory VA programs, $23.3 billion for military construction and family housing, and $1.4 billion for military construction projects in support of the war in Afghanistan.

For the first time, the bill includes AUSA-supported advance appropriations for the VA that will ensure a stable and uninterrupted source of funding for medical care for veterans.  For fiscal 2011, the bill includes $48.2 billion for VA medical programs.

Here is a breakdown of the bill. 

Military Construction

Active Components:  $11.8 billion for barracks, child care centers, installation chapels, and mission critical operational facilities.  The bill also includes $350 million to accelerate the Army’s program to modernize troop housing facilities for trainees.

Guard and reserve:  $1.6 billion to provide readiness centers and operational facilities for the Army National Guard, Air Guard, and Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force reserve forces. It also includes $200 million in additional construction funding to address critical unfunded requirements.

Military Family Housing:  $2.59 billion for family housing to further eliminate inadequate military housing, including $323 million for the Homeowners Assistance Program to provide additional funding for the expanded mortgage relief program for military families who are required to relocate during the current mortgage crisis and must sell their home at a loss, as well as to wounded warriors who must relocate for medical reasons and to the spouses of fallen warriors similarly affected by the mortgage crisis.

Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC):  $496.8 million for the 1990 BRAC round, to address the large unfunded backlog of environmental cleanup for bases that were closed during the four previous BRAC rounds, and $7.5 billion for the 2005 BRAC program.

Overseas Contingency Operations:  $1.4 billion for additional military construction requirements to support operations and previously scheduled troop deployments to Afghanistan.

Department of Veterans' Affairs

$109.6 billion includes $56.6 billion for mandatory veterans benefit programs and $53 billion for discretionary funding.  In addition, the bill provides $48.2 billion in advance appropriations for veterans medical care programs for fiscal year 2011.

Veterans Health Administration (VHA)

$45.1 billion for veterans’ medical care.  The Veterans Health Administration estimates that it will treat more than 6.1 million patients in 2010, including more than 419,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (56,000 more than 2009).

o Rural Health: $250 million to continue the Rural Health Initiative and an additional $30 million to increase the number of Community Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOCs) in rural areas for veterans who do not have ready access to VA hospitals.

o Mental Health: $4.6 billion for mental health care to treat the psychological wounds of returning combat veterans, including post-traumatic stress disorder.  The bill includes an additional $1 million to provide education debt relief as a hiring incentive for mental health professionals.

o Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) Veterans: $2.1 billion to meet the healthcare needs of veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

o Women Veterans Programs: $183 million to meet the unique needs of women veterans.

o Long Term Care: $5.9 billion for both institutional and home-based programs for aging veterans as well as severely wounded OEF/OIF veterans.

o Assistance for Homeless Vets: $3.2 billion for health care and support services for homeless veterans; including $26 million for a Presidential Initiative to combat homelessness, $150 million for the homeless grants and per diem program, $20 million for supportive services for low income veterans and families, and $21 million to hire additional personnel for the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program.

o Medical and Prosthetic Research: $581 million for research in a number of areas including mental health, traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, burn injury, polytrauma injuries, and sensory loss; including a $48 million increase for research to address the critical needs of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans.

o Medical Facilities: $4.9 billion includes a $130 million increase for non-recurring maintenance at existing facilities, $30 million for additional Community Based Outpatient Clinics in rural areas, and $5 million for additional contracting personnel.

VA Construction Programs

$1.9 billion including:

o Major Construction: $1.2 billion for VA facilities, including hospitals and clinics, that will enable the Department to implement the recommendations made by the Capitol Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services (CARES) Commission, which was established to look at facilities and determine their construction needs.

o Minor Construction: $703 million includes $50 million for the renovation of vacant buildings on VA campuses to be used as housing with supportive services for homeless veterans. The VA estimates that on any given night, 131,000 veterans are homeless. This program will strengthen the VA’s goal of eliminating homelessness among veterans by providing housing and counseling services in settings that are in close proximity for VA hospitals.

The bill also includes $1.7 billion in general operating expenses that will enable the Department to hire roughly 1,200 additional claims processors to continue to address the backlog of benefits claims and to reduce the time to process new claims.  The most recent VA quarterly status report estimates that nearly 397,000 claims are pending.

The omnibus legislation includes all of the remaining spending bills except Defense (H.R. 3326), which is being held in reserve as a vehicle for other end-of-session priorities, including increasing the debt limit, aid for the unemployed and other expiring policies. President Obama is expected to sign it later this week.