Legislative News is AUSA Government Affairs Directorate's
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
In this issue:
★★★CONCURRENT RECEIPT FOR CHAPTER 61 RETIREES
AUSA has worked tirelessly to eliminate the deduction of VA disability compensation from earned military retired pay for all disabled retirees. Therefore, we were elated when the Obama Administration included a provision that would expand concurrent receipt to Chapter 61 retirees (those medically retired for service-related conditions before they could complete 20 or more years of service) in his budget request for fiscal 2010. While we want full concurrent receipt, we figured any progress made towards our goal was a win and great news for disabled retirees.
We were even more encouraged when the House Armed Services Committee managed to find funding for the first year of the expansion and included it in the House version of the 2010 defense authorization bill.
Reality set in when the Senate unveiled its version of the defense authorization bill and the provision was left out. Ultimately, the House provision was dropped in conference because some in the Senate objected to the specific funding sources identified by the House, and leaders could not find other offsets to comply with Senate budget-scoring rules
Now, the Obama Administration has once again included a provision in its fiscal 2011 budget request that would provide full concurrent receipt of disability and military retired pay to eligible veterans by Jan. 1, 2015.
Not so fast according to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo. While he has shown that he is a supporter of concurrent receipt, Skelton said the Obama initiative does not satisfy the House’s strict budgeting rules. He said the problem is that the administration has not identified specific offsets — either cuts in existing programs or revenue increases — to pay for the new benefits for disabled retirees.
“This committee has a deep commitment to this issue and our veterans, but we simply cannot enact it unless the administration identifies and advocates for specific offsets,” Skelton said at a recent hearing on the 2011 defense request.
The Administration’s budget request adds $408 million to the military retirement trust fund in 2011 specifically to cover the first phase of a five-year plan to expand concurrent receipt to service members medically retired with fewer than 20 years of service who have disability ratings of 90 percent or greater.
But Rep. Skelton said the $408 million increase in the trust fund doesn’t meet congressional “pay-as-you-go” rules, which require a specific offset to pay for a specific increase. Without an offset, he said the committee is unable to pass concurrent receipt legislation.
Rep. Jim Marshall, D-Ga., who is also a longtime sponsor of concurrent receipt legislation, said he is not ready to give up. Rep. Marshall wants the committee to “work closely” with the House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for tax policy, to find money for concurrent receipt.
“It seems to me we ought to be able to find $5.1 billion over a 10-year period of time, as large as our mandatory spending is. We ought to be able to do that and get this done once and for all,” Rep. Marshall said.
We agree and will continue to fight STRONGLY for full concurrent receipt not only for Chapter 61 retirees, but for all disabled retirees.
FISCAL 2011 BUDGET DETAILS FOR THE VETERANS’ ADMINISTRATION
The Obama Administration has requested $125 billion for the Department of Veterans Affairs for fiscal 2011.
“Our budget proposal provides the resources necessary to continue our aggressive pursuit of President Obama’s two over-arching goals for Veterans,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki. “First, the requested budget will help transform VA into a 21st century organization. And second, it will ensure that we approach Veterans’ care as a lifetime initiative, from the day they take their oaths until the day they are laid to rest.”
The $125 billion budget request includes $60.3 billion for discretionary spending (mostly health care) and $64.7 billion in mandatory funding (mostly for disability compensation and pensions).
The President’s budget proposal includes:
* An increase of $460 million and more than 4,000 additional claims processors for Veterans benefits. This is a 27 percent funding increase over the 2010 level.
* $44 million to complete by December 2010 an automated system for processing applications for the new Post-9/11 GI Bill. VA also plans to start development next year of electronic systems to process claims from other VA-administered educational programs.
* $4.2 billion in 2011 to reduce and help prevent homelessness among Veterans. That breaks down into $3.4 billion for core medical services and $799 million for specific homeless programs and expanded medical care, which includes $294 million for expanded homeless initiatives. This increased investment for expanded homeless services is consistent with the VA secretary’s established goal of ultimately eliminating homelessness among Veterans.
* $5.2 billion for mental health, an increase of $410 million (or 8.5 percent) over current spending, enabling expansion of inpatient, residential and outpatient mental health services, with emphasis on making mental health services part of primary care and specialty care.
* $250 million to strengthen access to health care for 3.2 million Veterans enrolled in VA’s medical system who live in rural areas. Rural outreach includes expanded use of home-based primary care and mental health.
* $42 million for VA’s home telehealth program which links patients and health care providers by telephones and includes telephone-based data transmission, enabling daily monitoring of patients with chronic problems. The effort already cares for 35,000 patients and is the largest program of its kind in the world.
* $217.6 million to meet the gender-specific health care needs of women Veterans, an increase of $18.6 million (or 9.4 percent) over the 2010 level. Enhanced primary care for women Veterans remains one of the Department’s top priorities. The number of women Veterans is growing rapidly and women are increasingly using VA for their health care.
During 2011, VA expects to treat 6.1 million patients, who will account for more than 800,000 hospitalizations and 83 million outpatient visits. The total includes 439,000 Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, for whom $2.6 billion is included in the budget proposal. That’s an increase of $597 million – or 30 percent – from the current budget.
The proposed budget for health care includes $6.8 billion for long-term care, an increase of $859 million (or 14 percent) over 2010. This amount includes $1.5 billion for non-institutional long-term care. Medical and prosthetic research initiatives would receive $590 million.
The request seeks $54.3 billion in advance appropriations for 2012 for health care, an increase of $2.8 billion over the 2011 enacted amount. Planned initiatives in 2012 include better leveraging acquisitions and contracting, enhancing the use of referral agreements, strengthening VA’s relationship with the Defense Department, and expanding the use of medical technology.