Legislative Newsletter Update 17 February 2009 

2/17/2009 

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 President Meets with Intelligence Committee Chairman
  • President Signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
  • VA Funding Bill Introduced in House and Senate
  • New Legislation Spotlight




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    AUSA President Meets with Intelligence Committee Chairman


    A meeting held last week between AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA. Ret., and Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, Chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, touched on several topics including the benefits of fielding the Army's Future Combat Systems (FCS) and their relevance to Homeland Security. 

    Also discussed was FCS’ impact on Fort Bliss, Texas (located in Rep. Reyes' congressional district) and how visits to it by other members of Congress have helped to tell the FCS story in more concrete terms. 

    General Sullivan took the opportunity to present AUSA’s legislative agenda to Rep. Reyes.  Many of AUSA’s 2009 Resolutions focus on issues that affect Rep. Reyes’ constituents.



    President Signs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act


    Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act last week and President Obama signed it into law today. 

    The massive bill was scored by the Congressional Budget Office as costing $787 billion.  Among the items contained in the bill is:

     --$555 million to help military personnel forced to sell their homes in the midst of the current real estate crisis.  The bill will allow the Defense Secretary to acquire title to a military person's property or reimburse the individual for losses after a private sale or foreclosure.

    --Nearly $3 billion in construction funds to repair and modernize military facilities and provide “family-friendly” projects such as barracks for those returning from overseas deployments, family housing, child-care centers, and health and dental clinics on bases in the United States.

    -- $481 million Warrior Transition Complexes – new or expanded facilities to take care of medical and social service needs for those service members wounded overseas and their families.

     
    VA Funding Bill Introduced in House and Senate


    Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., and Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, Chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees held a press conference last week to announce the introduction of the AUSA-supported "Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act" which would create a two-year advance appropriation mechanism to fund the VA health care system. 

    Currently, the VA's budget is subject to delay and uncertainty, hampering budget planning and threatening health care quality for wounded and indigent veterans.  Unlike Medicare and Medicaid, veterans' health care would not be funded as an entitlement:  Congress would still review and manage funding, maintaining oversight.  By knowing what funding they will receive in advance, VA would be able to plan more efficiently, and better use taxpayer dollars to care for veterans. 

    Among the members of Congress in attendance were Reps. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, John Hall, D-N.Y., and Sens. Mark Begich, D-Alaska and Jon Tester, D-Mont. 

    AUSA Director of Government Affairs Bill Loper along with representatives of The Military Coalition attended the press conference. 


    New Legislation Spotlight


    Reps. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas and Henry Brown, Jr., R-S.C. introduced the Military Surviving Spouses Equity Act (H.R. 775) that would repeal the law requiring a dollar-for-dollar deduction of VA benefits for service-connected deaths from military survivors’ Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP) annuity.

    Under the current law, the surviving spouse of a retired military member who dies from a service connected disability is entitled to Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) paid by the Veteran's Administration.  If the military retiree was also enrolled in the Survivor Benefit Plan (SBP), the surviving spouse's annuity is offset by the amount of DIC ($1154 per month).  A pro-rated share of SBP premiums is refunded to the surviving spouse in a lump sum but with no interest.  H.R. 775 repeals the provisions of Title 10 which require the offset of DIC payments from SBP annuities.

    AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., wrote to both representatives thanking them for introducing this important legislation.  His letter stated, “We believe that if military service caused a member’s death, the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) that the VA pays the survivor should be added to the SBP benefits the disabled retiree paid for, not substituted for them. In the case of members who died on active duty, a surviving spouse with children can avoid the dollar-for-dollar offset only by assigning SBP to the children.  That forces the spouse to give up any SBP claim after the children attain their majority – leaving the spouse with only a $1,154 monthly indemnity from the VA.  Surely, those who give their lives for their country deserve fairer compensation for their surviving spouses”.

    H.R. 775 was referred to the House Committee on Armed Services for consideration.