Legislative Newsletter Update 28 September 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

  • Amendments to Protect Veterans' Healthcare Accepted
  • Students Awaiting Education Benefits under GI Bill to get Emergency Check
  • House Passes "StopGap" Spending Measure


Amendments to Protect Veterans' Healthcare Accepted

AUSA’s support of amendments that would protect veterans and service members from certain provisions in the House’s healthcare reform bill (H.R. 3200) has paid off.  Rep. Steve Buyer, R-Ind., concerned that several provisions in the bill could have an adverse effect on veterans, submitted six amendments to address these provisions.  Last week, he received confirmation from Energy and Commerce Committee leadership that two of his amendments had been accepted.  The amendments would (1) allow veterans, military personnel and their families retain the choice of keeping their respective TRICARE or VA health coverage and obtain additional private or public health insurance; and (2) allow the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs retain sole authority over their respective health care systems.
Rep. Buyer also received assurances from the Chairmen of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Ways and Means Committee, and Education and Labor Committee that they are committed to addressing his remaining four amendments.  Those amendments would:

--Prevent veterans from being subjected to a 2.5 percent tax due to their enrollment in the VA health care system;

--Ensure the public option created in the bill reimburses the VA for treatment of non-service connected care;

--Exempt Guard and reserve employers from the eight percent employer mandate penalty tax; and,

--Protect Guard and serve members from the 2.5 percent individual penalty tax.

AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition are and will continue to be vigilant and engaged with the Hill to head off any parts of the ultimate legislation that would disadvantage our constituents.  That includes the presumption that in the fiscal 2011 DoD budget, there will probably be another attempt to increase fees and copays which we are already preparing to fight against.

Add your voice to ours!  Click on the Contact Congress icon in the upper right corner of our webpage, http://ausastg.portalsolutions.net/Pages/default.aspx.  Enter your zip code and look for the prepared letter that says “Protecting Military/Veteran Health Care During Health Care Reform”.

Rep. Buyer acknowledged the support he received from AUSA.  In a statement released after his amendments were accepted, Rep. Buyer thanked AUSA and some of its partners in The Military Coalition for taking a “principled stand in supporting these amendments” and for “their unwavering resolve on this issue”.

Students Awaiting Education Benefits under GI Bill to get Emergency Checks

Last week, the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Eric Shinseki announced that the VA has authorized checks for up to $3,000 to be given to students who have applied for educational benefits and who have not yet received their government payment. 

“Students should be focusing on their studies, not worrying about financial difficulties,” Secretary Shinseki said.  “Education creates life-expanding opportunities for our Veterans.”

Starting Friday, Oct. 2, 2009, students can go to one of VA’s 57 regional benefit offices with a photo ID and a course schedule to request advance payment of their education benefits.  Because not all these offices are located near students, VA expects to send representatives to schools with large Veteran-student bodies and work with Veteran Service Organizations to help students with transportation needs.  (For a list of VA regional offices, go to www.vba.va.gov/VBA/benefits/offices.asp.)

The funds are advance payments of the earned benefits for education.  This money will be deducted from future education payments.   VA officials said after this special payment, students can expect to receive education payments on the normal schedule -- the beginning of the month following the period for which they are reimbursed.

“This is an extraordinary action we’re taking,” said Shinseki. “But it’s necessary because we recognize the hardships some of our Veterans face.”

More than 27,500 students have already received benefits for housing or books under the new Post-9/11 GI Bill, or their schools received their tuition payments.

House Passes "StopGap" Spending Measure

Legislation that will temporarily extend spending on most federal programs at the current levels was passed by the House last week. 

The one-month stopgap measure is needed because Congress failed to complete work on any of the 12 annual spending bills required to keep the government running. 

Those measures were tacked onto a $4.7 billion House-Senate compromise bill that will finance Congress’s own budget.  In doing so, it spares Democrats politically difficult votes on both the House and Senate floors.

The stopgap measure would extend financing for the operating budgets of Cabinet departments and other agencies at current levels through Oct. 31. Exceptions would be made to provide more money for the Census Bureau, which is preparing for the 2010 count, and for veterans’ medical programs.

So what about the defense authorization and appropriations bills?

The Senate started work on their version of the fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill last week.  The House passed their bill on July 30.  Once the full Senate votes on the measure, it will go to conference to iron out the differences.

Both the House and Senate passed their defense authorizations bills for 2010.  The conference is scheduled to take place this week.