Retiree & Veteran News 28 May 2013 



The long legislative process with getting the defense authorization bill passed and signed by the president started last week when the subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee marked up their portions of the bill.  

The news from the Personnel Subcommittee’s markup is very promising with regards to several of AUSA’s top issues.   
The subcommittee agreed with AUSA and rejected DoD’s continued attempts to raise military healthcare fees by increasing Tricare Prime enrollment fees and pharmacy copays and establishing an enrollment fee for Tricare for Life and Tricare Standard.  An AUSA salute to Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., Ranking Member Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., and the rest of the subcommittee for their steadfast support of AUSA and its partners in The Military Coalition on this issue.  In fact, Wilson said, “Congress spoke last year and the year before on this issue.  I find it difficult to understand the department’s continued effort to increase fees.”  
The subcommittee also rejected the one percent pay raise for military personnel proposed by the Pentagon and instead is proposing a 1.8 percent raise.  DoD’s proposal would have been the smallest since 1958 and the first time since 1999 that the increase would not have at least matched average private sector wage growth.  Wilson said the proposed 1.8 percent would match last year’s average increase in private sector wages.
The Subcommittee’s markup would also:
--Reduce the number of general and flag officer billets by 24.
--Ensure service end strength requests are within the limitations for reductions set by the fiscal 2013 National Defense Authorization Act. 
--Reaffirm the Committee's commitment to the operational reserves by requiring a minimum 180 day notification before deployment or cancellation of deployment. 
--Provide further authority to improve National Guard readiness.
--Authorize the commander of Special Operations Command to use SOCOM funding for family support services.
--Bar command authorities from dismissing all but minor sexual offenses from a court-martial.
--Prohibit command authorities from reducing a guilty finding in a sexual assault case to a lesser offense.
-Eliminate the five-year statute of limitations on sexual assaults and establish dismissal or dishonorable discharge as the mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy or an attempt to commit those offenses.
--Allow consideration of victims’ applications for permanent changes of station or unit transfers.
--Amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to expand certain mortgage protections for service members, surviving spouses, and veterans; to make knowing violations of these protections a criminal offense; and to increase civil penalties for violations of these protections.
--Authorize the Secretary of the Army to award the Army Combat Action Badge to a person who, while a member of the Army, participated in combat during which the person personally engaged, or was personally engaged by, the enemy at any time during the period beginning on December 7, 1941, and ending on September 18, 2001
Of interest in the Readiness Subcommittee’s markup is their rejection of any new base realignment and closures for 2015.  They also included a requirement that the Pentagon report to Congress on steps taken to minimize any negative impact of civilian furloughs.  
As we said, the news is promising; however, this is only the first step.  The full committee markup is scheduled for 5 June and the bill could go to the House floor one week later.  The Senate Armed Services Committee has said that it will start its work on 12 June.  

A bill that would punish people who falsely claim to have won military awards, such as the Congressional Medal of Honor, and profit from those lies has passed both chambers of Congress and is headed to the president for signature.
The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 made it a crime to lie about military service and awards, but was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 28, 2012.
Introduced by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (H.R. 258) would be constitutional because it focuses on those who seek to benefit from misrepresentations of military service and awards.
Rep. Heck's more narrowly-focused bill states, "whoever, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year, or both." The bill covers issues ranging from lying to receive veteran or health care benefits to obtaining a government contract or getting a job reserved for a veteran. 


AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., attended the Senate Army Caucus breakfast on Capitol Hill last week.  Attendees included senior Army leaders as well as key Senators and their personal and professional staff members.

 The keynote speaker was Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Ray Odierno.  Among his talking points was the urgent need for a predictable funding stream that does not include continuing resolutions so that planning based on actual appropriations rather than presumed or hoped for appropriations can occur.  

Odierno’s message has not wavered.  He believes that the fiscal crisis facing the Army is due in part to the fundamental lack of predictability in the budget cycle.  Operating under a continuing resolution prevents new starts for needed programs, limits reprogramming actions, creates inefficiency, and often results in wasteful funding for accounts no longer wanted or needed.  If not addressed, the current fiscal uncertainty will significantly and rapidly degrade Army readiness for the next five to ten years. 

The breakfast gave Gen. Sullivan the opportunity to reinforce Odierno’s message to the attending Senators which included the Caucus Co-chairs Sens. Jack Reed, D-R.I.,and Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.  


Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., has introduced legislation (H.R. 1971)  that would require the Defense Department to offer the TRICARE Prime managed health care option in places where the department plans to discontinue the program.

Due to a policy change, more than 170,000 veterans across the country who live outside 100 miles of a military treatment facility will lose access to TRICARE Prime on Oct. 1, 2013.  Kline’s legislation, the “Keep Faith with TRICARE Prime Act,” would afford every affected veteran the opportunity to continue their enrollment in TRICARE Prime or move to TRICARE Standard, depending upon which plan best fits their needs.

Military retirees in Prime pay annual enrollment fees of $269.26 for an individual and $538.56 for families, and their co-pays for outpatient care are $12.  Prime requires no deductibles. TRICARE Standard has no enrollment fees but carries greater out-of-pocket costs, including cost shares of 25 percent for retirees and annual deductibles for outpatient care of $150 for an individual and $300 for a family for retirees. 

According to DoD data, a family of three using TRICARE Standard averaged $2,075 in out-of-pocket costs for health care in fiscal 2009, while a similar family in Prime paid about $1,375. 

Kline said his proposed bill would help TRICARE Prime beneficiaries on a fixed income who might not be able to afford the extra cost.

“Promises made should be promises kept and the Pentagon should not break faith with our nation’s heroes,” said Kline, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps.  “My legislation keeps faith with nearly 4,000 veterans in Minnesota and more than 170,000 nationwide.  I look forward to working with my House and Senate colleagues from both sides of the aisle to help those affected by the Pentagon’s misguided TRICARE policy change.”


A bill that provides funding for military construction and the VA was approved by a House appropriations subcommittee last week.

The Military Construction/VA Appropriations subcommittee unanimously approved the bill which would appropriate $147.6 billion, of which $73.3 billion is slated for discretionary programs.  

One of the biggest challenges facing the VA is the backlog of pending disability claims that totaled 856,092 as of August 2012, with an average wait of 254 days.  To help address the backlog, the bill would provide $155 million for the Veterans Benefit Management System, a paperless claims process system as well as $136 million for the Veterans Claims Intake Program.  That program would eliminate the paper-based system by digitally scanning existing paper health records.  It would also provide $344 million for a single, DoD-VA electronic health record program.

What’s next:  The legislation will now go to the full appropriations committee for approval.  

Blue Star Families 2013 Lifestyle Survey

Blue Star Families recently released the findings of its fourth annual Military Family Lifestyle Survey. In the fall of last year, Blue Star Families surveyed more than 5,100 military family members online to find out the top concerns of the military community. Among the most important issues were military child education, the effects of deployment on children, and military spouse employment. Thirty-five percent of respondents listed pay/benefits as the top issue of military family life. At the survey release briefing held at the Capitol Visitors Center, guests were addressed by Senate and House Military Family Caucus Co-Chairs Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers and Congressman Sanford Bishop, along with a panel of military family members, service members, and military community leaders that fleshed out the survey findings further. The full report is available to read or download here.

Army Announces Investigation at Fort Hood, Texas

In light of recent sexual assault allegations at Fort Hood, Texas, an investigation has been launched. In addition, after being briefed on the investigation, Secretary Hagel ordered for the retraining and of recruiters and sexual assault responders. The safety of service members is the number one concern, and Hagel insists that more work will be done to ensure this security. Said Pentagon press secretary George Little, “Sexual assault is a crime, and will be treated as such…The safety, integrity, and well-being of every service member and the success of our mission hang in the balance. Secretary Hagel is looking urgently at every course of action to stamp out this deplorable conduct and ensure that those individuals up and down the chain of command who tolerate or engage in this behavior are appropriately held accountable.” Read more about the measures being taken here.

Hagel Announces Fewer Furlough Days for DoD Employees

Defense Secretary Hagel announced that DoD employees will now be required to take only half of the previously anticipated 22 furlough days. Beginning July 8, employees must take 11 days, one a week, before the end of the fiscal year (September 30). Hagel said the furloughs will affect every military department and almost every agency, with limited exceptions. “We will except civilians deployed to combat zones and civilians necessary to protect life and property,” he wrote in his memo, adding that others will be excepted if forcing them to stay off the job would not free up money for other needs. The most direct effects for the military community are those teaching in DoD schools will have only five furlough days before the end of the fiscal year, and the closing of installation commissaries one day a week.  Read the announcement here.

MyMilitaryLife, Now with 10 Life Paths

The National Military Family Association announced that their popular first-of-its-kind mobile app now features 10 life paths to help military families navigate the many adventures the military takes them on. With more than 10,000 official military and community support websites providing information for military families, it is often difficult to navigate which sites are supplying credible information. Families are left scouring the internet to try and piece together the best resources to support the next steps in their life. For the first time families have access to trusted information right at their fingertips, specifically identified for their current life challenges and goals. Life Paths include deployment, having a baby, moving, and spouse employment, and some of the app’s key features include customized to-do lists, push notifications, and due date reminders. Click here to read more and download MyMilitaryLife to your Apple and Android devices.

DeCA Promotions Help Commissary Customers Prepare for Natural Disaster Season

With the rising temperatures of summer also comes the unpredictability of Mother Nature. Although it’s nearly impossible to plan for the unexpected, you can still manage to be prepared. Commissaries are making this a bit easier by offering deals on items that help families make “disaster kits,” like water, nonperishable goods, paper products, and cleaning supplies. Every year from April 1 through Oct. 31, items such as flashlights, an assortment of batteries, canned tuna, shelf-stable milk, first-aid kits, bottled water, charcoal, canned soup and more are sold at reduced prices as part of DeCA’s severe weather promotional package.

TRICARE E-Payment Enrollment Deadline

Beneficiaries enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select or TRICARE Retired Reserve who pay monthly premiums by check must switch to an electronic form of payment by May 31 to avoid losing coverage. TRICARE will only accept monthly premium payments using recurring automatic payments by credit or debit card, or by recurring electronic funds transfer from a linked bank account. To avoid confusion, beneficiaries should verify that their bank sends EFT payments electronically. Beneficiaries can contact their regional contractor to set up automatic payments and obtain more information. Contact information for each region is available on the TRICARE website at

TRICARE West Deadline This Week

To avoid losing coverage, beneficiaries enrolled in TRICARE Reserve Select (TRS) or TRICARE Retired Reserve (TRR) who pay monthly premiums by check were requested to switch to an electronic form of payment. TRICARE will only accept monthly premium payments using recurring automatic payments by credit or debit card, or by recurring electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a linked bank account. The deadline is May 31, 2013. Those members who do not have this requirement established by May 31, 2013 will have their coverage suspended and possibly terminated for 12 months beginning June 1. To avoid confusion, beneficiaries should verify that their bank sends EFT payments electronically.

AAFES Free Guide: Dressing for Success

Military members transitioning to civilian life can acquire a new wardrobe thanks to the Exchange's support of the Army Career & Alumni Program/Transition Assistance Program (ACAP/TAP). As a means of serving those who serve, top trendsetters such as Billy London(R), Van Heusen(R), and Haggar(R) are partnering with the Exchange to provide the latest in business fashion. Authorized Exchange shoppers can pick up a free copy of "Welcome Home: A Military Man's Guide to Style" at their nearest main store where weekly sales fliers are located. For more information regarding the ACAP/TAP, shoppers can speak with a Store Manager. Exchange locations and contact information are available through the "Exchange Stores" section at

VA and VSOs Team to Take on Backlog

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Disabled American Veterans and the American Legion have announced a new partnership to help reduce the compensation claims backlog for veterans. The effort, called the Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice, is a key part of the VA's overall transformation plan to end the backlog in 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy. Last month, the VA announced an initiative to expedite compensation claims decisions for veterans who have waited one year or longer. Claims for wounded warriors separating from the military for medical reasons will continue to be handled separately and on a priority basis with the Defense Department through the Integrated Disability Evaluation System. For more information on filing a fully developed claim, visit VA's Fully Developed Claims webpage.

GI Bill for Spouses of Fallen Heroes

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a bill today that would amend the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include spousal eligibility for the Fry Scholarship. Under the Spouses of Heroes Education Act, spouses of fallen service members could receive the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees, plus a monthly living stipend and book allowance. Spouses would need to use this benefit within fifteen years, and would not remain eligible if they remarried

House VA Committee Evaluates Claims Initiative

The House VA Committee held a hearing to evaluate VA’s recent initiative to process claims pending over two years. VFW provided written testimony acknowledging that although the project did provide decisions to many who have waited a long time, more needs to be done to ensure VA creates a viable, effective and efficient system to develop and manage claims. VA Under Secretary for Benefits Allison Hickey spoke about the 34,834 claims that have been adjudicated within the last 30 days and how VBA will finalize the remaining 32,000 by the end of June. Committee members voiced concerns about current backlog numbers, employee training and performance reviews, and how VA plans to justify to veterans lengthy wait times for decisions. To learn more about the hearing and to view an archived webcast click here: 

House VA Subcommittee Discusses Health Care Bills

The House VA Subcommittee on Health hosted a hearing to discuss pending veterans’ health care legislation. VFW provided written testimony offering comments on bills regarding VA travel benefits, CHAMPVA regulations and medical research. Among the bills we supported is legislation (H.R. 984) that would establish an interagency task force on genitourinary organ trauma, or urotrauma – the technical terms for the loss or damage to reproductive organs. A recent study shows that 5 to 10 percent of battlefield injuries involve urotrauma, and that these injuries have been on the rise in Afghanistan. For more on the hearing and to read our complete testimony visit the blog at:

HASC Subcommittee Clears Personnel Bill 

This week, the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel cleared its section of the FY 2014 Defense Authorization bill (HR 1960) by voice vote. Among the provisions is stricter language to combat military sexual assault, which would bar commanders from dismissing all but minor sexual offenses from a court martial, and prohibit them from reducing a guilty finding in a sexual assault case to a lesser offense. The language comes on the heels of recent reports from the Pentagon estimating that 70 sexual assaults take place every day in the military. Other provisions included a 1.8 percent pay raise for service members and strong rejections to any Tricare Fee increases. The full committee is expected to take up the bill sometime after the Memorial Day recess. Check back here for full coverage of the NDAA as it moves through Congress.

New Report Lists Potential Savings from Cutting DoD Budget

A new report was released this week from the Stimson Center (a DC non partisan think tank focused on “international peace and security”) that suggests roughly $900 billion can be saved from the Department of Defense’s budget by making many changes that have been thrown about in Washington, DC for years now.

The report stops short of endorsing any of the proposed changes. It is a good thing for them that they did. While changing the military retirement system to a 401/K-style, defined-contribution system that is so prevalent in the private sector nowadays might seem like a good idea, nobody at the report’s release this past Monday asked whether or not it was a good idea to have Seal Team Six checking their 401/K before they go out on a mission to take out Osama bin Laden.

The report details three main areas where “efficiencies” have been identified for “improvement”: personnel compensation, manpower utilization, and procurement practices.

The report suggests:

“Adjusting the formulas for cash compensation growth”: this is code for reducing the active duty’s annual COLA.

“Pegging pay to specialization in high-demand areas”: This is code for paying some MOS’s and branches more than others – this is already done through the bonus system, but the report suggests a more aggressive form of it.

“Transferring non-cash compensation into cash compensation”: this is code for closing DOD schools, commissaries, and exchanges and giving active duty families an annual subsidy to replace the estimated value of the benefit that they could use to purchase goods and pay for education off-post..

“Curtailing the pool of health care beneficiaries”: this means taking away TRICARE Prime from working-age retirees, and probably other program reductions as well. “Increasing health care fees and cost-sharing”: this one is very clear, and we have always opposed it.

“Modernizing military retirement”: this is the idea brought up in the beginning of this article, of turning the military retirement system into a defined-contribution, 401/K-style system. It is a nonstarter with us, and we will oppose it at every turn.

While admittedly not taking into account the ideas put forth in the rest of the report, the ideas put forth for reforming the military personnel compensation system seem to be a compendium of “what CAN we do,” rather than “what SHOULD we do” to strengthen America’s military.    

The Latest on Military Tuition Assistance

I think it is a good time to see how things have settled out, now that the military tuition assistance fray has ended (at least for now).

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance – Although the Marine Corps was the first to suspend tuition assistance, it seems Congress didn’t notice until the Army announced their decision to suspend TA a couple of weeks later. When the Corps reinstituted TA, they brought it back at the full level as directed by Congress. This means that Marines can continue to get up to 100% TA, with a per unit cap of $250 and an annual cap of $4,500 for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Army Tuition Assistance  The Army was not the first to declare the end of tuition assistance, but, their decision made the biggest noise. After drawing congressional attention, and the subsequent order to reinstate, the Army program picked up where it left off, with no new conditions.

Air Force Tuition Assistance Not long after the Army announced their decision, the Air Force followed suit. Like the Army, the Air Force restarted TA with no new conditions for airmen who want to use their TA benefit.

Navy Tuition Assistance Unlike the other services, the Navy never stopped their TA program. It is important to note that the Navy has always had more stringent eligibility requirements and a lower cap on annual usage and as a result TA is not as big a hit on their budget as the other services.

Coast Guard Tuition Assistance Shortly after the Air Force announced their decision to suspend the Coast Guard did the same. Prior to suspending TA, the Coast Guard had a reputation for being the most generous when it came to eligibility – allowing active-duty, reserve, and civilian employees to use the program. However, the Coast Guard was the last service to bring TA back online and when they did, they added some significant eligibility restrictions. Now the tuition assistance program is only open to active duty enlisted E-6 and below and TA can only be used for undergraduate level coursework.

As of this posting, the National Guard and Reserve appear to be the only groups to have lost access to federally funded tuition assistance – unless they are currently activated.

Although Tuition Assistance is back in play, all the service branches made it clear that military tuition assistance is only safe until the end of this fiscal year. Come October 1, 2013, tuition assistance cuts may be back on the table.

A word to the wise – use it while you have it, because you may not have it long.

Troops to Teachers Expands Scope

Troops to Teachers offices nationwide are now able to provide personalized counseling and referral assistance to all military members, past or present, who have served honorably.

Troops to Teachers was established in 1994 to aid current and former military members with their transition into instructional or non-instructional careers in public Pre-K and K-12 schools.  In addition, TTT helps relieve teacher shortages in high need content areas such as math, science, and special education.

Troops to Teachers registration is open to all honorably discharged veterans regardless of time in service who have an interest in a career in public, charter, bureau funded and DoDEA education. TTT opportunities include both teaching (including teacher’s aids) and non-instructional positions such as counselors, psychologists, school nurses, librarians, media specialists, speech therapists, audiologists, physiotherapists, resource officers, school principals, and vice principals.

 DOJ Holds Veterans Fraud Discussion

This week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) hosted a meeting with veterans' leaders to discuss ongoing efforts to prevent fraud against service members, veterans and their families. Discussion centered on tools used across the agencies to collect consumer complaints, identify trends, alert law enforcement and track results. The Coalition has watched this issue closely as issues of potential fraud within higher education; mortgage lending and credit reporting have become heightened within the veterans' community during difficult economic times. It was suggested that DOJ host similar quarterly roundtables to keep the veterans' community up to date on trends and potential solutions to ensure companies cannot take advantage of veterans.

House Committee Clears VA Funding Bill

The House Appropriations' Subcommittee on Military Construction/Veterans Affairs approved its FY 2014 funding bill which would provide $63.1 billion for VA programs and $9.9 billion for military construction. Overall, the bill calls for $147.6 billion to include a $1.4 billion dollar increase over FY 2013. Members of the Committee spoke at length about VA's disability claims backlog and requested as part of the funding bill about $344 million for a single DOD-VA electronic health record and $155 million for the Veterans Benefit Management System or VBMS, a paperless claims process system. They also included $136 million for the Veterans Claims Intake Program, which aims to eliminate the paper-based system by digitally scanning existing paper health records. VA has testified that they believe VBMS will help to eliminate the backlog by 2015. The bill now moves to the full Appropriations Committee for approval.

Korean War 60th

Plans are being set to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Korean War armistice in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, July 27. Thousands of veterans from across the nation, as well as representatives from other UN nations, are expected to be present at the Korean War Memorial for the 9:30 a.m. ceremony. The event will be broadcast live, and VFW Posts are encouraged to share in the commemoration by hosting "Pancakes for Patriots"-type events to honor and help educate local communities about the service and sacrifices made by so many of our VFW members and their families. The current June/July issue of VFW Magazine is dedicated to Korean War veterans, plus highlights our $600,000 donation towards building their national memorial---tops among all veterans' organizations. More information regarding how your Posts can help share the day will be provided as the anniversary draws nearer.

Three MIAs Identified

The Defense POW/MIA Office recently announced the identification of remains belonging to two soldiers from the Korean War and one Marine, who was lost during the ill-fated SS Mayaguez rescue operation in 1975. Recovered are:
* Army Pfc. James L. Constant, 19, of Beach Grove, Ind. In late 1950, Constant and elements of 2nd Infantry Division were defending the Naktong Bulge, near Changnyong, South Korea, when they were attacked by enemy forces. Constant and many other service members were reported missing. Remains were later recovered and buried, reburied, and eventually transferred and reburied again as an "unknown" in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
* Army Sgt. Charles Allen, 23, of Mineola, Texas. In late November 1950, Allen and elements of Company C, 1st Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, were deployed north of the Ch'ongch'on River in North Korea when their unit was encircled and attacked by enemy forces. Allen was captured but died in captivity on March 31, 1951. An exchange of remains after the war failed to identify Allen, so he buried as "unknown" at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu.
* Marine Pfc. Daniel A. Benedett, of Seattle. On May 12, 1975, Khmer Rouge gunboats captured the S.S. Mayaguez in international waters off the coast of Cambodia and took the civilian vessel to Koh Tang Island. After efforts to secure the release of the ship and crew failed, a rescue mission was launched that resulted in heavy U.S. losses. Benedett was aboard a helicopter that was shot down with 26 men aboard, only half of whom were rescued. Benedett was buried May 15 at Arlington National Cemetery in a mass grave containing the remains of his 12 other previously recovered crewmates. Theirs are the last names on the Vietnam Wall, Panel 1 West.

Focus on Veteran Owned Businesses

The VA has rolled out its plans for the 2013 National Veterans Small Business Conference (This is very good news since there were real worries that during this time of sequestration it would occur.) It is going to be held in St. Louis Missouri on August 6-8 2013. This should be very helpful for Service Disabled Veterans-Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB) and Veteran Owned Small Businesses (VOSB) Once again the focus this time will be connecting these businesses with procurement offices (called Procurement Decision Makers PDMs) There will also be over 100 training session and networking events. To find out more go to:

Two months earlier there will be another veterans owned business conference. From June 10-13 the VETS2013 Conference (Veterans Entrepreneur Training Symposium) will be held in Reno Nevada. This is a conference focused on helping veterans create businesses that will service the federal government. To find out more about this go to:

The conferences as well as small business cyber security, what is going on at the Small Business Administration and the VA was discussed at the month’s VET- Force meeting (Veterans Entrepneu Task Force).  VET-Force was created in 1999 to” advocate for support of America’s veteran and service disabled veteran owned small entrepreneurial enterprises, as one way for veterans to provide economic security and prosperity for their families and the communities where they live and provide job opportunities for veterans especially service disabled veterans.” The meetings provide up to date information as well as small business traing. (And can be joined by conference call as well as in person. If you might be interested in joining please go to:  

House Appropriations Subcommittee Passes Milcon/VA Bill

This past Wednesday the House Appropriations subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs passed a $73.3 billion spending bill for Fiscal Year 2014. It was the first spending bill the House Appropriations Committee has moved this year.

The bill contains $1.4 billion more than the funding level in FY 2013 and $1.4 billion below President Obama’s FY 2014 budget request.

It provides $9.9 billion for military construction projects and $63.1 billion in discretionary funding to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an increase of $2.1 billion compared to last year’s levels.

The committee included additional funds to the Department of Veterans Affairs to help deal with the claims backlog, and it offset that increase with reductions in military construction. Dealing with the backlog has been a major issue for lawmakers in recent months.

The appropriations bill also includes an additional $54.5 billion that was provided in advance funding in last year’s bill.

The $1.4 billion increase for military construction and veterans affairs is in contrast to what other House appropriations committees are planning for: reductions from 2013 levels.

Senate Democratic leaders are still debating how to move appropriation bills this year.

Proposed VA Budget Has No Funding For Burn Pit Registry

The Army Times reported last week that the Administration’s proposed Department of Veterans’ Affairs fiscal 2014 budget contains no funding to establish or maintain a registry for service members exposed to open-air burn pits as required by law.

The Dignified Burial and Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, signed by President Obama on Jan. 10, 2013, is intended to force the VA to establish a burn-pit registry by January 2014.

While VA officials say they are working to develop one, they could not provide a cost estimate for starting or completing the project and say they now are conducting budget assessments to determine how much money will be needed.

VA claims that the FY 2014 budget request was developed prior to the enactment of the Dignified Burial and Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2012, and that they have begun trying to meet the requirements of the law using money from the FY 2013 budget.

The law is intended to determine how many veterans were exposed to smoke from burn-pits while deployed so that VA can track their medical histories and keep them apprised of new treatments for associated conditions once VA determines that their conditions are service-connected.

Service members who lived and worked near burn pits in Iraq & Afghanistan have complained of a range of respiratory problems, as well as elevated instances of certain cancers.

Troops deployed in support of contingency operations and stationed at a location where an open burn pit was used will be eligible to register. VA will announce directions for signing up when the registry becomes available.    

Protecting Service Members and Veterans From Consumer Fraud

On Tuesday representatives of the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau held a VSO briefing  about what they are doing to protect Service members and veterans from consumer fraud. DOJ has a particular focus on fraud being committed by educational institutions to take advantage of the service members’ educational benefits.  Of course this has been a focus of DoD and the VA as well. The Department of Justic’s Civil Division of Consumer Protection is also focusing on payday lending and third party payment processors. They ask if you believe that you have been a victim of these (or other types of fraud to report it to them at:

Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has a huge library of consumer and business articles available free of charge at are also going to hold their first Military Consumer Protection Day this July 17. They expect to have a web page up and running in the next couple of weeks.

Lawmaker is Nominated to be Brigadier General in Army Reserve

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., an Iraq veteran and member of the House Armed Services Committee, has been nominated for a brigadier general position in the Army Reserve. The nomination awaits confirmation by the Senate.

Changes to DEERS Update Process

Air Force base identification card issuing offices will no longer be able to manually correct or update certain types of personnel information in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). In past, RAPIDS customer service representatives could manually update or correct members' DEERS information. Now, only the office of primary responsibility for that information can correct it. If you have incorrect or outdated information in your DEERS record and it is locked down, your first step is to contact the origin of the information (OPR) and work with them to correct it. Once it is corrected in the personnel data system, it will flow to DEERS and be updated. The lockdown does not affect dependent family member record information that needs to be updated. Airmen who do not know the appropriate OPR for specific information should go to the myPers website. For more information on DEERS updates and other personnel issues, visit the myPers website and enter "21534" or "DEERS Record Correction" in the search window.

Guitars for Wounded Warriors

The Les Paul Foundation's Guitars for Vets helps veterans who graduate from its programs obtain guitars. The Non-profit organization enhances the lives of ailing and injured military veterans by providing them with guitars and music instruction. Through self-expression and the healing power of music, it the organization's intent to restore the feelings of joy and purpose that can be lost after suffering trauma. For more Information, visit the Guitars for Vets website at and the Les Paul Foundation website at

AFFES Offers Safety Gear

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service knows that safety is no accident; that is why the Exchange is committed to providing a wide selection of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) which could make the difference between life and death for military motorcyclists. The Exchange PPE includes high-quality motorcycle gear and an assortment of reflective products. Safety gear along with skills learned in motorcycle safety training classes combine to increase survival and prevent injuries. Motorcycle riders can browse the Exchange's PPE selection in store or online at at

Veterans' Franchise Giveaway

The Unishippers for Veterans Franchise Giveaway contest began accepting entries on May 13, 2013 and will run through July 1, 2013. Unishippers has partnered with USA Cares, a non-profit charitable organization that supports post-9/11 service members, to help find the deserving veteran. To participate, veterans will create a two-minute video explaining why they are interested in ownership of a Unishippers franchise, why they are deserving of a free franchise and how their military experience will help them to be successful. A panel of judges from the Unishippers corporate team will select up to five finalists to be flown to Salt Lake City for a special Discovery Day event where they will meet Unishippers executives, department leaders and the panel of judges. The final winner will be announced on September 10th, 2013. Visit the Unishippers for Veterans Franchise Giveaway website to learn more.

Army Secure Health Care Messaging

Army Medicine beneficiaries can now conveniently communicate online with their primary care providers via secure messaging. Army Medicine Secure Messaging Service (AMSMS), powered by RelayHealth, brings your healthcare team to you, wherever you are, any time of day. It allows you to communicate with your doctor through secure email about non-urgent healthcare matters, so your doctor or another care team member can respond during business hours. It is easy to get started, and there is no cost to patients. The benefits include no more waiting on hold to talk to a healthcare professional, and no more phone tag when trying to schedule an appointment or ask a question. To learn more, talk to your primary care clinic about getting connected to Army Medicine Secure Messaging Service.