20 August 2014 Legislative News Update
20 August 2014 Legislative News Update
- The "Must-Do" List
- VA Bill Signed Into Law
★★★THE “MUST-DO” LISTSenate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that the fiscal 2015 defense authorization bill is on his must-do list when the Senate returns from the August recess; however, he has scheduled limited floor time for debate on the dozens of amendments to the bill that have already been filed.Coupled with the Senate’s limited work schedule in September (less than three weeks) and its plan to depart again and not return until after the November elections cast a dark cloud on the bill’s future. Passage of the defense appropriations bill should also be Reid’s must-do list, but sadly, it’s not. Instead Congress will pass a continuing resolution that will fund government agencies after the new fiscal begins on Oct. 1. This makes AUSA President Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA, Ret., very unhappy. He has said that “To properly execute their national security mission, our military leaders need authorization authority and appropriations to be completed on time and with regular order. Operating under continuing resolutions limits their capacity to properly plan and execute a budget.“Continuing resolutions create enormous risk to our national security because of the fiscal uncertainty they bring. Spending is frozen at the previous year’s levels - combat training center rotations are cancelled, maintenance of equipment is delayed, civilian hiring is frozen and new contracts cannot be issued. The bottom line is that training and readiness suffer and fiscal uncertainty reigns. In our dangerous world, defense spending uncertainty is a recipe for disaster. “AUSA strongly encourages you to contact your Senators and urge them to work together and get these critical bills passed. To add your voice to ours, go to the AUSA website, www.ausa.org, click on the Contact Congress link, type in your zip code and scroll down to the AUSA-suggested letter “Action is needed on the Defense Appropriation and Authorization Bills!!.”VA BILL SIGNED INTO LAWOn Aug. 7, President Obama signed a sweeping $16.3 billion bill that is designed to overhaul the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.Passed by Congress a week earlier, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 will:§ Provide funds to hire additional primary and specialty health care providers along with other clinical staff to increase the department’s capacity to provide high-quality health care to our nation’s veterans. The measure also provides enhanced incentives to attract more doctors and nurses and other health care professionals to the VA.§ Provide funds to enter emergency leases for facilities that would directly improve veterans’ access to care.§ Authorize VA to enter into 27 major medical facility leases in 18 states and Puerto Rico. In many instances, these leases would improve access to care closer to veterans’ homes and increase the availability of specialty-care services in these locations.§ Allow veterans who have had to wait more than 30 days for an appointment with the VA to seek care from a private physician, a community health center, a Department of Defense health care facility or an Indian Health Center. Veterans who live more than 40 miles from a VA facility also would be eligible for this program.§ Improve the delivery of care for veterans who experienced sexual trauma while serving in the military.§ Expand the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship to include surviving spouses of members of the Armed Forces who die in the line of duty while serving on active duty.§ Allow veterans eligible for education benefits under the Post 9/11 GI to qualify for in-state tuition.§ Extend a program which provides housing for veterans struggling with traumatic brain injuries.§ Give the VA secretary the authority to immediately remove incompetent senior executives based on poor job performance or misconduct. An expedited appeals process through the Merit Systems Protection Board would prevent political firings or other abuses of the new personnel power, such as retaliation against whistle blowers.As he signed the bill, President Obama noted that while the new law is focused on immediate needs to reform the VA, we can’t lose sight of the long-term goals of our service members and our Veterans such as the elimination of the disability claims backlog and ending the high unemployment rate of military veterans.