5 March 2015 Legislative News Update 3/4/2015
weekly electronic newsletter, and is published
every Monday when Congress is in session.
AN AUSA SALUTE goes to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., and the ranking member Jack Reed, D-R.I., for recognizing the devastating effect sequestration is having on the Defense Department.
In a letter to the Senate Budget Committee leadership, McCain and Reed wrote, “It is difficult to overstate the destructive impact on our military that has been wrought by the BCA with sequestration, which requires nearly $1 trillion of defense spending cuts over ten years. While the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 provided welcome relief from some of the worst effects of sequestration for FY 2014 and 2015, that relief was partial, temporary, and ultimately did little to provide the kind of certainty that our defense and military leaders need to plan effectively for the future and make longer-term investments for our national security. The effects of these arbitrary spending cuts have been devastating to the capabilities, readiness, morale and modernization of our armed forces.”
Question of the Day: Has sequestration impacted your professional or personal life? That’s the topic of discussion on AUSA’s Firing Line. Please visit this link and let us know. Our ability to provide real-life consequences to Congress bolsters our case for ending sequestration.
The bottom line of the McCain/Reed letter: The Defense Department needs more money to avoid a “national security crisis of the first order.” How much more? $577 billion, plus whatever is needed for war accounts, which are not capped by law and which for fiscal 2016 would amount to $50.9 billion under the president’s budget proposal. That amount is considerably more than the $561 billion requested by the president’s budget request and higher than the $523 billion cap in the budget law.
JOINT HEARINGS held every year by the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committees give AUSA and other service organizations the opportunity to present their legislative agendas. AUSA Vice President Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, USA, Ret., provided testimony for the joint hearing scheduled to be held this week.
In his statement, Swan said, “The inherently difficult nature of military service has never been more self-evident than during the recent and current conflicts. AUSA considers veterans benefits to have been duly earned by those who have answered the nation’s call and placed themselves at risk – these are not “entitlements.”
Swan added, “As elected representatives, you must be responsible stewards of the federal purse because each dollar emanates from the American taxpayer. AUSA emphasizes that the federal government must remain true to the promises made to her veterans. We understand that veterans’ programs are not above review, but always remember that the nation must be there for the country’s veterans who answered the nation’s call.”
§ Has long endorsed a 21st century GI Bill that is built on the principles of simplicity, equity and adequate reimbursement of the cost of education/ training. Accordingly, we urge Congress to hold hearings regarding a unified architecture for all GI Bill programs for active duty, Guard and Reserve under the principle of awarding benefits according to length and type of duty performed.
§ Encourages Congress to raise education benefits for National Guard and Reserve servicemembers under Chapter 1606 of Title 10.
§ Urges that the thousands of disabled veterans left out of the concurrent receipt of retired pay and veterans’ disability compensation legislation be given equal treatment and that the disability offset be eliminated completely.
§ Believes that a member who is forced to retire short of 20 years of service because of a combat disability must be “vested” in the service-earned share of retired pay at the same 2.5 percent per year of service rate as members with 20+ years of service.
§ Supports continuing congressional efforts to help homeless veterans find housing and other necessities, which would allow them to re-enter the workforce and become productive citizens.
THESE GOALS and other issues related to veterans were among the topics discussed at a Veteran Leadership Roundtable held by the Republican leadership last week.
Veterans’ Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller told AUSA’s Assistant Director for Government Affairs Julie Rudowski and other representatives from military and veteran’s service organizations that he is determined to hold the VA “accountable” for its actions with regards to veteran health care.
Miller also expressed concern that the new VA Choice Card program was not properly “rolled-out” by the VA and that confusion still exists within the veteran population.
The Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014, signed into law by the president in August 2014, required the VA to establish a temporary program to improve veterans’ access to health care by allowing eligible veterans to use eligible health care providers outside of the VA system.
Miller also discussed the disability claims backlog. He said that just because the VA has removed the case from their rolls, it doesn’t mean the case is closed. If a veteran is still waiting for a benefit, his case is still part of the backlog.
AUSA VICE PRESIDENT LT. GEN. GUY SWAN, USA, RET., attended a congressional roundtable on military and veteran’s issues led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and attended by several other Democratic leaders.
Swan and other association leaders were able to voice their concerns and lay out their top issues to the congressional leaders on topics such as the devastating impact of sequestration, recommendations by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission and the provisions of the fiscal 2016 DoD budget.
NEW LEGISLATION INTRODUCED by Reps. Rob Wittman, R-Va., and Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., would help military spouses more easily re-enter the workforce by offering a tax credit to any spouse who has to renew or transfer a professional license due to a military Permanent Change of Station (PCS) order.
The Military Spouses Job Continuity Act (H.R. 1100) would provide a tax credit of up to $500 when a military family moves across state lines and would be applicable for the renewal or transfer of a professional license in a range of fields including child care, nursing and health services.
Similar legislation was introduced in the Senate by Bob Casey, D-Pa.