Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 6 May 2015
DEFENSE PANEL APPROVES POLICY BILL
Who said Congress never works? Around 4:30 this morning, after almost 19 hours of debate, the House Armed Services Committee passed their version of the fiscal 2016 defense authorization bill by a vote of 60-2.
The bill would authorize $515 billion in national defense funding, $495.9 for the Pentagon's base budget and $19 billion for national security programs within the Energy Department.
It would also provide $89.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), some $38.3 billion above the president's request. The added funds, authorized for operations and maintenance within the DoD’s base budget, were used to sidestep spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were critical of the maneuver. Thornberry acknowledged the criticism and noted that while "it is certainly not the ideal way to budget,” the maneuver helped the committee meet the president's total budget request.
His counterpart, Adam Smith, D-Wash., called the OCO buildup "a little dodge," but cautioned that a debate on caps was not going away. "Anyone who thinks that ... the Budget Control Act is something we no longer have to worry about on the Armed Services Committee, there are still many rounds left to go in that fight," Smith said.
Some of the added money goes to help the Army, directly and indirectly. There is $136.8 million for additional Army Guard aircraft, $110 million for enhancement in Apache helicopter survivability, $55 million to restore funding for active-duty Army flying hours and $43.9 million to restore flying hours for the Army Guard.
An indirect assist for the Army is $682.7 million for the maintenance and operation of the A-10 Thunderbolt, a close air support aircraft beloved by ground troops that the Air Force wants to retire.
There had been talk of allocation of some of the $38.3 billion is additional funds to slow or even halt the Army’s drawdown, but that did not materialize. However, there is an effort underway in the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold the active-duty Army at the 490,000 soldiers authorized for 2015.
The House version of the defense policy bill accepts the Obama administration plan to cut 15,000 active-duty soldiers in fiscal year 2016 while also cutting 8,200 soldiers from the Army National Guard and 4,000 soldiers from the Army Reserve. Those changes were endorsed last week by the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, despite reservations by some members about the wisdom of continuing to cut the Army below the currently authorized 490,000 active, 350,200 Army Guard and 202,000 Army Reserve levels.
The Army is the only service taking big cuts personnel cuts in 2016. The Marine Corps loses 100 active-duty and 300 Marine Reserve members under the Obama administration plan. The Navy gains 5,600 active-duty sailors and 100 reservists. The Air Force is slated for a 7,735 increase in active-duty strength—3,715 directed by the House panel—in addition to gaining 500 people in the Air Guard and 2,100 in the Air Force Reserve.
One of the most notable items adopted by the committee is a provision that would overhaul the military retirement system to blend the current all-or-nothing annuity benefit with a matching Thrift Savings Plan, making it more reflective of a civilian 401(k) plan and offering financial benefits to individuals who do not serve at least 20 years in uniform.
A summary sheet released by the committee states that “this plan would allow the 83 percent of servicemembers not eligible for military retirement to participate in a retirement plan within the confines of the system. This system will allow new service members to contribute to a portable Thrift Savings Plan with matching contributions from DoD. The reform also preserves a structure that encourages service beyond 12 or 20 years. Those currently serving have the option of remaining grandfathered into the old system or choosing the new TSP option.” The retirement modifications would be effective for individuals who join the military on or after Oct. 1, 2017.
Lawmakers rejected an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., that would have replaced the retirement system overhaul with one that would have ordered the Pentagon to assess the modification further and report to Congress. Gibson argued that more education among military service members was needed before making the historic change. We agree.
As expected, lawmakers also rejected another round of Base Realignment and Closure. Rep. Smith offered and then withdrew an amendment that would have authorized another BRAC round in 2017, as requested by the Pentagon. Smith will push for a floor vote on the language, which would establish a nine-member independent commission to review the Pentagon’s base-closure recommendations.
Thornberry opposes new base closures on the grounds that facilities can easily be closed but not so easily reopened. “Before we go down the BRAC road, I’d like to have a better understand of where we are with our infrastructure,” Thornberry said.
The panel also rejected Pentagon proposals to limit military pay and housing allowances, cut government support for commissaries and increase out-of-pocket cost for health care. These are huge wins for AUSA. Now we will turn our focus to the Senate.
What’s next: The bill will go to the floor for a vote by the full House.
AUSA TO CONGRESS: DO NOT RUSH TO OVERHAUL MILITARY 20-YEAR RETIREMENT A House panel has rejected, at least temporarily, Pentagon proposals to limit military pay and housing allowances, cut government support for commissaries and increase out-of-pocket cost for health care.
The action by the military personnel subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee on the 2016 National Defense Authorization Bill follows advice offered by the Association of the U.S. Army to avoid cuts in personnel funds that could be seen as an erosion of benefits.
However, the bill does include an overhaul of the military retirement system that concerns AUSA. The change, which would not take effect before Oct. 1, 2017, would reduce the value of retired pay for future service members but expand participation in the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan so those leaving the military with federal than 20 years of service would have some retirement savings.
“We are pleased, Congress has listened to our concerns about taking action perceived by soldiers and their families as cutting compensation. Now is not the time to do this,” said retired Army Lt. Gen. Guy Swan, AUSA’s vice president for education. “We are worried about changing the current 20-year retirement system. This is not a change that should be rushed because of the potentially significant harm it could do in having an experienced career force in the future.”
AUSA is worried that Congress may have only delayed but not rejected some of the changes, Swan said.
--Pay raise - The bill does not include a Pentagon request to cap the 2016 military raise at 1.3 percent, an omission that indirectly allows a 2.3 percent increase in basic pay and drill pay effective Jan. 1, 2016, because that is an amount called for under a statutory pay format in permanent law. However, not having a specific percentage raise in the bill leaves open the possibility that a presidential order could still cap the raise, which is what has happened for the last two years.
--Commissaries – A Pentagon proposal to cut $300 million in taxpayer support for commissaries, a move that could have reduced the hours of operations, was rejected by the panel, but only so there was time to complete congressionally-ordered studies about consolidating military commissaries and exchanges.
--Housing allowance – The panel did not approve a Pentagon plan that would increase out-of-pocket expenses for those living off base by capping growth in housing allowances, saying the idea needs more study.
--Tricare fees – Hikes in Tricare fees requested by the Pentagon that could have affected military families and retirees are not included but health care reform remains on the minds of lawmakers. Fee changes are being delayed until a unified medical command is established and until there is a report on the possible realignment of military medical treatment areas. A pilot program for a preferred retail pharmacy network is authorized in the bill, an idea that might cut prescription drug costs without raising copays. The two-year test would begin on May 1, 2016, but implementation plans and zones would be determined by the Defense Department.
What’s next: The full House Armed Services Committee will mark up the legislation next week.
NEW BRAC REJECTED BY HOUSE PANEL
Despite calls from the Army’s top installation officer, a House subcommittee has rejected, again, a Defense Department appeal for another round of base closing and it also put off the shedding of excess property and facilities until two more force structure studies are completed.
“We are on record as saying we need a BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure],” Lt. Gen. David Halverson, the commander of U.S. Army Installation Management Command and assistant chief of staff for installation management, said at an AUSA Institute of Land Warfare breakfast this week.
At the very least, a quantitative analysis of Army installations is called for, Halverson said. “Let the numbers speak for themselves, so we can get the emotions out of it.”
Halverson said the Army currently has an 18 percent excess in infrastructure, and the number will continue to grow as the Army gets smaller. That excess “translates into a half a billion dollars a year” in unnecessary spending for the Army, Halverson said.
Halverson’s pleas fell on deaf ears. The readiness subcommittee plan of the House Armed Services Committee wants the Defense Department to prepare a comprehensive inventory of worldwide infrastructure and to take a look at the 20-year force structure plan of each of the services, comparing the two to determine if there really is an excess of facilities and installations.
The services would be expected to err on the side of keeping excess infrastructure. In making infrastructure recommendations, lawmakers require the services to consider how much room is needed for contingencies, mobilization and surge capacity on top of providing space for existing force structure.
In addition to the Defense Department report, the panel asks the Comptroller General of the United States to do its own evaluation of force structure plans and infrastructure inventory, after the Pentagon provides its report early next year.
Army leaders have pleaded with Congress to permit a 2017 round of base closings and to permit the Army to stop wasting money on excess property. Congress and communities that might be hurt by the closing of bases or reduction in infrastructure have been unpersuaded.
Testifying in March before the Senate Appropriations Committee, Army Secretary John M. McHugh said he understood opposition to base closings from lawmakers and communities. “I went through three BRACs when I was a member of the House,” he said, referring to the base closing and realignment commission process. “I know how hard they are. I lost a base. It was one of the more painful things I have had to deal with in many, many years.”
Base closing helps more communities than it hurts, he said. “Right now we are paying about $500 million a year, roughly, just to maintain empty infrastructure, unused infrastructure,” money that could spent on other things at other bases.
Personal Weapons On Bases
Republican presidential candidate and Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas wants Congress to debate allowing soldiers to be able to carry personal weapons on base for protection. “I want to give an opportunity for the military leadership to lay out their views,” he said on a campaign stop in New Hampshire. Since 1992, Defense Department regulations have limited carrying of firearms to law enforcement and security personnel, those guarding prisoners and those taking firearms training.
What to watch: Political debate on the topic has grown increasingly heated since the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, but military leaders haven’t budged from concerns that having more guns on base could lead to more violence. Cruz wants hearings on the issue but that is unlikely to happen before summer, if at all.
Job Woes for Army Spouses
Military spouses who have moved in the previous 12 months have an unemployment rate of 20 percent, twice as high as for those who haven’t moved. Things are far harder for military spouses with children who have moved. For them, the unemployment rate is 30 percent, according to a March 2015 report by the Defense Manpower Data Center based on surveys of the spouses of active-duty service members.
What to watch: Employment assistance programs that help with child care arrangements could reduce the financial instability caused by unemployment after a military move.
10th Anniversary of VA’s Polytrauma Program
Adam Anicich (L) and Dr. Joel Scholten reflect on Adam's journey during a break at VA's Polytrauma and Blast-Related Injury Executive Committee Annual Meeting at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center.
By Hans Petersen
Monday, May 4, 2015
Veterans Adam Anicich and Andrew Clark appreciate, more than most, the significance of the 10th anniversary this week of VA’s Polytrauma treatment program.
The both served in Iraq and both experienced explosions that left them with traumatic brain injuries (TBI).
Anicich: “I sustained a TBI when I fell from the top of a piece of cargo handling equipment after a mortar hit near our position. The driver likely jerked the steering wheel in response to the explosion, causing me to fall about 20 feet onto the hard-packed gravel.”
Clark: “During my second deployment, we were getting mortared on a daily basis. Most of the rockets shattered upon impact, thankfully, because I was only a couple of feet away. Unfortunately some went off close enough so that the power of the concussion knocked me down.”
“These people listened and cared.”
Polytrauma System of Care
For ten years, VA has dedicated a unique program to treating Veterans with TBI and other health issues.
Beginning in 2005, VA developed the integrated nationwide Polytrauma System of Care that provides world-class rehabilitation services.
It ensures that Veterans and Servicemembers transition seamlessly between Department of Defense and VA medical facilities and back to their home communities.
The Polytrauma System of Care programs specialize in medical rehabilitation for TBI and polytrauma, which is defined as multiple severe injuries.
The services include assessment and treatment by teams of rehabilitation specialists, case management, patient and family education and training, psychosocial support, and advanced rehabilitation and prosthetic technologies.
Encouraging Veterans to Come Forward
Anicich, a native of Orange County, Calif., wanted to share his story, “In the hope that it encourages other Veterans to come forward, and I want it to bring positive light to the amazing work VA Polytrauma clinicians are doing for Veterans every day.”
“Dr. Joel Scholten and my Polytrauma Team at VA are my safety net. I know I can push myself as hard as possible in my recovery and treatment because I have a team of professionals behind me. Supporting. Coordinating. Facilitating. Helping.”
“Returning to the U.S. after deployment was challenging,” he explains. “I was unable to do the same type of rigorous work others were able to do. People knew there was something different about me — something ‘not right’ — but they were unable to put a finger on it. They could see the physical injuries in my movements, but did not understand the cognitive difficulties or how severe it was.”
Anicich adds, “It was frustrating to have known my life and capabilities before Iraq, and now have to live with the ’new normal,’ having people around you tell you that everything will be fine. ‘Just give it time.’”
I returned home to California and tried my best to replicate my former life. To enjoy the things I did before. To have a sharp mind and never forget things like I did before. To remember names and faces like I did before. To be able to hold rapid fire conversations like I did before. To be able to interact and engage with people like I did before. To be the old me.”
“However, I was unable to find that person.”
Anicich realized he was having trouble concentrating, remembering people, places, names, and events. He had trouble with angry outbursts and losing his patience.
“I had challenges in cognitive functions and making decisions. The easiest of choices disrupted my entire day.”
Important to Understand the Signs
It has been said that traumatic brain injuries — caused by improvised explosive devices, mortars, vehicle accidents, grenades, bullets, mines, falls and more — may be the hallmark injury faced by Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even those who were not obviously wounded in explosions or accidents may have sustained a brain injury. It is important that Servicemembers, their families, and the community understand some of the subtle signs, and seek screening at their local military or VA health care facility.
Andrew Clark joined the Air Force in 2001 and served two tours in Iraq. He recalls his struggles after his combat concussion. “I can remember vivid details from some things in the service, but now I am often forgetting to eat, conversations, locations, and what day it is.”
“I struggle with speech at times, often dropping things. At times, simple math can be near impossible without a calculator. My frustration builds when I forget to do tasks in a timely manner: at work, getting ready in the mornings, and other around-the-house things.”
Clark adds, “Having to have a caregiver can be depressing, but I’m very thankful for this VA program which keeps me mostly independent and alive. Not understanding my medical issues was the biggest challenge I faced.”
“The VA literally saved my life. I keep in communication with one of the best neurologists in the country, Dr. Victor Dostrow, and I am blessed that the VAMC Asheville hired him.”
“And if it wasn’t for my VA mental health doctor, Dr. Bruce Purvis, who had me start a medical journal, none of my small seizures would have been identified and I would not have overcome the other challenges, struggles and frustrations.”
Today, Andrew is a photographer and active with the Disabled American Veterans, “An incredible organization that gave me a purpose in life.”
Over 100 Treatment Sites
VHA Polytrauma and TBI System of Care.
VA has 110 specialized Polytrauma rehabilitation sites across the country:
· 5 Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers (comprehensive inpatient rehabilitation)
· 23 Polytrauma Network Sites (comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation)
· 87 Polytrauma Support Clinic Teams (comprehensive outpatient rehabilitations)
Adam Anicich remembers when he first came to VA for help. “I walked into the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center and within five seconds, a VA greeter asked me how I was doing and how they could help. I murmured that I think something is wrong, and I might need to talk with someone. They immediately sat me down with a great team of clinicians who began the arduous task of reviewing where I was with regards to treatment and recovery, and identifying the areas in which VA could help.”
“Who were all these people and why were they so interested in helping me? These people listened and cared. They were interested in a resolution.”
Today, Anicich focuses his efforts on bringing awareness to issues affecting returning Servicemembers as an advocate for Veterans afflicted with TBI and PTSD, as a speaker on reintegration topics, and as an advisor to VA on polytrauma and pain management.
As he puts it, “The most exceptional reward I can ever get is a ‘thank you’ from a Veteran for something I have done.”
President Responds to MCRMC’s Recommendations
At the end of last week the President sent Congress the Administration’s reaction to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s recommendation. The Administration said that they would support 10 of the Commission’s recommendations and 4 or 5 needed more study.
The Administration is prepared to support completely or with modifications and send proposed legislation to Congress the Commission’s recommendations concerning:
· the Survivor Benefit Plan
· financial education
· medical personnel readiness
· DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs collaboration
· child care
· service member education
· transition assistance
· dependent space-available travel and
· the proposed report on military-connected dependents.
The areas and recommendations that need more study according to the Administration are:
· Blended Retirement System
· Reserve Component Duty Statuses
· Exceptional family member support
· Commissary and Exchange Consolidation
· And (with even less enthusiasm and support) Proposed Changes in TRICARE
Clearly the last 5 recommendations are the big, difficult, troublesome and most important topics. This reaction seems to clearly justify TREA’s and The Military Coalition’s position that while the top 5 recommendations were interesting they were very complicated and that their ramifications needed more study. It will be very interesting what this will mean to the retirement provisions included in HASC’s passed version of the NDAA. (Please see article below.)
Last Thursday the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) by a vote of 60-2 adopted a $612 billion National Defense Authorization Bill (NDAA) and sent it on for a vote by the full House probably in mid May.
This is the bill that adopts the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s (MCRMC) plan to overhaul a future military retirement system. But it does not adopt several requests from the Administration including another round of BRAC, further cuts in the Housing Allowances for the active duty, and cutting funding for commissaries.
The bill also pluses up temporary war spending to more than $89 billion in fiscal 2016 which would get around spending caps mandated under the 2011 Budget Control Act. (The White House has threatened a veto of any relevant bill if it does not lift the present sequestration spending caps. We will see.)
Again, the Committee has adopted the Commission’s recommended “blended retirement system” that would include a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP)- a plan similar to a 401 (k) account) for all troops while cutting the 20 year retired pay by 20%.
This plan and how it would affect retention is still a deeply controversial idea. TREA is continuing to work hard on this issue and will keep you informed on what happens next.
Last Wednesday, David Rubenstein, one of the richest men in DC announced that he is giving $5.37 million to restore the Marine Corps Memorial in Arlington VA. The 78 foot high 100 ton bronze memorial is based on AP’s Joe Rosenthal’s famous picture of the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima.
Mr Rubenstein’s late father was a Marine Private First Class during World War II and this donation is in honor of him. Mr. Rubenstein has given large donations to the Kennedy Center (where is Chairman of the Board of Trustees), Duke University (where he is also Chairman of the Board), to repair the Washington Monument after the earthquake, the National Zoo, the National Archives, the Smithsonian, John Hopkins University, University of Chicago Law School and many other American historical sites. He is the founder of the multibillion dollar Carlyle Group, a private equity firm.
The gift was made through the National Park Foundation which is the charitable arm of the National Park Service. The memorial will be cleaned and waxed; the granite panels at the base of the statue will be polished; the inscriptions regilded and the park’s pavement, lighting and flagpole will be repaired and the landscaping upgraded.
At the announcement Marine Major General Michael R. Regner said:” This area is like sacred ground for the Marine Corps. It represents the finest. Mr. Rubenstein, sir: I congratulate you. I thank you.”
Last week the Department of Defense released its new final version of its Request for Proposal (RFP) for the new managed care TRICARE contract. It is clear that DoD is not in agreement with the MCRMC’s recommendation to end TRICARE and replace it with a FEHBP like civilian program.
Proposals (bids) are due within 60 days of release of the final RFP, and it is intended that the start of healthcare delivery under the new contract will be in the spring of 2017.
The see the RFP go to the Federal Opportunities website at: https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=10c30f5ad057f790a2c5811139ddd4b6&tab=core&_cview=0.
There will be much more on this in the future.
ThanksUSA, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to thanking America's troops through the gift of education, is inviting children and spouses of America's armed forces to apply for its post-secondary education scholarships, according to a ThanksUSA news release issued recently.
Those interested can apply via the organization’s website, http://thanksusa.org/scholarship-program.html , and the application period extends from now through May 15, 2015, the release said.
"Ten years after ThanksUSA was launched, we remain committed to helping military families flourish and advance their dreams through education," ThanksUSA CEO and Chairman Bob Okun said in the release. "It's how we can offer our collective gratitude as a nation for all that our servicemen and women and their families do for us."
Offering Needs-Based Scholarships
ThanksUSA provides need-based scholarships to the children and spouses of service members across all the armed forces, including the reserves, giving special consideration to families of the fallen and wounded, according to the release. Over the past decade, the organization has raised more than $10 million, resulting in nearly 3,400 scholarships. Up to 500 students are expected to receive awards this season, totaling $1.5 million.
"We believe 2015 applications will exceed 2,000 again this year, a strong indication of military families' persistent need for assistance," Okun said in the release. "Our objective is to raise awareness of the support our military families need on the education front while they sacrifice daily on the front lines through deployments, family separations, and transfers across the country and overseas. Through ThanksUSA, those who lack the resources can pursue their goals."
ThanksUSA is a nonpartisan, charitable effort to mobilize Americans of all ages to thank the men and women of the U.S. military for their service to the nation, the release said. The organization provides college, technical and vocational school scholarships to the children and spouses of military personnel.
Please note that this is a different and additional scholarship program from the TREA Memorial Foundation scholarship program, which is only open to TREA members and their families and whose closing date was April 30th.
Below is an article about VA’s national medical research week which will be held from May 18 to May 22. Every year the VA uses this event to highlight the interesting and cutting edge medical research it is doing. It is a very interesting series of events. Please click on the article to get more information.
VA Research Commemorates 90 Years of Health Care Innovation Focused on Improving Veterans’ Lives
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs will highlight 90 years of improving the lives of Veterans and other Americans through medical and prosthetics research when it celebrates National VA Research Week May 18–22, 2015, at host medical facilities across the United States and its territories.
“VA Research and Development plays a pivotal role in improving the health of Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “In addition, the advances in health care developed by VA have benefited millions of other Americans and patients worldwide.”
As part of the nation’s largest integrated health care system, VA research has unique opportunities to address some of the most critical issues in health care today. During fiscal year 2015, nearly 3,400 VA researchers will work on more than 2,200 projects. In addition to VA funding, VA researchers compete for funding from the National Institutes of Health, nonprofit associations and private pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms.
VA medical centers across the nation will mark VA Research Week with special events such as tours of their research facilities, lectures, poster displays and luncheons to honor the Veterans who voluntarily participate in VA studies. The week-long activities will highlight current research, much of it focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, and using new technology in fields such as brain imaging, DNA sequencing and cell therapy. Another highlight of Research Week will center on VA’s Million Veteran Program, which aims to create one of the world’s largest databases of health and genetic information. To date, the program has enrolled some 350,000 Veterans.
Also in the spotlight will be past accomplishments, such as the work of Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Andrew Schally, who received the award in 1977 for discoveries relating to hormones. Today, nearly four decades later, Dr. Schally is still an active VA researcher, studying cancer, diabetes and heart disease at the Miami VA Medical Center.
“From the development of effective therapies for tuberculosis and implantable cardiac pacemakers, to the first successful liver transplant and the nicotine patch, VA’s trail-blazing research accomplishments are a source of great pride to VA and the nation,” said Dr. Timothy O’Leary, VA’s chief research and development officer. “The impact of VA research on Veterans’ lives stretches back to the 1920s, when researchers reported on studies looking at treatments for malaria, the long-term health effects of chemical warfare and mortality among Veterans with mental illness.”
To learn more about the work of VA researchers, past and present, visit www.research.va.gov. For more information on local and national events marking National VA Research Week, visit www.research.va.gov/researchweek
On Tuesday, May 5, at 2pm (Eastern Time), the VA will host a live YouTube event. A panel of women veterans will discuss:
What VA has done to improve women Veterans’ experiences with care
How women Veterans can connect with VA health care.
Visit www.Explore.VA.gove/Events to submit questions and register for the event. Tune in to the #ExploreVA YouTube Live Event.
VA Appropriations Passes
On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 2029, the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2016. This bill, which will fund the VA at a level that is $1.5 billion below the VA Secretary’s request.
House Holds Hearing to Discuss Women Veterans' Issues
On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing entitled, Examining Access and Quality of Care and Services for Women Veterans. Although the VA has improved its services for women veterans in recent years, the we believe that more must be done. In no instance should women veterans face additional barriers to the health care and benefits they have earned. In his opening statement, Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) announced that the Committee will request a comprehensive report on VA services for women veterans. We strongly support this and requested the study in our testimony. To see the full transcript of the hearing and read the VFW statement, click here.
Senate Committee Hearing on GAO and VAOIG Recommendations
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing to discuss the VA health care system’s inclusion in the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) high-risk list. GAO and the VA Office of Inspector General (VAOIG) expressed concerns regarding VA’s ability to ensure the timeliness, cost-effectiveness, quality and safety of veterans’ health care. The Committee members asked why VA has been unable to close GAO and VAOIG recommendations on a timely basis. VA assured the Committee that it takes GAO and VAOIG recommendations seriously and has developed processes to address their concerns. View the hearing.
House Armed Services Committee Advances NDAA
The House Armed Services Committee, in a bipartisan 60-2 vote, passed their 2016 defense policy bill on Thursday. The $611 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) sets the spending and policy guidelines for Defense Department efforts and programs in the next fiscal year. The Committee voted to add billions to keep a list of Defense Department weapon programs from cuts, and signed off on a $495.9 billion base Pentagon budget and an $89.2 billion war account.
Take the Military Family Survey
May 15 is the last day for active-duty, Guard, Reserve and veteran families to take the 2015 Military Family Lifestyle Survey sponsored by Blue Star Families. The data collected provides real-time feedback from military families on issues ranging from operations tempo to pay and benefits, stress, caregiving and employment.
V-E Day 70th Commemoration
A public ceremony to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day will be held at the National World War II Memorial in Washington on May 8 at 10:30 a.m. All WWII veterans are invited to attend and be recognized for their service and sacrifice. Representatives from the U.S. and allied nations will be laying wreaths, followed by a multi-aircraft flyover of vintage warbirds. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking will be extremely limited since it’s the tourist season and May 8 is a workday. Taxis to the memorial are plentiful and recommended, and the two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. RSVP your attendance to the ceremony here. Learn more about the flyover.
End of WWII Commemoration
Over in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Battleship Missouri Memorial will host a public ceremony commemorating the war’s end on Sept. 2 at 9:02 a.m., the exact time Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for Allied Powers, began the proceedings that were heard worldwide. More details will be posted as they become available on the battleship’s website.
Korean War MIA Identified
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains belonging to Army Master Sgt. Francis H. Stamer, 35, of San Fernando, Calif, who will be buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on May 6. On Nov. 1, 1950, Stamer was assigned to Company M, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, when his unit was attacked by Chinese forces at Unsan village in North Korea. He would be reported missing in action the next day. Read more.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE April 30, 2015
VA Research Commemorates 90 Years of Health Care Innovation Focused on Improving Veterans’ Lives
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs will highlight 90 years of improving the lives of Veterans and other Americans through medical and prosthetics research when it celebrates National VA Research Week May 18–22, 2015, at host medical facilities across the United States and its territories. “VA Research and Development plays a pivotal role in improving the health of Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert A. McDonald. “In addition, the advances in health care developed by VA have benefited millions of other Americans and patients worldwide.” As part of the nation’s largest integrated health care system, VA research has unique opportunities to address some of the most critical issues in health care today. During fiscal year 2015, nearly 3,400 VA researchers will work on more than 2,200 projects. In addition to VA funding, VA researchers compete for funding from the National Institutes of Health, nonprofit associations and private pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. VA medical centers across the nation will mark VA Research Week with special events such as tours of their research facilities, lectures, poster displays and luncheons to honor the Veterans who voluntarily participate in VA studies. The week-long activities will highlight current research, much of it focusing on Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans, and using new technology in fields such as brain imaging, DNA sequencing and cell therapy. Another highlight of Research Week will center on VA’s Million Veteran Program, which aims to create one of the world’s largest databases of health and genetic information. To date, the program has enrolled some 350,000 Veterans. Also in the spotlight will be past accomplishments, such as the work of Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Andrew Schally, who received the award in 1977 for discoveries relating to hormones. Today, nearly four decades later, Dr. Schally is still an active VA researcher, studying cancer, diabetes and heart disease at the Miami VA Medical Center. “From the development of effective therapies for tuberculosis and implantable cardiac pacemakers, to the first successful liver transplant and the nicotine patch, VA’s trail-blazing research accomplishments are a source of great pride to VA and the nation,” said Dr. Timothy O’Leary, VA’s chief research and development officer. “The impact of VA research on Veterans’ lives stretches back to the 1920s, when researchers reported on studies looking at treatments for malaria, the long-term health effects of chemical warfare and mortality among Veterans with mental illness.” To learn more about the work of VA researchers, past and present, visit www.research.va.gov. For more information on local and national events marking National VA Research Week, visit www.research.va.gov/researchweek
Veteran Re-Connects with Other Women at Vet Center
Former sergeant Josie Beatty found support group at a VA Vet Center
By Tom Cramer
Thursday, April 30, 2015
Josie Beatty’s nightmares began some time before she left military service in 2006. She’d spent 15 years in the Air Force, a lot of those years working in the mortuary at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“My unit handled mass causalities, and most of them were coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan,” she explained. “Sometimes, when they unzipped the body bag, the person inside looked peaceful, like they were just sleeping. Other times, it was the opposite, especially if they’d been killed in an explosion, a helicopter crash, or something like that. Sometimes they weren’t even in one piece.”
Nonetheless, a Servicemember’s remains still needed to go through a carefully orchestrated process in order to be positively identified. It required a team of specialists.
“It’s not like anything you could ever imagine,” Beatty said. There’s fingerprinting, dental records, x-rays, and DNA work. Then you have the autopsy and the embalming. It was my job to escort the body throughout this whole process, taking them from station to station. I watched over them. It was a very long day, 13 or 14 hours. But of all the jobs I did in the Air Force, I viewed this one as the most honorable.”
With each passing day, however, more and more disturbing images were accumulating in Beatty’s mind.
“When you feel safe, the walls start to come down. You can begin to heal.”
No Delete Key
“The images go in, but they don’t come out,” she said. “When you’re working around death all the time, you learn to detach yourself. You know this is someone’s brother or sister, someone’s son or daughter, but you have to detach or you’ll end up getting hysterical.”
But detachment, as a coping mechanism, only works for so long.
“After a while I began to have trouble handling what I was seeing,” said the 44-year-old. “And I didn’t have anybody to talk to about it. I was a tech sergeant E6, and a supervisor, and I didn’t want anyone thinking I couldn’t do my job. I didn’t want to be the one person in my unit who came up short. So you end up carrying it all around inside you.”
After leaving the Air Force, Beatty landed a job doing administrative work for the Department of Defense at Fort Belvoir, Va. But by then, the repeated trauma she had experienced during her mortuary work had begun to noticeably manifest itself.
“I was having trouble sleeping,” she said. “I was having unexpected flashbacks, and I was having nightmares. It affected every aspect of my life. The relationship I was in fell apart because I was emotionally shut down. I’d spent years detaching myself, shutting down my emotions so I could protect myself and do my job. But now I was stuck in shutdown mode. I knew something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.”
But people around Beatty knew something was wrong.
“I was getting progressively worse,” she said. “Finally one day my boss came to me and suggested that I talk to someone. He recognized that something wasn’t right with me. So in 2013 I went to the VA outpatient clinic at Fort Belvoir and they referred me to a Vet Center. They told me someone there would be able to help me.”
Ten Minutes Away
As fate would have it, there was a Vet Center just 10 minutes down the road from where Beatty worked at Fort Belvoir.
“When I walked in there, everything changed for me,” she said. “I had individual sessions with a female therapist, and 12 weeks of Cognitive Processing Therapy to specifically address my PTSD. I also completed a 12-week trauma group that was designed for women Veterans. I had always felt alone in my trauma, but being surrounded by supportive women who understood what I was going through was comforting. It helped me a lot.”
Beatty said being in the company of other women enabled her to finally begin letting her guard down.
“When you leave military service, you lose that comradery you had. It was like having a built-in family, so when you lose that, you miss it. But going to the Vet Center has helped me feel reconnected. Everyone there is searching for the same thing: to feel whole again. And you can start to feel whole again when you’re in a comfortable space. When you feel safe, the walls start to come down. You can begin to heal.
“I still have a long way to go,” she added.
Beatty said she has only one regret: that it took her seven long years before finally deciding to reach out for help.
“I think I was my own worst enemy,” she said. “In the military they teach you to be strong, to carry on and do your job no matter what. So that’s what I did. But at the Vet Center I learned I don’t have to be super human. I was reminded that I’m a human being who was traumatized, and that I don’t have to handle it all alone.”
To learn more about what Vet Centers can do for you, visit www.vetcenter.va.gov
House of Representatives Calls For Overhauling Military Retirement
Lawmakers on the House Armed Services committee (HASC) announced last week that they will back changing the military retirement system’s 20-year, all-or-nothing retirement model into a hybridized, or “blended” model which includes a 20% cut to the current defined benefit pension in addition to a 401k-style investment plan in the Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (FY 2016 NDAA).
The expectation is that the new retirement system will be in place by October 2017. It is unclear at this time what the Senate intends to do in its version of the NDAA.
This was the leading recommendation of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRMC). HASC leaders also announced that they will adopt several other recommendations made by the commission, including better financial literacy training for troops, improved access to child care on military bases, consolidating the current 30 Reserve component duty orders down to six, and standardizing the DOD and VA prescription drug formularies, at least for some types of medications.
We applaud HASC’s attempt to provide a contribution to the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) program that all servicemembers can currently participate in. It has been inexcusable that they have allowed the private sector to have this benefit for the last 35 years or so, which has made serving in the military even more of a sacrifice than we all know it already it.
However, We also feel that paying for the employer contribution to the TSP by taking it out of hides of those who serve more than 20 years is a slap in the face to all those who have retired, as well a threat to the viability of the all-volunteer force. While we are heartened to see that the House intends to continue the government contribution even after a servicemember has reached 20 years, we still feel that the incentives, especially in a booming economy and a high operations-tempo environment, are going to lead to an exodus from military service. We believe that retention will be threatened, and that in 15 or 20 years we will revisit this idea and revert back to the old system. Exactly the same thing happened with the 1986 retirement reforms (REDUX); those were reversed starting in about 1999.
Of all of the MCRMC proposals that the House accepted, TREA is the most leery of the retirement changes. We hope that this does not have the adverse consequences for National Security that we unfortunately suspect may develop.
VA Budget Becomes Controversial
Although it was the major overhaul of the military retirement program that gained most of the headlines last week, Congress was working on other items that pertain to the military and veterans, including the budget for the Department of Veterans Affairs for FY2016. In past years, while always subject to debate, the VA budget seemed to be less contentious than either the DoD budget or most of the other budgets in the Federal government. That seems to have changed this year.
The change stems from several things, the most prominent of which are the scandals in VA hospitals concerning the outrageous waiting times for veterans to see doctors. In addition, Congress is upset that very few VA officials were held accountable for the problems and, in fact, many of them got large pay raises.
There are also the problems with several VA hospitals under construction that are enormously over budget and behind schedule. Finally, there is the ongoing issue of cutting government spending in order to try and balance the budget.
Last week, VA Secretary Bob McDonald testified before a Senate appropriations subcommittee hearing in opposition to the House appropriations subcommittee FY2016 VA funding bill.
According to McDonald, the House budget "will cause veterans to suffer," because "It means fewer veterans will get care."
According to the Associated Press, a White House spokesman said the House budget would “would harm medical care for tens of thousands of veterans and reduce VA's ability to plan and build new facilities to replace aging structures across the country.”
However, the House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rodgers (R-Ky), said in a statement that, “This bill ensures that our nation’s veterans, servicemen and women, and their families have the benefits and resources they richly deserve.”
So who’s right? Here’s what they are arguing about.
The total VA budget for FY2016 that was passed by the House Appropriations Committee is $76.6 billion. However, the President had requested $77.8 billion, a difference of $1.2 billion. The VA budget for FY2015 was $72 billion, so the budget passed in the House was $4.6 billion more for FY2016 than it was for FY2015.
So the House majority can claim the VA budget has been increased, while the Department of Veterans Affairs says it has been cut. Such is the way of politics in Washington.
The real question is “Is the VA fully funded so that it can take care of the needs of veterans?
That is what We will be trying to determine in the next few weeks as the debate moves over to the Senate.
VA Waiting Times Clustered in South and West
According to the Associated Press, the worst VA hospitals with delays in giving care to veterans are “concentrated in a fraction of its hospitals and clinics – many of them in the South .…”
From August 1 of last year to February 28 of this year, there were almost 894,000 appointments that did not meet the VA standards for timeliness. Many of those were in a limited number of southern states that have a strong military presence, a rural population and a growth in the number of patients that was much larger than VA had planned for.
According to the AP, “Of the 75 clinics and hospitals with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days for care, 12 are in Tennessee or Kentucky, 11 are in eastern North Carolina and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, 11 are in Georgia or southern Alabama and six are in northern Florida.”
Seven additional hospitals are between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
April is the Month of the Military Child
Month of the Military Child Recognizes Young Family Members To highlight the year-round contributions, courage and patriotism of the military community’s youngest members, the Defense Department observes April as the Month of the Military Child.
Established by then-Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in 1986, the month recognizes some 1.9 million U.S. military children ranging in age from infants to 18 years old who have one or both parents serving in the armed forces, said Barbara Thompson, the director of DoD’s Office of Family Readiness Policy.
“We want to highlight their sacrifices [and] support of the military member in their families, so it behooves us to take time from the busy calendar of our events and recognize military children,” she said.
Permanent-change-of-station moves, deployments and training activities, among other facets of military life, can present unique challenges to children who must constantly adjust to distance, unfamiliarity and uncertain schedules, Thompson explained.
“That can be a real sacrifice, because each parent is a very important part of that child’s makeup,” she said. “So we want to make sure that when they move or change schools, all of those transition times are supported with resources, programs and services.”
DoD offers a variety of programs to help military children overcome these challenges, Thompson said.
Available Programs Offer Assistance
For example, the Child Development Program offers child care up to age 12. Similarly, youth development programs offer older children opportunities for recreation, and character, social and emotional development. Thompson reported that parents, too, have resources to help best guide and nurture their children of all ages.
The New Parents Support Program helps parents during pregnancy and childbirth, and children up to 3 years of age, to reach their full potential through home visitations and parent support groups, she said.
Military OneSource is another resource available 24/7, 365 days a year, to support parents to learn more about parenting skills, as well as to find support for themselves, Thompson added. It also offers telephonic, face-to-face, online and video nonmedical and financial counseling, which she described as “strengthening pillars” for military households separated from extended family or settling into a new environment.
“On the installations, we have military family support centers,” she said, “where a multitude of services for transitions and life skills are offered to make sure our families can be resilient and strengthen them in their efforts to be the parents they want to be.”
Family support has evolved over the last 40 years to become the family readiness system, which is a collaborative network of agencies, programs, services and professionals who promote the readiness and quality of life of military families both on installations and in the community, Thompson said.
“There is no ‘wrong’ door,” she said. “So regardless of where you’re seeking support, whether it’s with your pediatrician or with your chaplain, he or she will also know the resources to support you in your efforts to navigate the military life course.”
New SecDef Proposing DoD Policy Changes in Speeches Across the Country
The new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has been travelling around the country with a series of new policy ideas. At Stamford University (where he earned his PHD) he went over the Pentagon’s new cyber strategy. Previously he said that there were thoughts to relax enlistment standards for prospects that would take high tech and cybersecurity jobs. He also indicated that DoD could loosen age requirements so mid career people could enter mid-career and DoD could repay student loans.
In non-specific, non formal ways he indicated that he approved of the idea of DoD contributing to a 401(k) like TSP program that was proposed by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission (MCRCM) and recently adopted by HASC. (please see article above.) A formal Department of Defense reaction is expected by May 1.
The new “cyber policy means to:”
-- Defend DoD networks, systems and information;
-- Defend the U.S. homeland and U.S. national interests against cyberattacks of significant consequence; and
-- Provide integrated cyber capabilities to support military operations and contingency plans.”
All of these ideas are intended to make recruitment easier in the future. TREA will keep track of these proposals throughout the year.
Interesting Blog on Federal Veterans Employment
Below is an interesting article issued by Thomas Perez is the Secretary of Labor and Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment; Robert McDonald is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment and Katherine Archuleta is Director of the Office of Personnel Management and Vice-Chair of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment. Among the interesting facts it states is that in FY2014 33.2% of all new federal civilian hires were veterans. And that almost 24% of hired veterans were women (while presently only approximately 9% of women are veterans. Please read this article if you are interested.
It’s inspiring to see that after serving their country nobly in the armed forces, so many women and men veterans choose to continue working for the American people through Federal civil service.
The President has made increasing the hiring of veterans, and particularly women veterans, a top priority. As a result, in fiscal year 2014, one in three new Federal hires was a veteran. The actual rate was 33.2 percent, up from 31 percent in fiscal year 2013.
As leaders of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment, we share the President’s commitment to making sure that women leaving the military can easily transition to the Federal civil service. That’s why we created a women veterans initiative led by the Department of Homeland Security. Through that initiative, the Council today released a report that shows that nearly 24 percent of veterans hired in the civilian workforce in fiscal year 2013 were women vets, although women represent just 9 percent of all veterans.
We can build on that. We know that women in general are underrepresented in the Federal workforce, especially in the skilled trades and law enforcement – two areas where many women veterans have significant expertise. We also know that women are statistically less likely to report their service when applying for new positions. We want to encourage them to make their military service known. We also want to help them find new opportunities to continue to serve their country through civilian public service, using the skills they honed while serving their country in the military.
To enhance efforts to hire more women veterans in the Federal Government, the Council’s report recommends adding a section on women veterans to the Veterans Recruitment and Employment Strategic Plan. Going forward, we will design strategies to recruit women veterans for positions across the government and improve outreach to women veterans by building on relationships with veterans service organizations, colleges, universities, trade schools, and affinity groups. In addition, the report recommends that we gather data from Federal agencies to continue to improve our recruitment strategies for women veterans now, and in the years to come.
Veterans are just one of the many communities that will benefit from the work OPM is doing under its Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion – or REDI – Roadmap. By improving hiring tools like USAJOBS.gov, OPM will make the process of finding a job in the Federal Government much easier for everyone, including veterans.
We may never be able to fully repay our nation’s veterans for the sacrifices they have made, but we can ensure that we do all that we can to make their transition to Federal civilian service as seamless and fulfilling as possible.
Thomas Perez is the Secretary of Labor and Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment.
Robert McDonald is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and Co-Chair of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment.
Katherine Archuleta is Director of the Office of Personnel Management and Vice-Chair of the President’s Council on Veterans Employment.
Too Much Exercise Is Bad for Your Health
Cases of exertional hyponatremia, a serious and sometimes fatal condition involving low sodium in the blood, increased by 30 percent in the military in 2014, says a report from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center. Excessive water consumption can be a factor. There were 35 incidents in the Army in 2014 requiring hospitalization or ambulatory treatment, for an incidence rate of 6.9 per 100,000 people. The Marine Corps had 28 cases, with a higher incidence rate of 14.8 per 100,000.
What to watch: There have been no deaths from exertional hyponatremia since the late 1990s, but concerns remain about carefully following guidelines set in 1998 that limit fluid intake to no more than 1½ quarts an hour and 12 quarts a day.
Watch Your Wallet
Army veteran Leroy Brown Jr. has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud, and had his assets frozen, after being accused of falsely telling investors, many of them soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas he was a licensed and registered securities investor. He promised to double or triple money within 120 days, and wrote on his website that he specialized in “military deployment and redeployment investment solutions.” He wasn’t registered, and he and his firm “have no evident experience,” the SEC said in a release.
What to watch: Brown and his firm, LB Stocks and Trades Advice LLC, are not the first and not the last to use a connection to the military to drum up business. The SEC provides advice to soldiers and their families on investments, including how to avoid fraud targeted at military personnel.
Beating the Betting Addiction
The National Council on Problem Gambling reports 36,000 military members meet the criteria for being considered a problem gambler, which is generally defined as being unable to stop despite negative consequences. The group advocates for dedicated programs for gambling prevention and to treat gambling addiction.
What to watch: The group is turning its attention to veterans, believing that some soldiers are leaving active duty heavily in debt because of gambling, making the transition to civilian life even more difficult. They want the Defense Department to have a comprehensive gambling addiction program for active-duty members, and especially for those about to separate or retire.
VA Expands Choice Program
VA has heard us loud and clear. You continually told us through surveys and direct inquires that measuring distance “as the crow flies” is not aligned with the realities of traveling to a VA medical center and asked that it be changed. Earlier this year, VFW National Commander John W. Stroud told the President of the United States, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Congress and the American public that the Veterans Choice Program should calculate distance “as the crow drives” not “as the crow flies.” The concerns and advocacy of VFW members has led to a significant change, which will give nearly 300,000 veterans the opportunity to choose whether to receive their health care closer to home or travel to the nearest VA medical facility.
Today, VA announced it will change the way distance is calculated for the Veterans Choice Program from straight-line distance to driving distance. The change is effective immediately. The nearly 300,000 veterans affected by this change will receive a letter informing them that they are now eligible. If you believe you are eligible or did not receive a Choice Card in the mail, you can contact 1-866-606-8198 for more information.
This is one of two changes to the 40-mile rule VFW members seek. This change fails to address the travel burden faced by veterans who live within 40 miles (driving distance) of a VA medical facility, but are required to travel more than 40 miles to receive health care. In an opinion editorial to the Wall Street Journal, Commander Stroud wrote “It is absolutely unthinkable to expect any veteran to travel such distances for treatment, especially knowing that non-VA care is readily available much closer to home.” The VFW will continue to advocate for the second change to be made. To read more about this change, visit: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2695. Read the Commander’s OpEd at: http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2015-Articles/Wall-Street-Journal-OpEd--Unfinished-Repairs-at-Veterans-Affairs/.
House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Health Bills
On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to discuss legislation related to VA health care. The bills considered by the Subcommittee would improve research on service-related toxic wounds, expand the infertility treatment VA is authorized to offer severely injured veterans, streamline VA’s ability to purchase nursing home care, and expand other successful VA programs. VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes submitted testimony for the record offering the VFW’s support for all the bills and our recommendations to strengthen them. To view the hearing and read the testimony, visit: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-1.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Holds Hearing on Women Veterans
On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to evaluate the benefits and services VA provides women veterans. The Committee heard from women veterans who shared their experiences receiving VA health care and offered suggestions on how to improve the care and benefits VA provides women veterans. To view the hearing and read the testimony, visit: http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/fulfilling-the-promise-to-women-veterans04212015.
The House Veterans’ Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on women veterans on April 30, 2015. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates on how Congress and VA seek to improve the health care and benefits afforded to our women veterans.
House Committee Holds Hearing on VA Mismanagement
On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing investigating mismanagement allegations at the Philadelphia and Oakland VA Regional Offices. This was a heated hearing with whistleblowers describing their work conditions and alleged VA leadership wrongdoing, and VA officials describing what they are doing to fix the problems. To watch the hearing and read testimony, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/philadelphia-and-oakland-systemic-failures-and-mismanagement.
New Bill Would Expand Caregiver Benefits
On Wednesday, the VFW was on-hand for a press conference announcing the introduction of the Military and Veterans Caregiver Services Improvement Act of 2015. Introduced simultaneously in both the Senate and the House by Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Representative Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), this legislation would greatly enhance the support provided to family caregivers of veterans who were severely disabled in service. Currently, VA provides financial assistance, medical training, health care and other services to caregivers of severely injured Post-9/11 veterans. The Military and Veterans Caregiver Services Improvement Act would greatly enhance this program by providing the same benefits to caregivers of severely disabled veterans of all eras, as well as by improving the current program in several ways. The VFW strongly supports the bill, believing that severely wounded veterans of all conflicts have made incredible sacrifices and that the family members who care for them are equally deserving of recognition and support. To learn more about the bill, visit Senator Murray’s website by clicking here: http://www.murray.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/newsreleases?ID=60ae38cb-4368-4fd8-85a0-df335bcd25b1.
Purple Heart Benefits
Now that Congress changed the law to expand Purple Heart eligibility to those wounded or killed in attacks motivated by foreign terrorist organizations, the Army announced it will extend all possible benefits to the military victims of the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas and outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark. Among the benefits is payment of hostile fire pay for those Purple Heart recipients "killed, injured or wounded" in the attack, as well as combat-related special compensation for retired soldiers whose disability is attributable to an injury for which they were awarded the medal.
V-E Day 70th Anniversary
A ceremony to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of Victory in Europe Day will be held at the National World War II Memorial in Washington on May 8 at 10:30 a.m. All WWII veterans are invited to attend and be recognized for their service and sacrifice. Representatives from the U.S. and allied nations will be laying wreaths, followed by a multi-aircraft flyover of vintage warbirds. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking will be extremely limited since it’s the tourist season and May 8 is a workday. Taxis to the memorial are plentiful and recommended, and the two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. RSVP your attendance to the ceremony at: http://www.wwiimemorialfriends.org/v-e-day-70th-anniversary.
Take the Military Family Survey
Blue Star Families has asked the VFW to help distribute their 2015 Military Family Lifestyle Survey to active-duty, Guard, Reserve and veteran families. The survey is now available online at: http://bit.ly/2015VFW. The data collected provides real-time feedback from military families on issues ranging from operations tempo to pay and benefits, stress, caregiving and employment. The survey closes on May 15.