VFW Action Corps Weekly, April 28, 2017

In This Issue:
1. VFW Supports VA Accountability First Act
2. EO Improves VA Accountability, Whistleblower Protections
3. VFW Attends Roundtable on VA Caregiver Program
4. Retired Soldier Council Panel
5. Defense Health Agency Working Group
6. Senate Holds Veteran Suicide Prevention Hearing
7. VA Partners to Increase Medical Providers
8. New Construction Guidelines for State Veteran Nursing Homes
9. V-E Day May 8
10. MIA Update

1. VFW Supports VA Accountability First Act: This month marks the third anniversary of a nationwide crisis in access to care that branded the Department of Veterans Affairs as an inept and corrupt government bureaucracy that was failing in its primary mission to care for those who had borne the battle. In the aftermath, Congress quickly crafted a new law to improve the VA secretary’s authority to remove senior VA executives for performance or misconduct, but the new authority did not last long, as it would be later deemed unconstitutional – over alleged due process rights violations – and the disciplinary actions against the VA executives were reversed. In an opinion editorial, VFW National Commander Brian Duffy called the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 – sponsored by House VA Committee Chairman Dr. Phil Roe and Sen. Marco Rubio – the right vehicle to finally enable VA leadership to fire inept, irresponsible and crime-committing employees, because “maintaining the status quo doesn’t work for those who have borne the battle,” he wrote. Read the VFW Commander’s editorial.<https://www.vfw.org/news-and-publications/press-room/archives/2017/4/accountability-is-a-two-way-street>

2. EO Improves VA Accountability, Whistleblower Protections: The president signed an executive order yesterday that will improve VA employee accountability and better protect whistleblowers. The EO creates a VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection to identify statutory barriers that currently prevent VA from properly disciplining or terminating employees, as well as hinders the department’s ability to recruit, reward and retain high-performing employees. The new office will report directly to VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, and work closely with existing VA offices to ensure all incidents of wrongdoing are properly investigated and corrected, as well as protect those employees who disclose the wrongdoing from retaliation. “The VA was created for one purpose: to care for our nation’s wounded, ill and injured veterans,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy. “The VFW applauds this action, which we hope will soon be bolstered by the passage of the VA Accountability First Act of 2017, because Secretary Shulkin must have the authority to manage his people in a manner expected of all senior executives, public or private.” Read the executive order.<https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/04/27/presidential-executive-order-improving-accountability-and-whistleblower>

3. VFW Attends Roundtable on VA Caregiver Program: On Thursday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health held a roundtable to discuss VA’s Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers. Subcommittee members asked VA questions regarding recent reports of veterans being removed from the program. VA detailed several initiatives it is taking to standardize the program so veterans aren’t removed from the program when they move from one VA medical facility to another, including a national directive which will provide more guidance to local VA medical facilities. VFW Legislative Director Carlos Fuentes urged VA and Congress to review all recent revocations to determine whether they were accurate and to improve off-ramp processes for veterans being removed from the program to ensure they have an opportunity to adjust to losing the comprehensive support they receive. Fuentes also called on Congress to expand this important program to pre-9/11 veterans. Visit National Council for Aging Care for information on the program  or Hidden Heroes<http://www.hiddenheroes.org/> to find resources for veteran and military caregivers.

4. Retired Soldier Council Panel: On Tuesday, the VFW participated in a panel discussion during the annual meeting of the Chief of Staff, Army Retired Soldier Council. The VFW and other VSOs answered questions on TRICARE benefits, DOD’s 180-day post-retirement hiring limitation for retirees, cost-of-living concerns, Reserve retirement age provisions and other issues of concern to retirees. Created in 1971, the Retired Soldier Council’s mission is to provide advice and recommendations to the Chief of Staff of the Army on issues and policies impacting retirees, surviving spouses and their families, and strengthen communication between the active and reserve components and the retired community. Read more about the Retired Soldier Council.<https://soldierforlife.army.mil/retirement/retireecouncil>

5. Defense Health Agency Working Group: The VFW participated in a veterans and military service organization working group on Wednesday with Acting Deputy Director of the Defense Health Agency (DHA) RADM Colin Chinn. Discussions focused on implementation of National Defense Authorization Act TRICARE changes, the May 1 transition of the TRICARE dental program from MetLife to United Concordia, upcoming changes in treatment for mental health and substance use disorder, DHA’s “Empower the Patient” cybersecurity campaign, and improvements to the TRICARE Online Patient Portal<http://www.tricareonline.com/>.

6. Senate Holds Veteran Suicide Prevention Hearing: On Thursday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies held a hearing titled “Preventing Veteran Suicide.”  The panel included the Department of Veterans Affairs Inspector General, and individuals from the Veterans Health Administration, Military Veteran Project and RAND Corporation. Chairman Jerry Moran and subcommittee members inquired about resources and support VA needs to lower the number of veteran suicides. Also discussed was the impact of access issues in rural areas, properly managing chronic pain and VA’s delay in addressing inspector general recommendations. Read the testimony or view the hearing.<https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/hearing-titled-preventing-veteran-suicide>

7. VA Partners to Increase Medical Providers: On Thursday, the Department of Veterans Affairs entered into a partnership with the Department of Health and Human Services. This partnership will allow medical professionals from the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to provide care to veterans at VA medical facilities. Effective immediately, the partnership agreement allows up to 20 medical professionals from the Commissioned Corps to provide treatment in VA facilities deemed to be in the most need of staffing support. An additional 10 officers from the Commissioned Corps are able to assist in support coordination for veterans receiving VA community care.

8. New Construction Guidelines for State Veteran Nursing Homes: On Thursday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. David Shulkin announced new guidelines for construction of State Veteran Nursing Homes. The new regulations will streamline the construction process for State Veteran Nursing Homes by eliminating red tape. Previously, to qualify for VA State Veterans Home grants, governors and state officials had to follow federal construction design guidelines. With the new regulations, that is no longer the case. Governors are authorized to follow their own state guidelines in the construction design of these facilities, while still qualifying for the same level of federal grant funding as before. This announcement is a great improvement which enables states to expand long term care for veterans. The VFW applauds Secretary Shulkin for his forward thinking attitude with this announcement, as it will have an immediate and positive impact on veterans.

9. V-E Day May 8: Visitors to Washington, D.C., are invited to help commemorate the 72nd anniversary of Victory in Europe Day at the National World War II Memorial at 11 a.m., May 8. The WWII Memorial has very few disability parking spaces, and street parking could be limited since it’s the tourist season and it’s a workday. Taxis are plentiful and recommended. The two closest Metro stations, Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, are both about a half-mile away. Learn about this and other events.<http://www.wwiimemorialfriends.org/>

10. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of four Americans who had been missing in action from WWII and Korea. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Navy Fireman 3rd Class Robert N. Walkowiak, 20, of Oshkosh, Wis., will be buried April 28 in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. Walkowiak was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Walkowiak was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Walkowiak.<http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/1158896/uss-oklahoma-sailor-accounted-for-from-world-war-ii-walkowiak/>
— Army Cpl. Freddie L. Henson, 19, of Klamath Falls, Ore., will be buried May 4 in Houston. Henson served with Battery A, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, part of the 31st Regimental Combat Team deployed east of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The RCT was attacked by an overwhelming number of Chinese forces in late November 1950. Henson was among 1,300 members of the RCT killed or captured in enemy territory. He was reported missing as of Dec. 6, 1950. Read about Henson.<http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/News-Releases/Article/1164653/soldier-killed-in-korean-war-accounted-for-henson/>
— Marine Corps 2nd Lt. George S. Bussa was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. On Nov. 20, 1943, Bussa’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll against stiff Japanese resistance. Bussa was killed on the first day of the battle, one of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors killed in the intense fighting.       Interment services are pending. Read about Bussa.<http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Article/1159098/marine-missing-from-world-war-ii-accounted-for-bussa/>
— Army Pvt. Walter F. Piper was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. Piper was reported missing in action on Feb. 13, 1951, while fighting in Korea. Interment services are pending. Read about Piper.<http://www.dpaa.mil/News-Stories/Recent-News-Stories/Article/1156088/soldier-missing-from-korean-war-identified-piper/>

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