In This Issue:
1. VFW Charter Change Becomes Law
2. National Defense Authorization Poised to Pass
3. House Passes $1 Trillion Funding Bill
4. VFW Attends Press Conference
5. VFW Conducts VA Choice Card Survey
6. House VA Committee Hearing on Homelessness
7. House VA Subcommittee Hearing on Cemeteries
8. Ohio Bonus Deadline for OIF Vets Approaching
1. VFW Charter Change Becomes Law: The president signed the VFW’s new charter into law last week. The two requested changes — replacing men with veterans, and widows with surviving spouses — was prompted by Resolution 301 passed at the VFW’s 115th National Convention in July, and supported by two companion bills introduced by Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and House VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.). According to the VFW Magazine, this was the fifth charter change since the original was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936. The other four amendments were:
1953 – changed the “Act of Incorporation” to cover all services, since the Air Force wasn’t created until 1947.
1995 – opened membership to those who served in Korea or its territorial waters for 30 consecutive or 60 nonconsecutive days after June 30, 1949.
2002 – opened membership to those who receive hostile fire or imminent danger pay.
2006 – added a clause noting that the VFW has “perpetual existence.”
2. National Defense Authorization Poised to Pass: The Senate invoked cloture on a final fiscal 2015 defense policy bill Thursday, making it all but certain the legislation will pass today sometime and be ready for the President’s signature. The measure authorizes the Pentagon and defense-related programs for FY 2015, including:
- Authorizes funding to support the President’s alternative pay plan establishing a 1 percent across the board pay raise for members of the uniformed services.
- Freezes pay of general and flag officers consistent with the President’s request.
- Reduces the rate of increase in the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to provide that BAH will cover 1 percent less than average out-of-pocket costs for housing, while ensuring that no service member will experience a reduction in BAH.
- Authorizes a $3.00 increase in pharmacy copays for non-active duty TRICARE beneficiaries who fill prescriptions outside of military treatment facilities.
- Includes numerous provisions to strengthen and improve prevention and response to sexual assaults in the military.
- Transfers $14.8 million to the USSOCOM Behavioral Health and Warrior Care Management Program for additional behavioral health programs and $4.0 million to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office in support of members of special operations forces.
- Authorizes $63.7 billion in war-related funding including $5.1 billion for the President to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
- Authorizes the full request of $4.1 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) to build and sustain the Afghan forces in securing Afghanistan as U.S. and coalition forces shift to the post-2014 train, advice, and assist mission.
- Authorizes $1.6 billion for the Iraq Train and Equip Fund to provide military assistance to security forces in Iraq, including Kurdish and tribal security forces with a national mission, to defend against the threat posed by the so called Islamic State of Iraq.
For more details see:
3. House Passes $1 Trillion Funding Bill: The House passed a $1.01 trillion “cromnibus” spending bill last night that combines an omnibus measure with 11 full-year appropriations bills and one continuing resolution that funds the Department of Homeland Security through February. Highlights of the FY 2015 federal spending package, which includes $554.1 billion for the Department of Defense, are:
$159.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory spending for the Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes $209 million to address new costs related to the bipartisan veterans’ reform bill that was signed into law in August that adds more medical staff and expands dozens of facilities.
$5.4 billion for security at U.S. embassies worldwide, $46 million more than the Administration requested.
$1.2 billion increase to National Guard and Reserve budgets for equipment resets.
$351 million for the Iron Dome short-range, air defense program, almost double the White House requested amount.
Upgrades the M1 Abrams tank with better lethality, protection, networking gear and gas mileage.
Maintains the Navy’s carrier fleet at 11 ships.
Blocks the Air Force from retiring the A-10 close-air support aircraft and U-2 spy plane.
Bans the transfer of terrorism detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the U.S.
Increases military base pay by 1 percent for everyone below the rank of general or flag officer.
Reduces military housing allowances by 1 percent, effective upon the next Permanent Change of Station.
Requires all active-duty and Selected Reserve troops to receive one-on-one mental health screenings annually.
Increases TRICARE pharmacy copayments by $3; requires TRICARE patients taking name-brand medications for chronic conditions to fill their prescriptions at a military pharmacy or with the TRICARE home delivery program; and rejects Pentagon proposals to merge the three TRICARE Prime, Standard and Extra programs into one.
Reinstates appropriated fund support to the military commissary system, and prohibits the sale of tobacco products at prices below local community rates.
The Senate will now take up the measure and is likely to pass the bill and send it to the President for his signature.
4. VFW Attends Press Conference: Time is running short on passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (Clay Hunt SAV Act) in this Congress. That’s why the VFW and our partner veterans’ organizations, along with Clay Hunt’s mother and step-father, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Richard Blumenthal, and John Walsh held a press conference this morning, calling on the Senate to pass this legislation before the close-of-business today. Clay’s parents made an emotional appeal to the yet-unnamed Senator blocking the legislation to allow the bill to come to a vote. If passed, the act would ensure that much-needed outreach and resources would be provided to veterans in need, taking a critical first step in ensuring that no more veterans or their loved ones will have to endure the pain of suicide. The VFW worked closely with the bill’s architects in the House, Reps. Jeff Miller and Tim Walz, to craft meaningful legislation to address military and veterans’ mental health issues. In his remarks this morning, VFW National Legislative Director Ray Kelley said, “Time is running out on this Congress and they have a lot of work to do, but time is also running out on veterans who are in distress and contemplating suicide.” The House passed the bill by Unanimous Consent earlier this week, meaning that only the Senate must take action for it to go to the President and be signed into law. If the Senate fails to pass this bill, we will work with Clay’s family, the Veterans Affairs Committees and our VSO partners to make this a top priority when Congress returns in January.
5. VFW Conducts VA Choice Card Survey: Earlier this week the VFW commissioned a survey to poll our members to receive specific feedback on veterans’ interaction with the new Choice provision that became law in November. It is important as VA moves forward with providing expanded access to health care, that it is implemented fully and that veterans are truly being served by its provisions.
If you haven’t taken the survey yet, please do. It will only take you a couple minutes to complete, but the information we gain will be critical in holding VA accountable and ensuring veterans get the care they have earned.
Take the survey here: https://www.research.net/s/VFWChoiceSurvey.
6. House VA Committee Hearing on Homelessness: The House Committee on Veterans Affairs held an oversight hearing to evaluate the federal and community effort to eliminate veterans’ homelessness. In 2009, VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) jointly announced a goal to eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015. In the past five years, VA and HUD have leveraged partnerships with community grassroots organizations like the VFW to reduce the rate of homelessness among veterans by 33 percent. During the hearing community-based homeless service providers testified that more resources for vital homeless programs are needed if VA and HUD are to reach their goal of functional zero homeless veterans. The hearing was sparked by a VA Office of Inspector General report released last week that found VA’s national call center for homeless veterans failed to properly address 40,500 calls from homeless veterans in need of help. VA acknowledged that such errors are unacceptable and has begun to implement a number of improvements to the national call center, such as increasing staff during peak hours and an automated queuing system to ensure veterans’ calls are answered by a representative. To view the hearing in its entirety, visit the Committee’s website at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hclive14.
7. House VA Subcommittee Hearing on Cemeteries: The House Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held an oversight hearing to review the current operations of national cemeteries. The heads of VA’s National Cemetery Administration, Arlington National Cemetery, and the American Battle Monuments Commission updated the subcommittee on their respective organization’s recent activities and initiatives. To view the hearing in its entirety, visit the Committee’s website at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/hclive14.
8. Ohio Bonus Deadline for OIF Vets Approaching: This New Year’s Eve is the deadline for Ohioans to apply for a tax-free bonus of up to $1,000 a year. To be eligible, veterans and Ohioans serving on active duty must have had “boots on the ground” in Iraq sometime between March 29, 2003, and Dec. 31, 2011. They must have been Ohio residents when they entered military service and current residents of the state today. The Ohio Veterans Bonus is not subject to federal or state taxes. It pays $100 a month to veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, up to a maximum of $1,000. For veterans who served elsewhere, the payment is $50 a month up to a maximum of $500. Veterans medically discharged because of injuries sustained in-country can receive $1,000 and up to $500 for service elsewhere. For more details or to apply, go to www.veteransbonus.ohio.gov.