1. FY 2018 Budget Request for Veterans Affairs: A 6 percent increase to VA’s discretionary funding, up to $82.1 billion, would increase community care, long-term care, mental health and gender-specific care, and expand services to help end veteran homelessness. Concerning is the proposal to end Individual Unemployability benefits for certain severely disabled veterans who are unable to work due to their service-connected disabilities. This rollback would impact veterans with 60 to 90 percent disability ratings who reach minimum Social Security age. An attempt to reform the IU program was made a decade ago, but it had little traction in Congress. Another concern is a proposal to reinstitute the rounding down of cost-of-living disability pay increases, something the VFW will always oppose. The VFW is also against extending the mandatory funding authorization that created the Choice Program three years ago. VFW National Commander Brian Duffy said “the continued failure of Congress to eliminate sequestration is forcing the administration to propose cuts to veterans’ benefits in order to expand the Choice Program under mandatory spending instead of including the much-used program in the VA’s discretionary community care account.” He said the FY 2018 budget process has just begun, and the VFW will now work with the administration and Congress to secure a quality budget for military and veterans’ programs in order to fulfill our nation’s first obligation to provide for a strong national defense, and to care for the men and women who answer the call to serve. Read the budget request.
2. FY 2018 Budget Request for Defense: The White House released the president’s fiscal year 2018 federal budget request this week. At $639 billion, the Defense Department’s request is $52 billion above mandatory budget caps, which reflects the reality of a military that remains totally engaged in the global war on terrorism, plus all the threats that have emerged or reemerged since the Budget Control Act was passed in 2011. Regarding troop strength and military compensation, the president would increase overall end strength by 56,000 personnel, match last year’s military pay increase of 2.1 percent, and up housing by 3.2 percent and the rations allowance by 3.4 percent. The plan would extend the government’s Thrift Savings Program match for enlisted personnel beyond 26 years of service, boost military construction and enhance military family support programs, such as child care and spouse employment assistance. The budget plan does not institute a TRICARE for Life enrollment, but it would increase TRICARE Prime enrollment fees by 24 percent at both the single and family rates, merges TRICARE Standard and Extra into TRICARE Select, with new enrollment fees of $450 for singles and $900 for families. Off-base pharmacy copayments would also increase for generic, brand and non-formulary drugs. Read the budget request.
3. Memorial Day 2017: National Commander Brian Duffy will be representing the VFW at Memorial Day ceremonies in Arlington National Cemetery and at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Locally, many of our 6,500 VFW Posts will be hosting similar ceremonies to honor our fallen. As we gather to remember the more than one million Americans who died in our nation’s conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War, please remember to keep our 83,000 missing and unaccounted for service members, and their families, in your thoughts. Memorial Day weekend events in Washington include:
— Rolling Thunder 30th Anniversary Ride for Freedom, Sunday, May 28, begin assembling in North Pentagon parking lot at 8 a.m., depart en masse at noon. Read more details.
— National Memorial Day Concert, Sunday, May 28, from 8-9:30 p.m., on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and aired live on PBS stations nationwide. Read more details.
— National World War II Memorial Observance, Monday, May 29, at 9 a.m. Read about more events.
— Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Observance, Monday, May 29, from 11 a.m. to noon, inside the Memorial Amphitheater next to the Tomb of the Unknowns. Read about more events.
— Vietnam War Memorial Observance, Monday, May 29, from 1-2 p.m. Read about more events.
— National Memorial Day Parade, Monday, May 29, at 2 p.m., from the National Archives building down Constitution Avenue past the White House. Read more details.
4. VFW Base Visit: VFW Director of National Security and Foreign Affairs Sarah Maples and Assistant Director for Field Operations Gregg Orto visited our partners at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., this week. In addition to observing the Benefits Delivery at Discharge claims process and talking to soldiers, they also toured the installation’s Warrior Transition Battalion and met with the transition service manager, an ombudsman, the DOD/VA liaison, and a surviving child. The VFW provides claims assistance to transitioning service members at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, and VFW leaders routinely conduct site visits to see firsthand how the military is working to successfully transition service members back to civilian life.
5. Veterans Legislation Clears the House and Senate: The House and Senate passed several bills this week which would help veterans. The House provisions include a reform to the burdensome process veterans must use to appeal a disability rating decision. The VFW helped craft this reform, which passed unanimously 418-0. Additional House legislation would improve requirements for scheduling appointments to help ensure that hidden appointment lists do not happen again; more support for veterans needing adult day care; and an annual cost-of-living adjustment for veterans equal to what is given to Social Security recipients if such an increase is granted this year. Three bills on the Senate side passed unanimously this week. The first is a bill which requires the reduction of the federal annuities of individuals removed from the Department of Veterans Affairs Senior Executive Service if they are convicted of a felony; legislation that would require the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to submit an annual report regarding performance awards and bonuses for certain high-level employees; and a bill that would designate May 1 as “Silver Star Service Banner Day” to honor members of the Armed Forces and veterans who were wounded or became ill in combat. Follow the VFW Action Corps Weekly for updates.
6. VFW Attends VA IT Roundtable: The VFW attended a discussion on Thursday with VA leadership concerning future plans on matters related to information technology (IT) systems. A recently finalized change will see financial management processes performed by VA transition to a more efficient system operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but it will take several years to implement and veterans should see little, if any, difference. Also announced is an effort to use existing application technology, such as Facetime, to allow veterans to connect with medical providers through telehealth, which would help eliminate travel boundaries and connect veterans with sometimes hard-to-reach specialists.
7. House VA Budget Hearing: The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a hearing on Wednesday to discuss the president’s budget request for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin expanded on the administration’s priorities for the year, such as expanded Choice for veterans, modernizing VA systems, focusing resources more efficiently, improving timeliness of services and suicide prevention. The VFW and its Independent Budget co-authors submitted testimony in support of increased funding for VA and many of the administration’s priorities for the year, but informed Congress of the VFW’s opposition to the elimination of Individual Unemployability for certain veterans and the proposed reduction in cost-of-living adjustments for veterans’ benefits. Committee members inquired about these topics and VA’s IT plans, and what steps it is taking to adopt commercial systems to replace outdated and costly IT systems. Watch the hearing or read the testimony.
8. VA Financial Management Hearing: On Wednesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing regarding VA’s financial management situation. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office stated that VA has overpaid tens of thousands of veterans over the years resulting in billions of dollars of excess payments. VA officials testified before the subcommittee and explained most of the department’s overpayments were due to outdated IT systems, and 90 percent of the money paid out could not be recouped. Congress is working to provide VA with the necessary funds to fix the antiquated IT systems so problems like this can be rectified and VA can become more financially efficient. Watch the hearing or read the testimony.
9. MIA Update: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains of eight Americans who had been missing in action from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
— Navy Coxswain Verne F. Knipp, 22, of Salida, Colo., will be buried May 26, in Auburn, Calif. Knipp was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Knipp was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Knipp.
— Navy Musician 1st Class Elliot D. Larsen, 25, of Monroe, Utah, will be buried May 26 in his hometown. Larsen was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Larsen was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Larsen.
— Navy Fireman 3rd Class Glaydon I.C. Iverson, 24, of Emmons, Minn., will be buried May 27 in his hometown. Iverson was assigned to the USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, when Japanese aircraft attacked his ship on Dec. 7, 1941. Iverson was one of 429 crewmen killed in the attack. Read about Iverson.
— Navy Lt. Cmdr. Frederick P. Crosby, 31, of Lockport, N.Y., will be buried May 28 in San Diego, Calif. Crosby, an RF-8A pilot, flew a bomb damage assessment mission over Thanh Hoa Province, North Vietnam, on June 1, 1965. His plane crashed after being hit by enemy ground fire while flying at high speed and low altitude over the target area. Read about Crosby.
— Army Pfc. Everett E. Johnson, 21, of Cincinnati, will be buried May 29 in Madisonville, Ohio. Johnson was a member of Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division located near Taegu, South Korea. On Sept. 3, 1950, Johnson’s company was cut off by enemy penetrations and withdrew to join the rest of the battalion. Johnson was killed during the attack. Read about Johnson.
— Army Pfc. Thomas C. Stagg, 21, of Jefferson, Ala., will be buried May 29 in Birmingham, Ala. Stagg was a member of Company K, 3rd Battalion, 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment. On Nov. 29, 1950, Stagg was on a reconnaissance patrol near Hajoyang-ni, North Korea, when it was ambushed. Following the battle, Stagg could not be accounted for and he was declared killed in action. Read about Stagg.
— Marine Corps Reserve Cpl. Henry Andregg, Jr., was assigned to Company C, 2nd Amphibious Tractor Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. On Nov. 20, 1943, Andregg’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll against stiff Japanese resistance. Andregg 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 Andregg.
— Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Sam J. Kourkos was assigned to Company M, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. On Nov. 20, 1943, Kourkos’s unit landed on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll against stiff Japanese resistance. Kourkos was killed on the second day of the battle, one of approximately 1,000 Marines and sailors killed in the intense fighting. Interment services are pending. Read about Kourkos.