Legion voices veterans' concerns to Congress

Congress is beginning to schedule congressional hearings for a short, election-year session this November, where the seats for all 435 representatives and 36 senators will be determined. The American Legion has contacted committees and subcommittees in both chambers, requesting an opportunity to testify on issues important to servicemembers, veterans and their families. Normally, only a third of the Senate seats expire in an election year. However, two “special election” seats are included in this election cycle, Delaware and New York, which were formerly held by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, respectively.Since the start of the new session, The American Legion has participated in two roundtable meetings with the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to discuss top legislative priorities among veterans and military service organizations, as well as rural health care for America’s veterans.  In the first roundtable meeting, The American Legion focused on:•    The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) claims and adjudication backlog. •    Women veterans health care. •    Timely access to rural veterans health care. •    Homelessness among veterans and their families.•    Post-9/11 GI Bill education enhancements, especially with vocational training.•    Veterans employment and training services.•    VA’s third-party collection fund, especially with Medicare reimbursement for treatment of nonservice-connected medical conditions for eligible patients.•    VA’s long-term health care and its capacity to meet the demands of patients.In the second roundtable meeting, several members of Congress and representatives from concerned groups were invited to address challenges in delivering quality VA health care to rural areas. The American Legion addressed many concerns voiced by others, such as the difficulty of traveling long distances and enduring inclement weather in order to receive earned VA healthcare benefits. This encouraged the House committee to examine the following three key areas:•    Timely access to quality local health care through other federal providers on a fee-for-services basis, such as federally accredited primary-care clinics, military treatment facilities or public health service facilities, including those for Indian Health Services.•    Emphasis on recruitment, retention and continuing education of quality health-care providers on a fee-for-services basis.•    Outreach to veterans in rural areas on available health-care options, which include telemedicine or telehealth.Other hearings planned by the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs include:•    Feb. 3: House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. “Review of the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs Contract Health Care: Project HERO.”•    Feb. 3: House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs. “Implementation and Status Update on the Veterans’ Benefits Improvement Act, Public Law 110-389.”•    Feb. 4: House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 and FY 2012.”•    Feb. 10: Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “VA’s FY 2011 Budget.”•    February 10: House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. “The Veterans Health Administrations FY 2011 Budget.”•    Feb. 11: Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Hearing. "Technology Budget Requests for FY 2011."•    Feb. 24: House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Exploring the Relationship between Medication and Veteran Suicide.”•    March 10: House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Structuring the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of the 21st Century.”•    March 18: House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Claims Summit 2010.”Many of these hearings will be webcast via the Committee’s respective Web sites: http://veterans.house.gov/ and  http://veterans.senate.gov/. And oftentimes, copies of the congressional testimony are available on the respective Web site.The American Legion Washington Conference is scheduled for March 1-3, 2010, featuring the Commander’s Call scheduled on March 2.