LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Both the House and Senate were in session this week. In addition, both chambers will be in recess next week (July 2-6) for the Fourth of July district work period.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
House VA Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Pending Legislation
On Thursday, June 21st the House Veterans Affairs Committee Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a legislative hearing to hear testimony on H.R. 3860, H.R. 4115, H.R. 4740 and H.R. 5747.
Three veteran service organizations, including The American Legion testified on the bills. The American Legion’s testimony offered support for all of the legislation on the basis of the legislation’s merits in terms of assisting in addressing issues faced by veterans, as well as comparison of the legislation to standing TAL resolutions.
Senate Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs Panel Holds Markup Hearing
On Wednesday, June 27th the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs held a business meeting to consider six pending pieces of legislation. The bills considered included:
S. 2239, to direct the head of each agency to treat relevant military training as sufficient to satisfy training or certification requirements for federal licenses. The American Legion primarily took interest in S. 2239, which passed by voice vote with no opposition.
H.R. 915, which The American Legion also took some interest in due to the bill’s national security implications, passed by voice vote with no opposition.
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Holds Legislative Hearing
The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs often holds entire legislative packages for one legislative hearing. In the past, this hearing was offered once per calendar year. In the past month, the committee has held two legislative hearings on pending veteran legislation. The second hearing was held on June 27th reviewing 29 bills related to veterans. A legislative hearing is the first step at the committee level in considering pending bills. Amongst the bills included were the following:
S. 3308, sponsored by Senator Heller (NV) which would improve and increase benefits for homeless veterans who are women or who have dependents. The American Legion has supported this bill.
S. 3270, sponsored by Senators Wyden (OR) and Burr (NC) which would amend existing laws to prevent unethical individuals and organizations from preying upon veterans eligible for aid & attendance. This legislation was a result of testimony offered by The American Legion at a Senate hearing earlier in June.
S. 2320, sponsored by Senator Ayotte (NH) which would direct that the American Battle Monuments Commission care and maintain of the Clark Air Base Cemetery in the Philippines. The American Legion has supported this legislation.
S. 2259, sponsored by Senator Tester (MT) which would increase the pension and compensation rates for veterans for 2013 to a comparable percentage as a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment. This is annual legislation that is necessary.
S. 2244, sponsored by Senator Portman (OH) which would support and foster increased efforts by the Missing in America Project. The American Legion has been a long supporter of the Missing in America Project and supports this legislation.
A significant amount of testimony and questions were concerning S. 1707, the Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act. As it currently stands, when VA determines a veteran is unfit to personally oversee his/her personal finances, either because of physical or psychological symptoms, he/she is granted a guardian. In every one of these cases, the veterans name is also placed on a list prohibiting ownership and purchasing of firearms. Therefore, without a judicial proceeding, these veterans are being stripped of their constitutional right to gun ownership. The American Legion has long criticized these circumstances and had a resolution that was in effect during the previous session of Congress. Without a current resolution, The American Legion is analyzing our position and currently is uncommitted.
Now with the legislative hearing completed, a number of these bills will be packaged into a veteran “omnibus” legislative piece for consideration by the Senate this fall. This usually coincides with Veterans Day.
HVAC Subcommittee Markup Hearings
Over the course of Wednesday, June 27th and Thursday, June 28th, several subcommittees of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held markup hearings to determine the course of legislation currently under consideration by those subcommittees.
Oversight and Investigation
The Oversight and Investigation (O&I) subcommittee favorably recommended three bills to the full committee. They were:
• H.R. 3730, the ”Veterans Data Breach Timely Notification Act,” which provides guidelines regarding mandatory VA response to data braches resulting in the possible release of personal identifying information about veterans;
• H.R. 4481, the “Veterans Affairs Employee Accountability Act,” which prevents VA employees found to have violated federal laws and codes in procurement from receiving bonuses; and
• H.R. 5948, the “Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012,” which provides many improvements to the VA fiduciary system and offers protections for the veterans in that program, were all recommended favorably for passage by the subcommittee.
Minor amendments were made to all three bills based on feedback received during a recent legislative hearing of the O&I subcommittee.
Disability and Memorial Affairs
The Disability and Memorial Affairs (DAMA) subcommittee favorably recommended three bills to the full committee. The three bills recommended by the DAMA subcommittee were H.R. 5735, H.R. 5880 and H.R. 5881.
• H.R. 5735 provides for the establishment of a tomb or place of remembrance at Arlington National Cemetery for the interment of cremated remains when such remains are not identifiable by use of DNA or other means. This differs from the normal Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in that it is intended for partial remains and is largely in response to the recent discoveries at Dover Air Force Base regarding partial remains which had been disposed of in a less than respectful manner, including some cases where service members’ limbs had been cremated and deposited in landfills;
• H.R. 5880, the “Veterans Disability Examination Access Improvement Act,” extends the expiration period of VA authority to contract with private physicians to conduct medical disability exams; and,
• H.R. 5881, the “Access to Veterans Benefits Improvement Act,” improves the ability of County Service Officers, Congressional staff and others to access information about veterans’ claims. The bill was amended to clarify the nature of the access and the need for it to be strictly on a basis of direct professional need; however the final product was recommended favorably to the full committee.
The Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity (EO) favorably recommended five bills to the full committee, H.R. 3524, H.R. 4057, H.R. 4115, H.R. 4740, and H.R. 5747.
• H.R. 3524, the “Disabled Veterans Employment Protection Act,” offers protections in employment to a veteran’s retention, seniority, benefits and other aspects of work for veterans who are absented from work for time spent in treatment for service connected disabilities;
• H.R. 4057, the “Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act,” aims to provide veterans with better information about secondary education options in the interest of informing better decisions about the best place to pursue the use of their education benefits derived from military service;
• H.R. 4115, the “HIRE at Home Act” (AKA Helping Iraq and Afghanistan veterans Return to Employment at Home Act,) would improve state licensing and certification of military veterans by making conditional certain funds and grants to the states based on their approval of military training as fulfilling the needs for state certification of skills, specifically noted in the case of such professions as registered nurse, emergency medical technician and commercial drivers;
• H.R. 4740, the “Fairness for Military Homeowners Act of 2012,” amends the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to ensure that relocation of a service member to serve on active duty away from the service member’s principal residence does not prevent the service member from refinancing a mortgage on the primary residence; and,
• H.R. 5747, the “Military Homes Protection Act,” improves the SCRA protections of service members against mortgage foreclosures.
All of the bills recommended favorably by the subcommittees must now be considered by the full House Veterans’ Affairs Committee before being favorably recommended to the House floor for voting.
American Legion National Legislative Council
The Legislative Division is beginning the task of compiling the National Legislative Council Consolidated Activities Report for 2011-2012. The forms have been emailed to each Department Vice Chairman. Department Adjutants and National Executive Committeemen were also sent a copy.
NEC Resolution No. 28, passed October 19-20, 1994 reads in part: each National Vice Chairman of the Legislative Council shall submit an annual report on the Council member activities in his/her Department to the National Legislative Council Chairman not later than July 31 each year. We need 100 percent of the reports returned in order to compile the Report for the Pre-Convention National Executive Committee meeting. If you have any questions or need further assistance, please contact Jeff Steele at (202)-263-2987 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Letters of Support
The American Legion on June 25 sent a letter of support to Sen. Mark Pryor (AR), giving our organization’s support for S. 3236, legislation entitled the “Servicemember Employment Protection Act of 2012.” This measure would amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the protection and enforcement of employment and reemployment rights of members of the armed services under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA, Public Law 103-353).
On June 26 The American Legion sent a letter of support to Sen. Dean Heller (NV), giving our organization’s support for S. 3308, entitled the “Women’s Homeless Veteran Act.” This measure would amend VA’s Homeless Providers Grand and Per Diem (GPD) program regulations to allow veterans’ dependent children to directly receive services through the program. It would also raise the authorized funding level for the Grant Program for Homeless Veterans with Special needs.
The American Legion on June 27 sent a letter of support to Rep. Dave Reichert (WA), giving our organization’s support for H.R. 5830, legislation entitled the “Housing for Heroes Act.” This measure would amend title 38, United States Code, to enable certain non-profit organizations that serve homeless veterans to participate in VA’s Grant and Per Diem (GPD) to provide transitional housing or other facilities for homeless veterans.
Would you give me your perspective on S. 3296, proposed flag protection legislation from Senator Jon Tester (MT). It is an old rehash, but is it something we could support? I know the emphasis for The American Legion is on the constitutional amendment. Sen. Tester is not a supporter of the amendment so this looks like a way for him to provide some reconciliation. We in the Legion have let him and his staff know our position. The senator has done many things for veterans. However, this is a sticking point.
Answer:Prior to its introduction, Senator Tester’s office reached out to us and asked us to analyze the proposed bill. As you note, we have previously not supported similar legislation. After analysis of the bill, The American Legion is not supporting this legislation. First, we are investing our time and resources in protecting the flag through an amendment to the Constitution. Although we discussed the likelihood of a reversal of the 1989 flag decision by current Supreme Court at a recent meeting of the Citizens Flag Alliance, we don’t wish to take our chances yet again with the courts. As our resolution currently indicates, we support amending the constitution to protect the flag. Anything short of that is not adhering to the resolution. Finally, after reviewing this legislation with several people, most sections are already law. If you burn a flag owned by the federal government, you can be prosecuted for destruction of federal property. If you threaten someone by burning a flag, you can be prosecuted for that. All aspects of this bill are already a matter of law, thus the legal system would need to only enforce existing law. Albeit, this bill would be making a special class of these actions similar to “hate crimes” but that has been tenuous in constitutional interpretation also. In short, we aren’t supporting Senator Tester on this obfuscation of duty. As you know, The American Legion has repeatedly asked for his support. A majority of Montanans want to protect the flag, yet he hasn’t seen fit to support his constituents. At the same time, we find it unfortunate that he seeks to complicate the matter by introducing this distraction when the Supreme Court has struck down similar laws.