Legislative Division Update 08-03-2012

LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS

Congressional Updates

 

Both the House and Senate were in session this week. After Friday, members of both chambers will escape from “inside the Beltway” back to their home states and districts for the summer district work period, which is August 6 through September 7. The Commander’s Testimony before the joint House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees is scheduled for October 3.

Study on For-Profit Higher Education Industry Released

On Monday, July 30, Senator Tom Harkin (IA), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a press conference announcing the release of a four-volume report detailing the findings of a two-year investigation of the for-profit higher education industry. The report outlines widespread problems throughout the sector, as evidenced by the thousands of pages of never-before-released internal documents that education companies submitted to the committee at Harkin’s request. The report contains information regarding a variety of issues such as the amount of taxpayer dollars invested in the sector, including 37 percent of GI Bill funds, and the problem of predatory recruiting, including the 90-10 rule, which has at times made servicemembers and veterans targets for these aggressive recruiting tactics.

Representative Elijah Cummings (MD), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (CT), Amy Wilkins of the non-profit Education Trust, and Tom Tarantino of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) also spoke. 

The full page report is available here:

http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/browse/committeecong.action?collection=CPRT&committee=health&chamber=senate&congressplus=112&ycord=0

House Agrees to Amended Omnibus Veterans Bill, Now Goes To President

On Tuesday, July 31, the House of Representatives, by a voice vote, agreed to H.R. 1627, the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012,” a comprehensive, bipartisan, bicameral legislative package. With the House’s concurrence of the Senate-amended bill, H.R. 1627 will be sent to the White House for the President’s signature.

Among its more than 50 provisions covering various health, benefits, housing, burial and insurance programs, is a landmark program under which the Department of Veterans Affairs would provide health care to people suffering from long-term effects of exposure to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune, NC. Up to 750,000 people who lived or worked on the base from Jan. 1, 1957, through Dec. 31, 1987, would be eligible for care if they have a disability or disease linked to exposure to drinking water found to contain carcinogens in what has been called the largest recorded environmental incidenton a domestic Department of Defense installation.

Diseases presumed to have a connection to the contaminated water are: esophageal, lung, breast, bladder or kidney cancer; leukemia; multiple myeloma; myelodysplasic syndromes; renal toxicity; hepatic steatosis; female infertility; miscarriage; scleroderma; neuorobehavorial effects; and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

The bill was first blocked by Sen. Jim DeMint (SC) due to concerns over fraud, but his issues were addressed in an amended version. The bill will now go to the House for passage, and the bill could reach President Obama by the end of the summer.

 

To learn more about the “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012,” please go to this link:

http://veterans.house.gov/hr1627.

Legislation to Limit Military Funeral Protests Clears Congress

A provision designed to prevent disruptions at military funerals was included in H.R. 1627.

The original measure was S. 815, sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (ME), the “Sanctity of Eternal Rest for Veterans Act” or “SERVE Act,” would strengthen restrictions for protests at military funeral services. The act would require 120 minutes of quiet time before and after military funerals, up from the current 60 minutes. It also would expand the buffer zone around military funerals to 300 feet from 150 feet, and expand the buffer zone around funeral access routes from 300 to 500 feet. The legislation would also increase civil penalties for those who violate the law’s provisions.

Snowe introduced her legislation in April of 2011, a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that protesters have the right to protest at military funerals. That court case, Snyder v. Phelps, involved a military family and the controversial Westboro Baptist Church, which has used military funerals as a platform to promote its claim that God is angry for the country’s tolerance of homosexuality.

“Those who fight and die in the service of our country deserve our highest respect, and I commend the House and Senate for giving this issue its due consideration,” Snowe said in a statement released by her office. “Our nation has a vested interest in honoring those who serve in our armed forces, and this bill achieves that while respecting the intent of the First Amendment to our Constitution.”

The American Legion testified in support of Sen. Snowe’s legislation when it was introduced in June of last year. Our organization has supported the families who are victims of the Westboro Church’s twisting of the First Amendment to suit their agenda.

House Passes FY 2013 DOD Appropriations Measure

On July 19, by a vote of 326-90 the House passed H.R. 5856, the fiscal year (FY) 2013 spending bill for the Department of Defense (DOD). The bill totals $605.8 billion, which includes $87.7 billion in Ongoing Military Operations in Afghanistan.

During floor debate, a number of amendments were adopted. They included 4 separate amendments – all approved by voice votes – which transferred funds from other DOD areas to reassign those funds to certain areas in the Defense Health Programs. Specifically, the transferred funds include: $15 million for spinal cord research; $10 million for Gulf War illness research, adopted by a voice vote; $10 million for traumatic brain injury and PTSD research and treatment; $10 million to increase suicide prevention outreach; and $5 million for eye injury research.

In a healthcare-related area, an amendment was introduced by Rep. Cliff Stearns (FL) to prohibit the implementation of an enrollment fee for the TRICARE for Life program. This amendment passed by a recorded vote of 399-17. Other adopted amendments included the prohibition of funds relating to the reduction of this country’s nuclear forces. There was also an amendment prohibiting the use of funds to implement another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

Some of the major funding proposals include:

·         $175.2 billion for Operations and Maintenance, which provides for operating and maintaining the armed forces, which is $12.1 billion more than the current year;

·         $128.5 billion for Military Personnel, which includes pay and allowances, training, bonuses and incentive pays, and health and retirement benefits, a total which is $2.6 billion less than FY 2012;

·         $102.5 billion for Procurement accounts, allowing DOD to provide the troops with the best weapons and equipment possible, $2.1 billion under current totals; and,

·         $70 billion for Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDTE), which aims to keep U.S. armed forces as up-to-date and modernized as is practicable; this funding amount is $2.4 billion less than FY 2012 spending amount.

Some specific accounts funded include:

·         $32.8 billion in Defense Health Program costs;

·         $15.2 billion to procure 11 Navy ships including 3 DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and advanced procurement for 2 SSN-774 Virginia-class attack submarines;

·         $5.2 billion for 29 F-35 Lightning II (formerly the Joint Strike Fighter) aircraft, including $2.7 billion in continued RDTE costs;

·         $2.6 billion for 37 F/A-18E/F Hornet carrier-based aircraft;

·         $2.4 billion for 69 UH-70 Blackhawk and 42 MH-60S/R helicopters;

·         $2 billion for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment account;

·         $1.7 billion for 18 MV-22 and 4 CV-22 Osprey aircraft;

·         $1.3 billion for chemical agents and munitions destruction;

·         $1.1 billion for drug interdiction and counter-drug activities of DOD;

·         $986 million for 12 E/A-18 Growlers electronic warfare aircraft, including advance procurement for 15 additional Growlers;

·         $792 million to maintain and modernize 3 Navy cruisers slated for decommissioning; and,

·         $519 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction program, which secures and dismantles weapons of mass destruction and their associated infrastructure in former Soviet states.

The Senate has not yet voted on its version of this measure.

LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS

House VA Subpanels Examine Verification of Veteran-Owned Small Businesses

On Thursday, August 2, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigations (O&I) and Economic Opportunity (EO) held a joint oversight hearing on the Center for Veterans Enterprise (CVE). The CVE has been the subject of scrutiny both by the committee as well as the Government Accounting office (GAO) based on issues stemming from problems with verification and re-verification of veteran-owned small businesses (VOSBs) and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs).

Witnesses included: Mr. Thomas J. Leney, Executive Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); Mr. Richard J. Hillman, Managing Director, Forensic Audits and Investigative Service, Government Accountability Office; Mr. James J. O’Neill, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, Office of the Inspector General, VA; Mr. Richard F. Weidman, Executive Director Policy & Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America; and Mr. Scott Denniston, Executive Director, National Veteran Small Business Coalition.

O&I Chairman Bill Johnson (OH) condemned the CVE’s verification process stating, “As this Committee’s own investigations and multiple Government Accountability Office investigations have shown, the ad hoc processes implemented by the CVE to verify and re-verify businesses are not working. The recommendations made by GAO and the VA’s Inspector General go unheeded. Regardless of the reasons, the time has come for CVE to take a hard look in the mirror, dig down to the root of the problem, and fix it.”

Mr. Dennison noted that the CVE has been successful in some areas. Specifically, they have taken actions which “have resulted in fewer misrepresented VOSB or SDVOSB forms being awarded due to their small business status and those that are found have disciplinary action taken up to and including debarment.” He was quick to point out, however, that the problems have shifted from issues relating to the awarding of contracts to non-veteran owned firms to “the onerous and unpredictable verification process itself.”

Rick Wiedman, representing the Vietnam Veterans of America and VetForce, stated that too often CVE creates an overly challenging process for veterans. “The procedures used by CVE are sometimes questionable. We receive many complaints from veterans who were told that they needed to submit additional documentation without being given a clear explanation of why the information is required or what the statutory or regulatory basis is for these documents,” said Weidman.

American Legion National Legislative Council

The Legislative Division continues 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 Assistant Director/Grassroots Coordinator Jeff Steele at (202)-263-2987 or jsteele@legion.org.

Update on Flag Amendment Bills

Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (UT) office continues to solicit additional cosponsors for Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 19, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration. Its text states simply: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The cosponsor total for the Senate legislation stands at 36. To date, H.J. Res. 13 – the House companion bill to the Senate measure – has accumulated 89 cosponsors.

Please contact your representatives’ and senators’ offices, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. If they are already cosponsors, be sure to thank them for their support.

Letters of Support

On August 2, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Rep. John Garamendi (CA), for H.R. 6293. This measure – similar to Senate measure S. 2299 introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (WA) – would amend the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act and title 38, United States Code, to improve the provision of civil relief to members of the uniformed services and to improve the enforcement of employment and reemployment rights of such members.

The American Legion Legislative Division

(202) 263-5752

For Week Ending 08-03-12

 

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