LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Both congressional chambers were in session this week.
Update: Fiscal Year 2014 National Defense Authorization Act bill Congressional Timeline
The House continued its consideration of the fiscal year (FY) 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill this week. Below is an estimated timeline of the FY 2014 defense bill process.
April 10: The president submitted his annual budget request to Congress two months late.
For the remainder of May: Congressional committees are required to submit their "views and estimates" of spending and revenues within their respective jurisdictions to the House and Senate Budget Committees. The House and Senate Armed Services committees are working on their reports to the budget committees, and they are also conducting hearings on various aspects of the NDAA bill.
May-June: The House and Senate Armed Services committees will finish their hearings on their versions of the bill. These committees will begin drafting their FY 2014 bills, and will also incorporate changes that were imposed by budget resolution spending limits (the subcommittees will complete those parts of the bill that are within their subcommittee jurisdictions). The full committees will report their bills to the floors of their respective chambers for debate and passage.
June-July: the House and Senate will likely pass their respective versions of the defense authorization bill.
July-October: Because it is unlikely the House and Senate versions will agree, a conference committee will be appointed. House and Senate conference committee negotiators will be appointed to resolve the differences between the versions of their respective bills.
October-December: the conference committee will report the final bill out of the conference committee to be passed by the House and Senate. Congress will send the final version to the president to be signed into law.
HCVA O&I Subcommittee Blasts VA on Construction:
On Tuesday May 7, the Oversight and Investigations (O&I) Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs conducted a hearing entitled "VA Construction Policy: Failed Plans Result in Plans That Fail." If the title of the hearing was not enough indication, what transpired was heavily critical of VA’s planning policies, and the legacy those policies have left on construction projects, especially the major construction projects in the VA healthcare system in Florida, Louisiana, Colorado and Nevada.
Chairman Mike Coffman (CO) led off by citing Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports noting VA’s four largest medical center construction projects had an average cost overrun of $366 million, and an average construction delay of 35 months. He cited his chief concern as the fact that VA did not appear to be learning from mistakes, as the same errors were repeated on multiple projects, and there had been little change to the system. "GAO has continually identified these problems in the past," Coffman admonished VA officials. He further cited VA’s failure to pay contractors on time in violation of the Small Business Act as a major concern that needed to be rectified.
Ranking Member Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) also expressed dismay over the results, but held out hope for an update on how VA’s Strategic Capitol Investment Planning (SCIP) process was impacting future projects, and noted VA Secretary Shinseki’s creation of a Construction Review Council and looked forward to the findings of that council. She acknowledged however that it was still plain to see that VA struggles to effectively manage construction projects.
There was only a single panel, although there were several rounds of questioning by the members. Representing VA was Mr. Glenn Haggstrom, Principal Executive Director of Acquisitions, Logistics and Construction; Ms. Lorelei St. James, GAO’s Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues spoke for that agency; and Raymond Kelley, Legislative Director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) spoke for the Independent Budget (IB) as his organization is responsible for the Construction portion of that document.
Mr. Kelley cited the chief concerns of the IB as VA’s use of an outdated planning process that needed to be updated to meet modern models. He stated VA employs a process with separate bidding for the Design and Build phases, and noted the more current model of an architect led combined Design-Build process could be more efficient and effective. Such a process would reduce design errors thus obviating the need for multiple change orders which cause cost overruns and delays; as well as streamlining time management in the overall process by taking out the separate steps between the design phase and the build phase.
The GAO recommended the use of Medical Equipment Planners, with which the IB concurred. Director St. James of GAO also called out VA on a wide variety of issues that led to cost overruns ranging from 50 percent to over 144 percent on some projects. Director St. James underlined that these planning inefficiencies constituted a serious problem given the current Veterans Health Administration (VHA) infrastructure "does not fully align with the current health care needs of the veteran population." This has led to VHA addressing the situation with 50 major medical facility projects.
In questioning, the committee was harshly critical of the failures of the last several years on these projects. Mr. Haggstrom stuck steadfastly to VA’s position that they were "committed to meeting their responsibility to design, build and deliver quality facilities" and that they had "made significant improvements [to VA’s] real property capital asset portfolio." Rep. Tim Huelskamp (KS) relentlessly hammered Mr. Haggstrom on his bonuses over the last three years, in what has become a recurring theme at HVAC hearings, the incongruity of executive bonuses at VA while the actions of the agencies the executives are overseeing have produced failure. Rep. Huelskamp questioned whether Mr. Haggstrom believed he deserved "over $60,000 in bonuses over three years that saw the four most important projects under his jurisdiction spiraled out of control to the tune of nearly $1.5 billion in cost overruns and 141 months of delays?" Mr. Haggstrom deferred comment, stating whether he met performance measures was a matter for his superiors to answer.
House VA Panel Holds Markup
In a markup session on May 8, the full House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) considered and recommended several bills out of committee with a favorable recommendation for passage by the full body of the House of Representatives. These bills and the amendments offered to adjust their language included:
H.R. 671, the Ruth Moore Act of 2013, as amended (introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree) – Reports on claims for disabilities incurred or aggravated by military sexual trauma. These reporting requirements would be due 15 months following enactment:
• VA to provide a copy of the report to be provided to Congress under section 1164 to every veteran that has applied for benefits as a result of MST or has been treated at a VHA facility with regards to MST or conditions as a result thereof immediately after providing it to Congress.
• Provide on a monthly basis an update in regards to VA’s progress in updating their regulations with regards to military sexual trauma to every veteran that has applied for benefits or has been treated at a VA facility. This update shall also include:
• Their anticipated date of completion for their regulations.
• The number of claims in regards to MST that have been granted and denied for the most recent completed month.
• The three most common reasons for denial in regards to the preceding month shall be included.
• The average time for completion of these claims shall be included.
• The average time for processing MST claims at the veterans local VA Regional office shall be included.
• Information regarding applying for a claim shall be included.
• This shall also include the annual rate of grants and denials in comparison to other PTSD claims.
• VA would be required to place their monthly information as it is released on http://va.gov/ with placement so that visitors of the site can view the information upon arrival to the site.
• VA shall provide to Congress on a monthly basis a list of all adjudicated claims with regards to military sexual trauma, ancillary claims that were also applied for, and the adjudication outcomes for each medical condition therein, as well as the rational for denial if denied.
H.R. 1405, as amended (Rep. Dina Titus)
• Sec. 1. Inclusion of Notice of Disagreement in notices of decision of benefits denials issued by VA. (Titus) Requires the Secretary, when denying a benefit, to notify the claimant of any form or application required to appeal such decision.
• Sec. 2. Provision of status under law by honoring certain members of the Reserve components as veterans. (H.R. 679, Honor America’s Guard-Reserve Retirees Act – Walz) Intends to honors as a veteran any person entitled to retired pay for non-regular (Reserve) service or, but for age, would be so entitled. This bill also provides that such person shall not be entitled to any benefit by reason of such recognition.
• Sec. 3. Provision of access to case-tracking information. (H.R. 733, Access to Veterans Benefits Improvement Act – Runyan)
Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide veterans’ case-tracking information access to employees of a Member of Congress or of a state or local governmental agency assisting veterans with benefit claims.
Directs the Secretary to ensure that such access does not:
• (1) allow the employee to modify the data in the case-tracking system, and
• (2) include access to medical records. Requires such employees to complete a certification course on privacy issues before receiving such access.
• Sec. 4. Improvements for fiduciaries of veterans (H.R. 894 – Johnson)
Provides that, when in the opinion of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) a temporary fiduciary is needed to protect the benefits of a VA beneficiary while a determination of incompetency is being made or appealed or a fiduciary is appealing a determination of misuse, the Secretary may appoint one or more temporary fiduciaries for up to 120 days.
Requires the Secretary to provide a written statement to a beneficiary determined by the Secretary to be mentally incompetent for purposes of appointing a fiduciary. Allows the beneficiary to appeal such determination. Allows a beneficiary for whom the Secretary appoints a fiduciary to, at any time, request the Secretary to remove such fiduciary and appoint a new one.
Requires the Secretary to comply with any such request made in good faith. Prohibits any such removal or new appointment from delaying or interrupting the beneficiary’s receipt of benefits.
Requires an appointed fiduciary appointed by the Secretary to act independently of the VA and in the interest of the beneficiary.
• Provides for the predesignation of a fiduciary. Provides that, if a beneficiary does not designate a fiduciary, the Secretary shall appoint, to the extent possible, a fiduciary who is: (1) a relative, (2) a guardian, or (3) authorized to act on their behalf under a durable power of attorney.
• Provides for (1) fiduciary commissions when necessary; and (2) the temporary payment of benefits to a person having custody and control of an incompetent or minor beneficiary, to be used solely for the benefit of the beneficiary.
Directs the Secretary to maintain a list of state and local agencies and nonprofit social service agencies that are qualified to act as a fiduciary.
Requires any certification of a fiduciary to be made on the basis of an inquiry or investigation of his or her fitness and qualifications.
Requires the investigation to include a face-to-face interview and a background check. Allows a person convicted of a federal or state offense to serve as a fiduciary only when the Secretary finds such person to be appropriate under the circumstances.
Requires each fiduciary to disclose the number of beneficiaries that the fiduciary acts on behalf of.
• Requires the Secretary to: (1) maintain records of any person who has previously served as a fiduciary and had such status revoked, and (2) notify the beneficiary within 14 days after learning that the fiduciary has been convicted of a crime.
Directs the Secretary, upon reason to believe that a fiduciary may be misusing all or part of a beneficiary benefit, to: (1) conduct a thorough investigation, and (2) report results to the Attorney General and the head of each federal department or agency that pays a beneficiary benefit to such fiduciary.
• Requires each Veterans Benefits Administration regional office to maintain specified fiduciary information.
• Requires (under current law, permits) a fiduciary to file an annual accounting of the administration of beneficiary benefits. Requires the Secretary to conduct annual random audits of fiduciaries who receive a commission for such service. Requires fiduciary repayment of misused benefits.
• Sec. 5. Limitations on awards and bonuses to VA employees – For FY 2014 through 2018, VA may not pay more than $345,000,000 in awards or bonuses.
H.R. 570, the American Heroes COLA Act (Rep. Jon Runyan) – This bill would provide for an automatic annual COLA for veterans.
H.R. 1412, the Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2013, as amended (Rep. Mike Coffman) – This bill would improve and increase the availability of on-job training and apprenticeship programs by VA.
H.R. 357, the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013, as amended (Chairman Jeff Miller)
• Sec. 1. Short title. GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013.
• Sec. 2. References to Title 38.
• Sec. 3. Approval of courses of education provided by public institutions of higher education for purposes of educational assistance programs administered by VA conditional on in-state tuition rate for veterans. (H.R. 357, GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 – Miller) Directs the VA to disapprove courses of education provided by public institutions of higher education that do not charge tuition and fees for veterans at the same rate that is charged for in-state residents, regardless of the veteran’s state of residence.
• Sec. 4. Extension of authorization of appropriations for payments of a monthly assistance allowance to disabled veterans training or competing for the Paralympic team (H.R. 1402, Veterans Paralympic Act of 2013 – Coffman) Extends, until FY 2018, the yearly: $2 million appropriations authorization for VA to pay a monthly assistance allowance to disabled veterans training or competing for the Paralympic Team.
• Sec. 5. Extension of authorization for appropriations for assistance to U.S. Paralympics, Inc. (H.R. 1402, Veterans Paralympic Act of 2013 – Coffman) Extends, until FY 2018, the yearly: $8 million appropriations authorization, with amounts appropriated remaining available without fiscal year limitation, for grants to U.S. Paralympics, Inc.
• Sec. 6. Clarification of eligibility for services under the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. (H.R. 1305 – Wenstrup) Makes eligible under the VA homeless veterans reintegration program those homeless veterans who are: (1) participating in the VA supported housing program for which rental assistance is provided under the United States Housing Act of 1937, and (2) veterans who are transitioning from being incarcerated.
• Sec. 7. Extension of eligibility period for vocational rehabilitation programs. (H.R. 844, VetSuccess Enhancement Act – Takano) Extends from 12 to 17 years after discharge or release from active-duty service the authorized period for veterans with service-connected disabilities to enroll in certain Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) vocational training and rehabilitation programs.
• Sec. 8. Work Study Allowance. (H.R. 1453, Work-Study for Student Veterans Act – Takano) Amends Title 38, of the United States Code, to extend the authority to provide work-study allowance for certain activities by individuals receiving educational assistance by VA.
• Sec. 9. Responsibilities of the directors of veterans’ employment and training. (H.R. 1316 – Flores) Amends Title 38 to specify the responsibilities of the Directors and Assistant Directors of Veterans’ Employment and Training.
• Sec. 10. Contents of Transition Assistance Program. (H.R. 631, Servicemembers’ Choice in Transition Act of 2013 – Flores) Requires that servicemembers who plan to use their education benefits following discharge take the education track as part of the mandatory portion of TAP. This training would include information about the education benefits available to servicemembers, testing for academic readiness, information about financing the education or training, and training on matching a school to the servicemembers’ interests. It also requires that TAP instruction also cover topics related to disability-related and education protections provided to disabled veterans. The section further requires that VA conduct a feasibility study to determine if they could contract out for TAP instruction like DOL currently does.
• Sec. 11. Three-month extension of veterans retraining assistance program. (H.R. 562, VRAP Extension Act of 2013 – Miller) Amends the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 to extend through June 30, 2014.
• Sec. 12. Increase in rates of disability compensation and dependency and indemnity compensation. (H.R. 569, Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2013 – Runyan) Directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to increase, as of December 1, 2013, the rates of veterans’ disability compensation, additional compensation for dependents, the clothing allowance for certain disabled veterans, and dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children. Requires each such increase to be the same percentage as the increase in benefits provided under title II (Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance) of the Social Security Act, on the same effective date.
• Sec. 13. 5-year elimination of VA Senior Executive Service Performance Award Program. (Free-standing provision) Eliminates VA’s Senior Executive Service Performance Award Program for five years, from FY 2014 to FY 2018.
H.R. 602, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act (Chairman Jeff Miller) – Currently when VA appoints a fiduciary to assist a veteran with managing their financial affairs, VA also deems the veteran mentally incompetent and reports him or her to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), an agreement outlined in MOU with the FBI. However, VA’s process for appointing fiduciaries focuses on whether they are able to manage their financial affairs and not on whether they present a danger to themselves or to others. H.R. 602 would require a judicial body to deem a veteran, surviving spouse, or child as a danger to themselves or others before being listed in NICS, which would prohibit the veteran from being able to purchase certain firearms, vs. the VA through its reporting.
Senate VA Panel Examines Pending Benefits Legislation
On Thursday May 9, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to examine several pieces of legislation. Of those considered, The American Legion supported the following bills in written testimony submitted for the record:
• S. 62, the Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2013;
• S. 287, a bill to amend title 38 United States Code, to expand the definition of homeless veteran for purposes of benefits under the laws Administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes
• S. 455, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to authorize the Secretary Of Veterans Affairs to Transport individuals to and from facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs in connection with rehabilitation counseling, examination, treatment, and care, and for other purposes
• S. 522, the Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act;
• S. 529, a bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to modify the commencement date of the period of service at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for eligibility for hospital care and medical services in connection with exposure to contaminated water, and for other purposes;
• S. 825, the Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2013;
• S. 832, the Improving the Lives of Children with Spina Bifida Act of 2013;
• S. 845, A bill to amend title 38, United States Code, to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs Health Professionals Educational Assistance Program, and for other purposes;
• S. 851, the Caregivers Expansion and Improvement Act of 2013;
• S. 852, the Veterans’ Health Promotion Act of 2013; and
• S. 877, the Veterans Affairs Research Transparency Act.
The hearing consisted of two panels.
Panel 1 included Robert L. Jesse, MD, Ph.D, VA’s Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, accompanied by Susan Blauert, Deputy Assistant General Council.
Panel 2 included: Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America; Wayne B. Jonas, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer, Samueli Institute; Heather Ansley, Esq., MSW, Vice President for Veterans Policy, VetsFirst; Matt Gornick, Policy Director, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans; and Thomas Bowman, Former VA Chief of Staff.
The American Legion, while in agreement with VA on many of the bills being considered, found itself at odds with VA on S. 522 the Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act. Additionally, VA noted reservations on certain sections of S. 825, the Homeless Veterans Prevention Act of 2013, a bill supported by The American Legion.
The American Legion opposed S. 543 the VISN Reorganization Act of 2013, which would consolidate VA’s 21 Veterans Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) into 12. The American Legion was unable to support, given that the legislation is not based on studies showing that such a consolidation is needed. While it is possible that consolidation could increase efficiency – a worthy goal – The American Legion believes that there should be empirical data to show that such action would, in fact, have the effect of increased efficiency, and therefore, better care for veterans, rather than a negative impact on veterans’ access to care.
House Appropriations Subcommittee Approves MilCon-VA Spending Measure
On May 15 Legislative staff attended a hearing of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs. The committee passed to the full committee by voice vote the draft fiscal year (FY) 2014 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill. The legislation provides FY 2014 funding mainly for two accounts: Military Construction funding for the infrastructure to house, train, and equip military personnel, provide construction funds for projects pertaining to the quality of life of troops and their families, and for military base structure, and Veterans Affairs (VA) funding for veterans’ benefits and programs.
The measure totals $73.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $1.4 billion above the enacted level for FY 2013, and approximately $2.4 billion* above the current level caused by automatic sequestration spending cuts, which do not affect the Veterans spending portion of the bill. This level is nearly $1.4 billion below the President’s request for these programs. The increase is primarily due to advance funding approved last year for veterans’ medical care and an increase in veterans’ spending for benefits and programs, such as those to reduce the backlog in claims processing. Some of this funding is offset by reductions in the Military Construction portion of the bill.
The bill also seeks to save taxpayer dollars; for example, the legislation includes rescinding unused funding from previous fiscal years. It did not provide funding for ten proposed military construction projects that are deemed not needed or justified at this time, and it reduced excess or unnecessary funding for six other projects. Highlights include:
• Military Construction – $9.9 billion – decrease of $646 million below FY 2013.
• Military Family Housing – $1.5 billion for construction, operation, and maintenance - $106 million below FY 2013 due to savings from the privatization of family housing.
• Military Medical Facilities – $927 million for construction and alterations for new or existing facilities.
• Department of Defense (DOD) Education Facilities – $798 million for safety improvements and infrastructure at 17 DOD Education Activities facilities located in the U.S. and overseas.
• Guard and Reserve – $676.3 million for construction or alteration of Guard and Reserve facilities in 25 States.
• Veterans Affairs – $147.6 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Discretionary funding is $63.1 billion; $2.1 billion above FY 2013. Approximately $54.5 billion of this total was provided by advance funding in the FY 2013 Appropriations bill.
• VA Medical Services – $43.6 billion; providing for approximately 6.5 million patients to be treated in FY 2014. Some of these funds include: $7.2 billion in mental health care services; $6.2 billion in homeless veterans treatment, services, housing, and job training; $250 million in rural health initiatives; $246 million for traumatic brain injury treatment; and $103 million in suicide prevention activities;.
• DOD-VA Electronic Health Record – $344 million for a single, integrated Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs electronic health record system. The legislation requires a unified system be certified by the VA and DOD Secretaries, and confirmed by the Government Accountability Office, before the majority of funding for the program is released.
• Disability Claims Processing Backlog – (to help VA meet its goal of ending the disability compensation claims backlog by 2015) $155 million for the paperless claims process system and $136 million for digital scanning of health records. In addition, reporting requirements are to be put into place to track the performance of each regional office on claims processing.
• VA Construction – (two construction accounts - Major and Minor) $1.06 billion. The bill does not provide funding for major new hospital construction projects, but allows VA to make progress on projects already scheduled, including the construction or renovation of health clinics, medical residences, and nursing homes.
• VA Mandatory Funding – fulfills mandatory funding requirements for: veteran disability compensation programs; Post 9/11 GI bill education benefits; and vocational rehabilitation and employment training.
• Oversight – provisions to increase oversight at VA, including requiring VA to report on construction expenditures and savings, forbidding new changes in the scope of construction projects, and restricting VA from taking certain spending actions without notifying Congress.
• Advance Appropriations for Veterans Medical Programs –$55.6 billion in advance FY 2015 funding –same level as provided in the House-passed Budget Resolution. This funding provides for three accounts: medical services, medical support and compliance, and medical facilities.
• Arlington National Cemetery – $70.7 million, a decrease of $93.9 million from FY 2013.
For the complete text of the FY 2014 Subcommittee Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, please visit: http://appropriations.house.gov/UploadedFiles/BILLS-113HR-SC-AP-FY14-Mil...
* Due to lack of current FY 2013 information provided to Congress by the Office of Management and Budget, post-sequestration funding levels are estimates only.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
Legion Staff Attend Panel Discussion "Serving Those Who Serve"
On Wednesday, May 16, the Heritage Foundation hosted a panel discussion entitled "Serving Those Who Serve", as part of their ongoing "Protect America Month" program. Panelists included: Devin Holmes, Chief Executive Officer of Warrior Gateway; Colonel Lettie Bien, U.S. Army (Retired); The Honorable B. Robert Okun, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of ThanksUSA ; and James J. Carafano, Ph.D., E. W. Richardson Fellow and Vice President, Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, the Heritage Foundation. The discussion was moderated by Luke Coffey, Margaret Thatcher Fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Senator Jim DeMint, President of the Heritage Foundation, delivered opening remarks.
Much of the discussion revolved around highlighting both the importance of "civil society" in veteran assistance, and on the importance of remembering that behind each service member stands a family which also sacrifices. Both Mr. Okun and Mr. Holmes, though neither are veterans themselves, have started and run organizations dedicated to honoring and assisting veterans. Mr. Okun’s organization – ThanksUSA – provides scholarships to veterans’ families. Mr. Holmes’ organization – Warrior Gateway – seeks to connect the military, veterans and their family members to government and non-profit programs in their local community, with a focus on innovation and technology. Both of these organizations focus on the role "civil society" – the "space" which exists between government and the individual citizens – plays in taking care of veterans and their families, which takes place at the local level.
The issue of the utilization of technology to assist veterans in the transition process was raised. Col. Bien noted a lack of applications designed to help veterans, and seemed unaware of The American Legion’s Claims Coach app. American Legion Legislative Division staff member Shaun Rieley, in the question-and-answer period, addressed the panel by calling attention to The American Legion’s effort to fill the dearth of apps aimed at assisting veterans through the launch of Claims Coach, and further urged the panel to bear in mind the essential work that older, more established Veteran Service Organizations – such the Legion – do, from claims processing, to local work though the posts, to advocacy in Washington, D.C.
Legislative Staff Meetings
On Monday, Legislative Staff met with the staff of Senator Orrin Hatch’s (UT) office to discuss his sponsorship of the Flag Amendment. Sen. Hatch plans on introducing the legislation on Friday, the June 14 June (Flag Day). Also, Staff met with representatives from The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) to discuss legislation relevant to veterans preference and employment.
On Tuesday, Legislative staff participated in a Seniors Advisory Council meeting hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) to discuss strategies for protecting COLA from the threat of Chained CPI. Also, Staff met with representative from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s (HI) and Rep Tammy Duckworth (IL) offices to discuss Legion legislative priorities and pending legislations that is being sponsored by the House Armed Services Committee.
Legislative Division testified on a slate of 30 bills on Wednesday, May 15. We are also testified as a witness before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee to discuss The American Legion’s position on two specific bills that we are particularly involved in: S. 257: the GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act., and S 294 – the Ruth Moore Act, which deals with Military Sexual Trauma.
Also on Wednesday, legislative staff attended an event sponsored by the Heritage Foundation titled "Serving Those Who Serve" and also attended a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veteran Affairs which marked up the proposed FY 2014 MilCon-VA Appropriations measure.
Thursday, legislative Staff attended a hearing of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Agriculture, Energy, and Trade to discuss the Keystone XL Pipeline and Small Business Jobs. Also on Thursday, Legislative staff met with the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs to discuss an upcoming hearing that our organization is providing testimony for entitled "Expediting Claims or Exploiting Statistics?: An Examination of VA’s Special Initiative to Process Rating Claims Pending Over Two Years."
Friday Legislative Staff launched the maiden edition of the Legislative News Letter, and conducted in-house training.
Letters of Support
The American Legion on May 7 sent a letter of support to Rep. Elijah Cummings (MD) giving our organization’s support for his proposed amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). This amendment would: (1) protect service members deployed in support of contingency operations from home foreclosures, regardless of when the home was purchase; (2) expand the civil penalties levied against unscrupulous lenders to better reflect the seriousness of violations against SCRA; and (3) mandate a 12-month stay against foreclosures for service members placed on convalescent status, for veterans that are medically discharged, and for surviving spouses of service members whose deaths are service-connected. [Resolution 328-2012]
On May 15, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) giving our organization’s support for H.R. 1729, the VA Claims, Operations, and Records Efficiency (CORE) Act. This legislation would codify the commitment VA and the Department of Defense (DOD) have made to developing service records which are easily transferrable in an electronic format between the two departments, such that transitioning service members can be assured that their records are available if and when they need VA assistance. [Resolution 42-2012]
Also on May 15, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Rep. Mark Takano (CA) giving the Legion’s support for H.R. 1453, the Work-Study for Student Veterans Act. This legislation would amend title 38, U.S. Code, to extend the authority to provide work-study allowance for certain activities by individuals receiving educational assistance from VA. [Resolution 31-2012]
The American Legion on May 15, sent a second letter of support to Rep. Takano giving the Legion’s support for H.R. 844, the VetSuccess Enhancement Act. This legislation would amend title 38, U.S. Code, to extend the eligibility period for veterans to enroll in certain vocational rehabilitation programs. The basic period of eligibility for Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) programs is 12 years from the date a veterans separated from the military, or the date the veteran was first notified by VA of a service-connected disability rating. H.R. 844 would extend this basic eligibility period an additional five years. [Resolution 54-2012]
Update on Flag Amendment Bill
On January 18, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 19 was introduced by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO). This legislation is 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 next task is finding cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact the offices of your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. [Res. 272-2012]