Koutz praises move to restore tuition assistance

The House and Senate passed a continuing resolution last week that will keep the government funded through the end of September and give DoD at least some wiggle room in deciding how to take $43 billion in sequester cuts to the defense budget over the next six months.

The new resolution lets DoD shift $10 billion between accounts to avoid the cuts that would most affect readiness. Related American Legion Resolution: No. 55: Protecting the Defense Budget

The move by Congress also requires the Army, Marine Corps and Air Force to restore most tuition assistance funding for the troops. All services but the Navy had cut off this assistance for new applicants, sparking protests from the field.

Under the new resolution, the services can reduce tuition assistance by a relatively modest fraction. They won’t get additional funds for the program, so they’ll need to make cuts elsewhere to fund it.

The American Legion and other veterans organizations lobbied for the tuition assistance to be saved.

“This is good news not just for active duty personnel, but for the nation as a whole,” American Legion National Commander James E. Koutz said. “As I said during recent congressional discussions of this issue, well-educated, ‘professionalized’ servicemembers serve the military more ably. And, when they transition to civilian life, they are more valuable in the workplace. They also stand a better chance of success in a tough job market. It’s all good.”

Having averted a government shutdown at least for six months, Congress turned its attention to passing a budget resolution for fiscal year 2014.

In the meantime, the administration is expected to unveil its fiscal 2013 budget proposal on April 8, which is rumored to include a military pay raise cutback and more proposals to raise TRICARE fees.

In other news:

Military credentials: Last week the Economic Division was involved in several discussions regarding military credentialing. Among them:
• Staff members met March 26 with Dan Boyle, legislation fellow for Sen. Angus King of Maine, a member of the Committee on Armed Services and Subcommittee on Personnel, to discuss obtaining military credentials while serving in the military. Among the items discussed were sequestration impacts on current military credentialing pilot programs, transitioning of military credentialing pilot programs into permit training programs for current and future servicemembers, and progress on military credentialing pilot programs.
• On March 27, staff members participated in a conference call with Marady Leary, director of events, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Shelia Neisler, catalyst, about bringing together private industry and stakeholders to discuss military credentialing, and how can this initiative fill the need for private industries in Charlotte, N.C. Among the topics discussed were event logistics, how we can get manufacturers to identify skillsets they are seeking, and how to get veterans credentials beforehand.

Legion wants confirmation that ‘2011 rule’ not being used: On March 21, in the matter of National Association of Veterans Advocates v. Shinseki, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit sternly admonished the Department of Veteran Affairs for illegally denying claims based on an improperly instituted rule issued Aug. 23, 2011. That regulation, referred to in the legal proceedings as the “2011 rule," was promulgated wrongly without proper appearance in the Federal Register for public comment. The rule severely disadvantaged veteran claimants undergoing appeals, and in the words of the court caused, “[t]he unwarranted denial of benefits [which] means real-world consequences to veterans. [And,] promises of hypothetical relief do not pay for food or provide needed medical care.” The American Legion is developing a letter, to be addressed to VA Secretary Shinseki, seeking evidence that the “2011 rule” is no longer being used.

Letter of support: The American Legion on March 22 sent a letter of support to Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico, giving our organization’s support for an amendment to S. Con. Res. 8, the fiscal year 2014 Senate budget resolution which would give VA more discretion for the appropriations of funds to address veterans rural health care. Many rural veterans are currently in need of increasing medical care, and must travel long distances to see doctors for primary, emergency and specialty care. Telehealth is working to alleviate the need for travel to major hubs and should be expanded. Udall’s amendment would support other programs which may increase access to health care. Related American Legion resolution.

Flag amendment: Early in this session of Congress, House Joint Resolution 19 was introduced by Rep. Jo Ann Emerson of Missouri. 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 co-sponsors for this legislation. Please contact the offices of your representative and senators, and ask them to become co-sponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers. Related American Legion resolution.

System Worth Saving: A System Worth Saving site visit will be conducted this week at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, in Madison, Wis. The SWS theme this cycle is women veterans health care.  A town hall meeting will be conducted April 1 from 7-8 p.m. at Cross Plains Post No. 245, 2217 American Legion Drive, Cross Plains, WI 53528.

Claims: During the week ending March 22, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 138 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 74.6 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 42 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 61 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims which mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 28 (20.3 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update
• Sgt. Ervin A. Frickle, U.S. Army, 9th Infantry Regimental, was lost on Nov. 25, 1950, in the North Korean town of Kujang, astride the Ch’ongch’on River. He was accounted for Feb. 22, 2013.