Action Alert: Veterans health care in jeopardy

On May 17, a legislative action alert was distributed to everyone on The American Legion Legislative Division’s alert email list. Recipients are encouraged to act upon it, if they have not done so already. The alert comes with a prepared message ready to quickly send to your members of Congress.

The alert calls for decisive action by House and Senate leadership on whether Congress will continue to authorize new construction of local VA community-based outpatient clinics and other needed facilities. Without decisive action by House and Senate leadership, the VA warns existing leases will expire, clinics will close, and costs will increase as veterans travel further and wait longer for needed treatment.

The Legislative Division would appreciate it if members use the provided link. By doing so, it allows staff members to track how many people sent emails and who they sent them to. This is instrumental in legislative reports as well as our communication to members telling them how many emails we generated with the legislative action alert.

For those of you who have personal email addresses for members of Congress, please send a copy of your email (and hopefully their response) to Jeff Steele. Thanks for your important efforts on this front.

In other news:

Town hall meeting: Economic Division staff members attended a town hall meeting on May 21 conducted by Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia and Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. The meeting, which focused on the Troop Talent Act of 2013, was held at The American Legion Post 24 in Old Town Alexandria, Va.

This discussion included the need of oversight when approving credentialing institutions with the reinstatement of the Professional Certification and Licensure Advisory Committee to prevent fraud. An audience of about 60 from private industry, government, veterans support groups and Legion ranks crowded into Post 24 to hear Kaine, a former governor of Virginia, and Duckworth, a former VA assistant secretary, highlight their bills designed to ease servicemembers’ transitions to civilian employment.

Both Kaine and Duckworth paid tribute to The American Legion for its assertive and longstanding campaign to facilitate the transition from MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) to civilian employment post. According to Kaine, a new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, chances are very good for passage of the Troop Talent acts in both the House and Senate. Thanks in part to the Legion’s bipartisan recruitment of support on Capitol Hill, Kaine’s Senate bill now has 10 co-sponsors and Duckworth’s House version has signed on about 60 allies, about half of them Democrats and half Republicans.

Job fairs: The American Legion and Auxiliary members of Portage, Ind., Post 260 sponsored and hosted a Hiring our Heroes jobs fair May 2 at their post. The fair fielded 30 employers and 35 veteran jobseekers, with 71 résumés being accepted, 17 interviews conducted, 18 tentative job offers and four on-the-spot hires.

This week, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The American Legion will host another Hiring Our Heroes hiring job fair for veterans and military spouses, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 28 at American Legion Southway Post 144 on 3253 S. High St in Columbus, Ohio. More than 40 employers are expected to participate, with jobs available for veterans and military spouses of all ranks and levels of experience. Companies include Abbott Nutrition, American Electric Power, Bob Evans Farms, Cardinal Health, Discover Financial, Dish Network, Emerson Network Power, GameStop, JPMorgan Chase, Rent-A-Center, Verizon Wireless and The Wendy’s Co.

Education focus of meeting: On May 21, Economic Division staff met with Michael Dakduk, executive director of SVA, and Ryan Gallucci, deputy director of VFW, to discuss in-state tuition legislation, as well as other higher education policy and legislation affecting America’s servicemembers, veterans and their families.

Congress approves Stolen Valor Act: On May 20 the House of Representatives passed legislation introduced by Legionnaire and Rep. Joe Heck of Nevada. The bill, H.R. 258, the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, passed the House 390-3. Two days later, the full Senate passed the legislation by unanimous consent.

This measure will make it a crime to knowingly benefit from false statements about receiving certain military awards and decorations. The legislation is supported by The American Legion and other veterans and military service organizations.

Letters of support: The American Legion on May 17 sent a letter of support to Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee for H.R. 2055, the Integrated Electronic Health Records for Military and Veterans Act. This measure would help marshal American innovation to accomplish the creation of a single, inter-operable system of medical records for veterans, from the moment they swear their oath of enlistment through their military service and on to the entirety of their civilian life after service. It would help leverage the private sector to support a working group committed to expediting delivery of a truly seamless medical record, which our nation’s veterans have been promised time and again for years. Related resolution

Future of U.S. National Security: National Security staff members attended a panel discussion last week at the Heritage Foundation regarding the future of U.S. national security. Speakers discussed both broad range and specific threats from countries where the most imminent known threats are present to include China, North Korea and Russia. Throughout the United States’ history our military buildups and drawdowns have coincided with our conflict involvement. However, today we are facing a drawdown not because the threats to our national security have decreased, but due to budget constraints. The panel discussed the threats that deserve the greatest attention and what our defense initiative priorities should be to defend our country and combat these threats where they develop.

Cyber security: On Tuesday, National Security staff attended a Center for Strategic and International Studies event "Threat and Response: Combating Advanced Attacks and Cyber-Espionage." Other panelists included experts from both government and the private sector who offered their views on the rapidly growing threat of cyber warfare and espionage, mostly coming from China and Russia, as well as assorted criminal groups and non-state actors. The key issues are not only defending against these attacks, but implementing the right policies to deter and punish those who engage in them.

A video of the event can be found here.

SWS follow-up visit: During the week of May 24, VA&R Division Deputy Director Jacob Gadd and VA&R Commission Chairman Ralph P. Bozella conducted a System Worth Saving quality review visit in Fort Wayne, Ind. This visit follows a previous one in December 2012. The purpose of the follow-up was to evaluate how the VA Northern Indiana-Fort Wayne facility has improved health-care services. The task force also conducted a quality of care focused town hall meeting at The American Legion Charles C. Anderson Post No. 148 in Fort Wayne on May 21.

Claims: During the week ending May 17, the Board of Veterans’ Appeals reached dispositions on 147 American Legion represented appeals. Of those dispositions, 72.7 percent of the denials were overturned with outcomes favorable to the veteran. In 41 cases, the board granted benefits outright after considering The American Legion’s arguments. In 66 cases, The American Legion was able to point out errors in the development of the veteran’s claims that mandated corrective action under the law. Of the total number of dispositions, 38 (25.9 percent) were outright denials.

POW/MIA Update: Army Pfc. James L. Constant, 2nd Infantry Division (IR), was lost at the Naktong Bulge, near Changnyong, South Korea. He was accounted for May 15 and was buried May 25 in Indianapolis.