House passes VA accountability bill

On May 21, the House of Representatives passed American Legion-backed legislation H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act of 2014, by a vote of 390-33. In brief, the measure "authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) to remove any [VA] employee from a Senior Executive Service (SES) position upon determining that such individual’s performance warrants removal." It also allows the VA secretary to fire that person from the civil service or demote him or her as the Secretary sees fit.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has introduced the bill in the Senate but it is not clear whether the Senate will take it up.

The House action came amid growing reports of mismanagement, long waiting times for appointments, falsified records and preventable deaths at VA clinics, such as in Phoenix. The scandal was brought to light at the Phoenix VA Medical Center where whistleblowers allege that the facility kept a secret waiting list that included veterans waiting more than 200 days for an appointment, which may have resulted in the deaths of 40 veterans.

VA enrolled veterans face less paperwork

In 2003, Congress tightened health care eligibility requirements for veterans based on their income. A health-care card entitles an enrolled veteran to services at VA hospitals and other medical treatment facilities. This year, for the first time, VA will use federal tax returns as a means test to decide whether a veteran is eligible for subsidized health care instead of requiring an enrolled veteran to submit an annual income statement. VA will go online to verify data supplied to them by the Internal Revenue Service.

SGLI premiums to increase

Effective July 1, the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance (SGLI) program will increase its monthly premium rate from 6.5 cents per $1,000 of insurance to 7 cents per $1,000. For a servicemember with the maximum $400,000 life insurance policy, this change will mean an increase of $2 a month.

July 2008, VA lowered the monthly premium rate for basic SGLI from 7 cents per $1,000 of insurance to 6.5 cents per $1,000 of insurance to reduce excess reserve funds in the program. However, according to VA, reserve funds have decreased and it is now necessary to increase the premium rate as a result of a prior half-cent reduction and decreases in interest rates.

FY 2015 NDAA bill approved

On May 23, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) passed the Senate version of H.R. 4435, the fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The bill authorizes $514 billion funding for the Department of Defense and the national security programs of the Department of Energy. It now goes to the full Senate for further action.

The SASC did agree with the House in rejecting administration proposals to establish TRICARE-for-Life enrollment fees, cutting $1 billion from the annual commissary subsidy, and initiating another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC).

The American Legion applauds the House and Senate Armed Services committees for having the leadership to protect our commissaries and military installations. As our economy continues to improve, and our military retirees struggle to hang on to the benefits they have earned, The American Legion urges the Senate to follow the leadership of the House lawmakers on this issue and discard the misguided attempt as extorting millions from the pockets of our dedicated military retirees.