LEGION-RELATED LEGISLATIVE ACTIONS
Both the House and Senate were in session this week. Both chambers will remain in Washington through the end of the month, when they 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.
House Passes Veterans’ COLA Bill
On July 9, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 4114, the “Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment [COLA] Act of 2012,” The recorded vote for passage was 369-0. It now heads to the Senate for consideration and passage. If enacted, H.R. 4114 would increase the annual cost-of-living rate between 1.3 and 1.9 percent for veterans and would go into effect on December 1, 2012. The amount of the COLA is not currently known because it is based on the costs of goods and services determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index; this calculation will not be made until October.
LEGISLATIVE DIVISION ACTIONS
Press Conference for Revised Stolen Valor Act
The “Stolen Valor Act of 2005” (Public Law 109-437) made it a crime to lie about military service and awards, but this law was recently overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. In response, the bipartisan “Stolen Valor Act of 2011” was introduced by Representative Joe Heck (NV) as H.R. 1775 and Senator Scott Brown (MA) introduced a companion bill, S. 1728. These bills make a key change to the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 by punishing individuals who misrepresent their military service in order to profit. Based on the Supreme Court’s ruling, the legislation should be constitutional because it focuses on those who seek to benefit from their misrepresentations.
On Tuesday, July 10, Rep. Heck and Sen. Brown held a press conference – attended by Legislative Division staff – to call on Congress to pass the Stolen Valor Act of 2011. “The Supreme Court laid down a marker in its recent decision on Stolen Valor, but it also left the door open to valid Congressional action,” Rep. Heck, who is also a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, said. “I believe that we must defend the valor of those who have served our country but also that we must protect the very liberties for which our service men and women sacrificed. The Stolen Valor Act of 2011 would achieve both objectives and Congress should move quickly to pass this legislation.”
“The recent Supreme Court ruling should give Congress a sense of urgency to protect the valor of the deserving few,” said Sen. Brown, who is also a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. “It is wrong and cowardly for people to make fraudulent statements in order to receive distinctions that they have not earned. We need to ensure that no one can benefit from making false claims and steal the true valor of the courageous servicemen and women who selflessly defend our freedom.” Rep. Heck’s bill has 67 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, while Sen. Brown’s measure is cosponsored by Sens. Jon Tester (MT) and Dean Heller (NV).
VA Panel Marks Up Legislation for Full House Action
On July 11, American Legion Legislative staff attended the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee markup hearing in which three bills were advanced to the full House for consideration. All three bills – H.R. 4057, the “Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012” as amended; H.R. 5747, the “Military Family Home Protection Act” as amended; and H.R. 5948, the “Veterans Fiduciary Reform Act of 2012” as amended – unanimously passed the full committee and were recommended to the floor. Included in these three pieces of legislation were seventeen different legislative proposals.
H.R. 5948 seeks to prevent financially incompetent veterans from being cheated by fiduciaries appointed to help manage their money by:
• Requiring background checks of future fiduciaries, including family members appointed to handle a veteran’s finances. Existing fiduciaries would not automatically undergo a background check unless they were appointed as fiduciary for another veteran;
• Allowing veterans to suggest a preferred fiduciary, increasing the chances for a family member or close friend to be named to the position;
• Limiting payment to fiduciaries to 3 percent of the monthly benefits a veteran receives or $35, whichever is lower. The commission will not include any money received from back pay or retroactive benefits. The caps are intended to weed out anyone who has purely financial motives for handling finances, according to committee staff;
• Allowing veterans or family members who believe a fiduciary is doing something wrong to appeal to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to have the person removed. A temporary fiduciary would be appointed while allegations were investigated;
• Requiring that a fiduciary found to have misused any payment or benefit to a veteran would not just be fired, but would also lose the right to be appointed as fiduciary for any other veteran, and requiring VA, with the help of the Justice Department, to recoup misspent or stolen funds;
Amendments include a ban on sex offenders at Arlington, a requirement for the allowance of freedom of conscience in VA cemeteries, a requirement for disclosure of VA data breeches, an increase in VA employee accountability requirements, authorization of a cap on VA bonus payments, and a resolution honoring the Patriot Guard Riders.
H.R. 4757 would accomplish several things. It would:
• Fix that by eliminating a sunset provision on foreclosure protections for military families and ensure that foreclosure protections are extended to 12 months;
• Ensure that service members serving in contingency operations, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, would be protected from foreclosure regardless of when they were purchased;
• Extend foreclosure protections to the surviving spouses of service members who are killed in the line of duty, as well as to veterans who are 100% disabled due to service-connected injuries at the time of discharge;
• Prohibit discrimination against service members and their families who are covered by these protections, and it would double penalties to deter future violations.
Additional amendments include further improvements to refinancing rights for deployed service members, and increased USERRA/FMLA protections.
H.R. 4057 would direct the VA Secretary to develop a comprehensive policy to improve outreach and transparency to veterans and members of the Armed Forces through the provision of information on institutions of higher learning. It would require the Secretary, in developing the policy, to conduct a market survey to determine the availability of a commercially available off-the-shelf online tool that would allow veterans to determine whether they are academically ready to engage in postsecondary education and training opportunities, and provide a list of providers of such opportunities.
Amendments include a licensing/credentialing proposal for OIF/OEF veterans, a proposal which would require housing provided to homeless veterans meet minimum levels of safety, and a proposal which would require a “burn pit registry” for returning veterans who have had exposure to toxic burn pits while deployed.
Hearing on Veteran Emergency Medical Training Transition to Civilian Service
On Wednesday, July 11 the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing to examine the issue of military medical personnel transitioning from military service into civilian emergency medical technician positions, and the associated credentialing.
The witnesses included: Mr. Ben D. Chlapek, Chair, Military Relations Committee, National Association of Emergency Technicians; and Mr. Daniel Nichols, Senior Vice President, Victory Media.
The hearing focused on the Veteran Medical Technician Support Act of 2012 (H.R. 4124), introduced by Reps. Adam Kinzinger (IL) and Lois Capps (CA), which would provide demonstration grants to states to assist veterans trained as EMTs in the military transfer into similar civilian medical occupations.
Mr. Nichols discussed the difficulties faced by individuals who have sacrificed significant portions of their lives to military service, only to find that their service carries little or no weight in the civilian job market. He said, “We have not returned to our homes and communities from global service to witness the fall of the American dream. For far too long we have known precisely what the challenges are in military transition, and as a nation we have been unable to adequately address the perceived gap between military training outcomes and civilian workplace skills, and that includes the healthcare sector.” He went on to offer the accreditations of Department of Defense training programs by civilian standards as a possible solution. He then offered support for H.R. 4124 as offering “changes…[which] would positively affect the livelihood of our veterans and improve healthcare delivery.”
Mr.Chlapek testified, “The military experience is too rich and too costly to throw away and deny in our civilian communities. Congressional assistance in streamlining the licensing process to get these experienced combat medics and corpsmen into the civilian Emergency Medical Services community will help our communities and the level of care provided to our citizens.”
Legion Staff Attends Press Conference on Rights of Persons with Disabilities
On Thursday, July 12, The American Legion Legislative Division staff attended a press conference in which Senators John McCain (AZ) and Dick Durbin (IL) urged support for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by the United States. The convention is an international agreement for the protection of the rights of individuals with disabilities, which sets broad goals of autonomy, equality, acceptance, and accessibility for individuals with disabilities. Senator and Vietnam War veteran John McCain stated “It’s not an accident that literally every veterans organization in the country supports this legislation…This treaty is probably more important today in the world, perhaps than it’s been the past.”
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 Jeff Steele at (202)-263-2987 or firstname.lastname@example.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 35. To date, H.J. Res. 13 – the House companion to the Senate measure – has accumulated 89 cosponsors, with the addition this week of Rep. Tim Murphy (PA).
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.
The American Legion Legislative Division
For Week Ending 07-13-12