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Congressional Updates

The First Session of the 113th Congress opened on January 3, 2013. There are 84 freshmen members of the House, and 13 new members of the Senate. There are also 2 current vacancies (the 2nd District of Illinois and the 1st District of South Carolina). The House was not in session this past week, while the Senate was.


President Signs Veterans Bill

On January 10 President Obama signed into law H.R. 4057, the Improving Transparency of Education Opportunities for Veterans Act of 2012. This legislation will improve the ability of GI Bill users to choose the school that best meets their educational needs. It would:

·         Require the VA to create a comprehensive policy that would meet this goal by informing veterans about their eligibility for educational counseling by creating a centralized complaint database on schools,

·         Require State approving agencies to better communicate with accrediting agencies,

·         Require VA to link to certain performance-related data points on the College Navigator and other appropriate Web sites,

·         Identify commercially off-the-shelf available software that would assist students in choosing a school and software that would evaluate their readiness to attend postsecondary education.

The measure would also require states to take military training into account in awarding licenses to work as medical technicians and other trades, thus speeding up service members' transition to civilian life. It would also require per diem payment recipients under VA's Homeless Grant and Per Diem Program to certify compliance with the Life Safety Code or the International Fire Code and other relevant fire safety and building codes. It would also require VA to include an accounting and evaluation of the safety and accessibility of facilities used to provide programs for homeless veterans in the annual report on assistance to homeless veterans.

Finally, H.R. 4057 would direct the VA to establish and maintain an open burn pit registry for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who may have been exposed to toxic chemicals and fumes caused by open burn pits during deployment. It would require VA to develop a public information campaign to inform eligible veterans of the registry and periodically notify them of significant developments in the study and treatment of conditions associated with burn pit exposure. It would also direct the VA to contract with an independent scientific organization to develop a report on the effectiveness of actions taken to collect and maintain information on the health effects of burn pit exposure and submit the completed report to Congress.

Legislation Addressing Clark Veterans Cemetery Enacted

The President on January 10 signed S. 2320, a bill entitled Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act of 2012. This measure treats Clark Veterans Cemetery in the Republic of the Philippines as a permanent military cemetery in a foreign country. It is associated with the former Clark Air Base, which closed in 1991. The cemetery will be administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. The bill further directs the Commission to restore, operate, and maintain the cemetery in cooperation with the government of the Republic of the Philippines.

Update on Flag Amendment Bills

With the beginning of the 113th Congress, Senate Joint Resolution (S.J. Res.) 19 and House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 13 have expired, due to lack of action by either chamber. This legislation, a proposed constitutional amendment to protect the American flag from physical desecration, will need to be re-introduced. Its text states simply: “The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.”

The Legislative Division will begin the task of find new sponsors and cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact your representative’s and senators’ offices, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers.

Letters of Support

On January 7, The American Legion sent a letter of support to Sens. Patrick Leahy (VT) and Charles Grassley (IA), as well as Reps. Lamar Smith (TX) and John Conyers (MI), giving our support for the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, draft legislation introduced by Sen. Al Franken (MN) and Rep. Richard Nugent (FL). This measure would reauthorize and improve the critical programs of the Mentally Ill Offender Treatment and Crime Reduction Act (Public Law-108-414). This law supported collaborative approaches to address the needs of individuals with mental health conditions in the criminal justice system.