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Congressional Updates

Tuition Fairness Act introduced in House

A bill introduced Jan. 23 in the House of Representatives would make all student veterans eligible for in-state tuition at colleges and universities, regardless of their residency status. The GI Bill Tuition Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 357) addresses a longstanding concern of The American Legion, namely, that out-of-state veterans enrolled in schools are charged substantially higher tuitions that are not completely covered by GI Bill education benefits.

Introduced by House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (FL), and House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Mike Michaud (ME), H.R. 357 would require “public institutions of higher education” that are approved by the Department of Veterans Affairs “to charge veterans tuition and fees at the in-State tuition rate.”

This proposed bill would correct an unfair and widespread financial burden for America’s veterans. Under current rules 40,000 student veterans have to pay the difference between in-state tuition, which is covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and out-of-state tuition if they are attending school as a nonresident.

National Commander Koutz said: “Congress knows full well that many of our student veterans have been facing financial hardship since the benefits were capped," he said. "They need to pass this bill, and we’ll be paying close attention as it makes its way through committee and toward a floor vote. Veterans shouldn’t have to go into deep debt for their education just because they don’t live in a particular state.”

The American Legion worked closely with staff members for Miller and Michaud as the legislation was being crafted. The Legion has also been working with the Department of Defense and the Student Veterans of America (SVA) on the issue, and is currently reaching out to state legislatures via Legion departments in Indiana, New York, Florida, Arizona and Washington. Staff from the Legion’s Economic Division met on Jan. 24 with Michael Dakduk, Student Veterans of America’s (SVA) executive director, to discuss their mutual interest in seeing H.R. 357 enacted.

At its 2012 National Convention in Indianapolis, the Legion passed a resolution that supports federal legislation intended to improve the Post-9/11 GI Bill, such as the GI Bill Improvements Act of 2010.

Legion considers enhanced Stolen Valor Act

The American Legion is supporting a newly introduced bill that would enhance current federal legislation that punishes those who falsely represent themselves as decorated military heroes. A provision in the proposed law would answer the Legion’s call to prosecute those who lie about being awarded certain medals and decorations in order to gain veterans’ benefits.

Previous similar legislation, alluded to in the Legion resolution, had been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as being too restrictive and infringing upon the right of freedom of speech.

That law read, in part, “whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded (certain) decoration(s) or medal(s) authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces…shall be fined …imprisoned….or both.”

The new Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (H.R.258), introduced into the 113th Congress by Representative Joe Heck (NV), would amend that provision with: “Whoever, with intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal described…shall be fined (and/or) imprisoned not more than one year....”

The Legion’s Resolution 238: Amend Stolen Valor Act, which was adopted during last year’s national convention, contends that the existing laws “have not been effective in stopping false claims of receipt of medals and decorations of valor, which criminal acts appear to be escalating as the Act remains but a misdemeanor and not a felony (and) false claims of military service and receipt of medals of valor have resulted in literally millions of dollars in fraudulent claims for VA services, as well as related costs of investigation by the VA, and law enforcement agencies, to uncover false claims, all of which, ‘takes away valuable resources from those who are entitled,’ in the words of the VA Inspector General.”

The Legion resolution concludes by asking Congress “to provide that the elements of fraud be incorporated into previous Stolen Valor legislation such that it accomplishes the same goal as the previous legislation and passes Constitutional muster.”

The medals and decorations defined in the existing Stolen Valor Act are the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart. The proposed Stolen Valor Act of 2013 adds the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Action Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon and Combat Action Medal to the list.

Rep. Heck’s bill immediately gained bipartisan support with 71 co-sponsors as of January 24 and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. Members of the Legion’s Legislative Division met in Heck’s office on January 23 to share their views on the proposed legislation. All members of the Legion family are encouraged to write their members of Congress to support passage of this legislation.


Legislative Staff Begins Building Relationships on Capitol Hill

Over the past two weeks, Legislative Division staff have been delivering Welcome packets to the newly-elected members of Congress. These packets contained a personalized welcome letter from National Commander Koutz, a drop sheet of our organization’s legislative priorities, a pamphlet outlining the Legislative Division’s Guiding Resolutions, and a DVD. These packets were hand-delivered in order that Legislative staff could introduce themselves, and begin to develop working relationships with new congressional staff members.

Preparations for Washington Conference Going Forward

The Legislative Division is working diligently to prepare for the upcoming Washington Conference, being held February 25-27. Legion Family members will converge on our nation’s capital for meetings, conferences, workshops, and lobbying their members of Congress to continue the work of The American Legion.

The Legislative Division will be in charge of the “Commander’s Call” on Tuesday morning February 26. The agenda is still being developed, and prospective speakers are being considered. Legislative Commission Chairman Ken Governor (NY) is coming to Washington in two weeks to work with staff to prepare the agenda.

American Legion Legislative Council

The Legislative Division continues the task of re-building the membership of the National Legislative Council for the 113th Congress. Council recommendation forms were emailed to Department leadership in December, asking for nominations for new congressional members. Completed forms were due in the Legislative Division offices in Washington, DC by January 18. To date, 25 Departments have returned their Council nomination forms.

The importance of the Legislative Council cannot be overstated. It is an especially important voice for The American Legion family, and the way in which members of Congress can be quickly contacted when legislative action is needed. Departments are urged to complete their nomination forms and return them to the Legislative Division offices as soon as possible.

Update on Flag Amendment Bills

On January 18, House Joint Resolution (H.J. Res.) 19 was introduced by Representative Jo Ann Emerson (MO). 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 cosponsors for this legislation. Please contact the offices of your representative and senators, and ask them to become cosponsors of the flag amendment in their respective chambers.