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I may not always believe in and trust our government, but I will ALWAYS believe and trust the American Soldier.  You have taken a sacred oath to protect the many FREEDOMS that so many of us take for granted.  Please understand that I am grateful for your sacrifice(s) and your service on my behalf.  It is an honor to call you "My Countrymen".
     
 
   
 

Legislative Page

 
 

Welcome to the Legislative Page

For updates to this page, please contact John Larensen jelaren@comcast.net

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VFW Priority Goals 2016

 Issue Contact: Carlos Fuentes at cfuentes@vfw.org Access and Accountability 


VFW's Concerns:

Last year the nation learned something that has been apparent to veterans for quite some time; VA medical facilities do not have the capacity to provide timely health care to all the veterans they serve. VA estimates a gap of nearly 24 million square feet of clinical capital asset requirement over the next 8 years. It has also identified $65 billion of access, utilization and safety gaps in its facility infrastructure that will need to be addressed over the next decade. What is missing is a long-term strategy to effectively close these gaps in the most veteran-centric and cost effective way. Facilities will need to be replaced, improved and reduced over the years, and the method used to decide when and how to move forward with these projects must be comprehensive. 

The signature provision of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act of 2014 (VACAA) was the establishment of the Veterans Choice Program, through which veterans waiting more than 30 days for care or residing more than 40 miles from a VA medical facility(40-milers) are offered an opportunity to receive health care from non-VA doctors in their communities. The VFW is concerned that only a third of veterans who are eligible for the Veterans Choice Program are offered the opportunity to receive health care in their communities.

Although VA has changed the way it measures distance and Congress has amended the eligibility requirements established under VACAA for 40-milers, many veterans are still required to travel too far and wait too long for VA health care. 

VACAA gave the Secretary of Veterans Affairs unprecedented authority to hold VA’s Senior Executive Service staff accountable for neglecting their duties to veterans. While the focus of the law has been on whether VA should target individual Veterans Health Administration executives; it is equally as important to hold mid-level managers and frontline staff accountable for malfeasants that harm veterans. 

While Congress focuses on giving VA the authority to fire bad employees, it must also look for ways to improve VA's ability to hire good employees. It is important that VA have the ability to fire employees quickly, but equally as important is the ability to hire quality employees. In today’s economy, hiring the best people is extremely critical. Unfortunately, the federal government's long hiring process puts VA at a disadvantage when recruiting and retaining the best and brightest medical professionals. 

VFW's Solutions:

•VA must build what it needs, share what it can, and buy what it must to effectively provide high quality and timely health care to an expanding enrolled veterans population.

• VA must properly train frontline personnel to ensure veterans who are eligible for the Veterans Choice Program are given the opportunity to receive non-VA care.

• Congress must ensure eligibility for the Veterans Choice Program is veteran centric, clinically driven, and population density based.

 

•VA and Congress must establish a single, system wide, non-VA care program which would afford veterans the option to receive care from private sector health care providers when VA is unable to meet access standards.

• VA employees at all levels who are found guilty of wrongdoing must be held accountable to ensure veterans receive high quality health care and customer service.

 • VA must identify and address barriers to recruiting, training and retaining medical, clerical and support staff.

When Guard and Reserve service members are injured or wounded in combat, the member is placed on medical hold status. This stops accrual of active duty time that would count towards Post-9/11 G.I. Bill eligibility. When members are not discharged and return to service, none of the time spent in medical hold counts as qualifying service for benefits. In effect, Reserve members are penalized for a line-of-duty wound, injury or illness. However, if any of these service members were discharged because of their disability, the member would earn 100% of the benefit assuming 30 days continuous active duty service. While transferability is vital to retention, these war time veterans should never receive less benefit than a dependent. 

The ability to use education benefits to prepare veterans for complex entrance exams, like the LSAT, GMAT or GRE, is a major selling point for veterans, and a benefit readily discussed on VA’s G.I. Bill FAQ website. Unfortunately, we have found that some college administrators, VA employees and State Approving Agency officials are unaware that the G.I. Bill will pay for preparatory courses and, therefore, are denying veterans the ability to use their benefits for such programs. In fact, after shopping around, the VFW failed to identify a single preparatory course through which a veteran could use his or her benefits. 

VFW's Solutions:

• Provide any surviving spouse whose service member died in the line-of-duty after 9/11 the time necessary to use the full 36 month benefit without fear of it being cut short halfway through their educational pursuits.

• Allow reservists who are on active duty for the purpose of receiving medical care from the Department of Defense to accrue time towards their eligibility for Post-9/11 Educational Assistance.

• Ensure that war veterans, including guardsmen and reservists, do not receive less of a benefit than other veterans and dependents.

 • Urge VA to approve college preparatory courses offered by institutions of higher learning to ensure that veterans can start taking advantage of this opportunity.

Issue Contact: Aleks Morosky amorosky@vfw.org

Benefits Delivery

VFW's Concerns:

An all-out push by the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) over the past year reduced the disability compensation and pension workload by over 164,000 claims, while the backlog of claims over 125 days old fell by over 146,000. In doing so, VBA continued to define its "workload" and "backlog" as only initial disability and pension claims, diverting nearly all its people to working on those cases.


As a result, the significant backlog reduction came at the expense of more difficult work. Appeals soared by over 28,000 during this period, bringing the total number of appeals pending to over 300,000. Appeals continue to average over 3 years before the Board of Veterans Appeals makes its first decision. Initial pension claims continue to rise, and disability claims with eight or more conditions remain unreasonably high at nearly 43,000. Pending dependency claims remain unreasonably high at over 231,000, up from 40,000 just a few years ago. To address the appeals backlog, Congress has introduced legislation to allow veterans to voluntarily participate in an expedited process known as Fully Developed Appeals. The VFW supports this initiative. If implemented, veterans would be given the option to waive the development, review, and in-person hearing processes now in place, and have their appeals sent directly to the Board for consideration on a separate docket. While the VFW wants this initiative to move forward, the automated decision letters currently issued by VBA are woefully inadequate for veterans and their service officers. Without proper notice, the veteran does not have the tools necessary to decide what evidence was used, how it was analyzed and why VA made its decision, and therefore cannot knowledgeably waive his or her rights. The VFW is involved in a VA working group to develop an adequate automated decision letter so this initiative can move forward.

One of the time consuming phases of the disability claims process is the medical exam phase. Veterans who provide opinions from private physicians should be able to bypass this bottleneck, but VA is not currently required to accept outside medical evidence, even if it is competent, credible, probative, and otherwise adequate for purposes of making a decision on a claim. Such evidence is often disregarded with no explanation. In addition, VA's ability to contract with private physicians to conduct compensation and pension examinations must be periodically reauthorized.

VFW's Solutions:

• Congress must address the immediate staffing needs of the Veterans Benefits Administration, Board of Veterans Appeals and the Court of Veterans Appeals.

• VA must dedicate sufficient resources to meaningfully eliminate the backlog for all types of claims; not only those that it has defined as part of its "workload."

• VA must improve its notification letter so that veterans understand the evidence used in making the decision, an explanation of the analysis, and reasons and bases for the decision, so Congress can responsibly move forward with the Fully Developed Appeals initiative.

• Require VA to accept medical opinions from non-VA health care providers when the evidence is sufficient for rating purposes. If VA determines the evidence is inadequate, the veteran should be provided with a written explanation detailing why it was not accepted.

•Congress must continue to authorize VA to contract with private physicians to conduct compensation and pension examinations in order to allow VA doctors to focus on providing care.

 Issue Contact: Brendon Gehrke bgehrke@vfw.org

Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization 

VFW's Concerns:

The House and Senate both included a 401(k)-type retirement contribution for every service member in their respective versions of the FY16 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This benefit could help over 6.4 million service members better save for retirement. The VFW supports any legislation that will provide benefits to more service members, create new recruitment and retention tools, and maintain the overall value of the current system, in a fiscally responsible manner.

Under the plan the Department of Defense (DOD) will automatically contribute one percent of a service member's basic pay into a retirement account. DOD will also match service members' contributions up to five percent after they complete two years of service. However, the Senate version stops providing matching contributions to service members after they reach 20 years of service. While DOD supports the 401(k) plan, their plan would not match the service member's 5 percent contribution until the service member completes 4 years of service. The VFW believes that both the Senate and DOD retirement plans fall short; their plans would lessen the overall value of the current system and hinder service member retention.

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) passed legislation that could lead to the privatization of military commissaries. This provision could have harmed the military families who rely on the savings they earn by shopping at the commissary which can save a family up to $4,500 per year. The VFW fought hard to remove this provision which would have hurt the pocketbooks of military families and potentially reduced financial supplements to DOD's Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs.

During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Reserve Component (RC) service members mobilized far more often than any previous era of the all-volunteer force. However, RC members must wait until they reach age 60 before they can collect their military retirement pay. We believe that we need to present RC members with better retirement options. Giving the RC members the option to receive partial retirement earlier could motivate young RC members to stay in uniform for a full career, and give incentives for transitioning active-duty troops to continue serving in the reserves.

A one percent reduction in the annual cost-of-living adjustment for current working-age military retirees is scheduled to go into effect in January of 2016. The reduction was part of a congressional budget deal in 2013 intended to reduce the federal budget deficit and partially restore some of the automatic budget cuts that Congress imposed on government agencies under sequestration. The retirement cuts would cost a typical enlisted member who retires at age 40 about $83,000 over 20 years, and cost a typical retired officer more than $124,000 over 20 years. The world remains a very dangerous and unpredictable place; it is in that regard that the VFW will continue to fight for a full repeal of the COLA penalty. VFW's Solutions:

• Provide an employer matching retirement contribution to every service member starting on their first day of service and continue contributions until their discharge from service.

• Reserve Component members should have the choice to receive their retirement annuity in various forms, including the option to receive lump-sum payments immediately upon their retirement.

• Merge the Defense Commissary Agency and three military exchanges systems into one organization without increasing the prices of groceries or reducing supplements to Morale, Welfare, and Recreation programs.

• Restore the full Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA) from COLA -1% for working-age retirees.

Issue Contact: Carlos Fuentes cfuentes@vfw.org


Veterans' Health Care

VFW's Concerns:

For too long VA has resourced to a number instead of requesting the resources it needs to meet demand. For the first time, VA's budget request nearly mirrors the Independent Budget's (IB) recommendations. VA has requested $1.3 billion above the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 advance appropriations authorization from last year, making VA's FY 2016 request $63.2 billion, while the IB request sits at $63.3 billion. However, the FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations (MilConVA) bills that have advanced in Congress fail to provide VA the resources it has requested. The House's MilConVA bill falls $1.5 billion short of VA's request. VA has estimated that the impact of underfunding its medical care accounts by $640 million is equivalent to the cost of providing health care to more than 70,000 veterans for an entire year. VA provides a monthly stipend, mental health and medical care, and respite care for caregivers of severely disabled Post-9/11 veterans, but not to caregivers of veterans of previous eras. The VFW believes that severely wounded, injured and ill veterans of all conflicts have made incredible sacrifices, and that all family members who care for them are deserving of equal recognition and support.

Suicide among military personnel and veterans presents a serious challenge to VA, the Department of Defense and the nation. A recent study of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans finds that recently discharged veterans are up to 61 percent more likely to commit suicide compared to the United States general population. The VFW applauds the passage of the Clay Hunt SAV Act, which made significant strides to address this critically important issue. The next step is to ensure veterans with military related mental health conditions who receive administrative discharge have access to the mental health care they deserve. On today's battlefield, both men and women are similarly at risk. As an unprecedented number of women have entered the combat zone in the last decade, the number of women veterans enrolled in VA health care has doubled and will continue to grow. VA must be ready and able to provide the gender specific health care women veterans have earned and deserve.

Veterans who were exposed to toxic substances during their military service deserve to know whether their health conditions are associated with such exposure. Countless veterans have suffered for far too long without the care and benefits they deserve.

No veteran who has honorably served this Nation should have to suffer the indignity of living on the streets. VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have made progress reducing veterans' homelessness in recent years as a direct result of coordinated efforts across multiple government agencies to provide transitional housing, rapid rehousing, and employment programs for veterans in need. Yet, nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night.

VFW's Solutions:

• Congress must properly fund VA to ensure it is able to provide timely access to high quality health care to all eligible veterans.

• Congress must extend current caregiver benefits to those who care for veterans of all eras.

• VA and Congress must ensure veterans with military related mental health conditions, who receive administrative discharges, have access to VA mental health care services.

• VA must ensure that its health care and services programs are equal amongst men and women veterans.

• Congress and VA must ensure veterans who were exposed to toxic substances receive care and benefits for all associated health conditions, as well as support research into the long-term effects of such exposures.

• Congress must properly fund homeless veterans programs to ensure the Administration is able to meet its goal of ending veteran’s homelessness.

Issue Contact: Brendon Gehrke bgehrke@vfw.org

Wounded Warrior Care

VFW's Concerns:

The Department of Defense (DOD) has made incremental efforts to improve care coordination and case management programs since the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal in 2007. However, government studies and media reports indicate that systemic problems still exist with DOD's wounded warrior care policies. Wounded warrior programs are not always accessible to those who need them; wait times for medical retirement processing have increased; and in extreme cases, soldiers in Warrior Transition Units (WTU) have been harassed, belittled or hazed by those managing the units. Collectively, a lack of leadership, oversight, resources, and collaboration has contributed to the department's inability to resolve problems facing recovering service members. DOD does not provide central oversight of the service specific wounded warrior programs, preventing it from determining how well these programs are working across the department. Furthermore, the department's previous attempts to collaborate on how to resolve case management and care coordination problems have been unsuccessful. With the end of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, many are inclined to pay less attention to problems facing wounded warriors. It is true that troop reductions in combat zones will result in fewer wounded. However, service members will continue to need care and healing from the illnesses, wounds, injuries, and accidents they incurred while in service. In reality, the end of back-to-back deployments will allow service members to address their physical and mental health ailments they incurred in the past twelve years of war.

While DOD agrees that wounded warrior programs must be a top priority for commanders, additional oversight is still needed to sustain high-level leadership attention and collaboration to resolve identified problems. The VFW believes that without more robust oversight and consistent implementation of policies, improving case management and care coordination may be impossible.

VFW's Solutions:

• Enact legislation to establish the Office of Warrior Care Policy (WCP) within the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness portfolio at a level no less than Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense.

• Require each service to draft and distribute a commander's intent letter to each WTU to guide expectations for communication and treatment of wounded warriors and families.

• Require DOD to publish timely guidance to standardize care and case management coordination roles across all services, and ensure service compliance.

•Request that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) evaluate DOD's efforts to standardize the Integrated Disability Evaluation System processes across services.

• Request that GAO conducts a comprehensive review of all the Army's WTU and examine how the Army's WTU consolidation plans will affect wounded warriors before the Army is allowed to continue with consolidation.

• DOD should develop new and more accurate warrior care unit staffing models and should ensure that 100 percent of wounded warriors are contacted by a medical board lawyer.

Listed here are VFW’s official positions on national veterans and security issues. They are based on national convention resolutions and rated as priorities by their respective committees.

VA HEALTH CARE

• Ensure a sufficient VA budget that properly fills the health care demands of all veterans.
• Establish sufficient, predictable and timely VA funding.
• Ensure unique health care and benefits challenges of OEF/OIF veterans are met, including increased funding for traumatic brain injuries and improved access to care.
• Increase priority given to women veterans by hiring specialized health care providers and by providing training in gender-specific issues to help address shortfalls in gender specific and mental health care.
• Improve outreach so that all veterans— especially female, minority and rural veterans—are aware of the range of health care services and benefits available to them.

VA BENEFITS AND COMPENSATION
• Reduce VA’s backlog of pending claims.
• Ensure VA’s disability compensation program is fully funded and preserved in its current form.
• Oppose any change to current definitions of "line of duty” or "programs for disability and survivors benefits.”
• Demand seamless transition in transferring from DOD to VA, including an integrated electronic medical record that travels from duty stations to VA to wherever veterans receive health care.
• Improve veteran’s transition services and benefits, including viable training, employment and education programs to provide meaningful careers.

MILITARY QUALITY OF LIFE
• Ensure that active-duty, National Guard and Reserve troops receive increased pay, affordable health care, and adequate housing and work facilities for themselves and their families.

VETERANS EMPLOYMENT
• Ensure that provisions of the Uniformed Service Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act (USERRA) are strictly enforced.

• Support the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to educate employers on the importance of hiring National Guard and Reserve troops and the employer’s responsibilities as mandated by USERRA.


• Urge Congress to amend P.L. 106-50 to state that the 3% government-wide procurement goal for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses will be enforced. This will require agencies to report their procurement levels and be held accountable if they fail to meet a 3% procurement requirement.

WAR ON TERRORISM AND HOMELAND SECURITY
• Support U.S. troops and their mission to prosecute the war on terrorism around the world.
• Call for increased and timely funding to fight and win the war on terrorism.
• Support U.S. government efforts to take decisive and offensive action in the global war on terror.
• Secure U.S. borders, shorelines and all ports of entry.
• Halt the flow of illegal immigration.

DEFENSE AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS
• Increase Defense spending to fund all needed weapons programs, personnel initiatives and
troop end-strength requirements.
• Urge the continued development & deployment of a ballistic missile defense system.
• Halt the development and/or proliferation of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea.
• Secure Europe through the continued expansion of NATO.
• Investigate the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty.

MILITARY AFFAIRS

• Seek to improve the quality of life for all active-duty and reserve component members and their families.
• Provide a military base-pay raise to restore full comparability with private sector wages.
• Support efforts to lower the Guard and Reserve retirement pay age to 55.
• Oppose any TRICARE fee increases.
• Establish a Combat Action Medal for Navy and Marine Corps personnel.

POW/MIA
• Achieve the fullest possible accounting of all U.S. military personnel missing from all wars.
• Ensure the U.S. government keeps the POW/MIA issue elevated as a national priority.
• Urge the President and Congress to fully fund the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command
through a dedicated single-line item appropriation in the Defense budget.
• Support all POW/MIA public awareness initiatives.

 
     
 
   
 
         
     
 
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