Action Corps


 

 

                                                               March 27, 2015

 

In This Issue:

  1. VFW Testifies at Choice Program Hearing
  2. VFW Testifies on Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization
  3. VFW Testifies on Economic Opportunity Bills
  4. VFW Participates in Steering Committee Roundtable
  5. VA Expands Eligibility for Choice Program
  6. Legislation on the Move
  7. Bergdahl Charged With Desertion
  8. Afghanistan Troop Level Remains Constant
  9. All Four Services Now Offering COOL Assistance
  10. Pennsylvania Desert Shield/Storm Bonus to Expire

 

  1. VFW Testifies at Choice Program Hearing: On Tuesday, Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The hearing reviewed the Choice Program’s distance criteria. Fuentes discussed the importance of ensuring eligibility for non-VA care is veteran centric and clinically based.  Before the hearing, VA announced it would change the way it calculates distance from “as the crow flies” to driving distance when determining Choice Program eligibility. Fuentes acknowledged the efforts of VFW members in prompting the change. Read the VFW’s testimony and watch the hearing here:http://www.veterans.senate.gov/hearings/the-veterans-choice-act_exploring-the-distance-criteria032415.

 

  1. VFW Testifies on Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization: Senior Legislative Associate Brendon Gehrke testified before the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee on Thursday regarding recommendations made by the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission. In his testimony, Gehrke stated that “we believe that it is not only fair to provide all service members with some retirement compensation, especially those who deploy several times to combat zones before exiting short of 20 years; but it’s our patriotic duty to prepare all service members for retirement.” Congress is likely to act on some of the Commission’s recommendations later this year. To read the VFW’s testimony about the Commission’s 15 recommendations, click here:http://docs.house.gov/Committee/Calendar/ByEvent.aspx?EventID=103194.

 

To view the hearing, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imQ97wYLfhs.

 

  1. VFW Testifies on Economic Opportunity Bills: On Tuesday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity held a hearing to discuss pending legislation. VFW Deputy Legislative Director Aleks Morosky testified, offering the VFW’s positions on bills that would allow student veterans to use GI Bill benefits to cover college application fees, direct VA to consider time spent by reservists recovering from injuries toward GI Bill eligibility, and commission a survey of GI Bill beneficiaries on their college experiences, among others.  Additional bills supported by the VFW include legislation to remove the cap on the VA Home Loan Program, reauthorize VA’s homeless veterans programs and allow VA to reduce the retirement benefits of certain employees who are later found to have committed felonies while working at VA. We will provide updates on these important bills as they continue to move through the House. To read the full transcript and watch a webcast of the hearing, click here: http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-0.

 

  1. VFW Participates in Steering Committee Roundtable: On Wednesday, Raymond Kelley, VFW’s director of National Legislative Service, participated in the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee roundtable discussion on veterans’ transition priorities. These roundtables are an opportunity to speak directly with congressional leadership as they formulate their priorities for the year.

 

Kelley explained the need to make the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) a military life-cycle program, allowing service members the opportunity to receive information and training on post-service needs as early as 6 months after entering service and maintain access to that information after they leave service. Kelley also discussed the need for a change to current GI Bill eligibility, allowing service members who do not quality for full GI Bill eligibility because of time-in-service restriction to qualify for full benefits if they are a Purple Heart recipient.

 

  1. VA Expands Eligibility for Choice Program:  On Tuesday, VA announced it would change the way it calculates distance when determining eligibility for the Choice Program. Currently, VA calculates travel using “as the crow flies,” or straight line distance. Due to veterans’ concerns and the VFW’s work on this issue, VA will soon align the Choice Program with its Beneficiary Travel Program, which calculates the shortest route to a VA medical facility using driving distance instead of straight line distance. The change will take effect after VA publishes an interim final rule through the federal register, which it intends to do soon. The change is estimated to expand eligibility to an additional 300,000 veterans who drive more than 40 miles to their nearest VA medical facility. However, distance will continue to be calculated to the nearest VA medical facility, which includes a community based outpatient clinic, regardless if that facility provides the care a veteran needs. Read the VFW National Commander John W. Stroud’s statement here:  http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2015-Articles/VFW-Statement-Regarding-VA-%E2%80%98Crow-Flies%E2%80%99-Rule-Change/.

 

Read more about VA’s announcement here: http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2687.

 

  1. Legislation on the Move: On Tuesday, the House unanimously passed H.R. 216, the Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Planning Reform Act of 2015, which requires VA to estimate and report to Congress its budgetary needs for four fiscal years and establish a Quadrennial Veterans Review to ensure VA has a strategy to meet the future needs of America’s veterans. The VFW supports this important bill and looks forward to its swift consideration and passage in the Senate. Read the VFW’s testimony here:  http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/legislative-hearing-on-hr-189-hr-216-hr-245-hr-280-and-hr-294.

 

This week the House and Senate both passed budget resolutions laying out their respective budget priorities. Both bills include nearly $167 billion in fiscal year 2016 for VA, which is nearly $3 billion less than the Independent Budget’s recommendation for fiscal year 2016.  Both budgets make increasing health care access for veterans a policy priority. The Senate bill includes other policy priorities, such as eliminating the SBP-DIC offset; improving benefits for transitioning service members; improving research for PTSD, TBI and toxic exposures; and expanding Choice Program eligibility for veterans who travel more than 40 miles to receive their health care from VA.

 

Also this week, the House and Senate advanced their respective budget resolutions that would stick to the statutory caps of $523 billion for defense programs in the coming year. The Senate plan raises the limit on war related funds to $96 billion, providing additional resources for the Pentagon without the $523 billion cap. While the defense proposals in the House and Senate budgets match, the two chambers still have to send representatives to negotiate non-defense provisions in the bill.

 

Although these resolutions provide for increased funding for DOD, the VFW is still concerned that neither version directly addresses the need to end the budget sequestration. We will continue to press Congress to end sequestration as the budget process moves forward.

7. Bergdahl Charged With Desertion: The Army has charged Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl with one count each of Article 85 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, “Desertion with Intent to Shirk Important or Hazardous Duty,” and Article 99, “Misbehavior Before The Enemy by Endangering the Safety of a Command, Unit or Place.” Bergdahl, then a private first class, was held captive by the Taliban for almost five years after he allegedly left his post in Afghanistan on June 30, 2009. He was released in a controversial five-for-one prisoner swap on May 31, 2014. The case now goes to an Article 32 hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury, to decide whether the charges are appropriate to refer to a General Court-Martial. Bergdahl faces a maximum penalty of life in a military prison, as well as being stripped of rank and the forfeiture of all pay and allowances. Read more at: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=128453&source=GovDelivery.

 

8. Afghanistan Troop Level Remains Constant: President Obama announced this week that 9,800 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan through the end of 2015. Troop levels had previously been scheduled to drop from 9,800 to 5,500 beginning Oct. 1. The decision to extend current levels was based on a request from the Afghan president, who had asked for some flexibility in U.S. drawdown timelines in order to accelerate internal reforms and ensure that Afghan national security forces are better led, equipped, trained and focused on their mission. Read more at: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=128449.

9. All Four Services Now Offering COOL Assistance: The four military services are now offering COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line) assistance to help soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines find information regarding civilian certification and licensing requirements related to their Military Occupational Specialties. The transition planning tool allows troops, regardless of MOS, to focus on what they need should they decide to use their military training and experience in a civilian market. For respective service COOL information, go to:

·         Army: https://www.cool.army.mil/overview.htm?rmb=overview_rm3#abtBtnsTop.

·         Navy: https://www.cool.navy.mil/usn/.

·         Air Force: https://afvec.langley.af.mil/afvec/Public/COOL/Default.aspx.

·         Marine Corps: https://www.cool.navy.mil/usmc/.

 

  1. Pennsylvania Desert Shield/Storm Bonus to Expire: The deadline for submitting applications for the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans Benefit Program is Aug. 31, 2015. Pennsylvania veterans or beneficiaries of deceased veterans could be eligible for:
  • A one-time benefit of $75 per month for each month (or major fraction thereof) of active service in the Persian Gulf Conflict Theater of Operations during the period of Aug. 2, 1990 to Aug. 31, 1991. The maximum compensation is $525.
  • An additional one-time benefit of $5,000 if the service member was declared a prisoner of war at any time while on “active service” during the covered period.
  • Beneficiaries may also be eligible to receive an additional one-time benefit of $5,000 if the service member died while on “active service” during the covered period, or died as a result of service-connected wounds, diseases or injuries sustained during such active service, as certified by DOD or VA.

Proof of residency, military service, and the receipt of the Southwest Asia Service Medal are required, among other documentation. For more information or to apply, go to: http://www.milvet.state.pa.us/DMVA/Docs_BVA//PGVB/Digest.pdf.

 

 

To sign up new veterans’ advocates, click here: http://capwiz.com/vfw/mlm/signup.htm.

 

As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here:http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

Action Corps Weekly


March 20, 2015

In This Issue:

  1. VFW Testifies at Education Hearing
  2. VFW Meets New SECDEF
  3. VFW Meets with the Veterans Advisory Committee on Education (VACE)
  4. VA Eliminates Net Worth a Factor in Determining Health Care Eligibility
  5. VA Accepting Applications for 2015 National Golden Age Games
  6. Eight MIAs Identified

VFW Testifies at Education Hearing: On Tuesday, National Legislative Director, Raymond Kelley, testified before the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity. The hearing reviewed higher education opportunities for veterans. Kelley discussed the importance of providing service members with quality information on their higher education options, stating, “quality information will lead to quality decisions.” Being prepared for college is important, but so is paying for it, so Kelley also discussed the importance of ensuring all states comply with the new in-state tuition requirements. Read the VFW’s testimony and watch the hearing here. http://veterans.house.gov/hearing/a-review-of-higher-education-opportunities-for-the-newest-generation-of-veterans

VFW Meets New SECDEF: After just a month on the job, new Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter held his first veterans and military service organization conference inside the Pentagon yesterday. It was very informative meeting and Carter was very receptive and appreciative of all the support the VFW and the other organizations provide to troops and their families. Ending sequestration is his number one priority, as well as the proper care and treatment of wounded, ill and injured service members, the families of the fallen, and outreach efforts to the younger generation to encourage them to serve.

VFW Meets with the Veterans Advisory Committee on Education (VACE): VACE consists of a panel of experts who advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on how to maximize educational benefits and help veterans launch new careers. Senior Legislative Associate, Brendon Gehrke, discussed the VFW’s concerns that some college administrators, VA employees and SAA officials are unaware that the GI Bill will pay for college exam preparatory courses such as GMAT, GRE, and LSAT prep courses, and, therefore, are denying veterans the ability to use their benefits for such programs. The VFW urged VACE to clarify how State Approving Agencies should approve preparatory courses offered by institutions of higher learning to ensure that veterans can start taking advantage of this opportunity.

VA Eliminates Net Worth as Factor in Determining Health Care Eligibility: Currently, VA combines a veteran’s income and assets when making income-based eligibility determinations for health care benefits and co-payment obligations.  Effective 2015, VA will only consider a veteran’s gross household income and deductible expenses from the previous year when making such determinations.  This change will expand health care access to low-income veterans and reduce out-of-pocket costs for thousands of veterans. VA estimates that 190,000 veterans will become eligible for reduced health care costs over the next five years. To read more about this change, visit:   http://www.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=2684

VA Accepting Applications for 2015 National Golden Age Games: This year’s National Golden Age Games will take place in Omaha, Neb., from August 8 to August 12, 2015.  The event encourages participants to make physical activity a central part of their lives, and supports VA’s comprehensive recreation and rehabilitation therapy programs. Competitive events include air rifle, badminton, bowling, cycling, dominoes, track and field, golf, horseshoes, nine ball, shuffleboard, swimming, and table tennis. VA will be accepting applications through May 15, 2015.  To learn more about this event, visit: www.veteransgoldenagegames.va.gov

Eight MIAs Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced the identification of remains belonging to eight servicemen who had been missing and unaccounted for from World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  Returned home are:

  • Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Harry B. McGuire, 718th Squadron, 449th Bomber Group, 15th Air Force, lost over Italy on Jan. 30, 1944.
  • Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Edward F. Barker, Headquarters Squadron, 8th Air Service Group, lost over Papua New Guinea on Sept. 30, 1944.
  • Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Alvin Bleethe, 393rd Fighter Squadron, 367th Fighter Group, 9th Air Force, lost over Germany on Nov. 26, 1944.
  • Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. Stephen V. Biezis, 575th Bombardment Squadron, 391st Bombardment Group, 9th Air Force, lost over Germany on Dec. 23, 1944.
  • Army Air Forces 2nd Lt. John W. Herb, 1st Air Division, 359th Fighter Group, 368th Fighter Squadron, lost over Germany on April 13, 1945.
  • Army Sgt. Wallace J. Dawson, Company L. 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, lost in South Korea on Feb. 14, 1951.
  • Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Edwin E. Morgan, 6252nd Combat Support Group, lost over Laos on March 13, 1966.
  • Army Staff Sgt. Bunyan D. Price Jr., 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, lost in Vietnam on May 2, 1970.

To sign up new veterans’ advocates, click here: http://capwiz.com/vfw/mlm/signup.htm.

As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here:http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

Action Corps Weekly


           

                                                                           March 13, 2015

 

In This Issue:

  1. VFW to Meet with President in Phoenix
  2. Choice Card Survey
  3. VFW meets with VA Research and Development Leadership
  4. DoD Authorizes GWOT-EM for Freedom’s Sentinel
  5. Seven Korean War Soldiers Identified

 

  1. VFW to Meet with President in Phoenix: President Obama is visiting the Phoenix VA Medical Center today and VFW National Inspector General Ray Thomas is expected to join him in a roundtable discussion on veterans’ health care issues. In a newspaper interview, Thomas said most of the veterans he’s talked with seem pleased that patient wait times have improved substantially, but that there is still an issue with specialists, especially cancer specialists. Last year, the VFW championed the passage of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act to help counter the nationwide crisis in care and confidence that Phoenix ignited—but now in hindsight could have been started at a different facility anywhere. The VA still has an uphill climb to fix what’s broken, to hold employees accountable, and to restore the faith of veterans in their VA.
  2. Choice Card Survey: The VFW has commissioned a second survey to poll members on their experiences accessing the Veterans Choice Program. Thank you to those who have taken the second survey. Your participation has allowed the VFW to continue to keep its finger on the pulse of this important program and evaluate progress as the Veterans Choice Program enters its fifth month. If you took our first survey, but have not taken the second survey, which went live on February 6, 2015, please help us track any changes in your experiences. If you are taking this survey for the first time, your input is critical to holding VA accountable for delivering timely non-VA care options to veterans.

Take the survey here: https://www.research.net/s/VFWChoiceSurvey2. To learn more about the Veterans Choice Program or to share your stories with us, please visit:http://www.vfw.org/VAWatch/.

  1. VFW meets with VA Research and Development Leadership: On Wednesday, the VFW hosted the VA’s Research and Development team for a discussion on the status of their research programs. VA has many promising research projects, including: women’s health, which will increase VA’s knowledge on best ways to deliver care for women; health disparities and access needs in minority populations; and the on-going Million Veteran Program (MVP), a genetic data collection and research program that lead to a better understanding of the relationship between genetics and diseases and military-related illnesses. To learn more about VA Research and Development or how to participate in the MVP program click here: http://www.research.va.gov/.

 

  1. DoD Authorizes GWOT-EM for Freedom’s Sentinel: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel is now a qualifying operation for award of the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal. The Defense Department said the award is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2015. Service members deployed to Afghanistan for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel continue to be awarded the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. Troops deployed abroad in support of Freedom’s Sentinel, but stationed outside of the campaign medal’s area of eligibility, are now eligible for award of the GWOT Expeditionary Medal. Also now authorized are service stars on medals or ribbons to reflect multiple deployments. The GWOT-EM, as well as the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, are VFW membership qualifiers. Read more about the Pentagon’s policy change at: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=128351&source=GovDelivery.

 

  1. Seven Korean War Soldiers Identified: The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has announced the identification of remains belonging to seven Army soldiers who had been lost and unaccounted-for since the Korean War. Returned home for burial with full military honors are:
  • Sgt. 1st Class Donald R. Strum, Company C, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, who was lost in North Korea on Nov. 4, 1950.
  • Cpl. Robert Higgins, 21, of Bucks County, Penn. He was assigned to Battery C, 15th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, when lost in battle in South Korea on Feb. 13, 1951.
  • Sgt. Floyd J.R. Jackson, 20, of Warrensburg, Mo., died while a POW in North Korea on Feb. 13, 1951. He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, which made up part of the 31st Regimental Combat Team.
  • Pfc. John R. Bowers, of Greenville, S.C. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, when lost in South Korea on Feb. 14, 1951.
  • Sgt. Arnold V. Andring, 25, of Gary, Minn., died while a POW in North Korea after being captured on Feb 14, 1951. He was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 8th Army.
  • Pfc. Lotchie J.R. Jones, 18, of Jasper, Tenn., died while a POW in North Korea on Feb. 28, 1951. He was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
  • Cpl. Lindsey C. Lockett, 25, of Henrico, Va., died while a POW in North Korea on May 31, 1951. He was assigned to Medical Detachment, Headquarters Battery, 503rd Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division.

 

To sign up new veterans’ advocates, click here: http://capwiz.com/vfw/mlm/signup.htm.

 

As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories, either fill out our online form by clicking here:http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org.

 

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VFW Demands Removal of VA Supervisor

vfw_logo_high_res_gubsWASHINGTON (March 10, 2015) — The national commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is demanding that a Department of Veterans Affairs program manager at the VA Medical Center in Indianapolis be replaced.

Last December, Ms. Robin Paul sent an e-mail to her staff with photos of a toy elf in different poses and captions, two of which made light of mental health issues. Paul oversees a staff of more than 30 health care professionals in the Seamless Transition Integrated Care Clinic, which is responsible for assisting new veterans with their VA benefits, services and programs, to include mental health.

“There is nothing amusing about 22 veterans committing suicide every day,” said VFW National Commander John W. Stroud, “and it is absolutely inexcusable that a VA supervisor would make light of any issue that veterans face. Ms. Paul might be the most caring and dedicated employee the VA has, but this senseless attempt at gallows humor has caused her to lose the respect and trust of veterans. It is for that reason that the VFW demands she be replaced as program manager. Trust within the military means everything; it should mean no less inside the VA.”

As of this morning, Paul was still listed as the STICC program manager on the Indianapolis VA’s website.

-vfw-

ABOUT THE VFW: The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is a nonprofit veterans service organization comprised of eligible veterans and military service members from the active, Guard and Reserve forces. Founded in 1899 and chartered by Congress in 1936, the VFW is the nation’s largest organization of war veterans and its oldest major veterans organization. With nearly 1.9 million VFW and Auxiliary members located in more than 6,800 Posts worldwide, “NO ONE DOES MORE FOR VETERANS.” The VFW and its Auxiliaries are dedicated to veterans’ service, legislative advocacy, and military and community service programs. For more information or to join, visit our website at www.vfw.org.

Contact: Joe Davis, Director of Public Affairs, VFW Washington Office, jdavis@vfw.org.

 

2014: A Message from the VFW Commander-in-Chief

This year promises to be a momentous one for America’s veterans and its warriors. Issues affecting those in and out of uniform will be on the front burner on Capitol Hill.

Two events in 2014 will no doubt put veterans and the armed forces in the national limelight: congressional elections and withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan. The ending of a war is always a watershed in history, and this one should be no exception.

Achieving such a milestone will attract publicity that should be maximized to the benefit of the Afghanistan War’s veterans and their families. While the media is focused on the political ramifications of the combat disengagement, we should draw attention to the needs of the youngest generation of war vets.

Recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the 47,000 GIs remaining in Afghanistan: “I know more than occasionally you wonder if anybody’s paying attention, or if anybody cares, but we do.”

Hagel may have been speaking on behalf of the American people in general, but his words could have been our own. This is all part of our commitment to “fully support U.S. troops and their mission to prosecute the war on terrorism.”

VFW’s Priority Goals include a host of issues—health care, housing, education, employment, transition assistance and military quality-of-life as a whole—that are perfectly relevant to those on active duty today. Each and every one of these goals is being pursued with vigor by our Washington Office staff.

Continue reading…

VFW Demands a Federal Budget Be Passed

VFW National Commander sends President and Congress formal letter

October 03, 2013
Dear Mr. President, Speaker Boehner, Representative Pelosi, Leader Reid and Senator McConnell:

The United States federal government is ending Day Three of a shutdown that both political parties created.  On behalf of 22 million veterans and 2.3 million service members and their families, I urge all of you to start doing what’s best for the country and not your own political interests.  Every American is or will feel the effects of this budget impasse, but I am writing to you concerning the effects on our nation’s veterans, our military personnel and their families.

The lack of a budget prevents countless veterans from taking advantage of transition assistance programs provided by the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Labor.  The lack of a budget will increase the VA claims backlog, and stop VA disability compensation and survivor benefit payments to millions of combat-wounded veterans and widows because Congress won’t extend the department’s authorization into the new fiscal year.  Many of these heroes depend on those payments to pay for their daily living expenses.

Our national security is threatened and at risk because of the lack of a defense budget and the ongoing sequester.  Training is what makes our military the strongest in the world, but without a budget, aircraft are being grounded, ships are staying in port, and our Army and Marine Corps ground forces are not receiving the necessary training they need to successfully accomplish their assigned missions and, more importantly, to survive to do it again.  We are also hearing the intelligence community is affected by the government shutdown, too.  Haven’t we all learned the lessons of 9/11?  National Security and those who defend us cannot be shortchanged.

Continue reading